Penske women are paving the road for future women looking to enter the automotive industry.
Long considered a male-dominated business, the automotive industry has begun to evolve into a more inclusive and equitable environment for women in recent years. Penske has been a silent leader in this progression, with more women taking on leadership positions than ever before.
Terri Mulcahey, Executive Vice President of Marketing & Business Development, has been redefining what it means to be a woman in the auto industry ever since she started her career in the parts department installing electronic parts catalogs with Reynolds and Reynolds after college.
“Those were the days when there weren’t many women in the parts area,” said Mulcahey. “I had to quickly become accustomed to that environment or I wasn’t going to last very long.”
Mulcahey, who was recently named one of the 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry, eventually went on to spearhead Penske Automotive Group’s corporate marketing department. While laying the foundation for the PAG standards used today, Mulcahey fostered a customer-first approach that has been a critical factor in the success and growth of the department.
“The first thing I did was visit the stores, because the GMs, sales managers and parts associates, those are my customers,” said Mulcahey. “That is what I try to remind the team—we work for the people that work at the dealerships. Our job is to help them be more successful.”
One of the first people Mulcahey met after moving to Penske was Tracy Gurnett, General Manager at MINI of Austin. Gurnett was a receptionist at the time and worked her way up the ranks to eventually become a GM.
“Some people can be intimidated by a woman leader, but I’ve been fortunate,” said Gurnett. “My mentors—Bernie Wolfe [Executive Vice President—West Region], Roger Penske and Rob Kurnick—they leave me speechless at the opportunities I’ve been given.”
Not only is the status of women in executive and managerial positions changing, but their roles within service departments are changing as well. Penske’s Elizabeth Wintercorn, a refinish technician at Fayetteville Autopark, jumped at the opportunity to enter the automotive industry when she learned about a local technical institute with a collision repair program. She became the first woman to complete the program and graduate in collision repair.
“One of the biggest challenges was being taught by an old-school instructor who didn’t believe that women had a place outside of the kitchen,” said Wintercorn. “Every day was a struggle to be given tasks that didn’t have to do with sweeping the shop.”
However, despite the adversity she faced within the industry, Wintercorn emboldened others like her saying she would “encourage other ladies to take up the challenge of taking courses.”
Over at United BMW Roswell, Laura Cone and Staci Kenny are also breaking the traditional gender norms with their roles as technicians. When Cone and Kenny entered the auto industry years ago, both held office positions before realizing their true ambitions lay in the garage.
“As a woman in a male-dominated arena, I just wanted to be equal and considered one of the guys,” said Kenny. “It took time and experience, but I think I have [it].”
Cone echoed Kenny’s sentiments saying, “I feel like one of the guys. The guys I work with are very respectable and treat me like anybody else… If a girl is interested in this kind of job, go for it.”
In striving for equality, Cone and Kenny have achieved admiration for their skills in their work.
“Girls are very detail-oriented people,” said Cone. “You would be surprised by how much that is
valued in this kind of work.”
Cone, Kenny and Jennifer Rodgers, a lube technician at Landers Chevrolet, each offered the same piece of advice for women interested in a career as a technician: Go for it.
“Get into it and do your best,” said Rodgers. “Don’t let anyone stop you.”
As the role of women in the auto industry continues to grow, the females at Penske provide a strong example of leadership to both men and women.
“We work for an organization that recognizes talent and ability based on results and dedication, not based on your sex,” said Gurnett. “There is a definite progression happening, and the leadership at PAG is helping to make that happen.”