MR. GUSTAFSSON: And that is really the reason why we’re here.
We have great panelists. We start to mirror the organization, so we start with the inside, and that is our chief of interior design, and after that we have some external help to educate our dealers so they fulfill our story and what we are trying to achieve. And at least we have our technicians, the ones that repair our cars and they need to mirror our vision. So we are in for a by far higher number there too.
Thank you very much, and enjoy the panel.
MS. CROSBY: Hello everyone. I’m Anquoinette Crosby, a news anchor and former consumer reporter for MotorWeek on PBS.
I’m happy to have with us three women who have worked in the auto industry for decades in three very different positions. But what they all have in common is that all three have created an onramp for other women to work in this field.
We have Lisa Reeves, all the way here from Sweden, where as the head of interior design at Volvo Cars she has a major voice in how every Volvo looks, feels, and operates.
Bogi Lateiner is a master auto mechanic and the founder of Girl Gang Garage, which empowers more women to become auto mechanics and technicians.
Jody DeVere is the CEO of AskPatty.com, which provides training and even certification to help women understand cars, and the car industry to understand women.
So Bogi, we are going to start with you. Why did you want to work in the auto industry, and what was your path forward?
MS. LATEINER: So my path to automotive was very nontraditional. I didn’t grow up around cars. My parents weren’t into cars. They don’t know where I came from. But when I saved up all of my hard-earned babysitting money to buy my first car when I was 16, I discovered that the only time women and cars showed up together was when they were scantily clad, posed in front of them, and this did not sit well with my little feminist brain. So I started wanting to learn about cars myself, and found resistance everywhere I turned, and I was very clearly being told I didn’t belong and I wasn’t welcome.
So I took auto shop in high school, against my guidance counselor’s wishes, and I really came to automotive out of stubbornness and to prove a point, less out of interest. But I fell in love with it, despite myself.
I went to college to study prelaw and women’s studies. I thought I was going to fight for women’s rights on the legal front. And then when I graduated college I realized I missed working with my hands, and I really enjoyed teaching my female classmates about their cars and empowering them through that. So I decided to become an auto mechanics instead, and thought there were other ways that I can empower women, specifically through automotive knowledge.
MS. CROSBY: All right. You have been doing that.
Lisa, let’s turn to you. What drew you to the industry?
MS. REEVES: So I inherited a passion for cars through my childhood. My father is an enthusiast, he used to restore cars, and we went on motorsport events together. I also love to draw, and since the age of six that is all I ever wanted to do. So I guess there I had ingredients.
But when I really knew I wanted to be a car designer was during a school work experience, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to visit a car design studio to see the environment, to see the full-size clay models, and then I realized that was my dream. So I asked there and then, “What do I need to do to get here?” and go to university to study car design is what I did.
MS. CROSBY: That’s great. So you turned your passion into a career.
Jody, for almost 20 years you’ve been a critical middle woman in this industry. So tell us what you do.
MS. DeVERE: Well, before I tell you what I do I want to say a little about me, and that is that I grew up in the San Fernando Valley during the ’50s and ’60s. It was a huge car culture. Like we got to putt the boulevard on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday night, all those cool, classic cars.
And, you know, I did all the normal things. I got married, and all those things. And then my husband died, and I had three kids in tow. And I’m sure there are many women listening today that are single moms, and I think this is the journey that began for me, that, one, I had to become somewhat fearless to go out and provide for my children, and this became a pattern of life.
I was on a mission, and I’m very mission driven, and that led to becoming a young entrepreneur. I’ve owned many businesses, first in high tech, and then I came into automotive just before my 50th birthday. And I took a look around for a couple of years and said, wow, there’s really a disparity of women working and the experience for women. I think I could start a company and help our industry solve this problem.
So I launched AskPatty.com, and we provide automotive advice for women, to help them make more informed decisions about car buying and maintenance and repair. And we also train and certify automotive retailers like car dealers, independent service centers, tire dealers, to communicate more effectively with women and to provide a better experience. We also offer certifications in culture, workforce, and leadership as well.
Then, in 2015, I launched yet another company, because I could, and this revolved around women working in the auto industry. It was called Women in Automotive. And that business was about accelerating women’s careers, helping the industry learn how to attract, hire, retain, and develop more women leaders across all segments.
MS. CROSBY: All right. So you’re an entrepreneur and a very successful one as well. Sounds good.
So Bogi, you are determined to make the women who fix cars more visible. How are you doing that?
MS. LATEINER: So I believe visibility is everything. You know, when I was coming up as a technician I never saw another technician that looked like me. It’s incredibly isolating and it often makes you want to give up.
So I really believe that if she can see it, she can be it. And so my new shop is called Girl Gang Garage, and there we do workshops and classes to introduce women to the trades. But I organize these large-scale, all-female builds for women who come from all over the country, all over Canada as well, to come and participate in a build. We just finished our most recent one, which was a partnership with Volvo. We took a 1961 Volvo PV544, body-swapped it with a 2019 Volvo S60 hybrid. An incredibly ambitious build and very technically challenging.
The point of it was to bring women in the trades together so that we can have our confidence built, feel validated and reinforced, and hopefully stay in the industry, but also invite more women to come and explore the trades, the love of building things with your hands. But most importantly, to increase conversation and visibility around women in the trades, not just within the automotive industry, to say, “Hey, we’re here. Give us opportunity. We’re willing. We’re capable,” but also to the rest of the world to show there are viable career paths for women in the automotive industry.
