If any of you read my friend Beth's comment on my previous post about the Tech Summit, you'll note that she mentioned taking a class with Calvin years ago, and being the only woman in a class of 50 bicycle mechanics. Well, if the Summit is in any way indicative, things haven't gotten any better in that respect... there were 240 registered participants, and exactly 2 women. I was stunned. Sure, I knew this was a male dominated field, but I thought the numbers wouldn't be quite that skewed. Apparently I was wrong.
One thing that's interesting about this to me is that I used to work in the field of theatre technology, also strongly stacked in the male direction. I used to really notice it when I would go to trade shows and conferences... the bulk of folks I met were men, and mostly white men at that. In graduate school, it was much the same... a tiny number of women among a sea of men. And the stories I'd hear... smart women, very capable technicians in their own right, when calling some equipment supplier, would get the "maybe you should ask your boss if that's really what he wants" response. Maddening.
And it must be much the same for female bicycle mechanics. It makes no sense at all... there is nothing inherent in bicycle repair that makes a man better qualified than a woman. Even if you accept the difference in physical strength as a given, that's no reason. And women do ride bikes. So why is it we have so few working in shops. I suppose it's a long lived cultural bias, which is self-feeding. Women traditionally didn't go into those sorts of manual trades, it just "wasn't done"... and change happens slowly, in part because women (sensibly, I suppose) can feel a little (or a lot) intimidated by being so outnumbered in an environment made up almost entirely of men.
I ran into a really good example of that in theatre... at a conference where I was helping review college student's portfolios, one young woman admitted she was nervous about pursuing a career in technical direction for just that reason. I told her not to let it stop her, if that's what she really wanted to do. I didn't sugar coat it or tell her it would be easy, but I did tell her there was no REAL reason she couldn't do it, and not to let fear hold her back. And the theatre industry as a whole has made some attempts to change the culture and make it easier for women to fit in.
So what about the bike industry? How do we get more women involved on the repair side of things? I see a lot of women riding bikes these days, and many of them seem to be "serious" riders (I hate that phrasing, by the way... it makes us sound grim). And I've had quite a few women take my basic maintenance class. So there's potential there. What can be done to encourage more women to try being a "real" bicycle mechanic? I don't know, but I think it's something all of us in the industry should think about. It's never good for any field when people feel excluded on the basis of gender, race, or what have you.