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10 Things only a female engineer will understand

Published on Monday, 02 Mar 2015

It’s a man’s world, especially in the field of engineering. In fact, due to the challenges women face, mainstream news have reported on numerous cases of gender-based hiring and firing, sexual harassment lawsuits, casual misogyny, and a financing system that rewards young men and shortchanges women. While it still holds true that engineering is still primarily a male-dominated profession and certainly these reports can be daunting for a woman trying to enter the engineering profession, women can and do build successful careers in this field. As more and more women work their way up in an engineering career, the profession is becoming increasingly female-friendly. Unfortunately, there are still many challenges to overcome. Below are ten things only a female engineer will encounter and understand in the testosterone-fueld engineering field:

  1. Disbelief when Marissa Mayer, CEO and President of Yahoo!, says that gender is not an issue in tech. Seriously? Has she been living under a rock? Of course gender is an issue in tech! Until things change drastically, just like with many traditionally male dominated fields, the truth is, gender will always remain an issue.
  2. Being mistaken for getting lost when wandering into an engineering building at school. With so many male engineer students pooled together, they often forget that they have female classmates and that there are places for them among the classroom.
  3. Being called “honey” or “sweetie” when a mistake is made. No professor or classmate would be so condescending to a male student, yet no one seems to bat an eye when this so-called casual, yet blatant sexism happens to female students.
  4. Being assumed for the waitress at a Programmer’s meeting. Being the only female at a function full of men can make it easy for them to forget that women belong in the room as colleagues too.
  5. Being swarmed by anthems that "real men code.” If coding makes a man a “real man,” what does coding make a woman? It’s this “bro” attitude at engineering school that perpetuates the sexism at school and in the workplace later on in the engineering field.
  6. When a guy at Defcon says “This would be a good place for you to find a husband.” First of all, no woman needs a husband if she doesn’t want one. Secondly, female engineers don’t go to Defcon for the purposes of meeting men. Women are here for the same reason the men are: because we want to work in engineering.
  7. When a recruiter’s form letter says they’re looking for a “go-to guy.” What about a “go-to-girl?” Better yet, how about a “go-to-person?” Women may not be able to change the way the questions are asked, but they can definitely help change the way the answer is given.
  8. When a Dell emcee says “All great inventions are from men. We can thank women for the rolling pin.” What year is it, exactly? Since when are men the only ones making progress in the world? There are several great inventions from women! For example, the computer algorithm was invented by Ada Lovelace, a woman. She was essentially the first computer programmer. Wireless transmissions technology, which is responsible for today’s wi-fi and GPS technology was invented by Hedy Lamarr, another woman.
  9. Dealing with “Titstare” at TechCrunch 2013. That was the unfunniest “joke” in technology. These guys actually thought an app where you can “stare at tits” was a good idea. Although they were eventually criticised for being completely inappropriate, this serves as a reminder how pervasive sexism and the accompanying harassment is in the tech industry.
  10. Having no peers who understand ten things only a female engineer would understand. Much of the problems with female engineers stem from the fact that there are so few. This means that there are fewer fellow female engineers who can commiserate and advocate for change together.

Engineering is an extremely difficult field for women to work in. Not only is the subject matter of advanced science and mathematics complicated and demanding, but as a whole, the technical skills of women can be easily forgotten or ignored because culturally and traditionally females are raised in a way that can limit their experiences with different technologies versus boys who are raised with technology, such as playing with video games at a young age. It begins with how boys and girls are raised as children, which leads to these gender-biased stereotypes. There is hope though. Stereotypes about which careers women should have and can excel in has changed dramatically over the last fifty years. Although engineering and several other tech-related careers have managed to remain largely occupied by men, the numbers are shifting. Of course, an important field to keep in mind is medicine. There was a time when it was also largely ruled by men, but now there are about equal numbers of both men and women. This progress shows that if more women are encouraged to pursue engineering, then engineering can make similar gains. And with these gains, hopefully the ten points listed about will one day be looked upon as ridiculous and an example of backwards thinking that it rightly deserves to be regarded as.

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