Female WyoTech student club fights stereotypes, gains interest from fleets

June 15, 2022
Female students at the automotive and diesel school now have an organization where they can provide support to each other, and have found an outpouring of industry support as well.

Female technicians comprise 4% of the commercial vehicle maintenance industry, according to the 2019 Women In Trucking Association index survey, while at the same time fleets report that finding technicians is a top challenge.

It's common sense that adding more women to the in-demand field will help address the overall technician hiring challenges, but attracting more women to the trade is in itself no easy task. Prospective female technicians first must overcome some of the stigmas and stereotypes that come with working on heavy-duty engines. And if they get past that and attend a vocational school, women must still contend with being vastly outnumbered by their male co-workers.

At WyoTech, an auto mechanic and diesel technical trade school in Laramie, Wyoming, two student life coordinators, Kate McDougall and Cavin Hall, found the answer to that last challenge was creating the Women of WyoTech (WOW) club, which provides a meeting place for female students to share interests, provide support to each other, and instill a sense of fellowship. The club is open to all female automotive, diesel, and collision and refinishing students. As of this spring, WyoTech had 640 students enrolled, with an estimated 5-8% female enrollment.

Read more: How recruiting women can help defeat the tech shortage

“The club got off to a slow start,” McDougall recalled, explaining only three students attended the first meeting in March, which was organized with WyoTech instructor Melissa Woodburn. But with some determination and more fundraising, WOW stands at 15 strong. 

WOW meets regularly and ensures members benefit from various initiatives. The club also routinely hosts events, including CPR and Title IX training. The club also hopes to launch a scholarship for future tradeswomen.

Wining and dining

It did not take long for the club to garner attention from the industry, which lacks both technicians and diversity. Equipment rental company United Rentals has already sponsored a dinner for the club and will send members from its all-women-run dealership to meet with them.

Penske also plans to send representatives to visit with WOW and extended an invitation to the club to attend their dealership opening in Greely, Colorado.

George Arrants, VP of ASE Education Foundation, also virtually met with the club to offer support and personally help them sign up for TMC FutureTech, the commercial vehicle industry’s skills competition for students.

“I believe this is wonderful and that the school supports them,” Arrants said. “We need more women in our industry. I told them I would do whatever I could to open doors for them and support their careers where possible.”

Arrants noted that WyoTech graduate Bonnie Greenwood, now a technician at FedEx Freight, won FutureTech in 2017.

There’s still plenty of work to do. Ellen Voie, CEO of Women In Trucking, shared these results from an upcoming index:

  • 94% of respondents say they have no women in technician roles
  • 2% say they have 10-20%
  • 2% report they have 30-40%
  • 2% reported +90% (though Voie said these were small companies with few techs)

Voie was please to hear about the new female-centric club at WyoTech.

“The idea of a club for female technicians is excellent, as it gives women a forum to network and compare challenges faced as diesel tech students,” she said, adding that WIT offers several technician-based scholarships.

Breaking stereotypes

The greatest support for WOW comes from within and female leadership and faculty, who have faced the same challenges their female students will, but can also convey the benefits.

“The arena is still male-dominated, but women are beginning to see that this is an excellent career path that will allow them to follow their passion of working on cars and trucks,” said Cindy Barlow, director of industry relations at WyoTech. “This industry provides amazing wages, benefits, and tuition reimbursement programs, as well as tool incentives from different companies to kick-start their careers.”

They can also teach these students to care less about what other people think and more about what they want out of life.

“Stereotypes will always exist. You can either spend all your energy trying to avoid them by being something you’re not—which is a stereotype itself—or you can use them to your advantage,” said Amber McGowan, Diesel Instructor at WyoTech. “It’s OK to like baking, shopping, or whatever, as well as tearing engines apart. There are no rules saying otherwise.”

About the Author

John Hitch | Editor-in-chief, Fleet Maintenance

John Hitch is the editor-in-chief of Fleet Maintenance, where his mission is to provide maintenance management and technicians with the the latest information on the tools and strategies to keep their fleets' commercial vehicles moving.

He is based out of Cleveland, Ohio, and has worked in the B2B journalism space for more than a decade.

Hitch was previously senior editor for FleetOwner, and covers everything related to trucking and commercial vehicle equipment, including breaking news, the latest trends and best practices. He previously wrote about manufacturing and advanced technology for IndustryWeek and New Equipment Digest.

Prior to that he was editor for Kent State University's student magazine, The Burr, and a freelancer for Cleveland Magazine. He is an award-winning journalist and former sonar technician, where he served honorably aboard the fast-attack submarine USS Oklahoma City (SSN-723).