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Home  > Article

Working as a Woman in Engineering

By John R. Platt

While gender roles in technology still aren't equal, they are getting better every year, and there are more opportunities for women in engineering around the world than ever before.

Generational Differences

Most men in Generations X and Y grew up with working mothers. That means they expect to see women in the workplace, and view them as equals. Meanwhile, the number of professional women working in technology fields is growing every year -- and the number of women in management is also increasing, making it easier for women to have men reporting to them. While you may still find some prejudice from older generations, younger men are much more likely to treat you as an equal.

Strength in (Smaller) Numbers

Okay, sure, there are still more men than women working in high-tech, but that shouldn't work against you. In fact, it actually gives you opportunities.

Fewer women in the workplace means you are more likely to stand out from your male peers. It's not like 20 years ago when women were almost a novelty in technology companies, but by being part of a minority, you have a good chance not only of being recognized, but of being remembered for your good performance.

Know Your Gender Differences

Of course, when few women are present, the ones that are there can tend to be overshadowed by their showier male peers. Even if you're the only woman in the room, don't be afraid to speak up. Be yourself, be professional, and don't be timid. Be bold enough to take risks when you are sure about your ideas.

Speaking of your ideas, don't take things personally if your contributions are shot down. Men will often get more combative in support of their ideas, and defend them to the death. Then they'll forget about it and stay on good terms with the people they were just fighting with. Learn to understand that male modus operandi. Women often get the bad rap of holding grudges, so don't let yourself fall into that trap -- or perhaps more importantly, let yourself be perceived that way.

Working AND Living

Because so many high-tech companies need to operate on 24/7 schedules, they are often ideally suited for working mothers -- or for anyone seeking the ever-elusive "work-life balance." Corporations need people who are able to work all hours, and technology companies tend to be more, shall we say, enlightened about concepts like flextime and telecommuting. If you are thinking about having children -- or just want to have a life outside of work -- engineering firms are better suited that just about any other career.

Management. Yes, You.

As I mentioned earlier, the number of women working in technology management is on the rise. Women often bring several valued qualities to the table, including their ability to work in teams and to better envision the end-users of technology products. Management isn't everyone's game, but neither is staying in the trenches. If you want to rise through the ranks, your work in engineering just might make that possible.

John Platt is a marketing consultant and journalist living in coastal Maine.

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