|At A Glance|
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When Barb Bonansinga joined the State of Illinois fleet parts staff in 1984, there were no other women on the shop floor. Julie Boring joined the City of Dallas in 1994 as the first female fleet technician the City had ever hired.
Bonansinga and Boring have both risen through the ranks to management roles at their organizations. Bonansinga is a fleet manager at the State of Illinois and president of the National Conference of State Fleet Administrators (NCSFA), and Boring, CAFM, is fleet operations manager for the City of Austin, Texas.
Being the lone female on a fleet technical staff was not uncommon when Bonansinga and Boring worked on the shop floor and in many cases, is still not uncommon. Female fleet managers who have risen from the shop are rare. Fixing cars is obviously still seen as a “man’s job,” tied with a cluster of other “men’s jobs,” even as an increasing number of females join the ranks of fleet management, many from the administrative side.
According to Nanci Lien, CAFM, PFO, CPFA, fleet administration manager for the City of Seattle, what keeps women away from the shop floor is still the association that it’s not a place for them. “There are females who think, ‘I could never be in fleet, or the water department, or solid waste, or wastewater department,’ ” she said.
Tony Molla, vice president of communications for the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence (ASE), estimates women make up roughly 1% of the technician workforce in the United States.
Women aren’t excluded, but they aren’t necessarily recruited. While there were challenges and there will continue to be challenges in being the rare woman on the shop floor, and even on the management side, the public sector fleet industry is an excellent place for anyone with interest in the automotive sector. And if fleet managers are worried about recruiting qualified technicians, isn’t there an entire half of the population they can tap into as potential hires?
The challenge comes in finding females who have an interest in automotive technology but are just not aware of fleet —and letting them know that whether it’s on the shop floor or in management, there’s a place in the industry for them.[PAGEBREAK]
Entering the Shop Floor
While Bonansinga and Boring were the lone women on the shop floor, Sacha Bommarito has a different experience. Bommarito is an apprentice technician at the City of Seattle, finishing up her fourth — and last — year in training to become a journey-level technician. The City of Seattle’s fleet department has an atypically high percentage of females turning wrenches — Bommarito is one of three female technicians out of 110 total technical staff. Four females also work in the parts room.
Working with mostly men, she said the way she has succeeded is to jump in and not expect special treatment just because she’s a woman. “There is a certain camaraderie in labor fields, and you can’t be shy. You can’t be a prima donna. You have to be ready to work and you have to work hard,” she said. “I think I’ve gotten along because of my attitude.”
Boring agreed there is camaraderie among fleet technicians, but she said it takes some time to break in. Through patience and a display of technical and leadership skills, the staff began to see her as another technician, rather than as a female technician, and “most of them opened up a little more to me,” she said.
Of her time on the shop floor at the State of Illinois, Bonansinga said, “for the most part, people were supportive and accepting, particularly the technician staff.”
That’s not to say these women didn’t have their challenges. Boring did face some harassment when she first started, including becoming involved in a serious situation that eventually was settled by Human Resources. Bonansinga recalled during her time as a shop supervisor: “Sometimes the customer agencies came in and they would ask to talk to my boss. The assumption was because you were female, you were not a supervisor.”
Moving Up to Management
It’s not just on the shop floor where women are scarce. Among public sector fleet managers, where many work their way up from the shop floor, the number of female fleet managers is not high. Results from the Government Fleet 2012 Salary Survey suggest only 7% of public sector fleet professionals in a management position are female. Looking at public fleet certification, less than 3% of those who have attained the American Public Works Association’s Certified Public Fleet Professional (CPFP) certification are women.
Just 20 years ago, there were scantily clad women displaying cars at trade shows, a gamble for attention from the mostly male crowd. And because there are few women, some female fleet managers say at conferences, the first assumption people made was they were the decision-makers’ wives. Or, if they were with a male colleague, a vendor would direct his attention to the male colleague rather than the actual fleet manager, simply because of gender.
Those assumptions today are more the exception than the rule, and Teresa Davis, Ph.D., director of transportation services, Penn State University, sees a growing mix of females joining the fleet profession on the management side, especially among fleets working with fleet management companies. When this happens, she said the operation becomes “more business than mechanical.” Not managing a maintenance shop may draw more women into the fleet manager role.
In fact, several of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) and university fleet managers she speaks to are women. Davis said while it’s not a perfect male-female mix, “I think it’s growing, and I think it’s moving in a good direction.”
Bonansinga also sees an increase in females in fleet management, at least within the State of Illinois. Each user department has a vehicle coordinator who is essentially a fleet manager for his or her respective department. There are a number of female vehicle coordinators working for the State, she said.[PAGEBREAK]
The problem seems to be that people don’t know enough about fleet to even consider getting involved. Mary Joyce Ivers, CPFP, PWLF, fleet and facilities manager for the City of Ventura, Calif., said this lack of knowledge crosses gender lines. She hopes the increasing computerization of vehicles will increase interest in how vehicles work, in turn leading to an interest in maintenance. “We need to expose the science and technology [aspects] to young men and women wanting to get into the field because there is a fear of losing fleet technicians,” Ivers said.
Urcha Dunbar-Crespo, deputy fleet officer for the City of Austin, recalls her daughter’s high school auto technology program, which had a few females. “We want to increase our [fleet] exposure, so those females know that if they’re in auto tech, they can go beyond learning how to fix their [personal] car to careers in fleet, both on the technician side and the management side.” Of the three females in her daughter’s program, two did not pursue careers in automotive maintenance.
