In Career, Discussions, Discussions, Life, Salary, Women

Where are the women working in male-dominated fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics (STEM)?

As someone who works in a male-dominated, STEM profession, I could totally relate to both of these posts.

THEY ONLY NEED TO HEAR MY VOICE TO REJECT ME FOR A JOB

I’d say about 50% of my interviews (in the past for jobs) and for contracts turn out to be a wash.

Know how I can tell?

It’s within the first 30 seconds of talking to me on the phone for a technical interview.

First, they ask for me by name.

When I say: Speaking!

They usually say: Oh!  followed by a hesitation or an .. Umm…

Some even have the gall to say: You are not what I expected.

I try to make some lame joke about this, but I already know the interview is over and I am not going to be getting that job.

GAME OVER.

stock-game-over-shoot-again


UPDATE:

To Kathy’s point below, the reason why I would be qualified for a position based on my resume but fail at a technical interview is because the ones who are hiring in HR are not the ones who can do the job from a technical standpoint.

They usually get an employee in my field who then puts me through some technical interview questions, and then THEY are the ones who tell HR “Yes” or “No”.

Everything hinges on this technical interview.

It sometimes has nothing to do with how well I answer or how good my answers are, it has everything to do with their already inherent bias against a woman in STEM; as in the stereotype of some guys that women are not mentally fit for such professions.

It is not that HR or the company itself doesn’t want to hire the best person even if it’s a woman, it is all hinging on that one, possibly misogynist employee.

If they absolutely have to do the technical interview, they continue, but half-heartedly because they were asked to interview me, and this is what they have to do to report back to their manager.

They go through routine questions, sound pretty much bored, and never ask me anything beyond the basics.

In a few instances, I might even get an interviewer who gets into a heated debate and argue with me about something I said that they feel is not “technically correct” because they don’t really know their jobs from a technical standpoint, but feel the need to show that they are indeed, middle-aged men who are more intellectually superior to me, a young female in the same field.

Case in point: An interview I had way back when

I once had an interview over the phone and BF was in the same room as me. I was going through the interview, and I was repeating each question back to the interviewer to make sure I understood what he wanted to know about, and plus, it gave BF a chance to eavesdrop.

In the middle of the interview, I gave a response that I knew was correct (I worked with a similar problem), but afterwards, the interviewer tried to tell me I was wrong or mistaken in my answer and tried to correct me.

It kind of went like this:

Me: No I’m sorry, but that is not the correct. It works like this…..

[proceeds to lay out how it works.. again]

[pause]

Me: Pardon me? Oh.. you want MORE information on this?

But I wouldn’t be able to give you any more detail unless you present me with an actual scenario to work out. 

Afterwards, BF gave me a bemused look and said:

You gave a perfect answer.

In fact, I don’t even know where you got that answer from because even I would not have said it so well.


Then he has the nerve to ask for MORE INFO?

There’s nothing more to give. That guy doesn’t know his job. He’s a moron.

I’ll bet he Googled the questions to interview you.

Me: *shrug* He didn’t like me from the start because I’m a woman. I could tell.

I doubt they ever get off the phone and do any research into what I said, because they are too lazy, and assume that they’re right and I’m wrong. I mean, I have to be wrong! I’m younger, AND A WOMAN.

Anyway.

The point is that I have to work harder, and get a lot more flack from people in my industry just because I am a young female. Period.

Nothing to do with colour, race, the school I went to, the accent I have or don’t have, or anything else.

These are all PHONE interviews so they don’t even know what I look like.

They only need to hear my voice to judge me.

ADULTS UNCONSCIOUSLY INFLUENCE WHAT CHILDREN DO

Cassie’s post where are the women in engineering? lays out the argument perfectly.

Girls are meant to do girl things, and boys are meant to do boy things.

When girls or boys try to go into something that is not girly or boyish enough, they’re prompted and gently steered back to their respective roles.

Think about these job roles:

  • Male secretary
  • Male nurse
  • Male midwife
  • Female mechanic
  • Female construction worker
  • Female plumber

Do they sound odd to you?

They shouldn’t, but even to my eyes and ears, they do because it is SO RARE to see people in those areas.

BEING INTERESTED IN ONE AREA DOESN’T MEAN YOU CAN’T BE INTERESTED IN ANOTHER

I’ll admit to being very girly even from the start.

