Women slam door on gender stereotypes

‘If I can change a tire … and boost a vehicle, I can do anything'

Forget parades and flowers. Some women in the Halifax area chose to celebrate International Women’s Day with wrenches instead.

Twenty-four women participated in an all-female automotive workshop at Coast Tire and Auto Service in Dartmouth on March 8.

The workshop was run by Camp Courage, a non-profit organization that encourages women to consider careers in first-responder trades. Andréa Speranza, a longtime firefighter with Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency, founded Camp Courage in 2006.

“What if we could realize the potential in all of our women?” said Speranza. “We are the greatest underutilized resource in all of Canada. If we could just learn to empower our women … what a world that would be to live in.”

Andrea Speranza, founder of Camp Courage, promotes the workshop at Coast Tire and Auto Service.   Maryanne McLarty

The organization offers various workshops to give women hands-on opportunities to learn about skills and careers outside of the first-responder trades. Speranza said these workshops create a safe, non-competitive environment where women can learn male-dominated skills like home renovations.

The automotive workshop is their newest addition. It was important to Speranza to make sure all of the instructors facilitating the workshop were female.

“It’s very important for women to have these experiences together so that they don’t feel that they’re being challenged. I want them to be able to ask questions and not feel conscientious about it,” she said.

Tailor Robicheau, an automotive service technician in the department of Transportation and Infrastructure Renewal, was one of the three instructors facilitating the March 8 workshop.

“In order for women to realize they can do stuff like this, it needs to be shown to them by a woman. If I can do it, you can do it too,” she said.

Tailor Robicheau teaches participants how to boost a car as part of the all-female auto workshop.   Maryanne McLarty

Robicheau said if she had had a woman teaching her basic auto maintenance skills when she was in high school, she would have been more confident in her initial decision to pursue the trade.

Anna Surette went into the workshop knowing some things about car maintenance that she picked up through Google searches and car manuals. She said she’s used to figuring out how to manage car-related problems on her own, but she was eager to learn new skills.

She also saw the workshop as an opportunity for women to come together and support each other.

“It was nice to feel all the camaraderie with all the other ladies,” said Surette. “It was a very feel-good-hats-off-to-all-the-other-ladies kind of environment.”

Robin Croft helps participants check tire pressure.   Maryanne McLarty

Shirley Mitchell, a human resource representative with Coast Tire and Auto Service, said she’s been wanting to get involved with an event like this for some time.

“Half — if not more — of our customers are female,” said Mitchell. “We have to be willing to give them a chance to learn about this stuff.”

Although the main goal of the workshop was for the women to learn basic automotive maintenance skills, Speranza said she hopes to see that confidence transfer over to their everyday lives.

“I want them to leave thinking, ‘If I can change a tire … and boost a vehicle, I can do anything.’”

Editor's Note: Publication of this story was delayed due to the COVID-19 crisis.

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