Historically, quality was a male-dominated discipline. “A woman in man’s country” reads a photo description of a man and woman talking on a production floor from a 1968 issue of Quality Progress. Although things are changing, quality still has ground to make up as more women enter the STEM field and work to shatter glass ceilings and biases. (See the sidebar at right for more on how women engaged with ASQ in its earlier days.)
As we celebrate International Women’s Day, which falls within Women’s History Month in March, let’s focus on a bright spot in ASQ’s history—and that’s Mae-Goodwin Tarver. Born in 1916 in Alabama, she built an impressive career as a statistician, educator, and active member of ASQ’s Chicago Section at a time when very few women entered the quality industry, and she played a significant role in ASQ and advocated for more women to join the Society.
In 1968, Tarver appeared on the cover of Quality Progress, which ran a retrospective of her life and work. You can read the entire article on ASQ’s history site (attached to this story). Here are some highlights:
- Chemistry, not dolls: Her interest in quality started early: “When I was 12 years old, I got a hold of some of my grandfather’s chemistry books—he was a pharmacist—and started mixing chemicals. I thought that was much more fun than playing with dolls.”
- Education: She studied at the University of Alabama, earning advanced degrees in chemistry, metallurgy and ceramics.
- Early career: Tarver’s first job out of college was a research engineer in the customer research department at Continental Can Company, a producer of metal containers and packaging.
- Joining ASQ: She joined ASQC, as ASQ was known then, in 1948, and was active in the Chicago section.
- Education leader: Along with the Chicago’s Section’s other female member, Marjorie Sutherland, Tarver formed the Institute of Quality Control Training, an education program “considered by many as unmatched elsewhere.”
- ASQ leadership: Tarver chaired the Food and Allied Industries Division in 1961-62 and was instrumental in the division’s success. In 1961, she was also elected a Fellow of the Society.
- Women and quality: Tarver noted discrepancies in how women were treated in quality—for example, women had to be “far more aggressive and know far more than a man in the equivalent situation.”
- Championed membership and networking: Tarver thought that joining ASQC was a must for women interested in a career in quality.
Women at ASQ
A few awkward historical examples of how women were marginalized in quality came from the QP archives (see attached). A 1970 issue featured a model dressed as “Miss Quality Control” who “added a touch of lightness” to a quality conference held by the Philadelphia Section. And in 1971, a section meeting focused on spring fashions to attract “the ladies.”
Despite biases and underrepresentation, women did make strides in the Society throughout the years. As early as 1975, a woman, Darlene Schmidt, served as QP editor-in chief. ASQ’s first female board chair was Deb Hopen in 1995-1996, and four more female chairs served since then—Liz Keim, Cecilia Kimberlin, Pat LaLonde, and Janet Raddatz.
In 2019, QP dedicated an issue to female quality leaders. In 2021, ASQ launched our International Women’s Day Celebration and celebrated the all-female leadership of ASQ’s Technical Community Council, Geographical Community Council, Board of Directors and ASQE’s Board of Directors, as well as in the C-suite, as Ann Jordan was appointed CEO.