Getting Engaged As The Only Girl In The Room

Moving forward in a male-dominated field

by Jacky Speck

After a few years of working as an engineer, as a woman in a male-dominated field, I’ve grown accustomed to being The Only Girl In The Room. Often, that is literally true. When I graduated from school, I was the only woman in my class to successfully complete the Electrical Engineering degree program. I’ve had two jobs since finishing graduate school, and have been the only woman engineer on staff at both.

Being The Only Girl In The Room singles me out by definition, but I learned early on that it often means being taken less seriously by default. At the start of my first electronics class, the professor joked that he was just trying to survive until Thanksgiving break. “That’s when I’ll finally be able to kick back and relax,” he said, scribbling an equation on the blackboard. “My wife’s not looking forward to it though, because she has to do all the work: cooking, cleaning, the works. Fortunately, none of you will ever have to worry about that stuff.” He turned around and briefly surveyed the room before his eyes landed on me. “Well, except for you.”

All the men in the room chuckled while my face flushed beet red with an awful combination of embarrassment and rage.

This “joke” hit home because I had lost my mom only two years earlier, and as the only other member of my immediate family who knows how to roast a turkey, I WAS doing all the holiday cooking for my dad and my brother. I had been very proud of making awesome Thanksgiving dinners, but that asshole’s remark temporarily made me feel ashamed. That stung even more than the words themselves.

In hindsight, I probably should have complained to some higher-up at the university. But all I really wanted was a good grade, and at the time, I thought filing a formal complaint would make people think that I whined my way to an A instead of working for it like everyone else. That was the last thing I wanted. But after that moment in electronics class, I decided that being a serious engineer meant downplaying my identity as a woman. Even though it was 2005 instead of 1955, some people still assumed that as a woman, I could only be a housewife-in-training. They assumed that I was merely biding my time with this engineering stuff until I got married, and proving them wrong was on me.

For years, I thought the solution was not to talk about doing any sort of stereotypical 1950s housewife activities: “cooking, cleaning, the works,” as that wonderful electronics professor had put it. Over time, I gradually extrapolated this notion to all forms of feminine expression. While my normal wardrobe contains more than a few sun dresses and pairs of strappy sandals, my “work” wardrobe has always been identical to that of my male colleagues: button-down collared shirts, dress pants, and sensible loafers.

When I got engaged a few months ago, one of my biggest fears was everyone assuming that this “housewife-in-training” scenario was finally coming to fruition. So I decided that nobody had to know about it. My fiancé proposed to me on a Sunday and I was positively overflowing with joy when I went to work the next day, but I suppressed my happiness for eight whole hours and didn’t say a thing about our engagement to anyone. When a co-worker asked, “How was your weekend?” I tersely replied, “Oh. It was okay.”

I tried not to draw attention to the brand new ring on my finger, but as you might imagine, jewelry had never been part of my menswear-inspired work wardrobe. So my co-workers eventually noticed the ring and asked if I was getting married. I felt weird about lying when asked directly, so the secret was out. Over the next few days, I kept hearing that asshole professor’s voice in my head: “Well, except for you,” as I envisioned my co-workers’ mental image of me morphing into Betty Draper.

But even as lunch conversations occasionally drifted towards wedding stuff, none of my co-workers took me less seriously at all. It’s because after getting engaged, I’ve continued to accomplish some pretty great things at work. My co-workers continue to respect my engineering abilities because they know that shopping for a long white gown hasn’t stopped me from taking on multiple projects, creating new technologies, and submitting a conference paper. I now realize that my attempts to blend in as “one of the guys” were never the thing that caused people to take me seriously as an engineer: it was the quality of my work all along.

It’s true that when you’re a woman working in a male-dominated fields like engineering, you’re bound to meet a few dinosaurs who assume you’re a “housewife-in-training” and take you less seriously as a result. These dinosaurs are one of the reasons why I’ve been The Only Girl In The Room for much of my career. I mentioned before that I was the only woman in my graduating class to finish an Electrical Engineering degree, but I certainly wasn’t the only woman in my class to start one. I’d be willing to bet that more than one of those other women were influenced by that asshole “Well, except for you” electronics professor.

If you’re the first woman engineer that someone has ever met, chances are that they’re relying on their assumptions because they don’t actually know you yet. So ignore the haters, and show them what you’re made of instead. I know it sounds easier said than done, but when you’re The Only Girl In The Room, no one else is going to take on the responsibility of showing people that their assumptions about you are wrong. Just be yourself, and even the most closed-minded dinosaurs will learn to respect you. Don’t let their assumptions discourage you from succeeding at your career, and definitely don’t let them persuade you that things like getting married, cleaning your house, or cooking for your family make you any less of an engineer. Getting engaged taught me that I have the ability to set an example of what women engineers are capable of. If I can succeed as The Only Girl In The Room at my job, maybe it won’t be long before I’m not the only one any more.

Photo: Vivian Chen

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  • Robyn

    Yes! I submitted an eerily similar post a while ago but you summed it up much better. Also a female engineer and often the only girl in the room it took me ages to stop worrying about what would happen if I just started being myself. But it’s the truth! Why is it such a shocking concept, I will never know :)

    • Natalie

      Yay fellow female engineers!! It is so wonderful to have this topic presented here. I work at a medical device company so while there are women here, I am usually the Only Girl in the Conference Room ;).

      I’ve noticed myself that the men I work with have no problem bringing up their personal lives – “my wife did this” “my kid did this”, but I feel silly bringing up my FH. Almost as if I’d be bringing attention to the fact that I’m a girl.

      • Imsostartled

        Creepy! I’m also an engineer in the medical device field and I’m also often the only girl on the engineer and science teams. It’s ok, but I feel like my co-workers think they have to hold back on certain things because I’m there (like they profusely apologize to me if I hear them swear but they wouldn’t do that if it was another guy) which is ok I guess, but just makes things awkward on occasion.

        • LYNZ

          Is it weird if I mention that I’m an engineer in the medical device field who’s also recently engaged?! Holy representation here! I’ve been really open and comfortable at my company talking about the engagement, but I definitely restrained myself when dealing with vendors or classmates (going back to school for my masters). And that’s so unlike me so it’s super frustrating to hold back , but yet I feel like I’m “being too girly” if I discuss my wedding with them.

    • eulalia

      I’m a female engineer, too! EE as well! I remember taking a huge seminar course of well over a hundred students, making eye contact with the one or two other women in the room. It was always so much easier if there was at least one other woman in the room even if we never said anything to each other. Engineering is the least represented profession, and EE is the least represented engineering field. It is so lovely to see other engineers here! Luckily, I work with a few other women now, which has been enormously helpful.

    • Thrilled to see a post by another female engineer! Even though more women are supposedly doing STEM careers, I rarely encounter another woman engineer. Sadly, in my experience, being more than competent at my old job did nothing to stop the harassment and stereotypes. I was assumed to be the secretary once, presumably because I didn’t look like the “typical engineer”. I guess the “Thermal Properties of High Temperature Resins” poster at my desk did nothing to clue them in.

      Luckily, I’m now at a new job where I AM taken seriously and respected, and I can truly just “be myself” there.

  • Female engineers unite! Love this. The part about not filing a complaint really resonated – not only were the courses grueling but having to prove yourself every day was added stress. Thankfully I now also work for a group that respects me for my work and doesn’t treat me differently.

  • Hannah

    I too have been the “token girl” as I called it, in computer engineering. One thing I have learned working with pretty much only guys in their 20’s is that guys talk about weddings too. They might not talk about the same details that a group of women might, but they do have serious conversations about their weddings, it’s not a taboo topic. That surprised me.

    Being the token girl in college was definitely harder. I didn’t feel like I had sexist professors or classmates, but I felt like some people’s huge egos affected the classroom more than they would have if the class was more diverse.

    • Kris

      I didn’t study in a male-dominated field, but I am working in one for sure (tech sector). When I was engaged my male co-workers were actually interested in some of my planning details and would ask me about things. They had all gone through weddings int the not-so-distant past, and it gave us a connection. People can surprise you sometimes!

