(Blog from Lux Performance) Women In Racing: A Personal Experience by Gracie Hackenberg
March 9, 2020
On Sunday the world recognized International Women's Day. Lux Performance's newest engineer Gracie Hackenberg aspires to work in IndyCar. This is her story about being a young female in motorsport and how imporant it was for her to find a mentor in a safe, respectable workplace that respected her for her talent.
I have never written or spoken out about my experience being a woman in motorsports. Mostly because all I have ever wanted is to do my job well and to be recognized for my work on its own merit. But the bigger picture here is that there are so many smart, talented, and passionate young women who could be helping to push our sport forward and make us all faster, who have and will continue to choose different career paths because motorsports is lagging behind other industries in terms of inclusion and opportunity for women.
One thing that privilege buys is a bigger margin for error. As women, our work is often judged with a different metric, our mistakes are remembered for longer and held before us as evidence that we struggle to meet the demands of the job. Since many men have never worked with other women, single and limited interactions often go towards misinformed opinions and generalizations about all women in motorsports. It’s a challenge and a gift. I work harder and longer because I’m held to a higher standard. I go home and study and prepare to avoid making mistakes or asking for help.
There seems to be a misconception out there about women of my generation that suggests we’re all sensitive, sheltered, and live in a comfortable bubble of entitlement created by this recent societal shift to political correctness. We’re not all fragile hot house flowers. There are a lot of tough, thick-skinned, hard-working women with old school grit who put their heads down and do the work. The hardest thing for me starting out in the industry was trying to figure out the difference between being new in the sport and paying my dues vs. being taken advantage of due to an inherent gender power imbalance. I am now, for the first time in my career, lucky enough to be in a safe and respectful workplace. And it’s given me the opportunity to reflect on my past shop experiences and really realize the impact that sexism has had on my career.
For years, I worked hard and did whatever needed to be done and put up with endless harassment and provocation from coworkers without saying a word. I didn’t yet have enough experience or perspective to know if this was just a rite of passage for every kid like me starting out, or if I was being mistreated. At one shop I worked there were five men that were hired after me and were all immediately accepted while I spent years trying to earn respect that was never going to come. That paired with a boss who decided it was easier to buy me lunches and treats in place of creating a safe workplace made me realize that it was time for a change. What I needed was a boss and mentor who would go to bat for me, and that’s what I found at Lux Performance. Despite Fred’s crude sense of humor, I could see his respect for women in the way he talked about Cindi as a driver and team owner. For the first time in my career, I feel like my work is judged on merit alone. I am constantly pushed to explore new challenges that make me a better mechanic and engineer. I am included in the process and am asked regularly about what they can do to make my experience better. I am humbled and grateful to be a part of a team that feels more like a family than a workplace.
I don’t speak for all women, but in my opinion, what we need is a shift away from political correctness and concern about hurt feelings. The sexist comments I put up with are annoying but don’t slow me down in the slightest. The real barrier to entry into motorsports for women like me is unsafe work environments. We need shop and team owners who take pride in building inclusive workplace cultures. We need mentors like Fred and Cindi who are willing to share their knowledge and experiences. And we need to fund organizations like The RPM Foundation and Techforce Foundation that provide scholarships, mentorship, and career opportunities for kids like me.