Monday, April 4, 2016

Do we discriminate against ourselves?

My friend at work (let's call her Susan) was recently thinking about applying to become a supervisor. Susan exceeded all of the stipulations in the job posting including having over twice the number years of experience required. And yet, when Susan was thinking about applying she was legitimately concerned that she was not good enough to apply. Because Susan felt like if she was going to be THE female supervisor, that she had to be beyond kick-ass to set a standard for what a woman in that role can be. Otherwise, in Susan's mind they'd see her failures as a failure of women to be able to perform that role.

Yeah, from an outside perspective it's crazy for someone to feel that they represent their entire gender, race, religion, etc. But at the same time, in industrial engineering settings where there are few women in an organization, and even fewer (or none) in management - we do often hold other women (and ourselves) accountable for "representing women".



As I type this, I can hear how silly that sounds. But something about the environment makes me react when one woman is under-performing, or using what appears to be a "maiden in distress" tactic to get other people to do her job, or otherwise reinforcing negative stereotypes that are still prevalent in our work environment. Maybe it's because it brings me back to memories like when it was the middle of a big troubleshooting effort, and some guy who didn't know me assumed I was incompetent and made jokes about me being great for a secretary. And so later, I feel like a woman who doesn't "prove people wrong" is somehow losing ground that the rest of us are trying to gain. Women have been the industry for decades, and there must be a reason why we are treading water when it comes to the race towards equality.

I wish it was just me; I know that there are a lot of us who feel that way... But when I step back for a second, I realize that the women I'm judging for not "representing women" are not actually any worse than their male counterparts. Because I believe they represent us as a whole, my expectations for them (and for myself) are unfairly high. Just as my friend Susan's expectations for herself as a potential supervisor were unfairly high. As she described her "shortcomings" it was clear that she thought she should have manager level experience to perform a supervisor level role.

Whatever we want to call this mindset (which is a mix of imposter's syndrome and believing that we need to represent all women), we need to collectively snap out of it. No other woman represents us as individuals, and we don't represent other women. By perpetuating this thought process, and not applying to jobs when we are qualified (and not overqualified) we are becoming complacent in constructing the glass ceilings that limit us from progress.We shouldn't have to outperform men to be considered equals.
























So give yourself, and other women, a break. Don't disqualify yourself from a position before you've even given it a shot, and try to not blame other women for causing discrimination you see in other parts of your life with their shortcomings. The only way we'll be judged as individuals (as we should be) is if we start to change the rhetoric.

Love,

Vanessa

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

STEAM Themed Dresses!

I've previously covered why being a female engineer is awesome, but having a background in engineering can be a strong foundation for many different career paths. A great example of that is Eva (for once in the history of this blog, that's her actual name!), a cool scientist turned entrepreneur who has shifted to creating a unique line of clothes that combine the femininity of dresses, with "geeky" designs, with pockets! And who doesn't love pockets in dresses! If you didn't raise, your hand, you are lying to yourself right now.

Now THIS is an infinity scarf
But being serious for a second here, the work she is doing to show that "geeky" and "feminine" can describe the same thing is really important. Every little bit we change the dialogue can help impact our own engineering bubbles where we have to explain that an engineer "looks like" us. So hopefully, you'll support this cool project too. (PS I am not affiliated with this company, nor am I being paid to say this or share this). 

- Vanessa
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My love of all things Science started when I was a kid. I found constant amazement in the world around me and wanted to know everything about everything. As a teenager, there was never any question in my mind about what field I wanted to pursue. My dream was to become a famous geneticist and to right the wrong done to my childhood hero, Rosalind Franklin, by being the first person to unlock the human genome. I tried to make my dream a reality when I went to college and obtained degrees in Biology & Psychology.

The stereotypes about female scientists started to really bother me very early in my career. Whenever I would tell people that I was a scientist, a way too frequent response back was, “You don’t look like a scientist.” I somehow managed to restrain myself from saying, “Really? Well, do you know what a punch in the face looks like, because I’d be happy to show you?!” Maybe it comes from having an awesome spitfire for a mom, but I have always viewed femininity as a huge strength. I unapologetically like wearing dresses, lip gloss, and heels. However, I also know that I’m tough as nails and don’t mind getting muddy in the name of science or discovery. I got completely fed up this notion of what a Scientist “looked like”. I worked my butt off to get where I was and I felt like I sincerely deserved everything I achieved. How could I possibly not look like I belonged in the field?Did I need to change my appearance to look more masculine so that people would accept my merits in my field? I just wasn’t willing to change who I was in order to fit people’s stereotypes about what I should look like.

