Some people argue that women lack the intelligence, are too emotional, or don’t handle stress well enough to be engineers. Thats not what this is about.
Theres groups out there who are driven by the idea that we need to get more women in engineering in America. I dont get why. Women should do whatever they want, but why specifically push them to engineering?
To start, women in engineering (in Coastal America) are paid less, especially at the start of their careers. Women in their early 20s can be paid as little as 50% of what their male counterparts are paid. There’s a lot of reasons for this. My former professor Miriam Posner wrote an insightful article in The Guardian about this issue. All the while, the pay gap is closing in other industries, and in some, women are making more than men.
Engineering teams are hit and miss. No one wants to start a job anticipating they will have to talk to HR. Ive worked on great engineering teams with amazing energy and lots of laughs, but Ive also found myself in a handful of uncomfortable situations that dont happen in marketing.
To get paid more – you have to switch jobs. This is pretty standard for everyone who codes. But switching jobs comes with a lot of questions for girls.
What kind of career can you have when youre not really quite sure if youll be accepted at your next team? Along with the risk of being paid less, passed on for promotions, and generally tokenized – it aint a fun ride.
Jobs that have been traditionally done by men – construction, lifting heavy objects, repetitive tasks – are all at risk of automation. Women’s work – traditionally more empathy-based and requiring softer skills – will rise in demand in the next 5-10 years and will not be automated for a while longer. It is important for women to focus on their soft skills, especially leadership, listening, and people management. These skills are important to every field, even technical ones. Learning a specific technical skill is not as helpful long-term as, say, learning how to effectively communicate about technical problems with non-technical listeners.
So my advice to other women is: do literally anything else other than engineering. Be a youtube beauty guru. Start a for-profit career counseling firm for high schoolers. Go to clown school. Be an instagram model. I believe groups and organizations that heavily promote females in engineering are doing more to hurt women than to help them.
Keep in mind – I started coding as a child for fun. I had no idea what I was getting into and my parents were thrilled I was teaching myself stuff. To be fair, I come from a country where STEM is not male-dominated. I did not grow up with negative self-perception about my gender and technical careers, and I still dont have any. I love building stuff with code! But I dont really wanna work in engineering in the US, and I think its a fair choice.
Yes, if you want to code, definitely do it, but if you want to code for work, be fully aware of the risk you are taking every single time you accept a new gig. Engineering teams can be very aggressive, 4chan-like boys clubs, or they can be welcoming and supportive learning environments! I dont think we should sugar-coat the gamble.