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#WrenchingWomenWednesday with Katie French, featuring Laina Stashek

Each week for Wrenching Women Wednesday, we focus our efforts on shining a light on Women in Automotive and their journey’s in automotive. This week, we would like to introduce Laina Stashek, Diesel Technician for Truck Country of McCoy Group in Wisconsin. Laina is a Diesel Technology Graduate of Mid-State Technical College.

This is Laina’s story

I grew up in a disoriented family- Mom and Dad separated when I was a baby, but I still lived the farm life with my dad’s family and half-way through my school career with my mom. At 17 years old, I had my first child, and after ten years of a failing, unhealthy engagement; I knew I needed to make a change for my child and I.

I started working at a Dodge Dealership at 24 years old as an auto detailer. The male technicians at the dealership thought females weren’t capable of turning wrenches. When I asked technical questions, they treated me like I was uneducated in the field (to say nicely). The Chevy dealership encouraged me to turn wrenches, but I made more money detailing with tips, so I worked on basic oil changes when there weren’t customer details to do.

When my son was almost two years old, his father and I separated on terms. I was thinking of pursuing automotive school during that relationship, but I never received any help or support to proceed. I finally said, “screw it, I’m doing it myself”, and that’s when my mind started racing.

My uncle drove semi trucks to California with Wisconsin cheese for over 15 years. He drove a Volvo and always had the nicest tractors growing up. Then I thought, “Why don’t I just help them? They keep our shelves stocked and the world turning. I can’t drive OTR but I can sure wrench!”

I went to school full-time (as well as having a 40-hour work week second shift). I got through it with the help and support from my parents and grandparents, who all supported my dream. I graduated top of my class with a 3.9 GPA, High Honors, PHI THETA KAPPA, and placed 2nd in the state for Skills USA competition for Diesel Technology. I was given a scholarship and tools from WADTA, and two generous scholarships from the Women in Trucking Association.

I worked at a Mack dealership while in school and a year after. I learned so much at the dealership, with the help of two great mentors. However, some of my male colleagues were not sure about working with a female technician. I was the first female hired as a technician at the company, attended training, and received a Mack Masters in Transmission and Engines. I was the first to attempt to achieve Cummins Medium Duty.

I found out I was pregnant with my second child in March of 2021 and soon after, I was engaged to an incredibly supporting fiancee, who also works as a technician. Late in my pregnancy, things changed with administration and technicians, which was scary because I wanted to keep wrenching. However, there were some things I couldn’t do, and I had to listen to my body. I even received rude comments about being pregnant and wrenching, and it really got under my skin.

I went into office labor at 35 weeks. My cut-off was climbing up on top of a garbage truck, trying to change out after-treatment modules and almost falling trying to balance on a frame and tire.

After I had my second child, I wanted to return to work after six weeks, but I took off 12 weeks of FMLA. My shop wasn’t the same when I came back. I don’t know if it was my hormones still balancing, or guys being comfortable with me not being there anymore, but I felt unwanted and I felt they were jealous of me pumping breast milk three times per day. With daycare costs, I barely made 32-35 hours per week flat rate. Some weeks were even less. I decided to apply for a salary position to do office duties, but I was told there was no position available, and it wouldn’t fit my lifestyle. They ended up hiring a friend for an office position that I originally applied for instead.

I decided to move to a different dealership at Freightliner/Western Star or Truck Country, a McCoy Group shop. I still don’t believe I am here. My first week, the male technicians were awesome! They helped me switch to work with Freights, commented on how they were amazed by my tool collection and boxes, made sure I went on my breast milk pumping breaks, and told those who worked in the office to let me leave if I needed to leave to attend to my family or a personal manner. I work with the most amazing men who willing to teach me how to do new things. Most recently, I put a clutch and flywheel in and one overhead at Mack-ever, whereas before, I was always after-treatment and PM only. I pulled my first transmission two months in, resealed carriers, slung in a carrier to put back in, after-treatment, and so much more! I was recommended by senior technicians to do a lot of it.

I’ve never been happier in my career being here. With only three months of working here, I went to class for Freightliner, which snowballed into many other new opportunities. Recently, I have been asked to speak on Road Dog SXM Radio under the Women in Trucking segment of “Women in Non Traditional Roles”, and received so many good questions by the audience. Penske/ Women in Trucking also invited me to go to Detroit, Michigan for a Women in Maintenance Conference. I was able to meet many great service industry ladies there.

I couldn’t have gotten through any of this without the female automotive technician community, especially the Female Mechanics Alliance Facebook group. They’ve helped me through the hard times and the good times!

About Katie French

Katie French is an Automotive Repair Expert at RepairPal. Her love for the automotive industry began at a young age learning how to fix bicycles and driving around the neighborhood in a pink Power Wheels Jeep. To pursue a career in the field, Katie attended NEIT for Advanced Automotive Technology out in East Greenwich, RI. Since graduating from the automotive program, Katie has worn many hats in the auto industry over the years, and has treated every day as a school day. She currently is working toward a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Management with a concentration in Fleet Management from Ranken Technical College in St. Louis, MO. In her free time, Katie enjoys empowering women in skilled trades, Jeep builds, and spending time with her family.

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