I like clothes, I like shopping, I like makeup, and I always had my trio of colours around me as a little girl (pink, purple and white), plus loving EVERYTHING unicorn (I even had a unicorn clock). I was just .. GIRLY.

stock-unicorn-stuffed-toys-kids

(Unicorn catnip for my 5-year old self)

.. but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a brain or the aptitude for the more technical things.

I mean to put it another way, it is irrational to think that liking unicorns and certain colours makes someone less inclined towards more technical subjects.

Does liking pink make someone stupid? It’s just a colour, what can it do? It is completely irrational to base intelligence on what colour you like.

And why is pink associated with stupidity?

Why not blue? Or black?

See how dumb all of that sounds?

The thing is that no subject in the world is difficult if someone is interested in it, and it has nothing to do with whether or not you are a boy or a girl.

It has everything to do with if you are interested in that subject or not.

I am not interested in physics or cars for instance, but I have been and always was interested in design and coding.

I started a business as a freelancer when I was 16, consulting with small to mid-sized companies on building websites and a branding image online, before anyone really thought that a website was a necessity for a business.

I taught myself coding languages and software required to build websites or to design things because it was fun. I got a real rush from being challenged to figure out a solution to a problem, and that’s what I saw coding as — a problem to be fixed.

(I have since let my outdated coding skills go to ground and only pull them out for this blog.)

I didn’t think: OMG! I’m a girl! Is this girly enough? Should I go brush my hair and giggle over boys instead?

I saw coding to be equally as fun and interesting as figuring out what to wear for the next day (I liked setting out my outfits the night before).

I even played video games (online and offline), and managed to turn that hobby of virtual game playing into a business where I made money for college, all while wearing makeup and accessorizing.

SO WHERE ARE THE WOMEN IN MALE-DOMINATED FIELDS?

For those of us who were lucky and encouraged to pursue whatever we wanted to do, we’re in a field that we love and with the way we present ourselves, we are quietly (I hope!) helping change people’s perceptions of who is fit to do the job, regardless of gender.

For the rest who were not so lucky, and undermined by their parents, or other adult influencers in their lives, I hope they read this post and stand up for what they really want to do.

Maybe they could even switch careers midway through their life.

It is never too late.

stock-little-girl-baby-kid-child-children

For all the little babies and girls who are currently experiencing resistance to their choice of hobby or subject matter, be it playing video games, coding, math, science, cars or anything that is not very ladylike or girly, I can only hope that adults in their lives and their parents read this post and give them a chance to do whatever they want to do.

Another good read on statistics about how gender equality is quite real is: where are the women in science?

I hope everyone who reads this encourages girls and women to try things and to learn subjects that are not typically female-oriented or female-dominated, such as how to best invest your money.

No seriously, more women than men (not saying that men don’t do this) seem to have this budgeting thing down pat, but when it comes to slightly more advanced personal finance topics like INVESTING, there seems to be a blockage or avoidance of the subject that mystifies me.

Finally, it is also up to us, women who are not only in these fields, but women who are not!

We can’t expect change if we don’t initiate or fight for it.

Who’s going to hand change over on a silver platter and coax or guide us through everything?

No one. It starts with us.


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Sherry of Save. Spend. Splurge.

I got out of $60,000 of debt in 18 months using TheBudgetingTool.com. Since then, I have worked 50% of my career (taking 1-2 year breaks), and quadrupled my income within 2 years of graduating, going from $65K to $260K (savings rate = 85%). I could retire today if I wanted, but love my work-life balance as a freelancing consultant in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I also post daily on Instagram @saverspender.

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38 Comments

  1. STEM Digital Nomad

    STEM here. I entered ‘unofficially’ after learning to code at age 11, and had my first programming job at age 19 but switched careers and industry. Re-entered after going to hackathons, decided to ‘formalize’ by getting a STEM Masters degree and now in a STEM role in the software industry. The last sentence was done over three continents by the way as I moved all over the world too (age 24-27yo). Had a lot of nay-sayers but I have learnt to take on board a ‘fish bowl’ perspective where I see someone’s opinion as a fish bowl separate to my own fish bowl that I can choose to ignore. Also know for sure that there are people cheering for you so make sure to take care of them. I am aiming to enter consulting like you but first, need to get my permanent residency in my new country!

    Reply
    1. sherry@savespendsplurge.com

      I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours, truly. I know it is not easy to freelance or consult, particularly in a country without papers..

