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Firing on All Cylinders—Women Making a Difference in the Automotive Market

SEMA Member News—March/April 2011

We’ve Come a Long Way Baby!

Camee Edelbrock

Camee Edelbrock

When this industry began more than 75 years ago, the men were racing ’32 roadsters across the dry lakes of Southern California while the women were racing around the house, making sure they had a clean place to live and food on the table. Today, women are as much a part of this industry as the men, with roles that include driving race cars, managing businesses, building project vehicles and more.

Balancing a career and home life is more challenging than ever, but the women of the automotive specialty-equipment industry have done it with style for more than 30 years. As a woman who has literally grown up in this business, I’ve witnessed the transition firsthand. In the late ’70s, I attended many events as a representative of the Edelbrock Corp. It was a struggle in those days to get any of the customers to take me seriously. When I offered to answer a question, they simply replied, “I’ll talk to one of the guys.” In 1991, I started racing a ’66 Shelby Mustang GT-350 on the vintage racing circuit. There were no women in the B-production class in which I raced at that time, and very few who drove. Some of the guys treated me like a little sister, teaching me the ropes about road racing. Others were irritated and threatened by my presence, but only when I got close to their rear bumpers or had a faster lap time and qualified for a better starting position.

It’s a completely different story today, thanks to women such as Lynn St. James, Linda Vaughn, Lauren Fix, Courtney Hansen, Jesse Combs and others who have helped pave the way. It’s rather obvious that gender diversity is here to stay!

Here are more thoughts from some of our SBN members:

JoAnn Bortles
Owner of Crazy Horse Painting
Custom Painter/Artist

JoAnn Bortles

JoAnn Bortles

“When I first got involved in the auto customizing business in 1979, a longtimer in the industry gave me a friendly reality check. He said, ‘To be a woman in a traditionally male profession, be prepared to work twice as hard and be twice as good as the men.’ For 31 years, I have followed that advice, and it has served me well. There have been times when I ran into men who thought what I was doing was very cool. They would say, ‘Wow, a chick doing that kind of stuff—sure, I’ll let you work on my project!’ Then, in the ’90s, when I thought the old days and stereotyping were behind me, I had an unpleasant job experience where the men I was working with had a ‘women belong in the home, not on the job’ mentality. I was shocked. It was hard to believe that kind of thinking still existed. But it is refreshing and incredible to run into men in this industry, especially very respected and accomplished men, who look at women in this industry and know what it took for us to be here. The acceptance and acknowledgement they give means so much. The reality of being a woman who works in the hands-on end of the custom auto industry means one thing to me, hard work. This is not a 9–5 industry. For the average woman who wears many hats (mom, wife, chef, housekeeper, kid’s taxi service, etc.) working at a career that demands so much, requires serious dedication and discipline. I still work hard, put in brutal long hours and stay creative, inventive and competitive. So I guess, I’m still following that advice I got so very long ago. The upside? It has been an amazing 31 years for me. I look back at all the incredible people I have known and friends I have made, with so many priceless experiences and adventures along the way.”

LuAnne Brown
Owner of eTool Developers
Internet Marketing and Training Specialist

“I love being a woman in the automotive aftermarket! While I am not a big fan of the women’s liberation movement, I want to have the same respect and the same opportunities as our male counterparts. I have found this working in the automotive aftermarket. As in most industries, you have to prove yourself, but if you do what you say you are going to do and get the job done, it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman! You do good work, you reap the rewards.”

Christina Kwan
Founder and Owner of Kwan International
Global Marketing, Public Relations

“For me, being a woman in the industry today is having the opportunity to continue the efforts of the women who have opened the doors for us. It’s our job now to not only exemplify but to exceed the expectations of what a woman is capable of in the automotive industry. My hopes are that, one day, our efforts as women won’t have to be looked upon as well-deserved respect because of being a woman but rather as an extraordinary individual who happens to be a woman.

To say that we’ve come a long way is quite an understatement, especially when you consider the turbulent economy we’ve all weathered and the technological advances that we continue to provide for men and women enthusiasts. The passion, dedication and continued love affair of this wonderful hobby is a guarantee that there will be plenty of performance, excitement and great-looking hot rods for many years to come.”