Monday, August 25, 2014

We Are The 62%

If you've been browsing the internet reading about women in engineering recently, chances are you've seen one of the articles that talk about the NSF/ University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee study which found that only 62% of women with engineering degrees are working as engineers. The presentation is actually quite interesting, so you should give it a look. The study included female alumnae from the 30 universities with the most engineering graduates, and from the feedback snippets in the linked presentation- it seems like they got some pretty honest feedback.

But the research isn't done. The research description for the ongoing study says:
"We are surveying a national group of engineers who are currently working as engineers. This research will help us gain an understanding of the most important things that have led to engineers career choices. The results may help us make recommendations for improving the working environment for men and women in engineering careers."
So while I'm not affiliated with this study in any way, I'd encourage you to participate and send it to your friends (male and female) in engineering. As you already know, having a complete data set is important for ensuring accurate results, and studies like this have the potential to help our field evolve. I'm one of the 62% of women who are still engineers, and I for one would love to see an environment where people are happy enough to stay.



PS. What are your opinions on the first study? Do you identify with the results or disagree?

Monday, August 18, 2014

How To Make Yourself Heard

My first week at my new job, my supervisor asked me if I could quickly come to a meeting with him. I had no idea what the meeting was, but I swept my notebook off my desk and followed him through the maze of hallways to a conference room. Once I crossed threshold into the war room and noticed the sea of leather notebooks and iPads I realized that these were not fellow engineers. In fact, it was a meeting of supervisors, managers, and directors. But since I was totally new and hadn't met any of them yet, I could only tell that they were important.

WHAT AM I DOING HERE? I panicked. At my last job, my supervisor always briefed me days in advance if I was going to meet anyone important so I had time to prepare my presentation and not look like a total nincompoop. Given at the time I thought his briefings were totally unnecessary, but finding myself in some mystery meeting I began to wish I knew anything about what I should expect.

My supervisor motioned to a plush leather chair next to him, and I nervously sat down. A commanding middle aged man walked into the room, and the other men all fell completely silent. They began to discuss business, training of new engineers, who had been fired, and the path they wanted to take to success. On one hand I was excited to get to hear this information first hand, on the other hand I felt like I was peeking behind the curtain and I would be in trouble if anyone noticed me there. Maybe if I just leaned back a little I could disappear. Or maybe that would make me look lazy. Maybe I should be taking notes. But since none of these were action items for me I might look like a secretary.

And then, all of a sudden, the commanding man turned to me, "And what about you? Do you have anything to add? I'm sorry, I don't think I've met you yet..."

"Vanessa," I choked out.

"She's a new engineer here," my supervisor said.

"Well, Vanessa, do you have anything to add?"

Was I supposed to have something to add? What do people normally say? Am I missing some social cues here?

"Um, no," I smiled weakly, hoping the pathetic smile would help lessen the blow if I was expected to have some ground breaking answer.

"Okay," he said, moving onto the next subject.

It was the first time in ages I'd been afraid to speak up during a meeting, and I was ashamed of myself. I'm not a shy person by nature, but I was so distracted by mitigating the consequences of saying something off point that I ended up saying nothing. And when I say nothing (especially when asked) people presume that I have nothing to say, effectively causing the same problem if I had said something idiotic.

I wish this was just a personal problem, but research shows that in collaborative environments women spoke less than 75% of the time of their male counterparts. So apparently, I'm not the only one with a propensity for psyching myself out in a meeting.

Feeling like my voice had been stolen by a sea witch who had given me the chance to be a real engineer for a day was something I was familiar with from my intern days, but was a habit I kicked when I really listened to what other people were saying. They were not more qualified to speak than me, and my conclusions were no less valid that theirs. As an engineer, I am paid for my ability to solve problems. If I just sit in a room like a bump on a log while I let others solve the problem, I am not really doing my job.

