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July 29, 2008

Perspective: Changing Attitudes of Women Working in the Auto Biz

Womenatwork Men and women often have preconceived notions of what is women's work. Women breaking into the automotive industry, a traditionally male-dominated field, may face many challenges. This Newsweek article covers some of the darker aspects of challenges women faced while working in the automotive industry,  "More Than A Tune-Up, Tough Going In A Fight Against Sexual Harassment".

My whole life has been kind of bucking male-dominant culture. My early years were spent working in the high-tech industry and then my career took me into the automotive industry. Love and commitment to my children made me seek out non-traditional career choices and learn to navigate the obstacles and succeed. As a single mother and with three kids in tow and their sole source of financial support, my career choices were always based on taking on opportunities with the highest earning potential possible and those jobs were mostly held by men 25 years ago. Providing for my children was my driving force and #1 priority; this was strong motivation to face my fears and go for it.

There is a price tag for every decision and for many years I climbed the ladder of success and earning power. One boss told me I should wear a less feminine wardrobe. Another wanted me to flaunt it to male customers to influence buying decisions, which was answered with a flat, "No way." Being respected and paid the same as men doing the same job was what I learned to demand or I would just take my talent elsewhere. I learned to be tough and dress gender neutral, a compromise to help me blend in and fend off attention for being a woman. This strategy worked in business but at a price.

I often said, "You can't see it but I actually have skin as thick as an elephant," which grew to this toughness over the years and years of competing hard in a man's world and mostly winning while overcoming many business challenges and personal heartaches in my personal life along the way. This thick skin and my gender neutral dress code provided a veil to disguise me enough to pass myself along as just one of the boys for years.

Elephant_skin As I turned 40, I grew sick and tired of suppressing my femininity in order to earn respect with men in business, it was taking its toll in my personal life as 'how you are in one way is how you are in all ways.' I felt I had sacrificed too much of myself in return for my success. A rebellion in me started to take shape and I  began to celebrate my womanhood. My wardrobe went from black and blue conservative tailored suits and shirts to ruffled blouses, dresses, and bright colors, reflecting my emergence from gender neutral to, "I am woman watch me wear lipstick and heels and still kick butt in business."  This has become my new mantra.

I flinch now when I see women dressed and groomed almost to look like a man in business, I see my old reflection and cringe. I understand the pressures to do so but  for myself I have cast off from those shores and am much more comfortable in my own skin celebrating my womanhood entirely in business and thankfully in my personal life too and am enjoying an equal amount of business success, in fact more as a result.

There are still many challenges and mountain to climb for me and other women entering the automotive industry. I mentor many women in the automotive industry, there is strength in numbers. As the current president of the Women's Automotive Association International I encourage women in the automotive industry to join us and find and give that much needed support to each other.

My favorite quote:

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face...You must do the thing you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt.

Copy_of_jody_devere_v71_2 Jody DeVere
CEO/President, Inc.

Each day this week, will be presenting a different writer's perspective article on this topic, and I hope our readers will come back to read each day's installment. On Wednesday, Brandy Schaffels will discuss what it's been like as a cargirl in the automotive publishing world, on Thursday Linda Przygodski will discuss what it has been like as a woman working in sports, and on Friday Becky Scott will share her own challenges choosing between career and motherhood.

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