While women still are clearly outnumbered by men in the rubber industry, it's nowhere near the degree it was four decades ago. And nobody can testify to that better than Bonnie Stuck, a 40-year veteran of the business who now is president of Akron Rubber Development Laboratory Inc.
When she attended undergraduate school at Capital University outside Columbus, Ohio, in the 1970s, she had a professor who didn't believe women should be in mathematics. After taking a couple semesters of calculus off him, Stuck said she didn't want to put up with him anymore, so she took her math courses during summer sessions at the University of Akron.
During one of the summers she was the only female in class, and the other two years, she was one of two. When she talked to her father about the situation—he was influential in her going into a scientific field—she told him she wasn't sure it would work out. Her father advised her to forge ahead, and also told her to look at the bright side: she'd have more chances to get dates.
There also were difficult situations early in her career that Stuck had to deal with as best she could. While working at B.F. Goodrich, her first job after college, she was in the textile and steel cord unit. They met with some of the Japanese companies, and during meetings, the Japanese wouldn't speak to any women attending. "You can say it's sexist," Stuck said. "But it was their culture. That's the way it existed. And if you wanted to survive in that world—I won't say I compromised my morals, because I never did—buy I'm saying you couldn't complain a lot or you wouldn't have a job."
There were, however, a number of good male mentors throughout the rubber industry, she said. "I think about some of these guys who taught me so many things because they thought it was important that you learned," she said. "I wouldn't be in the industry if that wasn't the case."
She also relates an anecdote where she realized she had made her mark as a scientist. She was working in a BFG plant on a big project. The plant chemist was about 6 feet, 8 inches tall. One time, he told her they had to get out to the mixer immediately because it was about to start mixing a compound they'd been working on. She was fast but had to run to keep up with him.
Along the way, he said he knew a shortcut and took her right through the men's locker room at shift change, and she followed right along. "We got to the other side and he looked at me and said, 'Doggone it, I forgot you were a woman.' Then I knew I was truly looked on as a chemist rather than a woman."
Meyer is editor of Rubber & Plastics News. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @bmeyerRPN.