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International Women’s Day: A Conversation With The Women Of Ocra

In honor of International Women’s Day, the women of Ocra hopped on a Zoom to have a frank conversation about their experiences in the industry: the opportunities, the challenges, what’s going right, what can be improved, and everything in between.

While their thoughts are not reflective of women in parking as a whole, Sarah Becherer, Meagan McKinnon, & Chelsea Hands wanted to surface some personal observations and open up a dialogue on this important topic.

Regardless of your gender, role, or industry tenure, we want to hear what you think!

All experiences and perspectives are valid, and we look forward to learning about yours.

Use the links below to hop to different topics:

  1. The experience of “needing the intro”
  2. The phenomenon of women in “unseen” functions
  3. The barrier to entry: women in “boots on the ground” roles
  4. Establishing credibility and expertise
  5. Entering a historically male-dominated industry
  6. Female communication patterns and inherent bias
  7. Inclusion in meetings & being the expert in the room
  8. Why the future looks even brighter!

#1: THE EXPERIENCE OF NEEDING THE INTRO

“One challenge that I can think of right off the bat is often “needing the intro” to a male in parking from another male in parking.”

Sarah Becherer: Hey, ladies! Thanks for getting together today. I think a good place to start would be with a fundamental truth: the parking industry is majority male.

Meagan McKinnon: Yes, that’s totally fair to say.

SB: This is a small sample size, and a biased one, but I remember when I was doing parking persona research back in 2018-ish, getting qualitative and quantitative data through interviews, 80% of the people who were interviewed were men.

SB: The women that we talked to were largely in sales or marketing. If you think about that statistic, which, again, is small scale and has inherent bias, the finding is that we, as women, have different experiences in the industry than 80% of the people we work with.

MM: One thing we can unpack here is whether we’ve had to face any unique challenges or have been presented with any unique opportunities as a result of that, right?

MM: For me, I feel like it’s easier to answer to the challenges than the opportunities.

MM: In my career, opportunities that have been granted to me are agnostic of the industry and more about the people who I’m working with.

MM: One challenge that I can think of right off the bat is often “needing the intro” to a male in parking from another male in parking.

MM: If I go to a parking conference and I’m walking around by myself, I’m probably not going to see a lot of people engaging in conversation with me. Whereas if I’m accompanied by a male counterpart, there’s a lot more conversations that get started.

SB: Yeah, I’ve observed that, as well. It’s not that people aren’t friendly or open. But I’m not usually the person who people immediately flag as the one with decision-making power.

MM: Right, it feels like it’s not so much to do with role or seniority, because even when I’m with a direct counterpart or report who happens to be a man, the same thing happens.

#2: THE PHENOMENON OF WOMEN IN “UNSEEN” FUNCTIONS

“The phenomenon of women in “unseen” functions is not unique to parking. It’s a macro-level trend.”

SB: I’d argue that role has something to do with it, though. And I don’t think this is specific to parking, because I’ve observed it in other industries, too, but women in parking tend to be in specific functions.

MM: Right. Marketing, HR, PR, sometimes Sales, those sorts of roles.

MM: I anticipate some pushback here from people reading this, which is totally valid. But the phenomenon of women in “unseen” roles is not unique to parking. It’s a macro-level trend.

MM: Anyone who says to me “there are as many women in power in parking as men”, I’d say, okay, what’s their title? How much money do they make? Does their salary correspond to the value they’re providing to the business? How does the business measure that value?

SB: Exactly. This is not a universal truth. I could easily name a bunch of badass women in quote-unquote “male” roles.

SB: But the fact that list comes to mind so quickly is telling. It’d be more challenging for me to list men in those roles just because there are so many of them, if that makes sense? Like, where do I even start?

SB: Personally, I have a lot of experience being the only woman in the convo or the meeting. Sometimes that’s because I don’t need to be there, which makes sense. But sometimes I’d really benefit from hearing things firsthand, the language used, et cetera.

MM: Again, back to the point of needing the intro, we’re in those meetings when we’re invited, and you’re less likely to be invited when you’re in, as we’re calling them, “back of the house” roles. Seen as vital to keeping the engine running but not so much as being in the driver’s seat.

SB: I totally agree with that. And we could really go off on a tangent here about why women end up in those roles, social conditioning from early on, but that’s another conversation.

