BY REBECCA PALMER
BOUNTIFUL — The Willey Ford dealership opened in Bountiful more than 65 years ago, and has stayed in the same family ever since.
Last week, the company hired its first female service manager, Gwen Giles. The charismatic, articulate woman is still getting to know her staff, but she’s already busy juggling phone calls, office drop-ins and complex computer systems.
Giles manages both the shop and the service department, and is the only woman on her team. But with her 33 years of auto experience and customer service finesse, the gender issue has become all but nonexistent.
“Years back, there was an issue with women in management, but it’s really not an issue anymore,” she said.
In 2010, the last year for which statistics are available, 6.3 percent of first-line supervisors and managers of mechanics, installers and repairers were women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The year before, almost 9 percent of these supervisors were women.
Only 2.4 percent of vehicle mechanics were women in 2009. A year later, less than 1 percent were.
Still, those numbers are growing. In 1975, the U.S. government reported that the proportion of female mechanics among all employed mechanics was zero.
“When I first started there were many times when I would approach a customer, and they’d say, ‘I need to talk to a man.’” she said, “and I’d say, “come with me. We have a lot of them.”
She would politely walk the customer back to the shop. Usually, however, those customers would eventually be sent back to her, she said, laughing.
Many people are intimidated by car trouble and mechanics, and Giles’ ability to explain problems with just the right amount of technical detail has helped her succeed, she said. Often, she takes customers into the shop so they can see the specific problems with their cars and understand what must be done to get them working properly.
Men and women alike show signs of intimidation approaching the shop, even if they don’t admit it, she explained. Often, customers search in vain for a pedestrian door, even if the huge shop doors are wide open, she said.
Giles understands the discomfort. In fact, she studied psychology and history С not automobiles С in college. She knows her way around an engine by now, but rarely gets involved in physically fixing customer’s vehicles.
“It’s fun, and aggravating some days,” she said of her new position, “because cars, they’re a chore.”
For Willey Ford Service Advisor Cody Haacke, his boss being a woman is a non-issue.
“To be honest, I’ve never had a woman boss in my whole life,” he said. “But she’s very knowledgeable Р that’s the thing.”