Tech marketer Shawnda Williams has come alongside mechanic and technician Bogi Lateiner to lead Phoenix’s Girl Gang Garage. The Girl Gang Garage has three main goals—to create opportunities for women in the trades to work together and connect with each other, to provide hands-on training to women of all ages who would like to learn how to work on cars, even those who have little or no experience, and to showcase the many incredible women who are, or want to be, part of the automotive industry.
Bogi explains one of their offerings, classes to educate women to be better car care consumers. “We offer low cost introductory classes, like our women’s car care class, teaching women of all ages how to check their oil, change a tire, or jump start a battery. But also how to find a reputable mechanic and what questions to ask when they get there.”
They also offer hands on experience for women who wish to explore the automotive trades, from mechanical work to metal work, paint and body work, and electrical work. Women can also participate in regular large-scale complete vehicle restorations, where groups of women of varying skill levels come together to connect and learn and turn an old vehicle into a show car.
Bogi says the builds, which are free to those wanting to participate, are designed to also shine a spotlight on women in the trades and create opportunities for them to meet and work alongside one another. This is critically needed because according to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are only 2.5% of all U.S. automotive mechanics. Also, Bogi points out that women are still often discouraged from entering the trades, and those who do often encounter challenges.
In her early days as a mechanic, Bogi experienced both extremely blatant sexism as well as subtle messages that told her she wasn’t welcome. She was often laughed at when applying for a job, has been angrily told that women don’t belong in the shop, and was regularly denied opportunities. On a more subtle and yet just as discouraging note, there were no uniforms or work boots that were for women. At her first dealer job there was no lock on the bathroom so she used the customer one and changed into her uniform in the file room.
Williams joined forces with Bogi in 2019, leveraging her professional knowledge in brand development and design with her own gender diversity experiences within the tech industry to help make a more considerable impact and help the automotive trades evolve. “I saw lives transformed, women empowered. Hobbyist mechanics became professionals after working with the Garage, and professional female mechanics enhanced their careers.”
Bogi encourages women with an interest in an automotive career to pursue and explore those interests. “There are tons of excellent career opportunities in the trades! According to TechForce Foundation, six hundred and forty two thousand auto, diesel and collision technicians are needed between 2020 and 2024. These positions are in high demand, and they can not be outsourced or taken away.”
Society still tends to think of auto mechanics as dirty, uneducated, second-class citizens, something pursued by people who couldn’t cut it in college. But in reality, modern automotive technicians are highly skilled and educated. The average master technician may own 100k in tools and have gone through years of schooling. They attend continuing education classes to keep up with ever-changing technology. Today’s technicians need to understand and apply not only mechanical principles, but work with computers and programming, complex electrical diagnoses, and rapidly evolving technology.
Bogi highlights the intelligence and adaptiveness required to work on cars. “Car doctors work on hundreds of changing models, while human doctors usually work on only two models: male and female.”
She says girls need to see women working in the trades and feel confident they can bring something to the table. “Diversity makes any organization stronger. I know that from my own experience. I was smaller than most of the men I worked with, so while in some cases they were stronger, I was smaller and better able to squeeze and look into tight places.”
Bogi would ultimately like to see the day when she’s not a ‘woman mechanic’ but simply a ‘mechanic.’ Each year over 200 women take part in Girl Gang Garage programs. Their builds and classes attract a diverse group of women, from complete novices to highly skilled professionals, from all walks of life.
The first all-female build, dubbed the Chevy Montage, took place in 2017 and attracted over 90 women from 23 different states over the course of 10 months. Together they restored a 1957 Chevy Pick up truck and did a controversial engine swap, powering the truck with a BMW M5 engine. The choice was intentional, though Bogi knew it would ruffle some feathers. The build was designed to disrupt the conventional, be provocative, and initiate conversations with people talking about women in the trades.
As Bogi says, “Modern-day car mechanics are like rocket mechanics. There are more control modules today in cars than in the first Space Shuttle. And there are over one hundred million lines of code in a modern vehicle.”
Girl Gang Garage followed up the Chevy Montage with another all-female build named “High Yellow 56,” a 1956 Chevy Truck which, unlike its predecessor, contained a more traditional 350 small block engine, loaded with modern components, and was unveiled in the fall of 2019.
They are now working on their third build, a 1961 Volvo, that they are working to restore, modify, and power with modern technology. Any women interested in participating in this are encouraged to connect with them and get involved. Bogi and Williams are both optimistic about the future for women in the industry as well as for Girl Gang Garage.
As Bogi says, “Word about our builds and classes has been completely organic and from word of mouth. There is just so much interest from women in the trades to connect, and from novices and hobbyists to learn and participate. The support from the industry is also growing. I’ve seen a major shift in the industry from when I came up twenty years ago till now, I’m excited to see what the future holds and to be a part of that change.”
Written by Cristina Deptula