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This Shop Shows How Gender Parity is Good for Business

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SHOP STATS: Stop & Go Instant Oil Change   Location: Brattleboro, Vt.  Operator: Michael Lacroix  Average Daily Car Count: 40-80  Staff Size: 10  Ticket Average: $95 

The automotive industry is a male-dominated one—this isn’t news to many. According to Catalyst, women only account for 9.6 percent of the automotive repair and maintenance workforce, and the quick lube sector alone makes up even a smaller portion of this. 

Why is it important to have female representation not only in automotive, but also in businesses overall? The numbers say it all. A 2015 University of California-Davis study revealed that big California companies with at least some women in the top-ranked positions performed considerably better than ones with mostly males filling them. Among the top 25 firms with the highest percentage of women execs, the research found the median return on assets and equity was 74 percent higher than all 400 companies companies that were surveyed. In essence, it provides a different perspective to serve everyone that walks through the door; more women representation in a business means more women customers gravitating toward it.

When Danielle Lacroix first became a part owner and the overall business manager of her family’s quick lube business, there were zero women on the team. But since entering the role in 2017, she’s actively encouraged women to be a part of the equation. Her efforts have not gone unnoticed—she now has four women employees at the shop in her small hometown of Brattleboro, Vt. Since adding more female representation in the quick lube, she’s seen a lot more applications come across her desk in the past year than ever before, along with more female customers walking through the door. And since then, she’s made sure to put a focus on impacting the industry. 

Lacroix saw this perception and the need to make a change. Here’s how she’s putting her vision into action.

Why It’s Important

In the automotive realm, studies have also shown that women are more likely than men to get overcharged for some repair services. For a radiator replacement, women in the experiment were offered an average price of $406, while their male counterparts received a quote of $383, according to the Northwestern University study. The reason? Simply, repair shops tend to believe that women are uninformed about auto repair. The effect can discourage women to go in for a repair.

But when there’s a familiar face in the industry going against the odds, it changes the entire perspective for both technicians and consumers.

“I think a lot of women just don’t feel welcomed into [the field],” Lacroix says. “If I encourage it, it opens up the door to join the boys and the industry for generations down the road.”

And because Lacroix encourages women representation, it encourages more women customers. Lacroix says that the other day, a customer came up to her and said she was thrilled that there were more women working in the shop. She went on to say that she trusted everyone more just with a woman’s presence in the shop. More trust leads to more customers and, ultimately, more revenue in the shop’s pocket. Lacroix says shops have to have a welcoming crew that encourages women to come in for repairs and where they won’t feel talked down to.

Creating the Right Culture

While Lacroix is focused on encouraging women into the field, that doesn’t mean she shys away from hiring men. In general, she hires on attitude. Lacroix’s only criterion is an applicant with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn. She says you can’t teach attitude, but you can teach skill. And while she looks for these particular candidates, she makes sure she has an attractive atmosphere for women to thrive in. And for Lacroix, that’s treating her staff like family. Whether it’s birthdays, a death in the family, a new baby being born, Lacroix says anything that is important to her employees is important to her. 

“My employees, not just the women, but everyone, know that when they are having a difficult time in their lives, professionally or personally, that I am available to talk. I listen and try to help where I can,” Lacroix says. “Having an open and accepting work culture where women feel confident that they are supported in their work and their ambitions, as well as knowing that when something happens personally that may affect their work, they won’t be punished, is what I believe is helping to attract more women to work at my shop.”

Just a year ago, Lacroix says she doesn’t remember seeing any female resumes with any automotive experience whatsoever. But over the past year, the number has hit over a dozen. Within the last four months, she came across five alone. Instead of waiting for resumes to come in, Lacroix has been actively reaching out to candidates. When she conducts her search, she’s not only reaching out to women with automotive experience, but customer service experience in entry level positions, too.

“I’m using this tactic in hopes that I may hit upon a young woman who may be interested in cars, but maybe never pursued her dreams and has only had a couple of entry level positions,” Lacroix says.

It’s still not as many as the applications she gets from men, who are three times as many. But compared to before, it’s significant for a small town of just over 12,000. So when it comes to an overall change in the industry, Lacroix says it starts with owners and operators actively encouraging it.

“Women are comfortable in a culture where they feel they can trust and be open with their managers and they seek out employment where they know they are appreciated and will be heard,” Lacroix says. “I believe they find it easier to communicate with another woman and ask questions they may normally not decide to.”

Getting the Word Out

In addition to Lacroix and her sister, Elise, who runs the marketing side of the business part-time, Stop & Go has three other women on board. One of them applied on her own and fit the bill, another was a referral from an associate at a local dealership and the third was someone Lacroix had worked with previously—the employee’s father was the previous manager before Lacroix. Lacroix’s advertises open positions through Indeed, where she posts all of her ads and looks within a 40- to 50-mile radius in the tri-state area of Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

While she’s actively recruiting on Indeed and by word-of-mouth, Lacroix is also investing her time into making an overall change once she became more involved in the business. Every time a customer walks through the door, she makes sure to show the importance of women representation in the shop, telling them to spread the word.

“Customers are thrilled that more women are working in the shops,” Lacroix says.

Back in June, Lacroix wanted to hit the media outlets and landed some publicity through the local newspaper, which profiled the woman-owned-and-operated Stop & Go.

Lacroix recently started looking into creating programs that provide a career pathway for women in the industry and recruit them to her shop. She looks to connect with technical schools in the area, like Franklin County Technical College, and the local career center. Through these outlets, she wants to eventually start an apprenticeship program. And on top of all of this, she’s even looking to start her own Women’s Car Care Clinic for women—and men—to learn more about their vehicle, free of charge.

The clinic was inspired by fellow shop owner Amy Mattinat, and attendees would learn how to change a tire, check their oil and get roadside emergency preparedness, among other things. She hopes this clinic will not only bring more certainty when a check engine light pops up, but it will get women more confident in the automotive space.

“It’s the good old boys club with the automotive industry,” Lacroix says, with a subtle reference to “Parks and Recreation.” “It’s a dream of mine to be able to bring women in and train them to achieve their dreams in the automotive industry.”

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