    • Jacky Speck

      Yes! I mentioned “lunch conversations about weddings” in the piece, because dudes actually wanting to talk about weddings surprised me too. I, too, thought it was a taboo topic thanks to years of “dudes don’t care about weddings!!” messages from the media. Some of my male coworkers actually had some pretty helpful tips about venue shopping, particularly for BYOB venues. My own fiance, also an engineer, surprised me with how much he cared about wedding planning because every wedding magazine I read basically said “your groom won’t care about the wedding and you’ll have to do it all yourself.”

      As I’m becoming less self-conscious about being “the token girl” and focusing on being myself at work, I’m finding that I actually have a lot in common with my male colleagues. Perhaps this shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was.

    • TeaforTwo

      They sure do! I work in public service, so I work with lots of women, but I find that men – particularly the ones who have been married in the last few years – talk about weddings a lot.

      They don’t ask what my dress looks like or how I’m going to do my hair, but we’re all in the stage of our lives where we go to a lot of weddings, and so they’ve got lots of advice about venues in the city particularly, or ideas about what makes other people’s weddings fun, and how they solved logistical/budget problems in their own wedding.

      And last Friday night when I was stuck at the office until 8pm, one of my male coworkers who had also had to work that late saw that I was addressing invitation envelopes (after all my work was done) and stayed even later to help me put on all the return address labels so I could meet my self-imposed “these go out this week” deadline.

    • I’ve found that software guys LOVE to show their invitations. And boy are some of them, um, unique.

  • Robyn

    I want to add another comment because this seems like a good comment thread to bring it up on. I don’t know how I should feel about it and I’m wondering if anyone else can relate. I’ve been told, at my VERY male dominated workplace, that people will automatically assume that I’m competent and do what I ask BECAUSE I am a girl. The reasoning being that everyone knows it’s hard to be a woman at a place like this so if I can hack it, I must know what I’m doing. I was blown away when a male colleague told me that girls DON’T have to prove themselves at my workplace, but guys do because they are a dime a dozen.

    Obviously this is something that works to my advantage but it still makes me uncomfortable. Has anyone else experienced this?

    • garli

      If that’s how it worked for me no one told me. I felt like I had to prove myself just as much as anyone else.

    • Keiko

      While that comment seems ‘nice’, watch out. Typically this comes from the more abrasive and condescending men and it is a implying I get special treatment because I’m a girl. Which isn’t true… I get special treatment because I treat people well.

      • Robyn

        See, this is what’s weird. It has come up multiple times from a lot of the nicer and more respectful men that I work with. I say I don’t know how to feel about it because I don’t even know if I believe that it’s true, or just a perception of theirs. There are definitely some very mean women at my workplace who no one goes out of their way to help, but I do my job well and I treat people with respect and that is why I have always assumed that people respected me back. I feel like that is invalidated when people say it’s just because I’m a girl, but I also know it’s not actually true because maybe it helps at the beginning but if I was a terrible person it wouldn’t last very long.

        • KC

          I think that part of the key here is the “nicer and more respectful” people are more likely to have thought through the situation and realized that making it through the extra-heavy obstacle course to get there means that you’ve got even more skillz than the average guy. The more “average” people are less likely to have thought about this at all and are more likely to be responding to you based on merit/competence/all-the-rest-of-stuff-when-you-interact-with-people. The ill-informed ones sometimes assume that females get quota advantages and you get to deal with the fallout of that (usually: some guy with a massive and undeserved chip on his shoulder tells other guys that and they don’t actually investigate the facts of the matter).

          So… it’s a mix. But in any event, being competent and not rude is both moving society forward and will work in your favor, no matter where people are starting (unless they’re *totally* committed to ignorant positions, in which case, it’s at least not hurting anything). At least, this has been the case in my experience.

          (being “nice” is a more complex and sometimes oddly-gendered thing, so I’m just going to leave that alone entirely. :-) )

    • Jacky Speck

      Not sure if this is what’s happening in your situation, but when I’ve heard similar comments in the past they were clearly because some guys felt that affirmative action “makes it too easy” for under-represented groups.

      I have heard it about myself before, most notably at the end of college when we were all applying for grad school or jobs. I mentioned a grad school application to one of my engineering friends, a guy. He said, “What are you worried about? They already have to accept you because you’re a girl, so it’s kind of a bonus that you’re actually smart.” Oh, so I’m smart “for a girl”? Thanks. Thanks a lot.

      In the piece I mentioned women dropping out of the EE program at my school. One of these women happened to be black, and people made MANY more “token” comments about her than they made about me. One comment that I overheard when she left? “How could she screw this up? She got in because of affirmative action, so I bet she’d get a C even if she really deserved an F.”

      • Stacey

        One of my college classmates asked me if I really believed in equality, why didn’t I turn down my scholarship from SWE. I was like “Dude, I didn’t even apply for it, and it’s not like it’s anything close to a full ride. I’m not turning down free unexpected money. Deal with it. I’m sure you got some scholarships *I* wasn’t eligible for!”

    • eulalia

      I’ve gotten the opposite – “It must be a breeze to find a job as a female engineer.” Ugh.

      • Candice

        My boss actually told me a few months into the job that he hired me over another applicant BECAUSE I was a female engineer and he believes there should be more females working in industry. (Funny that his female engineer wife stays home) I hadn’t even questioned earning the job on my merit until that moment. I no longer work for him.

        • KC

          I kinda hate to be defending this, but… there’s a degree to which having a diversity of perspectives, especially in certain fields, can *really* bring a lot to the table. Think: designing a women’s bathroom (or bicycle seats?) without any women, or an accessible space without any people who have mobility challenges (“wheelchair accessible” spaces that haven’t had a sanity check done on them sometimes have corners that don’t work or fixtures that make a hallway/doorway just barely too narrow, everything at the right height in the bathroom except the soap dispenser is totally out of reach, etc.). Or designing toys/clothes/games to appeal to a broad audience when you only have employees in a very, very skinny segment who don’t even really know many people outside that segment. So hiring people partly because they bring in “life experience” that’s not represented by your current employee base is actually a really smart move, provided they’re also in the top tier of qualified candidates. There are also more intangible benefits to having a more diverse workforce, but the sheer “these people have personal experience with what we’re trying to create” benefit is huge.

          That said, many fields of engineering don’t have direct gender application, and it is incredibly, incredibly obnoxious to feel like your “real skills” were deemed less important than your intangible effects, and I would have been mad, too. Just… sometimes gender diversity is in fact of practical benefit to the company.

          • Another Meg

            I agree with this. And I’d also say that it’s easier to continue to draw talent. If there’s more diversity in the room then no one feels singled out. There are plenty of intangible reasons that men are hired over women in many circumstances. Being able to strike up a personal conversation at the end of the interview that ends the whole thing on a high note.

            That said, if I were told by my boss I’d been hired because I was a woman….I’m really not sure how I’d feel about it.

    • Kestrel

      I’ve found that this is what guys say when they try to be realistic that girls have to go through a lot of obstacles, but aren’t terribly well versed in it.

      It’s true that women in STEM fields do, for example, have higher grades on average, etc. but most people don’t internalize that like they do with ‘girls aren’t as good in math and science’.

  • garli

    As a fellow lady engineer, up until my current job I’ve never been the only lady in the room. Now it happens all the time. I also happen to kick ass at my job and I’m kinda goofy. I feel like humor helps a lot. I have a habit of saying things like “maybe it’s just my lady brain talking but ….” and then end of that sentence is something helpful. I once solved a problem no one could figure out with watercolors. No dude (or at least none of the dudes I work with) was going to think of that. (I work in a manufacturing firm). Don’t hide who you are, just own it.


    Yay for female engineers! I can definitely relate to this. Fortunately for most of my engineering schooling and work experiences, I’ve been one of a few female engineers. ChemE and EnvE just attract more women than EE. Anyway, as a black female engineer, I’ve felt the need to prove myself on two fronts. And what’s interesting is that I actually find myself identifying more with the struggles of being the only ‘person of color’ engineer in the room than the only female engineer in the room. I don’t think this was a conscious decision though. Maybe it is just that I automatically grab hold to which group I feel is the more severe minority (if that makes any sense). Even now, I’m in a top 5 engineering program, I’m the only black person getting my phd but there are plenty of women. So I feel I have to prove myself as a competent black engineer, not the token. (Although I’m convinced they use my picture for minority recruiting).

