When you take your vehicle in for an oil change, you might not expect it to be serviced by a female. Only a small number of women in the United States are employed in the automotive repair and maintenance industry. But around the country, female technicians are making significant contributions as they develop skills and gain experience wrenching under the hood. Locally, Valvoline Instant Oil Change service center manager Chassidy Swenson is redefining gender stereotypes and proving expectations wrong—one car at a time.
Mapping her route
Swenson was exposed to automotive work as a child when she began following in her father’s footsteps. “When I was younger, I spent a lot of time with him down at the shop where he worked,” she says. His career was autobody, and together, they shared a love for cars.
Realizing she didn’t have the patience for the detailed process of body work, Swenson still knew she wanted a career in the automotive field. “I took the preventative maintenance route and have been with Valvoline for five years. Overall, I’ve worked at a couple different service centers over the past almost 12 years.”
She began working at Valvoline as an assistant manager and was motivated to learn and grow. “I still had to work my way up to that position even though I carried the title,” she says. Valvoline technicians undergo 270 hours of training, and Swenson was certified in all areas. Five years later, after “a lot of learning and a lot of training,” she was promoted to service center manager at the 41st Street Northwest location in Rochester.
Caring for cars and customers
“I am lucky that I have the opportunity to work on vehicles in my position, but I also have a lot of paperwork to go through,” she explains. Her duties also include performing camera reviews for safety and addressing customer care in a timely manner.
She and other employees feel a strong sense of job satisfaction when customers express thanks after a job is complete. It’s also rewarding when they return. “It’s the service we provide and the caring we show that brings them back,” she says.
Importantly, she feels very supported by her employer and staff. “The company has always believed in me,” she says. “My colleagues are amazing, and every single one of them has taught me something and become like family. They have never once made me feel like I wasn’t enough.”
A driving force in the industry
“There is always that stigma that women don’t know what they are talking about in working with cars, or they’re not strong enough. I knew, getting into this field, I would have to prove myself 10 times harder than any man, and I was OK with that,” she says. “I was OK getting questioned on what I was talking about or if I knew what I was doing. In the end, all the negative comments only made me stronger, and I just worked that much harder.”
Swenson encourages women who aspire to work in the field. “If you’re in high school or college and they teach automotive classes, take them,” she advises. “That’s a great place to start. Also, get ‘backyard training.’ I hire a lot of people who have backyard knowledge on cars.”
During your next oil change, it’s very possible you’ll see an ambitious, hardworking female like Swenson working alongside the guys to keep your engine running smoothly—and living out her career dream.
“Be strong,” advises Swenson. “Don’t ever give up on your dreams.” ::