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No woman's land no more: Female technician breaks barriers

July 12, 2023
Bonnie Greenwood, FutureTech champ and runner-up at 2022's TMC SuperTech competition, discusses her path to diesel and steps shops must take to make the industry more welcoming to women.

Bonnie Greenwood always has liked working with her hands. While growing up just outside of Atlanta, there were plenty of opportunities for Greenwood to put hers to use. From building models with her dad to making bicycles from scratch, the FedEx Freight technician nurtured her passion for creation and the outdoors until she moved west for college, graduating from Colorado State University with a degree in wildlife biology.

However, after working in a range of industries from natural resource management to financial compliance, Greenwood realized that she needed a career that could provide stability. So, she began hunting for a job that would allow her to indulge her love of science and math but still work with her hands.

Read more: FedEx Freight’s Pinter wins TMCSuperTech for 2nd time, while runner up Greenwood makes history

“Diesel mechanics is how it was phrased to me initially,” Greenwood recalled. “I researched how I could even get into that, and WyoTech was my best option.”

WyoTech is an automotive, diesel, and collision trade school based in Laramie, Wyoming, and upon visiting, Greenwood knew that she’d found what she needed. At 28 years old, she enrolled in the school’s diesel technician program and relocated to Wyoming with her wife.

“I told her, ‘I'm gonna buckle down and I'm gonna spend a year of my life and your life focusing 100% on studying and getting myself into this industry,’” Greenwood said. “And she said, ‘Okay, let's do it.’ And we might have eaten rice and beans for a year and lived in a single-wide trailer, but you know what, that's OK. We did it.”

Now, Greenwood’s efforts have more than paid off. She works as a technician with FedEx Freight in Ogden, Utah, and is earning accolades for her skill. These include becoming the first woman to win TMCFutureTech in 2017 as well as the first woman to earn second place at the professional version of the same event, TMCSuperTech.

 Of course, Greenwood’s success has not come without challenges.

“There's always that, I'll describe it as a bias, where people are surprised to see a woman working in the shop,” she explained. “Unfortunately, we're still in that phase.”

Read more: Why are shops still a 'no woman’s land'?

But Greenwood’s peers have never treated her as anything less than a member of the team, and even some of the most dogmatic drivers recognize Greenwood’s skill.

“The drivers that were surprised at first, thankfully, are no longer,” she emphasized. “Sometimes they're the ones that will walk into the shop and be like, ‘Hey, is Bonnie here?’ And any of the other guys will say, ‘Well, yeah, why do you need her?’ and they're like, ‘Well, I just want her to work on my truck.’”

Now an established voice in the commercial vehicle repair industry, Greenwood didn’t anticipate this kind of influence when she started turning wrenches. However, she’s no stranger to high expectations.

“I put enough pressure on myself, to be honest,” Greenwood said. “The right phrase might be that I feel an obligation to try to be a role model now that I've been given this platform.”

But she’s in no way alone. Earlier this year, Greenwood had the chance to attend Heavy Duty Aftermarket Week, which held its very first HDAWomen Reception. There, she met others like herself in the industry, including a technician-turned-shop-manager.

“She instilled that feeling of we have a duty to try and make this industry more welcoming for women and diverse populations in general,” Greenwood stated. “That does put pressure on me because I need to not only represent myself well but all women well.”

As for how to do this, the technician recognizes that changing the industry will be a long battle that requires not just a mental shift but a physical one, too.

“We all just want to be treated equally, and that might be hard in some situations,” Greenwood acknowledged. “Say a shop has never had a woman working in the shop before. I guarantee you, they do not have a mechanic’s locker room for women. That's a big step that might require some shops to do some construction.”

In Greenwood’s opinion, this willingness to adapt has to start with fleet and shop leadership, from those working on the floor to those working in human resources and marketing.

“That expectation needs to be set that anyone is welcome,” Greenwood asserted. “And even when they're looking to hire people, it's not just going to the trade schools and advertising toward the young men. It's talking to everybody.”

About the Author

Alex Keenan

Alex Keenan is an Associate Editor for Fleet Maintenance magazine. She has written on a variety of topics for the past several years and recently joined the transportation industry, reviewing content covering technician challenges and breaking industry news. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado.