Ahead of Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week in 2023, Tina Hubbard, president of HDA Truck Pride, said in the meeting’s early years, the line at the women’s restroom was real short.
In 2024, it was notably longer.
“The planning team is three women, taking the lead,” says Shannon O’Brien, senior director of programming and strategy, MEMA Aftermarket Suppliers. O’Brien, along with Jessica Finnerty of AutoCare and Kristen Kellogg from CVSN made up that planning team. “It’s a women-planned event. And that’s really cool.”
This year, more than 2,900 executives and managers from across the heavy-duty aftermarket came to Grapevine, Texas, in a display of the vibrance of the industry. It was also a show of diversity, with more women in attendance than any organizers remember.
Finnerty says she started working on HDAW since the early 2010s. Over the years, she’s seen more and more women in attendance.
“Nor only are they out there, but they love what they do and are such fans of the industry,” Finnerty says.
They are women like Jennifer Brooks.
Brooks co-owns Brooks Diesel Service in Oklahoma, with her husband, Cody. He started the business in 2017 and even though Jennifer is a co-owner, she doesn’t do much with it. Yet.
This year, Jennifer attended VIPAR’s IMPACT Conference and HDAW. She met women that were CEOs of their own companies.
“Pretty much everybody welcomes the women into everything,” Jennifer says. At HDAW, she attended one-on-one meetings with Cody, learning about products and talking to distributors. “Every meeting that I went to, they would address both of us,” Jennifer says. She says they asked her questions as well as Cody.
“For me, I’m just now learning all of this,” Jennifer says. “It’s more interesting that I thought it was.”
Whitney Jennings and her all-woman team at QX Heavy Duty have been coming to HDAW since 2020. That year, she said she attended a women's luncheon with 14 attendees. In 2023, the QX team went to a women's dinner with around 50 people.
This year, the women's reception "looked like a real reception, filled with people," she says. And QX had it's best year ever at the show.
"We have a notebook we refer to as our show book, where we log visitor interactions, and the 2024 section is larger than all of the other years combined," Jennings says.
Miranda Prieur is a senior in automotive aftermarket management at Northwood University and, twice now, has served on the team of interns at HDAW.
As an intern, Prieur had a sponsor company. During the conference, she worked with her company in their booth, in one-on-one meetings and more.
“Whether (the sponsor) is a supplier or distributor, you’re involved like you’re part of the company, doing all of it,” Prieur says.
As a third-generation drag racer, Prieur says she grew up in the performance aftermarket and thought that’s where she’d end up. But two years at HDAW, she says the heavy-duty side is “pulling on her heart.” Motorsports is a close-knit group, she says, and heavy-duty is the same way.
“It’s the people that do the work and the relationships that you build,” she says. “It’s a great place to get a career started. There’s a lot of people looking to mentor young people in the industry. They want to help women succeed.”
Prieur says women should be included throughout HDAW, not just a reception. It’s important for men to see women being active in the industry, she says.
“If we can teach men and women how to work together and give them our perspective,” she says. “We can learn from each other.”
MEMA’s O’Brien says six of the Northwood interns this year were women. While there aren’t specific plans for more programming for women, O’Brien says she would like to see more programming encouraging young women to be involved in the industry.
Kellogg, one of the show's planners from CVSN, has attended the show for a decade, both in her role now and in a previous job at a distributor. She says in the first few years, her supplier meetings would be almost 100% men. In the past two years, though, at least 50% of her meetings included women.
"I think the industry has become more welcoming to women because there is a better perception of the industry as a whole," Kellogg says. "With the advancement of technology and the unexpected marketing that COVID provided by highlighting this industry as essential, with staying power, perceptions are slowly changing it making it more attractive to women.
"The industry is finally catching up with the fact that women are an asset in sales and management and more," she adds. "Women haven't changed; the industry has."
Finnerty says organizers don’t want HDAW just to be a place for women, but where they’re celebrated.
“We want it to be very representative of what the show actually is,” she says.