Privileged. If I were given merely one word to describe my life as a female engineer, I would choose privileged. I live in a society, community, and time where I am awarded the privilege of being able to choose to ignore my status as a female in my working environment, in favor of my status as a student and as an individual. And personally, to ignore is my choice. I definitely realize there are other ways people, and females specifically, can and will choose perceive themselves and establish their own identities. It is my belief that none of these perceptions are in any way more “correct” than the next, on an objective level at least. Subjectively, everyone has something that works best for them. I imagine that many of you reading this have unique and varying viewpoints, opinions, and hesitations with regards to what it means to be a female in engineering. I wish you the best of luck in defining your own identity and establishing your own rules to play by. Since that is something you must do for yourselves, what I can do is speak a bit to my own personal experiences/background, and hope to make kind of cohesive point by the end:) Or at the very least be entertaining?
I can honestly tell you that the thought of standing out as a female engineer did not cross my mind once from the time I decided to become an electrical engineering major, until just now as I started this blog. I personally was a fan of what I saw as a ratio skewed in my favor;) Unlike most of my fellow VSA ladies, I wasn’t a huge math/science nerd in high school. I was really good at those things, but I truly shined in my English and History classes. I still remember always turning red when my friends instantly recognized my handwriting/ called me out when one of my writing samples would end up being the teacher’s example on the overhead projector. For the longest time, I had journalistic aspirations. I wanted to travel the world and tell people’s stories. As I got towards the second half of high school though, I developed a huge passion for technology. I began to think that I would make a better journalist if I were well versed and educated with some type of technical background. I also knew that what I wanted out of a college degree was something new and completely different from anything I had ever done before. As much as I loved (and still do love) reading and analyzing texts, I knew that I needed more out of college. I was seeking a whole new set of skills. Engineering seemed like the only real choice given that criteria. When I further decided that I could see a future in patent law for myself (a different way to utilize a different set of writing skills), I picked out electrical engineering, since it seemed the most relevant to current IP and patents being filed, and because the patent bar requires a technical degree.
While at times it can be bit difficult for me to keep up with my amazing peers who are a lot more naturally talented than me in this discipline, being an engineering major has been an amazing and rewarding experience for me so far. I like having to continually work as hard as I can and I like constantly pushing myself. It reassures me that more than just information, I am getting out of college a work ethic drive/motivation to succeed. I have stated time and time again my favorite part about being a student at SC is the comraderie among engineers specifically, and their willingness to share their brilliance. My peers, male and female alike, have been gracious and kind individuals that help me get through every aspect of my life. I see so many talented peers of both genders who are going to do amazing things. While statistically speaking, a majority of these peers happen to be male, I’ve never really thought about that. My classes are my classes, and the people in them are all people. We all found each other one way or another, because of personal bonds we share and connections we make. However, if this isn’t your style and you are looking for a certain demographic of people you already know you relate to well (e.g. people of your same major, gender, race, etc), students orgs on campus exist that make it really easy to facilitate those meetings. Do not hesitate to check out clubs that you think you would enjoy, for the sake of meeting others that share things in common with you. After all, that’s what clubs are all about!
Ok, now that I have rambled about myself plenty, I will wrap up with a few key points, starting with an anecdote. A couple months ago, I went to an early screening of Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows here on campus. After the screening, Susan Downey, the executive producer (and wifey of the star, Robert Downey Jr.) took questions from the audience. I have to admit, there was one question for Susan that in particular, made me roll my eyes. It was a tired but valid question, that I had heard many times before.
Girl: “Hi Mrs. Downey. I’m a huge fan. So I wanted to ask you, what advice do you have for other women like yourself, aspiring to be executives in a male dominated industry.”
Susan: “Honestly, just do the work. Don’t think about being a woman vs. being a man or whatever. Think of yourself as a worker, and just do the work.”
I think I really identified with Susan’s answer, because my personal views sway somewhere along the lines of, “if we (women) ever want true equality, we have to stop singling ourselves out as a gender, and treat our own selves as equals. As long as we think that our path to success is any different/more difficult than a male’s, then it can only be treated that way.” However, this is not to say I ignore my status as a woman completely. I simply mean, I identify more as an “engineer” than as a “woman in engineering.” This woman, still feels very much a part of her school as a whole, embracing her feminine identity, while hoping to set herself apart through her achievements and not merely through her gender;)
Ladies (and gentlemen of course), I am certain that if you choose to come here, your fierceness will shine inside and outside of engineering, and you will achieve wonderful things and meet wonderful people. Please don’t hesitate to hit me up if you have more questions/would like to have a discussion about this topic or any others. I would love to hear your thoughts!