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Women not idling in automotive sector

Industry jobs shifting gears

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The traditionally male-dominated auto industry appears to be shifting gears. Not only do most dealerships employ female sales associates, but women are making inroads behind the scenes in the parts and service departments.

While many dealerships see the value in employing women in all aspects of their business, sometimes it's the customers who could use some sensitivity training.

Amy Fakes, parts manager at Crown Acura, says she seen all the looks and heard all the wisecracks over the years.

"I've even had a man call to his wife: 'Hey honey! This lady actually knows about cars!' " said Fakes.

The surprise of encountering a woman behind the parts counter is common from customers, said Fakes, but sometimes it isn't as humorous.

Debra Borton, service manager at Crown Honda, who has been in the automotive industry for 21 years, experienced some harsh judgment as recently as two weeks ago.

"There was a gentleman that rudely indicated, 'You're the service manager?' " said Borton. "I get a lot of 'I want to speak to him' or 'I'd rather speak to a technician.' Absolutely I get that. It doesn't offend me, it's just a fact."

It isn't just men who judge her knowledge, said Borton, women also question her abilities. Borton clarified it does not hinder her doing her job.

"It just surprises me sometimes that we still encounter it," Borton said. "But I've also had women come in and say they feel so much more comfortable speaking with another woman."

Fakes said she serves a lot of regular customers, so she isn't judged as much anymore.

"But you've got to have thick skin," said Fakes. "So something like that, you have to say, 'Oh yes, no problem,' because we're still dealing in customer service."

Dealing in customer service is Dyanne Evans' forte. A sales representative at Winnipeg Honda, she came into the "boys' club" in her 40s without much incident.

"When the young girls do come in, they tend not to last very long because they get bullied," said Evans. "They get bullied out of their deals and all kinds of things."

Evans has had her male counterparts in the past say they'd help on a deal, but then all of a sudden they'd be heading the deal, taking all the credit and stealing half the commission. However, Evans believes it doesn't happen to her because of her age and experience.

That sort of rivalry also occurs between competing dealerships, leading to long hours six days a week. Judy Zulak, business manager for Winnipeg Honda, says the hours can take away from family time.

"Especially at the end of the month," said Zulak. "I have a 10-year-old son, and since I've been doing this since he was two years old, he understands why he doesn't see his mom. Just because he knows that's how the schedule works."

Borton has two children, two step-children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. She said she misses a lot of family time.

"If a customer has a need, you can't say, 'Well it's time to go home and put dinner on the table,' " she said. "We've had days in the cold stretch being here 12-14 hours a day because customers are stranded and they need their cars. You've got to do what you've got to do."

With those long hours, employees are around each other more often than not.

"It's more of a home, like a work family, and maybe that's a female thing," said Marietta Rewucki, president of Eastern Chrysler. "But we all really look at the business like it is our work family."

Jessica Rear, apprentice service technician at Crown Honda, said being the only woman in the garage has left her being everyone's little sister.

"Everyone sees each other as brothers and sisters here," said Rear.

"We go for drinks and hang out... Everyone looks out for everybody here."

When they do go out, Rear jokes that she's told she cleans up nice -- the dirt and grime of her job doesn't bother her.


Some clutch advice

If you are a woman considering a job in the auto industry, here's some advice:

'If it's something you love, stick with it. Never let anybody put you down'

-- Jessica Rear

'Some days it is tough because it's a male-dominated business, but it's honestly made me a stronger person'

-- Judy Zulak

'If you don't have that passion for cars, it's really hard to remember all the stuff that we have to remember on a daily basis'

-- Amy Fakes

'(In sales) you have to be honest, genuine and know what you are talking about. People aren't going to buy a car if they can tell you don't know what you're talking about'

-- Dyanne Evans

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2013 A9

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