Women at West Valley’s Wheeler Machinery in the CATbird seatJun 20, 2019 02:04PM ● By Jennifer J Johnson
By Jennifer J. Johnson | [email protected]
West Valley City-based Wheeler Machinery has been Utah’s Caterpillar or CAT partner for more than 65 years. The 600-person heavy-machinery sales, service and rentals company with offices from Lindon to Logan, from Hurricane to Huntington, and other locations throughout Utah and even Nevada, daily strives to be the safest Caterpillar dealer in North America and to dominate the markets it serves.
With a vast fleet of new and rental big machines, Wheeler’s presence is regularly seen by Utahns, alongside freeways or on new construction sites, but, to the general resident it is more of an invisible brand, mainly known by its vertical market customers in agriculture, construction, government, mining and other industries.
The nature of its male-dominated business and its reserved, almost intentionally obscured marketing and communication makes it stand out on a list of 30-plus organizations who recently pledged to proactively elevate women in the workplace.
Wheeler and the ElevateHer Challenge
Wheeler Human Resources Generalist Mike Smith stands with a group of organizations as diverse as Lehi’s Adobe and Salt Lake City’s UCAIR, a statewide clean air partnership. On May 20, individuals within these organizations were honored by Utah’s Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) for their willingness to elevate the stature and talents of women in the workplace.
Smith bowed his head to accept the ElevateHer Challenge Medal from Salt Lake’s Women’s Leadership Institute. What does his doing so mean to Wheeler?
“We recognize that we are in a very male-dominated industry,” Smith said, “and it is not just about what Wheeler is doing—it’s what CAT is doing—to increase diversity and inclusivity.”
What Smith is saying is powerful: Deerfield, Illinois-based Caterpillar, the 58th-largest company in the world according to the 2019 Fortune 500 list, raking in $54 billion in revenue — a 20 percent increase from the previous year — is seeking to become more diverse and proactive in supporting women and is encouraging its partners to do so as well.
Taking the women-supporting baton from CAT Corporate
“The Women’s Initiatives Network occupies unusual territory at Caterpillar Inc.”
The sentence comes directly from the Caterpillar website, as the company explains its role toward promoting women moving from being more of a support group for women into “a full-fledged business initiative… (one that) proves its worth in bottom-line results.”
CAT experienced what other companies are learning: That encouraging women is not just altruism, but makes good business sense.
According to research from the University of California, Davis, business performance of the 400 largest public companies in California shows that companies with women in leadership at the highest levels had returns on assets and equity at least 74 percent higher than those that did not.
This all makes profound sense, locally, for Wheeler Machinery, who not only has aggressive growth goals, but also counts on government contracts, which have steadfast requirements about diversity of workforce from its contractors.
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) requires that government contractors, like the requirements for large companies under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), ensure diversity in the workforce.
“Wheeler is in a male-dominated industry… in a very Caucasian-dominated state,” Smith said. “We want to get as diverse as we can.”
To hire female diesel mechanics, Smith said the company vies for talent against CAT competitor Komatsu’s local presence and even from less-obvious organizations like Utah Transit Authority, an organization it only competes against for talent. “UTA has only one or two female diesel mechanics out of hundreds,” he said.
The six-point ElevateHer Challenge
The ElevateHer Challenge is sponsored by WLI, an innovative Utah organization whose mission is to elevate the stature and talents of women. The ElevateHer Corporate Challenge encourages organizations to pledge to elevate the stature of women in six key ways:
1. Increase the percentage of women in senior leadership
2. Increase the retention rate of women at all levels
3. Increase the number of women on board of directors and encourage women to serve on community and corporate boards
4. Monitor pay by gender and close identified gaps
5. Establish-enhance leadership development, mentoring and sponsorship programs for women
6. Urge-support women to run for public office (City Journals wrote about WLI’s Political Training Series in February)
ElevateHer metrics finds a home at male-dominated Wheeler
Wheeler measures up well, according to ElevateHer metrics.
Meghan Dutton is a career-changer who moved from managing her private environmental law practice to a role within Wheeler’s renewable energy division. After just more than a year with the company, she now captains the Power Systems Division for Wheeler.
When asked how women can be successful at Wheeler? Her response, for the most part, is gender-neutral: “Work hard. Have a good attitude. Be willing to do anything asked of you, whether or not it was in your job description.” At the end is the female-specific part —“Put in the time and find good female mentors to help you.”
Wheeler General Manager Dutton said she, herself, does not have a female mentor at Wheeler, but is, potentially, on the way to serving in the role for a new hire within her department. “I think that may turn into a mentorship opportunity,” she said.
Wheeler call-out for women
As to the other aspects of the ElevateHer Challenge, Smith said the company has hired more than a dozen female diesel-mechanic apprentices “with little to no experience” and has advanced about 25 percent of those to full roles within the company.
Working at Wheeler is not for the faint of heart. Smith described mechanics’ requirements as sometimes servicing machines in extreme heat or cold, as well as being available non-traditional work hours. That said, it can be “a very lucrative career,” Smith said.
Those who service machinery, for example, routinely earn six-figure salaries. And as long as they tow the line? There is, for women, great, enduring opportunity and job security.
“If you’re skilled in that field and are female, you will never be unemployed,” Smith said, “as long as you’re not doing anything criminal or fraudulent.” Smith added that employees work at Wheeler an average of 10 years.
In considering joining the company, Dutton was overwhelmingly impressed by employees’ long-term association with the company.
“The youngest-tenured person had 14 years. The oldest had 45 years,” she said, then crediting the company’s being a good employer, added, “You just don’t come across companies like that.”