Though Ashlee Groves didn’t officially begin working in the heavy equipment industry until 2007, it’s been a big part of her life for as long as she can remember. Groves grew up learning about equipment from her father, who’s worked in the utility construction business for more than 40 years.
“The heavy equipment industry, that’s really all I’ve known,” she said. “I grew up on the customer side of things and now I’m on the retail side.”
Like many with family in the industry, Groves grew up working for her father, which piqued her interest in a heavy equipment career of her own. After graduating from college, she interned at the Ditch Witch factory and stayed on while completing her master’s degree. All this hard work was aimed at a single goal: purchasing Ditch Witch Southwest. Groves and her brother, Dustin Smith, made this dream a reality in 2009, and she took to her job as co-owner like a duck to water.
“I like that every day is different,” she said. “I love a good challenge, and helping customers solve their challenges is extremely rewarding and makes the work fun. And if your job isn’t fun, you’re in the wrong line of work, if you ask me.”
There’s no question that Groves is in the right line of work, even though just a few decades ago her presence in the industry might have been considered a bit of an oddity. Acceptance of women in the heavy equipment industry has increased in recent years, according to Groves, though there’s still room for improvement.
“Gaining respect and trust in a male-dominated industry was initially – and can still be – a challenge,” she said. “When new customers call or come in and I say, ‘I can help you,’ some are a little hesitant to believe that I can.”
Fortunately, Groves takes it all in stride – and has a strategy for overcoming gender bias-based barriers.
“I have to always be confident in my knowledge and ability to help them, and overcome their doubts by not being timid or scared, and not being afraid to get my hands dirty. I think women will always be treated a little differently in this industry upon first impression, but as people start to see your knowledge, your hard work and your work ethic, I feel like it’s possible to gain respect. People see that I’m not afraid to get dirty to do what needs to get done, and know I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn’t do myself.”
Though there are more women in the heavy equipment industry than there were a few decades ago, female technicians and executives are still relatively few and far between. However, the women who are in the industry have the potential to learn a lot from each other, according to Groves.
“As women in the industry, it’s important to create relationships with each other,” she said. “It can be really helpful to pick each other’s brains and understand each other’s challenges, and try to come up with new ideas.”
With an aging workforce and a skills gap that can make finding qualified technicians difficult, there are more opportunities for women to join the heavy equipment industry than ever before. Still, there’s a lot of work to be done to attract them. Groves says women who are currently in the industry can help by being visible and creating relationships with the public.
To women who might be considering a career in the heavy equipment industry, Groves offers this advice: “Face your challenges without fear and do not be intimidated. Go for it – and never doubt yourself or your abilities.”
When she’s not busy fulfilling her duties as co-owner of Ditch Witch Southwest, Groves is spending time with family, playing tennis and golfing.