Women who enter STEM fields are 45% more likely than their male counterparts to leave the field within a year, and sadly, I became a part of that statistic. There are a lot of factors involved in why I left my career in STEM, and it obviously isn’t solely because of the way I liked to dress. However, it did have a lot to do with feeling isolated and like I didn’t belong in my field. After a few career changes, I finally found my stride in e-Commerce.

Last year I joined forces with a former ThinkGeek co-worker to create a company called Svaha where we developed a line of children’s clothes featuring STEAM themes (Science | Technology |
Engineering | Art | Math). We wanted little girls to be able to wear dresses with code & chemistry experiment designs on them & we wanted to make it cool for boys to wear shirts with cats, rainbows, and butterflies! After we successfully launched the line, we started getting a flood of emails from women in STEAM fields asking us to make dresses for them too. We realized there was a missed market for women who want to showcase their love of STEAM themes.

Eva & Jaya - Creators of Svaha STEAM Angels

We are really proud to introduce our Kickstarter campaign for Svaha STEAM Angels – Smart Dresses for Smart Women. The 5 dresses in this initial line each feature a STEAM theme. We want to create a way for women to own STEAM in their own way and prove that brainy is beautiful!

Science | Technology | Engineering | Art | Math

This is highly personal for me, as I want to change how our society views women in STEAM to prevent other women from going through the isolation that I felt. I think we desperately need more smart, strong, creative women working in STEAM or interested in STEAM, and Svaha wants to do its part to smash through gender stereotypes. Please support our Kickstarter campaign so that we can create many more fun, STEAM-themed women’s clothes for years to come!!

-Eva

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Cube Decorations

So you graduated, got a job, and now you have  your very own hand me down cube. Some may say that the stains in the filing cabinet from your previous owner are "character", but you're finding it to be to much like a crime scene to call this place "work home". Or maybe you have one of those cubes that just feels too sterile. Either way- here are some rules and ideas for cube decorations.

Things to keep in mind:

  1. Find out what your office policy is on what you can have in your cube and where you can have it. Some places have policies on how cubes are to appear to give a professional look to the office overall. 
  2. If you have stuff hanging on your cube walls, some of it should be work related. This isn't your college dorm room, and you want people who walk into your cube when you aren't there to know you actually work. I like to keep this behind my computer, because it also happens to be super helpful to have posted quick reference guides for basic work things. Hanging calendars can also be helpful for managing long term projects (even in the digital age).
  3. Only display comics and photos which represent your professional persona. AKA stay away from photos of you and your besties drunk at a bar, or some raunchy comic strip or something. This should really go without saying. 
  4. Generally- your cube is a reflection of you. That said, mine is a total disaster most of the time. BUT that's also sometimes an accurate reflection of me. At every step, be conscious to decorate your cube so that you are comfortable while still considering how this will impact how your bosses and coworkers will perceive you.
With that said, here are some ideas of ways to add a little life to your dreary cube:

  • To literally add life to you cube, try getting a low maintenance plant to bring a little life to your cube. Beware of ants and other gross bugs that this may attract...  

Check these out here!
  • Having a hook for your jacket/purse is a must, if you don't already have one. It's practical and it makes your cube feel a little more homey You can find them all sorts of places, but here's an example from staples
dps by Staples® Verti-Go™ Cubicle Accessories Double Coat Hook, 1
  • Fun hanging files and folders are a nice way of adding a bit of life to your cube, that you can "hide away" in your filing cabinet.  
Capri Designs File Folders - Aztec Ikat CPDFFL4567
Check out more patterned folders here
  • DRY ERASE BOARDS! I'm so addicted to these, and I find they are a really great way of talking through complex problems. If you have problems with your coworkers writing random stuff on it, just hide the markers.
  • Positive affirmations, or funny sings are also a good way to spice up a cube. I put these here to help calm me down on days where I feel like everything is spinning out of control. So I'd recommend avoiding Dilbert cartoons- only because I feel like they only reinforce my negativity.
Somebody here intended this for yogis, but it turns out to be a great Electrical Engineering pun
What better inspiration to have at work than this? I don't know about you but sometimes in the heat of the moment I get really not-nice. And while I don't think women have to be sweet pushovers, I also think that everyone should be kind to each other. 
  • Funny/cute magnets for filing cabinets or magnetic cube walls
Available here

Cute magnets here!
  • And last of all sometimes you need something a little funny. Like sometimes it feels like this is my actual business title:
Get personalized business car holders here
Do you have any other tips about how to make a cube feel a little less stuffy?

