Thursday, October 13, 2005


I often surprise people when I tell them I am an engineer. They don't generally argue or protest. They just raise their eyebrows. They are surprised, of course, because as a young woman, I don't look to them like an engineer.

For the most part, their surprise does not stem merely from stereotype. According to this article, "only 17 percent of engineering bachelor's degrees were awarded to women" and "less than 7 percent of electrical, aeronautical, and mechanical engineers" are female.

Numbers aside, how are we doing in terms of equality? Most people, once they get past their surprise and perhaps ask a couple of questions, are fairly supportive of my chosen profession. I, personally, haven't encountered overt discrimination.

We do have a few bad apples out there. A former coworker tells me that our boss made amorous advances toward her and asked her to stay late at work until she started wearing a fairly prominent engagement ring.

One man I interviewed and turned down for a job called me up shortly afterwards and asked me for a date. I was probably 22 at the time and he in his forties. He was polite enough to desist when I also turned him down for the date, at least.

Some writer to Machine Design in the past couple of years advanced the antiquated notion that women would be foolish to choose a career over a family. I do not question the value of a family or the rewards of being a caregiver, but that should be for each woman to decide.

The more common sort of indignities are the smaller, often unintentional ones. The guys exchanging mildly off-color jokes in the back room, for instance, clam up when I walk in. I understand that they do so in the name of courtesy, but it puts a damper on the banter and chills the rapport.

One former classmate related her experience working in a union shop. Engineers were, technically, not permitted to transport parts within the plant. On the surface, this policy makes sense. Large metal objects can be heavy enough to require trained personnel to move them safely. While the union members regularly bent the rules for the guys, they demanded that my classmate wait for assistance to transport any part whatsoever, even if it was just a tiny packet of washers.

All in all, I'd say attitudes have improved from what they once were, but we still have a ways to go.


Blogger Amgine said...

<hmmphs> I do not question the value of a family or the rewards of being a caregiver, but that should be for each woman to decide. Or person of any gender... <winks>

Good reading, as usual Dvorty....

17 October, 2005 21:01  

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