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?


et cetera