Cheers, 

Vanessa Pocket

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Engineering Resume Tips and Tricks!

So it's that time of year again and students everywhere are trying to get their resumes up to snuff so they can grab a sweet first job. And as your designated woman on the other side of the table, I've decided to give you some tips. If you haven't checked them out yet I have some older posts about questions to ask before accepting a jobquestions to ask during an interview, and how to apply to jobs without getting fired.

Step 1: Write a list of your previous jobs, awards, accomplishments, publications, professional organizations, certifications, etc.

Step 2: Find a resume format you like. There are plenty of examples online, and some built into word. Pick something that is a single page- you are writing a resume, not a CV, and recruiters don't have the time or patience to hear your whole life story.

Step 3: Populate the resume with your information! Start with the easy stuff- like your name and contact info. I'd recommend not using a college email, because sometimes recruiters find your resume years later (when your college email is long gone) with new opportunities. Then, start populating with the information you've collected in Step 1. At this stage don't be afraid to go over the one page limit, you'll pare it down later.
Should I put my citizenship status on my resume?
In the US, you should include this if jobs you are interested in require US citizenship and either you are not born in the US, or your name sounds foreign. And yes, I realize there is so much wrong with the last part of that instruction... but I've been told that by lots of advisers, so I'm just passing it along. 
Should I put my GPA on my resume?
Only if you are proud of it. Otherwise leave it off and let your accomplishments speak for you. They can always ask for your GPA later.
Should I put this random stuff from high school on my resume?
This one is the most frequent offender I see in resumes. Unless you were doing "real" engineering work in high school (which can count towards relevant work experience), or are a college freshman or younger - you should drop anything from when you were not legally an adult. Recruiters don't actually care that you won the school spelling bee in 9th grade, or that you were on Varsity cheer leading.  Picture the recruiter asking you, "Why should I hire you?" Your resume should only have things that you'd feel comfortable using in your response. Things like "well, I won this band competition in 10th grade" are unlikely responses. 
Remember to use active voice and a variety of action verbs in your job descriptions. Use a consistent tense, and be consistent with the grammatical structure you use. For example - decide ahead of time if you want to use complete sentences or if your bullets will be fragments (which don't have periods at the end). The consistent voice will help a reader easily pull information from your resume while skimming through a huge pile.

Step 4: Find an actual job that you want to apply to and compare your resume to it. To be clear, I'm not saying that you should mimic the job description if you do not have the skills or experience to back it up. I'm saying that you should be aware of what the recruiters are actually looking for in an employee. For example
Do you know how to use their required programs? Specifically list the ones you are fluent in on your resume. 
Do they ask for a certain number of years of experience in a certain field? Make sure your resume highlights what experience you have, and has the dates of employment listed.
Step 5: Pare it down, or beef it up. Okay, now that you have all of the information that you want - it's time to take a look at the volume of information.
Is your resume looking a little thin? Consider adding some of the following, but make sure that whatever you add is relevant and not just filler. You are constructing a one page thesis on why you should be hired - and random information will take away from the good stuff. 

Is your resume too long?  If you are in your teens or twenties and are over a page, it's time to cut some stuff out. This is your chance to pick your BEST selling points to keep on your resume to help you shine. Here are some ideas of things that I cut from long resumes: 

Yes, I realize that these two lists have a lot of the same stuff on them. But the idea is to prioritize what will make you look the best. 
Step 6: Get somebody super honest to review your resume. Or better yet, get more than one somebody to review your resume. They should check for relevance, spelling, syntax, etc. It's preferable that you choose somebody who also knows you fairly well, because they can sometimes remember gems that you've forgotten to include. Take their feedback as a gift; if they are tough than they probably want to help you succeed. So, don't forget to say thank you!

Step 7: Save it as a PDF, print it out, and apply to jobs! Make sure to read each job description carefully. You may want more than one resume on file if you are applying to more than one type of a job. If you are going to a job fair, learn to use your resume as an interactive tool to tell your story.

