Jody DeVere, CEO of AskPatty.com, says her passion for the auto industry started early—growing up in Southern California’s car culture, being raised by an engineer father and marrying into an automotive family.
So when she began consulting in 2000, after more than 20 years working in the high-tech world, it was not surprising “that 80 percent of my clients were in automotive,” she says. She had an eye-opening experience during a rebranding effort for one client. “My idea was to have them use a woman NASCAR driver, Deborah Renshaw, who also was a Northwood University graduate and member of a longtime auto dealer family. I started attending industry events, and observed the reaction many dealers and the industry had to Deborah. She was a beautiful, accomplished, educated woman, but they treated her like arm candy.”
Soon after, DeVere, who calls herself a serial entrepreneur, started AskPatty.com — in part because she saw a gap in “how women want to be seen and how the auto industry sees them.”
Also, she says, “I really fell in love with the industry. I loved the people I was meeting and was excited by the industry’s innovation and the technology curve it was on. I also was coming up on my 50th birthday, and I wanted to do something that made a difference and wasn’t just about making money.”
In 2006, she started the blog AskPatty.com — tagged “automotive advice for women” — as a place to create content and community for female consumers. Within a year, she launched the Certified Female Friendly program, training and certifying auto retailers about how to communicate with female consumers. Today there are 3,800 Certified Female Friendly locations, including car dealers and service, tire and quick lube businesses, promoted on the AskPatty.com website.
DeVere considers herself not just a businesswoman but also a “champion for women working in the auto industry.” She belongs to many automotive women’s groups, speaks at industry conferences, is active in two formal mentoring programs and works to provide scholarships to women interested in automotive careers. “I have seen tremendous growth and change in the role of women in the business,” she says. “But I’ll be in business another 30 years before women achieve parity.
“We women have to be the change. We can’t wait for the guys to do it for us.”
She credits Lorraine Schultz, founder of the Women’s Auto Association International, as one of her key industry mentors. “Lorraine took me under her wing and introduced me around,” DeVere says. “She was instrumental in helping me navigate the waters in my career in the auto industry.”
She has two pieces of advice for younger women considering a career in the auto industry. “First, if she’s thinking about the business—we are looking for her,” she says. “Almost every auto company wants to hire more women.” Second, she says, “You need two people on your side: a mentor and a sponsor. A sponsor is someone who actively advocates for you and promotes you within your organization or the industry. Those two people can answer the questions you have, and help you jump the hurdles and navigate the waters.”
All professionals benefit from mentorship, but DeVere says, “Because of the challenges facing women working in the auto industry, they specifically will fare better by not trying to go it alone. That network of supportive women (and men) — that’s where you’ll get the information you need and be nurtured.
“That’s how I did it.”