I Look Like an Engineer

On first impulse, what does an engineer look like to you?  Go ahead, indulge in a little imaginary cariacature

Geek with a pocket protector and smarmily slicked hair?

Dude in a hoodie glued to his tech toys? 

Guy with a hard hat and a roll of drawings directing a construction crew?
(Apparently the interwebs thinks we live in our hard hats, haha.)

Your most hated nerdy professor in his freshly pressed lab coat? 

Most likely, it's a male of Caucasian or Asian descent.  The rest is just details.

What does a woman in engineering look like to you? 

Really, Mattel?  This is the best you can do?

Mattel attempted to speak to this in 2010 with "Computer Engineer Barbie".  I have to say, NO ENGINEER I KNOW WOULD DRESS THAT BADLY, male or female (even the ones who really do own pocket protectors).  And the accompanying book, "I Can Be a Computer Engineer" was so cringe-worthy it was practically unreadable.  Read the Amazon reviews for amusement.

We can't help that we are women, standing out from the first moment we walk into technical classes in high school (or middle school, if you were lucky enough to be in a magnet program).  It's what I like to call "the double-x factor".  We put up with a lot of gar-bahge because we dare to be ourselves.  We dare to shatter expectations.  We dare to do what we love. 
It's true, that everything we do is judged in the light of the double-x factor.  Doesn't matter if you're a rookie with the ink still drying on your diploma or you are in the C-suite.  Doesn't matter if you are 4'5" or 6'5".  Doesn't matter if you're married, partnered, or single, with or without kids.  Cultural norms are deeply ingrained, and while there is significant movement afoot to reduce or even negate these social mores to mere opinion, the world still has a long way to go.  From Emily Roebling to Isis Anchalee, the double-x factor has been a weight on our shoulders, hampering our ability to just be engineers. 

I wanted to be an engineer to do one of two things: save the world, or build a spaceship to escape a world that thought I was more execrable than extraordinary. (Yes, I was a rather idealistic kid, out to prove myself to all the haters.)  I had been steered away from engineering by multiple forces:
  • Women from church, who thought I should be a teacher, nurse, or nun
  • Women from church, who thought that being in such a demanding field would negatively impact my marriage prospects (it's the South, y'all)
  • Dear older friend, who thought I should use my writing talents professionally
  • Guidance counselor, who believed engineering was no place for an "innocent" (would he have changed his mind if I was a slut?)
  • Religious advisor, who believed I should seriously consider a vocation (the convent)
  • (Non-science dept) Teachers, who believed I couldn't handle the pressure, and was too strong in the liberal arts
  • One teacher in particular, who believed that I would not be able to tolerate being the minority, and being with the kind of boys who tend to have superiority complexes or be otherwise intimidating
Of course, all of the naysayers just fueled the fire.  I don't take lightly to being told "no, you can't", especially when it's followed by "because you're a girl." Bring. It. On. Suckers.

I have a Chemical Engineering degree, from a top tier university.
I have a Professional Engineering license (chemical).
I work in life sciences, ensuring that lifesaving and life-improving drugs and devices are safe for people to use.
I build and manage teams, and we have way too much fun sometimes.
I still do things my way, and nobody will change that.
I'm a wife and mother.
I'm blonde. I wear makeup and jewelry. I have an enviable shoe collection.
And my tools are pink.

Yes, really me, at my actual desk.
(All indications of company or client have been removed. Discretion is key in this business.)



  1. Great post, I can relate to where your coming from, doing a PhD in entomology & forestry and loving fashion is taken as a slightly strange combo!


    1. Thanks darling! Combinations are only as strange as you let them be. It's your life - you can only live it your way. I think exotic bugs, trees, and couture could make an impressive Vogue spread, don't you? xoxo

  2. Get it girl! Love that you represent female engineers in a honest and realistic way! That Barbie doll is ridiculous!

    xo Jen
    Skirt The Rules

    1. Aw, thanks sweetie. I can only be me, and I'm incapable of being anything but honest (truth)! I've gotten in a lot of trouble AND gotten ahead in life because I have to do things my way.

      The Barbie thing will come back to haunt us again in a future blog post... promise. But the 2010 edition is what happens when people who don't do their homework try to shoehorn reality to fit their preconceived notions.

      Keep on getting it! xoxo

  3. Literally just LOL'D at the Barbie doll, and the comment of you being a "slut" maybe would have changed the teacher's mind!! Thankfully, I didn't have to deal with too many people telling me I shouldn't do engineering (although my HS counselor senior year asked why I wanted to take so many AP classes because, well, it's my senior year and I should have fun and slack off). It's still funny to see people's reaction to telling them I'm an engineer, though.

    Also, it's funny to me how when I was in school, my writing skills were consistently mediocre...now that I'm in a place with lots of engineers, they praise me on my writing skills because I actually have some (most engineers = no grammar skills whatsoever, so I have learned)!

    Anyway...yay for Chemical Engineers and shoes (and kitties)!


    1. Love you, Morgan! Cannot believe your HS counselor said that. Where I'm from, it's expected that the top tier of students take ALL AP classes in senior year. My college roommate came into freshman year with 31 credits from AP classes, making her a sophomore, technically.

      Writing skills - I have a varsity jacket full of awards from the English department, ONE from Science (Chemistry, natch), and ZERO from the Math department. I also had a higher Verbal SAT than Math. Sad but true, most engineers have very few verbal communication skills, regardless of their mother tongue. However, they can't be begrudged, because the combination of visual - spatial engineering abilities and verbal communication is very rare.


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