Auto-repair business needs a few women

Friday, September 12, 2003

Dear Tom and Ray: Why is it, do you think, that there aren't more women mechanics? I'm asking for purely selfish reasons. I'm an art-history major and have worked in museums for the past decade, and I'm looking to change careers. I'm completely visually and hands-on oriented, and I've always been fascinated by car engines and how they work. Is it possible for a woman to be integrated into a testosterone-driven field like this? I think so, but I need a reality check. Words of wisdom are greatly welcome. Elizabeth

Ray: You sound like you'd make a great mechanic. I'd encourage you to go for it.

Tom: It won't be entirely easy, though, because you're right -- this is a largely testosterone-poisoned field. There are lots of crude remarks, sexual innuendoes and, until recently, the major tool supplier in the industry was famous for its annual girly calendars.

Ray: Yeah, wasn't that great!

Tom: You see, Elizabeth? This is the kind of nonsense you're going to have to put up with. And you have to expect some degree of harassment from those who don't want you there -- either because they feel more comfortable in an all-male environment, or because they feel threatened economically by the opening of their profession to the other 50 percent of humanity.

Ray: But every field has its pioneers. Rosa Parks had to endure a lot to sit at the front of the bus. Jackie Robinson took a lot of guff as the first man to integrate major league baseball. And just ask my family what my brother had to endure as the first moron admitted to MIT.

Tom: We're a little bit past that pioneering stage now in the auto-repair business. Fortunately, there are already some women working on cars. We had a very good female mechanic in our shop years ago.

Ray: If we had suggestions for you, one would be to try to maintain your sense of humor. Garage culture seems to revolve around guys kidding each other and putting each other down. As strange as it might seem, this is how guys express affection for each other.

Tom: The other suggestion would be to know your stuff as well as you can.

Ray: One final suggestion is that you might do best in a dealership rather than a small, local garage. The reason I say this is because dealerships tend to be larger, have many employees and are therefore more aware of workplace rules as they apply to harassment and the like. So you might find a more protected environment there.

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