(I encourage all readers of this post to also read my post on Empowering Women, which clarifies what I wrote here further.)
Every company has a special group (well, a few special groups sometimes) for Women Engineers. They’ve been around me a lot – everywhere. It needs to exist – it is mandatory for the morale, really.
So, when I got the first email at Google about a group for women engineers, it wasn’t surprising. Maybe I should go to one of these. Maybe I will learn something and be inspired. Over the years, I’ve also had a few invitations to speak at some of these, which I’ve never accepted either. I have nothing against these groups – just that it never climbed up high enough on my priority list to do it.
There is something about these groups that bother me at the corner of my brain and that is fundamentally the reason I have never put in an effort to be part of these. Are these groups making us women engineers look like we are crying out for attention? Are these “misery loves company” outlets? Are these indicating that we have a need to be treated differently? Or that we just need a venting outlet to deal with the male dominated engineering world?
I’ve always heard these rants from women on how it has been really tough to keep up with the men and be considered one of them. Someone once told me how women always have to rise up through the ranks and prove themselves out, sometimes by being note takers, in order for their potential to be seen. I feel for the women who feel this way, but I must say, as someone who has always been the “only woman in the team” and has constantly been surrounded by male engineers and managers, it’s not the only way. I find myself perfectly comfortable sitting in a room full of male engineers, many of whom I may have never met before. Or, presenting to an audience composed of hundreds of male engineers. Or, proposing projects in a room full of senior management people, where the only women are in non-engineering management. It always comes down to the confidence you can feel deep inside and whether you, as the woman, think of it as a problem in your head. I never felt it was necessary for me to start out as a note taker in order to be taken seriously or for my comments to be heard. I have paid my dues as any other engineer, but nothing that I felt was specifically attributed to my gender.
That is what I think is my fundamental problem with these groups. No question I’ve had my share of feeling the gender issues – aside from some crazy managers that have come along my way, the shift in conversation style the moment I enter a room full of otherwise male engineers has not gone unnoticed. Or, having that uncomfortable moment in leading a bunch of senior, (male) engineers.
At the end of the day, I prefer being one of the group, not discriminating myself in my own head in ways that will interfere with my confidence or my ability to lead, learn or deliver anything. There is a rush that comes with execution that speaks for itself that does not come with any type of gang chanting of the female mantra, at least for me. I’m sure there will be many more crossroads where I need to make the choice on whether to join these supportive women-in-engineering (or pick-your-favorite-discipline) groups. I feel like a jerk ignoring them and I feel needy embracing them – but, hopefully I will figure it out one of these days!