Frederica Carter has spent her career in the collision industry helping women.
She’s the communications manager for AkzoNobel, where she has worked for 14 years. Carter has been heavily involved with the company’s Most Influential Women award program, which honors women who improve the industry with their leadership and commitment to excellent work.
She has also seen the Women’s Industry Network (WIN) grow from the ground up. She was a board member and the chairwoman for the organization’s annual conference from 2006 to 2011. In 2008 she was presented with the first WIN Cornerstone Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership and advancement of both the association and the collision industry.
She recently spoke with FenderBender about challenges that females face while working in collision repair, as well as what she finds most inspiring about working with women.
Can you talk a bit about your background and how you got your start in the industry?
That’s not a very exciting story (laughs). I had met someone who was in marketing communications with AkzoNobel. I was so impressed by all of the different aspects of the industry that she was involved in. When you think of paint manufacturing, you don’t think of it as being terribly sophisticated. But once you get involved, you realize how much technology there is behind it.
There is a lot more to paint than what you would initially think. I absolutely love what I do. I like the people I work with and I’m very happy here.
Tell me about AkzoNobel’s Most Influential Women awards program.
The Most Influential Women in the Collision Repair Industry program has been in place now for over 10 years. We started it in 1999. It was an idea that was developed in the marketing department at AkzoNobel. We felt very strongly that women were an untapped resource, and at a time when the labor force was shrinking. There were women in the industry that were accomplishing some amazing things, but never were recognized or you didn’t hear very much about it. AkzoNobel thought this program would be a way to recognize and promote women, and possibly make the industry more attractive to other women.
What were some examples of things women were doing but not getting recognized for?
There were editors of industry publications, some were shop owners and some women had family businesses or had started shops on their own. There were painters, body technicians, consultants, educators, insurance adjusters, even association directors. I know that people were aware that these women were in those places, but they didn’t get the attention that they really deserved.
So what was it like for the women who received these awards?
I think they are very honored. Every year at the awards program, we invite all of the alumni to attend. And every year that number grows. They continue to come back and support the new honorees; it’s wonderful to see. They’re like this fraternity of women. They all know what it feels like to be recognized by this award. And I think when they see who’s being recognized the next year and the next year, they want to come back and offer their support. That’s so commendable.
What do you think the award program does to improve the collision industry?
It has hopefully made the industry a more attractive place for others to come into. So many of these women have become role models for others in the industry and that has got to be encouraging for others. Hopefully they will aspire to do the same.
Along those same lines, I know you’re involved with the Women’s Industry Network. Can you talk about your involvement and how you got started?
WIN started in 2006. The idea was started with a group of women, the majority of whom were former Most Influential Women honorees. They got together and they felt like there was more that they could do for the industry. So they picked up the banner and they reached out to other women to organize the Women’s Industry Network. I was fortunate enough to have been asked to be in the group. There were very high expectations set. Some of the first things that had to be put in place were reaching out for sponsors. We looked to companies to support and sponsor WIN. From there we formed committees, and created budgets, and talked about what was the best way to be able to bring more women together. So we organized the first conference in 2007.
How do you think it has evolved and what kind of impact has it made on industry?
WIN has given women a much-needed forum for networking, and for education, a place for mentoring, and most of all, support from other women. I think the conference has been a great way for women to meet other women with similar challenges and learn from them. The conference offers educational sessions for women that are new to the industry, and even women that are veterans, so they can learn more about topics that are geared toward their career development, as well as topics that are good for their personal development.
What are some of the challenges women face today in collision repair?
The challenges that I hear the most often from other women is how difficult it can be at times to earn respect. The collision repair industry in years past has been considered a male-dominated field. Many of the women that I’ve spoken to have commented on how education and a good understanding of all aspects of the business are probably the most important things they can do. They’ve found that once other people realize they really know what they’re talking about, typically the playing field evens out.
How do you see women responding to these issues?
I think it’s based on education. It’s important to find a mentor to learn from. Not only about the business part of the industry, but also how their mentor has faced challenges.
How are shops making positive steps forward in becoming female-friendly, to both customers and employees?
One of the most important things a shop can do to make female customers feel more welcome is to have females on their staff. And in order to recruit women to a collision repair shop, they need to make sure that their work environment is comfortable for a woman.
In order to attract female customers a shop has to provide instruction to their employees on how to be aware and committed to offering a female-friendly service experience. Women influence the majority of buying decisions in households. So it’s really important for shops to be able to communicate effectively with women, and ensure that women feel safe and respected when they go into a body shop. In the long run this goes a long way for creating customer loyalty.
I’m wondering what you find the most inspiring about working with women in the collision industry.
I think the thing that I have found most inspiring really goes back to my involvement with both the Most Influential Women program and the WIN organization, because it is one opportunity that I’ve had to meet and talk with other women and not feel that there is any ulterior motive. It feels very safe. When women come together for a (WIN) conference, they’re all there for the same reason. It’s to learn from other women and get support from other women. It’s a very good feeling to find out in a male-dominated industry that there are so many women out there that have so much to offer, and there’s so much you can learn from them. It’s very gratifying.
Are there any words of wisdom you can offer to women who are new to the industry or thinking about working in it?
My advice would be, if you’re new to the industry and you’re not comfortable initially, find a mentor. And one of the ways to do that would be to get involved in women’s organizations in the industry. I would recommend WIN. Finding a mentor would be a great first step.