In a wave of blue and black shirts that flooded the hallways of my school, I was among the less than 10% of women who had chosen to make a career in the motorcycle industry by attending a mechanics institute. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2015 women made up 26.7% of jobs in the motor vehicles and equipment manufacturing industry. A mere 7.3% of these women worked in automotive repair and maintenance.
When I walked into one of my last courses of the Harley-Davidson technician program I was met with an outstanding and inspirational representation of the latter statistic.
Today, yielding a special place in Daughters of the Road’s span of influences, we are sharing the story of Marianne Taylor: the one and only female instructor currently teaching at the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute in Florida.
Marianne Taylor has worked for several dealerships as a technician (mechanic) over the years. She began turning wrenches at a Saturn dealership, then devoted 14 years working with Harley-Davidson Motor Company. She has taught motorcycle safety courses for 17 consecutive years, automotive courses in vocational schools, and today she teaches motorcycle mechanics courses at a leading technical school.
As a young girl, Marianne’s internal compass aligned with the world of gears, grease, and the intricacies of the machine. Initially, choosing a career as an automotive technician resonated with her because it allowed her to gain a skill that she knew she could take anywhere in the world, find work, and make a living wage. What transpired was a transformative journey, one that allowed her to develop a deep understanding of the intricacies of both man and machine.
Because of the existence of many barriers to entry as a woman in the automobile industry decades ago, the rejections seemed to outweigh the opportunities. In 1993, she was given a chance by a service manager at a Saturn dealership to prove herself. Among the roughly 200 other technicians who serviced every vehicle from Saturn, GM, Pontiac, and Cadillac, she was the only female to occupy a lift in the facility. After about a year, her co-workers began to accept her. “It was challenging to say the least,” she recounted.
With a strong fortitude and an encouraging demeanor when I attended her class, I couldn’t help but imagine what sequence of events molded such a figure, and what interested me moreso were the potential lessons that could be imparted upon me. I was moved by the advice that she so graciously shared with us, and committed to memory the wise words that have already aided me.
A guiding principle that kept her head held high through challenges is a personal commitment that is burned into the fiber of her being: the firm belief that the first step to doing anything takes the strong investment in knowing that you are indeed capable.
“When I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle, there wasn’t anyone in my life that supported my decision. Not family, not friends. I learned about the motorcycle safety course, enrolled in it, got my license and had my first bike before I shared with my father what I had done. When I told him, I saw him cry for the second time in my life. It was decision that I made on my own, for myself. It turned into a hobby first, then a passion and a profession,” Marianne stated in her interview.
The newfound and intentional discovery of motorcycles marked a significant shift in her life. She one day faced a grave ride to work, during which one of her customers cut her off in a car and nearly caused a potentially fatal accident. From then on, Marianne vowed to serve motorcyclists both in keeping their bikes on the road and keeping their own lives on the road.
The years she’s spent serving as a motorcycle safety instructor has undoubtedly changed the lives of countless riders.
We asked if there was anything that she noticed different pertaining to women in their participation of the riders’ course, and she responded with a poignant memory.
When instructing a rider’s course one morning, she noticed a woman struggling in one of the first exercises. The woman stated aloud, “I just can’t do this!” Marianne in her empowering and sincere manner responded, “Well, if you truly believe that, then you probably can’t. But you are a strong, bright, and capable woman. I believe you CAN. Try to take that voice in your head and turn it around. Use it to focus on what you need to do to succeed, rather than beating yourself up.”
Resonating with this story, I reflected upon my own journey through both learning how to ride and to wrench on motorcycles. I realized that throughout each, my biggest enemy was my own voice inside of my head. Learning to transform that energy into constructive problem-solving and committed focus shifted the game that I play with myself.
A common tendency for women is to expect immediate perfection. Many of us have been bred through many microaggressions to believe that if we are not producing excellent results to begin with that there is something wrong with us, or that the activity, whatever it may be, isn’t for us. However, the true payoff of learning and thriving lies both within its practice and inevitable failures.
“Be patient with the process” is a statement Marianne reiterated throughout the interview.
Patience fosters the new generations of motorcycle mechanics that Marianne has a hand in developing every three week rotation. She frequently teaches the classes that require complete disassembly and reassembly of various Harley engines and transmissions, and those that delve into the evolving technologies of the motor company.
Since she transitioned into teaching motorcycle mechanics, I am positive that many students will testify to the aptitude she has for teaching, and the genuine quest she has for her students to succeed: no question will go without a thoughtful answer, and no judgement ever will be passed in her presence.
I am comforted in the fact that out of the 7.3% of women devoting their lives to the industry, many motorcycle mechanics and riders to come will have the opportunity to learn under Ms. Marianne Taylor’s influence and together we will increase the statistic.
Furthermore, we hope that her message can be spread even further through other DOTRs that may find interest in motorcycles, whether it be learning to ride or to wrench. With an honest and unapologetic integrity throughout her work, she stands as a testament to the fundamental values upon which DOTR was founded.