How is it to be a woman in engineering?

International Women in Engineering Day is not a celebration but an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focus attention on the amazing career opportunities available to girls in this exciting industry. Sounds great, isn’t it? But if there was equal representation of men and women in the engineering workforce, we wouldn’t have to have a special day to hope that one day that happens.

For us studying or working in the field of engineering, it is very natural to find ourselves in a room where the clear majority of the presents are men. By the year I started studying Systems Engineering at Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica (2013), a total of 220 men entered the career while we were 50 women, which represent only 18% of the total first-year students. And by the year I graduated (2017), there were only 25 women receiving the bachelor’s degree.

According to a study performed by Carroll Seron on 700 students of four colleges, one of the reasons why women who study engineering leave the field is because of being affected by stereotypes and the culture of engineering. Despite the fact that collaboration and teamwork constitute a core component of being an engineer, Seron affirms in that article published in 2015 that:

“For many women engineering students, however, their first encounter with collaboration is to be treated in gender stereotypical ways, mostly by their peers. While some initially described working in teams positively, many more reported negative experiences.”

That affirmation is no stranger to the office environment either. Even from the internship programs, we see women leaving the field as well and that same study performed by Seron found that:

“[…] these work sites echoed the gender stereotyping experienced in school projects: men were assigned interesting problem-solving tasks where they could develop their analytic and technical skills, while women were often assigned jobs sorting papers, copying, collecting equipment, writing notes, and coordinating—tasks they felt did not value or cultivate their skills.”

So, going back to the topic of this post, how is it to work in an engineering role being a woman? It is challenging, I can’t deny that. Sometimes we have to speak louder to be heard, we have to be more expressive in the virtual meetings so we get the attention we deserve, and sometimes we get to see the leadership roles being assigned to men even when we know there are more capable and prepared female colleagues to get that position. But it is also an opportunity to change things, to make a difference.

Having women in representative roles helps the new generations of female engineers feel more supported and it makes easier to find mentors to whom they feel they can relate. Cathy Trower, the research director of the Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education (COACHE) at Harvard University affirms in an interview performed by The American Association of University Women (AAUW) in 2010, that “Mentoring is crucial for STEM women because without it they might not be privy to the good old boys’ club or behind the scenes conversations that are crucial to fitting in the department and to getting tenure.”

That is something MISMO is putting into practice by having more experienced engineers in the company being selected to be mentors of the new female interns, at the same time it contributes to shaping the environment of the workplace to be more welcoming. This and other efforts are necessary to keep increasing the number of female contributions to the guild while new opportunities for us to occupy representative roles are increasing. MISMO also embraces diversity and different ways of thinking and creating to build better products and become a more welcoming space for the upcoming women engineers.

For all the women out there thinking about studying an engineering career, or those who are already in the field: we are stronger than we think, we are smart, intelligent, and creative. Be confident in your abilities and proud to be a woman in this field. It is true gender stereotypes still exist and as a young woman, it may be tougher to gain colleagues’; trust but I believe that this mindset can change based on your attitude. Be proud of who you are. Find yourself a mentor. They do not have to be female — some of my best mentors were male — but I got to know plenty of strong female engineers and managers who guided me and continue supporting me to move in the right direction.

While we hope to see the number of female engineers increase, we, the women in engineering, will continue breaking stereotypes, building foundations for the upcoming generations, and enduring historically built struggles to get to be in the field. We keep improving the workspaces to have a better environment where we can grow professionally and personally, and we keep supporting each other and celebrating that we are transforming the world with our incredible achievements.

Marjorie Valverde
Sr. Software Engineer

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