Bob was an engineer at the first company I worked for. He had cerebral palsy. If you ever made cruel jokes as a kid trying to imitate such a person, well that’s what Bob was like. He walked with a shuffle, his hands were contorted and not that well controlled, he drooled a bit, and his speech was stuttering and slurred. But, as I’ve been told is common, he was smart.
When you first encountered Bob, if you had never worked with such a person before, it was uncomfortable. For about five minutes. Very quickly you learned to understand his speech, grasp the content, realize you’re dealing with an engineer about engineering things, and his whole physical handicap disappeared. I mean it was there, but no longer commanded attention.
Nobody had a problem with Bob, he was just one of the engineers.
One day our group hired Kathy. She was a programmer with a master’s degree in mathematics, and an instrument pilot. A bright, talented woman. She was also fashion model beautiful.
The men at the company simply couldn’t deal with her. Unlike with Bob, many of the typical male engineers never got comfortable talking with Kathy. They couldn’t get over being in the presence of her beauty. Guys would detour past our offices on the way to coffee, just to get a look.
There was a phone network set up and when Kathy showed up to work in her sports car, word quickly spread and many ran over to the side of the building with windows to watch her get out of her car.
It wasn’t just that she was a woman. There were other women at the lab and they got along OK, but they were, well, ordinary looking people. Kathy’s physical beauty was more of a handicap than Bob’s cerebral palsy.