When I started my career as a young engineer 27 years ago, I entered a world filled with men…male engineers, male technicians, male supervisors and managers. The only women at my company were in accounting or administrative assistants. With the exception of one transmission planning engineer – who became a life-long friend and my lifeline in those early years.
In college, I was one of four women who graduated in electrical engineering out of a class of about 75, but in that environment I felt like I could be myself. It wasn’t until I started working at my first engineering job that I considered myself different.
Growing up, my mother, who before having kids, was a home-economics teacher – she was an excellent seamstress and made beautifully decorated cakes. These are two of the many things I learned from her. I even sewed my own wedding dress. When I started my first engineering job and was surrounded by men, I felt like I needed to fit in. I tried to be like a man. I didn’t dress like a man or look like a man by appearance, but I hid these more traditionally “feminine” hobbies from people I worked with. I put this side of me away when I was at work. I wanted to fit in and be “one of the guys”.
The problem with this is that I wasn’t true to myself. I think I felt like if I wanted to be viewed as being knowledgable and competent that I needed to be like my co-workers, who at that time were all men. I didn’t realize until I got older and had more experience that my differences are assets to those I work with. It’s our different viewpoints and backgrounds that we bring that make for a better work product. I should have not only felt “ok” about being myself, but I should have been proud of who I was.
I’m not sure at what point in my career I figured this out…as I look back on my career, any point in my career was too late. I wish I would have had the confidence to be myself at the beginning. I feel like I did myself and women coming after me a disservice by hiding parts of myself.
We do not have to be like men in order to be valued as engineers. I’m not sure why I ever thought that I did. Be yourself. You are the only one of you in the world. Your viewpoints matter. Your experiences matter. And only you can bring them to this world.