I was recently honored and humbled to receive the Most Influential Women’s Award from the Women’s Industry Network in San Diego, California. For the first time, I attended the WIN annual conference where the award ceremony was held. Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not much on drawing any attention to being a woman in a male-dominated field, and industry.

I’ve never been a fan of differentiation, and instead have been an advocate for recognition of a job well-done. Growing up with the desires to work on cars, then to become a welder, and then to join the collision industry, I always felt that my non-traditional callings weren’t normal, but not something that was a hindrance. All that said, I still think it is important for women in our industry to have a network of other women as mentors, colleagues and confidants.

Attending this event, I was open to understanding the vision they have of an organization “dedicated to encouraging, developing and cultivating opportunities to attract women to collision repair while recognizing excellence, promoting leadership, and fostering a network among the women who are shaping the industry.” I saw that many of the attendees were doing just what I did when I first started to attend national meetings: to meet new people and make connections that could widen my network in the industry.

On top of making those connections, they offered motivational seminars and break-out educational meetings that anyone would have drawn from. The speakers were vibrant and moving in their material and gave many takeaways. I think men would have gotten the same from attendance as I did.

The goal of this conference was to “power up” women in our industry. Anything that boosts personal confidence, and understanding of work-place dynamic, is a positive. I realized that many of the women in attendance hadn’t had ever received motivational support, or the education that had received growing up in the industry. They didn’t have the same connections that I had and this was a great way for them to grow as a person.

If all the employers in our industry would take the time to empower their employees in this same way, then I could see us having a more positive work environment and stronger, more self-starting people.

I realized at the table awaiting the award ceremony that from the inception of the Most Influential Women’s award in 1999, I had a relationship with a woman honored each year since. Each of those women had been a friend, or a mentor, or at minimum a colleague of mine, and there is no way I could have understood or made my way through these past 16 years without them. I have a lot of respect for them, and a lot to be thankful for in knowing that.

I’m also truly thankful for my parents, who are also in the industry. My dad, Jeff Hendler (administrator and past Chairman for the Collision Industry Conference), who showed up at the conference to bear witness to my award. He’s been the most inspirational figure in my life, in step with my mom, Linda Atkins, who is the administrator for the Society of Collision Repair Specialists. They taught me that perseverance can overcome any obstacle and that is the mantra for everything that I do.

Man or woman, we are in one of the greatest industries in America. I couldn’t be more blessed to work in it, with the best people out there. Other associations I’ve worked with have shown me that you are the biggest collection of the hardest working, most generous and supportive folks – bar none.

You truly are a treasure, and thank you for being so.