Rebuilding Perceptions: Girl Gang Garage

MotorTrend’s All Girls Garage host, Bogi, and her team share the inspiration & gals behind their latest build, and the dramatic impact they’re having on the automotive industry

13-Minute Read

by Autobody Source staff

At some point, you’ve probably known a girl who likes to work with her hands & was instinctively pushed to take up sewing, pottery, jewelry-making, etc. Girl Gang Garage has flipped that stereotype into a platform for gathering women from across the world, of all skill levels, to send a statement that the automotive industry is a great place for a gal to be.

The Gang’s latest build, a 1950s Volvo PV544 coupe, is the third in its lineup following the “Chevy Montage” and “High Yellow 56” pickups they unveiled at SEMA in 2017 and 2019.

Girl Gang Garage founder & MotorTrend’s All Girls Garage host, Bogi, decided to switch things up this year as the journey continues.

“For me, High Yellow was an apparition because it was a mostly stock Chevy with a Chevy engine in it,” she said, “But I like doing the ‘odd duck’ car with the ‘odd duck’ engine because it draws attention, and when you draw attention you get to have conversations.”

The saying goes that conversations spark change. So we chatted with Bogi and her Girl Gang Garage business partner Shawnda on the inspiration and women behind the Volvo project, and the dramatic impact they’re having on career and gender perceptions.

IT’S A BOY
Yep, the Volvo is a boy. In fact, Bogi says all of her cars are boys. “High Yellow is the only girl.”

“She’s too fancy to be a boy,” Shawnda adds, “but every car moving forward will be a boy.”

In her TED talks, Bogi has compared tackling her builds to the emotional ups, downs and rewards of having a baby. “Afterward, all you remember is those cute little dimples and those cute little feet.”

The Gang is close to announcing a name for the car, complete with his own custom logo, like his siblings.

As of this interview, the Volvo had received a modified ride height, shaved drip rails, tubbed rear fenders, and been measured for custom bucket seats. The team say a slick engine choice is in the works, too.

“We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve.”

THE INSPIRATION
The Gang estimates 10 months to complete the Volvo, capping out at about 50 volunteers to keep the spirit of the build intact and match their garage space limits. Balancing headcount and workspace, along with a series of workshops, is what makes the magic happen.

This year’s workshops kicked off in March with a ladies-only metalworking & welding class for beginners, plus the first-ever Girl Gang Garage CO-ED session – a metal sculpture class for experienced welders – both taught by legendary metal artist Barbie The Welder, aka @autobodybarbie.

A full-on build can be super intimidating for a beginner, but the classes are a great intro, allowing learners to grasp basics from to engines to routine car care in a setting that nurtures new skills as they grow. The aim is to provide usable skills to even the average car owner who may not care to rebuild a classic car, but wants to discover the joy of confidently changing her car’s oil on her own.

Bogi says small-scale builds are also in the works.

The mentoring focus of the Volvo project is on pairing volunteers to balance each worker’s skills and experience.

“The car is the smallest part of what we do here,” Bogi says. “This is, no pun intended, just the vehicle through which we do it. Our goal is empowering women and promoting women in the trades.”

The Volvo PV544 became one of the most successful rally cars at the end of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. Photo: Volvo Car US

THE CHALLENGE
Think you could handle a Girl Gang Garage build? Well, self-confidence goes a long way in terms of teachability, whether you’re a gal or guy. Ditto for curiosity and eagerness to learn. Ironically, some volunteers misjudge their own abilities.

“Women tend to be more modest, so we end up with the inverse where they’ll tell us ‘I know nothing about cars’, meanwhile they’ve just welded a perfect row of ‘dimes’. That happens all the time. They underestimate themselves 100%,” Shawnda says.

When hiring apprentices, Bogi often encounters guy and girl applicants with identical levels of experience. “Oh, I’ve reassembled engines, I’ve done transmissions… I’ve rebuilt lots of engines,” guys confidently say during interviews.

“It’s a polar opposite dynamic, where women will downplay themselves, often talking themselves out of getting hired, whereas men will oversell themselves and then are more likely to get fired more quickly because they can’t deliver that check, so to speak.”

