I got my first job as a wrench when I moved to New Mexico. I hung out at my local bike shop whenever I had free time, and when I got laid off from the food co-op I suddenly had enough free time for them to notice. The head mechanic, Laura, said, “if you’re gonna hang out all the time you might as well get paid and help us.” I was always tinkering on my bike outside, or coming in to get new tools as I experimented with switching out my bottom bracket, adjusting my headset, or upgrading my cassette. Maybe it was because I was always covered in grease anyway, maybe because Laura was also a woman, or maybe because I asked questions and read manuals and never messed up my bike so much that I needed to come back for help, but I was offered a job as a wrench and began as a bike builder. I worked my way up the ladder to head mechanic as I moved from shop to shop around the country, finally ending as a bike builder again before retirement.
My story isn’t typical, as women and non-binary people are less likely to be offered the job as wrench, and are less likely to be trusted for promotions or start out at higher pay grades at new shops. I was lucky to typically have someone vouch for me, or be given the opportunity to prove my skills that established my abilities. The few times that wasn’t the case, I was placed at the bottom of the pay grade and had to again fight my way back up to the top.
QBP can’t solve all the problems of disparity in the bicycle industry, but it is putting its money where it can in investing in WTF (women/trans/femme) mechanics and future mechanics. Their annual scholarship is open to qualified applicants until November 2, 2018. 32 successful candidates will participate in a 2-week United Bicycle Institute (UBI) class in Oregon.
This scholarship will help WTF participants who work in bike shops to move from the sales floor to the workbench (not that there’s anything wrong with sales! But many women are put on the sales floor who would love to wrench), and it will help WTF participants move up the ladder by having the skills (and the UBI certification paper to prove it) to stand on.
If you are a WTF bike shop employee, whether you are a wrench or a salesperson, consider applying to this valuable scholarship. If you know someone who is qualified and may be interested, forward them this link. I used to teach basic mechanics classes to women in the gravel lot in front of my house when they came to my bike shop and were too scared to work on their bike and too scared to ask for help. The more competent you feel with a tool in your hands, the farther away from the bike shops you’ll dare to pedal.