Providing a Pathway to Professional Growth
|In a casual setting, council and network leadership work together to cultivate new ideas to further advance the automotive aftermarket industry.|
Walk around the SEMA Show or attend any industry meeting or event anywhere, and you’ll cross paths with scores of businesswomen engaged in all aspects and at all levels of the automotive specialty-equipment industry. That wasn’t always the case.
Back in the early days, and as recently as the mid-’90s, there were very few women employed in key positions within the industry, and even fewer attended the SEMA Show. While men had many opportunities to network and elevate their roles in the industry, it wasn’t until spring 1987 that industry women had similar opportunities.
It began with the formation of SEMA’s Professional Women’s League (PWL). An offshoot of a SEMA spouse program—the Women’s Activities Committee, which held events for wives during the SEMA Show—PWL was specifically created as a forum for women employed in the aftermarket.
PWL’s stated goal was to “provide professional women in the aftermarket with a venue through which they can enhance and strengthen their position and role in the performance and appearance segments of the industry.” Through women’s-only events, guest presentations and roundtable discussions, PWL allowed for a level of camaraderie and shared learning and mentoring experiences that had not existed previously, and PWL was elevated to SEMA committee status in 1990.
“When we initially discussed the Professional Women’s League as a SEMA committee, I privately thought this could be another project with virtually unlimited potential,” wrote then-SEMA President Chuck Blum in PWL’s first-ever membership directory. “Perhaps today we’re seeing only the meager beginnings of what can and should be a viable force in our industry’s progress.”
|SBN incoming Chair Lana Chrisman (left) and incoming Chair-elect Denise Waddingham met with other council and network chair and chair-elects in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, for a leadership retreat to discuss current initiatives within the industry, and to help bond future collaborations between each council and network.|
Building a Foundation
Flash forward to 1993. A handful of PWL members gathered to talk about next steps. The result: PWL soon was transformed into the SEMA Businesswomen’s Network (SBN). Since its inception, SBN’s mission has been to “provide networking, education and recognition opportunities for professional women in the specialty-equipment industry, which will enhance their careers and positively impact the growth of the entire automotive aftermarket.”
As SBN’s ranks swelled to more than 550 members over the years, the group engaged in various worthwhile activities. Early initiatives included producing the SEMA Silent Auction to raise funds in support of the SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund; establishing a scholarship award to honor the late Trudy Thompson; and hosting an annual Speed
More recent endeavors include a high-profile Mustang build to showcase women’s industry involvement and to auction the car to raise money for the scholarship fund as well as such current activities as Gear-up Girl, SBN’s SEMA Show reception, and SheIsSEMA profiles. To advance its focus on education, SBN last year powered women-only seminars at the Show and is currently planning sessions for this year.
Enhancing Value as a Resource
With so many feathers in its cap and a growing membership base, SBN remains focused on ways to deliver value-added resources and overcome the perception of being just a “girls’ group,” noted SBN Chair Lana Chrissman, who recently attended a SEMA Leadership Retreat for council and network chairs and chairs-elect.
“The Retreat was awesome,” Chrissman said. “It not only gave us a chance to meet and interact with other council and network leaders but also opportunities to talk about how SBN is perceived by other women not involved in SBN, as well as by men. What we learned is that they look at us as a social/networking group and as mentors but not as a resource. It gave us a lot to think about—how we can provide value and have an impact on the industry for women and what is the essence of SBN.”
A follow-up open-forum meeting at the Keystone Big Show provided an opportunity for a deeper dive.
“During our meet-up at the Big Show, there was a lot of discussion about gender pay gap, and having that equal platform is something we’re going to explore,” Chrissman said. “We are also focused on a website refresh and on conducting a member survey to find out how we can help.
“Women provide a unique perspective, and we’re committed to promoting the value of women in the workplace, so it’s important for us to gain executive support at the C-suite level. We want them to encourage their female employees to join SBN and get involved, because we will continue to provide resources to advance their careers, which in turn will benefit their companies and the industry.”
SEMA’s Professional Women’s League—the forerunner to the SEMA Business Women’s Network—was established in 1987. The first edition of PWL’s newsletter touted the group’s event at the 1987 SEMA Show and addressed obstacles women were then facing in the industry. Photo Courtesy Ellen McKoy, EMK Marketing.
SBN incoming Chair Lana Chrisman (left) and incoming Chair-elect Denise Waddingham met with other council and network chair and chair-elects in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, for a leadership retreat to discuss current initiatives within the industry, and to help bond future collaborations between each council and network.
Female Industry Leaders Join the SBN Select Committee
SBN extends a warm welcome to three industry professionals who join the network’s select committee on July 1: Sarah Morosan of LGE-CTS Motorsports, Charlene Bower from Bower Media and the Ladies Offroad Network, and Kendra Sommer from Cruisin’ With Kendra. Incumbents Tiffany Dorin from Battery-Biz and Cathy Clark from Bob Cook Sales will rejoin the select committee.