“I think that raising the bar for female technicians and having this industry respect us is important,” Weaver said.
Although women buy 62% of new cars sold in the United States and make up 50% of the repair market, according to an NPR report, it is estimated that only 17% of car industry jobs are held by women in positions of design, manufacturing, retail and service maintenance.
Hanna Weaver (right) helps a student remove a serpentine belt. Contributed
Women currently comprise approximately 4% of auto technicians and mechanics, according to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics. And the shortage of female auto technicians is not unique to the United States. Women are significantly underrepresented in the auto industry globally.
Despite this, since starting at Sinclair, Weaver has observed more female students coming through the program, which is important to her.
“As a student and someone who was just starting out in the automotive field, I didn’t have a lot of females to look up to,” Weaver said.
Weaver eventually began to feel comfortable in an industry where few fellow professionals looked like her, but, as she built her confidence, working in the male-dominated industry got better and easier.
Justin Morgan, the Sinclair Automotive Technology department chair, also has noticed the increase in female enrollment — approximately 7% during the past six years. Around 15% of the students in the program now are female.
In response to this increase, Morgan organized a focus group in 2018 with female students and alumni of the program “to grow and improve the department,” Morgan said. The purpose of the focus group was to create a safe space for open discussion in order to help faculty with any biases or concerns that may arise, to help female students to succeed within the department, and to prepare them for what they will face in the industry.
Weaver highlights presence as an important factor for connecting with underrepresented groups. She and other colleagues are actively involved with the WiSTEM Institute, Girl Scouts Master Mechanic, Upward Bound, and Self Drive Sinclair outreach programs.
For potential students just to “know that we’re here” and be able to envision themselves in these careers is crucial, Weaver said.
The last Upward Bound program was delivered online due to COVID, but students were just as involved and posed great questions, she said.
Confidence building also is important. Easing the fears of working with complex technology among potential students is very encouraging to them, according to Weaver.
Greater opportunities for women do exist and may be a result of the industry becoming more customer focused, specifically around user experience, according to Carla Bailo, CEO at the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In order to connect with women—who are the majority of car buyers and driver’s license holders—leaders in the industry are seeing the need to diversify the workforce.
Diversification in the field of automotive technology education is needed as well. Morgan said he knows of few female instructors in the field. He is considering a reassessment of hiring practices to make sure that job qualifications align with industry needs. For example, he said there are highly skilled technicians who could be excellent instructors, but they don’t have the required certifications.
Hanna Weaver (right) teaches at Sinclair College. Weaver has observed more female students coming through the program, which is important to her. Contributed
The program typically gets one to two qualified candidates per instructor job posting, which Morgan said often makes it difficult to diversify the staff. Currently, he is considering the possibility of certifying newly hired instructors on the job.
Weaver is hopeful the increase of female interest in the automotive world and the Sinclair program will continue.
“I really like seeing that, because it makes me feel more at home in the industry,” she said, “and I hope that I can do that for them as well.”
Laurel Painter is a member of the The Journalism Lab, a local citizen journalism group. She is also an employee at Sinclair College but does not work in the Automotive Technology program nor for any entity involved with the program.