It has not been easy to be a woman-owned business in the electronics industry. Most people assume that my company was handed down to me by my father. That’s far from the case. My desire to start CAMtek from scratch came about after a series of events that left me bewildered and frustrated. I realized people thought that because of my gender, I didn’t have a voice. Hitting a glass ceiling more than once led to my frustration. It was easy for me to step into the highest accounting position within a company, but to get past that was taboo.
In 2000, I started CAMtek Inc., an electronics manufacturing services provider of printed circuit board assembly and other electro-mechanical devices serving agriculture, military, aerospace, and large equipment manufacturers. Little did I know that I didn’t fit the stereotype of a business owner in this industry, and that the hurdles I had to jump over were high—much higher than I had ever imagined. With my business plan in hand, I met with three different banks; each one turned me down. The story was always the same: bring me sales, then I’ll loan you money; or bring your husband to co-sign. When I finally got a loan (without my husband’s help), I found a warehouse in which to set up shop. My landlord at the time was generous and loaned me the money to build an office area inside the shop while also telling me I wouldn’t make it past two years. What did he know that I didn’t?
The stereotype that only a man can run a business was blatantly and repeatedly put in front of my face, especially in the early years of CAMtek. When I met with a new customer, I would take my production manager (a man) with me. The customer almost always assumed my production manager was the owner, not me. When I certified CAMtek as a WBE (Woman Business Enterprise) customers assumed it was a small “ma and pop” type of shop—because I was a woman. It took me seven years of owning the business to break that preconception and win a multi-million-dollar military contract. Even after doing business with Caterpillar for 20 years, they still considered me a small company and limited the size of their orders just because of the WBE certification. This was even after I expanded and moved into a 225,000-square-foot facility. I remember renovating that building, a multi-million-dollar project that I was able to finance through the SBA, and dealing with contractors who thought that because of my gender, I must have been the secretary. I felt I did not get the respect I deserved, so I learned how to speak up.
I learned a lot during 20 years of running CAMtek. Some things I learned the hard way, mostly because I had no female colleagues. I was actively involved with the IPC but still I was the only woman among the hundred men who came from all parts of the globe to meet for the EMS meetings as part of IPC APEX EXPO. I spent 20 years in the electronics industry collaborating with men, and always wishing I had female counterparts. I never really saw this as a glass ceiling until I sold my company.
An equity firm familiar with the electronics industry bought my company. Their vision aligned with mine and CAMtek became part of their portfolio of EMS companies focused on servicing mission critical defense programs. I was to stay on as the VP and general manager and collaborate with the C-suite executive team to strategize growth. The later part never came to fruition. You see, it was made up of all men and for the first time in 20 years, I recognized that glass ceiling—it was intractable.
It was then that I realized I had no voice, like so many years ago when I was an accountant helping companies grow. Now I can see the glass ceilings that limited me back then, and that I had to start my own company to break through those ceilings. What’s more astonishing to me is that even now after 20 years, glass ceilings still exist today.
I believe that the challenges I’ve overcome as a woman in the electronics industry, and the success I have achieved with my own company, gives me the experience, business sense, and empathy of the biases and challenges that impact diversity. It is when we break through these barriers of stereotype biases that we can stand tall and be proud of our achievements. CAMtek and “Her Voice” are two of my achievements that have made a difference in my community and the electronics industry. There are many more barriers to break. The EMS industry needs to wake up. They are missing out on the next generation of inspiring women leaders. It’s time to break that stereotype bias—the one that says only men can be at the top of our industry. It’s time to break the glass ceiling.
“Many women have been successful at breaking the glass ceiling only to find a layer of men.”
- Jane Harman- former U.S. Representative for California’s 36th congressional district
Christine Davis-Pryczynski, CPA and EMS specialist, is one of the leading women in electronics today. She started and successfully ran CAMtek, Inc. for 20 years.