Boots Are Boots

By Diane Wilhelm, chief engineer advanced manufacturing, Harley-Davidson Motor Company 

As a West Point grad in the early years of integrating women and serving in the U.S. Army for 12 years, I often reflect on my military roots and the foundation that the military has provided me for success in my manufacturing career. My transition from Army boots to steel-toe boots was not without challenges.

As young Lieutenant in the 1st Cavalry Division, I was elated to have the opportunity for my platoon to support one of the combat brigades in an upcoming FTX (Field Training Exercise). I reported to the prep meeting and realized that I was the only female in the room. Halfway through the meeting, the colonel noticed me, stopped the meeting and asked why I was there. I responded, “I am your military police support, sir.” He shook his head negatively. Everyone in the room stared at me, but I stayed, and they continued the meeting.

Afterward, I waited until most had left and approached the colonel. I told him that I had the best platoon in the company and that we would not fail him. I told him that if he didn’t agree that I and my platoon were the best, I’d never again set foot in his area. I asked for him to give me a shot, unless he was concerned about a female making other men look bad. He stared at me for a long time before answering, “Lieutenant, you’re in.” From that moment on, my platoon shined and he asked for me by name.

For women in nontraditional career fields, I sum this up into one mantra: “show no fear!”

As a new maintenance engineer/supervisor for a major automotive company, I noticed a large, colored paper sticking out from underneath a stack of newspapers when I entered the pipefitter’s break area. Making small talk, I purposely picked up the newspaper exposing the large paper that had 30 blocks drawn on it, almost all of them colored in with red or blue; some had both. The men fell silent. I picked up the colored paper and asked, “What is this?” After a lengthy pause, the millwright replied, “It’s a pool.” “About what?” I probed. The men started to squirm. The same millwright answered, “It’s a pool about you. Blue indicates when you will cry, and red is when you will quit.” I was stunned! The tradesmen all stared at me. I looked back at the paper and realized that my peer supervisors had bought blocks, too.

I had a choice. I took out my wallet and said, “How much to get in?” He answered “5 bucks.” I gave him 10 and told him to mark me down for NEVER on both! I won, of course, and donated the money to the department holiday meal fund.

You cannot always choose your circumstances, but you can always choose your attitude. #ShowNoFear #BootsAreBoots

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