Me: "Good morning, Haro Bicycles, this is Jill speaking."
Dealer: "Ummmm...hello....uh...yeah, I'd like to speak to one of the guys, please." (referring to my male Inside Sales Rep Co-workers)
Me: "Well, they're both on their lines right now. Is there something I can help you with?"
Dealer: "No, I have a technical question."
Me: "Great, I can help you with that."
Dealer: "No, I'd really feel more comfortable talking to one of the guys."
I was really beginning to get curious about what the hell he wanted to ask these guys that he couldn't ask me. I mean, does it sting when he pees and he's not sure what to do? Is he not sure what the little vent hole in the front of his boxers/tightie whities is for? Or maybe his girlfriend just sprung the "L" word on him and he needed male guidance? I found it hard to believe he had a bike-related question that I couldn't provide an answer for. Not that I know it all, but if I don't know the answer, chances are I can find the answer somewhere.
Quickly realizing that this conversation was going nowhere very quickly while also noting none of my male co-workers were available to talk to this guy, I gave it one last effort.
Me: "OK, the guys are both on their lines, so you have a choice. I can put you on hold until one of them is off the phone, or you can try to ask me whatever technical question you have. I just might have an answer for you."
Huh? You're kidding, right? Well, obviously that's not what I said to the dealer, amused at the fact that he didn't think a GIRL could handle figuring out what hanger he needed. Without skipping a beat, I looked at my tech sheet hanging on the wall nearby and give him the part number and price. Even though I think he was clearly astonished at the fact that I, a GIRL, even knew what a derailleur hanger was, he placed an order for one.
Believe it or not, that's not the only conversation like that I have had during the eight years I have been working in the cycling industry. Yes, this industry (like the sport of cycling itself) is male dominated. I'm pretty sure men working in our industry outnumber women by about 7 to 1. With those odds most people think that it's a great way for us gals to get a date (trust me, it's really not), but in reality, the fact that we are female presents a very unique set of issues (note that I did not say problems!).
Probably the biggest challenge we face is because we are female, many men don't see us as a credible source of information; especially if the information they need relates to anything technical. Most of us women who have made the decision to make careers out of working in the cycling industry have had to work so much harder than men to prove that we know what we're talking about. We have had to swallow our pride and ask more questions about stuff we don't know about even if to 99% of the guys, it's seen as a "stupid question" that "everyone" knows the answer to. And once we start gathering this precious knowledge, we really need to make a concerted effort to retain it. We have had to study bike spec harder. We have had to make many, many mistakes in effort to become knowledgeable in our field while onlooking guys roll their eyes and mutter something to the effect of "Chicks...". It's often a daunting task to constantly need to prove yourself to your co-workers, superiors, potential employers, and customers.
When I get the chance to swap stories like this with some of my "sisters" working in the industry, we have all had similar struggles, but we wouldn't change it for the world. Nor would we jump ship for any other line of work. Amidst all the funny stories, most of which all have common threads to some degree, there is one observation I have made but it seems like it's rarely vocalized...and that's the fact that none of us want to or expect to be treated any differently than our male co-workers. We've actually grown pretty accustomed to being treated like "just one of the guys"...and the funny thing is for the most part, we really like it. It lets us know that we are somehow on an equal playing field.
So as I sit here an polish off a nice glass of red wine, the purpose of this post is to do nothing but raise a figurative glass to all the women who make a living from this crazy bike industry. Just like any epic bike ride, the trail is often really, really rough, but the scenery, the thrill, and the camaraderie along the way is what great memories are made of, and keep us coming back for more.
So ladies...here's to us!