Monday, January 27, 2020

Gender inequality isn't the overarching issue often assumed within the Engineering field

As much as I appreciate the sentiment of this somewhat older  Letter to the Editor that still makes its rounds on the Internet, there's a lot of creative license here. As I read it, I said repeatedly to myself, "yes, I have experienced that." Yes, boys experience these things as well, right along with girls. The experience may not be about the same specific things, but feelings of inadequacy and fear of rejection affect almost everyone in school while growing up.

Regardless of gender, each of us has to learn for ourselves how to be true to ourselves and explore our interests regardless of what others may feel. For me, I indeed pursued a career that my childhood friends specifically told me not to.

For me as a child, I got into trouble when I got dirty.

For me as a child, I never saw "bossy" used differently between girls and boys. I was called bossy. You are called bossy because you imposing your leadership upon others without mandate. Basically, you are called bossy because you aren't good at leadership, not because you are demonstrating leadership skill.  Kids shouldn't be expected to be good at leadership, so teach them. They need guidance on how to lead effectively.

For me as a child, I lived in constant fear of rejection for my interests, because kids and adults alike are just that judgemental.

For me as a child, I was indeed bombarded with images and slogans based on how I should appear and present myself. For every Barbie, there was a He-man. For every June Cleaver there is a James Bond.

For me, I grew up in a time when a boy would be singled out for acting too feminine.

For me as a child, I saw plenty of boys overlooked by teachers for a whole bunch of different reasons. I saw the impact of that neglect on those boys in my classes.  

For me, I was never a part of any popular clique, so the "boys club mentality" puzzled me.  This not a gender thing.  Clique-forming is tool which is natural to being human.  Cliques frequently form around common interests and personality compatibility.  Sometimes cliques are all-male or all-female, and sometimes they are not.  Sometimes multiple cliques overlap with each other.  Again, I'm not a fan of the behavior, but it's part of who we are as a species.

While it's true I'll never personally deal with being "diversity hire" (though I can legally declare myself as an ethnicity that would be surprizing to most observers), I've have never seen a woman hired or not hired for a job in Engineering because she's a woman.

The words in the letter are so far removed from my experience that it feels like it was written in a different world than the one we actually live in.

For the issue of gender inequality to be addressed seriously, we have engage in serious discussions about it, while avoiding ideas based on rhetoric. Why are girls discouraged away from Math or Science?  How frequently is that happening these days (and where)? Why are boys discouraged from being Nurses? Why are children in poor families overlooked and disregarded completely, regardless to subject matter or their gender? Why do people think the Engineering field rejects or otherwise poorly treats women in the field, when the opposite is true more often than not? 

The world isn't perfect.  There is sexism.  Society (from a North American perspective) has many tools to address sexism when it does appear.  It's out there, but it's not a dominant factor; being experienced far less in the modern world than in the world of our grandparents.

On the topic of Engineering, we should be mindful when encouraging anyone (boy or girl) to enter the field.  A high number of Engineering graduates end up never getting a job in Engineering or leaving the field early in their career.  Many end up in Sales (perhaps their degree helps, but wasn't actually necessary), business management (where an MBA may be more important), Quality (again where their degree helps but wasn't a requirement), Technical Writing, Marketing, and even full time blogging/vlogging. 

When you encourage someone to pursue Engineering, don't try to push it on them because you think it's right for them.  Let them find their own path.

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