      Reply
  2. Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank

    I work for an electrical engineering company and it is WAY male dominated. As someone who is in a position to hire people, I can tell you that when we put out an advert to hire, we normally get about 100-150 applicants and only about 1 or 2 of them are from women. We have no gender preference, but we do hire entirely based on merit. And with that kind of percentage of women applying, it is no wonder there aren’t very many working where I work.

    On top of that, when I did my IT/Eng degree at university, I would say there was about 5-10% MAX females enrolled in those degrees. There is nothing stopping women from entering these subjects, but it seems many aren’t interested.

    I personally would love to get more women in my area, but I won’t hire a woman over a man just based on gender, they have to earn it the same as a man and be the best fit for the role.

    All just just my 2 cents worth.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I agree with NOT hiring women just because they’re women. Make them work for it like anyone else.

      That said, I encounter a bias of being a woman, so they love my resume when they see it but then they feel weird when they finally interview me. 🙁

      Reply
  3. Lila

    What advice then do you have women who go into STEM?

    I’m in college pursuing an IT degree.

    I would like to be a web developer, or a software engineer. Not sure which. I have a knack for tech and pick up things pretty fast. In between work and classes I have been learning coding skills like CSS and Python. When I was a teen I made websites with HTML, just HTML.

    My parents arranged for me to job shadow with a programmer friend of theirs. In addition, my bf is a software developer and I pick his brain all the time and he has no problems telling me about what it takes to make it at work. I was able to tag along a couple of times with him to work too.

    I’m not going into STEM to break barriers. If I do break barriers then that’s cool but mostly I’m pursuing IT because I just have a knack for computers and there seem to be good opportunities if you are good and you can earn a good income.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      What kind of advice are you looking for? Career advice in general, or how to deal with men who think you aren’t smart enough to be alongside them?

      If the former, I’d suggest picking something you enjoy doing whether it be web developing or software engineering. It sounds to me like you are already on the fast track to learning how to be a good IT person, and you have a keen interest in it to boot which is always helpful.

      If the latter, you can’t do much except work harder, faster and better than they do. You have to understand that you will be judged based on who you are (young woman), and until you can prove to them that you are worth your salt, they will be wary of you. Sad but true.

      Be a true professional but kind (no need to be a bitch unless you need to be), don’t take anything too personally (it’s business, so don’t be afraid to speak up and voice your opinion, citing your knowledge / experience), and prove yourself early on.

      Reply
      1. Lila

        @save. spend. splurge.: Yep basically I was looking for general advice. Thank you. 😉 😀

        Reply
  4. Mrs. PoP

    I don’t think being a woman has hurt my career in a STEM field in the least. I tend to be shy, and being one of just a handful of women often means that men will approach and start a discussion, which is a plus since starting discussions is what I hate. After that, the fact that I know what I’m talking about and can contribute meaningfully to the conversation at hand generally keeps me included in further discussions.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      I have not had the same experience… although it isn’t all bad. Some guys are good with working with women (relieved, even). Some take me for granted or treat me like the coffee girl.

      Reply
  5. SarahN

    I’m in the STEM field, and haven’t really experienced much trouble at all, on reflection. I like to think it’s because everyone has a mum if not a daughter or sister, and that helps a little. Sure, occassionally I think I experience a customer who thinks they can walk all over me/ speak to the boss, as I’m a girl, but it’s never explicit. And I don’t call it for what it is, as everyone would deny it. In some ways, that’s when I have to be what people might think is more ‘male’ – stick to my guns, not back down, not get intimidated (which is exactly what happens).

    Sadly I’ve not interviewed for a lot of technical work, so I can’t compare directly. I do know when my university interviewed for scholarships, women in Engineering got 50% of the scholarships, even thought women make only 11% of the engineering student population. At 17/18, girls/women interview so much better! Sure, there’s also a bias of compensation for the 11%, but nonetheless…

    Reply
  6. ArianaAuburn

    I am planning to enter the STEM field when I return to the US. As soon as I find the right school, I will also learn how to grow a mustache and deepen my voice a bit (sarcasm). But seriously, you could try applying to work for a large corporation where a gender discrimination lawsuit would make them think twice about rejecting you.

    Reply
  7. Kathy

    I have a hard time believing that a company would deliberately not hire a woman if she was absolutely the best candidate. It would be a bad business decision for their company to pass up the best qualified person for a job. I do believe however that there is still a mind set that if a woman (or certain other minorities) are in that particular scientific field, then it must be due to EEO or a quota system. And I have to reluctantly admit that I sometimes have that outlook myself.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Kathy: I don’t have a hard time at all. I am screened by technically-minded employees who are not necessarily HR folk.

