a quick reblog…

The first thing I do every single morning, much the same as every other engineer, is to go to my phone and read my daily Dilbert.  As you can imagine, I was delighted to see this post from his creator, Scott Adams:  My Verdict on Gender Bias in the Workplace.

10 Reasons Female Engineers Have it Made

10.  Someone ALWAYS offers to help them carry something, even if they’re not carrying anything heavy

I don’t know how many times I’ve been walking down the hall at work carrying something when someone offered to take it off my hands.  I’ve had people willing to go completely out of their way to carry something to my desk for me.  While this does happen male to male and female to female, most often it’s a chivalrous male offering help to the female.

9.  They don’t have to work hard to get noticed

Let’s face it.  When someone is a minority in the population, they stand out.  And while we may not like it, Image and Exposure (part of P.I.E.) help you vastly in boosting your career.  While white males are struggling to stand out among the sea of engineers, women pop out.  All women engineers have to do at that point is not screw up the “P” (Performance).

8.  They have many more opportunities than their male counterparts

From SWE to women’s conferences to company sponsored female-only networking events, female engineers are flooded with opportunities to help in all aspects of their career.  Not to mention, they can participate in all the ones their male coworkers are allowed to go to, as well.  And that’s not all.  Companies have quotas they must meet for percentage of female managers in order to satisfy stakeholders and the government.  Those percentages are much higher than the ratio of female to male engineers.  What does that equate to?  More management positions available to women.

7.  Management has to listen to them

Following on with affirmative action quotas, engineering companies are terrified to lose any of the female employees they have.  This means they have to keep them happy.  This means they have to at least listen to the unhappy ones.

6.  They have a huge dating pool at their fingertips, 40 hours a week

What young single female engineer wouldn’t love to have a giant pool of intelligent men to meet every day?

5.  They have immunity from sexual harassment accusations

OK, so this isn’t entirely true, but how many cases of a male accusing a female of sexual harassment have you heard of?  The few I have were mostly to make a point… that females get away with it.

4.  Dress Code = whatever they want

Feeling pretty today?  Wear a dress.  Tired and lazy?  Jeans and a polo.  Anything goes!

3.  They can be themselves

Males have more social stigma today than women.  They are expected not to cry and to always appear strong.  They can’t take on traditionally female tasks for fear of being called a sissy or gay.  Female?  They can do whatever they want.  From stoic and logical to emotional and flirty, from analytical to organized, they can be whatever suits them best.

2.  They almost always have the whole bathroom to themselves

What?  No line?  Yessssssssss

1.  They are respected for their brains, not their looks

So this one does apply to males, too, but how many times have you heard a woman say, “I want you to love me for what’s inside!”?  Engineers do!

why women get paid less (a prologue to my review of the confidence code)

I was browsing for a new e-book to read from my library when I happened across a book entitled The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.  This book caught my eye because one thing I’ve noticed about women is they tend to have less confidence than men.  I think it’s the last thing that stands between salaries for men and women being statistically equal for equal work.  Now don’t get me wrong.  I don’t believe in artificially manipulating things so that gender statistics are all equal between men and women, but often people wonder why they are not equal (as do I).  And often people use gender statistics for their own agendas, mostly without realizing it.  (Read Freakanomics for good examples of people not distinguishing between causation and correlation).  Often I’ve said that men and women have different pay for equal positions due to differing priorities.  Women often choose to work part time or stay home with the children, skewing the large salaries towards men due to more years of experience and willingness to take on responsibility (because they can work longer hours).  But I have seen studies that claim to have normalized the data to allow for these factors and the salary differences are still favoring males.  I’m skeptical of the processes applied to normalize the data, but it still got me thinking, what really contributes to larger salaries?…confidence.

