On March 8, International Women’s Day, my cousin made a post to Facebook. It involved an article, with the headline stating that the majority of Canadians can’t name a female engineer or scientist.
Everyone reading that post could name one female engineer, that would be the cousin in question. I could name two more, one being a cousin from the other side of the family, and my sister. And that’s just the people I can name off hand. Apparently my family is unique.
I began to contemplate why my family might have a higher percentage of women in engineering careers than some other families. And I realized I didn’t actually have a clear answer.
Now, in the case of one of my cousins, not the one who made the post, there’s definitely a family push towards engineering, for whatever reason. Her father, my uncle, is also an engineer. She has two brothers, both of whom are engineers. Engineering is clearly something people in that family just do, and I’m curious to see what percentage of the next generation makes engineering part of their career.
Otherwise, what is it that has lead these three women to their careers?
My other cousin, the one who made the original post, is from the other side of the family. While my cousins are friends, they are not cousins to each other. All three women grew up in different places, with different parents, while they knew each other and might have influenced each other in some way, the connection isn’t obvious
Growing up, this was normal to me. Of course women were engineers, women were lots of things, I was surrounded by them and they all did something different. I didn’t realize that apparently this was a unique experience that not everyone shared. I could name a female engineer, couldn’t everyone?
I was still aware that there were barriers to women being engineers, largely cultural ones, primarily because my sister pushed hard against them the entire time. In her case, I always got the sense that she enjoyed pushing against them, because it lead to her favorite thing in the world - someone admitting she was right. If she told a story of sexism in the workplace, you could sense her mounting joy as she got closer to the end, where she proved the man who doubted her wrong and showed that she was the greater of the two. Not everyone is like my sister, or would get a thrill proving that they belonged in a hostile environment, which is definitely a barrier in getting women into engineering as a career.
I grew up with the idea that nothing should be blocked off because of your gender. Not everyone had that same luxury. That International Women’s Day exists is testament to that fact, and to the idea that we have to move past that idea. In this case, we’re talking about engineers, but this applies to many other things.