The issue of 'identity' in engineering is an interesting one. Individuals have at least two identities in their lives (and generally many more) – their personal identity, and their professional identity.
Somebody’s personal, or social, identity is how they present themselves to their family and friends; their professional identity is how they behave whilst at work.
When these two identities align, there will be no barrier caused by identity misalignment to the individual happily pursuing their chosen profession. So, for example, it is so traditional for men (in the UK) to become engineers that in the social context their family and peer group are very accepting of a career in engineering as a good fit with their personal identity. In other words, this is the norm, and can even be seen as a ‘default’ career choice by a man's friends and family.
For a woman in the UK, however, the career of engineer is not so traditional – even in 2018 when increasing numbers of women choose to study engineering and the number of women working in engineering is still only approximately 10%. This means that the family and peer group of a woman who chooses engineering may well see this as an unusual choice, and make these feelings known – and sometimes in unintentionally negative ways, and other times in very blatant ways, with stories of women being told that ‘engineering is not a career for a woman’ being very common. This misalignment of what is acceptable for a woman to do in their professional life causes conflict, and this conflict can be a reason for a woman struggling to 'fit in' and remain in an engineering profession.
Indeed, one way that women often cope with this misalignment is to suppress their role as a woman in the workplace, and this will be a familiar situation to many of us working to promote gender diversity in engineering where female engineers are often not willing to speak up as a woman, but only want to be seen as an engineer. It is seen here in this recent document from the World Federation of Engineering Organisations which reads "Our roles as women are many. But most important is that all of us are engineers first, and we need to work together and with others to meet this challenge of the 21st Century." This concept of there being a hierarchy in which we need to choose which identity comes first is one which can be problematic if we struggle to put the professional identity before the personal.
Anecdotally we hear of women ‘playing down’ their role as an engineer when they are in their social circles in order to continue to fit in with this group, and this is further evidence that there is a conflict that has to be overcome by a coping mechanism. One woman engineer told me recently that she describes herself as a 'designer' so that her friends find it more acceptable.
I would be interested in hearing your opinions on this idea of identity, and finding more evidence of how or whether it is necessary to separate your social and professional identity, and what this might mean for women (or other non-traditional groups) in engineering more widely.
Below are the Top 13 Gender Diversity measures that can be measured and recorded alongside the Gender Pay Gap statistics to measure and set progress. These measures have been developed with the Women's Business Council STEM Subgroup and are what is recommending for companies to measure as a benchmark, and then set targets for improvement. If you would like to get involved in measuring these statistics as part of a pilot group, please get in touch.
International Women’s Day 2017
Be Bold for Change – My Story
In 2017 the theme for International Women’s Day is Be Bold for Change, so I thought I would share my one of my boldest decisions with you.
One of the boldest things I ever did on a personal level was deciding to put myself forward as President of the Women’s Engineering Society in 2014. The reason this was a bold step for me to take was because I have never been good at public speaking. And when I say ‘never been good at’ what I really mean is ‘ had an absolute phobia of’. So putting myself into the role of spokesperson for an organisation was something that was not without potential problems. I decided, however, that since the organisation I was representing was all about promoting diversity, then there must be room for a leader who has a different set of strengths, and that there was probably a way for me to work around what was a going to be a clear handicap. Sure enough, I managed to get through the year by sending representatives to cover the major public engagements, whilst simultaneously working on my own competence little by little, with lots of help and encouragement from a pretty extensive range of professionals and non-professionals alike (including acupuncture, hypnotherapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, breathing exercises, courses, and advice).
Maternity leave has long been considered one of those high points of life but low points as far as a career is concerned. A recent survey by Hays on behalf of Building showed that 90% of the female respondents said that having children adversely affected their job prospects.
And we know that we lose a lot of women at this career juncture, with statistics from the Engineering Council showing that 57% of women drop off the engineering professional register at around the age of 45 compared to 17% of men.
Welcome to the first newsletter from my new Company, Towards Vision. I am Dawn Bonfield, an Inclusivity Engineer! I will use this newsletter to keep you informed of my work over the coming months in the area of Inclusive Engineering, and if you don't know what that's all about, then read on to find out more. I will also be learning as I go along. And please do get in touch with ideas and suggestions.
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Why I marching in the Women’s March on Saturday
I am marching on Saturday at the Women’s March in London because I believe that women and allies need to stand together to ensure that the issues facing women today are taken seriously, not ignored, and are acted upon. I believe in unity, and in supporting the causes of other women.