I’ve been meaning to write a real-talk post on the straight garbage state of gender diversity in engineering for months, but honestly, I’ve also kind of tried to section off these two parts of my life entirely. I write this blog (and every social media account linked to it) under a pseudonym, mostly out of apprehension that it would come across as unprofessional in searching for jobs. This might seem overly cautious, but the overwhelming majority of my potential coworkers and bosses are middle aged men, and I’ve written about rape culture, menstruation, and self harm. I’m not a professional beeb but I want to be able to pretend like I am.
Considering this, I look at what I anticipate my career to be like, and feel like an odd duck, even though it’s an extremely good fit for me based on the work. Which I guess brings me to my point here; the lack of women in STEM (with my experience being specific to engineering) is about more than numbers. It’s indicative of a lot of things in the way we as a society socialize people from a young age, and it creates an incredibly weird (arguably hostile) environment for the women who do enter into these fields.
20% is a rough estimate of the typical amount of women in an engineering class; this is a give or take number, because in any specific class or school things can vary, but even if you’re generous and estimate 25%, that’s still extremely low. I’ve found 20% to be accurate in my program (sometimes I become conscious of it during my less interesting lectures and literally count heads) but if you don’t believe me, you can read a few articles here and here.
I’ve done work in an engineering company (a 6-month internship drawing up plans for construction) and found it to be accurate there as well. The engineering staff had 2 women in the group of 9 total engineers, and my department had a whopping 5 women out of the 40+ people in the department. This is not even to say they’re a bad company; these numbers are completely typical, completely in line with what’s normal in the industry.
While we’re talking statistics, I’m sure you will be completely shocked to find out there’s a wage gap, (here’s a second link because you can never read enough about how bullshit everything is) although it isn’t as high as the overall wage gap; I would definitely be thankful to only be underpaid by 10-15% instead of 20%+, amiright ladies?
Sidenote: a common misconception about the gender wage gap is that it’s because Women and Babies and They Don’t Put In The Same Hours, but keep in mind that these figures are calculated for women doing the same jobs as men, with the same qualifications as men.
I’ve experienced a weird offshoot of the effect where men tend to view groups with way less women as being 50-50, and 50-50 groups as having more women (I was unable to track down the original source but it’s referenced here.) Highlights: crowd scenes in films typically have around 17% women, which men tend to think is an even split, and that groups need to be 60-80% women before the conversation time is split equally between men and women. I get so used to being around men at school and work, that I am suddenly very surprised to be in those situations when there is an even gender split; having this kind of mindset essentially just nudges me every once in a while to remind me that while I am in that space, in many ways I don’t really belong there. I end up walking this fine line where, when I’m not sure about something in my courses I’m also not sure if I actually am not sure or if I’m just yielding to the idea that I am fundamentally less qualified.
people say gross shit to you
The most common things people say when I talk about my major are “that’s a lot of math/good money though.” Next up is something along the lines of “oh wow, you’re a girl.”
It is sometimes this blatant, sometimes not. There’s variation. What’s life without the thrill of subtle condescension as opposed to outright misogyny?
I got my internship last year through a variety of circumstances; it was good timing, I have a great GPA and interview well, I was willing to take a semester off of school to do a longer internship (which was required because the job took quite a bit of training). When I met with my guidance counselor to rearrange my course plan, he straight out said that I “have an advantage” because of being a woman, that I will be able to get jobs because companies are looking to be diverse.Not because I have a really great resume for a person who didn’t get an internship after high school through nepotism (like some of my peers), or because I’m good at working with groups without letting people know that I hate every second of it. That would be ridiculous.
The whole claim is fucking hilarious, y’know? Considering all the shit I just talked about.
I used to be close friends with a girl in my program; while we’ve fallen out, I still deeply relate something she said to me about engineering, which is that she feels like she needs to perform better to get the same acknowledgment as our male classmates. And y’know what? Fucking same. I have to put so much mental energy into not thinking of myself as less qualified than my peers and just into like, believing I can do it. (Honestly, it’s more like resigning myself to keep trying and straight up willpower fucking make them give me a degree, because fuck you. But still.)
But the most important reason we should get more women into engineering, according to not one but several of my classmates? Fuckers can’t get a date because they don’t know any girls. A thing about an engineering degree is that your life kind of revolves around it a lot of the time; I have eavesdropped on more than one dude whining about there not being any girls in the engineering department and how he doesn’t have time to meet girls out of class. (I would still be very single if I didn’t literally live with my baes, honestly. So like, I get where you’re coming from but shut the fuck up.)
ps: That picture of me is from this summer, when I was doing a lab for my surveying course. Therefore: sexy orange vest and heat exhaustion.