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Perspective: A woman in a car guy's world

Published Feb 19th 2008, 9:48am by

Brandy_schaffels_with_gt_thisisnotm AskPatty President Jody sent me a link to this column recently and asked me to comment on it. I had no idea what I would say. My first thought was "Well, I don't really know much about advertising. I have no idea what it's like to be a woman in the advertising industry."

Background: In her column " 'Mad Men' and Irate Women" Nina DiSesa said "While watching Mad Men last year, I was struck by how precisely this brilliantly produced series captured the world of New York advertising as it must have been in 1962, and I was thankful that I didn't work in advertising back then.

I started as a copywriter in 1973, and shortly after that I was working successfully on an automotive additive business for a full year. I was asked off the business when the client discovered I was a woman.

Fast-forward to 1983 when I started at Y&R in New York -- eerily similar to the Mad world of 1962--where the going gag was that a woman would never be group creative director, the second most powerful position there, unless she could pee standing up."

Well, there was a quote I could relate to. It may not be advertising, but I do know what it's like to be one of the few women in an industry that's dominated by men. I just never really thought about it. I've been here a long time, nearly 20 years just involved in automotive publishing. I grew up watching my dad and brothers working on their cars and played Hot Wheels with the neighbor boys. So, I've been a girl in a car guy's world for most of my life. And while very few car magazines have women in the lead editorial spot, many of them are actually run by smart, organized, female managing editors, copy editors, staff editors, and advertising coordinators who help keep that magazine's motor running smoothly.

I've just been lucky enough that the carguys that I've been hanging around didn't really seem to pay much attention to the fact that I'm a woman. They've always treated me like one of the guys. I've had the very good fortune that MOST OF the men I've worked with have been like brothers and fathers to me, mentors who shared their knowledge openly. If I ever didn't "fit in" it was because I didn't share the same level of auto fever, or didn't possess the encyclopedic 'carbrain' that allows so many men to spew automotive facts and figures with the same zealousness as the sports fans can recite player statistics.

Oh, occasionally men have gotten a little out of line. Once, a carguy offered me a seat on his lap at a crowded media event. Another time, an automotive photographer indicated that he'd like to take photos of me for a men's magazine. But that could happen anyplace where men and women mingle--these incidences weren't related to the industry. I can't remember the last time a male colleague mistreated me, talked down to me, or patronized my automotive knowledge.

DiSesa said "I have noticed that the women who make it in these boys clubs have a few things in common. The main thing is that almost all of us were promoted and supported by men. The men we worked for and with felt comfortable around us. We learned to adopt some of the male traits that make men so successful, and in doing so, we reminded the men of the thing they admire most: themselves." I've been very fortunate, because I can agree with her. I've had the great pleasure to work with some of the finest gentlemen in the industry.

But my path through this male-run segment has also been guided by other strong women: female magazine staffers and other women journalists, not to mention the amazing industry leaders, who have also been my mentors and sisters in this fraternity.

If the auto industry appears to be a boy's club, my first thought is that we girls who are already here just need to invite more women to join us. What else do we need to do to make it a more appealing place for our sisters? Please share your own thoughts and opinions too.

Brandy_with_porsche_thisisnotmycar By Brandy Schaffels
Contributing editor and woman in a carguy's world

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