Talented Women in First Stop
A growing number of talented female professionals are driving standards at the First Stop network to even greater heights, and reinventing the wheel when it comes to successful careers in the automotive industry.
To coincide with International Women’s Day, we are celebrating some of our incredible colleagues, who are going the extra mile to raise standards in the aftermarket – and consign age-old stereotypes to the dustbin!
Claire Harrison is the manager at R & R Tyres in Basingstoke and has juggled working life with being a mum to two children, both of whom are forging their own careers. Her message to them remains the same as it was when they were youngsters growing up.
“There shouldn’t be anything in life that you can’t do if you put your mind to it. I’d like to think that I’m living proof of this, as I continue to fulfil a role I love which was traditionally associated with men".
"Things have come a long way over the years. Sexism used to be rife in the workplace up until relatively recently, but I do feel that we are treated with much more respect today, with an acknowledgement that women can achieve and add real value in the workplace", she said.
Jodie Portwain swapped a career in hairdressing to become a service advisor at Drivetech Autos in Slough in September 2022 and said that any concerns about industry stereotypes were misplaced, as she’s forged her own impressive career in the aftermarket. The 20-year-old said: “I have had one or two comments from motorists, but they are few and far between. I work with a great team who all respect me and so do the customers I see. It’s a hands-on role and the nature of work gives me structure, which I like. Some of my friends raised an eyebrow when I told them I was swapping my scissors for spanners and services, but I love the job and I’d like to think it proves that women can be a success – no matter the profession.”
When Emma Parr isn’t managing Parr Automotive in Market Harborough, she is being an inspirational leader to scores of youngsters at her local Brownie pack, where she has been volunteering for around 25 years. She said her experiences in the workplace reminded her of a Girl Guides motto, which has stood the test of time.
“The motto that springs to mind is ‘you can!’ I tell the girls that they can do anything they want to do. Maybe I am proof of this, as I have been at Parr Automotive for 13 years now. I think that causal sexism still exists, as I get called ‘sweetie’, ‘darling’ and ‘treacle’ quite regularly. I do have to deal with references like this. I reply with ‘excuse me, I do have a name!’ But I think I am respected by our customers, which has come through a lot of hard work over the years. I used to be a manager of a day nursery, so it was a whole new career change, but as I tell the girls, you can achieve when you believe in yourself and work hard.”
Caroline Galloway is a service advisor at Binley Woods Service Centre in Coventry and said she wouldn’t swap her role for anything else. "I’ve been here for 14 years and I love it. I’m a local girl from the local area and live around the corner, so I feel I’ve become a really familiar face to a lot of motorists over the years. I must admit, the only car I knew when I began was the Ford Fiesta, so I didn’t have much knowledge and had to learn quickly! But being passionate and proactive goes a long way and I think the engines and vehicles have always been in my blood from my time when working at Coventry Bees speedway", she mentioned.
“I’m the only woman here and there are 14 male mechanics in the workshop. Everyone treats me with respect, we have a good laugh and I do think that I’m respected more now than I ever have been. It’s a profession I’d recommend to anyone.”
Meanwhile, Kim Dorr is heading up what is believed to be the aftermarket’s only all-female front desk. Fed up with feeling intimidated and undermined when taking her car to the garage, Kim Dorr decided to embark on a career in the industry to dispel common stereotypes associated with garage forecourts. She has created a warm, welcoming environment at Northampton-based In Town Automotive, featuring a children’s play area, a flat-screen video feed to show live updates of technicians’ work and even bunches of fresh flowers from the local florist.
Kim works alongside Leah Munns, Alex Johnson and Karen Roe, who combine collective experience as a qualified technician, aftermarket apprentice and main dealer service manager. The quartet work with eight male technicians in the workshop and while customers occasionally raise an eyebrow when handing over their keys, they quickly realise that these women aren’t there as a marketing gimmick, but because they genuinely know their stuff.
“It is unique to have an all-female team in reception, but when recruiting Leah, Alex and Karen, it was because they were the best qualified for the job, irrespective of sex. It was as simple as that. We still get men who talk over us and insist on speaking to one of our male technicians, but they are usually pleasantly surprised when they engage with us because we possess a great deal of knowledge. These old perceptions used to be seen most days, but they are changing now”, Kim said.
And at First Stop Weston-Super-Mare Alison Rogers is another successful woman who revels in the day-to-day pressure of automotive retail life, celebrating her 10th anniversary in the industry this year. The 34-year-old said: “I enjoy it so much, precisely because I am helping out customers and ensuring they remain mobile. The job comes with pressure, but I like that. Whether you’re a male or female makes no difference in the grand scheme of things. It’s about your quality of work and how you help your customers when they need you.
“I still get the odd comment, where a motorist will see me and ask to speak to the boss. I tell them that I am the boss! But generally, I feel more accepted now than I ever have, and I do see a lot more women in the aftermarket than before. It’s a family business here and I work for my Dad. If I am making him proud then that is the best way to measure my efforts. I welcome International Women’s Day if it inspires others to chase their dreams as I did. There are so many talented females out there, and to see more in the future is something I’d really welcome”, she added.