If you look at things from a business perspective, you realize that pay isn’t determined by talent.  A business will pay the minimum it has to, to get the services provided it needs to turn a profit.  And when you look at the human level, people are often worried more about themselves than others.  What does that mean?  You have to make a stink to get paid better and your “stink” better be good.  If you’re not bringing profit to a company and making everyone aware of it, chances are you aren’t getting paid “well”.  Traditionally, men are better at talking themselves up.  You can read about numerous studies that show that men often believe they are better at something than women when they are actually equal.  I believe this character difference between men and women is the last piece of the puzzle for unequal pay.

OK, what to do about it?

Like I said, I don’t believe in artificially manipulating the system to get the statistics you want, but I still want to understand why women have lower confidence.  I’ve certainly been there.  Looking back, I remember a boyfriend I had in high school.  We were very competitive with one another and he beat me in EVERYTHING.  It was very frustrating.  Then, in senior year, on the AP calculus exam, I received a grade of 5 (that’s the highest score).  He received a 4.  I, of course, made him aware and his response was, “well I didn’t study”.  Well I didn’t study either.  Studying for AP exams is nearly impossible.  I still felt inadequate.

It took me many years to stop worrying about what other people thought and to just grade myself against myself.  It took me many more years to learn how to advertise myself.  It took me more years after that to realize most people were over confident.  It’s extremely unfortunate that we have to do this (sell ourselves), and I vow to not require those that work for me to do this, but I know it’s a fact of life and something I have to do to move forward.  Many women don’t do this, or at least don’t believe they are good enough for a better job or even the jobs they have.

OK, what to do about it?

I don’t know.  And that’s why I was intrigued by The Confidence Code.  Maybe they had the answers, or at least some insight.  Stay tuned for my review.

 

old school vs. new school discrimination

The other day, I was sitting in a small meeting.  In attendance were three male engineers and a male senior director, we’ll call him Bob.  Bob was talking, mostly facing the three engineers, because he was at the whiteboard and it just naturally fell that I was pretty much behind him.  Mid topic he stated, “Pretty much all they do is sit around and jerk each other,” and then immediately spun around to me and said, “Sorry, I don’t mean to be so crude”.

My immediate internal reaction was extreme frustration.  Why single me out?  I mean he clearly was since he had to turn ~160 degrees to face me and was looking directly at me.  I thought maybe it was because I had only limited interaction with him, but there was at least one other engineer in the room who also had very limited interaction with him, so it couldn’t be that.  My only conclusion to draw was that it was because I am female.

My experience is that men sometimes react this way because they are afraid of being reported to HR for being inappropriate.  So my outward reaction was to feign offense to lighten the mood.  “Oh no, I’m so offended.  How can my ears hear such things?”  Then one of the other engineers laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Bob.  She’s one of the guys.”  (This was probably one of the best compliments I could receive, not because I feel I have to be a “guy”, but because I know the other engineers won’t pull their punches with me.  As an engineering manager, I’m only as good as the engineers who question my decisions – see Challenger disaster.)

Bob relaxed and kept on talking.

This interaction got me to thinking.  I was clearly offended.  I hate being singled out for being a woman like this.  But I wasn’t really mad at Bob.  I was more mad at what conditioned him to have that reaction.  I’ve had this type of experience a number of times, usually only with men around 50 or older.  Men I respect and men I like.  I think I wasn’t so mad at Bob because he was doing one of two things: 1) attempting to be a gentleman and recognize there was a “lady” in the room or 2) covering his ass because I might pull the gender card and get him fired, or at least into sensitivity training.  Number 1 is what I call Old School Discrimination.  Number 2 is a result of New School Discrimination.

Notice how I didn’t include “a woman isn’t capable of doing that kind of work,” in Old School Discrimination.  I don’t really think this exists anymore.  Yes there are still curmudgeony old men who think this way, but they are so rare, and I have never ever encountered one in a position of power.  Even if I did find one, they could be taken out so easily given all the HR rules and societal bullying of people who even suggest women are different from men.

