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Shifting Gears: From Outsider to Leader

Written By: Adrianne Reiners

“Do you think I could change oil?”

It was 2010 and I was going on week three of being unemployed. I had applied everywhere, even McDonald's, and they said I was overqualified. My partner worked for a fast-service oil change business and I knew they were hiring, but I didn’t feel confident applying for the job. 

“I think you can learn it.”

So I applied and was shocked the day I answered the phone to learn it was a recruiter on the other end. We had a great conversation and I was elated as I began thinking about my upcoming in-person interview. 

I met with three men in the blandest office building and the featured decor on the walls were images of cars and oil posters from years past. I didn’t feel comfortable or in my zone, but I held my head high and introduced myself with a sturdy handshake. 

When I was prompted to share my experience with cars, I replied, “I can tell you what color the car is, put gas in the tank, and if you’re lucky I’ll put air in the tires. But, my customer service is exceptional. I’m great with customers, I understand upselling techniques and I’ve been in a team supervisor position leading others.” 

I figured they weren’t going to hire me, especially since it was an interview for an assistant manager role. I left the interview proud that I pushed myself. Six hours later, the recruiter called to offer me the job. 

I worked in three different locations with very different teams. I learned to stand up for myself and to be assertive. I threw my middle finger to the idea that women can’t work in a ‘man's world’ and I took home so many technical troubleshooting skills from that job. Even still today, I am the mechanic in our home and when we visit an auto dealer or repair shop, I am grateful my husband points them to discuss things with me. 

A few days into working in the second location, I gathered the all-male team and informed them that I would not clean up their mess in the employee bathroom/changing room.

“I don’t know what you’re used to in your lives, but I’m not your mother, girlfriend, nanny, or otherwise. If you widdle on the seat, you will clean it up.” 

Male customers would pull in and tell me I was not allowed to touch their cars because I was a woman. My team would make eye contact and then take over upstairs, allowing me to go downstairs and be the one to change the oil - because the customer couldn’t see me and they had no idea that a “measly woman” was doing the work. 

Fast forward a couple of years and the male senior manager of my corporate team told me that I was too abrasive. I joined corporate without any formal education and I definitely didn’t get the “Corporate Buzzword Handbook” before I started in my role. I showed up as my young, green, and oftentimes immature self. Instead of gentle coaching and examples on how to rephrase my opinions, it was just a blanket sentiment that “I’m too ______.” 

And a few years later in the middle of my SaaS era, I was in a one-on-one with the male director discussing the department's big goals for the year. Upon acknowledging that I was aware of a recent promotion he asked, “Are you a gossip?”

“If by gossip you mean I obtain and source information relevant to my job function, my team's success, and the employees I manage, and then only repeat it with the appropriate audiences, then I guess I am.”

And when I returned to the restaurant industry and built an entirely new branch of the business through my irreplaceable relationship-building skills, outstanding organization, and extreme project management, I gained the nickname; “Alpha B*tch” from a male colleague. 

When it was first said in jest, I paused to evaluate that new nickname I’d acquired and then quickly nodded in agreement. Yes, yes I am the Alpha here, I thought. 

Every time I left one of those roles, I heard from other women that I made an impact. Either in encouraging others to keep their spine strong and hold their head up high, or in teaching the men about being inclusive to women in the workplace. 

I never set out to dismantle the boys’ club, but I sure as hell don’t want any club dictating my future, especially if I don’t even have a seat at the table. 

This leads me to one of many reasons I had my tubes removed. You can read more about my decision to be child-free here, but for now, I’ll tell you this: The moment I left the hospital I felt an overwhelming amount of relief as I realized that sterilizing myself is the biggest, “F you!” to the patriarchy. 

I’ve worked with many different individuals over the last two decades and it’s interesting to me that working with men seems to come with so many strings and hurdles. Despite the reality that men and women are different, we’re not actually that different at the end of the day because we’re all humans navigating this thing called life.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned that's been the roadmap to dismantling the boys’ clubs in my arena. 

Ignore there’s a club at all

If possible, ignore their chuckling and any conversations that leave you out. Do your job in a way that makes it clear you’re not there to play games and that the remainder of the team knows you’re a bada$$. When you show up and work in the trenches with your team and ignore the politics of the boys’ club, your team works harder for you too. 

When you can’t ignore it, call it out

Sometimes, the boys’ club is just that. A bunch of bully boys. Call them out on the floor and hold your ground. 

If that doesn’t work, make it hurt in their pocketbook. You did the hard work to gain team buy-in so their revenue will likely take a hit when you leave. 

Remember they are humans too

Just as most women were given the “Stay in Your Lane” playbook, men were given their version of that too. Find room for empathy when appropriate and seek external insights when you find yourself in a silo of shared opinions. 

Showing up as your full self, taking up space, doing the hard work, and leading by example are the day-to-day actions of tearing down the walls surrounding the boys’ club. The result is increased confidence in the face of adversity, and the boys open to eliminating their beloved club will find inspiration from your actions too. 


Meet the Author

Adrianne Reiners

Adrianne Reiners is a chicken-raising, hobby farm-building, operational generalist living in the forest of northern Minnesota. Her self-proclaimed tagline, "I didn't spend thousands on therapy to be silent," is what fuels her vulnerability - an effort to help others to be encouraged to live life as their true and authentic self.


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