I never thought being a woman was a deterrent to becoming what I wanted to be. I didn’t worry if it would be more difficult because I was a woman even though I was working in a very male profession — which computer development was back in the 1980s. I probably should have, but that’s not how my mind works. That being said, there were two occasions when it was impossible not to notice that my girl-ness made me different.
The first time I noticed was when I was working at Doubleday. I’d been working there for more than a year. I had a friend who needed a job. He’d never done any professional writing and didn’t have a degree, but he was well-read and talented. I was sure he could do the job, so I recommended him.
He got the job. His first salary was almost $5000 a year higher than mine, even though he had no experience or a degree. That was the first time I realized my sex might have something to do with salaries. I shrugged it off. Shortly thereafter, I left Doubleday and the U.S. and moved to Jerusalem, Israel.
In the mid 1980s I worked as part of the group at the Weizmann Institution developing DB1, the first relational database. I was in charge (among other things) of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. IBM bought it and from this, DB2 and every other relational database ultimately emerged.
The head of our development group was the money guy. He knew less about computers than me, but since his money paid our salaries, rent, and kept the lights on, he had a lot of clout.
Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or my personality. He just didn’t like women at work. I was undeniably female.
At the pre-IBM presentation meeting, he looked at my materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered. Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.
“That’s my work, ” I said. “I wrote it.”
“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”
He was not done yet. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. It was one of those things I didn’t need in my life. Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. Me.
“Oh,” said Micah.
I didn’t say anything. The deadpan faces around the table were examples of people trying not to laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.
That was the second time I noticed how not having a penis was an impediment to getting paid. I might have guessed by looking around the room and realizing I was the only woman, but I didn’t think about it.
So, how much did being a woman impede my progress? I think I was more impeded by my own choices. I preferred having a home and friends to spending all my time at work, though that could not account for the huge pay difference. I was never going to become a manager because I liked writing. I tried managing a group of writers. I was good at it. I also hated it. I wanted to write, not tell other people how to write. I also firmly believed in not working overtime unless there was a genuine reason to put in extra hours. I was fast and rarely needed more than a standard day. Often, I had spare hours in an 8 hour day. Culturally though, working overtime was a “thing.” It proved your dedication or some such nonsense.
I spent a lot of time trying not to let anyone know how fast I could work. Smart bosses eventually realized I could write a 500 page book faster than most people could write a brochure. At my best, I was really good.
I couldn’t do it now to save my life, but age takes a toll — especially on speed and memory. Back then, I could remember everything. I could take a book apart, save the pieces in files and reconstruct a better book by remembering where I needed to put each section. Now I can’t remember why I’m standing in front of the refrigerator.
So did being a woman prevent me from getting a better position? Probably not because I didn’t want that position. Did it prevent me from being paid what I was worth? Absolutely. Men — no matter how pathetic their work — were always paid more than I was. A penis is for more than sex. It apparently also guarantees a better salary.
The worst part of this is in 2022, all of this is continues to be true. Women still don’t earn equal salaries to men doing the same or lesser work.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose – Merriam-Webster