The automotive industry world over is dominated by men but 28-year old Chipinge born and raised, Memory Bere is one of the few brave women who are standing up to challenge the status quo.
Memory’s career is flourishing in neighbouring South Africa where she soars high in a male-dominated work environment at a car shop in the coastal city of Durban.
“I attended Chipinge Primary School then went to Biriri Secondary School before enrolling at an auto mechanics school. Due to deteriorating economic situation, failure to secure employment as a female mechanic and also facing segregation due to gender, I moved to Durban, South Africa, in 2013,” Bere told the Daily News on Sunday.
“On arrival in South Africa I found it hard to secure employment, especially being a young woman. Most employers and colleagues felt I was not physically strong enough to handle the heavy engine blocks and transmissions on vehicles. Another problem was not being taken seriously as a woman.”
A local garage in Durban that specialised in high-end vehicle repair and service eventually decided to give her a chance to showcase her skill set which in turn led to her attaining the much-needed experience.
A few years later, the owner of the garage died and Memory had to be on the move, but this time, thanks to her experience, job hunting wasn’t as difficult and she was taken in a by a new workshop specialising in the repair of heavy diesel earth moving equipment, and today she enjoys working on these vehicles with ease.
Speaking to the reporter, she says to date, the most challenging vehicle she has ever worked on is a Range Rover Sport.
Bere, who enjoys spending her free time between the beach and making comedy skits on social media, narrated how she fell in love with the automotive profession.
“My desire to work on cars came from my father who used to spend his time fixing his old Datsun 1500 to save money instead of taking it to a mechanic,” she narrated.
“Being the last born and only child left at home while my siblings were at boarding school, my father started by asking me to pass him tools and spanners to use on certain vehicle parts that is when I learnt how to change a tyre, replace brakes and other mechanic units that had failed on the old and rickety Datsun.”
From that experience, Bere grew to love mechanical engineering and vowed to pursue it as a career. Her parents were very supportive because they knew that their daughter liked fixing things from a tender age.
“Ever since I started working as a female mechanic, I haven’t worked with a female mechanic which worries me a lot because I want to see more women dominating in the mechanics field,” she said.
“My dream is to open a workshop where I will teach girls how to fix cars, visit schools encouraging girls to take trades which are being dominated by men and God willing, set up a foundation.”
Historically, women have been rare in the auto repair industry due to the physical constraints of the job that often involve lifting heavy machinery, and that in general men have had a better grasp of the knowledge of cars because they were more commonly taught this information.
Research has shown that over half of the top 20 companies in the automotive industry worldwide have few women on in their teams and zero women in executive levels.
Global statistics reveal that in the automotive industry, women report higher rates of sexism and sexual harassment compared with the tech and advertising industries, including being tasked with lower-level assignments compared to their male peers (65 percent), unwanted sexual advances (65 percent), and feeling unsafe at work (25 percent).
Bere recalls how she had to deal with sexual harassment from men and abuse from women for her choice of trade.
“ln one instance, my male colleague was burned with boiling water by his wife after she accused him of having an affair with me. The wife refused to believe that we are co-workers saying she doesn’t believe that a woman can be a mechanic,” Bere said.
She added that she no longer accepts side jobs fixing cars for male friends who are married in fear of their wives not believing her as a professional mechanic.
“My advice to other aspiring female mechanics is that they should never give up, and that in order to manoeuvre swiftly in a male-dominant field you have to be mentally, physically strong, and have confidence, courage and commitment,” Bere said.
“I hope my story will inspire and motivate young women who would love to become auto mechanics and not be put off by the male-dominated industry.”