A while back, an over 50 male was talking to a large group of people.  He kept having to stop talking and come back to the keyboard to type notes.  I happened to be sitting next to the keyboard, so I said, “Would you like me to type for you?”  His reaction, “Oh, I didn’t want to ask because you are a woman.”

Another result of New School Discrimination.

Old School Discrimination is rooted in the thinking of 1960 and earlier: That a woman should be treated differently than a man (for varying reasons).  It is concrete and opaque.

New School Discrimination is rooted in fear.  Fear caused by affirmative action.  Fear that treating a woman as anything less than superior will land you out of a job yourself.

A good friend of mine said he enjoyed reading my blogs, but that I was merely stating what he already knew.  He wanted me to post advice, so from now on I will.

I’m an engineer.  I want to do things that are logical.  If you think something is crude, consider it might be crude to anyone in the room, whether they are male or female.  Personally, I don’t care.  I’m pretty crude myself, but being polite is a safe way to be around strangers.  If you make a mistake, apologize to all, not just the women.  If you need someone to help type, ask the person nearest to the keyboard.  They have the least distance to move.

And finally, don’t let your behavior be ruled by fear.

pulling the gender card

I haven’t posted in a little while mostly, because I have been working on a letter to the editor for the Albany Times Union (ATU) .  It all started when I received an email via my RPI alumni distribution list about an editorial the acting vice president for strategic communications and external relations at RPI was submitting.  (See here for the editorial as printed).  Apparently, this RPI employee Allison Newman, was outraged at an article posted by the ATU prompting her to cite RPI’s President Jackson as “perhaps the ultimate role model for women in science”.  For obvious reasons, this piqued my interest.  So I read the article in question.  I also read the other article Allison Newman referred to that she approved.  Now I was angry.  Once again, someone jumped to conclusions, pulled the gender card, and made it worse for women everywhere.  I wrote my own letter to the editor, but the ATU wouldn’t publish it.  Their website states a preferred 250 word maximum, and the woman I was working with at ATU (Tena Tyler, Senior Editor) kept asking for 200 words or fewer.  Granted, my original submission was almost 800 words, she wouldn’t accept my 379 submission either.  At that point I felt my letter would have become complete conjecture without substance if I reduced it any further, so I post it here now in its full form (with a few embellishments blogging affords me that a newspaper does not):

To the Editor:

I had the fortunate opportunity to have my attention drawn to two of your articles in Friday’s paper.  I am an alumna of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (BS in Computer Engineering), but now live in Annapolis, MD.  Were it not for Allison Newman, Acting Vice President – Strategic Communications and External Relations at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, I would probably have not noticed the activity on Friday.  Ms. Newman decided to send her editorial to all RPI Alumni via our distribution list before it being posted in your paper.  I thought it important to let the Albany Times Union, Ms. Kristi Barlette (Author of the article in question), and the residents of the capital region know that Ms. Newman does not speak for me.

First of all, I am embarrassed that Ms. Newman would waste her time getting offended by such an innocuous article as “You’re the tops”.  The fact of the matter is, Shirley Ann Jackson consistently makes the news for being among the highest paid university presidents in the United States.  In fact, the only time I hear about RPI in the news down here (only 6 hours away) is an article or radio report on that topic.  Nothing Ms. Kristi Barlette said was incorrect.  She reported the facts and reported them objectively.

Second of all, I fail to understand what, if anything, Ms. Barlette’s article has to do with gender, yet Ms. Newman in her opening paragraph both refers to Mr. Scott Waldman’s article on a cosponsored GE and RPI event to get young girls interested in science, technology, engineering, and science (STEM) and a quote from Time magazine about Ms. Jackson being a role model for women in science.

Side by Side Caricature and Real Photo of Shirley Ann Jackson

Side by Side Caricature and Real Photo of Shirley Ann Jackson

Regarding the cartoon depicting Ms. Jackson on a $1000 bill, what’s so offensive?  Ms. Newman referred to is at “denigrating”.  Now, normally when I see a political caricature, say such as one depicting President Obama, some physical characteristic is exaggerated, such as drawing excessively large ears.  This “caricature” looks exactly like Ms. Jackson.

