To make a good impression, I wore my favorite shirt on the first day. Weeks later I would look back at the badge photo that cruelly captured for eternity the fact I looked more like a character from That 70’s Show than the professional put-together working woman I was aiming for.
It was the first day of my internship and I was incredibly nervous. I walked in and there were 3 guys already seated. You can call it elementary, but sitting in a room mostly filled with guys makes me feel really incompetent. I swear my IQ drops a few points. There is something ingrained in our society that associates a technical role with being male. This conditioning combined with being completely outnumbered highlights a simple fact: I don’t belong here.
As the rest of the interns filed in for orientation I counted a total of 12 interns. It calmed my nerves to find 7/12 interns to be women. I couldn’t help thinking how impressed I was with this company to have found so many women in the technical field. It was inspiring. I was literally in mid-praise in my mind as they began to go around the circle and introduce themselves: Marketing, HR, Sales, Sales, Finance, and Marketing…Oh. Turns out the five guys were all engineering interns and I was the only female engineer. Of course. I should have known.
A coworker sat near two of the guy intern’s cubicles. She later told me she overheard their first conversation which apparently went something like this:
Intern 1: “Dude, did you see that there’s a girl?”
Intern 2: “I know, right?!”
Yes, that’s right there are girls in engineering. We do exist. Sure sometimes it’s like playing ‘Where’s Waldo’ or rather as a guy in college used to do on the first day of classes ‘Count the Girls.’ But we do exist and I firmly believe we bring a lot of diverse thinking and value to solving real problems. We just need to break through that initial feeling that we do not belong. I spent the first two weeks terrified afraid I was only good at school and would fail in the real world. By the end of the internship I was setting up full hardware systems, testing and debugging them by myself. It ended with a huge presentation to the senior management. You could tell they were surprised by this younger girl talking intelligently about a technical project.
If you’re a young girl wondering why should I become an engineer? Besides the fact that we desperately need you-it’s an empowering and fun job. It gives you an opportunity to be a part of subtle change. Not without its challenges, but there’s nothing quite like taking a room full of vice presidents’s preconceived ideas of how intelligent you are and shattering them. Moments like these prove we DO belong.
[My coworker showed me this picture her daughter sent her of a cool/nerdy cartoon scientist named Princess Bubblegum! I love it. See link below for more info:]