It’s a very well-known phenomenon: women being taken advantage of at an auto mechanic shop, only to bring along a male with her the next time to ensure they take her seriously. It’s frustrating to think that in some of these cases familiar to many women, it takes having to add a man into the equation for a mechanic to look at her as an equal (if that), and this is not a problem not only limited to taking your car to a mechanic.
One woman, tired of being scammed and treated like she did not know the ins and outs of a car, decided to embark on a career change in order to change this industry status-quo and help other women. Philadelphia native Patrice Banks, 36, quit her fortune 500 job she had had for 12 years to become a mechanic. 2011 was the year she made a drastic life and career change, and in 2013 launched a business called Girls Auto Clinic.
Patrice told Mic.com in an interview that it was her long-standing interest in female empowerment that pushed her to do this.
“I had my own house, my own car. My girlfriends were the same: They were very independent, but still we didn’t know how to do things like fixing a toilet, investing our money or jumping a car,” she said.
After asking her Facebook friends what their biggest knowledge gap was and getting an almost unanimous answer regarding car maintenance, she experienced an “ah-ha!” moment when she learned she couldn’t even find a female mechanic in the Philadelphia area to help her and her girlfriends out.
Patrice earned her mechanic’s license, and then started offering workshops for women around car maintenance. Each workshop costs $25 and they run from April to November, mostly because they are held outside and the other months it is far too cold in Philadelphia to do this. Patrice teaches the women to distinguish between different types of fluid based on their color, the importance of an oil change, and has a table full of auto parts to educate women on what each one is, and what it should look like if it needs to be changed out.
“Next time a mechanic tells you you need one of these replaced, you can say, ‘Show me,'” she says to women.
The women who attend the workshops are given information about on parts such as brake pads, rotors, air filters, shocks and more, and told what they should cost, what they do, and how often they should be replaced.
Since launching her business, which is currently run out of Crest Auto Stores but will be moving to a new location in the fall which will include a space for childcare, a nail salon, and of course car maintenance. And given that she wasn’t able to find any female mechanics before launching Girls Auto Clinic, now that word has started to get around about her business, she has them coming out of the woodwork calling her up wanting to be part of the business.
Susan Sweeney, a certified mechanic for 2 decades who works for a re-manufactured auto parts company, says she immediately wanted to get involved with the Girls Auto Clinic when she heard about it, because she too has been treated like she did know what she was talking about form customers on the phone, despite her qualifications.
“Girls Auto Clinic is a support group reaching out to others who don’t even know there’s a support group out there. We’re letting other people know that we exist and saying, ‘We know you’re out there: Come to us. We can be here for you’,” she said.
Susan will be joining the GAC as a “shecanic” in the fall when the new location opens. Another woman, technician Cirina Johns, is moving from New Jersey to join the GAC because she struggled for years to gain the same type of respect in the industry and was sick of being treated like she couldn’t handle the same work as men.
Although some may think the idea of a “girls club” mechanic and using a term like “shecanic” may be patronizing, it is simply a way for Patrice’s mission to stand out and show women in her area that auto maintenance should not be an area they feel intimidated about.
“A shecanic owns her own house and isn’t afraid to fix the toilet; she pays her way through college; she takes care of her family and children. I don’t want people to think a shecanic is a woman who just works on cars. A shecanic is an empowered woman who is not afraid to learn something a woman isn’t traditionally taught,” she explained.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post in 2015 called ‘Why I Quit My Job As An Engineer To Become A Mechanic‘, Patrice says women have a lot of power to disrupt the mechanic industry given we are their biggest customers, and that there is a way to avoid the “auto airhead” stereotype.
“I saw a major business opportunity in the auto industry’s gender gap. Becoming a mechanic wouldn’t just save me hundreds of dollars on unnecessary and inadequate repairs. It also would allow me to save other women from the same fate,” she said in her piece.
Her unique service has been called upon by various companies, car dealerships and organizations such as the Girl Scouts in order to show women and girls how to be equipped with the basic knowledge of car care and how to be informed about different aspects of a motor vehicle.
“I even accompany women to dealerships and repair shops to haggle with the men trying to sell them cars and parts. It’s amazing how often salesmen don’t know the answers to my questions about a used car’s upkeep and how quickly they’ll knock $500 off the price when you tell them you know the vehicle is due for major maintenance. When a woman can negotiate, it’s empowering,” she said.
Some of the stats she has learned about women in the mechanic world have been quite appalling, but together with her findings, and the way she is encouraging more women to learn about cars and become mechanics themselves, Patrice is hoping to shift the status quo in a more gender equal way.
“I learned that fewer than 2 percent of auto mechanics are women. Dealerships are no better: Just 13% of car salespeople are women. It’s easy for us to feel misunderstood and mistreated by the auto business when we don’t see ourselves reflected in it, she said.
She also mentioned a survey which found 77% of respondents said mechanics are more likely to sell women unnecessary repairs, and 66% believed that mechanics charge women more than men for the same services. And when it comes to being uninformed about the price of a service or part, women are more likely to be charged higher prices than men.
“Women are the industry’s top customers, holding the majority of driver’s licenses in the United States and spending more time on the road than men. They shell out more than $200 billion every year buying new cars and servicing their vehicles,” she added.
Aside from helping the women of today, Patrice also wants to ensure the next generation of girls don’t grow up in a world where a mechanic career is seen as an exclusively male one. She talks about a visit to a technical high school to talk about what it’s like to be a female mechanic, to an audience of only male students.
“They made clear that they were skeptical of my credentials. They looked at my hands to see how dirty they were. They quizzed me on my knowledge of car parts and mechanics. Even after I passed their tests, the boys told me that I was too much of a distraction to work with men. They were still teenagers, but that kind of mentality is what discourages girls who are interested in cars from going into the business — and fuels the industry’s gender disparities,” she recalled.
We love seeing women who are challenging negative gender norms and creating new paths for women to thrive. And the coolest aspect about this modern day Rosie the Riveter? She does her work while wearing heels, and ain’t ashamed of it!
We’re pretty sure the sight of a woman in sky high heels tinkering with a car engine would make some people nervous, but the more the word spreads about the Girls Auto Clinic and the way Patrice is empowering women to take control of their car maintenance, we can’t help but feel inspired.