Sunday, January 18, 2004

This weeks Blogger Idol theme is 'The 80s'.

Forget the Whales, Save the Working Woman coffee mug

Forget the Whales. Save the Working Woman!
The Eighties is the decade I entered the world of corporate America as a female computer programmer. It was a great decade for women to get established in the workforce, especially in the technical fields. Little or no experience was needed.

My Resume Lacked a Job Experience Section
I have a college degree in Biomedical Science with a minor in Chemistry. In the early Eighties, companies were desperate for people who could learn programming. I scored very high on a programming aptitude test and I had a vague idea what a computer was, so I got hired to be a COBOL programmer. My hiring manager gave me his "Computer 101" book to read over the weekend and told me to come to the office on Monday to start learning COBOL. It was the start of a very satisfying career.

One Point was Better than None
In the Eighties companies were hiring women over men in order to make their Equal Opportunity quotas. A white woman employee was worth one point. A minority woman employee was worth two points. I was only a one point woman. Both places I worked in the Eighties asked if I had any Black female programming friends who might be looking for a job.

The Record
Twenty-eight is my career record for greatest number of men in a business meeting where I was the only woman. There was also one token Black man at that meeting. We huddled together and started a friendship that lasted two decades.

Dress for Success - or Else!
In the Eighties technical professional women wore suits: skirt, jacket, blouse with panty hose and high heels, earrings, and gold chains. Appearance was very important. Managers were evaluated on the appearance of their technical employees.

When I got a problem call in the middle of the night I was out of bed, dressed, and off to the office - in jeans. After all, it was the middle of the night. One time after working all night on a very challenging problem, I was still at work in my jeans when the office opened at 7 am. I was reprimanded. My manager told me that from now on when I was called in the middle of the night, I was to dress "properly" before coming in. He was so upset he forgot to say thank you for fixing the problem.

Working for Pin Money?
In the Eighties my new manager was meeting individually with his people to get to know us better. He was very old school, but I could see that he was trying hard to accept a woman on his team. During our meeting he was nervous and he blurted out, "It's OK that you're working. My wife works part time for pin money."

I was afraid this meant I would never get a promotion or a raise from this man. The opposite was true. He went out of his way to make sure he treated me fairly just because he was afraid that he wouldn't. I ended up being very fond of him.

What Does that Cabinet Do?
By the middle of the Eighties, the computer punchcards were gone and we all had our own terminal in our office. One day a six foot tall maple cabinet, locked and on wheels, appeared in our area. Our manager informed us that the cabinet contained a personal computer made by IBM. We were told to rotate it around our workgroup and get familiar with it because it was the wave of the future.

We rotated it. Noone knew what to do with it, but we obediently took turns having the cabinet in our office. I never did see anyone actually use that PC for anything. I wonder now if there was any software on it other than DOS.

Time Passes, Things Change
What fun looking back on the beginning decade of my technical career. Technology has come a long way since the Eighties. Women in the workforce have come a long way since the Eighties. It's been a pleasure watching both.