Good luck in your job hunt! Don't forget to like, share and follow if you like what we write!

Cheers,

Vanessa

PS. What do you think is the most common resume mistake?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Importance of A Diverse HR Department/Management

Over the years I've had the privilege of experiencing a variety of different company cultures- as a contractor and as a direct employee. The company cultures have run the gambit from super liberal and inclusive environments where everyone hung out with each other after work, to very conservative workplaces where there were regulations on everything down to a strict ban on headphones. And as you would expect with that range of workplaces, I fit in in some places and felt like a total outsider in others.
Sometimes it's hard to tell if a new company sees different as okay
As much as we as engineers like to ignore the role the HR department and management play in our every day environment, I've noticed that the diversity of the HR department and supervision is a fairly good indicator of company culture. Especially in places where you don't fit in (whether it is your gender, race, religion, politics, etc.), it is imperative to have a company culture where people understand what it is to be different.

Let's say, for example, you are a young female non-christian liberal working in company dominated by white male republican men. You try not to advertise your differences, and just blend in. But one day, you feel uncomfortable with something about how you are being treated because you are different. Maybe as a woman that's receiving explicit texts from male coworkers, or being treated like a secretary. Or as a non-christian maybe people are trying to convert you in the middle of the work day. Or if you are a different race maybe somebody made a racial slur. I've seen all of these happen in the work place...  But would you feel comfortable reporting these issues somebody in HR who is also a white christian republican man? Would you feel like he'd understand your point, or would he relate better to the people harassing you?



Maybe he would understand and take appropriate action to help you. This is by no means saying that all (or even most) white christian men wouldn't try to help. But the point is, if there is any hesitation that he might not - victims are likely to let problems go unreported rather than risk being blacklisted from the industry.

At least that's how I've felt when I'm in precarious positions. And with many of my stories (being discounted for my age, having my success attributed to my feminine wiles, coworkers placing bets on who will date the new female engineer, coworkers "flirting" by being assholes, being set up with clients' children and so many more gems) my friends have asked "why didn't you report this?!"

The answer is that like all well crafted "good ol' boys" clubs, everyone I could have complained to appeared to be a member of that club. Even the guys in HR at one company would spend afternoons discussing how they were going to fuck their wives that night loudly enough that we could hear every word even with the door closed. If they are part of the problem, how on earth am I expected to ask them for help? I want to be an engineer, not spend my life fighting legal battles or defending myself for every little thing. (I totally left that place by the way, so don't feel too bad for me now.) I imagine the same story is true for many other people; not all of whom have the ability to move on as easily as I did.

Which brings me back to my main point- an inclusive environment is constructed from the top down by diverse leadership and a diverse HR department. And an inclusive environment is how a company retains talented people- not just people who fit into a mold. So when you are joining a new place, don't just stare past the HR rep. Take a good look around, and try to figure out if this is a company culture where you feel you can thrive.


Cheers,

Vanessa

Monday, November 9, 2015

Some Days You Spill Coffee On Yourself

Some days you arrive at work after a long commute, and you step out of your car. You smile and exchange pleasantries with a coworker who has also just arrived. You pick up the iced coffee you brewed specially for that day, with some pumpkin spice for the first time this year so you can fully enjoy the depth of fall. The sun is shining, and you know today is going to be a great day. You reach for your bag. You spill your coffee all over yourself.



Sometimes you are lucky and it blends into the dark pants you are wearing, and sometimes it spills all over your shirt you have to try to hide it with a sweater during unseasonably warm weather. Every interaction that day is colored by the stain dried into your clothes. You wonder if others notice the stain, if they can smell stench of pumpkin spice that follows you like a ghost. You try to think about your project, but instead you wonder if you should just explain yourself instead of letting them jump to some wild conclusions about why you would be so disheveled today. And just like that, the split second when you didn't quite grab that rubber maid bottle has managed to ruin your entire day.

Or perhaps you don't have days like this, but I certainly do. It's not always spilling coffee, but something just as small can start a chain reaction that throws me into a funk for the rest of the day. Like the office bully saying exactly the wrong thing to me, or figuring out that I missed something obscure last month that is now painfully obvious, or being told by my management to back off of a project I feel is important, or feeling like I've wasted my morning without getting anything checked off of my to-do list. In that moment I feel helpless, because I know how that this is exactly the type of thing that will throw my entire day off and I might as well just go home.