Because of that, Girl Gang Garage fine-tunes its mentoring, making its cross-section of trainees unique: A female CEO, for instance, working alongside a gal who’s turning her first wrench.

“We’re not looking to be the answer to be the industry deficit, but if we can move the needle a little bit in a couple of different areas and be a funnel into the industry, even in just some small way, hopefully we’ve helped people to stay in the industry because they feel supported.”

INDUSTRY CHANCES
In January of this year, women held just over half of all payroll jobs in America, for only the second time in history, NPR reported. “The first was during the Great Recession, when a wave of layoffs hit male workers first, temporarily giving women an edge in the workplace. The period was even dubbed the Mancession.”

Women got the lion’s share of new jobs in December and now outnumber men on U.S. payrolls, NPR said, pointing out that the trend “reflects a long-running evolution away from male-dominated industries like manufacturing toward the service side of the economy, where women have an edge.”

Women are a broad minority in the automotive industry, even more so in the technical sectors. “Part of the problem is attracting people to the industry, and the other part of the problem is keeping them there,” Bogi said.

TechForce Foundation — which authors best practices for retaining automotive techs, reducing turnover and keeping talent in the industry — notes that reasons for the industry shortage include poorly communicating with Millenials in the workplace, inconsistent training & development, and employers not understanding and adapting to different learning styles.

Bogi said another career study found that one of the biggest deterrents to women working in the automotive industry is “a lack of mentorship; a lack of connection & feeling that they have somebody that they can connect with, talk to, look up to, and feel is on their side.”

“We get the opposite side of the coin, too, where parents don’t want their kids going into trades,” Shawnda added. “But if we have your mom on-board with the idea, getting your dad on-board will be an easier sell. So we’re able to attack the problem from both sides, encouraging retention & connection while also showing people that there’s a viable career path with a ton of money-making opportunity for kids in this industry.”

The groundswell is impactful, opening new dialogue for meaningful conversations on gender & career stereotypes, for men and women.

“For women particularly, the barrier for entry into the automotive workforce is that they don’t even know it exists. They don’t even know that melting metal with fire is a thing. They don’t see somebody like them doing it so they don’t see it as a possibility,” Bogi says.

ON THE GRIND
So, you say you’re in need of a manicurist who knows a thing or two about deburring spot welds? Just ‘asking for a friend’? We know a gal for the job. In fact, Bogi describes her in two words: “Expert thinker. We’re talking award-winning stylized nail paint design, so her hand-eye coordination is amazing. She got taught how to weld and she picked it up immediately.”

That manicurist is Jana Warnke, who hails from Seattle as a renaissance woman in her own right: Illustrator, multimedia artist, mom, licensed nail technician & full-time automotive tech student. She joined the Volvo build in February and felt totally at home with a file belt sander in her hand.

“I’m pretty pumped to see how it goes. This is my first time doing any metal work,” Jana said, relating that she has worked on other classic cars, including Opal, her 1960 Thunderbird coupe.

“‘I’ve been watching Bogi for years on TV. She’s part of the reason why I have the confidence to get back into the industry,” Jana said. “I originally wanted to go into automotive when I was 18, but I was pulled away from it. My family really wasn’t happy about it, so I just let it go and opened a nail salon.”

“The thing that made it so fun was that, on my and my husband’s date nights, we would watch all the car show’s together and then we started watching All Girls Garage. And eventually we decided ‘let’s move forward, we want to do this,’ so we signed up, and here we are,” Jana said.

Instead of looking back with regret, Jana is excited to tackle her career change.

“There’s never a wrong time. People would say to me ‘But your nail business was going so well’, and I would say ‘Yeah, but I was bored. I wasn’t learning anything new.’ I knew what I needed to do, but that wasn’t enough,” Jana said.

She also hinted: “I’m really excited for my shop tools to come as a Christmas present.”

Bogi has a wish for the Girl Gang Garage space, too.

“We don’t have the room or the budget… but we would really, really love a paint booth.”

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