By Joan Runnheim Olson
Over 10 years ago, I worked on a project designed to move more women into the auto service industry through a Federal Department of Labor's WANTO grant (Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations). Hired as a contractor by a Twin Cities-based non-profit and former employer of mine, I was to encourage auto service dealerships to hire more women as auto service technicians (aka mechanics), service advisors (those who write up the repair order), and parts workers. I must admit it was the most fun project I have ever worked on! I met with service managers at auto dealerships through the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. While many managers were receptive to hiring women, some were not. One service manager said to me, "We hired a woman once and she didn't work out." I was astounded! Apparently to him, that one woman represented all women. I thought to myself, "What about the men that didn't work out?" A few service managers commented that women don't like to get their hands or nails dirty. I assured them that some women prefer working with their hands. I helped assemble an advisory committee that consisted of a representative from the local union, a female auto service technician, a female parts worker, a representative from the Greater Metro Automobile Dealership Association, and a couple of us working on the project. The goal of the committee was to troubleshoot and brainstorm ideas to increase the number of women in auto service positions. We also organized the first of its kind networking event for women in auto service. Our keynote speaker was a woman who owns a dealership in Minneapolis. Many women commented how nice it was to network with other women in the same industry, as often they may be the only female at their dealership. Another event that we put together was created to increase awareness of careers in auto service. We collaborated with a local technical college that offers a program in auto service. We invited female high school students to tour the program, meet two female graduates of the program, and disassemble and reassemble a steering component. Throughout the 2-1/2 years I worked on the project, we met or exceeded our goals every year. These goals included outreach, an increase in the number of females enrolled in programs preparing them for careers in auto service, and an increase in the number of women in auto service.