But every morning one of those things doesn't happen isn't a cause for celebration. I don't see each day I don't spill coffee on myself as a win- part of what will allow me to focus enough to get some real work done today. That's because when they don't go wrong, each of those puzzle pieces is just a part of my morning routine that I take for granted. And in a way, sometimes that piece of the day not working perfectly just highlights that the morning is made up of lots of little things that went right: I got up on time; I drove safely; there was no unexpected traffic on my way here; and my coworkers are smiling and friendly. As an engineer, I recognize that making a morning out of hundreds of cases which could all end in a catastrophic failure and none of which guarantee success is a terrible design unless I hope to fail.



I already know that I am not perfect, just like everyone else. I know other people spill coffee on themselves sometimes too, but it's hard to face my own imperfection because I expect more from myself even with the little things. But if only one little thing goes wrong out of the countless of things I do during the morning, maybe I'm actually doing pretty well.

Some days I spill coffee on myself, and it reminds me that a lot of other things went right. Today can still be a great day.

Love,

Vanessa

Monday, September 14, 2015

What does an engineer look like?

There has been a lot of buzz on the internet regarding the female engineer at OneLogin that has started the revolutionary #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign. Firstly, I want to applaud this movement because I think it is very important to acknowledge that there is not a direct relationship between what you look like and your engineering prowess. And like many people representing minorities in their field, I know what it is like to be discounted by my appearance, to be assumed to be an administrative assistant etc. And while I strongly hope that movements like this will help chip away at deep set stereotypes about what we expect from engineers, I think that the discussion is missing how people on the front lines are dealing with these expectations on a daily basis.

For example, I grew up loving the color pink. In high school, almost every outfit I owned had pink in it. I wore cute heels and ribbons in my hair. But if I was to rock out that much pink at work, let alone with ribbons and 3 inch heels- this would be considered unprofessional. The heels would be considered unsafe by many of my coworkers (and by myself), and the other style choices would make me look "less serious". Technically, it would all be within the confines of the dress code (close toed shoes, etc.). But often times, the dress code is vague because it is written for men's clothing and doesn't specifically include all of the options women have (who would have thought that flats are not considered close toed because they are "open footed").

So over the years that I've worked as an engineer in an industrial setting, I've learned to dress at work "like an engineer". Practical, not particularly fashion forward, minimal pink, and fairly conservative. And I realize that this sounds totally un-feminist, and it could be argued that by dressing as a Plain Jane at work I'm feeding into the stereotype. But I don't have the time to wait for the people around me to awaken to the social Renaissance when I just want to be seen first as an engineer today in this meeting with these new people.

I remember a moment at a safety fair for my company when I stopped by the booth for safety glasses right after I had made some sort of presentation (and therefore was wearing kitten heels and a somewhat cute but still practical outfit). I was wearing glasses at the time, so it was clear that I could probably use some prescription safety glasses.

When I asked for information, the man at the booth looked me up and down and said, "We don't provide glasses unless you actually go into the plant."

I responded, "I do go into the plant."

"Only for people whose job takes them into the plant, if you are going on your own accord you should be responsible for finding your own equipment."

"My job requires that I go into the plant..."

"Wait, what do you do?"

"I'm an engineer."

"Oh... Then we have several options..." he continued his rehearsed talk while I stood wondering why I had just been grilled about my profession at an internal fair from the same guy who was trying to stop other people as they passed by his booth.

But moments like that are fleeting, and not nearly as damaging as when a women in a stylish new dress walks out of a meeting.  When I see how both men and women react to her (the jokes made when they leave the room, the fact that people see them as a date and not an engineer), it just makes me want to blend in and be one of the guys. When you have to prove yourself to new people on a regular basis, why would you put more hurdles in your way?

That said, I do not believe that women should be discounted based on what they choose to wear. But, I think it is impractical to view the world as a place where we are not discounted based on superficial things. So I believe that whatever you decide to wear should have some thought in the reactions you want to have. In an industrial setting like mine, that means something completely different than an office setting, or a lab setting. As a result, my presentation of myself at work has completely changed as I change industries.

What do you think? Is there a unspoken limit on what you should wear to work in order to present yourself as woman in engineering?

Cheers,

Vanessa