Chelsea Hands: I’m still very new to parking, so my experience comes more from being a woman in tech. But I can see that there’s comparatively few women mentors and role models compared to men in the parking industry.

CH: I think the community that exists is strong, and that organizations like Women in Parking are doing very good and very important work. I joined recently and I’m finding a lot of value in the mentorship program, in particular. It’s nice to feel represented and see yourself in a leader.

CH: I mean, as a white woman, I do feel seen and I do feel heard, but that’s probably because I’m mostly white and I have that privilege.

CH: But it can be difficult to realize that most people I talk to in my role are men. Ocra works with operators, and while some are women, most aren’t.

#3: THE BARRIER TO ENTRY: WOMEN IN “BOOTS ON THE GROUND” ROLES

“Is it fair to say that starting out early in “boots on the ground” roles is more challenging for us, as women?”

CH: Both of you have mentioned the power of a man making the introduction.

CH: Sending that email out blindly doesn’t always feel like the best option even though I’m the person they should reply to because I’m the one who can best support them.

CH: I don’t know enough about parking to really form an opinion. I’ve never been to a show.

CH: But one of the things that I really like about Ocra is that even thought we’re such a small team, there are women here. Yeah, we don’t have any female engineers, but we balance it out on the Ops and Revenue side.

SB: Right, our core Operations function is all female.

MM: My experience might also be limited here as my time in this industry has been strictly within parking technology.

MM: But, I would agree that where women tend to fit within tech, and so also where they fit within parking, is in support functions. Whereas strategy and relationships typically belong to men.

SB: One thing that I’ve noticed is when you talk to a man who’s been in parking for 20, 30, 40 years, it’s often a guy who’s been around for that long because they started as a valet or attendant, which are historically roles that women don’t get hired for as often.

SB: You don’t see women valets as much and I think that there are some valid reasons for that. Safety, notably. Like if you’re parking a $100k car, there’s a risk of theft and assault.

SB: And to generalize (sorry!), a man, physically, is a stronger deterrent. No one is hiring a 16 year old girl to work in a parking facility downtown at 10 o’clock at night and rightly so, perhaps.

SB: So, when you’re looking at people who have that credibility and gravitas of being in the industry for decades and decades and decades, the reason for that may be because the entry point for those “boots on the ground” roles is more accessible for men.

SB: Starting from the ground up and really getting to know the inner workings of a facility – is it fair to say that it’s more challenging for us, as women?

CH: I’d say so, yeah. There’s not much of a barrier to enter the parking industry as a person but as a woman, you’re right, I think there is. I’ve never seen a woman valet. Have either of you?

SB: Mmm, I’ve seen women operating hotel valet stands, handing out tickets and collecting bags and things like that. Or in management roles. But in the parking community, yes, I’ve met women who have valeted.

MM: Yes, being the host. Like, the face of the valet, making people feel welcome.

SB: They always say that people who are parking want parking to be frictionless, so pleasant and seamless that it’s almost a non-experience. Having a friendly face to greet you when you enter a hotel and triage that experience is very much our role there.

CH: That’s more concierge. Yeah.

#4: ESTABLISHING CREDIBILITY & EXPERTISE

“There are opportunities for us and we’re not boxed out of leadership roles on the basis of gender. Some industries are still like that, but I don’t think parking is one of them.”

SB: I do feel like parking is a psychologically safe industry for women. I do not feel attacked or devalued or oppressed.

SB: There are opportunities for us and we’re not boxed out of leadership roles on the basis of gender. Some industries are still like that, but I don’t think parking is one of them.

MM: Yeah. But the fact that women are so hugely outnumbered in executive and leadership roles is relevant. Because what creds do you need in order to climb to that role?

MM: As we said, that boots on the ground experience, working your way from the bottom up? It can be tough to develop that pedigree as a woman.

CH: Yeah, if you’re not getting your hands dirty or feet wet or whatever, how are you supposed to have those conversations and think of the big ideas that will change the industry?

SB: So well said. Because that’s what people say. They’re just like, “this guy know his stuff, he started out valeting cars at 16, he’s worked in some tough neighborhoods, he knows what it’s like. He’s the person to talk to about how to make more money from your facilities.”

