“Welcome to Parts R’ Us, what are you working on today”. The company name may be made up but I said those exact words as customers walked through the store’s door. Every day. All day. For a lot of days. Usually everything went smoothly. I sold spark plugs and starters, brake pads and batteries. I was the goddess of auto parts. Not everyone agreed unfortunately. There was this one customer, on this one day that thought I wasn’t worthy of my gray polo shirt and name tag. In response to my well rehearsed welcome message, I received, “I will not buy my parts from a girl, get me a man”. I did not beckon for my male counterpart. My feelings were not hurt, no tears were shed. But more importantly, no transaction was going to be made. I simply informed him that I was fully capable of providing the service he needed and that I was the only thing standing in between him and the distributor cap he coveted. This customer chose to leave. The store lost a ten dollar sale, however the gain women in the automotive field achieved was invaluable.
This story was 20 years ago, and we have come a long way since then. Yet the stigma of being a minority in a specific gender dominated occupation is not gone, it lingers just under the surface and too often rears its ugly head to discriminate. Career paths and job roles, just as toys and colors, have no gender. It is our bias and predisposition that makes pink a girl color, trucks a boy toy and being a mechanic a man’s job.
I’m not innocent. I demanded a female nurse in labor and delivery (I lost that fight, I wanted the epidural more than I wanted Susie). I paused slightly when I learned that Tony, a burly biker dude, can do cut and color that will put your stylist to shame. I felt guilty that I was overly impressed that Julie from tech support was able to solve my internet issue even when Bill, Tom and Joe couldn’t.
How do we break the cycle of defining, based solely on who a person is, what job they should be doing? How can we stop making snap judgements regarding the quality of service we will receive? I do not have the magic answers. But I do have some suggestions.
When we get our first ever female technician on the team this month, it will be more than a milestone, it will be a statement of who we are and what we believe.
And remember, real people wear pink. And anyone can turn a wrench, or go to space, or deliver a baby. Ride Sally ride.