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The More Things Change ...

THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2014

By Cynthia O'Malley


I recently had the rare opportunity to sit and have an extended conversation with a longtime acquaintance without rushing through dinner to get to the next commitment.

Just about everyone today is busy, with an overbooked calendar the norm.

This line of thinking led me to question what the "norm" was now for women in industry.

My friend was telling me about a situation at the office, and I experienced déjà vu.

painter
© iStock / kadmy

Does he get introduced as the pretty new addition to the crew?

Hadn’t a colleague recounted a similar happening 20 years ago?

Isn't She Lovely?

My friend's account involved her participation in a business development meeting with a client and the top technical folks of the firm.

Suddenly, the chairman of the board asks the client, “How long would it take to train someone as beautiful as this to learn the technique?”

The implication was that the one woman in the room to whom he was referring was beautiful—and, therefore, the least intelligent and the benchmark to determine the worst-case scenario for training.

Not only did the remark insult and demean one of the company’s brightest technical staffers, but it also cast doubt on the company's decision making and technical expertise as a whole.

For instance, if the chairman of the board was so unaware of his misguided ideas regarding beauty and intelligence with regard to women, what other stereotypes might be affecting his decisions?

ProfessionalWomen
© iStock / AfricaImages

What ingrained stereotypes are affecting other, perhaps more important, company decisions?

In addition, if the company technical staff were held in such low regard by the chairman of their own board, how would they be perceived by the industry as a whole?

Pretty Additions, Ugly Obstacles

Jump back 20 years ago, when a colleague was hired as a technical asset to augment an engineering firm’s chemical division. Her selection was based upon excellent academic credentials and outstanding performance in a chemical production facility.

However, the success of her foray into presenting at technical conferences was hijacked by her company’s technical manager, who insisted on repeatedly introducing her to clients and business associates as the "pretty new addition" to the team.

The comment directly undercut her opportunity to establish credibility with her peers.

She persevered, however, and eventually became one of the most regarded experts in her field—advancing the company’s reputation for technical excellence in the process.

However, she admits that she had to navigate the obstacles created by the executives of her own company to achieve that success.

What Equality Means Now

Fast forward to today where, as co-chair of Women in Coatings, I am contemplating how to achieve the benefits of gender equality in the industry by establishing a balanced perspective of insights from industry experts.

Engineers
© iStock / Georgijevic

Staying connected and on par with advances in industry includes understanding how to communicate with other professionals without offense.

I am keenly aware of the negative impact to my company’s reputation if I were to introduce one of our male engineers or consultants as the new eye-candy addition to the team.

So it’s unacceptable and unprofessional to excuse sexist behavior as innocent ignorance, unawareness, or old-school thinking. Understanding how to act professionally in a business environment is a reasonable expectation—and acting otherwise reinforces a lack of professionalism and general ignorance.

The expectation that we must each stay connected and on par with advances in our industry includes understanding how to communicate with other professionals without offense.

As I originally said, everyone is busy and overbooked calendars. (Indeed, there seems to be no gender bias regarding commitments and workload!)

But mutual respect based upon contributions to the industry without gender bias is seemingly still a goal—and not quite the reality.

ABOUT THE BLOGGER

Cynthia O'Malley

Cindy O’Malley is the manager of consulting and laboratory services at KTA-Tator Inc. and Co-Chair of SSPC’s Women in Coatings Program. During her 19 years with KTA, Cindy has been active in several industry organizations. She is an SSPC Certified Protective Coatings Specialist, a member of ASTM International, and the current president of the Pittsburgh Society for Coatings Technology (PSCT). Her industry honors include SSPC’s 2013 Presidents’ Lecture Series Award. Contact Cindy.

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Tagged categories: Cynthia L. O'Malley; KTA-Tator; Program/Project Management; Protective Coating Specialist (PCS); SSPC; Business matters; North America; Protective coatings

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