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July 30, 2008

Perspective: Being A Woman in a Car Guy's World

Brandyandjeffbartlett_2 I know what it's like to be one of the few women in an industry that's dominated by men. I've been doing this a long time, more than 20 years just involved in automotive, but actually started in the extremely manly outdoor group at Guns and Ammo Magazine.

I grew up watching my dad and brothers working on their cars and played Hot Wheels with the neighbor boys, so, I've been a girl in a car guy's world for most of my life. In most cases I have always been treated as an equal by colleagues who were always gentlemen, and have never experienced the sort of sexual harassment described in the Newsweek  article about sexual harrassment at Mitsubishi.

I've just been lucky enough that the car guys I've been hanging around didn't really seem to pay much attention to the fact that I'm a gal.  They've always treated me like one of the guys. I've had the very good fortune that MOST OF the men I've worked with have been like brothers and fathers to me, mentors who shared their knowledge openly.

Brandyandjohnmatthius If I ever didn't "fit in" it was because I didn't share the same level of auto fever, or didn't possess the encyclopedic 'carbrain' that allows so many men to spew automotive facts and figures with the same zealousness as the sports fans can recite player statistics.

When I was much younger, there was one particular high-level supervisor: He was the kind of guy who would give unwelcome kisses on the lips at holiday parties, and he was well-known among the women for his bothersome indiscretions. Most of us tried to avoid him, though some who didn'€™t were rewarded with promotions.  When he was abruptly terminated for what was rumored to be inappropriate behavior with the wrong woman at the wrong event, some female employees celebrated his departure.

Soon after that, our company began sponsoring annual training programs to all employees on discerning and reporting sexual harassment, and promoted a zero-tolerance atmosphere. If any employee received or witnessed any kind of behavior that made them uncomfortable, they were enthusiastically encouraged to report the offense directly to Human Resources.

Brandyandjohnrettie Oh, since then, occasionally men have gotten a little out of line. Once, a fellow journalist offered me a seat on his lap at a crowded media event. Another time, an automotive photographer indicated that he'd like to take photos of me for a men's magazine. And a stranger at SEMA once invited me to participate in his "€œwhat happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas"€ fantasy. All of them stepped back appropriately when I corrected their poor behavior. But that could happen anyplace where men and women mingle--these incidences weren't related to the industry. I can't remember the last time a male colleague mistreated me, talked down to me, or patronized my automotive knowledge simply because I was a woman. My male colleagues at Motor Trend, where I spent more than 10 years, were never anything but respectful, supportive, and encouraging.

In her adweek column " 'Mad Men' and Irate Women"  Nina DiSesa said "I have noticed that the women who make it in these boys clubs have a few things in common. The main thing is that almost all of us were promoted and supported by men. The men we worked for and with felt comfortable around us. We learned to adopt some of the male traits that make men so successful, and in doing so, we reminded the men of the thing they admire most: themselves." I've been very fortunate, because I can agree with her. I've had the great pleasure to work with some of the finest gentlemen in the industry. And I do recognize that there are times when I do behave more like the guys than the gals. I’ve realized that even more since coming to AskPatty and learning what it means to be female friendly.

Brandydebrajackiemanfredi But my path through this male-run segment has also been guided by other strong women: female magazine managing editors and other women journalists, not to mention the many amazing industry leaders who have also been my mentors and sisters in this fraternity. Thank you to Bennie Allen, Jody DeVere, Lou Ann Hammond, Michelle Krebs, Jill Lajdziak, Jackie Manfredi, Brenda Priddy, Zoe Siskos, Karin Smith, and Melissa Spiering; they are just a few of the most amazing car gals, friends, and guides who have helped me find my way through the many years and challenges.

If the auto industry appears to be a boy's club, my first thought is that we girls who are already here just need to invite more women to join us. What else do we need to do to make it a more appealing place for our sisters? Please share your own thoughts and opinions too.

By Brandy Schaffels
AskPatty Editor and Woman in a Car Guy's World

Each day this week, will be presenting a different writer's perspective article on this topic, and we hope our readers will come back to read each day's installment. On Tuesday, Jody DeVere shares changing attitudes of women in the Auto Biz. On Wednesday, Brandy Schaffels  discusses what it's been like as a cargirl in the automotive publishing world, on Thursday Linda Przygodski talks about 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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