Journal Entry, April 21, 1967: Interview Day on Campus
Why did I add my name to so many sign-up sheets? Hedging my bets, I suppose. That little insistent voice in the back of my head is still gnawing at my insecurities. Maybe I’m not good enough or smart enough. Maybe I am still listening to the naysayers; the skeptics, the rude classmates in ‘Thermo’ – boisterous boys who kept reminding me that I was taking the place of ‘guy’, who “…really wants to be an engineer!”
Somehow, I made it through an exasperating and challenging freshman year, with a GPA that took me dangerously close to probation. I hope the recruiters see the total picture; the upward trend (after that shell-shocked semester), driving up to a glorious 3.84! Clearly I’ve acclimated to the rigors of the curriculum, especially in my selected field of specialization, Chemical Engineering; and in spite of the never-ending harassment.
Maybe today, in one of these interviews, I will be taken at face value, without the stereotypical slurs. Maybe today, one of these companies will see that I can be an asset to their team.
Interview #1, Rm.424: Multinational Chemical Company.
I inhale deeply, stand up straight, shoulders back (Yes, Mom. I listen to your advice), knock and walk in, confidently.
“Good morning. Come in, Joanne – take a seat. Let me spare us both and cut to the chase: I see from your application that you are Roman Catholic, and that you are soon to be married. Tell me…
(My heart is thumping loudly.)
…what are your plans about birth control?”
(Birth control? Did he really just ask me that? How do I answer? My voice is speaking, some blather about future decisions; but I can’t hear it. Ringing in my brain are the words from last night’s pre-Cana lecture; ‘procreation’, ‘vocation’, ’rhythm method’).
“You haven’t exactly answered my question, Joanne…what assurance can you give us that if we hire you, you won’t get pregnant three months later and leave?
(Pregnant? I feel my face redden with embarrassment.)
We must protect our investments and take only prudent risks with our applicants.”
(Oh my God, that’s so personal, such a delicate a subject. Even my parents don’t ask me questions like this. Is he still asking?)
“What assurances can you offer?”
“I can’t offer assurances, Mr. Gower. I can only offer a capable and committed engineer, who would be a valuable addition to your team.”
(I don’t like this judgmental man, sitting there in his pinstriped suit, determining my future. I want to crawl into a hole and hide.)
“I’m sorry, but I don’t think you are a good ‘fit’ for our organization. I wish you success in your future endeavors.”
“Thank you, Mr. Gower”. It was a pleasure to meet you.
I extend my hand; he doesn’t seem to know what to do with it. Managing a smile, I exit the room, catching a wisp of convivial conversation from the interview room across the hall:
“No worries, Frank; your grades aren’t great, but you’re a young man who would be perfect for our team. You can expect an offer letter within the next few weeks.”
This anecdote is a true barometer of the changing scene in 1967, when my fellow classmates and I were trying to land good jobs, after four torturous years as undergraduate engineering majors.
That day, I fought back the embarrassment and found the self-composure to continue the interviews with several other companies, ultimately securing a position with a forward-thinking consumer products manufacturer, who was open-minded enough to take a chance on a ‘female’.
It’s sad and surprising that I didn’t even know enough to be outraged. I was frustrated and embarrassed but not outraged and angry. Looking back, however, I am outraged – not at poor, deluded Mr. Gower, but at a system that failed to recognize untapped potential. I didn’t think of myself as different – as a ‘woman engineer’, but rather as a competent engineer. In reality, I never got a boost up because of my gender, being ahead of the EEO curve, but I never felt I needed it.
And yet my journals are filled with examples such as this. I may share a few in future installments of this series.
I’m grateful that my daughter doesn’t have to live in that world, but I’m also grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to be all that I could be. Each hurdle overcome and each barb withstood has made me who I am today. I wouldn’t change a thing.