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A certain kind of woman
by Katrina Kirsch
Sporting clear safety glasses and earplugs that dull the crash of clanging metal, the women of Commercial Specialty Truck Holdings are as tough as the hardhats they tout on the manufacturing floor. Representing about 15% of the manufacturing crew, these women hold their own while slinging tools alongside more than 200 men.
Although the duties of each woman on the team vary, a common characteristic runs through each one: a determination to prove their value.
That perseverance is apparent in their day-to-day work. Jennifer Savelli, the quality team lead, ensures that every refuse and mixer truck passes a rigorous quality test. Jacqueline "Tiffany" Hopkins, an assembler, lugs a wrench the length of her arm while assembling refuse trucks. Mercades Klaber, one of two women welders, lays a weld so straight it seems automated.
"It takes a special woman to [work in manufacturing] because not everybody has that drive in them," Jennifer says. "I have something to prove because this place is a majority of men. . . . I'm going to show what I'm worth."
While every employee wants to provide value to their team, women in manufacturing set a high bar. Reaching it means fighting insecurities about their skills, gaining respect among co-workers, and proving tough enough to last longer than the bets placed on new female hires.
"Most of the guys who I work with now will tell you, 'We didn't think she'd be here,'" Mercades says. "Most of them saw me and said, 'She'll be gone in two weeks.'"
Being tough isn't only an external battle for women in manufacturing – it's equally internal.
"I think it's just a level of professionalism you have to have at all times," says Amanda Mellen, the environmental health and safety manager. "I don't mean a mask. But you have to put on a professional hat, and you leave that on at all times."
Successfully navigating that dynamic is a badge of honor for many women on the floor, but it's also a daily reminder of the manufacturing industry's realities: manual labor, male majority crews, and "shop talk." Some women can't handle those hardships while others thrive in the struggle.
"I don't think [the pressure] was from [the men]; it was more myself. I feel like I had to have something to prove my worth," Jennifer says. Her "something" is an efficient, built-from-scratch quality system that allows the company to maintain high standards for every product coming off the line. "I try to set the bar kind of up there so any woman on my team can see it can be done. I took stuff home for four months just to learn what I was doing. It took a little while, but I figured it out."
The quality of work is a focus not only for Jennifer, but for many women on the team. They strive to be perfect, to excel, to be valuable – and the company is taking note. Human Resources Manager Derek Beton says the number of female hires is on the rise. Before signing on the dotted line, certain women give him an "I got this nod," he says. "If I see a woman who has worked in manufacturing, I know."