This is a guest blog by Holly Welles
Women make up half of the workforce, but when it comes to the positions at the top, we have a long way to go. Many women stay away from STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) fields to begin with, quite likely due to gender expectations that blossom in childhood classrooms. And unfortunately, some who aim for a career as an engineer, scientist or mathematician often leave the field.
How can women succeed in a male-dominated workforce such as the engineering field? It isn’t easy, and it takes developing more than thick skin. Women need to pick their battles when it comes to dealing with coworker and employer demands for performing gender-specific labor. Here’s how women can take their engineering career to new heights.
1. Find Your True Passion
When your work aligns with your passion, starting the coffee pot in the morning becomes easier while dealing with hassles like coworker expectations. Working makes up at least a third of our lives — it only makes sense to choose a role you enjoy. If this means you follow your childhood dream of becoming a rocket scientist, then go for it.
2. Embrace Your Skill Set
You may have better communication skills than your male peers. If so, capitalize on that skill if it will help you to get ahead. Many women naturally excel in leadership and managerial roles due to their ability to perceive the feelings of others and communicate impartially.
However, if you prefer remaining as an engineer or tech professional, communicate this to your supervisor. In many such fields, the more techie you’re considered, the more prestigious your job title, even if outside parties would see another role as superior. Become so good at your role, moving you to a different department proves taboo.
3. Invite Yourself to the Boy’s Club
If you’re the only one not invited out for beers after work, invite yourself along. The same goes if the rest of the crew heads out to lunch together. Much business is conducted at happy hour, and you don’t want to miss out on promotion opportunities, etc., because only your immediate supervisor knows you on a first-name basis.
4. Find an Inside Coach
Finding a mentor is a great way to learn the ropes at a new workplace and to ensure your contributions get noticed. Find one or even three leaders you click with, and ask them to help you on your career growth path. Most people are flattered to assist you, and you make instant friends to network with at after-hours soirees to boot.
5. Learn When to Say No
Learning how to set healthy boundaries and say no to some requests that aren’t in your job-specific wheelhouse is a great way to stay focused on your career — and respectfully head off assignments that may not immediately be given to male engineering students. For example, if you’re in the middle of an important project, but you’re asked to put together an educational seminar you lack adequate time for, explain why your other work must take priority.
Phrase your objection in a fashion which makes it clear you have the best interest of the company at heart — think, “We stand to lose a valuable client if the presentation I’m working on currently isn’t completed to standard,” not, “Because I’m a woman, you assume I can teach?” Of course, if someone makes an overtly sexist statement, call them on it if you feel safe or submit an anonymous report to H.R.
6. Ask for What You Need
If you’ve nailed it performance-wise and need a raise, don’t expect your boss simply to offer one out of the blue. Schedule a time to sit down and discuss your contributions and why you deserve more than the standard cost-of-living adjustment.
The same rule applies if you need more flexibility in your schedule or if you wish to transfer to another department. Meet with your supervisor and let him or her know. As always, phrase your demands in a way that keeps company needs paramount — Think, “Allowing me to come in and leave later will enable me to make my time spent at work most productive.”
Succeeding in a Male-Dominated Engineering Career
It is possible for women in any field, including engineering, to excel in their careers. It does take a bit more moxie to play in the boy’s club, but once you show how talented you are, you’ll find acceptance and admiration among the fellows.
About Holly Welles
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To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success