    As a result, I either haven’t been singled out as being someone that will just be a housewife when I get married. If anything, FH will be househusband. He’s all for it!

    • Kestrel

      Hah! I’m a white female engineering grad student and I often feel for my one black female engineering student ‘college’. She’s co-oped for so many photos, etc. it’s a bit insane. I don’t actually know her very well (we’re in different labs and classes) but I’ve seen her face all over!

      That being said, I’ve noticed at my program, that it’s far more unlikely to be black than to be female. I think “Black Female” is the least represented in my program, followed by “Black Male” and then “White Female”

      It was a really weird experience walking into a 90 person class and being the only person in the entire room with blonde hair! (There are few domestic students in my grad program – the majority are from India and China, and those 10 white people that were there all happened to have brown hair)

  • So many hearts for this post.

    While I’m not an electrical engineer, my master’s degree is in applied biochem which I hope to use to transition away from my present career, which is in finance. So there’s the double-whammy of being the token girl at both work and school. What this post captures so brilliantly is the concept that, though we can become accustomed to being in the overwhelming minority, it’s often a long and bumpy process.

    Though it’s been a couple years now, I’m still haunted by the following. After plugging away at a difficult series of scenario analyses, I expressed gratitude that the project was drawing to a close. My dinosaur of a co-worker then says, “Well no wonder you had such trouble, it’s math. You should have had your husband or father just do that for you.”

    Notwithstanding that math comprises about 90% of what I do all day, every day and my husband is an avowed math-phobic philosophy major. I’m still not sure how I managed to restrain myself from slapping sense into that co-worker…

  • Rachael

    Oh you have struck a nerve with me.

    I’m a PhD in molecular biology, and while my field is less male-dominated than engineering, the female population thins out significantly in post-doctoral and academic faculty positions. The tenure and grant systems are unkind to having children and the time frame of establishing oneself professionally corresponds to a narrowing window of opportunity for having children. It is assumed that most women postdocs won’t go on to try for a faculty position but will end up turning toward industry or teaching. I’ve definitely had that insinuated to me many, many times by male higher ups. Frankly, I haven’t decided yet, but I feel pushed out of academia.

    Additionally, I’ve had established women tell me to not bother trying to find a boyfriend / husband because it will only hurt my career. I did not heed this advice, but boy did it sting when I was single in my late 20s.

    I’ve found, too, that it’s not just the men that hold women back, but it’s the much, much fewer established women as well. It has seemed like some of them have a chip on their shoulder about how hard they’ve had to work to get where they are and instead of nurturing the next generation of women scientists they show animosity towards them. I’ve had scientist women tell me that I can’t be taken seriously as a scientist because I’m “too pretty” and I “don’t look like a scientist”. I’m not wearing anything sexy or even very cute to work and I actually try to downplay the fact that I’m a girl. I am honestly somewhat embarrassed to be “pretty” in my professional life because it causes issues with both the men and the women. I have to overcome my looks in order for the men to take me seriously and the women assume that the boss likes me because of my looks, never mind that I’m good at my job. I currently work with only men and it’s actually easier than when there were other women around.

    • Laura

      I’ve had similar experiences with older women in the sciences who seem to have chips on their shoulders. Given what I’ve heard from other female scientists, I wonder if it’s a generational thing that’s changing a bit.

      A former boss (cognitive neuroscientist, in her early 40s) noted that the generation of female scientists just above her (so those in their 50s and 60s) fought so damn hard to get where they are that they felt compelled to give their advisees the same experience to harden them in a competitive field. This boss had done her Ph.D. and postdoc with female advisers from that generation who made it almost a hazing process. “I had to work 70 hour weeks to keep up with the men, so you have to work 75 hours even when you’re deathly ill to prove your worth.”

      In contrast, the two younger female advisers I’ve worked with (one in her late 30s, the other in her 40s) have had a much saner approach. I’m not sure if it’s trauma from their own doctoral/postdoc experiences or just that they experienced less of the overt sexism as the older generation of women, but the younger advisers seem much more willing to provide good advice and training to younger scientists.

      • Rachael

        I’ve noticed this as well, though the “generational” line is pretty blurry and probably just dependent on the woman’s own experience. But yes, I have heard good stories from a female friend working with an early-to-mid-40s female PI. This particular PI seems to be really good about childcare and pregnancy issues. That is opposed to the same friend’s previous PI (in her late 40s to early 50s) who stated to my then-pregnant friend that she was back to work within 2 weeks of having her baby and didn’t understand the necessity of maternity leave.

    • Jess

      Chiming in because an “exactly” wasn’t enough. Just an anecdote to say you’re not the only one that thinks this.

      My mom spoke to me at length growing up (female engineer from the 70’s raising a female engineer in the 2010’s) about the challenges of working as a woman. The thing she stresses and really works to counteract in her workplace is the fact that “established women” often try to keep other women down – colleagues or the next generation. Her theory was that instead of trying to raise each other up, they’re so used to fighting for their spot that they don’t want someone else coming in to take it from them and they want to make sure that everyone else fights just as hard.

      It always struck me as weird that those early women entering fields fought to make the path easier for the next women, but then decided that it was only fair for us to fight too! Luckily there are so many women (and men!) out there who really do just want to see more women succeed in these areas, and are working to make it happen. We need more of them.

      Her advice to me was to find the people that will support you for being you and being in the field, regardless of if they are men or women. And that there are TOTALLY established women and men out there that want to help!

      • KC

        With this problem, I think a component of it may have been having to face down “you only got the job because you’re a girl” or whatever – having that assertion that there was a lower standard for you kind of makes you want to not only prove them wrong for you, but also want to not have *any* counterexamples.

        I remember being way beyond horrified when someone who graduated with me mentioned that yeah, she used the fact that she was a girl to get extra homework help and slide through classes. (I dodged help like the plague, to an honestly unhealthy and unhelpful degree, just to avoid it *looking* like that to *anyone*, since I’d heard that insinuation from guys before, but I didn’t think anyone actually *did* it!) I can’t imagine how much more upset someone in the first generation of having to prove that women *can* be in this field would be.

  • Mari

    Wonderful article!

  • Dom

    I think it also depends on the corporate culture of the group. I work as a software tester for an Oil and Gas company. In our team of 14, we only have 3 white males and the team has an even number of males and females. There has never been a feeling of being the odd one out as everyone is so different anyways. Actually, the only thing that our team points out is there is only one person left who is not engaged or married, and he gets teased about when he will pop the question to his girlfriend just so he can be like the rest of us hahaha.

    However, the company all together? Only 1 in 10 are women. It is worst in the developer area, and a female field tech is as rare as a unicorn.

  • Ann

    I’ve just started a PhD program where I am the only woman in ALL of my classes. I’m also the only married first year, and I’m planning on babymaking before my time here is up. There are two students further along in the program with children (one woman, one man–he’s the primary caregiver since his wife is doing a medical residency right now), and they both said the department has been pretty supportive. But… it’s still scary.

    In other news, I’m now an official mentor for some undergrad women in the department, which is super fun. It means the department pays for me to get coffee and sandwiches with some awesome young women. So there are some perks to being the only woman in the room.

  • Catherine McK

    Yay engineers! My husband and I both work at the same engineering firm in different roles. It is fascinating for me to compare how people interact with the two of us; some of it has to do with position as I know a lot more people, but some of it is definitely gendered. I mean, I don’t think any of the guys hugged him when he came back from the wedding. I’m recently “out” as pregnant at work, and I think that will be interesting too. Have any of you had issues with people dealing with your pregnancy in challenging ways?

    • Natalie

      Oops! Meant to reply, not ‘report’!

      My FH and I are also engineers at the same firm, different departments. (He’s manufacturing, I’m R&D). I’ve wondered a lot how things will go, especially when we get married, I get pregnant, ect. (we don’t have the ring yet so we haven’t “announced” our engagement.)

