When someone says there is sexism in engineering, what do you think it means?
You’re probably thinking that the term is obviously referring to the discrimination against women by men in the workplace. It used to carry the same meaning for me. After all, this has been and continues to be a prominent issue that women face in the industry.
But what if I told you that this term is developing a new meaning for young female engineers entering the workplace? I have found that the newest form of discrimination young female engineers face is being propagated by senior female engineers.
This issue was first brought to my attention in subtle ways. As a young woman starting my career in engineering, I began noticing that often when I went to a senior female engineer for work, she would brush me off and then give the work to a male coworker who was no more qualified for the job at hand than I was. After similar incidents occurred, I began asking other young female coworkers and peers if they had shared the same unfortunate experience. What I uncovered was overwhelming.
Most notably, a coworker shared with me that a senior female engineer’s discrimination toward her was what inevitably led to her leaving a former job. In this situation, the senior female engineer showed great favoritism toward the male workers and would blatantly disrespect the young female in the presence of others, in a manner seemingly meant to discredit her abilities as an engineer. The final straw was an incident in which the senior female made a scene in front of the entire office, yelling obscenities at the young female for no reason. The young engineer was very talented, but she was a woman.
After talking with these young women, I always ask, “Why is this happening?”
The gathered consensus is that the discrimination is the result of a territorial issue. For years, a senior female engineer was probably used to being the only woman working at her company. Not only was she the only woman, but she’d had to fight to the bitter end just to obtain that spot and to earn a little respect. Compared with modern times, prejudice by men against women in the industry was far more robust when the senior female engineers were first beginning their careers. Now the senior female sees a young female engineer coming into the industry with fewer battle scars. In the beginning of her career, the young engineer is higher on the food chain than the senior engineer was years into her career.
We as women must remember that there is room for us all in this wonderful industry. We must be cautious not to become what the women before us fought valiantly against. We need to encourage and support one another. Finally, always remember to, as Ayesha Siddiqi says, “be the person you needed when you were younger.”
Hannah is currently a junior at Fairmont State University in West Virginia where she serves as the student chapter President. She aspires to become a transportation engineer following graduation, and hopes to influence more women to join the profession.