What would you think if the Press Secretary of the United States ran around writing angry editorials for every caricature of President Obama?  I see it as a sign of weakness and lack of confidence in Ms. Jackson’s abilities.  If Ms. Jackson earns her salary, there should be no need to defend it in this way.  The facts are, Ms. Jackson makes substantially more money than the average University president.  If we’re fighting for women’s and black’s equality, isn’t this something to be celebrated?  Why find this article offensive?

Now on to Mr. Scott Waldman’s article entitled “More girls in science will improve life”.  I found this article to be lacking in facts and full of subjective opinions.  As a female computer engineer (one of the more male dominated engineering fields), I’m offended by Mr. Waldman’s article.  What facts do you have to back up your statement that more girls in science will improve life?  I argue that more intelligent people in science will improve life.  I agree that groups containing people with differing backgrounds tend to be more creative and have better opportunities at solving tough problems, but that does not always logically translate to “get more females”?  And if adding an underrepresented gender to your group is the answer, why do we rarely hear about programs to get more boys interested in nursing and teaching?

Why do large institutions always see the need to have special events for females? To me, this is telling the world that females need more help getting into STEM careers.  They obviously can’t do it on their own.  What about the young boys that are also interested in touring GE and attending other such technology events?  Why are we shutting them out?  Why are we putting those children at a disadvantage?  These events only continue to encourage segregation among genders in STEM and I’m disappointed RPI sponsors them.

I’m proud to be a graduate of RPI.  I will never know for sure if I was admitted due to my strong academic performance in high school or if it was because I was born with female parts.  This is something I have struggled to live with every day in every achievement I make.  But I know this:  I am proud of the education I received at RPI and honored that I got to spend it surrounded by brilliant professors and students.  That is why I went to RPI, not because they made me feel good “as a woman”.

“Knowledge and Thoroughness”.  That is our motto.  That is what should attract all people to STEM and RPI regardless of race or gender.  I encourage you all to remember that motto in your daily life. Take pride in what you do.  THAT will improve life for all humanity.

Laura Szypulski

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Class of 2005
Johns Hopkins University, Class of 2010

I was happy to see others were able to get letters to the editor published expressing their disagreement with Ms. Newman.  Props to you Robert M. Chase (letter here) and John Neun (letter here).  You are not alone!

he or she

English has no good solution to a singular gender neutral pronoun when it comes to referring to people.  Well it does, but society has deemed the proper grammar solution inappropriate for the modern world.  It is considered by Oxford Dictionary grammatically correct to use words such as “he”, “him”, his” to refer to either a male or female when the gender of the subject is unknown.  See Oxford Dictionary’s article on “He or She Versus They“.  So given that whatever you use, “he”, “he or she”, “s/he”,  or “they”, are technically now all acceptable grammatically, all that’s left is to express my own personal opinion on what to use.

I certainly cannot speak for all women, but using three syllables for what can be expressed in one is asinine to me.  When I hear someone say, “an engineer must think about his career,” I do not for a moment consider I’m not included in that statement.  But when someone says, “an engineer must think about his or her career,” I feel like the speaker cares more about the gender of the engineer than the engineer thinking about their career.  (By the way, I have no issue with using “they” and “their” instead of the masculine singular forms, although there are cases where that sounds awkward.  See the examples in the Oxford article.)

The worst part about this whole thing, is men have no idea what to do.  Almost on a weekly basis I hear something like the following in meetings I attend: “Every systems engineer should be marking his requirements…oh or her requirements with a verification method.”  Right at the “…” the speaker makes eye contact with me.  That’s when they realize there is a female in the room and I may be offended with the use of the word “his”.  I always immediately explain that they just wasted breath.