      So I guess let me know how it goes for you! :)

    • Amanda

      Another female engineer engaged to an engineer at the same company here! It is interesting to me the differences in how people interact with us. I think we both have good relationships with our coworkers, but they’re definitely different. One thing in particular that comes to mind is our on-site machine shop. The machinists have always been nice to me, but at the beginning I definitely felt like I had to prove myself to be competent at my job, and really earn their respect as a good engineer. I think I’ve succeeded in that, and have a good relationship with the shop. My fiance went into it being completely confident in his abilities, and expecting their respect. They gave him kind of a hard time at first, just general joking around/pranks on the new guy, but I don’t think he ever felt the need to prove himself. He also has a good relationship with them, but it’s different. The shop guys were excited for us when we got engaged, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one they hugged! We didn’t really broadcast it when we got engaged – we told a few people, and others noticed the ring, but it’s been 6 months and some people still haven’t noticed. I don’t care if people know but I’m not really making a big deal of it, because I don’t want people thinking the only reason I’m working here is to find a husband, you know?

    • Andi

      I’m an engineering physics grad student in a field with almost no women. Our building doesn’t even have women’s bathrooms on all of the floors. I enjoy working with my male peers and am close friends with many of them (just got married to one of them, in fact!) Besides one of my advisers assuming I’d be graduating soon since I was getting married, there was no weirdness with my engagement.
      BUT… as my husband and I look for jobs, it’s almost impossible to see how I can make a career in male-dominated STEM academia work with having a family. The best planning I feel I can do is wait to have kids until we have steady health insurance at our new jobs and hope that they don’t mind that I want to take maternity leave within a few years of starting work.

  • LifeSheWrote

    I just wanted to offer up a feminist fist bump and a hell yeah to you. Keep fighting the good fight. Congratulations on the engagement and on the new projects at work!

    • Jacky Speck

      Thank you so much!

  • Gretchen

    First comment ever, but as a fellow The Only Girl In The Room I had to chim in with definitely!! I thought that being The Only Girl In The Room at college (metallurgy) prepared me for work. But it didn’t, it couldn’t. Work has such a different dynamic from college and for my particular work, I’m often The Only Girl and The Only One Under 40 In The Room. I’ve been in meetings where I was convinced that any second the scotch and cigars were going to come out and I’ve been asked when I’m going to settle down and have kids.

    But the outcome is the same, eventually/overall I’m judged on my abilities and knowledge (read: kicking ass!). And while there’s always some idiot making it difficult, continuing to handle work and the occasional idiot ends up improving my career.

    • Stacey

      Agreed. College and work were vastly different for me too. At school, I saw my classmates as friends, and we would grab beers together after class, go out to lunch, or make appointments to study together. At work, most of the guys are married with families, and it would be weird to socialize with them outside of the office. They invite each other to go fishing or whatever, but never me. I’ve been lonelier as an employee than I ever was as a student.

      • Gretchen

        Isn’t that the truth! It’ll take time, I’m slowly making friends with the few people my age and I completely lucked out when my now fiance, then a close friend from school got a job working for the same company. Maybe see if there’s a class/club nearby that you can join? Any chance that your company is still hiring people your age? At least you could get together and grumble about how much it sucks making friends outside of school? Good luck!

    • Eenie

      I agree! I’ve frequently been the only female in the workplace but I’ve identified more with the age gap. I have noticed that at my current manufacturing position where 98% of the workforce on the shop floor is male, everyone knows my name which is strange. I think this has to do with the gender, but it hasn’t been problematic for me yet.

      I think the numbers in the engineering field are improving, but they still lag especially for the grad and phd levels. I’ve only ever had one female engineering professor, and I’ve been in school for almost six years.

      • Gretchen

        I almost completely identify with the age gap and the most of the male engineers I work with do as well. We bond over teaching our bosses how to print spreadsheets from excel. Similarly out on the floor almost everyone knows me and my name and there’s so many people that I just don’t know. It’s gender related, I’ve had very few problems with it. One of my favorite tricks is to start talking about my dad or grandfather, how they reminded me of my dad, and maybe if they have any suggestions for birthday/holiday presents. Or ask a co-worker about their kids/grandkids. I

        • Stacey

          Yes! My current company is small and it’s easy for me to keep people straight, but my last workplace had thousands of employees. The guys ALWAYS knew who I was, but they all blended into stereotypes for me. There were the bubbas, the grandpas, the young guys, the Yankees, etc. I felt bad when I didn’t recognize someone who clearly knew my name and had remembered working with me previously.

      • Kestrel

        Have to admit that it’s so much easier to remember just one girl’s name. Hell, for undergrad (and there were more females there than at work) you could just say “the tall blonde girl” and you only described me in my department – which is the biggest on campus!

        So everyone in my classes knew my name, and everywhere I’ve worked people know my name.

        What horrible is I have the worst memory for faces and names, so I feel so guilty because everyone knows my name, but I know none of theirs.

    • Kestrel

      Ugh, this has totally been an issue for me too. I’m 23, but still look identical (seriously, no one can tell between photos) as to when I was 17. So all the older male engineers have daughters about my age.

      They try to be helpful sometimes, but it often just comes across as patronizing.

      I’m now working with people who are in their 30s, and it’s a world of difference. They treat me so differently.

  • Laura

    I’ve got a bit of the opposite problem, and I’m wondering if anyone shares my experiences. I’m in clinical psychology, a field dominated by women (at least in recent years). As someone in a “helping profession,” I continually face the notion that I don’t know anything about “real science.” Despite having a bachelor’s degree in human physiology, a master’s in cognitive neuroscience, and my Ph.D. work involving genetic influences on brain structure and function. Sounds science-y to me!

    This came to a head recently when a new guy moved into the office that I share with another male grad student (who is in the same year of training as I am). The new person is fresh out of college, working as a coordinator on a study, and has made numerous comments that have been offputting to myself and other women in the lab.

    Recently, Male Grad Student, New Guy, and myself were having a joint conversation. New Guy then proceeded to ignore me and directly ask my male colleague a question about the physiology of the eye. I sat silently as Male Grad Student admitted that he couldn’t remember. When he was finished, I stood up, looked New Guy in the eye, and succinctly described the structure and function of the eye neurons that he was asking about. Male Grad Student busted out laughing and said, “Yeah, you should have asked Laura. She happens to have a degree in physiology.” I just looked at New Guy and said, “I guess women know science, too.” He looked a bit stunned.

    I could go on for days, but it really bothers me that women in female-oriented professions are assumed to have fewer “real” skills because of their choice of field. Oh, you’re a female clinical psychologist? Then you must be very empathetic, kind, and a great listener. Well, as a human being, I would certainly hope I have many of those qualities. But what I do know is that I’m a damn good scientist, and that’s just as or more important as the rest of those things.

    /End rant.

    • Pippa

      Solidarity fist-bump to you. I’m another woman in a female-dominated health profession (audiology) and t it honestly makes me uncomfortable. Plus the fact that the power of diagnosis and referral is taken out my hands and placed firmly in those of doctors and otolaryngologists (predominantly male) doesn’t help.

      • Jacky Speck

        My fiance’s father is a nurse practitioner. He’s very high up in the ranks of his otherwise mostly female group after a big promotion years ago, and once said he was amazed that even in a female-dominated field, a man was first in line to get promoted. That’s not to say my FFIL didn’t earn his success… After all, he has a master’s degree and is extremely dedicated to his work. But I thought that was an interesting observation he made about his own career in a female-dominated field.

        • Laura

          One of my professors was just discussing this effect the other day. In clinical psychology, as women have increasingly joined the field, it has further depressed wages compared to other comparable fields. And within the field, women are still paid significantly less than men.

          So we’re hit with a double whammy — being in a woman-dominated profession devalues the worth of all psychologists, and within that, the same gender pay inequalities persist. Your dad’s experience definitely speaks to that. Even within a female-dominated profession, men are getting ahead while women continue to linger behind.

  • Mary

    Yay! Women in Engineering, I love it. I have a Computer Engineering background and also work in an international and male dominated environment. I often find myself in meetings with 25-30 males from different countries and I’m the only female. I agree, the work speaks for itself and I have yet to have a concrete example at work where I’ve felt held back or deemed not smart enough for being female.

    I have been surprised though that now that I’m pregnant my male international colleagues have all asked “if I’m coming back after the baby?” To me it’s a given, I’ve put in 10 years of hard work and love my job, why would I give that up? Interesting enough, no one here in the US asks me that question.

