I was a senior semiconductors engineer in a large Fortune 500 company before I became a mom. Just some background on this field, in my particular role, there are very few women, most women don’t last very long, and they remain only in junior roles because of all sorts of reasons. Most engineers of this type have graduate degrees in physics or engineering, mostly PhDs from Ivy League schools. I only have a Masters, which actually helped me in many cases strangely, and I noticed over the years that almost ALL the women engineers are immigrants, mostly from China.
The industry I was in was extremely fast pace and highly competitive, technically challenging and very demanding on the employees. To adhere to Moore’s Law so people can have new gadgets every year aren’t easy at all! I was married for years but couldn’t get pregnant, and then I gave up on the whole idea of motherhood, but I was shrewd enough to make it well known, which really helped me in my job. I was called the career girl with no interest in children, plus indeed such a state emboldened me to make decisions which other women (and men, they need to support their families) could not, speak up when others didn’t dared…managers notice that kind of thing. But of course I knew the realities, I saw it all around. The girls in my team, much more qualified than me actually, weren’t given serious projects which in turn has serious consequences on your career, i.e., you are dispensable as these companies purge their people periodically on principles.
Suddenly I got pregnant at 35. I was very happy of course. Unfortunately it happened as I was in the middle of a high profile project, which required flying every week (Monday to Friday, home on weekends). BTW, that kind of flying is normal in the company, I was already lucky that it was in the US, people fly that way to Asia (ALL men of course). Also, my kind of work exposed me to highly toxic chemicals and some radiation inside cleanrooms. It is supposed to be minimal of course, but no one really buys that. Huge companies like IBM were sued by women for causing reproductive damage, really sad cases, extremely hard to prove. Anyway, this is one reason why other women didn’t get advanced in their career, because some of them refused to work in clean rooms when they are pregnant, which means you are practically useless to the group for months as a result. There is no official policy by the company, it is up to you and the manager to work such things out.
For me, I kept flying to work on the project but I didn’t want to go into the cleanroom. In truth I still went sometimes, I wasn’t happy about it and my husband nagged and nagged, but it isn’t like he was willing to give up my fat paycheck. My manager assigned a more senior male colleague on my project with me, and this is when trouble really started. Now it isn’t like assigning someone else with me was the wrong thing, after all, the work needs to get done, and done fast! But, problem is, my position was significantly weaken. I don’t think my manager was happy he had to do that. The result was that I was accountable for the outcome, but decisions making was taken from me. Before my pregnancy, I thought my relationship with my manger was quite good, but after I got pregnant, things started to deteriorate.
I was still flying though, up to when I was 20 weeks pregnant. I had no definite plans, but I knew that likely I was going to fly till I was close to giving birth. The project’s demands were really high, and supposedly tens of millions of dollars was at stake. It was a lot of pressure. Then, more disaster strikes, we discovered that there was something wrong with the baby, and I had to go to the doctor every week, which put an end to flying. It was highly emotional for us of course, not knowing if the baby lived or die every week like that. I put an end to flying and I said no more cleanrooms. So my male coworker was flying for me and I was benched. But I don’t think my manager was happy with the arrangement, he understands of course, but like I said this is a highly competitive field.
My male coworker was making some seriously bad decisions, but I felt like I had no voice anymore. Unfortunately I was still accountable for the outcome even though by this point I have very little say. The manager just expected that I work it out with my colleague, but that’s impossible given the situation. I can’t even extract exact information over what is going on, and I have no control over what the other guy does and says, and I am made aware that, “Hey, everyone around you is doing you a favor.” I tried to talk to the manager to use his influence, but he said, well your coworker is there on the ground, and he is highly experienced, we have to respect his position. So the project was seriously failing, a lot of money and our reputation were both at stake. I couldn’t do much. I watched in dismay as the data came back worse and worse. Even though we made agreements that I shouldn’t go into the cleanrooms, I unceremoniously went back.
Due to other unrelated company decisions, my male colleague was taken off the project and I was in charge again, but by this time, it was damage control, and I did the best I can, a lot of good results came out of it, but it was too little too late. But things was very ugly at this point between me and my manager. He was really busy with many other projects, and he felt that I had failed in controlling my own project, details on how that happened did not matter. Plus my male colleague is the type to back stab, I know he said a lot of things about me behind my back during this whole process, and being pregnant, unable to fly and go into the clean room was a serious weak point. For two days in a row, my manager yelled at me in our daily team meetings over our project results, and I could tell such scenes was going to continue. I finally wrote a letter to put an end to it, I never went to HR, but in a sense I was threatening to, I guess in this way, my pregnancy gave me some power. I never did anything like that before, it was really unpleasant.
Well, after that I was really benched, I was given very little to do, which by that point I was glad for, and Iucky I managed a transfer right before I gave birth. And most importantly, my baby was born healthy. I went back to work after maternity leave, I always intended to go back to work, but I saw how hard it was to breastfeed between meetings. This line of work was impossible to mothers I felt, the pressure was so high, the hours so long, and my baby needed surgery at 8 months old, I decided to quit and left the field altogether and moved from silicon valley.
My baby is two and a half now, it took me a long time to get back into the working world, I am doing contract work (That’s the only thing I can find where we are) and I basically have to start over in another field. Sometimes I miss all the cool technical work I use to do, but that would mean I will miss a lot in my baby’s life, and to me it just isn’t worth it. I think back and wonder if I could have handled things better, or positioned myself better somehow…well it is done now, and I can’t say I regret leaving.