While I was applying to do engineering at university, my grandparents and aunt (who have degrees in engineering) gave me some advice: “that no matter how hard you try, you will never be as good as your male coworkers. You should go into something more female mind orientated like accounting, afterall your female brain won’t be able to deal with 3D structures, maths, and design as well as a male brain could. Even if u try hard your boss won’t acknowledge you like he would for your male coworkers. That’s reality Rina, just deal with it.” I ignored them and I am an engineering student now. Last year, when I have caught the train back from uni, and strangers have seen me carrying my big heavy engineering books. Three times in the last year, they’d ask in a slightly condescending voice “oh engineering… how unusual”…”a bit strange for a girl isnt it?”… “so how are you coping with that?” I’m doing better than most of the boys on my male dominated course, despite my female brain, but thanks for asking.
At age 24, I introduced myself to a UC Berkeley admissions officer to ask about applying to their Bioengineering PhD program as a non-traditional applicant. She looked at me and warned, “You should think carefully, what are you? Approaching 30? Do you think about family? Research isn’t for everyone, you know.” I was so shocked I didn’t know what to say.
At Home Depot, I asked an employee where the hardware section was (I was looking for builder hardware e.g. ties and hinges). He laughs and proceeds to give me a 2 min lecture about the difference between hardware and software in computers. Then he tells me to make sure to find someone handy to help me. Instead of asking for a clarification, he assumes that I don’t know what I’m talking about.
My A-Level maths class is 80% male, the teacher is an older/middle aged male, he made sexist ‘jokes’ every lesson, about how women were stupid, or talked too much. I was working up the courage to confront him, when one lesson he pointed out that I apparently glared at him every time he made a sexist comment. I wasn’t aware I was doing this. He pointed out that I didn’t find this amusing, and paused like he was waiting for me to explain why. I couldn’t find a way to explain something that obvious in a way that wouldn’t get me expelled. The boys all started laughing. After this, I considered approaching sixth form management about it, but the very next day, the people we are all supposed to to turn to if we have a problem, declared that there would be a female-only dress code assembly. This angered, annoyed, and terrified everyone, but there’s no one we can go to about it. It was exactly what we’d expected. “Pull your skirt down, the fact that you;re treated like an object and not a person is inconveniencing us.” I’m hoping to study engineering, and I’m perfectly okay with any gender or sex, unless they cause the problem. So the fact that there are far more males than females are engineering events is annoying, but does not affect the way I live my life. But when the Dean of a university I went to a three day course on stood up at the end and said “Look at all these girls.” we all stared at him, refusing to respond to or applaud anything he said. The ratio of the group was 51% female, exactly as it should be, progress is perfect, being surprised by progress says you weren’t trying for it. Perhaps he could have mentioned the things we’d done, the things we’d learnt, the fact that this residential course was our first taste of university, the fact that he was trying to convince us to go to his university. But no, the shock of the mythical female in STEM must have completely fried his brain.
I recently got chartered as a civil engineer at the Institute of Civil Engineering. I won’t get into the backward industry that is engineering but having continued that battle and receiving a qualification that I worked so hard for, I received an overwhelming amount of sexism at the institute itself. On the day, despite being dressed in smart attire (and a name badge, with my title on it!), I was ignored for a survey for engineers, I was constantly asked if I was my colleague’s girlfriend. This was after I’d been carrying my certification. The institute claims to support women but in my ten years of being a member, I’ve felt actively excluded by a group that is predominantly made up of white, middle aged men.
I work in the construction/engineering industry on a very major engineering project in London, in a fairly specialised role. Today I was having a conversation with two of my team engineers: one male, one female, with the male sitting in the middle of our line. I’m talking, and the female team member answered and I carried on speaking, when a man I had never seen before walked over with two other men in tow and cut straight across my conversation and said to XXXX, the male in the middle of our conversation, “Sorry XXXX, need to ask you something and thought I’d rescue you from a boring conversation” and smirked at me. Jaw-droppingly rude and rendered me speechless for a second. I stared at him for a couple of seconds and then replied with “Marvellous! Sexism in the workplace continues” – he went “Nonsense , it’s not that at all” and then carried on speaking to my engineer whilst completely ignoring me or apologising for is rudeness . I subsequently find out this person is the replacement Project Field Engineer on this particular site. Our future Interface Meetings are going to be fun!
Been an engineer since 1980. Dropped out of grad school “the first time around” because my advisor tried to get into my pants. Endured through “What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?” and “Ron and his girl are coming over”…and the guy who grabbed my arm forcefully to make a point. What helped was our women’s group and a couple of bosses who believed in me “You’re good, and you’ll be better when you understand how good you are.” (Including said “Ron”). Did well anyway. Some of the companies where I’ve worked prided themselves in non-discrimination against women, some were fairly neutral. Went to grad school the second time because “Dr. X” clarified that I was an engineer whereas “Ms. X” could be any role. (I was talking to Dr. Z, a Hispanic women, who pointed out without the “Dr.” she was often assumed to be the hotel maid!) Still doing well, still suffering sexism (more dismissal of my ideas, and being overtalked, than harassment). I figure I’ve accomplished what I have needed to, maybe not as much as equally competent men my age, but they didn’t have the hurdles I had–they had bosses and coworkers and clients who believed in them and gave them progressive roles without them having to ask. They were considered management material and guided into it whereas I was considered “not management material” and shuffled aside. So now I’m into being competent, being thorough, doing what I’d promised I’d do, and enjoying my non-work life as much as I can. What are they going to do, fire me? I’ve got enough money to retire now, I just choose not to. I ask for what I want, tell what I’m thinking, and only rarely get nightmares about them coming after me with guns. 🙁 I hope the younger women have it easier. It’d be nice if they recognized it was harder for me, but since their male colleagues don’t have to recognize that, I wouldn’t want to burden the women.