    The negative feedback tends to comes from outside of my work from others that I meet. I’ll never forget a high school career fair I worked a few years ago. I had a photo slideshow of all of the places I’ve traveled and I spent time talking to high school juniors and seniors and sometimes parents about the opportunities for engineers in international business. One girl was particularly interested, especially in the travel aspect and was asking me lots of questions. She happened to have her mom with her who cut off the conversation and said “Oh you that job you want to get married and have a family.”

    So while I was offended and told her that yes, I have a family, I’m married (which she quickly pointed out is NOT a family because I didn’t have kids, WRONG LADY!). What I really wanted to do was weep for that poor girl and then take her under my wing and mentor her. Already at 17 she’s being told what she can’t do because she’s a girl. UGH!

    • Mary

      Oops that story makes more sense if I quote the mother as saying “Oh you can’t have that job. You want to get married and have a family.”

    • Jess

      That makes me so angry! I hope that girl DOES go into a career and has a family (if she wants one) and shows her mom that it’s totally doable. Challenging, but doable!

    • Stacey

      Oh, how horrible. Doesn’t that just break your heart!?

  • Chalk

    Luckily, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt pressure for being the only woman in the room – I’m not sure if it’s because I’m oblivious or because the men in the room really didn’t care. In my experience in a male dominated workplace (tech), all I’ve had to do was good, reliable, solid work in order to find my place. I’ve found that it’s a disservice to yourself and your environment to go into any situation with your dukes up. My philosophy is to just be. It doesn’t take long for people to notice and appreciate your value, and stop looking at the physical package.


      I was just about to comment the same! I have only had minor instances where I felt my female hackles going up at a trade show or meeting over some comments being made. I think this is also our corporate environment – I may be the only female in the engineering group, but there are a lot of successful females at the company in general.

      As far as some of the comments people have made regarding their dress. I personally love to feel feminine at work (always appropriately though) when I’m surrounding by polo and khaki dressed guys. I also have mostly a desk (design) job so I don’t have to worry about being in a factory or anything like that.

      I think my main irritation is the comment “that’s really cool that you’re good at this stuff and you’re a girl” or some variation thereof. Yes, I have a master’s in this thankyouverymuch. I think it’s intended to be a nice sentiment, but it comes across as insulting to me. Would you ever say “It’s awesome that you’re black and into math and science!” No way. So I’m looking forward to when my being female is not necessarily a commodity, but just another engineer in the group.

      Fist bumps to all the female engineers here!!

      • Ashley

        Actually yes, people DO say things like “Wow, you’re black and into Math/Science/Literature”, all the time.

        Just like the comment of “Oh, she speaks so well!”. The implication is always, for someone who’s black.

        I definitely don’t think this was your intention, but the phrasing of your statement felt like it was really more of a blanket- “It doesn’t happen to me, so it doesn’t happen”- and how that can really devalue and delegitimize the very painful experiences that I, and millions of others, deal with on a regular basis ON TOP of being a woman.

  • I’d like to put in a request to all you female engineers:
    PLEEEEASE go talk in schools! Talk to elementary school kids and middle school kids and high school kids. Show them how awesome you are and show them how awesome it is to be an engineer. Put a bug in their ear. For the girls, it is SO important to have female role models, and for the boys it’s important that they see early on that women do this stuff, too!

    I loved our “Electricity” science program in 5th grade (we created tinfoil circuits and took old small appliances apart to see how they worked) and if we’d had a female electrical engineer come in and tell me I could do that for a living?! I might be on a totally different career path right now.

    • Jacky Speck

      My dad is actually a public school teacher and invited me to speak in his class years ago… But I turned it down because I didn’t think I had anything valuable to say. Have you heard of “Impostor Syndrome”? Yeah, I had a little bit of that going on. With the mini-epiphany that inspired this post and now your comment, I will have to say yes the next time he offers!

      It now seems silly that I thought I didn’t have anything to say. Much of my research is in robotics, and kids LOVE robots!

      • Jess

        When I was a little girl, and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I would ALWAYS tell them that I wanted to build robots. Nobody could convince me that I wouldn’t. (Granted my parents were all about it, so I don’t think anybody would have messed with me when they were there)

        Turns out I’m terrible with computers. But I did become a chemical engineer and work in manufacturing that uses really big robots, so I guess it kind of worked out!

      • Daniella

        Yes yes yes to “Imposter Syndrome”! I keep wondering when it will go away….

      • OMG YES! Seriously all you’d have to do is walk in, say, “Hi kids, I work with robots!” and run away. That would have been enough for me to be like “what now about robots?” and immediately go to the library to find out more.

    • eulalia

      I totally agree – I have done a bit of this (local girls in STEM event), but I do want to do so much more, though I am not sure how to go about it, really. I had a female physics teacher in high school that made all the difference for me.

      • Amy

        I am an Electrical Engineer and I do bunches of outreach in my area. If you’re interested, you can talk to guidance counselors, ask principals to refer you to their math and science teachers, or look into programs like Project Lead the Way and FIRST LEGO League that ask for engineers to act as mentors to a team of students.

        I started out doing outreach about three years ago at a local program, and now I have made it into a part of my actual job responsibilities. Don’t let the difficulty of finding ways to reach out stop you! You can make a huge difference.

    • Stacey

      Oh yes! The main reason I’m an aerospace engineer is because of a woman who came and gave a presentation that included freezing things in liquid nitrogen. She called herself a rocket scientist and I was bitten for life! I remember her being so glamorous and smart! I tracked her down when I became a rocket scientist myself and wrote her a thank-you note. Sadly, she didn’t reply, but I hope she appreciated what an impact she made.

    • Eenie

      The Society of Women Engineers focuses on outreach to elementary/middle school/high school students. Trying to convince girls to consider STEM fields. If you’re interested there are professional and collegiate sections across the country (and world!).

  • Daniella

    Eeep! I am so excited to hear about all these fabulous women in engineering. I’m a Mechanical Engineer and struggle with so many of these things. Things that go through my head all the time:

    – How to be aggressive without being labeled a b**ch
    – “I am the only one at this table wearing nail polish, does anyone else notice?”
    – Is it okay to be feminine/girly in a male dominated work place, or am I setting women back?
    – This is scary being the only women in the room. I am uncomfortable.
    – This is awesome and powerful being the only women in the room. I feel bad ass.

    What I’ve learned… most people really just care if you are good at your job. And the people who care more that you are a women and don’t understand your ambition (either because they are a-holes or maybe they just really do not understand), well, be kind to them as you surpass them on the way up :)

    • Jacky Speck

      True story: I wore nail polish to school exactly once, on a day when I also had an exam. I never wore it again because a friend said on the way out of the test, “I couldn’t concentrate because your nail polish was blinding me!!” He was being playful, not mean, and to be fair it WAS hot pink… But still. I was embarrassed.

      “Be kind to them as you surpass them on the way up”… High fives ;)

      • Jess

        I wore nail polish every day in college. My friend and I would go get our nails done together, both of us engineers, and say that even if we didn’t have the energy to do our hair or put on clothes that we didn’t sleep in the lab in, at least we could have girly nails so people would know that we were women, hear us ROAR.

        I don’t remember anybody saying anything, but did get a few looks when I wore really bright colors. Didn’t matter, I was still able to work out proofs in Heat Transfer better than any of them.

    • eulalia

      These are all fair and difficult questions. In addition to being in a male dominated field and job, I am by far one of the younger people at my job. Generally, I am treated fairly, but I still struggle with this question. It is partially cultural, as well – I work with a lot of international colleagues who are very ‘traditional’. A lot of things come out in a funny way with that – like will I be able to drive home in the snow all by myself? Sometimes when I am feeling very rebellious, I wear big earrings, heels, and eye makeup – I definitely get funny looks all day, but it is too fun not to!

      • Stacey

        Yes! I look a bit younger than I am. For years, I got asked “are you an intern?” I had to blind them with science repeatedly before that question went away.

    • Amanda

      I’m an ME also in a fairly casual environment, and I had a couple of (middle aged) guys compliment my hot pink nail polish when I was running a vibe test once. I like being girly AND being competent at my job – it makes me feel like a badass. Always choose feeling like a badass for being the only woman in the room, rather than uncomfortable :)

    • Stacey

      Have you been an engineer for very long? I’m 15 years into my career and barely notice anymore that I’m the only woman. It seems jarring and odd to me on the rare occasion when there IS another woman in the room!