      HR people want to hire people to do the job. People who then conduct your interview, are not HR people, they’re employees who don’t want to work with you or have outdated notions of what you should be (not a young woman in my case) to be good at your job.

      I’ve experienced this quite a few times, and in contrast, I am able to compare my experiences with the SAME people interviewing me who interview other guys I know in my field.

      Reply
  8. nicoleandmaggie

    My husband says that women are like the canaries in a STEM coalmine– their presence generally means that the company is a good work environment and their absence generally is a red flag. Precisely because there will be assholes like the ones who interview you and don’t take you seriously.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @nicoleandmaggie: I don’t want to work for those companies anyway, which I guess works out in the end.

      Reply
      1. nicoleandmaggie

        He doesn’t either!

        Reply
  9. MakintheBacon

    I started off in engineering in school, but then switched to a science major after one year. I remember meeting a guy at a bar in first year and having a conversation about what our majors were. When I told him I was in engineering, he said, “Really!?!? You’re too cute to be an engineer!” WTF?!?! If I’m considered cute, then I’m dumb??!?! Whatever happened to the saying beauty and brains.

    Btw, I think that’s awesome you taught yourself how to code. I’m dabbling here and there in learning how to code in HTML with Codecademy. I took a couple of programming courses in high school and really enjoyed them.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @MakintheBacon: I am nowhere near what I was back when I was a kid coding.. it has pretty much all gone out the window 🙂

      I just kind of memorized the patterns of how the code went and experimented a lot.

      Reply
  10. Morgaine

    Great post! Although I’ve never been inclined to STEM professions or interests, I totally agree that we should never limit our children (or ourselves) and make sure that all the options for both boys and girls are open and up for grabs.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Morgaine: I’m definitely teaching ALL life skills to both genders I happen to give birth to (e.g. sewing to boys, and how to unclog a toilet or flip a breaker to girls and so on)

      Reply
  11. Bet Crooks

    This reminds me of one day at work in the 80s in the oil patch, when a more senior engineer said to our boss “Ah, Kathy, how am I supposed to tell the guys at the bar that my boss is a woman and my secretary is a man? We all laughed, but we all knew that he was only partly kidding.

    I’m sorry to hear that it’s still a problem.

    The “you’re a girl/boy you must….” thing seems to be getting worse in some ways. Lego was just Lego when I was growing up. Now you are expected to buy Lego kits based on gender. Of course the idea of “kits” that build specific items is also a bit of a step backward. I don’t know if kids are encouraged enough to just mess around with the pieces and design their own projects.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Bet Crooks: *sigh* Not surprising in the slightest.

      I HATE those Lego kits. I never had them when I was a child and I made up whatever I wanted. Now you have a blueprint to follow which I think is ridiculous.

      Reply
      1. MelD

        @save. spend. splurge.: I have so gone off LEGO for this very reason – have you been in a toy store recently? Makes me sick.

        Reply
  12. LAL

    STEM here and they are off having kids. Prime years for tenure, finishing residency, dissertations, climbing the ladder are during your 30s, prime childbearing years. You spend your 20s getting educated and then suddenly the clock on kids starts ticking but you are still supposed to be working. WTF. They bring this up all the time that about half the phds in hard sciences like physics, chemistry, biology are women but only something like tenure tracked professors are 5%. Where did they go? Where did they disappear? They talk the talk of extending tenure, making it more family friendly but it isn’t happening. That’s all talk.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @LAL: It takes a lot out of you, I agree especially since we do have a biological clock to adhere to.

      Reply
  13. Emily @ Urban Departures

    I’m in STEM field and while being female has not been problem, being a girlie in the industry surprises men. I’ve gotten a lot of “You’re wearing heels…” and “You don’t look like an engineer”. Apparently, if you’re a girl, you have to be butch and manifest masculine qualities to be in STEM?

    I do hope that as the world progresses, the barriers come down, for both women and men. It irks me when people cast judgement on women who I hear men being discriminated because of their gender, like, for example, if a father chooses to stay at home and take care of his children.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Emily @ Urban Departures: There is a little trend of men staying home to be with their kids.. “Power Wives” I think was the article in Toronto Life last month (December 2013).

      Reply
    2. Anonymous

      @Emily @ Urban Departures:

      Yup! The media doesn’t help this. One time I watched “Hackers” and Angelina Jolie is in that movie as a female hacker. She has short hair and is almost masculine. Please don’t take this comment the wrong way. This is my perspective of her character on the show. I’m a huge Angelia Jolie fan.

