Frederica Carter, an original WIN board member and one of the “founding mothers” who has served as the WIN conference committee chair and co-chair and is currently an integral part of their communications committee, shares how the association got started. “There was a group of women who met at various industry functions—these were some of the most influential women in the industry honorees who had been recognized for their significant contributions, and they felt there was more that could be done to bring women into the industry. So, we reached out to other women and worked on starting an organization. High expectations were set from the beginning.”
First, WIN created a board of directors, and then, realizing they needed support and funding, they reached out to various companies, acquiring a large number of sponsors from their inception, a figure that continues to grow. Soon after, WIN began to form committees, set their budget, and define their objectives, which included bringing other women into the industry and creating a network. Deciding that the next steps would be to organize a conference, WIN held their first conference in 2007 in Phoenix, AZ, beginning an annual tradition.
With a service area that encompasses all of the US and Canada, the WIN mission is to promote women in the industry. Ruth Weniger, a WIN member for six years who serves on the board of directors and is the chair of the communications committee, elaborates, “WIN began with the goal of enhancing the collision repair industry and the women in it through networking, education, and the sharing of resources.”
According to Weniger, there is a lot of fluidity between the WIN short-term and long-term goals as they strive to increase membership, support female students through scholarships, recognize outstanding leaders in the industry, and develop support for their members via education, information, and the development of a network to draw from for strength and advice. Weniger emphasizes, “WIN is committed to providing the strength of community for our members.”
Currently, WIN is preparing for the annual 2014 WIN Educational Conference, which will be held May 7–9, 2014, at the Paradise Point Resort and Spa in San Diego, CA. As always, the event will be filled with educational sessions, professional development, and networking opportunities. WIN is assuming stewardship of the Most Influential Women Awards program from AkzoNobel, so presenting these awards will be a feature of their gala dinner.
During the event, WIN will also announce the recipients of their scholarship awards. This year, they will present US$1,000 scholarships to students entering collision repair programs at technical schools, as well as US$1,000 scholarships to students already enrolled in collision repair programs at post-secondary schools. The recipients of the post-secondary scholarships will also receive year-long memberships to WIN, plus the cost of their travel and attendance at the annual conference. This year, scholarship recipients will also be mentored by winners of the Most Influential Women Awards, offering immediate support to these young women.
In collaboration with the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF), WIN has also developed a poster, “There’s a Place for You,” which is available for sale on their website for a US$20 donation to the WIN scholarship fund. The poster has also been distributed to nearly 1,200 technical schools in the US to promote the industry among female students.
WIN feels that supporting students who are interested in entering the industry is extremely important because one of the biggest challenges facing the collision repair industry is talent acquisition and retention, hence their commitment to helping females thrive in this male-dominated environment. Most of the WIN members all share two bonds: all of them are in this industry and they are female, so WIN strives to support women across all functional positions they serve within the industry, whether it be an administrative function or as a technician.
Though WIN is an association focused on improving the role of women in the industry, they still understand the value of seeking input from their male counterparts. At NACE in 2013, they held a focus group with Mike Anderson as the facilitator and invited male leaders in the industry to contribute suggestions on growing WIN and to find out what these men knew about their organization. Carter found this to be an interesting approach and notes, “we received great feedback, and some of the men in the focus group even decided to join WIN!”
In regards to the challenges WIN faces in maintaining operations, Weniger notes that WIN is an all-volunteer, virtual organization, so their members commit their time and personal resources to keep the association going. Carter adds, “our members have been very gracious to volunteer as they all have other jobs too. There’s a lot to do with starting and maintaining an organization, and WIN would struggle without our wonderful volunteers.”
Carter estimates that WIN members number in the hundreds and is growing at a rate of 10-20 percent each year. WIN members receive many benefits, such as education and networking, plus only members can attend their annual conference, the cost of the educational program which is partially subsidized by WIN sponsors. Additionally, members receive a monthly newsletter and gain the ability to participate in committees and in leadership positions.
When asked about the WIN stance on legislative action, Weniger explains, “this brings us back to a fundamental philosophy our organization holds dear. To best support our members, WIN remains non-political and avoids becoming embroiled in current issues, allowing us to focus on the professional development of the industry. We’ve found that keeping our focus on personal or professional development is the way to attract women from competing segments of the industry. We are aware of the issues, and people engage on an individual level, but these are not discussions we deal with as an organization. Our focus remains our commitment to our female members and how they interact within the collision repair industry.”
WIN is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to encouraging, developing, and cultivating opportunities to attract women to the collision repair industry, while recognizing excellence, promoting leadership, and fostering a network among the women who are shaping the industry.