I went to get my oil changed at a Valvoline the other day, and had an interesting experience. Pulling into the bay, I was greeted by a young woman who completed the intake on my vehicle. It’s unusual to see a woman in that role, and I wondered how she came to apply for the job.
The woman seemed a little nervous, but enthusiastic, as she filled out the computer form for my vehicle. “Is it a four-wheel drive or rear-wheel drive?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
She called to a male coworker, and he peered under my SUV. “Rear-wheel,” he told her, and started to walk away.
“How do you know?” she asked timidly. He turned back. “I’ll show you.” They bent down together so he could explain.
A few moments later, I saw a different woman working on the car next to mine. More unusual still. Her long blond hair was in a stylish ponytail, her uniform smooth and spotless. She handled her task with complete comfort and authority.
Two thoughts struck me about the experience, and although I wish it had happened on a remodeling job site, the concepts I’m discussing transfer across all industries.
First was the exchange between the young woman and her coworker. Historically, our culture encourages boys to learn about anything mechanical much more so than girls. It’s more likely that a male employee, even a new one, would have known how to look under a car to learn whether it’s a 4WD. The woman who helped me had to bypass a myriad of lifelong cultural messaging to even decide to go for the job. She then had to travel outside of her comfort zone to ask for the training she needed. After he was asked, the man who answered her question was friendly and helpful, but I’m not sure that even that’s enough in this environment.
The labor shortage affects every single trade. It’s impeding growth across multiple industries. In this market, all employees are valuable, but women are especially so because every woman working with a tool in her hand represents a real-life possibility for any other woman who sees her. It may be a job that women never considered until she saw someone else doing it.
Every woman with a tool in her hand represents a real-life possibility
Until we live in a world where meeting women in the trades is a normal thing, it’s incumbent on the men who are already there to go the extra mile to mentor, train, and encourage any newcomer. The woman’s coworker did absolutely nothing wrong, but “nothing wrong” won’t solve the problem. And neither will a mindset of “it’s not his job to go out of his way to train her.”
My second observation is about the woman I saw working on the other car. I have no idea why that particular Valvoline Oil franchise has two women employees, when the vast majority of them have none. But I do know this: The woman appeared confident, and professional. She looked like someone the other woman, an obvious newcomer, might have seen and said to herself, “Hey, I never thought of doing that.”
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