We unveiled at SEMA last week. SEMA is the Superbowl of car shows, if you’re not familiar. It is absolutely ridiculous. And to be an entirely female-built build there is substantial. It was 165 women from the U.S. and Canada that came together to build this vehicle, and it’s just absolutely incredible.
MS. CROSBY: And you had women, like you’re saying, all over, but the age ranges too.
MS. LATEINER: From 12 to 75.
MS. CROSBY: Yeah. Incredible.
Lisa, women are 71 percent more likely to be injured in a car crash. What can be done from a design standpoint to make driving safer for women?
MS. REEVES: Yeah, that is correct, but I’m so proud to say that is not the case in a Volvo. And that is we can now say we have equality in safety that women are at similar risk as men. And how we’ve achieved that is we’ve collected real-life data from accidents since the 1970s, and we’ve used this. We’ve analyzed it and learned a lot over time, and this input then goes into the design of the cars, and we design for the more vulnerable.
So we have very high standards in safety, over and above the industry standards. We were actually the first company to make a virtual female, pregnant, crash dummy, and we learned a lot from that. And now we share the analysis of this data to the wider industry, in the hope for equality for all, just as we did with the seat belts back in 1959.
But over safety as well we work with ergonomics. We make physical, one-to-one models through the development. We test for reach, for comfort, for body sizes, even if we can control switches with longer fingernails — it’s so important. And then we also look at features, flexible storage, versatility, a place to put the handbag, which I’m very proud, in our new EX90 we have a really good handbag storage.
MS. REEVES: What we ultimately want is for everybody who sits in our cars to feel belonging and to really enjoy the time in the cars.
MS. CROSBY: Absolutely. That’s great to hear.
Jody, can you talk about the role of mentoring, of women opening the door for other women?
MS. DeVERE: Yes. I was so fortunate. Early on I had an amazing mentor named Lorraine Schultz. She actually founded the very first women’s organization, back in the ’80s, when she was 60 years old, by the way. She really took me under her wing. She introduced me to the right people. She was based in Detroit so she knew the right people. She championed me to the industry and my budding business model, AskPatty.com.
Much later, at Women in Automotive, I launched a formal mentoring program, because I know how powerful that can be for women. Women in Automotive also has developed training and conferences and cocktails and networking for men and women to learn how to bring more women and develop more women leaders across all segments.
MS. CROSBY: So is it getting better?
MS. DeVERE: Is it getting better? Yes. I was asked that question earlier. I think it is a slow-moving target. I think it is very similar to all other women across all industries and all roles, that, you know, we have to fight for our seat at the table —
MS. DeVERE: — and we have to be fearless about that.
MS. CROSBY: Fearless. I like it.
Lisa, now you have worked for three different car makers, though most of your career has been spent at Volvo. What needs to be done to attract more women and to retain and promote the women who are already there?
MS. REEVES: Yeah, so as I said I studied car design at university. I was really a minority on that course. And I think it’s fair to say that it’s similar today. So we really need to get out there to schools to inspire females at a younger age to get into the industry, and we need to look further afield, like maybe product design or so.
But the industry is transforming at such a fast pace right now, and we are looking for competencies outside of traditional automotive industry. For example, software design, development, and sustainability, and I hope with that comes more gender balance too. We have global design studios. We have one in Gothenburg, Sweden, we have one in California here, and one in Shanghai. And that diversity really helps us to understand the global needs. It’s really important to us.
I think in terms of keeping people and promoting people, in my experience culture has been a big part of that. And when I moved to Volvo in Sweden it’s a speak-up culture, and I think it’s really important to support any minority, whatever that is, to be able to feel they can speak up, to be encouraged, to feel that their opinion is valid, and feel confident in doing that.
And then I think as a mom of two, equal parental responsibility from the beginning, in my world. I think that really supports the female to have a work-family balance.
Bogi, what needs to change?
MS. LATEINER: How long do we have?
MS. CROSBY: About four minutes.
MS. LATEINER: I think, first and foremost, we need to stop looking at careers as being gendered. But bigger than that is we need to change our societal perception on four-year schools versus two-years schools, white collar versus blue collar. The issues that are affecting the automotive industry are bigger than the automotive industry. By 2026, we will need 1 million automotive, diesel, collision, and aircraft technicians. The supply chain issues that we’re having as a society today I think are just a teaser for what is to come down the line, when we run out of technicians to fix the things that make our society work.
And in reality, the way that we can fix that technician shortage is by looking at the other 50 percent of the population. We need to start seeing that the automotive industry has a number of incredible career opportunities for young women. This is a viable career path for your daughters. This is a viable career path for your sisters.
And we, as consumers, need to realize that we are in the driver’s seat. We are the majority owners. We are the majority buyers of cars, and we can vote with our dollars and choose companies that do the right thing and support women.
Jody, last question. What do you think needs to be done to make this industry a more appealing career path for women?
MS. DeVERE: Well, there is a little gap in communication. As we heard today, women are storytellers and men prefer to speak in bullet points. So this creates a communication problem downline.
I think more inclusive female-friendly training for the automotive retailers, to learn more about respect, relationship building, listening skills, and to speak in a common language. This alone would really help not only the women car buyer but women thinking about a career in automotive. I think that’s a great idea, a win game.
MS. CROSBY: All right. We’re going to have to leave it there, but Jody, Lisa, and Bogi, thank you so much for this wonderful conversation, and hopefully inspiring to other women to follow in all of your footsteps. Thank you so much.
Now I’m going to turn things back over to The Washington Post.
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