Gaby O'Connor

As Interviewed by Jack Lewis, March 2017

Gaby O'Connor: In Her Own Words

I think it started the first day of school. I heard some guys saying that they were not happy with girls being there, and we had to make groups for a project. They were very, very mean. They didn't want to team up with girls, so I guess that's how it started.

In the beginning when I started studying engineering, we were six girls, so we tried to encourage each other. My first boss was actually really good. He picked me because I was a girl and he wanted a woman for that one position, and he was always encouraging me to not feel bad about how people treated me.

I think by the 3rd or 4th semester I was the only girl. We were 100 men and 6 girls. We graduated 11 guys and me.

It was a pretty tough school. I'm sure it's not like that everywhere. The classes were hard. I mean, after so many years of being treated like that, you start to believe it, you know, like maybe because I'm a girl I can't do this job.

Let's say like eighty percent of men thought that I shouldn't be there. Of course there were there are some people that actually helped me, you know, because they really believed that it was the same to be a woman or a man, but there were a couple of guys that were really nice to me and that really believed that I could do the job.

You have to prove to them that you can do it, and it's really tiring.

It was worse in Mexico... but when I came here... it wasn't the same for sure. They are nicer here, but let's say like fifty percent were nice and fifty percent were not very nice, but at least it was less people who were not nice.

I just tried to do my best and try to prove that I can do the same as them and finish as quickly as possible I guess, but then when I got my first job and it was like a supervising job and I have to supervise only men the only way I could deal with it was proving to them that I was a good boss. You know like that I was able to fix the machines the same as they were, and it took me a while. It took me like a good six seven months to make them respect me, and then in my third job I think I was already a little tired of that.

In college when it wasn't only my classmates that were treating me bad but also the teachers you know it's like one thing - when they're young and they're not very smart or whatever -- but the teachers who are treating me like that, too... so it was very sad. I mean not all of the teachers were like that, but most of them were. Even the women. I had two teachers that were women and even them were not very nice to me. It's insane. People think women will try to encourage you, but they didn't.

I just tried to ignore it, I mean it's hard, you try, but it wears you out. When I got my first job at Novartis -- it's like a pharmaceutical -- I mean, it was my first job and I didn't really know what I was doing... That first week, they sabotaged the machine, just to see if I could find a way to fix it. Now I think of it as funny because they’ve been working on those machines for years and years and they knew them very very well, so they knew how to sabotage them you know, to see if I could find the mistake -- and I did. I mean, you know, it wasn't easy -- something like I found it like five minutes, but I worked hard to prove that I can think the same as them.

I think the only thing is like I would use my experience to encourage women to join engineering instead of trying to discourage them to do it -- just because maybe I wasn't brave enough for that long, but I was for a while you know, like I stood up for us so I think you know I think that's it, like I feel good that I changed my career, but I wouldn't encourage anybody to do it, you know? I will tell women to be brave and keep going, if that’s what they really want.