Monday, May 27, 2013

How To Deal With Feminine Supplies

As a young woman you either have to deal with a messy painful period every month, or you spent your childhood as a boy. And unfortunately, there is no way to sync this monthly occurrence to avoid important client meetings, project deadlines, or any other work expectations. So instead, you learn how to palm tampons like Houdini as you book it to the nearest bathroom.

However, sometimes the plan to smuggle tampons to the bathroom falls through. For example, one day I had left my backup tampon supply in my car. My office mates tend to open each others' drawers searching for papers for various projects, and I couldn’t bear the thought of them finding boxes of feminine hygiene products.  As a result, at that moment I was utterly and completely dependent on the public bathroom supply. They may not be the highest quality, but they can normally hold you off long enough to get your own stuff.

I rushed into the bathroom between a conference call and a client meeting, slipped my change into the cold metal machine, and turned the crank. There was a solid thud in the machine, and to my horror I saw the largest pad box I’ve seen in my entire life. I figured it was just a poor packaging job, but when I opened the box, it was stuffed with the Argentinosaurus of pads (look it up, this dinosaur weighed over 100 Tons). I’m pretty sure they haven’t changed the supply since the last woman they hired was menstruating in the 1970s.

Don’t believe me? Here it is:

SUPER comfortable (not).
Yeah. It’s a monster. Literally over nine times the size of my regular pad. So large, in fact, that  when you put it on, you can actually see the outline of the pad in business casual work pants. It brings a whole new, and even more socially unacceptable meaning to VPL (visible pad line). Needless to say, I had to go out to my car and get something different because I couldn’t find a way to walk without looking like I was wearing Depends that needed to be changed.

My solution to avoid this situation at all costs in the future: hide tampons in the bathroom. Especially if you can count the number of female co-workers on one hand- this is a totally acceptable method that prevents you from having to palm supplies to the bathroom, or keep tampons by your TI-83. They have to be hidden because having boxes of tampons hanging around is widely considered "unprofessional" when you have clients visit. While I don't know what woman walks into a bathroom and is offended by the idea of freely accessible feminine hygiene products, I accept it and move the stash out of sight.

My favorite place to hide tampons and pads is under sinks. A lot of office buildings have little overhangs under the sink which are the perfect size for stashing a box of supplies. Yes, this means that you occasionally have an awkward moment when another female coworker spots you grasping under the sink. But once they realize the genius plan you have derived, you may find some sister tampon boxes next to your stash the following day.



Monday, May 20, 2013

How to Not Mother Your Coworkers

If I am being real (which I always am), I love coming home from a long day of work and whipping up some complex baked goods. And when I’ve made four dozen English breakfast scones, I have a strong urge to bring them into work because (A) I want to share them and (B) I  want to ensure I don’t eat them all myself. But, be warned: you cannot actually do this more than 3 times a year without being labled as the office mother. And really, who wants to be called the "office mother" when you could be called "techie", "genius", "magical", "badass" or just "engineer"?

The truth is that many men in my field tend to think of women as temporary fixtures in the workplace who are waiting to settle down and find a husband. So any behavior that reinforces this domestic housewife stereotype just shoots you in the foot.

Don't believe that this is still an issue in our progressive world? Well, after my first month at work, I was talking to a male coworker who had started about a week earlier than me.

Me: “Wow! Time really flies I can’t believe it’s been a whole month!”

Him: “I know! Next thing you know, you’ll be married, at home, taking care of a couple of kids.”

Me: “... Cool...”

Yes, I really did give that awkward of a response. But here I am just trying to make smalltalk and he has to bring up my apparent future as Martha Stewart. To be fair, he meant it in a nice way. But it really  goes to show that despite your publications, patents, Ivy League degree, and recent cure for cancer, some people will just see you as a mother, a wife, and someone in a kitchen making them a sandwich.

Anyways, as you can see, reinforcing the existing stereotypes by bringing in food cannot possibly turn out well.  If nothing else, people start to associate you with baked goods instead of your engineering prowess. I made bread for my coworkers over six months ago, and one of them still comes over to my desk to tell me he literally dreams about my baked goods and that he has tried to get his mother to figure out the recipe. Take that as you will.

So go out and make some friends to feed cookies, or donate them to a local soup kitchen if you are feeling particularly angelic. You can even find a local college campus and find some poor, starving students to feed (hey, it wasn't so long ago you were one of them). But if you can help it, don’t bring food into work.



PS. Technorati wanted me to put this in my blog so they know I write it... NCPYNCNZHDMM

Monday, May 13, 2013

How to Do Bitchwork Without Falling Asleep

In a perfect world, your job would only be using your engineering degree and your brilliant mind to create new solutions to unique problems. But in the real world there is a lot of paperwork that goes along with solving problems. As the junior employee on the team, chances are the bitch work is going to you (unless you find an intern or a co-op to do it for you).

I made it through all of grade school and college without dozing off in class, but one of my first work assignments was literally so boring that I began to feel myself falling asleep at my desk. This is unprofessional at best, and being a Type A personality - I knew I had to do something about it. Therefore, I derived several methods for how to stay awake when you are assigned to do bitchwork.

The “I didn’t graduate college so long ago” method: Drink a cold, caffeinated beverage. If you’ve been in the workforce for more than two years, the caffeine loses its potency- and you end up still sleeping at your desk.

The “give boredom the run around” method: Run up and down the stairs in your office building every 20 minutes. It is awkward because you may come out huffing and puffing, but at least you’ll be awake. Tip: Don’t do this if you are dating somebody at work, people will get the wrong idea.

