In the Beginning, There were Glass Doors

“So, what’s it like to be a woman in the glass industry?”

My actual answer is that I don’t know. I’ve never been anything else.

“What’s it like to be a woman in the glass industry now, compared to years ago?” Well, that one I can answer.

You might know that I started in this industry barely out of my teens and have had the privilege of serving it for 40 years since. In the beginning, whether I was in a room of 50 or 500, I was almost always the only one lacking a Y chromosome. It felt weird for a while, and then it just felt normal. Math was one of my majors in college, so I was used to never seeing another girl around (that’s all changed too). Even today, when I look around, and at least 20% of a room falls in the XX-chromosome category, I feel a sense of advancement.

We now have an issue of USGlass magazine, published by a 30-plus-year-old female-owned business celebrating the women in the industry it covers.

One of my heroes in those days was a lady named Mary Ann Posey. She worked for a company called Amarlite and caused quite a stir at the glass trade association where I worked. Mary Ann was the definition of a gentile Southern woman, but she was also in sales and marketing. It seems Mary Ann took issue with one of the most treasured sessions at the association’s annual convention — the “Old Buddy” breakfast (OBB).

I was so young and naïve it never occurred to me that it was anything more than a bunch of old colleagues getting together to renew friendships. I didn’t realize, until someone told me, that raunchy and bawdy jokes were being told, pictures might be passed around, or that attractive women might be hired to, uh, let’s say, dance at this breakfast. Eggs over easy, I suppose. Once I knew the facts, I knew I didn’t belong there, nor would I want to attend.

But not Mary Ann. Legend has it that she stood outside the door upset with the association managers because she couldn’t go inside. “My customers are in there,” she stated forcefully and loudly. “You are giving my competitors access to them, but not me. It’s not fair; it gives them an unfair advantage,” she seethed in a Steel Magnolias-ish way. I was told she stood outside the door for quite a while, making her feelings known.

That was the last such breakfast held. Mary Ann wrote the Board a thoughtful and respectful letter after the convention, explaining why the OBB was discriminatory and – even more importantly — a rude and tasteless event. The Board voted to stop holding the breakfast and replaced it with one open to all. Way to go, Mary Ann!

Every now and then, though, I run into someone who goes back as far as I do, and when we get to discussing those events of old, someone invariably says, “You know, I really miss that ‘Old Buddy’ Breakfast…”

I probably have another 20 stories like that one, but I will save them for another day. I will leave you with this thought, though: It’s both a testament to and a curse of change that most people working today, women and men alike, would not recognize a world like the one Mary Ann lived in. I often tell younger female employees about a world in which my mother — a New York State Algebra champion — did not go to college because her mother told her, “It would be a waste. You’ll end up getting married anyway.”

My mother persevered and instead became the only woman in a prestigious management trainee program of a large insurance company, where she gained top ratings and great reviews. She worked there until she announced her engagement and then was politely told to quit because she’d be having kids. And that’s exactly what she did. I think it’s good that younger people can’t contemplate the existence of a world like this.

I explained that when I came out of college, there was no glass ceiling; there was a glass door. The sign over my door read “Help Wanted/Female,” sorting people from jobs by gender before you even had a chance to apply.

That was years ago, right? Yes, but sometimes a blast from the past still occurs. During my recent visit to the WinDoor show, a gentleman came up to the USGlass booth. It was his first show in the fenestration industry, and he was anxious to talk about his company’s new product. “It’s an insulating glass product,” he said. “Do you know what insulating glass is?” I didn’t directly respond. He did look a little surprised, though, when I asked him what spacer system they were using and whether or not the units were gas-filled.

Our December “Women’s Issue” was posted online and should be mailed soon. I hope you can look through it, regardless of gender or lack thereof.

It’s good for people to know how far we all have come. We now have an issue of USGlass magazine, published by a 30-plus-year-old female-owned business celebrating the women in the industry it covers. And that celebration is not of women as rarities or anomalies in the glass business … it’s for women as just another part of the industry with all the great talents they bring.