A few months before I graduated from college I starting looking for a job, because I am a responsibility champion. Also, I had mountain of student loans, kids sucking at my bank account, and a ten year old car that was officially classified as a beater.
Before I sent out any resumes I had a long discussion with myself. Where did I want to work? What type of work? Close to public transportation? Close to home? Would I relocate? What were my salary requirements? What were my time/flexibility requirements?
I knew I didn’t want a long commute, and I knew I didn’t have the flexibility or temperament for a startup. I knew I wanted a broad programming experience with potential to move around and work on many types of projects.
Then the US Air Force came knocking, they had an installation very close to me with numerous civilian positions, potentially flexible schedules, tons of job security, and a “Zero Tolerance” policy regarding harassment.
I had some pretty shitty experiences in college. In four years I had only two computer science classes where I wasn’t the only female. I’d seen some pretty ugly behavior by students and instructors.
How many in my graduating cohort had to weigh a company’s sexual harassment policy as a job factor? How many of them heard about a company’s “culture” as a couched way of saying “no way can we have a woman, too many problems.”
But, I reasoned, the government would be different.
They were always advertising their need for women STEM graduates and they had boss airplanes and patriotic ads. Come serve your country doing really cool stuff with airplanes!
I thought the Air Force had a decent track record of enforcing harassment laws. That was my first mistake, I stupidly imagined title IV meant something. Everything that followed hinged on that bad assumption.
Recruiters came to my campus and they were happy to meet me, they loved my resume and GPA. They loved that I was woman in STEM that had spent tons of hours encouraging other women in STEM. I had racked up dozens of hours volunteering at local elementary and middle schools showing young girls programmers could be female, electronics more than just a boys thing. Christ, I was a naieve 35 year old.
They made me feel like a goddamned good american, hope and change!
The first inkling I had that maybe this wasn’t such a swell idea occurred at the interviews.
At that time the recruiters took your resume back to the managers and they chose who they wanted to interview. All the interviews would be scheduled for one day since potential visitors to the base had to pre-screened by security. The interviews were back to back, since you had to be escorted the entire time there weren’t any breaks or prep time.
None of the other interviewees were women and most them were much younger.
The first interview was with a guy with a passing resemblance to a young Montgomery Burns. He kept telling me had never had any girls in his programming classes in college. He kept talking about girls, girls, girls in STEM, never women, girls. And of course he had plenty of vague theories and generally backwards ideas why there were no girls in STEM.
The second interview consisted of three middle aged white men (I mentally referred to them as Larry, Moe, and Curly) and the dreaded white board challenge. It’s a pretty standard technique for programming interviews, you stand in front of a whiteboard and write code or the logic process for some problem.
One of them asked me to write code for a looping algorithm with a couple of variables and incrementing, nothing too intense but with some potential pitfalls. I had not written one complete line before Larry began shouting at me and Curly how I should do it. Then the two of them began to argue, this wasn’t a trick to see how well you deal with pressure. There was a significant backstory and some real animosity. I tried to focus on the whiteboard and successfully wrote out the problem. Seeing that I was done Larry sneered at me to erase it, then shouted at me what to write (it was exactly the same.) While Moe doodled on his copy of my resume.
Patronizing ++, do until angry = true.
The final interview went well, but when the manager gave me a tour of the workspace I didn’t seen any other women (turns out they were hiding.) The manager than said the Air Force was really family friendly, did I have kids? A husband?
There were plenty of clues this wasn’t a good place for women and I ignored them all. And if I had spent more than 10 minutes Googling Air Force sexual harassment and assault statistics I’d of ran away as fast as possible. Civilian women have it bad, enlisted women have it far worse.
They offered me a decent salary, a signing bonus, guaranteed yearly pay increases, and airplanes! I can’t stress how much of a sell the airplanes were.
I weighed the offers I had and I genuinely thought the Air Force was a good. And it might have been if I wasn’t an older woman trying to join their programming boys club.
Now I wish I’d thrown the marker at Larry’s head and handed young Burns a mirror.
As far as my kids/spouse, as long as you aren’t one of them it’s none of your damn business