For our third blog in the series, I followed up with Kelly S. Here she discusses her experiences as an automotive technician and as a front desk worker at a specialty repair shop. I really love the details she has shared and have had similar experiences!
I asked her to talk about her job role and experience in the trades industry.
“I started in the automotive industry in 2004 where I took a job cleaning up a repair shop after school while taking the apprenticeship program in college. I received my red seal as an automotive technician in 2009 after completing the 4 year apprenticeship. I worked as a mechanic in numerous small shops and dealerships trying to find my place over the years, but ended up stepping away around 2010 for a couple of years.
I tried again in 2012 standing on the other side of the counter where I managed a small specialty shop but finally pulled the plug in 2015. I now work in the wine industry in the cellar, which is still male dominated, but seems to be much more progressive.”
I asked her to talk about how her gender has played a part in her work life.
“While working the front desk at the specialty repair shop I was constantly asked if they could speak with a mechanic. Even telling these customers that I had a red seal and plenty of experience to draw from wasn’t enough. Often they would blatantly revert to asking for a man. The particular brands of high end vehicles we were working with really drew a chauvinistic crowd.
I think I was in my 3rd year at this point, and working at a small mom and pop shop that had another small shop neighbouring us. The older mechanic that also ran this shop was rude to me every chance he got.
This was in a bit of a rough neighbourhood and you could find all sorts of things in the back alley and one day he comes in holding a dildo (in a shop rag) that he found outside. He’s waving it around like an idiot and the other mechanics are laughing and eventually he approaches my work station. He then says “Hey I think I found something of yours!”. Another day he pointed at the worn toes in my boots and asked if I spent a lot of time on my knees. I don’t remember anyone telling him off on either of these occasions.
At a dealership Christmas party I once had a coworker express how he thought coveralls were hot on a woman and that he had a dream about me once.
I remember the first woman I ever saw driving a forklift – so badass I thought! It probably wasn’t anything spectacular to her, but she was running a crew of men and being awesome.
More and more this competitive feeling between women in the work place seems to be fading. I’m noticing lots of women supporting each other and sticking together which is incredible. The more we do this, the more uncomfortable it will make the people who don’t think we belong.
Most of my career I was the sole female, but back in college where I was the only one in my department, I must thank an incredible female welding instructor for giving me a safe place to vent when I needed it.
I used to get a lot of headaches and migraines monthly with my period, which was a huge problem in these work places. The stress of having to explain or ask for any time off compounded symptoms I already had.
While coworkers were generally managed, the customers were harder to predict. Lots of people had a reaction to seeing a woman working on their car, one end of the spectrum or the other.
While there was often a change room for men, there was never a second one, so while the men could leave work clothes there and go home in different clothes, I couldn’t really do the same without taking over a customer bathroom area for the most part.”
Here she talks about what changes could be made for a better future for females in trades industries.
“While I can’t vouch for the automotive industry anymore, I see things loosening up where I’m at now. I think when I started I had some growing up to do, and a lot of the positive things I notice now are because I have found a voice and have worked hard on my work ethic.
I had to work a lot harder for respect than any of my male colleagues and I wish that would change, but as the younger generations come up I think it will happen. The vast majority of my issues were with much older men, and we all just have to keep showing them that prejudices are not tolerated anymore.
Equality is needed. Equal opportunities, equal pay, and a safe place to discuss workplace issues.”
Wow Kelly – thank you so much for being so honest. I too have had these kinds of experiences and I too have found that stepping up and voicing my issues has been key to change. Was the uncomfortable work environment a factor in your decision to leave the automotive industry?
“All of these things played a role in my decision to change careers…. Proving I belonged every day took its toll and got old. I have a lot of valuable skills and lessons in my pocket though so I really wouldn’t trade the experience.”