BETHESDA, Md.Before she joined the then-Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) in 2002, Kathleen Schmatz spent 30 years at Babcox Media covering the auto care industry.
It was a very different world then as far as women were concerned, according to Ms. Schmatz, who became AAIA president and CEO in 2004 and oversaw the association's rebranding last year as the Auto Care Association (ACA).
The first trade shows I attended, I was one of six women who wasn't wearing a wet T-shirt, she told Tire Business.
Although some elements of sexism still exist in the auto care industry, Ms. Schmatz said women are now a considerable and growing presence in the industryalthough that growth is uneven.
The growth is great one year, and flat the next, but I definitely think it's growing, she said. The industry is just beginning to speak with a single voice on the importance of auto care careers for women.
The ACA doesn't keep figures on the number of women in auto care positions, or how those positions are divided between marketing and auto technician jobs, she noted.
But we've certainly seen a lot of growth of women in sales and marketing positions, and there are more and more all-women shops and female technicians who have a following. I think the growth is on both sides.
Industry outreach deserves the credit for getting women excited about auto care careers, according to Ms. Schmatz.
The Women's Board of the Car Care Council (CCC)an organization of women car care professionals devoted to providing career opportunities and education to women aspiring to car care careershas done much to draw women to the industry, she said.
The ACA also conducts considerable outreach to women through women-specific programs in its educational activities, organizations for young car care professionals, and presentations at trade shows and events including the annual Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo (AAPEX) in Las Vegas, she said.
Men in the auto care industry, meanwhile, have mostly become very accepting of women in the workplace, strengthening the industry as a whole, she said.
Ms. Schmatz, who will retire at the end of this year, said she still is considering her options. But one thing she definitely plans to do is to offer continued support to the CCC's Women's Board.
As for whether women will ever inhabit the car care industry in equal numbers with men, she said: I think that's a reasonable look in the binoculars. Employment is certainly stronger for women in the industry, and I think we're on our way to that kind of employment picture.
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