For some reason I never hear women have this “slip up”.  If it’s a speaker at a conference, she smoothly says “he or she” (well the male speakers do, too), and if is a conversation in the office, she almost always just uses the masculine form of the word.

So what?  Are these men changing their behavior when there is a woman in the room versus not?  That doesn’t seem logical.  If we’re trying to create a gender neutral workplace, people should speak with the same grammar no matter what the gender of the audience.  Ok, so you might say, “That is what is wrong with men today.  They don’t just automatically include women in their speaking.”  I think they, in general, do include women in their thinking (the same way I don’t feel excluded from use of the singular masculine form, they don’t feel like they’re excluding me).  The problem I believe is that everyone is so conditioned to be extra careful about how women feel, that when one is in the room, they suddenly fear that the woman doesn’t recognize she is included and so they modify their speaking to be extra clear about it.  It’s not about what men think, it’s about men making women feel like they think a certain way.  All that does is move gender to the forefront of the conversation.  That is disruptive to the conversation, irrelevant to engineering, and singles me out as a female instead of an engineer.

So, men, here’s what I have to say: I appreciate you trying, but you’re only perpetuating the problem.  I don’t know what you’re supposed to do because no matter what you’ll piss some woman off and if you piss the wrong woman off, you could be in a dicey situation.  But if I’m in the room, just speak how you would speak if I wasn’t.

women being used….in 2013

I fear posting this for it is a sensitive subject.  I didn’t expect to get into the abortion discussion this early in my blogging, but since I’m sharing my blog on Facebook and Google+, I’m actually perusing the posts again.  A good friend of mine works for Planned Parenthood and shares links on Facebook from the PP FB site from time to time.  Usually I just ignore it, but I clicked due to my heightened awareness of gender discrimination.

Anyway, forget whatever side you take in the abortion debate or how you feel about SB5 for a moment and take a look at this ad along with the text PP posted on FB:

Like never before, people in Texas are standing up to demand that politicians respect women’s ability to make our own personal medical decisions, and the whole country is watching. Thank you Senator Wendy R. Davis for standing strong for women’s health in Texas. Rest assured that we stand right by your side. Clear Eyes. Full Hearts! #StandWithWendy

Where to begin?

1. “Stand with Texas Women”

So are you saying, PP, that if you don’t support abortion you don’t support women?  I just want to be clear on that, because your ad is implying that…at least to people who bother to look up SB5.

2. “Clear Eyes. Full Hearts!”

I don’t even know what to say about this.  I suppose it’s trying to say, “open your eyes and be compassionate.”  Or in more succinct terms, “be logical and feel.”  For anyone who has ever read Atlas Shrugged and truly understood it, you see the oxymoron happening here.

3. “We got your back, Wendy!”

I should let this one go, but I can’t.  Seriously?  You can’t even use correct grammar?  Ok, ok, I can understand foregoing grammar for the sake of impact, but this isn’t some rogue blog on WordPress.  It just clearly conflicts with the whole “Clear Eyes” statement.  Informed and educated people don’t talk ghetto when presenting their arguments in public.

4. This ad never mentions the word abortion

Enough said.

5. and finally WHAT THE F DOES ABORTION HAVE TO DO WITH WOMEN’S HEALTH?

Since when is having a baby bad for your health?  Getting pregnant isn’t something you just catch or are born with or develops depending on your genetic structure.  It’s not even an STD.  You have 100% control over getting pregnant.

I’m not claiming to be an expert on this subject.  I know very little about Wendy or her work, or SB5 for that matter.  I only did minimal research.  But I’m disappointed by the advertising and I don’t need to be an expert on the subject to recognize why this advertising is exercising gender discrimination.  You are being manipulated.  Women are being used to push a political agenda.  They are playing on female stereotypes to get your vote and to get your money.  Don’t let them use you.  Think for yourself.

