Women in Engineering- Where are they Going?

December 6, 2012

Every year on December 6th, as my little remembrance of the 14 female engineering students killed in Montreal I write a little article about women in engineering.  I always mean to do this more often, as I have a few other ideas for articles, but more on that later.

When reading periodicals covering Women In Engineering they always cover the topics of the low percentage representation, efforts to get more women into engineering as a career choice, and the speculation on the great mystery: why are women who have successfully become engineers, survived all that school, graduated, and have been working in the field leaving?  Larger and larger number of successful women engineers are leaving the profession for other life pursuits.

As a working Mum Engineer, I do now feel qualified to shed some light on this, as I completely understand ditching all that school, career, and salary for a smaller career, a lower stress job, one in which I have more time for my family.  Also more time for all the cooking, cleaning, child care, quality time, cat time, me time, husband time, I just have a lot of stuff to keep on top of!

Let me describe a moment that I feel crystalizes the thought process.  On November 11 I had to stay home with my daughter as day care was closed, but my job continued on, with a large million dollar bid due at noon.  I had found out the Friday before that the daycare was closed.  I had realized the night before that some equipment was probably double counted between my estimation and the electrical contractors, which would mean a substantial amount of money I could delete from my price, which would make us more competitive.  The bid was due at noon, I found out around 10 am that I was indeed right, I then had to update four spreadsheets, and get all those final prices into four more documents.  I then had to zip all those documents up into one file, e-mail then, and get someone in the office to print then out and drive then over to the client.  Let’s just call them the evil client as they have ruined my summer with this crap, the fall, and as I told my boss today I expect them to ruin Christmas with all these @#$#$#& clarifications and then give the job to someone else on January 1.  But I digress into ranting.  By the end of the spread sheet updating, the document updating, the zipping and e-mailing my daughter was screaming at my feet, lying on the floor, demanding attention.  I had to ignore her to get everything done within the deadline.  But as I did it, and listened to her scream, I thought to myself, “Self, this is crap, it is not worth it.  If I had to choose between work and my child right now I will choose my child.  I will always choose my child.  The money, the career is worth nothing to me beside what my child is worth”.

Women will choose their children and their family over their high stress, long hour, high demand job.  When we are being yelled at for not making deadlines, or just made to feel bad as women are extremely sensitive to the unsaid castigation, we ask ourselves if it is worth it, and it is not.  This is why women are leaving, and it is why I would leave.  I got that bid off, but I hated myself as I did it, listening to my baby scream.

But here is a flip-side, why are some women staying, and thriving?  What are some employers doing to help out, to not make a women decide between their family and their job?  Here is what has been done for me that is helping immensely.  First of all my boss is very understanding, and he tries really hard even though he is of a generation that had “work all the time, ignore you family, work all the hours” drilled into them.  I can tell that sometimes he gets upset, but I see him work very, very hard to not feel that way, and to understand, and I appreciate that a lot.  The long and the short of it is that I’m working for a wage that is lower than I could make somewhere else, and I have a lot of people asking me to leave, but I’m staying where I am.  The second thing is that I work hourly, so that if I need time I can take it, and I don’t have pressure to make up the rest of the hours in the week.  I just don’t get a full paycheck.  When I do work more hours we put them in a bank and they help on weeks where I don’t get as much time in.  I average 36-38 hours a week.  I get to leave at 3 pm, and pick up my daughter at 4 pm.  We eat at 5 pm, and she is asleep by 7 pm, it is a nice schedule and there is time for us to relax.  I appreciate being allowed to leave early.

My boss also lets me work from home once a week, which saves me driving time, and I get a ton of stuff done.  I get more work work done as no one is interrupting me and I do laundry, cooking, cleaning, completing small tasks here and there.  I’ve done chores while being on conference calls thanks to my ear piece which I love.  I am generally very relaxed at the end of these days as I get so much done.  Done, done, done, see that?  Getting things done makes me happy, and relaxes me.

In return for these priviledges I try not to push things too much, complete tasks on time, and put in extra hours at night when my daughter is asleep when really needed.  With my boss it is important not to abuse things, to I let him know that I appreciate what I get.  He hates that.  When my co-workers get a bit jealous I take them aside, explain why I need these priviledges, and ask them nicely not to ruin things for me.

In short, this is why I’m still in engineering (even though the past few weeks have been stressful, really looking forward to Xmas) and still enjoying it.  I really can’t imagine staying home full time with my daughter, as I need that time outside the home.  Besides, daycare gives my daughter so many things, plus they have potty trained her!  We had no clue how to do that on our own!!

Life is hectic, life is crazy, but I generally am enjoying it.  I wish I had more time to write down my thoughts, but well, see the above article.

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One Response to “Women in Engineering- Where are they Going?”

  1. Heather said

    You are awesome, and your thoughts on women in engineering really should be published in a trade journal so that they are seen by a wider audience!

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