      “Hackers” isn’t generally a good movie imo and I only watched it once. Then on CIS the female chick is very alternative. So people don’t expect someone intelligent and very feminine to go into IT.

      The only one that seems to break that barrier is Angela in “Bones” she is very feminine and intelligent. In the show she is a forensic artist and throughout the series she is shown to have both artistic and tech skills.
      Her character majored in art and minored in computer science.

      In most shows women are portrayed in dream careers like PR, writing, crime solving, medicine, and law.

      Reply
      1. save. spend. splurge.

        Sex and the City of course, being the worst offender for this (even though I love the show, I shake my head at it).

        Reply
  14. Alicia

    Thanks for the inclusion in the post.

    No one reading my name would think I am male, but sometimes on conference abstracts it has gone by initials. And once or twice I can remember having looks like “oh, she’s the one doing this cool research…huh…” It doesn’t help I work in a very male-dominated sub-field of STEM. It makes me feel like I have to prove myself as soon as I open my mouth. I try to be as precise as possible when I speak technically. I have to know my stuff tighter and better than my male-counterparts just because when I open my mouth I automatically am one step back. And then you still get the comments afterward of “wow, I didn’t expect that from a girl!” And these are the people I am supposed to network with to make connections for later in my career? Uh oh!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Alicia: Your experiences are similar to mine.

      I do have to prove myself a lot more than guys do which is why I tend to be a lot tougher on projects which surprises people. They don’t like it… and they like it. It’s a catch-22 because I am damned if I act tough (read: professional), damned if I don’t act tough.

      Reply
  15. eemusings

    But you have a feminine name!!! It shouldn’t be a surprise!

    Trust me, I WISH I was talented in STEM fields. I’d love to be out there breaking down those barriers. And the $$$ wouldn’t hurt. But neither my skills nor interests lie in those things.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @eemusings: It shouldn’t be but it is!!!

      Reply
  16. MelD

    This topic comes up fairly frequently, as my husband has been in IT management for many years, now as an independent managerial consultant. He also had excellent army training and was delighted to have a mixed command – he said it civilised the men! Anyway, although he is very supportive of women in work, he despairs of even finding well-qualified women in the areas of IT and engineering, although he would love to employ many more, but they just aren’t there, which he finds incredibly disappointing. In one CIO job, he made a concerted effort to employ women in these areas and ended up with just 3 in a team of 40, and they were all non-Swiss. So it seems that in this country, women are still being discouraged from an early stage. However, an acquaintance just last weekend said he felt that at the universities, if women do stick it and get through the basic studies, the professors will make it easier for them to get involved in projects, even if they aren’t as good as some of the guys, to make an example of them… so you can’t win, somehow!! It’s really annoying and would so annoy me, too, if I had to go through interviews like this. It was bad enough in the days when I was doing secretarial work to make a living but felt I was often smarter than my male bosses, but in a very conservative work climate! Phew, was I glad to get out of that!!

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @MelD: I was reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell the other day, and even in orchestras, they think the violin is appropriate for women (feminine instrument) so they hire more women in that instrument, but for something “manly” like a trombone, they think that a woman doesn’t have the lungs to really play better than a man.

      They started doing auditions behind closed screens and were surprised that some women outperformed men on “manly” instruments because they simply had better lungs.

      It’s something like THAT in my opinion. If I could go to technical interviews with a masked voice, I’d probably land more contracts or at least not have to fight so hard for my rate.

      Reply
  17. Stephanie

    I’m happy to say that I haven’t had any such interviews and that people don’t second-guess me when they interview me. I think that going to a top-notch American school might force people to not discriminate like that. And it might also help that I live in California. But since my name is very obviously a female name, people who call me are expecting a female voice. As for all the people who haven’t called me, I have no idea what they think.

    I’ll also admit that I don’t expect men to be secretaries. But I’m hoping that it’s because I’ve never met a male secretary and not because I innately think that men shouldn’t be secretaries! However, I had some great male elementary school teachers, and people I know who work in hospitals all say that having some male nurses around is awesome. So, hopefully, the world is changing for the better. It just takes a while.

    Reply
    1. save. spend. splurge.

      @Stephanie: My problem is that I send in a resume, it looks great to them in the HR department, but they aren’t the ones interviewing me (employees, usually all male are), and they’re the ones who say “Yay” or “Nay”, which screws up the entire process if they’re biased against women to begin with.

      Reply

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