All Hail the Matriarch: Why I Am Committed to #BeBOLDforChange

This year, International Women's Day was especially meaningful for me. As a professional woman, I have always had jobs in male-dominated industries, specifically insurance and manufacturing. At Caterpillar, I am working with a team of amazing men and women on our Women in Leadership initiative. We are focused on improving the gender balance of our workforce as a driver of creativity and innovation, which means we can deliver new products and solutions quicker so our customers can build new cities, improve infrastructure, and get critical resources to impoverished communities.

And as we approach Mother’s Day this year, I have spent some time contemplating the foundation of my beliefs around gender equality and it occurred to me that being willing to speak up on these issues - and for myself - stems from my upbringing.

Like most kids, every morning I woke up, got dressed, ate breakfast and headed to the babysitter (both of my parents worked full-time outside the home). But it wasn't my mom brushing the long brown hair that hung down my back. It wasn't my mom reminding me to brush my teeth and urging me to get my shoes on. And it wasn't my mom that said "eat your oatmeal before it gets cold." It was my dad. You see, my mom commuted to work so she left by 3:30am to get to work on time. She was a drafter, the only woman on a team of men, creating carbon drawings of the steel beams that would eventually become buildings.

As I grew older, my mom's job changed - she would eventually work as an underwriter for my dad in his insurance business - but I observed her breaking down gender barriers left and right in many areas of her life. I spent many Saturday mornings running to ACE Hardware with her to buy a toilet kit and watched as she started pulling the guts out of the toilet tank herself and putting it all back together. (Although beautiful, our home was not well-constructed. We laugh to this day about how a house with multiple toilets never seemed to have one that worked properly).

When my dad's business moved into a new office building, my mom didn't call the local tech company to install our network cables. She bought a book, read up on the topic, purchased the servers and wires and wired the whole darn office herself.

I'll never forget the day a sensor was going off in my car and instead of calling the dealership, I Googled the problem, popped the hood and fixed it myself. My husband walked into the garage and said "What in the world are you doing?" I just smirked and walked back inside to wash the grease off my hands.

I am proud to say my fearlessness - my "I can do it myself" attitude - comes from my mom. But then I was curious. Who was her role model? Where did SHE learn to be so fearless and willing to jump in and figure things out for herself - especially those things that are sometimes defined as "a man's job?”

Wilma, my maternal grandmother, was a trail blazer in her own right. A mother of four, she worked for Koehring Cranes (I believe the very one where John Grisham worked) in small town Waverly, Iowa, back in the 1950s and 1960s. I imagine she was judged and ridiculed for working outside the home and in a male-dominated industry but nevertheless, she persevered. (And never mind that she loved a good cigar every now and then - that's a story for another time).

When I shared this story with mom, she said: "Mom never saw herself as lesser than the men in her office. She never accepted the victim card. No matter what role she held - secretary to national sales coordinator - she was confident in her capacities and carried herself with grace."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

I firmly believe the confidence I have to be BOLD for change has been passed down to me through the generations. My mom learned from her mom, and I learned from mine. While I don't have girls of my own, I have to believe that my boys are watching as I get up and go to work every day at one of the most renowned manufacturing companies in the world. I hope they feel a sense of pride knowing their mom is working hard and her contributions matter. I help build what matters. And that alone is why it is important that we talk about this every day - not just on International Women's Day, and not just on Mother’s Day.

Raise a glass with me in a toast! All hail the matriarch, to which I am grateful and thankful that they were BOLD for change then so I can be BOLD for change now. And Happy Mother’s Day to the all the mothers – the working moms, the stay-at-home moms, step-moms, grandmothers, aunts, moms-to-be and dog moms – that are part of team Caterpillar. The world is a better place because of you.

Autumn Wickenhauser
Marketing & Communications Manager – Caterpillar Visitor’s Center

Be Bold For Change Blog

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