New Jersey Automotive March 2022

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FEATURE

Proving Herself and Taking No Crap: Women in Collision Although women comprise around 51 percent of the population, less than two percent of auto body repair technicians are female, based on a 2021 report by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, nearly 60 percent of women participate in the labor force, which begs the question: Why aren’t more women working in automotive and collision repair shops where we so desperately need help? A large reason for the lack of female technicians is simply…the lack of female technicians. Young women often don’t pursue careers in the automotive and collision industries because they don’t see other women in those roles, leading them to believe that there’s no place for them. Of course, that’s totally untrue. While women are different from men, those differences are a strength when leveraged properly! Women think differently. Their focus on efficiency and accuracy tend to be huge assets for shops, not to mention the fact that female consumers are typically more comfortable visiting shops that employ women. But defying the odds and being the only woman in the room comes with its own unique set of challenges and fears. Overcoming the fear of being different is never easy – just ask any collision repairer whose negotiations with insurers have been quelled by the claim that they’re “the only one!” – but fortunately, some women are comfortable being uncomfortable; they didn’t allow their fears to subdue their aspirations to join this industry. New Jersey Automotive talked to a few of the amazing women who’ve found a home in New Jersey collision shops and other industry businesses about their experiences working in a male-dominated industry, the benefits of diversity and how shops can attract more female employees. Ironically, Danielle Molina (Perfect Bodies Collision; Passaic) found her passion for auto body by accident – quite literally! As a college student, she got into a crash which forced her to take a leave of absence from her job. Unable to sit still at home, she lended a hand to her mother who worked at a shop. “I saw the need for quality shops and the potential to start a great career. My short leave in 2012 turned into a permanent position, and I opened my shop by 2015.” In the beginning of her career, Molina found it easy to blame challenges on her gender. “My ego didn’t believe it was a lack of knowledge, but I had to grow past that. Sometimes, we simply don’t know enough. It’s easy to chalk up those experiences to being a woman, but when you place blame outside yourself, there’s 30 | New Jersey Automotive | March 2022

no call to personal action. Even if being a woman is the reason for a challenge, there’s nothing I can do to change it, so I focus on the things I can control: my knowledge, skillset and experience. We get to choose how we perceive things, and I’ve decided to see these challenges as opportunities to grow.” Her gender offered one large advantage for Molina: “I don’t feel pressured to be naturally good with cars because people often assume women just don’t know. The bar being set so low is almost helpful, as it allows me to always operate from a beginner’s mindset. I learn something new every day, in large part because I feel free to admit if I don’t know something and I also feel empowered to find the solution. Being curious and asking questions gives me an advantage. When I think about how far I’ve come, I can’t discount the value of my team…Perfect Bodies is a ship on wheels, and we’re all wheeling forward; I work for them as much as they work for me. “Networking can be difficult as a woman in this industry since we don’t necessarily fit into the ‘boys’ club,’ but I’ve been blessed to find great mentors, like Charlie [Bryant, executive director of AASP/NJ]. Women excel at building a community, and by being humble and eager to learn, we can earn a seat at the table by virtue of proving our knowledge base.” Nicole Sigrist (Collision Restoration; Fairfield) grew up in a “car family” with a father who collected antique cars. Shortly after graduating high school, a family friend hired her to answer phones at a collision repair facility, where she worked for seven years, learning parts ordering and realizing her love for the challenge of filing third-party claims for customers and disputing police reports. In 1995, while Sigrist was searching for a new job, her father ran into Eddie Day, owner of Collision Restoration, who was seeking help in his shop. Sigrist “learned everything here. I always had a thing for cars, and I’m lucky to have found my niche. I loved it then, and I still love it!” Sigrist agrees that acceptance in the industry really boils down to demonstrating what she knows. “The guys I work with don’t think less of me because I’m a woman; I’ve gained their respect because I know what I’m doing. When someone doesn’t know their job, it’s obvious. You have to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and then find someone to help you improve your skills.” Despite being knowledgeable, Sigrist has faced her share of doubt: