Growing up, Marissa was more comfortable in her dad’s garage than going to the mall with girlfriends.
“I grew up on stock car racing and country music, that was a typical Saturday night for me,” she said. “With a grin from ear to ear, I would walk through the pits with my dad, proudly sporting my pit crew shirt and hat as I was his number one tire changer.”
Marissa’s love for machines developed at an early age. She’d spend happy hours racing up and down the driveway, and her household chores often involved a lawn tractor and a snow plow. As her dad’s ‘little helper’, she learned to operate motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, boats and trucks.
“I would go to school wearing all my dad’s oversized racing t-shirts, with not a care in the world if I fit in with the other girls,” she said.
As a teenager, it quickly became apparent that Marissa wasn’t a typical ‘girl’s girl’.
“I got older and realized I was more than okay with that,” she said. “I really enjoyed being different and seeing people’s reactions when I told them what I was in to. It was always expect the unexpected with me.”
As her passion for petrol grew, Marissa realized she wanted to be a diesel mechanic. Although her parents supported her love of machines, even they had their doubts about her chosen career.
“They wanted me to be a nurse, or a dental hygienist like my mom,” said Marissa. “Instead, I got a student loan and registered for college in the truck and coach mechanics program.”
Used to being the only female in most activities, Marissa was far from intimidated by her all-male class–in fact, she enjoyed it. She completed the in-class component of her program with confidence, but knew that as a woman, it would be harder to secure a summer apprenticeship with a mechanic shop.
“I was really nervous because I hadn’t finished school yet, so I didn’t have any credentials to back up my skills,” she said. “I had to walk into shops as ‘just a girl who wants to be a mechanic’ and hope someone would give me a chance.”
Marissa accepted the challenge head-on and a couple of rejections later, got the opportunity she was looking for with a fleet trucking company.
Her confidence paid off when, a week into her apprenticeship, her boss asked to speak with her.
“I still remember what he said to me. He said, ‘You know Marissa, I’m not going to lie, I was very hesitant in hiring you. I’ve never seen a female mechanic before. But after watching the way you worked this week, you really impressed me. Actually you exceeded my expectations,’” she said. “From that day on, there was never another doubt in my mind that I could do this.”
On successfully finishing her truck and coach mechanics program, Marissa got her 310T truck and coach technician license. Shortly after, she was offered a mechanic position with GFL Infrastructure Group.
“Despite having no experience working on heavy equipment, my boss gave me the chance to learn and I was motivated to prove that I could do the job,” she said. “I worked with excavators, dozers, loaders and various other hydraulic-powered machines.”
As with her apprenticeship, Marissa’s superiors at GFL quickly discovered her potential. Before long, her hard work, perseverance and self-belief was rewarded with a promotion and she traded the mechanic’s shop for an office. Now she applies her considerable knowledge and skill as Assistant to the Director of Fleet for GFL Infrastructure Group.
Over the course of her career, Marissa has dealt with her fair share of challenges progressing in a male-dominated workforce. She’s had to develop a thick skin to block out negative and discouraging comments–a measure she says was tough but necessary.
“The worst thing you can do for yourself is to let it get to you, because it’ll end up holding you back,” she said. “The reality is that women in these type of industries are becoming more and more common every day, and having the ability to portray confidence and eagerness to work and learn will take you far.”
Her advice to female colleagues is clear–don’t focus on trying to ‘prove yourself’ against male counterparts, but strive for success in your own right.
“The truth is you will never be ‘one of the boys’, so go in as a woman and own it,” she said. “No woman should have to prove she’s capable of doing this work based on her gender.”
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