      • Daniella

        I’ve been in the industry for 6 years now. Haha and yes it throws me for a loop when there are women at the table too!

    • Gretchen

      Male engineers have commented on my nail polish before (why green? why nail polish?), each time I’ve looked them straight in the eye, smiled, said some variation of, “I like it/why not?” and then gone back to doing the work we were supposed to be doing. And that’s the end of it. Except one time the 65 yr old man started talking about how nail polish colors have changed over time. Which was interesting.

      Totally be feminine/girly! Sometimes it’s fun to remind everyone that you are a girl. Like I loved wearing dresses to college departmental functions, just to point out that I’m still a girl. And I’m proud what I’ve accomplished, if we continuously put evidence that someone can be girly and be a kick ass engineer someday it will be a non-issue. Like, I didn’t notice her sparkly hot pink nail polish, I noticed her solving our problem while saving the company money!

      I’m still struggling with the aggressive without being labeled a b**ch, and I know sometimes that I am. But I do try my best to stay calm, reference data or ask to see theirs, explain my reasoning and sometimes explain why it’s my decision not theirs to make. That is something I work on.

  • Ashley

    Another lady engineer here. For reasons I’ve never even identified to myself, I didn’t tell anyone at work for months after getting engaged. I didn’t wear my ring. My co-workers are reasonable humans who would not expect me to morph into June Cleaver at all.

    One charming anecdote from my first year on the job: after one of my co-workers returned from a trek to Everest Base Camp, I teased, “you went all that way and didn’t even climb to the top?”, knowing that such an undertaking requires 6+ weeks and bazillions of dollars. Old Dinosaur Engineer overheard and retorted to me, “it’s better than climing the stairs at the mall.” I was working so much I didn’t even know where the mall WAS in this new city.

  • Rose

    I am so excited to see other femgineers here! I’ve generally found that coworkers are more interested in my work than my gender. The biggest difference I see in my workplace compared to the rest of the world is that no one pressures me to get married. Everyone else assumes that should be my next big life goal. My family, friends and acquaintances always feel they have to ask “when are you getting married?” Engineers ask me “when are you taking the PE? Are you planning on getting your masters?” My plan is to spend a year studying for the PE exam before I spend a year planning a wedding, and its refreshing to be surrounded by men and (a few) women who can relate to that.

  • eulalia

    Thank you so so so much for this article! And I am utterly delighted to see so many great engineers and otherwise technical women are around. I wish we could somehow form some kind of support group or something. I feel like we are really spread out. I had a very similar experience when I got engaged here at work – I wore my ring on my necklace for a while and then didn’t mention it until someone actually asked.

  • Melissa

    As an engineer…I get this…although at my workplace there are a few women engineers (more than anywhere I’ve ever worked actually), so it is fun to kind of tackle these issues together.

    • MM

      I’m a chemical engineer, which has one of the higher concentrations of women, but out of 45 graduating, only 8 were women. I was pleasantly surprised when I started my first “real” job (with a semiconductor company) with how many women engineers there were. That being said, it’s been my male colleagues that have asked the most questions about the wedding, which has surprised me. But maybe that is because of pressure that women subconsciously feel to not be “girly” in a male-dominated field.

      • Stacey

        8 out of 45 sounds like quite a bit to me! Sad, huh?

        • MM

          It is sad. And that’s why I’m so passionate about going into schools and showing girls that math and science are awesome, and being smart is cool. Not to mention showing them all the different industries you can be in and jobs you can have as an engineer.

          • Melissa

            Amen to that. I’m a civil engineer, and when I graduated 11 years ago, I think there were 4 other women in my graduating class of 60 or so.

  • Amanda

    Can I just say that I am LOVING all these female engineer APWers that are coming out of the woodwork?

  • Rachel

    I am a mechanical engineer working in the automotive industry and often the only woman in the room. I have almost no issues at work – I think I have proven myself and my abilities and I have great rapport with my fellow co-workers. There are often sexist comments, but I think most of them sincerely don’t think they are being offensive. I alternate between calling them out (with humor and kindness) and just letting it slide.

    However, I often feel quite lost when it comes to work social situations. Happy hour after work, hitting the bars when traveling for work, and entertaining customers often involve getting a little or a lot tipsy and then being the only woman in the room makes me very uncomfortable. It doesn’t help that most of my co-workers are 40+, while I am 26. I can’t help but think if I wasn’t there they would be much more relaxed – probably making wildly inappropriate jokes, complaining about their wives, etc. Honestly, if I wasn’t there they might be taking the customer to a strip club for entertainment. This type of ‘work after work’ can be an awesome opportunity to build your networks, make the customer like you, and catch the attention of a higher up. However, this is when I feel most like I can’t be myself, and I am prohibiting others from acting like themselves. I feel I have to tread the careful line that reminds me why feminism is so important – if I joke with the guys I worry they will lose all professional respect for me, if I don’t open up and get a little ‘sloppy’ they will think I am rigid and no fun. It seems there is no way to win. If I don’t go, I lose all those valuable networking opportunities.

    All you wise APW only-women-in-the-room: any advice or guidelines to offer?

    • Amy

      I worked in construction management for a year and a half, and actually did get invited to a strip club (long story). Here’s my tips:
      1. Have one drink, then switch to something that looks alcoholic, but isn’t. (I did a whiskey sour, then switched to ginger ale.)
      2. Have some go-to funny stories that are slightly off-color, but not about yourself. (Mine was about a foreman who went to a strip club and saw his daughter there.)
      3. Give yourself permission to be there. (Everybody else will behave how they see fit. You don’t control that any more than the CEO is at fault for everybody being on their best behavior around her.)
      4. Give yourself permission to leave. Make an appearance, and leave without being apologetic. (e.g. “It was great to see you! I hope that we’ll run into each other again and can discuss [topic] in more detail. Have a great evening.”)

    • Jacky Speck

      In social situations with my coworkers, I am very self-conscious about not acting too “girly,” an attitude I’m actively trying to change. Most of my coworkers are within a few years of my age, so I don’t really have any advice about dealing with the age difference. But I found that since I’m into a lot of hobbies that are typically thought of as “masculine,” like weightlifting and motorcylcing, that gives us some common ground to discuss over drinks or whatever. A lot of my coworkers also brew their own beer, and even though I don’t do it myself, I am an avid beer drinker (ha). So, sometimes we talk about beer. Conversation often shifts to “nerdy” topics, like whatever latest gadget just came out, which is somewhat related to our work but still fun to discuss socially.

      I guess my advice could be boiled down to: talk about what you like to do, and what they like to do. Find out what your coworkers’ hobbies are. If they’re your hobbies too, great! But if not, maybe you could try to ask questions to learn more about the things they’re interested in, and share a bit of what you’re interested in as well.

      I’m not sure that they’d all be complaining about their wives if you weren’t there, though… Yes, they’re in a social situation, but I think they’d still be conscious that these are coworkers and not just friends. Note that I’m saying this with the assumption that my coworkers aren’t constantly complaining about their significant others when *I’m* not around. I guess I would have no way of knowing.


      I hear you. I attend a decent amount of tradeshows and have very similar situations. I find it’s best to break the ice when you are around your co-workers, new clients, etc if you think it’s going to be a bit of a tipsy rowdy crowd and say something a little rowdy or tell an unexpected story (judgement call here.. don’t want to be too inappropriate). It will help if you read the crowd and then set the tone so no one feels uncomfortable. I have a 2-drink limit for myself which keeps me socializing and involved, but never inappropriate or drunk. I do my best to always just go with the flow even if it’s not always my cup of tea. I will speak up if something gets too inappropriate or any derogatory comments come out, but honestly it’s usually just people telling stories about their drunk adventures, etc. and wanting to relax.

      I think the best networking always happens in the hotel bars after meetings/ conferences/ etc and over wine at dinners, so I agree you shouldn’t miss out! If you were enjoyable to socialize with, I don’t think people lose professional respect for you, in fact I think they gain respect for you.

