The Gravy Train for Women in STEM

Some time ago, I had a business lunch with a co-worker and a consultant. The consultant, who I will call Steve because that is his name, suddenly announced that he was trying to re-tool his business to include his wife as the owner in the company, so that he could enhance his ability to get work from companies who looked at the make-up of contractors regarding ‘minority-owned’ businesses. The fact that his wife did not have any experience or skills related to his core business (engineering consulting) didn’t matter – he just needed her name on the list of officers. He went on to mention how women graduating with engineering degrees always got offered jobs in order for employers to meet quotas, and then went on to talk about how he didn’t consider gays to need protection as a class because “they are all rich anyway.”

Prove them wrong. Prove them all wrong.

I got pretty quiet while he dug his grave. I finally said “I wish I had known about all this gravy train when I got out of school thirty years ago. I thought I had to bust my butt and be one of the best candidates to get and keep a good job.” As far as gays…well, my son and his spouse aren’t wealthy. I bet Steve was never subjected to screams and curses by fundies, or had to be concerned about being beat up by mouth-breathing rednecks.

Later, my co-worker remarked that he could tell I was angry, because I went “deadly silent” instead of being my usual delightfully chatty self. I was. I came up with a response days afterwards, and wrote down my thoughts.

100 years ago, Ida May Hughes couldn’t vote. She couldn’t vote until she was married and had children. My great-grandmother.

80 years ago, Helen Williamson was valedictorian of her small high school class, but women couldn’t get the kind of jobs necessary to work her way through college, and the widely available jobs for female college graduates was being a school teacher. My grandmother.

50 years ago, Helen still couldn’t wear pants to work, even though her job as a seamstress required her to do a lot of kneeling.

50 years ago, Dianne Warden was forced to take maternity leave, as soon as she started showing, even though she had a clerical job in an office. My aunt.

And 50 years ago, living in Montana, I had to wear dresses to school, even when the windchill was -20 F.

Just over 40 years ago, banks would not count a wife’s income in the mortgage application process, unless (maybe) she was a teacher or a nurse. My mom.

And 40 years ago, I was finally permitted to wear pants to public school! Nice looking pant suits, not chinos and a golf shirt.

About 40 years ago, I was accused of taking up space in class because I was going to ‘take away’ a job from a man who needed it to support a family. And I’d probably get pregnant and quit anyway.

At the same time, recruiters on campus would sometimes ask me if my HUSBAND was okay with me having a job that required travel, working out in the field, or working around mostly men.

And at the same time, my first employer would secretly give female candidates pregnancy tests when they did pre-employment drug testing. And when I did become pregnant, I was not given any long-term projects because they assumed I would not come back after I gave birth. (Which I did, four weeks later, just to prove a point.)

A year ago, I was interviewed by HR regarding comments that one of my subordinates was making regarding the ability of women to be in responsible positions. He didn’t dare make it to my face, of course, but I of course heard about it. I later heard that he turned down female applicants for some positions because, you know, women can’t understand complicated equipment and miss work all the time.

Steve-O, you want to tell me about that frictionless path that women in STEM have going?


Categories: feminist, Science, STEM, Travel, Women, Work and Jobs

Tags: , , , ,

2 replies

  1. Nicely put. I was lucky and never felt the sting of gender prejudice, or simply chose to ignore it and move on and up.

  2. Well done Naomi. I am proud to be your friend!

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