Over the years, the automotive and collision repair industries have become more welcoming to female professionals in the traditionally male-dominated space, yet even as the number of women in the industry has increased, few females pursue careers in more technical roles.
While women account for 47% of the United States’ labor force according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor in 2018, they also reported that women made up 2.4% of automotive service technicians, 1.1% of autobody repairers, and even fewer automotive glass installers and repairers.
After identifying a similarly significant gender disparity in their technician and repair specialist roles, Safelite AutoGlass launched SWIFT, Safelite Women in the Field Team, focused on improving the experience of these female associates. SWIFT defines women in the field as replacement technicians, repair specialists, ADAS specialists, warehouse, and distribution center associates.
SWIFT’s vision statement reads: “Through inspiration and education, we will influence women to utilize their skills and talents in joining Safelite. We will achieve this by breaking down barriers associated with a career in the vehicle and automotive services.”
According to SWIFT chairperson Jayme Blasiman, “The most substantial gender disparity was found in the trade and STEM fields. Our company has over 7,000 replacement technicians across the country with less than 5% of those being women. SWIFT’s primary purpose is to shrink this disparity by more strongly supporting women already in the field and capitalizing on opportunities to attract more women to join the industry.”
A 2018 Catalyst report indicated that the automotive industry has difficulty attracting women into entry-level positions and is one of the least successful industries at attracting and retaining women. The report also referenced a 2017 survey conducted by Automotive News in which 65% of women reported being tasked with lower-level assignments compared to male peers and 25% reported feeling unsafe at work.
Blasiman shared that many women in more technical roles across the industry receive attention as the “symbolic” female, so they don’t make requests or demands because they want to avoid soliciting more attention. “SWIFT is a small group, and we’re committed to a proactive approach that lets Safelite’s women in the field know that they have a support team that provides mentoring in helping them grow their skills and career path.”
SWIFT is comprised of 15 representatives from across Safelite’s departments, including marketing, philanthropy, warehouse, the field, and HR. “Members were chosen methodically to cover the gamut, so when we identify an opportunity to improve something, we have representatives on our team to help bring it to fruition.”
SWIFT meets twice each month to discuss their action items and ensure they are on the right path. Since SWIFT held its kickoff meeting on Aug. 5, the group has generated over 100 ideas to improve women’s experience in the field and attract and retain more females to field roles.
Members evaluated the company’s marketing materials and discovered few photos of female technicians and repair specialists. Women weren’t included in recruitment and training videos, so in late 2019, the team organized a marketing photoshoot that included women. “There are girls and women interested in this industry, which offers legitimate, good-paying jobs, but if they don’t see another female in the role, it’s easy to disregard the industry as an option,” Blasiman said. “Seeing someone like you in the ads makes it seem like a viable choice.”
SWIFT members also distributed a survey about uniforms after finding that over 50% of female techs and repair specialists don’t use the company’s offered uniforms due to fit issues. Feedback indicated that women in the field want stretchy pants that fit different body types and feature real pockets. (For those of you who are unaware, most women’s pants pockets can hold exactly two paperclips and a piece of gum).
Next, SWIFT will conduct fit and wearability tests with women of different body shapes and sizes to ensure women’s options are as durable as those of their male counterparts. Members also noticed a lack of maternity clothes and are sourcing options for pregnant women in the field. “We’re going through a lot of due diligence to ensure women in the field are getting what they’re asking for and what they need,” Blasiman stated.
SWIFT plans to launch a private workplace group to “create a place where women can collaborate and discuss their experiences as females in the field. It’s about creating a subculture within a culture.”
“The fact that these conversations are being held is huge,” Blasiman stated. “It’s really a mindset change. A SWIFT member asked three female repair specialists if they’d ever been interested in becoming a technician, and now, all three are in training just because the question opened their eyes to the possibility. At least a quarter of the survey respondents expressed gratitude that we cared enough to ask.”
SWIFT members also noticed that Safelite’s recruiting questions reference a 75-pound lifting requirement for the tech role. Women may eliminate themselves from the candidate pool strictly based on that requirement. Demonstrating the company’s commitment to moving forward and eliminating these types of inequalities, Safelite will soon launch three new repair specialist roles with a 25-pound lifting requirement, so women aren’t weeding themselves out unjustly.
Blasiman doesn’t believe that these discussions need to become a heavy human resources conversation.
“People often see conversations about gender disparity in the workplace as a touchy topic, but it’s really as simple as ‘Do you like your uniform?’ ‘Let’s take more pictures,’ or ‘Let’s create a community where you can talk to other ladies working in the same role.’ We want to start a dialogue to find out what it’s like to work here and how we can make it better. We have terrific support from our leadership team.”
Blasiman is proud to work for a company that listens to its associates and “puts their money where their mouths are. There’s a lot of excitement and buzz around SWIFT. It’s great when the company you work for is so eager to debunk these societal gender stereotypes.”
“Safelite is the authority in automotive glass; there’s no bigger company in the U.S., and they are a trendsetter in that space,” Blasiman added. “Why not be a trendsetter in this as well?”