You constantly have to prove yourself. They are waiting for you to fail. They will say ‘I told you so’.
This is many a time the experience of a lady during the industrial attachment.
In my first industrial attachment, I was the first to report. This meant that I was the only option for about 2 weeks. I was the only person who could be told to unwind and clean the motor. I was the only person who would have to help in testing the motors, unload the resistor banks and what have you. However, they all waited for me to fail. They all waited for me to say it was too hard and therefore, I would not do it.
In my most recent attachment, the company was automotive. Here, there was more mechanical work than electrical, the course that I am doing. A lot of times, these two fields coincided. During my time, I was once asked why I chose such a ‘heavy’ course. “What if you’re sent to a remote place and you are stuck. Who will carry these tools for you?” he asked. “Why didn’t you choose something lighter?”
Somehow, it was worse here than it was on my first attachment. Every time I was given a spanner, they would look at me like I was wasting time. Why don’t I just give them the spanner so that they can get the work done in time? Will I be able to open the huge nut? In fact, they would tell me to give it to them so that they could help me.
For a lot of ladies in engineering, this is what they have to go through during internships, attachments, and even jobs. A paper by Wendy Faulkner in 2009 talked about this, calling it the visibility problem where women are excessively visible in the engineering sector but are overlooked when it comes to technical expertise. An article by Harvard Business Review further talked about this, citing ways in which women get around the problem and what can be done.
As a lady, you will constantly have to prove yourself.
You will mostly have to prove your worth, every other time.
No one would believe you can do it at the very first moment.
Apart from work, the workshops may not have ladies’ rooms. In my first attachment, there were washrooms in the workshop area but they were not defined as male or female. Every time I got into one, I would have to cross my fingers that a male is not going to use the washroom at the same instant.
My other option was the washrooms in the offices, which were about 15 minutes away. These were the only washrooms with sanitary disposal bins. Every work day involved planning bathroom breaks right from leaving the house, to arrival at work, to lunch breaks, and finally going back home.
My most recent one had washrooms for ladies in the workshop. They also functioned as a store. It was not uncommon to find a man in the ladies’ washrooms looking for soap or petrol or rags for cleaning.
Did it have sanitary bins?
Did I raise a complaint about it?
Was something done about it?
What do you think?
I was not privy to an answer until my last weeks where I raised the issue again. I was told to use the washrooms in the office. These ones, were arguably, as compared to the other attachment, less than five minutes away. However, it was still uncomfortable to have to go into the office to use washrooms. And, what about those that did not raise the issue?
By now, you’re asking, “What is your point? Should I not pursue engineering as a lady?”
These issues are some of the ones that you will likely face. But not always. There are better places that will have washrooms for you and colleagues that will respect you from the get-go. I have experienced one such place where we had changing rooms that were the real deal. They had washrooms, bathrooms, lockers, a shoe rack, a bench, and even a couch.
As you step into your first engineering position, whether as an intern or attachment student, remember that lacking services, working harder, is not the norm. You are allowed to ask for better services.
Do not give up! We need you in the industry. We need your unique perspective. We need you to lead the change. We need workshops to have enough ladies to ‘warrant’ a sanitary bin or a specific ladies’ washroom. We need you to speak up. We need you to make it better for those behind you. Maybe in school. Maybe your younger sister. Maybe your daughter.
“The world may not be kind to you, lady in engineering.” But, the world may not know. Make the world see.