SB: One of the biggest things, I think, that men may not realize is that they do have the leg up in terms of being a legacy or a lifer or long-term, and that’s the foundation for a lot of establishing credibility and knowing people and being able to speak and be heard.

MM: There are plenty of women out there with intimate knowledge about how parking facilities operate. It’s not inaccessible. It’s not impossible. It’s just less common.

SB: Of course there are exceptions! We’re not talking about rules here; we’re talking about a general climate.

SB: All experiences and perspectives, including ours and those we’re inviting here, are equal and valid, and that’s how we have a broader conversation.

#5: ENTERING A HISTORICALLY MALE-DOMINATED INDUSTRY

“Overall tech disruption has made it easier for women to get into more historically male-dominated industries.”

SB: Both of you brought up an interesting point about working in tech and how the barrier to entry in tech is lower for women than in some other industries.

SB: We all work for a parking tech company. Do you think that the influx of new technology companies in parking is making it easier, overall, for women to advance into leadership roles?

MM: That’s a really interesting question and my answer is yes. Throughout my career in parking, I’ve seen a lot of women being hired and promoted.

MM: It’s something I hadn’t really put together in my mind, but I would agree that tech disrupting parking has definitely opened some doors for women to join the industry and kind of peel back those outer layers and discover what parking is all about.

MM: I will say, on the flip side, my personal experience is that while tech has opened more doors for women into parking, thinking about tech as a whole, women have to take lesser roles that also come with less influence and lower pay.

MM: Like I said earlier, they don’t tend to be strategy roles. They tend to be support roles.

MM: When I got my foot in the door of parking eight years ago, I applied to be a frontline phone support CSR even though I was coming in with management experience.

CH: Yeah, overall tech disruption has made it easier for women to get into more historically male-dominated industries. Personally, I took the DIY route.

CH: I went to school for fashion. Later, I found a low barrier entry job as a contractor for a major tech company, and there were fringe benefits like education, tools, and on-the-job training to further myself and my career.

CH: Obviously after that experience, I got hired by a parking company and I’m a woman. So, I just have the anecdotal evidence of it working for me. Why wouldn’t it work for someone else with the same skill set who wants to work in this industry?

SB: I consider your story of how you arrived at Ocra interesting because you were hired by a female former parking operator, which is very unusual role for a woman, especially one as young as Avarie [Anderson] is.

SB: It goes without saying that you’re qualified for your role because if you didn’t have the skills to do the job, you wouldn’t have been hired.

SB: But I think, as a woman, Avarie was able to very clearly see the value of your approach to dealing with people and solving problems that was shaped by the things that you’ve had to go through as a woman who works in the world.

SB: Parking is run on relationships. That’s very applicable to us at Ocra.

SB: You were hired by a woman coming from an old school job who saw you and was like, yes, this is the energy and the perspective that we need here. That says a lot about Ocra, a lot about Avarie, and a lot about you.

#6: FEMALE COMMUNICATION PATTERNS & INHERENT BIAS

“Our allies are the ones who listen to what we’re saying even if we’re not saying in the language or the tone that they expect.”

SB: We all agree that the men we work with at Ocra, and most of the men we work with outside of Ocra, are not sexist people. They encourage us to lead and regard us as equals.

SB: Do you think that there’s anything more that those supportive men can do to be a better partner to us, or to advocate for us in the parking industry?

CH: Basically what it comes down to is just continuing to advocate for us both as thought leaders in the company and experts in the industry: act as our allies and amplify our voices.

CH: It does mean that maybe sometimes the men who work with will the thought of “this conversation she’s having with a man would be much easier if I just took over” but they need to push through that.

CH: If the man that I’m talking to isn’t listening to me because I’ve never done his job, that is something we work to change, not avoid.

MM: It is a really tough question. Which is a good thing. It means that the men in our industry are doing well and acting as advocates.

MM: But one thing I would ask of them is to try to meet us where we are at. And by that I mean, okay, we don’t have 35 years of experience in this industry having grown from a valet into such and such.

MM: Regardless, we have a vested interest in our work and the success of our partners. They need to listen to what we’re saying even if we’re not saying it in the language or the tone that they expect.

MM: You hired us. We have to assume that you value our input. I can’t always give you my input in the exact parameters that you might expect based on your 35 years of parking working mostly with other men.

