These women in automotive are changing the world – for all of us.
Editor’s note: These ladies are on the move! In fact, Kerri Wise has taken on the role of VP of marketing at AutoFi, and Erikka Wells is leading sales at VW of Marion, IL. More amazing leaps– in leadership and inspiration.
Close your eyes and think of your mechanic. Hold that image in your mind. Now, think of a car salesman. What do they look like? What do they sound like? Hold that image. Stand them next to the mechanic in your mind. Now think of an auto writer or an auto journalist. What do they look like?
Odds are that the images held in your mind are most likely of middle-aged white men. Well, if you are reading this on, A Girl’s Guide to Cars, your image of an auto writer might be of female, but the odds are that your initial vision was not based on the numbers of women in the field. In fact, according to Catalyst, women make up approximately 23% of the American automotive industry, and diversity hasn’t necessarily been a priority… a fact evidenced in hiring practices that resulted in a mere 8% of that number being women of color.
Now, these statistics exist for a variety of reasons including interest in the field, deficits in educational and in-field preparedness, lack of incentive and hostile work environments rife with microaggressions and overt bias resulting in problems with retention. Yet despite the efforts of well-meaning humans and would-be mentors, the “table” of the automotive industry is often perceived as undesirable, and the environment around it, unwelcoming and uncomfortable for the women that step up to sit there. But now, there is a group of women making a place at that table for themselves and for anyone else who wants to join.
For the last seven years, I have been a lifestyle journalist and auto writer. As a college-educated black woman trained in a variety of disciplines, working in a field dominated by men, I know what it is like to be a minority in every sense of the word. Personally, I have experienced a variety of responses to my presence here, from excitement and wholehearted welcome to disdain, ignorance and silent dismissal.
But because of the people that have come before and welcomed me into the fold, the gracious ones that have taken me under their wing and the preparation that has paved my path, the majority of my experiences as an auto journalist have been positive with a few sprinkled in moments of icky, “Really?!” and downright annoying responses. The same cannot be said for the every woman of color or even the majority of women entering or desiring to advance in the industry. It is time for that trend to change.
The Women of Color Automotive Network, WOCAN for short, aims to change just that by creating a community and a free-flowing avenue of access, talent, insider information, support and expertise while leveraging experience, a diverse viewpoint and a very lucrative base of under appreciated, motivated professionals while also taping into a mobile base of underrepresented shoppers.
Four Amazing Women, the Founders of WOCAN
I had been drawn into meeting these women by a friend who knows me well. In perfect 2020 fashion, I made sure that my computer was on mute and the kids were settled as I stared at a Zoom call, greeted with a grid of faces of four women I did not know: Amanda Gordon, Kerri Wise, Errika Wells and later via phone, Patrice Banks. I had no idea that this call would be one of the most inspiring hours that I would spend in a good while.
While we waited for the call time to begin, I listened to the easy banter between the women. Friendly camaraderie, happy smiles and quick life updates were exchanged before the call slid to record. It was obvious that the participants were close-knit friends as well as professional colleagues.
In my research of each woman, image after image appeared from events, awards and other press and I soon realized that these four women are creative pathfinders in the midst of independently carving out their space in the automotive industry. And still, they make time to come together to inspire and support others through the collaborative Women of Color Automotive Network, known affectionately as WOCAN.
The team behind WOCAN will be participating in the Celebrating Women in Automotive webcast with Reuters on October 29, 2020, and they invite you to join in the conversation. Visit here to register for the free web-conference (HERE)
Why they started WOCAN
Each woman’s path to the automotive was varied, shaped by her personal journey and the desire to fill a void. Erikka Wells’ journey began at Midas when she was looking to get a repair done and ended up walking away with a marketing job. Kerri Wise’s path launched when JD Power (yes, that JD Power) spoke at her university. Amanda Gordon found her start in sales on the dealership side of the story, and Patrice Banks’ road started when her engineering background collided with her failed search for a female mechanic.
Through problem-solving and the desire to pursue fulfilling work that made an impact on their lives and the communities that they represent, the founders of WOCAN would become leading female voices in the automotive industry. In their own way, they created a table where none previously existed.
Kerri Wise eventually became the VP of Communications for TrueCar after innovating dealer and industry communications for the field. Amanda Gordon became the first black woman to own an auto dealership in the state of Colorado. Erikka Wells found herself as a sales and marketing manager for Nissan after developing a pilot program and mentorship program. Patrice Banks became an author, the head of a training school, and the founder of Girls Auto Clinic.
When they began, they had no idea that the others existed, that their paths would converge or even how their paths would pave the way for other women. Each woman’s story is bright, unique and filled with met goals and unexpected adventures that resulted in the desire for community and a fellowship of women that understand the journey of women of color in automotive.
More than a series of lofty titles, these women are committed to creating a world that they want to live in and opportunity for others. When asked about her why, Kerri Wise understands that the “symbolism” of one can inspire others. She desires “to make the road easier for those that come next.” Amanda Gordon reminds us why we need to be “deeply rooted in community” and how, “now more than ever,” that power can uplift and shape an entire society. Patrice Banks wants to create a decadently practical space for women know that she can do anything she wants and is enthusiastically helping women to learn, practice life skills, and feel the rush and confidence of being empowered and knowledgeable about their vehicles. Listen to Erikka Wells for a few minutes, and you learn very quickly that she is very passionate about encouraging women to be open to learning, “saying yes to opportunity,” and taking roles that they may not have considered before as a part of the automotive industry.
These passionate women knew they could be stronger together and by bringing other women into the fold. And that’s why the Women of Color Automotive Network is so important.
Sometimes, You Have to Create What You Want to Be Part Of
Enter 2020, the chaos of the global landscape and the dynamic adventure of racial awakening and the desire to create more diverse communities and environments for work and social life. And the creation of WOCAN.
The Women of Color Automotive Network “was founded to attract, support, connect and empower women of color in the automotive industry” — and women in automotive landscapes, generally. Needing and seeking an encouraging and safe space to share experiences and find common ground, WOCAN delivers both personal and leadership development along with a rapidly growing and vibrant community that has evolved to meet the needs of 2020.
Accepting those that identify as female from all races and degrees of interest in automotive, WOCAN fills a void in the automotive landscape.
To learn more about the group, visit here.
To get registered for Reuters Celebrating Women in Automotive webcast, visit here.