    • Daniella

      I am RIGHT there with you! 28, female engineer, all co workers and professioanl relationships – 40+. And I agree the social part is the so tough. Some thoughts:

      1. Just always keep a drink in one hand and a water in the other (not literally if you are standing or something). I always make sure I am drinking a lot of water the whole time it helps keep my drunk-ness both in check and slow. And that way you aren’t the odd one out without a drink.
      2. Just like Amy said – give yourself permission to be there! You are just as big of a part of the industry as anyone else there.
      3. Smile. Haha it sounds dumb, but when in doubt smile.
      4. Ask people about their lives. People loooove to talk about themselves. It’s a great way to start and steer conversation. Also it makes people feel relieved that THEY have something to talk about, and they will appreciate you for making them feel comfortable. (I realize this has nothing to do with being a female, but it’s great advice someone gave me years ago)

      Good luck!

    • Rachel

      Thanks for all the great advice! I especially love “give yourself permission to be there”. That might be a game changer for me.

  • K

    I love it when I tell people I am a mathematician, and they say, “But you’re normal.” Love it and hate it.

    A dinosaur once told me that my math abilities were like his football abilities — fine for watching the game but not for playing. I was appalled and should have complained, but I don’t sweat it because 18-year-old girls should not carry the burden of policing and changing the attitudes of old men.

    • Amy

      Your last line just lifted a bunch of guilt from 19 year old me who didn’t confront a sexist professor.

      That was a good comment and you should feel good.

      • Stacey

        Agreed. The first time you hear something like that, it’s shocking. It’s like “Really? There are people LIKE THIS??!?” And by the time you get your 18-year old brain wrapped around it, the moment has passed. I agree with just laying down that burden! Better to talk about it with younger women as you age and gain perspecitve, than with intractable dinosaurs.

    • A prof told me very condescendingly that I should reconsider my choice of major because I got a C in an intro to materials science class. I went into the bathroom and bawled, and then got SO angry. That’s when I knew I would NEVER quit, no matter how hard the classes got. Then, my senior year, I took an advanced composites class where he was the prof, did awesome in the class, and felt so redeemed. I remember his visible shock as I walked into the room for the first class.

      Those types of situations truly do only make you stronger.

      • Stacey

        I had a prof in grad school express disbelief that I was a NASA employee, because I was “so stupid.” Turns out, we were just using different vocabulary to describe the same concepts, as I had gotten my undergrad at a different school with a different textbook series. I wasn’t the only student he treated this way. During class he actually threw chalk and erasers at male PhD candidates who didn’t know the answers to his questions. Yes, physical abuse in front of an entire class. But hey, he was tenured! No consequences! I heard many stories of his assaults getting reported to the department, and nothing ever happened to him.

        Later, I found an error in a homework solution and told him about it. The look on his face when he realized I was right and he was wrong was priceless, and he never talked down to me again. He’s just the kind of guy who needs his students to prove themselves. Oh, and he’s an abusive asshole. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t learn more from him than any other professor at that school. He was a GREAT teacher. It’s unfortunate that people can be all these things simultaneously.

  • Louise

    I work in the masculine dominated world of – jazz.

    Sounds like not a big deal, but I have lost count of the times that my band mates (99% male) have questioned that I know what key I’m in, or what the changes of a time care, or where a chart should go to in the bridge. WE ALL WENT TO UNI TOGETHER AND HAVE THE SAME DEGREE! many if them did the same advanced jazz theory course as me! Yet because I’m a “chick singer” it’s my job to stand out the front, sing the pretty melody and wear a top with low cleavage, and be a decoration for the beginning and ending of the song. The irony is that the singers get the gigs, do the advertising, book the bands, pay the bands, handle the invoicing and run the whole business side of things. It’s so annoying!!!!!!!! It’s even worse for female instrumentalists in the jazz world. People expect girls to play violins and flutes, but not saxophone, guitar or trombone. The girl instrumentalists got it even worse than the singers. The constant having to prove your worth on the bandstand is so draining. “She swings, for a girl” Always meant in a derogatory fashion.

    Genderimg in music is a big deal actually. When you all start having kids, pleas encourage them to learn more than the piano or violin or clarinet (the musically, piano & violin is the best place to start for any kid) give them some basic training about gender norms, then hand them a trumpet. Or trombone, or guitar!!! Go!do it now!!!

    • Stacey

      I’ve seen similar rants on Facebook from my jazz singer girlfriends. Mostly the club owner tries to talk to the male band members about the booking details, when the ladies are the booking agents! One of my friends was FURIOUS when the owner told the band to start playing. They were half an hour early to the club and had planned on drinking and smoking first. She said “Oh no, you don’t tell MY BAND what to do! We start when the contract says we start! You signed a contract with ME, remember!?”

  • Wow. I didn’t even finish reading but had to say, that professor of yours? Deserved sanction. Suspension even. What year did he SAY that?

  • Stacey

    Loving this thread! I’m an aerospace engineer, and my university program attracted a lot of women compared to other engineering departments. (Didn’t hurt that I went to the school with the highest percentage of female engineering enrollment overall – we even had a special dorm with three floors reserved for female freshman engineering students.) I also worked for THAT federal aerospace agency after graduation, so my workplace was probably 10-20% female engineers. It didn’t prevent The Only Woman In The Room syndrome, though! (Huh. I just scrolled back up and see that I changed “Girl” to “Woman” subconsciously.) And I worked in the South, so there were certainly some traditional mindsets going on – but the culture was NOT supportive of outright “dinosaur comments”.

    I had one incident with a supplier. He found a tag applied incorrectly to a piece of equipment he was delivering to me, and said “I think our lady employee probably did this. I’m sorry, but women should just stay home barefoot. There are consequences when women do work like this. No offense.” I was too shocked to even know how to reply – I had never heard anything like this before, either at school or in the workplace. I thought men like that only existed on TV. I could have gotten him in a ton of trouble – but as it happens, his equipment failed fairly immediately and spectacularly, and it wasn’t because of a mis-tagged valve, it was because of poor design. So I didn’t have to get him in trouble – the agency lawyers and contract officers gave him plenty of what-for based on his ability.

    Later, my female boss gave me some advice on how to handle comments like that. She said to just say in a joking tone with a smile, “Ohhhh… are you using up your “one free pass”? Cuz next time that shit won’t fly with me!” She said that statement never failed her. And she was well respected at work! She also wore makeup and had perfect hair and dressed to the nines – but she had more of an office job. I didn’t.

    I started out always wearing jeans and t-shirts because I worked in the field and had to climb high scaffolding or walk on grating and sometimes had to put on fireproof coveralls. So I never really acquired girly workwear. Now that I’ve moved on to a new employer in a new part of the company, I still feel odd about wearing skirts and heels into the machine shop, because it still doesn’t feel like me totally – I went for more than a decade without all that!

    When I got engaged, it was the weekend of the company Christmas party. My beau was very sick with the flu, so showed up with new bling and a female friend as my date. I told my male boss and my female HR rep I was engaged – she was super-confused. “Oh! I thought you had a boyfriend!” “I do – I’m not engaged to her, I’m engaged to him. He’s too sick to be out in public.” A few people noticed my ring over the course of my engagement, and word sorta got around the company. But I had at least one co-worker who had no idea I was married, two months after the fact. I never talked about wedding planning with any of my male co-workers. My new company is in the west, and I think people here are just naturally more private and more respectful of your privacy. Back south, my co-workers were always asking me when I was going to get engaged, because “hadn’t I been with that guy for like, 6 years!?!? What’s his problem!?!” Here, my engagement and marriage had no effect whatsoever on my work relationships.

    • ElisabethJoanne

      It could be West v. Southeast. It could just be the employer’s culture. At my law office in San Francisco, I don’t remember how I brought up that I was engaged. I just did it in conversation. I talked about wedding planning only a couple of times. I remember once the office was buying new stationery, and I tried to help with what I’d learned ordering our invitations.

      Meanwhile, in Mom’s medical office, also in the Bay Area, all her employees and her patients knew all about my wedding planning.

      As a California lawyer, it’s not very often I’m the Only Girl in the Room. I’ve been a lawyer for almost 5 years, but I still look much younger. I think most of the flack I get is about youth, rather than gender.

