Why It's So Hard to Talk About Being a Woman in Engineering

My face when it comes to awkward conversations.

My face when it comes to awkward conversations.

Why is it so hard to talk about being a woman in engineering? Why can we tell our stories to our close friends and coworkers while struggling to share the same stories with a large group, our employers, or, heaven forbid, the internet?

These questions have been on my mind for the last few months. They have been racing through my brain, practically screaming to be written down, and yet I have struggled to write this article since we started the blog.

I have been struggling because the experiences I’m referring to are not the fun kind where we women in engineering kick some major ass at work. No, I’m talking about the experiences that aren’t so triumphant. The ones that make us feel unwelcome, incapable, other.

Pay inequality.

Bias in the workplace.

Women leaving engineering.

Emails that start with “Gentlemen,”.

Gender roles in engineering teams that tend to assign women managerial or routine tasks.

Yikes.

Old Dogs, Old Tricks

Many of these realities are not new to women in the profession. Many are small transgressions, some of which recently occurred in our own workplaces, and all of them are indicators of large systemic issues that have been ongoing for generations. As they say, “Rome was not built in a day”, and neither will these systems be dismantled so easily either.

You might think that I would sail through these topics, given that this is a blog whose mission is to openly discuss the challenges faced by women in engineering. I should have plenty of experience, right? I should theoretically know how to eloquently talk about my sometimes-awkward experiences, shouldn’t I? Do not be fooled.

I still find it hard to talk about the “dark side” of being a woman in engineering for reasons mostly attributed to fear.

  • Fear of isolating potential allies.

  • Fear of discouraging young people from entering the profession.

  • Fear of dismissal and rejection.

  • Fear of sounding whiny or complaining.

  • Fear of perpetuating negativity and sounding like a broken record. “Haven’t we talked enough about this? Isn’t it time for solutions rather than problems?”

  • Fear of shining a spotlight on others that may be perfectly happy where they are and who may not feel the same way as I do (especially when you have a co-blogger, hi Elaine).

As you can see, my brain doesn’t hold back.

Despite the ever-growing number of studies that discuss the challenges women face at work, it feels so personal to attach your own story to an issue. It also doesn’t help that we can’t anticipate the reactions of others, which goes back to my fears of alienating and causing embarrassment.

Change is Slow, And I am Impatient

Ultimately, I believe that we have to be honest about the challenges we face in the world and in our workplaces if we ever hope to find solutions to them. We also need allies to step up and speak out if we hope to enact change. We have to push past the fears and uncertainties if we ever hope to move forward.

This is so much easier said than done and I’m aware that writing a blog post does not automatically produce actual methods for going about these conversations. However, I do hope that some of this has resonated and that I’m not the only one who feels this way. I also hope that the more we talk about our stories (and talk about the struggle in talking about them), the easier they will be to discuss.

If you need me, I’ll be over here working on the “how”.