Fixing Cars and Breaking Stereotypes Part 1

08 Mar 2019

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we spoke to a couple of the women who keep our members’ wheels turning.

Here’s Emma’s story…

Tell us a bit about yourself:

I’m Emma, I work for the AA as a Performance Leader.
My role is split 50/50 as a line manager looking after 20 patrols in my team, the other half of my role I am a battery assist patrol. I attend to batteries, wheel changes and effect entries if someone has locked their keys in the car.
I love to get away on UK breaks, Kent being one of my favourite destinations. It’s not quite Mediterranean but beats airport queuing!

How long have you been with the AA and have you always been in a technical role?

I have worked for the AA for three years. I started as a Recovery patrol in the trucks until I got my new role nine months ago. I will always have a passion for recovery as that’s where it all began; there’s just something great about helping people for a living.

What made you want to join the AA, or go into the automotive industry?

Having a job is like having a long-term relationship; you need to find the right one for you where you can see a future with opportunities and a good culture within the company to motivate and support you. That’s what I found with the AA. I’ve always wanted to do something different and practical with job satisfaction, it’s not easy finding a job you love.

I went through a phase of bad luck with my car in 2015 and I called the AA out plenty. I was always so impressed with the service given to me and the patrols loved what they do for a living. I witnessed the AA’s good reputation as an employer, so this motivated me to get my lorry licence and apply as a recovery patrol.

What did you do before you joined the AA?

I never really felt I had a career before the AA. I worked as a chef in numerous places, but I didn’t have the passion for my job. However, my previous roles have helped me grow the confidence to achieve what I really wanted to do.

What have the highlights of your career been so far?

My skill set has grown within three years: I’ve achieved my class 1 licence, level 1 mechanics and an ILM level 3 leadership and management qualification.

What are the challenges of your job?

Information overload! I overcome it by taking my notebook everywhere. I jot notes down and reflect for a few minutes at the end of the day. There’s always that risk of indulging too much with work in my own time – work/life balance is important, so I try to make plans and get that healthy balance.

What’s the best thing about your job?

Meeting new people, I get to enhance my communication skills without even realising it. I learn something new just talking to strangers every day – there’s always a takeaway.

What is life like on the road?

This is part of what attracted me to my role; no two days are the same. Different faces and places, I don’t know where or what the next job is going to be until I’ve finished the one I’m on. I’m out in all weathers (which I try to embrace). Preparation is key, I’m always ready for the downpour with my waterproofs. I tell myself I love the rain!!!

Do you think members react/ behave any differently towards you compared to male colleagues?

Yes of course they do, they can’t help it. How often do you see a female AA patrol?
On a job I phone members 10 minutes before I arrive so they know I’m on my way. My usual speech is “Hello its Emma, your AA patrol. I am 10 minutes away from you, I will be with you shortly.” The members only tend to hear ‘patrol 10 minutes away’ and reply “Ok I shall look out for him!” Ha.

But it never gets boring, I always have a laugh with the members over it. I’ll have my head in a bonnet or 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 some of that may sound negative I don’t see it that way, I see an opportunity to educate.

Have you been to any unusual or memorable breakdowns?

The most memorable has got to be my first ever job back in 2016.
The member didn’t know where he was. All I knew was the start and end location of his journey, so I decided to drive to where he started and guess the route he took. I found the member, got him home, and he was happy.

What’s next – any plans or ambitions for the future?

Who knows but bring it on! I’m always looking for ways to evolve and thrive. I can see several opportunities within my reach to progress even more.

Do you have any tips or advice for people looking to join the industry?

I would encourage anyone to join this industry. Be confident and network – if you don’t know something, someone else will.

What would you say to women looking to enter industries that are typically male-dominated?

There are many women who wouldn’t even look at it as an option, so if you are looking into it you’re half way there! Hold your head high and get the job done.

If you could change one thing (about your job or the industry in general), what would it be?

I’m sure there are more important things but one that is a day-to-day struggle and springs to my mind is toilets. At some service stations, there’s either no lady’s 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!

What changes have made a difference to you? What more could be done to improve the job for women and attract more women to the patrol force?

We now have women’s uniform!! No more men’s trousers (uncomfortable on the hips, potential builder’s bum) and the AA do have equal pay for women and men.
From past conversations with peers and members I think the job itself may come across 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 for another to apply.

In the army’s TV adverts, they have a mixture of men and women. A female patrol fixing a car on a TV advert might just do it.