If you don't get this reference, you got some Disney to watch.
So, I started speaking up in meetings. The first couple times it came out sounding more like an apologetic question than actual feedback. But eventually I became a regular participant in meetings- unabashedly sharing my knowledge and even disagreeing with other people when I felt otherwise. This isn't a business where they pass around a sharing stick to make sure everyone feels included, so if I had something to say I made sure to interject it. That didn't mean that I would chat through the entire meeting and make unfounded statements. Just that I was no longer afraid to act like people should respect my opinions. The world didn't implode, and once I learned how to speak in statements instead of questions people took my input seriously.

After years of practice it was second nature, which is what made the most recent case of meeting jitters so strange. Luckily it seems like it was a result of me not knowing what to expect and I've already gotten it back under control.

Have you ever had a tough time speaking up during meetings? How did you convince yourself to speak up?



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Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Apply to Jobs Without Being Fired

At many companies, there are cultures of happiness, creation, and productivity. At certain companies, there are cultures of depression. At some point in time, people at the latter set of companies begin to discuss with their coworkers their plans for their future- which do not include the current company.

So obviously talking at your current job about quitting and moving on to greener pastures is super inappropriate, especially when nobody in the conversation actually has another job yet. If you are truly unhappy you should just confide in your close friends, right? It's a weird line that adults don't warn you about when you are in school. Once you join the working world and spend 8+ hours a day with the same cast of characters, a lot of your friends are people with whom you work.

Enter one of my coworkers (and friends) who made a habit of walking over to my desk to loudly talk about the job applications he had filed over the weekend. He'd asked me to review his resume outside of work, and always texted me when he came across a job he thought I'd like. But during the work day I sat close to our supervisor's office, so I'd hush him at remind him we were at the office and not at a bar.

"I don't care. I want them to hear," he'd say in a huff. "Maybe then they'll fire me. That would be the best day of my life."

For those of us who don't want to be fired but are looking for a new career, here are some simple ground rules.

Don't look at job sites while you are at work. I know when you are unhappy or bored it can be extremely tempting to pick up your phone and check your Monster app, write scathing Glass Door reviews,  or search "anything better than this" on Google. But if somebody sees you doing this at work or notices your browser history shows you spend hours each day doing something that is not your job, this could turn out very poorly for you. Most companies have policies about internet usage (and that usually includes what you browse on your personal phone while on company time). Don't let an unprofessional environment make you an unprofessional person.

Don't talk about your job applications at work. Even if somebody else comes up to discuss his or her future plans (which is behavior you should kindly discourage), you should not respond with information about your search in return while you are in the office. You should probably not discuss this with coworkers at all, since juicy office gossip has a tendency to spread like wildfire. But if you feel like you have to tell your best friend that you have an interview, do it after work when you are not on company property.

Continue to do your best work. This can be very difficult when you are distracted dreaming of new possibilities, but don't let the theory of a new life get in the way of the job you have right in front of you. We live in a world that is continuously getting smaller with the advent of better transportation and more accessible communication devices, so a bad reputation in your current job may carry over into your future life.

Take interviews sparingly. Before you decide to leave work for an interview, make sure you are actually interested in the potential job. Ask questions if you are unclear about the opportunity and be honest with yourself. Is it a good job or just not the terrible job you feel you have right now? Many opportunities will be available to you, but you don't want to have a poor attendance record if you already know you aren't interested in the potential job.

Minimize dishonest behavior. When you have an interview half way across the country on a Wednesday, it's kind of hard to figure out what to tell your boss on your "vacation request" form. My advice is to not say anything unless directly asked, and to tell the truth (minus the interview portion) as much as possible. Don't use anything that requires others sympathy as an excuse (such as "my grandfather died", "my son is ill", or "my roommate is in the hospital"). If everything works out, they'll figure out later that you were at an interview when you accept the new position and you don't want to look like an asshole. If you decide not to take the job, you don't want the story to be interesting enough to bring up questions.

With this advice, you can find a new job without compromising yourself as an employee. By keeping your conscience clean, you can take your time looking for new work and find the perfect next step in your career.



PS. Have you ever ended up in a sticky situation while applying for jobs? Let me know in the comments!