Wednesday, April 4, 2007

It's a man's world?

When I first started working at Haro about 6 years ago, the job I was originally hired for was Inside Sales Rep; this entailed mainly taking inbound calls from our dealers who had questions or wanted to place an order for bikes. One of my "fondest" memories from one of my first days on the job was a phone call from a dealer (who will remain nameless simply because I can't remember which one it was) that went something like this:

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."
Dealer: "Fine. I need to know what derailleur hanger a 2001 Extreme bike takes."

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!

13 comments:

Carlton Reid said...

Great post, Jill.

You trying to get into BikeBiz mag again? With that blog name? It worked! Between you and Masiguy I can fill the 'comment' spaces in my mag. Way to go!

You provide thought-provoking stuff, but perhaps your blog could do with some pictures of you driving to work and maybe the shoes you chose to wear today?

jill hamilton said...

Thanks Carlton! I'll leave the drive and sock pics to Tim...I'll try to come up with something orginal for myself.

When the days get a little longer, I'm going to start riding to work again...maybe I can do a daily ride pic? Take pics of road kill and jerks that try to run me off the road?

Tim Jackson- Masi Guy said...

Way to go guys... make fun of me when I'm not in the room.

Carlton, you'll have to help me put pressure on her to rejoin the Kool-Aid Krew too. (She secretly knows she wants to.)

Anonymous said...

For years I've said that this industry needs more women, and I have done all I can to encourage them. As a shop owner, I would hire a woman as a mechanic based solely on a desire to learn, and almost always found the results to be excellent. Teh few times it didn't work out, it was because the woman in question decided that this was not what she really wanted to do, and not because they did it poorly. Changing the balance is a slow process, but everyone wins - keep it up, we need you! Val

Anonymous said...

Well Jill I have to say that you probably come the closest to what it is like as an African American. I have run out of digits counting how many times I have heard “That bike is higher end and expensive, how about?…” (insert your
cheapest bike on the floor). Clearly as a longtime racer, professed bike geek
I can more than hold my own as to where and what I am spending my green money at these establishments. Perhaps this is the reason that all the talk about bringing new riders/racers/consumers to the industry only fall on the ears of a select few.

As a member of Phi Double Negative
(black and male) let me say I appreciate your efforts in dealing with such a ridiculous aspect of the industry and bringing a fresh perspective to the old boys club.

Good on you, and keep it real!

Peace out
Designomite

Fritz said...

Good story, Jill. It's amazing that even in this day many people are probably not even aware that they treat women differently from men.

Coelecanth said...

I supervise volunteer mechanics for a bike share co-op. We get a pretty mixed bag of volunteers including an almost equal spilt between male and female.

I've found that the women in the group learn faster and do a better job than the guys. They ask questions when unsure and keep asking until they understand completely. Unlike the guys, who ususally only ask for help when they've screwed something up.

Your post gave me an interseting insight into the female experience of the bikey world and that will help me teach more effectively. Thanks, and here's to you and all your sisterly comrades!

jill hamilton said...

Wow! Thanks for the great comments, everyone! It's really nice to know that someone besides Masiguy reads my blog. And I'm still convinced the only reason he reads it is because he's really the one who talked me into starting one. :)

Anonymous said...

Your description of that phone call made me snort, only because I've had that exact phone call when I worked in a mail order. In my case I gave him the answer, he still didn't believe me and made me pass him off to a guy, who gave him the same answer. Oh well, they'll learn eventually!

wrw said...

Jill,
"Darn Right it's a Man's World!" :)
Masiguy 'acquired' (HARO Mary SS) your frame for his use during in the forthcoming Sea Otter Classic.
(Time for Tim to meet 'da' ladies!)
Interesting, 'Carolina Blue' paint appears a 2007 version of FORD's 'Light Blue' color popular during the 50's.
(I'm sure it had an identifying name.)
Note, Carolina baseball 'MB Pelicans' cap logo color for 2007 is such, NICE EFFORT!
Turnabout: Get this now assembled bike back BEFORE the event! :)

jill hamilton said...

Yes, Masiguy got his Mary SS courtesy of ME! I told him if I lap him during the SS race at Sea Otter, I am taking his bike back. :)

wrw said...

Jill,
Knew I could find the information online,
Manufacturer: Ditzler
Paint Color Name: Starmist Blue
(Used by FORD in their 1957 model year.)
'Rusty' not broken, YET! :)

Arleigh said...

I run the service department of the largest bike shop in Charlotte, NC. Daily a customer will walk in and ask me while I am working on a bike (normally covered in grease) if I can grab a mechanic for them.

I normally laugh - but it still is rather annoying