I was recently introduced to a women named Cindy Whitehead who is the OG Badass Female Skater, founder of Girl is Not a 4 Letter Word, and an incredible figure in the skateboarding industry. Her ability to make a name for herself and succeed in her endeavors within what is commonly perceived as a male industry inspired me to go on a quest to interview multiple women who are kicking ass in male dominated industries.
First up, my lifelong best friend who’s name rhymes with mine, Alyssa Reyes. Alyssa works in the auto-mechanic industry, working and going to school amongst men, working on cars. Alyssa is the first interview of many, so stay tuned for the rest of this series! And don’t worry, Cindy’s interview is coming soon!
Who or what introduced you to working on cars?
Alyssa: It honestly all started when I was around the age of 7 or 8, when my step-brother came back from his four years of service in the Army. He had bought a 2000 Acura TL, and around the same time my step father had gotten his 2006 Mustang GT. Then later on my biological brother got his Acura RSX. All three of these guys built up their cars and raced them at the local racetrack every Saturday. They all taught me a lot about what they were doing, and let me help too.
When did you realize that working on cars was what you wanted to do with your life?
A: We had to do a “Senior Project” (our senior year of high school) before graduation. It was supposed to be about “what you were as a kid, what you came to be, and what you will do as life goes on” or something like that.
Wilsonville High School was VERY big on trying to get us to think about college. I didn’t have the grades to get myself into a university, nor did I really have a clue about what I wanted to be or even do. Honestly, it wasn’t until I looked at past pictures of myself at car shows and recognizing my strong love for going fast that led me into the automotive program at Portland Community College. After trying it out, I’ve never loved learning so much.
You’ve always been a strong woman when it comes to being around guys, I mean you grew up with brothers. How do you withstand the criticism being female in the auto-mechanic industry?
A: I HATE the sexist bullcrap I have to deal with, but what gets me past it is knowing that everyone I currently work around have been in this industry for 15+ years. They’re all old-school, and some don’t see past the fact that I AM the new generation coming in. What gets me through the criticism is the fact that I’m the generation that we’re all soon going to have to rely on.
However, I haven’t run into too much negative energy about being a female. They actually encourage me and teach me their skills and knowledge. I’m actually very looked up to. It’s an incredible learning environment but you do have to have a thick enough skin to laugh along with the “shop talk.”
How do you handle situations when a male peer disrespects you?
A: I’m a pretty aggressive person and when a male peer crosses me, I put them in their place. I don’t stand for it. I don’t stand for those provocative actions and I will make you lose your job if you cross me. No matter how long you’ve worked there. I once worked at a company where they hired anybody. And I mean ANYBODY.
One of the men that was there had come across me very inappropriately, so I went to my manager about it. Even though my manager wasn’t happy about what he heard, all he did was talk to the guy. Granted the guy never crossed me like that again but he didn’t get any sort of penalty for it. My manager’s reasons were that “he doesn’t know better” or “we’re understaffed.” This guy was in his late thirties, early forties. HE KNEW BETTER.
Personally, to avoid this, I make sure I’m one of the guys and that is the image I put off. If you want to be taken seriously as a woman in this industry, you can’t treat your work place like a dating website. If you’re in this business for the wrong reasons and asking for the wrong attention, you’ll get it. In my situation, I was minding my own business, so in that sense, I couldn’t help what had happened. Currently, I no longer work in that shop and work in a more mature setting where I feel like family.
Do you have any advice for other women who want to work on cars?
A: GIVE IT YOUR ALL! If you find a passion in cars and you want to learn more about them, I suggest that you get your foot in the door in any way you can. Also, you’ll want to look for in a shop is their ability to really teach you the routes.
Yes, I go to school for this industry, but you don’t need to. In this setting, it’s all about hands-on experience. Women are the next big thing. There is so much knowledge to be shared and this industry is only getting bigger. If I could see shops filled with equal amount of men and women, that would be the day I know for sure that we’re thriving.
Would you like to touch on anything else about the auto-mechanic industry or yourself that we haven’t talked about?
A: I encourage women to get into anything they want because it’s so possible. Don’t let the male dominance scare you off, it’s only a label. We can do dirty work too. It’s not just automotive either. My friend is an aviation mechanic and she rocks at it! Just set your mind to it and you’ll succeed!2
Also published on Medium.