The Rise of the Shecanics

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Patrice Banks, founder of the Girls Auto Clinic, teaching car maintenance to a group of women in her home town of Philadelphia. Photo courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic.

Last year, I learned to change my own brake pads. I posted pics of the process and made one my profile picture because I felt like a HERO. I’m a generally handy person but working on cars intimidates me, in part because there are so many electrical components in newer cars, and, in part because it seems like it may be pretty easy to die if I don’t put things back together correctly. I know I’m not the only person out there blindly trusting in their mechanic, but it’s pretty obvious that women disproportionately shy away from maintaining their own vehicles. What may not be as obvious is that in this country, there are more female than male drivers and women are the #1 consumers of cars.

In 2013, 25.4% of jobs in the Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicles Equipment Manufacturing industry were held by women. However, women made up only 1.5% of automotive body and related repairers and 1.8% of automotive service technicians and mechanics. So why is the number so high? Because almost 57% of the industry's female workers are doing office and clerical work.

In 2013, 25.4% of jobs in the Motor Vehicles and Motor Vehicles Equipment Manufacturing industry were held by women. However, women made up only 1.5% of automotive body and related repairers and 1.8% of automotive service technicians and mechanics. So where does the 25.4% stat come from? Check out that looooong green line. Almost 57% of the industry’s female workers are doing office and clerical work.

To find out why there was such a discrepancy, and to see who may be working to remedy this, I decided to Google around for programs training women to become mechanics, or, to at least teach basic maintenance skills. Unsurprisingly, only a handful of programs exist in the U.S. It’s always tougher to find women doing hands-on trades work, but the auto industry seems to be especially lacking in this respect.

The first woman my search turned up is Patrice Banks, a Philadelphian who is “working on disrupting the auto industry by catering to women.” How do you not click on that link? Patrice was working as a materials engineer for DuPont until she realized she knew nothing about cars despite spending a tremendous amount of money on them, couldn’t find other women who knew about cars, and couldn’t find a single female mechanic to work on her car. So, she decided to take classes, work for free at a garage on the weekends, and became a mechanic herself. And then she went even further and started the Girls Auto Clinic.

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The clinics have received a tremendous amount of press and women asking if there are clinics available in their cities. This is a clip pulled from CBS This Morning, but the clinics have also been featured on Fox News, the Washington Post, the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Dallas Morning News and numerous other outlets.

The Girls Auto Clinic “strives to be a visionary leader in the automotive industry by changing the way the industry views and markets to women while also changing the beliefs women have towards the industry through education and niche marketing.” Basically, the auto industry doesn’t reflect the needs, wants, and views of it’s #1 customer. Patrice also recognized that because women spend the most money on cars, they have real power to change the industry through education, and should be a part of the process from concept and design to maintenance and repair.

To help remedy this disconnect, Patrice teaches free classes for women each month, created an online forum for women to talk about cars, wrote the Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide, and even sells clothing merch for “Shecanics.” She is also working around the clock to open her own shop and expand the mission, so we’re sending her a bunch of Craftsman tools to help with that.

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In June, Patrice lead a free clinic for high school girls who drive. Fantastic. Shop classes have been cut from a majority of high schools across the country, but even when they did exist, only boys seemed to register.

The Girls Auto Clinic logo, language and images are hyper feminized, but because of this, classes reach a large and especially disempowered (in this arena) portion of women. Basically, Patrice takes the damsel in distress archetype and turns it on its head. I wear Doc Martens work boots when I’m in a shop. Patrice wears some serious heels when she’s teaching classes in a garage. It’s strange to see but also makes me think, “good lord, is there anything women can’t do, even in restrictive garb?”

Patrice’s classes appeal in a meaningful way to a whole lot of women who could never imagine themselves lifting up their car hood until now. While she is adamant that “all are welcome,” the mistreatment and underrepresentation of women in the auto industry is clearly what drives her passion for increased education and equality. This passion has not gone unnoticed. Girls Auto Clinic has garnered a ton of press and Patrice was even asked to do a Ted Talk about her work last year. Currently, less than 2% of mechanics are women. That is clearly going to change soon. Pictures from the Girls Auto Clinic November classes will be posted on ToolMade, so stay tuned!

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Patrice, still kicking ass in heels. Photo courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic.

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