3 Ways Men Can Help Women in Engineering

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Some of our biggest male and female engineering advocates at our one year blogiversary.

You don’t have to be a CEO or a high-level executive to make a difference for women and minorities in engineering. Anyone has the power to speak up against injustices and improve gender dynamics in the workplace.

Although I carry a strong belief that culture change must come from the top of an organization through policies and leading by example, big changes don’t always have to mean grand gestures. Small actions are impactful and sustainable and can be the difference between good days and bad days for the people in your office.

If you’re looking to help out your fellow coworkers, here are some real-life situations and small actions that can help you make a difference.

1. Use Amplification in Meetings

Have you ever been in a meeting that looked something like this?


Olivia: We should do X, Y, Z. This is a great plan and it’ll really help us to grow.

*crickets*

*pin drops*

*tumbleweed rolls by*

*5 minutes later*

A dude in the back: Hey you know what? I have a brilliant idea. Let’s do X, Y, Z, it’ll really help us to grow.

Literally the whole world: *STANDING OVATION* GREAT IDEA, SO GROUNDBREAKING, WOW. LET US ESTABLISH THIS DAY AS BEST IDEA DAY EVER IN YOUR HONOUR.


While I hope you got a laugh from this reenactment, this situation is all too familiar for women who regularly attend meetings. Some call it “hepeating”, based off a term coined in 2017 through a viral tweet by astronomer Professor Nicole Gugliucci, which describes when a man repeats a woman’s ideas (intentionally or not) and receives credit for them. Twitter pointed out that this occurrence is equally familiar to people of colour, with another tweet suggesting this be termed “copywhite”.

Why is this the case? There are many theories that tie back to the socialization of women compared to men and how this affects their speech patterns, tendency for competition, power dynamics, and so forth. Women are also affected by the double bind, which tells us that the more a woman gains power or acts in a masculine way, the less she is liked (men, however, gain likability as they gain power). The double bind may play into how women present ideas in meetings, consciously or subconsciously.

The good news to all of this is that unless you are Ariel from the Little Mermaid, you have a voice and therefore have the power to make a change here!

One strategy to combat the occurrence of “hepeating” is called amplification. You may remember this strategy because it went viral due to its use by women in the White House during Obama’s tenure. It goes something like this:

1. A woman says something in a meeting.

2. You agree with her, so you say: “Building on what Elaine said…”

3. Elaine’s idea is noticed as her own and you build rapport with her. The meeting continues and everyone comes away feeling valued.

It can also look something like this:

1. A woman says something in a meeting.

2. A man repeats this and starts to get credit for the idea.

3. You swoop in and say: “Thanks for your input, it sounds like you’re in agreement with what Elaine said earlier…”

4. The meeting balance is restored. One small step for man, one giant leap for gender parity!

Sounds simple, right? Try it out in your next meeting and see for yourself.

2. Correct Assumptions

As a man in engineering, you are likely what most people have in mind when they visualize an engineer (especially if you practice mechanical engineering or work on trains). We are trying very hard in the profession to change this perception, but these are the facts given that the workforce is 70-80% male.

In my office, I am one of two women. When I think back on the times where I’ve appreciated my male coworkers the most, it is when they have stuck up for me in awkward situations or used their voices to set a situation straight. What do I mean? Let’s look at an example.

I was once on site with a male colleague for a project that I was running. We were meeting contractors for the first time to walk through our design and explain the details of the installation. The colleague that was with me is older than I am and fits the mental image of an “engineer” that people carry around in their minds. Thus, when we met some of the contractors, they assumed he was the project manager on the job.

Here comes the good part.

Using his power, my colleague immediately made the project dynamics clear and pointed me out as the project manager. This made me feel a lot more comfortable since I didn’t have to wade through that awkwardness by myself.

This situation is a perfect example to show that a small gesture can make a really big difference. If you notice that assumptions are being made in the workplace and that your female colleagues are being sucked into stereotypes, speak up!

Bonus points if you offer to take notes in a meeting, but that’s an article for another day.

3. Talk About Your Colleagues’ Accomplishments

Between being interrupted more than men and getting 8% of the talking time on conference calls, it can be sometimes difficult to get a word in edgewise about the awesome things you are doing as a woman in the workplace. There’s also that aforementioned double bind that warns women about bragging too much, lest they are perceived as “self-serving” or “ambitious” (not a bad word in our books).

In her book “That’s What She Said: What Men Need to Know (And Women Need to Tell Them) About Working Together”, Joanne Lipman discusses the idea of “brag buddies” and we think this is a brilliant idea that can help both you and your colleagues. Here’s how it works:

1. You notice that your colleague is doing something great.

2. You bring this to the attention of his or her boss.

3. They get recognition for doing something great.

4. You form a pact with that person to lift each other up and discuss each other’s accomplishments with management. You both win! You go Glen Coco.

Lifting up the accomplishments of your female colleagues can also help them when it comes to salary raises because the factors that make it “unacceptable” for women to brag openly are the same ones that hurt them during negotiations. According to research from Harvard University, women are sometimes punished in negotiations by both their female and male peers because they are perceived as demanding or “not nice”. Sometimes it can hurt to ask, so it helps when colleagues fill up your accomplishment bank account before the negotiation even starts.

Putting it all together

It doesn't take an engineer to know that multiple voices together speak louder than a single voice alone. This is why it is key that men join the conversation on gender equality and use their voices to enact change in the workplace.

Instead of waiting until you’re on the Forbes (blank) under (blank) list, start by testing out some of these small actions. The results may surprise you and lead to more opportunities to make a difference in the future.