Twitter went abuzz when an engineering firm decided to feature a woman on their company’s marketing campaign and out of the discussion someone wondered why pretty women decided to work in technical fields. This may be an oversimplification of the news but if you Google its origins you will find hundreds of articles in regard to the hashtag. Because I happen to be a woman in tech, especially in mechanical engineering, the movement was very popular in my facebook news feed as all of my gal pals decided to throw their pictures and thoughts into the mix.
Because you can’t take pictures inside the premises of the company I worked at nor make them public, there aren’t any pictures of me doing engineering stuff. Thankfully, my experience as a woman in tech is not sworn to secrecy. In lieu of pictures I have my fair share of ridiculous stories and anecdotes that recount the disbelief people have directed at me when I have uttered the words “I am an engineer!” I hope these gems will help you understand why the #ilooklikeanengineer campaign went viral.
“You are too pretty to be an engineer.”
Apparently if you are pretty you can’t be smart, and if you are smart the last thing that you should be is an engineer. Also, if you dress nicely and walk around with confidence, guys feel the need to stare at you like you were sent by the heavens to beautify the workplace. I get it, you have never seen a female engineer in your life before but, can you stop staring at my ass? (I know it is hard not to stare but at least pretend you aren’t. Be professional.)
“You are too young to be an expert in your field.”
Just because I look like I am 25 it doesn’t mean I am 25. After 10 years I better be an expert at something! Instead of assuming let my resume speak for itself. My 25 year old male counterparts don’t get the third degree and they are NEW to this job…
“Do the guys let you do actual engineering?”
This one floored me because it implied that the men in my team would take over the best projects and leave me to work on the fluff. In engineering we call the fluff, engineering.
“I thought you were the Office or Administrative Assistant.”
People would see me fire up the projector and conference call line and automatically assumed I was there helping the engineer set up. What bothered me was that the meeting notice sent to them clearly stated I was the design engineer in charge. Guess they assumed that since I was young and pretty I had to be the secretary…
“We need to set up a recognition lunch or event. Can you set it up?”
Okay, I admit I have mad party planning skills and love to recognize people but when your boss tells all the women in the room to set a lunch or event up instead of asking the men, it starts to look suspicious.
“What she meant to say was…”
This one is the most annoying of all the things that can be said to a woman engineer. Every time I went to a meeting some male, usually older than I was, started to interpret what I was saying to the team as if the technical terms I was using weren’t good enough. This was usually followed by someone asking one of my male counterparts if they agreed with my findings, or second guessing my recommendation. Until another male uttered the same words I had just said, the room would not validate my presentation or design. I still don’t know if this is a communication error or if in fact the guys can’t hear or see me, especially when I am pretending to be an engineer. (Yes that was sarcasm and no I don’t use it at work.)
“You have awesome presentation and people skills but you don’t sound technical enough.”
Hmmm, so the stress curve I just showed you revealing how the part will fail at the joint if we apply fatigue loads wasn’t technical enough for you? Sorry, not sorry?
“If you were nicer to people you would get ahead easily.”
I heard this being directed at one of my female counterparts. In my defense, I have been called bitchy but I did remind them that the word they were looking for was assertive. (Long story…) The managers in my office could get down right mean if you did or said the right thing. They weren’t nice and they got ahead. Why should women need to be nice to do so as well?
“(Insert term of endearment here), could you…”
I am not your honey, doll, darling, sweetheart, sweetie, babe or etc. Also, you are in no way, shape or form authorized to touch me. Unless you remind me of my grandparents or I know you well enough and outside of the office to permit you to address me that way, don’t even go there. It is unprofessional and impolite.
“A maternity leave is like a vacation…”
One of my friends actually quit her job over this one. Her boss kept insisting her maternity leave was a vacation and that she must have enjoyed her time off. The fact that his employee was carrying another human life and doing real engineering work at the same time didn’t register. She only did it so she could have time off! Keep dreaming buddy.
“Did you run this by the senior lead engineer in charge?”
I am the senior lead engineer in charge and hang on, why didn’t you ask the guys that presented before me if their lead had approved it? I didn’t know I needed to be validated by a higher authority figure before presenting my designs and that the guys didn’t!
“Excuse me miss, could you move out of view because you are distracting the mechanics.”
My friend and I went to check up on a design in the manufacturing line and got hit on by everyone and their mother. The supervisor walks up to me to inform us we were a distraction. Worst compliment ever.
“You should be at home raising a family.”
Just because I am married and in my thirties doesn’t mean I want to have kids, let alone want to quit my job to do so. This particular gem is heard by my single friends as well and it starts a bit differently: “Shouldn’t you be concentrating on getting a husband and staying at home to raise children?” Ever heard of women’s lib and equality?
I could go on and on but by now you must have gotten an idea of the types of ignorant comments I got thrown at me during my work day. If you are a human and you are reading this, please let the other people in the workforce know that none of these comments are acceptable. If you so happen to think that these are valid comments or questions to make to your female counterparts, regardless of your gender, please stop now.
Ladies and gentlemen, please tell your daughters, nieces, cousins or granddaughters that it is okay to be smart and sexy, and that you don’t need them to marry a doctor to have one in the family because THEY can be the MD or PhD!
Hopefully one day there will be so many women in STEM that they start asking these questions to their male counterparts to the point where one of them writes a similar article asking himself: “Are you asking me if I am the administrative assistant because I am a guy?”
One can dream…