      • Stacey

        Well… all my mom’s co-workers knew about my wedding too. I think that’s just mom-excitement though. My mom was so excited about it she just couldn’t contain herself.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    I’m not generally the only girl in the room at my current workplace, we actually have more females than males, but it is a small agricultural start-up company. However, I’m quite young to have the responsibility I do. Has a discussion with an older male co-worker about impressions. To paraphrase “Two young women having a giggle during a meeting is going to be viewed much differently than two 50 year old men having a chuckle during a meeting” I ended up telling him that I’ve spent several years trying to act more seriously, and downplay the fact that I’m a female-and it hasn’t made a difference, so I’m done making that effort.

    I say “F-it, I’m a woman, I giggle, wear make-up, and love shoes with sparkles. I’m also damn good at my job-agricultural research. I’m going to do my job and be professional, but I’m sure as hell not going to be someone I’m not just because some people are close minded about young women having my level of responsibility.” I’ve got better things to do than pander to people who can’t remove their head from their posterior.

  • Jenn

    I had almost the exact opposite response to my engagement. I work in a female dominated field, even though I’m more of a tomboy. I grew up wanting to do boy things and the like. So when a coworker, at another coworker’s baby shower leaned in to me and said “Someday we’ll be doing this for you!” with excitement I inwardly got angry and outwardly just smiled and nodded.

    It’s almost TOO much female camaraderie and wanting to know how the planning’s going and daily updates and all. It’s nice to be able to vent about guest list issues or other stressors, but I find keeping everyone abreast of the situation to be annoying in and of itself.

    • KC

      I think a lot of people need some sort of Wedding Free Zone, and some sort of Wedding Vent Zone, although the percentages vary. So that might influence whether a person wants their place of employment to “care” about the wedding or not? But also: some people are just not helpful at all about weddings (“you *can’t* do that thing you’re planning!”), so if a workplace is populated with this sort of individuals, then… yeah, no.

      And oh, the baby shower insinuators. I recognize that some are trying to pay some sort of subtle compliment about wanting more people like us in the world, but… no. Just no. There are so many landmines; leave the offspring question alone.

  • lady brett


  • Ryan

    Dude (I mean, lady), huge kudos to you! I’m not an engineer, but my newly-engaged BFF is an engineer, and this is an issue she talks about constantly. Being a teacher, I enjoy the benefits of working in a female-dominated field (so I don’t always know what it’s like for her), but find sexism from a male teacher that much more abhorrent. Thanks for helping me understand my friend’s life and struggles a little better (as I’m sure she’ll face this double standard herself a bit in her own workplace in the coming months). And for making the world a better place for my science-minded superstar female students!

  • Michelle

    Yes yes YES! Thank you for this, and congrats on your engagement and successful career. I am an audio engineer, and I am almost always the only girl in the room. Usually I don’t even realize it since it’s the everyday norm, until someone calls me honey or searches a truck we’re unloading for “something light” for me to carry.
    I’ve had men tell me I’m doing things that GUYS they know can’t even do! (Like my boobs are going to get in the way of wrapping a cable correctly?)

    The worst was right before I moved to a new city. I knew a guy that knew a guy that had a production company, so I got his name and sent him a resume (that included a college degree and four years of experience). He responded and said that I was not qualified to be an intern, let alone an engineer, but he would be willing to interview me because I was a woman…! After several moments of rage, I responded with a polite email asking what his intern requirements were, so I could be prepared for the interview. He never got back to me. After I moved, we ended up working a gig together and he was so impressed he asked why I didn’t work for him. I just smiled.

    What I’ve learned is that our femininity can be a major asset to a team of men, and good bosses recognize that in a non-sexist way.

    • KC

      Because women are able to french-braid super-fancy patterns, but can’t learn the skills for cable wrapping? I don’t even… yeah. Yes, it’s non-obvious how to do it properly, but it’s not *that* hard, people. (disclaimer: as a former AV volunteer, I used to be able to wrap cable [not with the stunning lightning speed of you pros, but with totally acceptable results] but can’t french-braid)

      I wonder whether it would be feasible to wear tshirts listing your rated weight limits; I bet guys with back injuries or other invisible limiters run into gendered name-calling pretty frequently, too. (because, clearly, straining a muscle, slipping a disc, or spraining your ankle [or, conversely, weightlifting] is the best indicator of gender…?)

    • Jacky

      I sometimes worked in a warehouse / test area as part of my previous job and often got the “here’s something light you can lift” thing too… Until everyone learned I was a powerlifter and could deadlift the weight of 2 of my male coworkers. Then I had to pick up heavy stuff just like everyone else.

  • Kestrel

    Ugh. I’m so sad for getting to this thread so late….stupid research!

    Anyway, I’m a masters student in mechanical engineering and one of the things that’s often toted is that no one cares your female if you just show them you can kick butt at your job.

    Well, I don’t kick butt at my job. In fact, I pretty much suck at it. (What I’m doing right now is not a good fit, but funding does what funding does) It’s particularly difficult because during undergrad, I rocked it – magna cum laude, 2 years of intern/co-op experience, etc. Now I’m utterly horrid at my job and there are more “ugh, she’s only here because she’s a girl” issues.

    And I’m so terrified it will only get worse because I’m now engaged. Only my officemate knows (I’m facebook friends with him) but my advisor doesn’t nor does anyone else in the lab. I’ve finally started wearing my ring, but that’s it.

    What on earth am I supposed to do? I know I’m not good at my job and need far more hand-holding with research than anyone should, but I also feel that I’m not the worst grad student ever, but everyone thinks I am.

    • Jacky Speck

      Keep on keeping on, lady. I remember thinking that I sucked at EVERYTHING in grad school. I got better at a lot of it over time, and the stuff I didn’t get better at was still a learning experience. And if not? You’ll find something that’s a better fit eventually.

    • Andi

      I felt the same way about undergrad vs. grad school. I also learned about “The Imposter Syndrome.” Grad school is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s helpful to know that a lot of successful people (especially women) feel like they aren’t as good as their colleagues, when, in reality they are.

  • Helen

    ps. This is clearly where all the smart, reasonable, driven, interesting, engaged women gather online.

    • KC

      (I love how engaged can be taken either way in this comment. But I totally agree that APW has, not a monopoly, but at least an incredibly unusual number of awesome-women-on-the-internet.)

  • Catherine McK

    A day late, but maybe someone will check back here:

    “In response to the Summers controversy, she (Urry) published an essay in The Washington Post describing her gradual realization that women were leaving the profession not because they weren’t gifted but because of the “slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.” “

  • Melissa

    This post was positively beautiful, especially that last paragraph. Have you, or any of the other women working in male dominated fields who commented, considered acting as a mentor for young girls who might be interested in STEM fields but deterred by the negative stereotypes cast by your college professor? Research shows that girls resonate with exactly the kinds of personal story you shared with us here at APW. If you share it with girls, maybe they won’t become the only girl in the room, but one of many girls in the room.

    • Jacky Speck

      Another commenter suggested that all of us women engineers go speak at elemetary/middle/high schools to encourage more girls to become engineers, and my response to that comment pretty much sums up why I haven’t become a mentor up to this point: I didn’t think any of my experiences were valuable enough to share! But I know better now, so I will be looking into mentorship opportunities in my area.

  • secret reader

    Lady in a dude-heavy science field, here! I have to say that I enjoy being a bit feminine at work, just to, uh, subtly throw it back in people’s faces. Like, “Yes, I just gave that fabulous presentation, and I was wearing a dress the whole time, so what now?” Or, since my work is strongly field-based (as in hiking & camping), my absolute favorite is, “Yes, I am swinging this sledgehammer at a mountain face while wearing a hot pink shirt, what of it?”

    Most of the time I’m perfectly comfortable at work, but there are those sudden sucker-punch moments, like the one you describe with the awful professor, when you are suddenly made to feel very out of place for being a woman. My advisor, who is a guy and self-identifies as feminist because I won the advisor lottery, once said when I was feeling way down about some criticism, “Well you’ll show them by being a great scientist.” Cheesy but it works. Haters gonna hate, or say weird shit, but I’m gonna do my science, and I’m gonna bring my whole self to work while I do it.