Montco panel discusses women in the workplace

Posted: March 21, 2013

At a panel discussion Wednesday, several of Montgomery County's high-achieving women stressed the need to support one another and to build confidence to compete in the workplace.

More than 100 people attended the event, hosted by the Montgomery County Commission on Women & Families, to hear local scientists and engineers discuss their experiences in a male-dominated field.

There were, of course, the familiar anecdotes about being called "sweetie," or being treated as a secretary instead of a manager.

Nicole LeVine, who runs the command center at PECO, recalled some gender-related hurdles unique to field work.

After Hurricane Katrina, she was managing a response crew. "They had a tent city set up - 1,500 cots, for all men. So they set up the back of the tractor-trailer and I slept in there."

The men had a bathroom facility to use. LeVine walked down the road to a school, "with my little shower caddy, through all of the line-men, to do what I needed to do."

The panelists rejected the old idea that women should act like men in order to get ahead.

"We have to be ourselves. And women definitely bring a different perspective to everything we do," said county Commissioner Leslie Richards.

Laura Baehr, who is just beginning her career as a neuroscientist, said her work often involves dissecting mice. "It can be very gruesome and difficult, and I struggle with that every day," she said, in a way that some of her male colleagues don't.

Baehr said the emotional reaction is a good thing "because the ethics of animal research is very important to our field."

Richards said that when she started as county commissioner, she was surprised how few women came forward to serve on boards and commissions.

"A lot of times I had to reach out and ask women," said Richards, who also has an engineering background. "Women need to have more confidence in their abilities and not question whether they're qualified."

Keir Bradford-Grey said she struggled with that confidence question last year, when she was interviewing to be the county's public defender.

"It's really great to hear you say that you feel the same way," she told the panelists. "I think as women, sometimes our own self-doubt gets in the way."

Contact Jessica Parks at 610-313-8117,, or follow on Twitter @JS-Parks.

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