‘Braking’ barriers with Barbara Thompson
Gender roles remain stubbornly defiant in modern society, as the glass ceiling is still largely intact. Mounting a challenge to these outdated social norms is hardly an easy task, but for Barbara Thompson, giving up on her 'unconventional dream' to enter a male-dominated profession was never really an option.
"I grew up in a Christian home where my parents were very strict," Barbara reminisced. "My stepfather was an old-school thinker, so he believed girls must cook, clean and do the chores around the house. When I decided to do auto mechanics, he wasn't very supportive. He refused to pay for my schooling, and it was only because of my aunt, Millicent Walker, that I was able to finish my studies," she shared.
Ironically, it was her own stepfather who unwittingly spurred Barbara's interest in auto mechanics, as she would closely watch her old man working on his car as a young girl. Intent on pursuing her passion, Barbara enrolled at the Jamaican German Automotive School (JAGAS). Shortly after graduating, she joined Steady's Auto - an auto-supply store - as a sales representative. There, she primarily interacted with customers: responding to their requests, resolving their issues, as well as sourcing and selling parts.
Following a two-year stint at Steady's Auto, Barbara moved on to Delta Supply Company Limited, a leading industrial equipment distributor in Jamaica. Working her way up the ranks, today Barbara is not only Delta Supply's resident Stihl master technician, she's also the organisation's longest-serving employee after 27 years on the job.
On any given day, when she's not busy issuing job sheets, addressing the needs of customers and mentoring her young co-workers, Barbara is oftentimes hovering over small engine machines, as she is laser-focused on pinpointing the culprit behind pesky malfunctions. Pulling down and troubleshooting chainsaws, hedge trimmers, pruners and mist blowers, may be a tedious chore for some, but for Barbara, it's an undeniable source of enjoyment and great pride.
Always eager to expand her knowledge, Barbara not only immerses herself in hands-on projects, but has also benefited from participating in several overseas training programmes. These include workshops held in Germany and the United States, in collaboration with Delta Supply and its global suppliers.
Blessed with a remarkable memory, now credited with storing more than 300, 11-digit part numbers and a vast array of bearings, screws and gaskets, Barbara is among the best of them in her field. She is well respected by German engineers, who hold her in high esteem, and she is beloved by her local customers, who show appreciation for her work by gifting her with fruits.
"Not everyone is cut out for bookwork; some of us are meant to work with our hands," says Barbara. "I've never liked paperwork and I don't like sitting in an office, so a career in mechanics is perfect for me. Although I've always been a part of a tiny group of females in this industry, from my time as a student to being a full-time employee, I've never had any issues working in this profession, as everyone has always accepted me," she explains.