I have heard this a couple of times in my career. Not often, but sometimes they didn’t mean for me to hear it, but I have heard any kind of variation on:
“Oh I’ve worked with women engineers, and they just aren’t as good as men.”
“Whenever I try and work on a technical project, I always ask for a guy.”
“I hate working with women. They just don’t understand.”
So when I read this article about how the Real Root of Google’s Gender Problem starts at Birth, it made me want to bring up a few points to consider and discuss.
1. I WAS NOT ENCOURAGED FOR ANY STEM PROFESSION
My parents .. as far as I can recall, always said things like: Oh I don’t know how girls can do engineering and math, it’s just so.. DIFFICULT with all that math and so on. It just isn’t very feminine.
I was never encouraged to count, do math, or be helped in any way to reach any kind of inner potential.
All I had, was a drive to be #1 in all my classes, so that included Science, and Math, whether it was acceptably feminine or not.
I was encouraged in the flow of creative arts instead, you know, instrument playing, colours, art, clothing… honestly, I was pretty girly until I got older and turned into a tomboy of my own volition.
I read a lot, and loved most classes except physical education (LOL).
2. AND YET, I AM TECHNICALLY AS STRONG, IF NOT STRONGER THAN MOST GUYS I MEET
Without giving away what I do, it sort of amazes me each time I go on a project, how long these guys have been doing their jobs but have no flippin’ clue about the basics.
I once started a new project and had to quickly ramp up (on the side) my skills and knowledge for this particular piece, but within about 3 months, I knew more, and could fix most of the issues better and quicker than these guys who have been there for 15 years.
I am NOT saying I am the Queen Bee, and I am NOT saying I am a Genius, but .. what I will say, is the difference is that I care.
I cared a lot about working, I cared about doing a good job, and I cared about being a sponge for knowledge.
I am genuinely interested, curious and invested in making sure that when I set out to put my name on something, I really understand it from all the angles, and I get it.
Not just “oh I get it when you explain it to me“, understanding, but an actual working knowledge of all the pieces which I then envision end up slotting into my brain in little compartments of knowledge, filed away, much like a big puzzle piece.
I care enough to the point where I want to know what everyone else is doing so that I can see the entire big picture, and know at what point in the flow I fit in, and how I can best help the team out by making sure my part is flawless.
3. SO PART OF IT IS PERSONALITY & APTITUDE…
Maybe the way my parents discouraged STEM careers made me want to do it even more, or maybe I just liked the rational, technical aspects of STEM.. I have no idea.
I just know that once I met my career, it made sense. I worked hard at it, I cared even though I knew NOTHING in the first few years of the job, and it all started to click in my head like a symphony.
4. BUT PARENTS CERTAINLY PLAY A BIG ROLE IN IT
I was at the park and have been at the park observing parents the past few weeks and I have noticed how boys are encouraged to run and play and climb, yes math and explaining how the world works comes into play, and little girls are less.. interacted with.
They play, yes but no one is behind them saying things like: “Do you know why the sidewalk is so bumpy? It is because the tree roots are coming up underneath and it is cracking the cement sidewalk which is why it isn’t flat any more“.
I see less of that kind of explanation of how the world works when it’s towards girls, and maybe, as the article states, it is why girls are at a disadvantage when they start.
They aren’t encouraged in such pursuits from birth, and this is partly true but obviously not the whole story.
They don’t already have any kind of budding curiousity or need to explain the world around them, if it isn’t already in their nature.
Part of it is that attitude of Little Boys are all about Snails and Puppy Dog Tails, and Little Girls are all about Sweets, Spice and Anything Nice.
They’re encouraged towards acceptably female subjects like art, music, reading, and anything that is ‘quiet’, ‘clean’, and ‘feminine’.
(I am thinking back to my mother, honestly.)
When have you ever seen a parent encourage a daughter dressed like a princess in pink to go and just go for it in the sand pit, making mud castles and ruining their clothes?
Even counting is not a big thing, and I see parents encouraging little boys to play with trucks and go wild, but their daughters are not encouraged to build anything with her brothers’ trucks, but to make food and “cook” instead.
So when they start school, they’re already behind in things like math or science, they don’t know why the sky is blue or why it rains.
Even today, my mother has no idea what I do and thinks what I do is very technical, so she cannot figure out how I learned any of it.
5. I HAVE A BOY, SO I DO NOT KNOW IF I WOULD DO THIS
I will say that I talk a lot.
To Baby Bun, I explain a lot, I explain thunder, rain, snow, temperatures, how to read graphs… but I cannot tell you how I would have reacted then and now if I had a little girl instead.
I have no idea. I would hope I’d be the same, but maybe I wouldn’t be.
It is all excellent food for thought for parents who have girls — assume they are interested and spend time doing science projects with them, explaining math, the world, and encouraging them to be as technical and as smart as possible.
6. GETTING PENALIZED FOR BEING FEMININE
When people first meet me, it is clear as a woman I don’t immediately command confidence and respect in what I do.
This is clear. I know it and feel it.
Then it is up to me, to make sure I bust out my brain and confidently show that I do know my job and I am DAMN good at it, and can still be smart and technically-oriented even with nicely curled hair, makeup, and a bright pink dress on.
I can be smart, great at what I do and wear lipstick. The two are not related.
The real proof of all of this? I make good money and people hire me back over and over again.
And in the end, that’s all that matters.