By Aneesa Muthana, President and Owner of Pioneer Service, Inc.
It’s been said women have an uphill battle in this industry. That they need to work harder for less money, that the machining industry treats women unfairly.
I had it easy.
I had mentors—supportive parents who kick-started my interest in their trade and acted as role models. My father taught his trade to myself as well as my brothers. I watched my mother, who had no education and couldn’t speak English, find a job as a factory worker. Her work ethic won her respect, and she received raises without even asking for them.
As I grew older, my father preferred me in the front office, but I wouldn’t leave the shop. As a compromise, after I finished my daily office work, I could return to the machines. Dad knew this was the best deal he would get, so he put a speaker in the shop, and soon I was hurdling over bundles of metal to answer the phone.
So when people ask me how I was able to succeed as an outsider—a woman in manufacturing—it’s because I watched my mother defy convention not with words, but with work(wo)manship. When Dad, who I love dearly, tried to move me into a more traditional woman’s role, I chose compromise over defiance. Was it unfair? Probably. But if my mother could earn her coworkers’ confidence with nothing but sweat and quality, then I knew I was capable of doing the same.
Spoiler alert: The world is unfair. Fate does not discriminate. It does, however, reward tenacity.
The problem with the “oppressive male regime” narrative is twofold. First, it creates an adversarial relationship that gets in the way of partnership. Second, it makes women into victims, reinforcing the sentiment they are doomed to fail.
I mentor women in manufacturing not because they’re oppressed—many men are onboard with women in the workplace—but because the main ingredient in success is confidence and some women still lack it. Victimhood erodes confidence.
Fate came for me, as a young woman of 23, in the form of divorce. My uncle threw me a lifeline, offering me a position in his new small machining company. I was practiced in my field and had already spent years managing other businesses, so instead, I offered to share leadership of Pioneer Service. He agreed. Not because I was a woman, not because I was his blood, but because I had already proven capable and I was eager to prove myself.
Almost 25 years later, I am president and owner. I owe it to my parents and my uncle, who showed me that men are not the enemy. Treat them like an enemy, and they will respond like one. Show them what you can do instead, and most men—most people—are smart enough to see you as an asset.
Fate owes you nothing. Earn your place and let the results speak for themselves—the world will take notice.