Women in Engineering
Writing about inequalities in any form always comes with strings attached. Did you include socio-economic status, ethnicity, region, outliers??? Just starting this post makes my hands clam up in fear of misrepresenting or misinforming. Today’s topic on the blog is Women in Engineering. The internet is chock full of articles about inequalities in the workplace- finger pointing, “man-hating”, and racially construing a subject that is better left in the hands of those it actually affects on a daily basis. Of course, this still leaves margins of error and in no way can the women featured in this post reflect the sentiments and experiences of all women in the engineering field, but this topic is something worth the effort in writing about.
A recent study published at the American Psychological Association convention in Washington, D.C. revealed that only 62% of 5,300 women with engineering degrees have stayed in the field. Some of these women claimed that the reason for their departure was the “old boys club” climate being too hostile to feel comfortable in the workplace. Others reported it was too male dominated, but only 17% left the field due to maternal caregiving conflicts. This statistic is pretty generic amongst reports online- giving gender norm related reasons for finding occupations in other fields.
After reading a few of these articles it was still unclear to me what women who were excelling in tech/engineering jobs(especially those with families) were saying, thinking and feeling on the subject.
While communicating with a couple supermom engineers and one on a work visa to engineer in the US, it was clear that their real lives were not always being represented. Where are the posts giving tips on how to juggle coding and coddling infants? Where are the posts talking about WOC in these fields? Well, here’s one.
Jennifer Watson is a mother of three and a Systems Engineer/ Cyber Security Lead who serves as an amazing real-life example of a woman who has found motherhood and engineering a feasible matrimony. In an email interview with Jen, we got down to some of the nittier and grittier tips of the trade.
PVM: What is the most difficult thing you experience as a mother and an engineer?
Jen: “One of the most difficult things I experience as a mother of three and a Systems Engineer/Cyber Security Lead is finding the time to stay current in my fields. When I leave work I go home to my primary job as a mom. Many of the Systems Engineers I work with, or have worked with, are younger so they do not have a family of their own yet (or are older and their kids are out of the house). Many of the others are men and they can go home, have dinner with their family and then retreat to their man cave to research new technology/trends, work on their pet coding project, etc. When I get home I have to be ready when I step through that door and feed the baby, make dinner, attempt to clean (while holding a baby that misses me so much she melts down if I set her down) and then get 3 kids to bath and get ready for bed.
PVM: Do you ever manage to find time for yourself?!
Jen: “I manage to find some time to read about new tech and trends on my iPhone while feeding a baby or while sitting with them for bath time, but it is very difficult to get hands-on time to work with new software, frameworks or languages (and even harder to do it when I am not already burned out from the day). To women in technical fields, I recommend being prepared with childcare a few hours a week to give you time to geek out at least until your youngest is 2 years old if you can. (A maid would be a huge help too.)”
PVM: This is amazing insight for current or aspiring women engineers. Do you have any other tips strictly for engineer mommas?
- “Have a tablet that can remote desktop to your computer with your IDE so you squeeze in some coding while cuddling with kids, etc.
- Ensure your code is in a Git repository so you can access it from work and home and roll back changes in case you do something wrong when you were really too tired to work on it.
- Heavily comment your code, because you will need to quickly figure out what you have done and what you had planned to do next to not waste the limited amount of time you have to work on it.
- Find online classes on new software, languages, etc, because it is more efficient to go through an online training class than to try to figure it out on your own with documentation that is often poorly written by engineers who hate writing documentation.”
Jennifer’s ability to provide these specific engineering tips is a keynote of the interviews we conducted. When searching online, an aspiring female engineer needs to have access to these kinds of truths, these kinds of tips that not all women have access to. Being able to compile them to publish to the public is an extremely inspiring and exciting nod to the complex notion of progress.
Laura Koerner is the next mom and engineer we were able to connect with. An MIT grad, program manager, and Sr. Systems Engineer, Laura was able to give us another positive perspective of power and self-assurance as a woman in the field. Here’s what she had to say:
“When I started my career in engineering, I was often the only woman in the room. Since I came from the military, that was not that intimidating to me, but I can understand how it could be for a new female engineer. What I have learned over my years is that gender or appearance are normally not something other engineers care about. I found the common thread for engineers is the way we think. Backgrounds, experience, appearance, gender, and many other factors may differ, but in the end, we all have a similar way of thinking. We respect logic, well-thought out answers, confidence, and an appreciation what we know or don’t know. I have to tell you the best compliment I have received from a fellow engineer (a man, by the way) was “I love how you think!” That is what is gets you respected and appreciated. So, my advice to new female engineers is focus less on the fact you may be the only woman in the room, and focus on more on your knowledgeable input to the discussion. #Ilooklikeanengineer”
The last interview we conducted was an international email conversation with Chandrika Moka, native to India, with a unique perspective on things. Chandrika provided us with a testimonial that is empowering and humbling. Trying to trim down her words to make this post more concise seemed to desecrate the beauty of the things that all of these women had to say to whoever may be reading this. Her story is a testament to women worldwide and to changing the way we think about gender and ethnicity having any correlation with opportunity.
“Coming from a background where only a few decades ago, women studied engineering simply to reduce their dowry prices, it wasn’t easy for my parents to educate me and give me the opportunities I have had to this day. Even today, women are expected to give up their careers and their ambitions if it doesn’t suit their spouses. This expectation has proved very hard to fight against indeed. I have been blessed with an extremely understanding family that have supported me and helped me achieve my goals as a software developer. I have again been blessed to have my first company be a progressive one where the CEO believes in equality.
However, I encountered numerous hurdles and intolerances during my two years at grad school. It was as trivial as classmates refusing to team up with girls because they were worried about our “mood swings” to as huge as a sexist career counselor who deliberately refused good recommendations to women because he thought women were simply not meant to be technical.
It was very heartwarming, during that phase, when I joined the Society for Women Engineers to discover that while there was bias, there were those that were fighting it. In the past 3 years since my graduation, I have noticed significant changes in the tech industry, especially in my home country. Multinational companies seem to have finally stopped their bias against women and are correcting their misconceptions.
I believe we still have ways to go. I have been blessed with great opportunities and it is my goal to help provide the same to other girls out there that are in need of such support. Some causes that are dear to me and I participate in are – Society of Women Engineers, Women Who Code, and Girl Develop It. I think we, as women, should support and encourage each other. It is our duty to enlighten and prove that women are an asset!”
These women are a hard act to follow…not sure what else needs to be said that they didn’t eloquently write to you all. Their words are words of honesty, hopefulness, and advice. These lessons are to men and women alike, those in the engineering field and those who are not. Changing the perspective about gender and equality to what we can do rather than focusing on the limitations is key in continuing to make forward progress in a field that is gaining value at an exponential rate.