MM: That boils down to just being a little more open-minded and trying to hear things even if you don’t necessarily share a language yet.

#8: INCLUSION IN MEETING & BEING THE EXPERT IN THE ROOM

“If you feel like you’ll only close the deal if a man delivers the pitch, then you really need to step back and think about that.”

SB: The way that women use language in a workplace is a tale as old as time. People have been talking about vocal fry and upspeak for friggin’ 40 years. Exclamation points and emojis in emails, whatever.

SB: But in parking in particular, I’ve observed that resonating with and connecting with men in requires using a certain vocabulary. Your credibility hinges on syntax.

SB: You can know exactly what you’re talking about and if you don’t use the right words in the right order, it can undermine you.

SB: Of men in general, we ask that they are open to women communicating how we communicate.

MM: And we ask for education. Give us knowledge into how to speak in a way that is going to make us successful. I’m not looking for someone to tell me not to add a smiley emoji to an email.

MM: But I do want to know the vocab that operators are using because it will help me be taken more seriously and secure my place in the conversation.

SB: And here’s the thing. You don’t need to have a woman in every meeting. It’s not a box you have to tick. The most effective meetings have the right people in them.

SB: This isn’t about ego or making us feel included. Nobody wants to be roped into a bunch of meetings just to sit there, irrespective of gender. But everybody wants to be present when it’s pertinent.

SB: But if the reason is that you think whoever you’re talking to is going to take you less seriously because I’m there, and that it’s easier to avoid that and just to fill me in afterwards on something that actually involves me, then there’s a problem.

SB: What I do ask of men is to think critically about why there isn’t a woman in the room. Is it because there’s a valid business reason? You don’t need to throw me on the invite just ‘cause. Please don’t, actually.

SB: If you feel like you’ll only close the deal if a man delivers the pitch, then you really need to step back and think about how you can take a calculated risk with highlighting us as the experts we are and not being afraid that’s going to jeopardize a deal or ruin a relationship.

#9: WHY THE FUTURE LOOKS EVEN BRIGHTER!

“Many people have put a lot of resources and thoughtfulness into creating programs and spaces for us, which is incredible.”

MM: There’s something on my LinkedIn: Inclusion Drives Innovation. You have to have a representation of different perspectives and experiences to make something that everybody understands and wants to pay for.

SB: What do you think the parking industry’s getting right about diversity right now?

CH: I think the fact that there’s a whole organization for women in this industry is amazing because everyone wants to grow, succeed, and thrive at their workplace, regardless of gender.

CH: The way women enter the parking industry, and experience the parking industry, is different than how men do.

CH: We need that space to be able to talk about our hopes, our dreams, our triumphs, but then also the things that we don’t like about our jobs without feeling that backlash or feeling like we’re not being assertive enough in our language or our vocabulary.

CH: Honestly, I was kind of floored that WIP exists because I had never considered the parking industry before I got the job here. So, the fact that there’s also a space for women is really great.

CH: I think that’s something that the industry is doing right. Especially since there’s a mentorship program within WIP that brings women from different backgrounds, different states, and different companies together in a way that wouldn’t exist otherwise.

SB: And I also like how it’s open to people who do not identify as women.

SB: Yeah, this is our space, but anybody who wants to take time out of their day to listen to how we feel and think about things, like, I’m totally chill with that.

SB: There’s no reason we should be gatekeeping our experiences, especially when a lot of changing our situation is contingent on the bulk of the industry, which is not women.

CH: That intersectionality is so important and we’re never going to get anywhere if we don’t include the other side.

MM: I have a similar answer. It’s really cool to see what NPA is doing with the WIP mentorship program and what IPMI and Parking Today are doing, too. I’ve seen so many more women on the covers and featured in articles lately than I did a few years ago.

SB: So many people have put a lot of resources and a lot of thoughtfulness into creating programs and spaces for us, which is incredible.

CH: There’s work to do, and it’s hard work, and it’s never really done.

MM: Largely, I think the industry is in a really good place. If women continue to be fearless about sharing our experiences and men continue to work with us to amplify our voices, it’ll only get better.

Thoughts? We’d love to hear them! Email Sarah (sarah@getocra.com), Meagan (meagan@getocra.com), and/or Chelsea (chelsea@getocra.com) to keep the convo going.

Happy International Women’s Day!

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