I’ve heard it all before. “You’re going into engineering because you have a better chance of getting a job as a woman” or “you won’t have to try as hard” or “you’d be good for fitting a company’s quota.” What these egregious commentators fail to notice is the underlying sexism embedded into these passing judgments. The dominating perception of women’s initiative of going into STEM careers creates an unnecessary dichotomy between male and female engineers. Perhaps a radical notion – but what happened to people going into engineering because, oh I don’t know, they actually enjoy math and science? The worldview: men go into engineering because they enjoy it, women go into engineering because they have a better chance of hitting the jackpot.
If it’s just as challenging to receive a degree across genders, then why all the hate? One of the reasons may be that opportunities are being presented to females today that were nonexistent just a decade ago. With the rise of organizations such as the Society of Female Engineers and IEEE Women in Engineering, women now have support networks and gateways for getting a head start into their chosen field. However, opportunities should not be mistaken for a free pass. In this growing competitive age, sure, you won’t be discriminated against for your race or gender, but you’ll be competing with a pool of highly qualified applicants. And when you grow up in a culture that continuously iterates that engineering doesn’t subscribe to your gender role, you’ll surely miss a few opportunities that others may have gotten to take advantage of. So perhaps the real reason why females bubble in their gender on their application with a sense of pride and accomplishment isn’t because it’s a sure fire ticket to getting hired, but because it’s one more tally to disprove the stigma – one more way to say, “this is what an engineer looks like.” It’s a way to say, I love my field, and I’m going to take advantage of the opportunities I’m presented with, and I’m going to work just as hard to be successful. So ladies, raise those gender cards high and proud, because this is our playing field too.
Alexandra Hsain is a self-publishing blogger and contributor to the Scientista Foundation. She studies Aerospace Engineering and Science, Technology, and Society at North Carolina State University.