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I have a question for Suzanne Grego because she is an auto mechanic: I am very interested in cars, and as I read Suzanne's bio, it sounded similar to my life. I learned to change my own oil & fixed a lot of problems w/ my car starting with some help from my dad (alternator, new spark plugs, brake pads,headlights, tires, etc). Now I have an office job that I do not particularly enjoy. I am 29, and as I was thinking of what to do as a career, I thought about becoming an auto mechanic, and now I am contemplating taking courses at a local community college to learn more and to become certified. I previously took a course in small engine repair where the men in the class were constantly telling me how to do things (even how to use the soap dispenser over the sink in the shop!). Although they were not bad people, I found the environment very stressful - that I always had to "prove" myself against their expectations. Years ago I also applied for a job at an auto shop - very entry level - and the man who interviewed me kept stressing that women like to have nice nails, and I could not really want the job. So I suppose I am just looking to get some real-life feedback - how has your experience been as a woman and a mechanic? Do you encounter many negative attitudes from men? Auto mechanics is something I am interested in, but I am afraid I may not have the confidence required. Any insight or advice would be so appreciated! Thanks, Sara

Answers from the Automotive Experts

Suzanne Grego, Technician at City of Philadelphia Fleet Management Sara, I was 26 years old before I finally got the courage to attend classes at the Community College of Philadelphia. One huge factor that made it possible for me to graduate was the fact that the staff was so welcoming and encouraging. A lot of the students were just as friendly and treated me like just another classmate. There were however, some students that assumed I was there to become a service writer, or just as a hobby. A couple of times I was told "Oh, Sue, don't touch that - you'll get your hands dirty!" Also, numerous times, I was asked to hold the light while working in the shop because, after all, I just needed the idea, I didn't need to be able to actually do anything. I'm not trying to discourage you at all. This attitude that some of the men portrayed actually helped me to achieve my 3.8 gpa and also prepared me for working in a garage. I went on a couple of interviews where the service manager laughed at me, or tried to talk me into a different job, or a different career altogether. I always tried not to make too big of a deal out of it because a) it was nothing that I couldn't handle and b) people in this business know other people in this business. I didn't want to be known as the girl trying to get a job at a shop but can't take a little criticism, or a joke. I just kept my head up and reminded myself that I had as much as a right to be a mechanic as anyone else did, and I went on to the next interview. Being a female has not always worked against me either. The job I currently hold is very proud to have a female technician. I have worked in three different garages, and have had about the same reaction in all of them. At first the guys are a little uncomfortable. They will watch their mouths and think they can't act like themselves. I always make it clear that I am just there to do my job, not to make them uncomfortable. They should say what they have to say, using the words that they want to use, and as long as they are not cursing at me or sexually harassing me, there are not going to be any problems. The only way to get respect in a garage is to act like a professional and do your job to the best of your ability. I don't feel I have any more limitations than anyone else in the shop now. Over time I have learned how to use leverage and tricks to make things work. And I have learned when to have to ask for help to be safe. And believe me, everyone asks for help at one point or another. This has not always been the easiest path, but I think anything worth doing is going to take patience and hard work. I definitely do not have any regrets. I hope this has helped you and I wish you the best of luck. If you have any more questions, please feel free to write in again. Keep your head up! Suzanne

Lori Johnson, Owner and Instructor at Ladies Start Your Engines Dear Sara, I too went to school when I was in my mid-twenty's to get my automotive certificate. I was the only woman in my class and was heckled daily for a couple of months before they finally realized I wasn't going to leave. Now, almost 20 years later I've turned wrenches for a dealership, written repair manuals for Chilton, taught automotive classes at a college and now have my own business where I teach classes for women only. I also ride a Harley and used to teach motorcycle safety in PA, so I've been getting looks for a long time. My thought it this, do what you love to do and don't let anyone tell you otherwise. For the most part once someone (men) get to know me, they respect my knowledge and experience. Women are strongly needed in this field and businesses are looking to hire them. Any time you pick a career where women are the minority you usually have to put up with some criticism from the men. But learn your trade well and they soon forget why they ever gave you a hard time to begin with. Good luck in your decision, just make sure that you do what YOU want to do with your life and enjoy it. Lori Johnson

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