“Is it hard being a woman in engineering?”

This is a question that I have received continuously throughout my degree, primarily from women. It is, quite frankly, a question I’m tired to death of being asked. If you heard someone being asked “is it hard to be a woman in nursing?” you would immediately think that’s a ridiculous question, and you would be right. But it’s not ridiculous because it’s a female-dominated field, it’s simply ridiculous because all you’re essentially asking is “is it hard to be in your profession because of your gender?” and thus I am continuously perplexed by why it’s women who ask me this most.
At the end of the day it’s quite easy to be a woman in engineering. Why? Because I love engineering. I love research, I love medicine, I love biomedical engineering. Most of my university friends are male, and all of my engineering mentors are. But I absolutely love my chosen field, and I really don’t mind if all of my female friends and mentors are from other degrees or my part-time jobs. So no, it’s really not difficult to wake up in the morning and do something I love, male dominated or not.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been frustrating moments. Whenever I got a new job, there would be at least one person who would say “it’s just because you’re a girl”. I have a near-perfect GPA. I graduated top of my class. I worked 2-3 tutoring jobs the whole time. But my jobs, my PhD, my other successes are “just because you’re a girl”. I was also lucky enough to have a scholarship aimed at getting women into male-dominated fields. Again, “just because you’re a girl” comments were made. Yes, the scholarship was for women. But it was an academic scholarship for women. It was a smaller playing field but I still had to play. Finally, every time I’ve told someone “I’m doing engineering”, it’s been met with a look of surprise. So yeah, there were moments, but what woman doesn’t have a story like that?
There were also some great perks of being a woman in engineering. The main one was entirely based on my own determination/stubborness. As a woman in a male-dominated field, I was so, so driven to do well just to prove that I could and women could. I always worked a little harder, pushed a little further, and submitted everything on-time and to a standard I was more than happy with. I was not satisfied with “just passing”, nor was I overly happy with anything less than the top mark. I wasn’t trying to be competitive with anyone but myself. I didn’t mind if there were 3 guys who did as well as me, but being a woman drove me so hard to be at the front of the pack.
Sometimes it’s difficult being an engineer. It’s a challenging career path, pretty much everyone knows that.
Sometimes it’s difficult being a woman. Things are always improving, but there’s always some people who maintain a 1950s mentality, and there are always moments.
But is it hard to be a woman in engineering, a field where I get to make and discover new things, help people through my research, and contribute to the world in a way that I see as meaningful? A position in which I get to meet other like-minded women and encourage them to get into science, technology, and engineering? Conducting research that my colleagues and friends, male and female, respect and admire?
Nope. It’s the easiest damn thing in the world.
Happy (belated) International Women’s Day.
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