When is the last time you saw a female mechanic at the auto shop? If you’re like most people, you might have said, “Never!” The auto repair industry is a man’s world. Women hold a whoppin’ 4% of the job positions related to repair & maintenance. This makes me question our humanity.

Fixing cars turned me into a stronger and more independent woman. Unfortunately, that isn’t how the general public perceives careers in the auto industry. A lot of people still believe trade school is for students who aren’t smart enough to graduate college. False! Three reasons why:

1. College is a gamble.

The average college student ends up with more than $30,000 in debt. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a job in your field – especially if you major in art or humanities.

The average trade school student has $10,000 in debt. It’s relatively easy to find a job due to a huge talent shortage. Skilled trades have been the hardest positions to fill for five years now (source).

2. Fixing cars isn’t easy.

You can’t teach yourself how to repair a car engine during a slow weekend. Just like anything else in life, it takes practice. Practice makes perfect. Perfection repeated at will, is what makes a professional, professional.

Respect the auto professional working on your car, because they’re the professional. Automobiles have become so complex that today’s mechanics are practically IT specialists. Everything is electronic. If you don’t know how computers work, you’re not going to choose this career path.

3. Auto repair is a valuable service.

What would we do without auto mechanics and technicians? I don’t know, but it wouldn’t be a good situation. There are 228,579 auto shops in the U.S (source). Those shops employ 700,000+ people (source).

Most of these professionals don’t struggle for work, because cars will always require maintenance, no matter how technologically advanced they get. If you’re looking for a career that’s recession proof, this is a good one!

“What does all of this have to do with women in the auto industry?”

Specifically? Nothing.

Generally? Everything!

Before we can understand why women aren’t pursuing careers in the auto industry, we must first consider why the American public has abandoned the trades as a whole (because they think auto mechanics are dumb, lazy, and underpaid “grease monkeys” who weren’t ambitious enough to pursue a college degree).

Let’s try a different perception on for size.

Given the staggering amount of student loan debt and the difficulty of landing a well-paying job when you’re fresh out of college, trade school is a safe bet. You’ll finish your education in half the time. You’ll only have one third of the debt. And your odds of getting a job in your field will skyrocket. Where is the downside?

Ladies, I need you to understand one more thing, and then we’ll move on. If you choose to become a beauty salon specialist today, that doesn’t mean you have to work in that field forever. The auto industry is a lucrative career choice and you can join anytime.

Maybe you’re passionate about social work, psychology, or something else entirely. You could learn a trade, get a steady job, and save enough money to fund a second degree.

No matter what you do, calculate your risk before you make any career-related decisions. College sounds like the obvious choice until you do that. Be careful!

Why is the decision to become a mechanic harder for women than men?

Almost 4% of mechanics are women. That’s so awesome, considering a few years ago we were holding steady at less than 1%. While we’ve made tons of progress when it comes to equality, there’s still plenty of room to grow.

Don’t misread me. Discrimination does happen, but most auto professionals aren’t having secret meetings where they discuss how to discourage women from becoming mechanics. Heck, I know a TON of auto shop owners who have told me:

“The best mechanic I ever had was a woman!”

(That’s usually due to a woman’s superb listening or communication skills, which is helpful when you need to diagnose a car problem.)

The lack of female mechanics has more to do with society’s gender roles than anything else. Being a mechanic is considered “masculine,” because it’s hard work. You’re going to get dirty and sweaty. You can’t avoid that! It’s the nature of the beast.

Being a secretary is considered “feminine,” because it’s less exhausting. You’re working in a comfortable office where there’s no chance of breaking a sweat (unless the A/C malfunctions). A file folder is the heaviest thing you’ll lift on most days of the week.

However, this theory falls apart when you really think it through. Nursing is a popular career choice for women. (Note: only 8% of nurses are men, which is almost the exact opposite of the problem discussed in this article – isn’t that interesting? – I think so!).

If women aren’t “supposed” to get dirty or work hard, somebody better tell those nurses…

They’re exposed to blood and other bodily fluids every day. They’re working twelve hour shifts that might involve several life or death decisions. When a patient doesn’t have the strength to move, they’re lifting a hundred plus pounds of dead weight with little-to-no assistance.

What’s the difference? If you watch enough TV, it should be obvious. Female nurses are a common sight in movies, commercials, and TV shows that take place in a hospital. It’s no big deal. Female mechanics, on the other hand, are rarely featured in popular entertainment.

We determine what is normal based on what we see in our daily life. If we want more women to pursue a career in auto repair, they need to be exposed to positive role-models who successfully did so.

(If any bigwig Hollywood producers or Mattel executives are reading this, I’d be happy to help!)

Gender roles are social constructs. Most of them were formed many generations ago. This might have happened before you were even alive! So, why let them influence your decisions?

There isn’t a good reason. Whether you’re a man or woman, the auto industry (or any trade) has a place for you. If you know a friend who would benefit from reading this, give it a share.

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