Unhindered Conversations: Female Engineers Share Workplace Stereotypes and How to Overcome Them
These female engineers are making their mark, but they’re not exempt from being at the receiving end of stereotyping and bias. Here are their stories.
Every job comes with its own set of challenges but being a woman in a male-dominated workplace is especially tricky. It’s an endless process of having to prove oneself with hard work, knowledge, and sheer will. These badass female engineers share their experiences of bias, stereotyping, and triumph.
“You Don’t Look the Part”
For Electronics Engineer Clariza Soriano, 30, the playing field was level at the start. She studied at Philippine Science High School, where students must take up a science or engineering course. “I did get comments from some of my friends that I don't look like the ‘engineering type.’ Maybe they had an image of an engineer in their head, and I didn’t fit that,” she shares.
“I was pretty good at math when I was a kid, so I always knew I would pursue a related career. Not fitting into the image of an engineer was a good challenge. I wanted to prove that I could do it despite not looking the part!”
Clariza adds she’s lucky to work in a company with almost the same number of women as men. “Here in the Philippines, it's good that the industry is leveling up in terms of gender. I love that we're moving towards inclusivity in the industry because a lot of women really are getting into STEM and are excelling in their fields.”
However, her experience in Japan was different. She was the only woman in a section of 20 people. “My manager asked me one time if I was uncomfortable about being the only woman in our section. I said no. He said he felt uncomfortable for me. I think this shows how Japan is still behind compared to us when it comes to these things,” she says.
“Oh, Look, a Girl!”
Faye Ymson, 31, studied chemical engineering and is now a product services engineer for the electronics arm of a tobacco company — a very masculine field. “I get awestruck reactions whenever I tell people I have a degree in Chemical Engineering. This, of course, is followed by questions or comments about the field being , but in reality, more women take this course than other engineering courses.”
When Faye first entered manufacturing, she would get a lot of attention when she did her factory rounds. “It was their first time to see a woman there. I use ‘girl’ because when I was starting, I felt they were seeing me as a girl rather than a woman or engineer,” she says. “I needed to exert more effort because I wanted to be taken seriously and seen as competent.”
She has since moved to a different company and is happy to see progress in how female engineers are perceived. She also mentions that there is less stereotyping in the workplace. “Campaigns on inclusion and diversity (I&D) are paving the way for women in the industry to have equal opportunities to succeed.” She recommends looking up companies’ I&D programs to help gauge the opportunities they offer to women. “If there’s no I&D program or initiative, the company should start one,” she states.
“Women Are Happy to Let Men Run the Show”
Andrea Cadenilla, 27, is a validation engineer in the medical industry. Being one of the younger female engineers, her biggest hurdle is having a say in the company. “A recurring challenge is to ensure my voice is heard in formal team meetings and discussions within an engineering team or department. I realized that when I don’t assert myself and share my thoughts, I come off as inexperienced or incompetent,” she shares.
Andrea learned to and aggressive in expressing her opinions when solving engineering problems. “I learned not to be afraid to ask questions because this showed that I wanted to be more involved in the process.” Attending conferences to listen to the experiences of other female engineers also showed her what to expect in the field.
She also believes there is now more support for women in science. “I see more companies highlighting female leadership and female engineers that are involved in achieving company milestones, like releasing a new product or expanding their scope of work.”
“Women Won’t Excel in Engineering”
Civil engineer Anna Francesca Viernes, 31, got the most flak from her dad about wanting to take up engineering. “He told me it’s a man’s world and women have a harder time thriving in engineering. But I've always been fascinated with structures. I knew for sure that I wanted to be an engineer,” she shares. Her experience of the industry proved her dreams were in the right place, but she’s well aware that not everyone is as lucky.
“I was fortunate enough to be assigned to a workspace that respected my decisions and outputs. But I hear stories about women working twice as hard to be respected and get noticed not because of how they look, but because of what they know.” She found that loving what you do and not being out to prove something is the key to standing out.
Chesca believes the industry is evolving into a more welcoming space for female engineers. “The world knows that women can do everything at the same level. “People listen more now regardless of gender and age. Women are more vocal and women are also braver,” she says.
“Men Deserve It More”
Gizelle Covarrubias Robinson, 59, is an industrial management engineer with a minor in chemical engineering. She shares that when she was in college, it was a novelty for women to be accepted into Engineering. There were a lot of questions about what kind of work she would end up doing after graduation, but with the blessing and encouragement of her mom, she took the course.
“Computers were the new thing at that time. I read that it would change the world. When I saw what the power of the written code could do to automate and build products that made people’s lives easier, I was hooked,” she shares.
Being a minority in her industry, her credibility as a technologist is something that Gizelle continues to work hard on. “Cool projects were assigned to the men, who were then promoted. It was quite frustrating. Some men would take credit for your ideas. There weren’t strong or sponsors who would advocate for me at the time,” she says.
Instead of backing down, she continued to learn about new technologies and hone her leadership skills. “I would turn my frustrations into motivation to prove to the powers that be that I was good at my job. I found my ‘why’, which provided the perspective I needed to figure out what mattered to me.”
Gizelle still believes that the industry needs more female engineers. She says, “There is not enough of us in all levels, from entry-level to C-suite positions. In my opinion, some of it is bias, and some of it is a pipeline issue, which is why educating and encouraging young girls to get into STEM is critical.”
Her advice for anyone who wants to become a female engineer? “Do not be intimidated by the fact that you may be the only woman in the room. Instead, revel in it and dare to show them what you are made of.” She adds, “Accept the fact that there will be double standards. Work through them but do not forget to voice politely the unfairness of it. Highlight the importance of meritocracy in everything whether it be inclusion or opportunity. When we do that, we all benefit.”
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Our respondents agree: the industry has room for more female engineers, but everyone must make this happen. If you plan to get into any male-dominated profession, consider these women’s advice when choosing and navigating a workplace.