Boeing SC vice president recalls humble beginnings, challenges

Updated: Jan. 26, 2017 at 3:42 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Women in science and engineering were once hidden figures.

You may have seen the movie highlighting their struggles.

But times are changing, as these brainy workers are now often front and center.

One example is the Vice President and General Manager of Boeing South Carolina, Joan Robinson-Berry.

A success story, Robinson-Berry said she came from very humble beginnings.

"Sometimes folks complain about it," she said, but continued, "I consider it a joy because it really put a fire in my belly."

Now she uses that energy to promote manufacturing, inventions and problem solving.

Robinson-Berry was part of a big family, and when she came along, her father was hoping for a boy, she said.

So she was introduced to things that, at the time, were not so girly.

They included Legos and sports and fixing things, and she said she was driving by the time she was in the sixth grade.

Working her way through college, she fell in love with engineering.

Her first job was at General Dynamics as a Numerically Controlled programmer.

"My male counterparts that got interns went straight to the design table, but they sent me to the manufacturing side of the business," she said.

At the time, she said the buildings at her college and her first job didn't have women's restrooms.

She had to go to another building to use the facilities.

"There were days you were in the middle of a test and you say, 'Oh, am I gonna make it?' so when I had a chance to see 'Hidden Figures,' I said I can surely relate to a lot of the scenes in that move."

Robinson-Berry admits she felt some isolation because as a woman, she was different in the engineering realm.

But she has plenty of company now.

Robinson-Berry wants to open doors, so you may see her out talking about science and technology, encouraging kids to practice the same way they practice sports.

"We should start an explosion of clubs centered around STEM development and growth just like we do for the athletic community," she said.

She believes that's an investment in a great future, no matter who you are, or where you come from.

While Robinson-Berry said she didn't experience the racial discrimination as did the women in Hidden Figures, she did feel the gender bias, but is happy to see that  today,  young girls are encouraged to embrace science and technology.

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