It has been estimated that only about 11 percent of automotive detailers in the United States are women, putting the balance of male-to-female detailers equivalent to that of butchers, machine operators, groundskeepers, and construction workers.

            Automotive services, in general, including car mechanics, rank right up there with similar male-dominated industries when it comes to females in the trade. But why is that? Is it because mechanics are too rough on a manicure, hammering nails takes greater strength, or cutting meat takes greater intestinal fortitude than the average woman possesses?

            Sounds a little sexist to make such judgments these days, and as any woman in any industry can attest, gardening and sitting at a computer typing all day are also disastrous on a fresh manicure. I personally can hit a golf ball over 200 yards on a good day; and having children, cleaning up vomit, and scooping up cat and dog poop can all challenge a strong constitution as well.

            You may hear tales about how fathers prefer having sons so they can grow up teaching them to play ball and rebuild the engine in a 1955 Chevy, but those who have daughters instead can teach their girls to do the same things.

            Could it be a lack of imagery when it comes to women dressed in overalls with a pitchfork tedding hay or a petite woman hanging out under the hood of a car with a smear of grease on her cheek that creates those stereotypes?

            I spoke with two successful female detailers for this column, and they can attest that being a woman in the detailing business has nothing to do with physical strength, a little dirt under the nails, having a stomach of steel, or their ‘gentler’ gender. For Diana Balboni of N2 Details in Sterling, VA, and Sydni Brae Gwinn of iWash Auto Detailing in Boise, ID, it is all about passion. 

            Both are “car chicks” and always have been. Both are strong, determined women who turned that passion into business opportunities without considering their uniqueness in the industry. You might even call them trailblazers.

            What challenges did they face breaking into the automotive appearance industry? How have they grown their skills and reputations among men who clearly define the industry? Do they struggle with men trusting them with their often precious motorized assets? And how do women respond to facing another woman when they have questions about their automobiles?

Getting Started

            “Locally, I was immediately tied to the car scene because I started a car show at the same time as my business,” said Gwinn. “My knowledge was never in question and word in Boise spread so fast, I never had to advertise or make cold calls like a lot of people. I live in a planned community and my business expanded by word of mouth.”

            She also got involved in the industry at the corporate level. She began testing new and existing products for P&S Detail Products, a detailing product distributor in the San Francisco Bay area.

            It gave her a boost in product knowledge and helped her earn the respect of her male counterparts. Eventually, she hosted a podcast and served as social media director for the company as well.

            “That had a lot to do with my becoming a relatively well-known female in the industry,” she said.

            Balboni was formerly a civilian government contractor and retailer, and she had read many books on women in business that talked about how a woman should be perceived in a man’s world. And for as long as she could remember, she had an eye for car design.

            “My mother had a 1968 Chevrolet Malibu, and it was frontend heavy,” she explained. “She was on her way to work one morning and spun the car out stopping at a 90-degree angle in an intersection.

            “That day, she called an Oldsmobile dealership and traded it for a 1971 bright red Cutlass. The first thing I noticed when she drove it home was that it did not have wing windows. That was a new design for the time.”

            She has always had a knack for noticing subtle changes in car styling and contour and she was also a stickler for keeping the family cars clean, maintaining her mother’s car as well as her own.

            In 2015, after ‘retiring’ from her contractor job, she cranked up a whole new career in automotive detailing. She said one name kept coming up when she researched: Renny Doyle’s Detailing Success in Big Bear, CA. Diana scheduled a one-on-one training session.

            “The first thing Renny asked me in training was, ‘What are you worried about when it comes to detailing?’ I answered, ‘Burning through paint.’ I had a 1994 Acura Integra that someone had burned through the paint, and I was paranoid about doing that myself. He said, ‘Oh, well, when I teach you, you won’t be afraid of burning through paint anymore.’”

            She worked with a Flex and a Rupes buffer and the first car she polished professionally was a blue Porsche. The first interior she cleaned professionally was a family van.

            Like Sydni, Diana never saw herself as an anomaly in the business. She quickly found that her willingness to keep learning and to get involved in the industry by attending tradeshows and detailing events earned her equal status with the guys.

            From there, she became a longtime Air Force One Detailing Team member at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, helping restore the deteriorating paint and brightwork on the iconic jet.

Ongoing Challenges

            What are the biggest challenges to being a woman in detailing?

            “I have been fortunate in that I have never felt threatened or uncomfortable around a group of male detailers,” Sydni said. “Maybe on a few occasions, I have sensed men being judgmental or upset about my position because they have falsely assumed I was there because I am female and not because of the skill and knowledge I bring to the table.

            “But honestly, I can only think of one negative interaction I have ever had with a customer regarding my being a female detailer, and it came, ironically, from another female.”

            Diana admits she has a physical disadvantage compared to most men, but it is also her biggest disadvantage with other female detailers.

            “I am 5’4” tall,” she laughs. “That puts me eyeball with the door handle, so obviously I have to use a step ladder on many cars and especially trucks and SUVs. But it sort of comes down to having that piss and vinegar, you know, that enthusiastic energy that shows I am determined to take on that GMC Sierra, Nissan Titan, or Chevy Silverado for no other reason than because I can!”

            Do you ever feel like you lose business because a man prefers a male detailer or because they don’t trust a woman knowing as much about paint and detailing?

            Diana said it helps to have confidence and know you can hold your own.

            “No. I have more men bringing me cars than women,” Diana said. “But it’s an interesting question, the matter of trust. I think women will gravitate towards a female detailer because they feel another woman is less intimidating when it comes to asking questions.”

            Sydni agrees, and she finds that to be so with men, too. “I get feedback from male trainees in some of my training sessions who have followed my career,” Sydni said. “They often tell me they feel more at ease talking openly to me as a female about problems they are having in their detailing business and asking for advice. They feel more comfortable running a situation by me because they feel I will be less likely to criticize or judge them than a man would be.”

            Sydni said she knows that not all female detailers are treated with respect because she has seen it with other women too often.

            “Those situations make me aware of how fortunate I have been along my journey,” she said. “Those instances make me believe we still have a long way to go before us girls are a major force in the detailing industry!”

            She and Diana agree on one final fun fact as well.

            “After being on a few podcasts with other women, within the female detailing community as a whole, there’s literally zero drama,” Sydni said. “We all support each other and build each other up.

            “That is awesome!”

Kimberly Ballard has been writing and doing PR for the automotive industry for more than 20 years, covering automotive detailing and a variety of mobile tech services. She can be reached via e-mail at Kimberly@kimberlywritescreative.com and on her website, www.KimberlyWritesCreative.com.