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International Women in Engineering Day

AA patrol women discuss fixing cars and breaking stereotypes

Celebrating the patrol women who rescue broken-down drivers every day

21 June 2019

To mark International Women in Engineering Day (Sunday 23 June), the AA is celebrating the patrol women who rescue broken-down drivers across the country every day.

While many AA members might expect to be rescued by a ‘very nice man’, an increasing number find themselves thanking a very nice woman for getting them back on the road. 

An AA breakdown van on a hill in Yorkshire

STEM Women

Although women currently make up a small percentage of the AA’s field-based workforce, with the majority opting for office-based roles, the motoring organisation is working to encourage more women to join in technical areas.

The company is celebrating the work of its female patrols and technicians and seeking to break down perceived barriers to entry, having partnered with STEM Women to reach more women with Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics backgrounds.

Ginny Etherington, Head of Roadside Operations Supply, said: “There is a well-established network of promotion organisations to encourage women into male-dominated sectors where literacy in science, technology, engineering and mathematical disciplines is required. We have chosen to partner with STEM Women to raise awareness of career opportunities for women in the AA Patrol force, and have found a promising level of early interest and exposure. 

“There is more to do as we continue on this journey, but it’s encouraging to see results already starting to show. We recently welcomed two new female apprentices on board as part of the next generation of AA technicians, and look forward to receiving future applications from candidates of all backgrounds.”

We have partnered with STEM Women to raise awareness of career opportunities for women in the Patrol force
Ginny Etherington, Head of Roadside Operations Supply
Challenging Preconceptions

According to those already in the industry, the previously low level of women joining may be due to subconscious biases outside of organisations, rather than within them. 

Emma Willis, AA Performance Leader, said: “From past conversations with peers and members I think the job itself may come across as a bit intimidating for some women. In reality this isn’t the case. Just knowing there are women on the patrol force already may be enough to encourage more to apply.”

It is not uncommon for female patrols already successfully established within the field to challenge preconceptions from the people they go to help - as Alexandra Phillips, who has been a Battery Assist Technician with the AA for eight years, explains.

Alex said: “Although people are usually very happy to see me, almost every person I attend either makes a comment about me being female or shows body language which indicates they wish to comment. I’ve had a few people ask if I’m capable, but I wouldn’t be doing this job if I wasn’t capable.” 

This shouldn’t put people off according to Emma, who joined the AA as a Recovery Operator three years ago and has progressed to manage a team of 20 patrols. 

Emma added: “Occasionally I’ll have my head in a bonnet or I’ll be changing a wheel and a passer-by will ask me if I need a hand. Some are genuinely concerned for my safety, asking if my husband lets me do this role (firstly, assuming I have one is a mistake). Although it may sound negative I don’t see it that way, I see an opportunity to educate.”

Overcoming Challenges

The issue goes beyond breaking down stereotypes to addressing a lack of public facilities, as both Emma and Alex say finding ladies toilets can be a daily challenge. This is the one thing Emma would change, as she explains: “At some service stations, there’s either no ladies toilet (shared) or just the one, with a huge queue or what seems to be a huge queue at the time… whilst men being the dominant road workers have more, I would change this. More toilets for women!”

But overcoming challenges is something all roadside patrols are used to, as epitomised by the motto ‘anything can happen’. And as more women join the industry, they continue to break new ground and pave the way for a different future.

For more information see AA Careers.

 

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