Currently Browsing: Women in Tech

Booth Babe Bother

Bright Star Mosaic by Bonnie McBrideI had my first panic attack in the fall of 1977. I had just eagerly opened my booth package from the Consumer Electronics Show. It was my first CES, as well as my first time exhibiting. I ripped open the package, and in addition to the forms was a substantial little booklet – with head shots of girls my age! WTF? What could this be?

As I read the booklet and it dawned on me that you order booth babes from a catalog, panic rose with the thought – how are they going to know I’m real and not a booth babe? The babes were all just nice looking girls and could have been my friends. There’s no difference!

Breathing into a paperbag worked that time, but it just doesn’t stop. (more…)

Don’t Let It Bring You Down

Girls Coming to Tech by Amy BixThere is a lot of talk lately about why women aren’t becoming engineers and scientists at a greater rate; the numbers are not appreciably different than in the 1970’s. Several studies show that both men and women have a perception of women being slightly less able in technical fields. Perception is not reality.

My awesome dock neighbor was describing one of the joys of his job as a Service Department manager at a major airline.  His joy is found in the outreach to community colleges and he was proud to have a couple of women under his tutelage. He described an encouragement session with one of his female mechanics, who was suffering a crisis of confidence. His gentle assurances to her made me wish everyone could have a person to explain the ups and downs of a career, and to show actual interest in the person succeeding.

In tech school guys (peers) would take the screwdriver out of my hand, literally. They were nice guys, and I believed then and believe now they were honestly just being sweet, but it got tiresome after a while.

Professors were not so sweet.

The first tech school I approached for electronics training in 1974 specifically said “We do not register young girls.”  I move along.

In the next school, one guy taught remedial drafting, which I had to take because girls were not allowed to take drafting in high school.  He would call me to the front of the room often and when I got there would say “Oh, nothing,” and then catcall me all the way back to my seat.  Very, very embarrassing. Later the guy went hunting with his kid and was shot (he lived.)  I always felt bad for not feeling worse about it.

At the university that came next, one professor had to be ordered by the Dean to stop calling the tab on a transistor package a “tit”. There were two girls in a class of two hundred guys.  We sat together, and everyone looked at us every time he said it.  It was embarrassing.

This particular type of rudeness was in technical classes, not humanities. The higher the ratio of men to women the less hospitable it would be.

Sexist events also happen out of school, during a career, of course.  My favorite is probably when Vic Richardson, Monty Ross, and I visited Toshiba Japan while licensing Carver Sonic Holography to them for their TVs. We were taken to one of Toshiba’s automated television assembly plants, and before entry Vic and Monty were both given cloth baseball – type symbolic “safety hats.” “Not for you,” I was told. I call the caps symbolic because as soon as we got in the plant we noticed multiple layers of conveyor belts overhead with full-size TVs burning in above us, which no cloth cap could effect in any way.

The things that happen can be understandable or infuriating, may call for action, even, but the embarrassment engendered in those schools felt creepy.  Made me feel like they actively didn’t want me to succeed. I haven’t felt that hateful edge since I’ve been out of school. In Japan, Vic and Monty and I laughed at the absurdity – but we all laughed together. I wasn’t being laughed at.


These memories were evoked while reading an article by Amy Blix on the history of engineering education for women.   Amy’s new book is  Girls Coming to Tech.