The “eat your way to energy” method: Periodically eat throughout the day. The activity of eating will help you focus and give you the energy to power through the pile of . WARNING: This method may not be employed without “the run around” method for prolonged periods of time without causing obesity.

The Mary Poppins method: As Mary Poppins says “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.” Mary Poppins is a total beast, so you should take her advice and make your work more entertaining by assigning meaning to boring words. For example when reading hundreds of pages about fire seals you can either take that to mean sealant materials that are fireproof on boats, buildings, planes, and equipment and fall asleep around page 247, OR you can take the much more exciting alternative meaning of magical mutant fiery seals:

Level 1 Fire Seal
Level 10 Fire Seal

SUDDENLY everything becomes more entertaining. See how well that works? And as long as you continue to give your magical imaginary creatures the same requirements as the physical systems you are engineering, then it will also lead to a more accurate product. Make sure to never tell people this is what you are thinking while you are working, or else you may end up with an imaginary job. Be cautious about smiling too much while you do this because your coworkers will either think that you have gone off the deep end, or that you genuinely enjoy bitchwork and give you even more.

Unfortunately, this method doesn’t work for copying and pasting text, data input, and other menial tasks. But that, my friends, is what interns are for.



Monday, May 6, 2013

How to Choose Work Shoes

People say that straight men do not notice what type of shoes a girl is wearing. I’m here to tell you that at my company, that could not be more false. In fact a number of men came up to me my first week, to comment about the cute collection of heels I had painstakingly collected to match my wardrobe. They all had pretty much the same comment.

“Wow,” one of them exclaimed. “Those shoes are so... impractical! How can you walk in them?”

On one hand, I appreciate that he knows that walking in most three inch heels feels kind of like walking on a pair of stilts while a small child hits your feet with a mallet. On the other hand, I really didn’t need to be reminded of this fact when I had committed to wearing them for the entire day. Needless to say, I quickly gave up on the whole heels concept and switched to flats.
The decision of what shoes to wear to work for female engineers is not as straightforward as it perhaps should be. Most business casual workplaces specify that men wear something along the lines of this:
A single pair of relatively boring shoes that more or less match every outfit, are relatively comfortable, and are sufficient for most engineering activities. And apparently last up to TEN YEARS of daily use, compared to the mere months that women's flats last. 

On the other hand, female engineers have the dreaded moment when they look at their dress code and see a simple requirement to wear “closed toed shoes”. My past HR departments argue that this allows for freedom, but I’ve found that it really means that women are expected to wear any one (but not all) of the following shoes:
As you can tell,  there is a direct linear relationship between how practical the shoe is and how likely you are to be mistaken for a lesbian. But technically, all of these options are “close toed”. And if you are a woman in engineering, then you probably thrive on technicalities.

I made the “close toed” argument once when I was trying to pass off a pair of flats as close toed at a last minute client site meeting (which had worked countless times in the past). My boss had not told me that there were any additional protective clothing requirements, so I hadn’t brought anything special. My client pointed out that while my shoes were close toed, they were open footed- and therefore were not “close toed” per his definition.

I didn’t have any other options, so he pulled his extra pair of smelly, beat to hell, size 13 work boots out of the bottom drawer in his filing cabinet and slid them across the table to me. I, of course, was not wearing socks and I wasn’t about to put this 20 year old rank pair of boots on barefoot. So I wore the boots on top of my flats, and tied the laces around my legs like ballet slippers to try and secure the shoes while I took measurements. It turns out that it is even harder to walk in two pairs of shoes with varying sizes than it is to walk in heels. My clients have teased me about this ever since, with several clients offering me the shoes off of their feet before we go to work.

After this embarrassing mishap, I am happy to report I invested in a pair of steel toed boots, and developed a simple solution that seems to define what shoes you should be wearing: for presentations, I suck it up and wear heels; for computer work or work confined to a cube, I wear flats; for work involving dangerous chemicals, I wear “women’s loafers”; and for work involving heavy machinery I wear steel toed boots. There you go every HR department for every company I’ve ever worked for, was that so hard?



About This Blog

There seems to be self-help books out there for almost everything these days. How to find your soulmate, how to get out of depression if you don’t find your soulmate, and even how to write self-help books. And while there are a slew of books about how to start your first job, there isn’t really any book that is just real with you about what it is like to be an entry level woman in engineering. Probably because all of us are ridiculously busy, engineering and whatnot, and are admittedly lacking skill when it comes to writing.

That is where this blog comes into play. I am a young professional engineer, and the second female engineer at my mid-sized firm. I’m far enough in that I know what it’s like to deal with the bullshit of the real world, while close enough to school to remember what it was like to teeter on the edge of the “real world” wondering what was beyond all the HR pitches and fancy job titles.

In this blog I’m going to include all the things aspiring engineers have asked me about, and the parts of engineering which I wish I knew going in. And I’m going to be pulling in some of the most intense female engineers I know to write about their experiences from different industries. Not everything is glamorous, but maybe you can use the ridiculous situations we’ve encountered to help you find your own way through this muddled thing we call a career. Or maybe you’ll just use it to entertain yourself during your lunch break, or while you are supposed to be accomplishing something much more productive and time sensitive.

In light of me wanting to still be an engineer after this is all said and done, I am changing all the names in my blog and will keep some of the ultra boring specifics about my work out. I know, I know, you were all hoping this was a blog about the super riveting paperwork I get to do. That said, I will be keeping the rest of the content as accurate as possible, because there is nothing crazier than real life.