I don’t think I really fit the engineer stereotype, but does anyone really? I think many people’s perceptions of engineers are based on the comic strip Dilbert. He’s an engineer who wears glasses, doesn’t have great social skills, is very analytical… Ok, wait am I describing Dilbert or myself? So, maybe I do fit the stereotype a little. 😉
Here’s where I fit the engineer stereotype: I wear glasses on occasion (but most days I wear contacts). I am an introvert. I am very analytical. I love all things fantasy (think Star Wars and Harry Potter series). To my own discredit, I have caught myself on occasion asking a colleague who doesn’t like Star Wars how they were awarded an engineering degree. I mean, really…an engineer who’s not a Star Wars fan?!
But there are more ways in which I don’t fit the stereotype. Most importantly: I’m a woman. I’m a mom. I like makeup (in fact, it’s why I chose to become an engineer). I love to sing in the car at the top of my lungs. I love glitter (my closest friend quotes me as saying before I had kids, “If I have a baby girl, her favorite color will be glitter”). I love crafting (but I don’t have as much time for it as I’d like). I love reading (I wish I had more time for this too). I love beer and wine. I love fruit (especially pomegranates). I’m a coffee addict. I love to cook and bake (especially trying to make “healthier” versions of our favorite foods).
I can recall many times in college when I would tell people I’d just met that I was majoring in engineering and they’d say, “You don’t look like an engineer.” I always wished I was brave enough to ask them, “What does an engineer look like?” To me an engineer doesn’t look any specific way. An engineer is someone who’s intelligent, capable, and professional. This person can also be fun, silly, crafty, trendy, nerdy, or whatever else they choose to be.
The day I told my mom I wanted to major in chemical engineering in college she said to me, “Should I go buy you a pocket protector?” It was hilarious and I know she was just teasing me because my mom is my biggest fan and one of the main reasons I’m an engineer. She taught me to love math from a young age and always encouraged me to excel at STEM related classes in high school. She taught high school math and has an MBA, and her brother is an electrical engineer. I do the same type of engineer stereotype teasing when I find out an engineer’s not a Star Wars fan.
But now that I look back on it, I wonder why is that the engineering stereotype? A person who wears a pocket protector, glasses, (wrinkled) button down shirt, high water pants with white socks underneath, and is a fantasy movie and comic book fan. I’m pretty sure it stems from the characters in the comic Dilbert and the TV show Big Bang Theory. These are the only mainstream engineers most people see. There aren’t TV shows and movies about the trendy young female engineers who are changing the world.
Big Bang Theory is one of my favorite shows, but I’ve never worked with a Wolowitz. I’ve worked with engineers who are young, old, male, and female. And just like any other profession you encounter many personalities and styles. I’ve come across engineers of all kinds: some are fashionable, outgoing, nerdy, fun, friendly, kind, rude, wild, beautiful, smart, brave, many put in long days at work but love have a good time after work.
I love the movement that started a few years ago called “I Look Like an Engineer” (#ILookLikeAnEngineer). It was started by a software developer. She was featured in an ad for her company that received backlash because people thought they used a model and not an actual engineer. It was amazing to see so many women rally behind this hashtag and help change the public face of engineering.
Through my Women in Engineering Interview Series I’m trying to help create the new engineer stereotype. Let’s continue to change what people expect to see when they read or hear you’re an engineer by sharing success stories of women engineers.
Please visit my Women in Engineering Interview Series page to be inspired by women engineers who all break the stereotype (and are forming the new stereotype). And if you’d like to be featured in an interview on the blog, please contact me!