“You don’t look like an engineer.”
“Wow, you must be smart.”
“Good on you for doing engineering. You’re so brave.”
If you are a woman in engineering, you’ve heard these statements many times before. They are the manifestations of unconscious, and sometimes just plain conscious bias, the normalisation of toxic engineering cultures, and the continual underestimation of women’s talents when it comes to science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM).
It’s expected that boys and men pursue ‘hard’ jobs like engineering.
It’s a surprise when girls and women do.
We have coding camps for girls. We run workshops for high school girls to teach them about engineering. We have scholarships for women in engineering at university. And of course, we have leadership programs for senior women engineers.
If we are trying so hard, and doing so many things, why is it that women still don’t look like engineers?
Because, amongst all the excitement of ‘getting girls into STEM’ we have failed to break down the systemic biases and barriers that push girls and women out of STEM in the first place.
Because it is a complex system that encompasses familial, community, media, educational and professional systems, processes, and cultures – so there is no silver bullet.
Because we think this is still a women’s problem.
And because, this is an issue that challenges our own thoughts, behaviours, and values. It challenges how we see others, and of course, how we see ourselves.
They key to unravelling complexity is knowledge combined with action. Join me on this journey of knowledge, questioning, and importantly, acting, so that one day, being anything other than a man in STEM is nothing to comment on.
Note: women = cisgender and transgender women.