Bommarito is perhaps a perfect example of the females fleets should be recruiting — a motivated woman who already has an interest in cars. Before she got into automotive repair, Bommarito was a bartender. She recalled the event that led her to her current profession: “One of my customers at the bar said to me, ‘How come you’re not a mechanic?’ ” This led to classes at a community college, which led to technician jobs at dealerships and private repair jobs.
She loves her current job at the City of Seattle, and she likes that there are opportunities for advancement that don’t take her away from hands-on maintenance. She expects to become a journey-level technician in July and will apply for openings at Seattle. “I’m living my dream. I have wanted to be able to play with cars all day long, for money, for as long as I can remember, and I’m finally qualified to do it,” Bommarito said.
Wanting to start a family shouldn’t be a deterrent. “If I decide to start a family, I have no reason to think the City of Seattle wouldn’t be accommodating,” Bommarito said. “And if I decide doing this hard work isn’t best for me anymore, I have other opportunities. There are other things available to me.”
How can the industry get more women to realize options exist in public sector fleets? Specifically recruiting female technicians can be difficult, especially with limited funding and staffing for outreach efforts. Lien said the fleet team at Seattle would be interested in attending job fairs in order to seek out these women. She also suggests advertising on non-trade specific or non-traditional fleet employment websites where females may be looking for positions more specific to their gender. Other recruiting efforts can include going into vocational schools, community colleges, and even high school auto shop classes to discuss fleet, and encouraging Human Resources staff to help fleet departments “think outside the box” when it comes to recruiting. Boring and her supervisor, Jennifer Walls, CAFM, deputy fleet officer, City of Austin, have discussed creating a website or community group for women interested in or currently involved in a public fleet.
“This is a male-dominated industry, but females do succeed,” Walls said.
More than Maintenance
The stress doesn’t have to be on technicians when it comes to recruiting. The hands-on maintenance side is not the only fleet-related career option a young person interested in automobiles — or finance, or business — can take. “There are all different kinds of jobs within a fleet that might appeal to different people. There’s parts inventory, shop management, the hands-on repair side. There are lots of administrative support functions,” Bonansinga said.
Bonansinga, whose interest in cars began in Formula racing, moved from the parts room, to supervisor, to fleet manager. With education in automotive mechanical repair from a community college and a bachelor’s degree in communications, she has been able to fluidly move through the various jobs available in fleet. “It’s been a great career, very rewarding, because it’s so diverse. It’s never dull. You can get involved in as many different things as you want,” she said. “I think the skills also translate to other areas as well, for people who decide to change careers. There’s always going to be demand. People require transportation. The technology keeps changing — that keeps it challenging and interesting.”
Ivers said she likens fleet operations to running a business. Anyone interested in finance or business administration could also consider fleet as a profession. Looking at how many fleet professionals began their careers provides proof you don’t have to begin on the shop floor to become a successful fleet professional. Ivers started her career as an industrial engineer. Lien at Seattle came in on the finance side, as did Walls in Austin, who worked for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Dunbar-Crespo, also at Austin, was deputy procurement officer for the City. Davis at Penn State University was enlisted in the military police before working for a military academy planning bus movement and parking.
To those women who haven’t considered a career in a male-dominated field, Lien said, “Yes, you can be there, you can make good money, and it can be a very good career.”[PAGEBREAK]
Changing the Face of Fleet
Let’s face it — public fleet has not traditionally been very diverse, nor is it very visible to the public. But times have changed, and the face of fleet may be changing with it. “When we got into 2010, I started to see the diversity starting to emerge, and I see the embracement of that diversity,” Boring said. “Perhaps it’s because you’re just starting to see more women come into the industry, and [different] ethnicities and generations as well.”
Perhaps it takes this change for women to realize they can consider a career in fleet, as a technician or in administration. Changing the stereotypes of who fleet managers or technicians are, and increasing the “desirability” of a fleet career, starts with visibility.
“I think it’s letting people know we exist. It’s the face of the profession. It’s myself. It’s Julie [Boring]. It’s male and female. It’s diverse,” Walls said. “Everybody knows firefighters, everybody knows the police. There are these high-profile-type images you see when you look at public service or government, but I think we need to get right out there too — our faces, as females, [to say] this is a place for you.”
|How they started in fleet|
Started as: Light-duty technician at dealerships and repair shops
Now: Apprentice technician, City of Seattle
Started as: Parts warehouser
Now: Fleet manager, State of Illinois
|Julie Boring, CAFM
Started as: Aircraft technician
Now: Fleet operations manager, City of Austin, Texas
|Teresa Davis, Ph.D.
Started in: Military police
Now: Director of transportation services, Penn State University
Started in: City-wide procurement
Now: Deputy fleet officer, City of Austin, Texas
|Mary Joyce Ivers, CPFP, PWLF
Previous occupation: Industrial engineer in aerospace
Now: Fleet & facilities manager, City of Ventura, Calif.
|Nanci Lien, CAFM, PFO, CPFA
Previous occupation: Municipal finance director
Now: Fleet administration manager, City of Seattle
|Jennifer Walls, CAFM
Previous occupation: Finance and accounting
Now: Deputy fleet officer, City of Austin, Texas
- Sacha Bommarito, apprentice technician, City of Seattle
- Julie Boring, CAFM, fleet operations manager, City of Austin, Texas
- Barb Bonansinga, fleet manager, State of Illinois
- Teresa Davis, Ph.D., director of transportation services, Penn State University
- Urcha Dunbar-Crespo, deputy fleet officer, City of Austin
- Mary Joyce Ivers, CPFP, PWLF, fleet and facilities manager, City of Ventura, Calif.
- Nanci Lien, CAFM, PFO, CPFA, fleet administration manager, City of Seattle
- Tony Molla, vice president of communications, ASE
- Jennifer Walls, CAFM, deputy fleet officer, City of Austin