Let me begin by telling you that I’ve always held jobs where I was just one of many women…teaching, youth ministry, writing and communications. While I’ve never been opposed to working in a male dominant industry, it just never occurred to me (because of my interests and abilities) that I ever would. I grew up in a fairly equal male to female environment and I’m totally cool with relating to men. However, now that I am working alongside Andrew at the shop full-time, I’ve become increasingly aware that I’m a minority in this industry.
Ordering and Picking Up Parts
The first time Andrew asked me to go to a local dealer to pick up a part, knowing my sensitive spirit, he issued a warning, “Just so you know, Jonny* can be a bit ‘gruff’ [as many people in this industry are], so don’t be surprised.” However, when I arrived, Jonny greeted me with a smile. “Oh, you’re Andrew’s wife! How’s business?” he asked and other such chit-chat. When I returned and told Andrew of our conversation, he was pleasantly surprised. The more I deal with parts guys, the more I realize they treat me differently (as in more pleasantly) than they treat my husband – a man and a mechanic.
One thing that the parts salesmen do for me that I’m sure they don’t do for Andrew is offer to carry heavy parts, like car batteries, out to my car for me. My reaction to this was a bit mixed at first. For one thing, I felt proud that chivalry still exists in this day and age. As a woman, I like being cared for and respected in this way. I like it when a man opens a door for me. On the other hand, I knew going into this job that I’d sometimes have to pick up parts orders and carry heavy parts and equipment. I have a very athletic past, and I still carry a little pride in being able to bear heavy objects. So, I’ve learned to balance my response to these men by saying something like, “That’s very kind of you! I’m sure I can handle it, but if you really want to, I’m not going to keep you from being a gentleman.” But then again, if I’m having a rough day, I gladly take them up on the offer without complaint!
I still sometimes feel a bit silly ordering parts because I definitely have a lot to learn about parts and mechanics in general. Andrew has been teaching me well, and, as the parts salesmen have gotten to know me, they’ve also become very good at helping me wade through this mechanics stuff. Most of them are kind, patient, and understanding of the fact that this is all new to me. Two of our parts vendors have saleswomen, however, and I am sometimes relieved when I get to talk to them. Jenny of Advanced Auto Parts (formerly Carquest) is especially kind and makes me at ease with my ignorance.
Talking to Customers on the Phone
I’ve become quite accustomed to answering the phone to allow Andrew to focus on the cars. However, I’m a little self-conscious of my sweet, girly voice, and sometimes I wonder if customers aren’t going to take me as seriously as when my husband answers the phone. While I still have a lot to learn about cars, I have begun to be helpful to people when they call. Some customers have gotten to know me and are ok with not talking to Andrew right then, but I’ve learned when to pass the phone off to my husband so they can feel good about coming here. Maybe someday my voice will grow up and fit better in the industry…but until then, I’m going to continue to learn more about cars and let my brains do the talking.
Helping Andrew Around the Shop
While I come to work dressed professionally, I’ve learned to leave my dresses at home. Some days I may be moving things around in the shop to create better order and flow, cleaning up around the shop, or picking up parts from a distributor and organizing them on the shelf.
Other days, Andrew calls me out to the shop and says, “Climb up here and move this thing,” while he looks underneath the vehicle to see how the different systems are reacting to what I’m doing. Or he says, “Get on this creeper here and use this flashlight to tell me if you see what I see.” I joke that I’m a mechanic in training. (One time I even pinpointed the problem in my brother-in-law’s car! Andrew was quite proud).
Still, other days the shop cleaning would make reality TV star Mike Rowe from Dirty Jobs excited as I change out the oily, grimy mop water and scrape the sludge from the bottom of the bucket. I told my mom recently that it all makes sense that this is a regular part of my life because I always enjoyed playing in the mud when I was younger. It’s the very reason why when I asked her if I could put on my “spinny” dress and play outside, she told me, “No.” I now value her wisdom as I face a bucket of what I look at as “adult mud.” (Mom loves both Mike Rowe and my jokes).
So while I’m accustomed to spending my days talking to teenagers in coffee shops or sitting in front of a computer in an office with central air, I’m now getting used to grease and grime and some physical labor while I wait for the weekend to put on my dresses and dangly jewelry. I think I can handle this man’s world…and maybe my presence just adds a little more sugar and spice and everything nice into what is a difficult and grueling male-dominated industry.
– From the Mechanic’s Wife