As a woman in the heavy vehicle industry, the number of role models to draw inspiration from is still a slowly growing pool. Entering the trucking world is something many people (male and female alike) tend to be born into – they have uncles who drive trucks interstate or a parent who is a mechanic.
This is not enough to shift the balance.
Women belong in trades, but too often these women do not receive the permission or push they need until later in life. As a woman in trade and a woman in trucking, I believe it is my responsibility to share my experiences so that women of all ages know: they are capable.
Fresh out of high school and full of naïve confidence, I entered the trucking industry as a seventeen-year-old female. Not only was I a female in a male-dominated trade, but I was under average height for my age and had no mechanics or truck drivers in my family. It was not until I had started work that I wondered: how was I going to keep up – let alone succeed – in this new world?
I attended work in the heaviest shoes I had ever owned, lost in overalls that were twice my size and rolled up thrice at my feet, and received ‘Mr. Ashley Beeby’ on my first payslip. Yet, I was entranced by the shiny new world of trucks and engines.
Reflecting on my apprenticeship, now qualified, it is easy to determine the simple characteristics that contributed to my success as a woman in trucking.
As with all success, it started with attitude. Whether it was sweeping truck bays for half the day or carrying out an engine overhaul, I learned early on in my apprenticeship that how you conducted yourself when completing the small jobs reflected your work ethic for the major jobs. Having a positive attitude and an enthusiasm for learning went a long way as a first-year apprentice (because regardless of age, a first-year doesn’t really know anything yet, and shouldn’t pretend otherwise!) Being the least-experienced person in a workshop can be daunting, but it is also a huge opportunity. Without any industry experience for others to create expectations regarding your workmanship, apprentices have an opportunity to create a reputation based on their attitude – not their gender. A resilient attitude is a foundation that will get you through every frustrating repair or job gone awry.
Being a female is a part of my identity, and will always be a factor in my experiences, however it is important to distinguish that, for me, it was not the reason I had certain experiences. My experiences were a product of who I was as an apprentice and as an employee. More than my gender, my size created challenges in the workshop. This did not undermine my capability, rather, it demanded a willingness to work differently.
Through the challenges of my physical capabilities, I came to understand the old-school mentality that discriminated against women in trades and how it no longer applied. Women are built biologically differently than men. While it was traditionally perceived that men were ‘stronger’ than women, this was not a rule. With a new focus on safety and good manual handling practices in the workplace, the industry had become more accessible for not only women but also men. It was no longer a requirement to be able to lift a cylinder head by hand or to hit a seized pin out in minutes. This change allowed smaller-stature people – like myself – into the industry. This increase in diversity created a cultural shift that recognised there are numerous approaches to achieving the same outcome. As a woman in trade, I learned that just because I carried out the work differently, it did not make me less valuable or capable.
While I have learned to roll my eyes at chrome details on trucks (which require extra caution during repairs) and to keep my mouth closed when underneath an engine, the industry is still the same captivating world that I was first drawn to as an apprentice. If you are reading this as a woman – or man – currently working in a trade, or someone who is thinking of entering the industry, my advice to you is this:
Just because you may not work in the same way, does not make you less valuable or capable. Be unafraid of your unique approach to the industry because the diversity we bring creates betterment for everyone. If your workplace does not recognise this, find another one. Every person deserves to be treated for who they are as an individual and valued for the unique perspective they bring to a workplace.
Remember: ‘different’ doesn’t mean incapable.
Thanks for reading!