And yes, this happens all over politics… I don’t care what side you’re on.  But when it comes to abortion and birth control, gender stereotypes are more intertwined with the argument for obvious reasons.

 

June 26, 2013:  

Three updates given a conversation I had about this post:

  1. on #2, I learned the statement is a quote from Friday Night Lights.  It’s a chant the football team uses to get pumped up.  Still looking for a link on what the words are specifically intending to convey…
  2. on #5, you do not in fact have 100% control over getting pregnant.  Women who are raped and get pregnant do not have a choice.  I still do not believe that this makes pregnancy suddenly a health problem.  Yes, some women have complications due to pregnancy.  Some women have health problems from taking birth control.  Anytime you change something about your body, you could potentially trigger a health problem.  There are risks with being pregnant and there are risks with having an abortion.  The risks are higher and lower depending on the individual.  I think it’s important to note that I do not consider ending an unborn baby’s life because it’s killing the mother abortion.  This is analogous to a doctor having to choose between two patients at the site of a car accident because he only has time to treat one, or having to kill off one half of a conjoined twin because they will both die if you do not.   Sometimes you have to choose having one survivor over none.  Hopefully this makes it clearer on why I do not believe abortion is a health issue.
  3. In general, please be aware I was not intending to comment on aspects of SB5.  If you are interested in knowing more about SB5 or Planned Parenthood, please do your research.  The purpose of this blog in general is to highlight gender biases although I know this will often bleed into other subjects as it did with this post.

“A man would have written this blog, but they’re too busy making the world work.”

The title of this entry is a quote from a good friend. It was in response to me telling him about this endeavor of mine. He was of course being funny and I laughed hysterically. But it got me thinking. What if he said something like that in front of people that didn’t know him well? How would a comment like that be taken at work? What if a man did write a blog like this and openly attached his name to it? Honestly, I think he would be looked down upon. People would wonder if he really believed it.

But what if a woman said, “A woman would have done _____, but they’re too busy making the world work.”? I’m fairly certain that even in new company, all would laugh and find the statement cute.  This is what I see outwardly expressed on a daily basis. People jump to conclusions on what a person must mean because of the gender of the person making the statement.

Not too long ago, a female vice president in the company I work for told me an experience she had. She said that when we had the earthquake here in Maryland, all the people in the room with her (who happened to all be male) looked to her. And I said, “Oh because you’re from California?” and at the same time she said, “because they didn’t want to appear afraid in front of a woman who wasn’t afraid.” No one told her anything to make her conclude what she did, so why did she think it?  I suppose she could have been correct.  Every person in that room may have let their ego get ahead of their flight instinct.  But they all also knew she was born and raised in California.  A logical person could conclude that someone from California would have the best experience in what to do during an earthquake and whether or not the earthquake was substantial enough to react to.

The pendulum has swung the other way.  Just like how for centuries, people were conditioned to believe women are inferior, society is now overcompensating and conditioning us all to believe men are bigoted in their thought processes. How can we say we’ve come so far in being gender blind when we’re still subject to brain washing? How can we be fair in judging people when we can’t evaluate their statements objectively?  When are we truly going to treat people as individuals?

we have liftoff

My whole life I’ve witnessed inequality in the world around me, from mechanics prejudging my knowledge of cars, to my male friends and family members getting passed over for promotions because they don’t represent people with the right parts between their legs. I personally am not a believer in equality in all aspects of life. I don’t think it makes sense. I do believe in logic, objective thought, and balance. I also believe that just because something isn’t fair we have to accept it. That is why I’m starting this blog.

The world has gone nuts with equal rights to the point of overcompensating. There are many categories of this, but this blog will focus on gender. I will provide a place where men can have a voice without the fear of being ostracized. I will provide examples of inequality in favor of women. I will show how this treatment is actually a detriment to women. I will use this forum to collect objective data. Finally, I will use this as a place to vent.

I encourage any and all readers to keep me honest and factual and to laugh out loud.

Enjoy

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