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.  Half way 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 the 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 non-traditional 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, “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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