Engineer in Heels

A quick search on good ol’ Google has returned this interesting report from the University of Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

Feel free to download it and have a quick read. Go on. I can wait.

A couple of things stood out for me. Reading the quotes from past and current female engineers was especially intersting. I couldn’t help but to feel incredible lucky that, despite being the only female in the team, I have never felt I am disadvantaged, and that I have a very good boss who gives me opportunities to advance in the company. One point that particularly interests me is the lack of female mentors, which seems to be a recurring theme.

Can a good female mentor really make that much of a difference? What can a female mentor do for us that a good male mentor cannot? I’m of two minds about the issue at the moment. On one hand, if it is gender equality┬áthat we are after, it follows that our gender should not affect our ability to perform at our job, and therefore a male mentor should, in theory, be just as good as a female one. I have had some chats with good male mentors who guided me through this mine field that is “career advancement”. I don’t see how it could be different had the mentors been women. On the other hand, turning a blind eye to the gender difference is not the same as addressing it. Could a female mentor give me insights that a male mentor could not provide, simply because they had never even thought about the gender issue, let alone survived it?

And now let’s considering the networking aspect of mentoring. Other research I’ve come across has mentioned in passing that the lack of female mentors can also affect the ability to form professional networks. I am somewhat dubious about how much this does affect our professional networks. Are women more likely to value a female engineer more than a male engineer? Chances are we are even more critical of other female engineers than our male counterparts. I think, to some extent, we are harsher on other women because we have worked hard to prove to others that we are competent engineers, and therefore women can be just as good as men in this field; the last thing we need is for someone who just happens to be both female and a subpar engineer to undo all the work we’ve done. Then again, I’m not a psychologist. I would like to see whether there are studies out there on how women engineers perceive one another.

Maybe I should find a female mentor to see what the fuss is about.

Parting thought of the day: I wonder if there are any male engineers out there with a female mentor?

{December 5, 2011}   Hello world!

I could’ve changed the title of the default “first post” from WordPress, but let’s face it: for a geeky blog, it’s rather apt.

When I was doing my postgrad degree, I was in this one class with seven students in it. In fact only six students enrolled in that class, one of the guys just attended the lectures because he found it interesting, but didn’t want to do the exam. The lecturer was somewhat mad, but absolutely brilliant. (The mad ones usually are. There’s a very fine line between genius and madness.) I still consider that class as the best course I’ve taken during my time in university. It was also the first time I was the only girl in the class. The lecturer had a habit of addressing the class as “gentlemen”. He often caught himself doing it, and added “and the lady” at the end. He continued to prefix my first name with the dubious title “Lady”, even after the course had finished.

To be honest, I didn’t mind it. I almost worn the title as a badge of honour, especially since I was the only girl taking that class and came first in the class. But a question remained in my head: Why should I feel it’s more of an honour to be top of the class because I am a girl?

It would not be the last time I’d find myself the only female in the room. In facts I am the only female in a team of about 20 engineers. Sometimes my boss will greet the team as “Guys… and gal”. While it’s perfectly harmless, I constantly wonder what is it about engineering: why are there so few women work in this field?

Catching up with the girls who graduated from my class in university, not many have remained in engineering. Quite a few have moved on to other fields: finance, marketing, sales, you name it. A few more have moved into IT. Are we pushing women away?

Don’t get me wrong: I’m against gender quotas in work places. The last thing I want is for my co-workers to second guess whether I was hired because of my skill, or because the company needs to meet its quota. Personally, I have not yet felt discriminated aginst, but the statistics do make me think. Recently I read in the paper that one of the biggest engineering firms in the country has just appointed a female board member. I found myself screaming on the inside: “Why is this news?!”. And after the initial shock had worn off, it was a genuine “Why is this news? Why are women still under represented in engineering? Especially at the executive level?”

This blog is my sounding board. I’m going to write my random thoughts, as well as linking articles and sites concerning gender inequality in engineering (or the work force in general to some extent) to discuss. I am posting anonymously to keep it as honest as possible. These are my thoughts without worrying about what my current or future employers would think of me. Occasionally, I might even try to be funny.

Parting thought of the day: the wiki article on “Women in engineering” has a grand total of four bullet points under the section “Notable women in engineering”. True story.

et cetera