There still aren’t that many women engineers in the workplace. With a few exceptions, the numbers are increasing overall, but ever so slowly.
You may not even notice a lot of change happening during your career timeframe.
But, depending on how far along you are in your career, you can compare your work environment today to how it was the day you started.
And looking back over the timeframe of your career, you’ll get a feel for how things have progressed for women engineers.
Using the timeframe of my own career, I’m gonna share my own comparison. How things were for women engineers a few decades ago compared to how they are today.
Happily there are some improvements. And there are lessons you can learn.
Here are 4 big lessons from my career that will change yours.
It’s a study in what we thought we had to do to be successful as engineers back then, and how that has changed over time.
What I thought then vs. what I know now.
What Women Used to Do to Be Successful Engineers – and How That’s Changed
- Blending In vs. Standing Out
When I began my engineering career in the 80’s, it was common for women to want to blend in at work.
Back then we felt this was necessary so that we would be “accepted” into the group.
We kinda had to tip-toe our way in and go with the flow. It seemed important that we not make waves. We didn’t want to draw too much attention.
The belief was that if you just do your job, you’ll be fine. That if you keep your head down and do a really good job, you’ll get compensated, recognized, and promoted.
Now I know this is completely backward. Today you have to stand out.
Not only is it okay to make some waves, but you need to stand out to get ahead.
Like I encourage my clients: You need to be visible and noticed so you get connections and opportunities.
A diversity of people and ideas is necessary for innovation. You can’t make your unique contribution if you’re always blending in and going with the flow.
- Being Like Them vs. Being Authentic
Back then we strived to be like them. Meaning we strived to be like the men.
We dressed like them. We acted like them. We emulated them. We mimicked their styles and their humor.
Back then people were not used to seeing women as engineers.
We believed if we were more like the men, we weren’t as “obviously different.” People would see us as competent and skilled.
Now this seems so silly and meaningless. Today authenticity is a dominant theme. Let your difference shine.
Your uniqueness is what everyone’s looking for. And people can tell a mile away when you’re not being authentic.
Besides, you can only be inauthentic for so long before you can’t stand it anymore. After a while I got tired of acting like someone else. My real self needed to emerge.
Like I tell my clients: Develop your own style based on your own strengths. Become your own engineer and leader.
- Doing What They Tell You to Do vs. Having a Vision and Owning Your Career
It used to be that I had an attendant mindset.
A mindset that said, “I’m here to do whatever you need me to do.”
Back then I followed whatever opportunities opened up, instead of creating my vision and navigating my way there.
I relied on others to direct me and give me my career path. And I relied on that for far too long.
It seemed the right thing to do. It seemed like we were being of service. I thought that if I did what others told me was important, my career would take care of itself.
But now I know that you’ll go farther in your career if you’re intentional about it. Today I advise that you take charge and own your career:
- Own your vision and your workload.
- Go in a direction that aligns with your energetic center.
- Think in terms of your career instead of the job.
This is how you grow and reach your potential. How you make a difference.
In this way your career becomes fulfilling and the world benefits from your creativity and contribution.
- Observing and Listening vs. Joining the Conversation
Because we needed to blend in, it was easier to stay in receive mode. To listen to everyone else’s ideas and pick the ones you’d like to go along with.
Back then we believed that people liked us better – and we came across as more friendly – if we listened more and talked less.
You didn’t want to interrupt. You didn’t want to risk derailing the conversation. Or going down rabbit holes. Or bringing up something no one cares about.
Now of course I advise that you join the conversation.
Say what you know. Give your opinion. Join the conversation because you learn way more than if you just observe or just listen.
Follow through with your ideas. Even if your ideas aren’t immediately accepted. Be part of the conversation and the team.
Fostering Career Lessons for the Next Generation of Women Engineers
The ways we approached our engineering careers in the past were a little off the mark by today’s standards. Thankfully things are evolving.
If you’re still holding on to some of these outmoded ideas, let me help you get up to date.
You can sign up for a strategy session and we’ll come up with actionable goals to get your career on a better trajectory.
Back then we were finding our way into a career that few women had worked in before. It wasn’t easy.
And sometimes what seemed to be best practice at the time turned out to be less than advantageous.
But at least you can learn from our missteps. What we know better now becomes your starting point.
And you’ll experience your own lessons to pass on to the women engineers who follow you.
Next time on Her Engineering Career Podcast we’ll circle back to your energetic center and how you can use it as the guiding star in your career. Be sure to join me for Episode 116.