(By Maria Cramer)
In August 1968, Lynn Conway, a promising computer engineer at IBM in Sunnyvale, California, was called into the office of Gene Myron Amdahl, then the company’s director of advanced computing systems. Amdahl had been supportive when he learned that she was “undertaking a gender transition”, Conway wrote in an account, but the company’s CEO, Thomas Watson Jr, was less tolerant.
That summer day, Amdahl had grim news. “I was fired,” Conway wrote. Fifty-two years later, Conway was called back to speak with IBM supervisors. This time, the setting was a virtual meeting witnessed by other company employees.
They watched last month as Diane Gherson, IBM’s senior vice-president of human resources, told Conway that while the company now offered help and support to “transitioning employees”, no amount of progress could make up for the treatment she had received decades ago.
Conway, 82, was then given a lifetime achievement award for her “pioneering work” in computers, a company spokesperson said. “It was so unexpected,” Conway said in an interview, adding that she recalled blinking back tears. “It was stunning.”
The apology was made four months after the Supreme Court ruled that a person could not be fired for being gay or transgender. Conway was hired at IBM in 1964. She was on the verge of a breakthrough – working on the architecture team of a project centered on creating a computer that would work at top speed – when she began undergoing medical treatments. In early 1968, she told a supervisor that she was undertaking a gender transition.
Her direct supervisors wanted her to stay at the company and came up with a plan: She would take a leave from IBM, complete her transition and return as a new employee with a new identity, Conway said. But company executives were alarmed, she said. Conway said she later learned that IBM executives feared “scandalous publicity” if her story got out.
After she was fired, Conway underwent gender confirmation surgery and began rebuilding her career. She worked at Memorex in 1971, and in 1973, she was recruited by Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, where she developed computer chip design methods that would eventually be used by tech firms worldwide. In 1985, she became a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.
Source From : Times Of India