Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan

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Faculty Insight: Women in Engineering

Posted: May 18, 2015

Faculty Insight: Women in Engineering

By: Associate Professor Sue Lepri

When I was asked to write an Op-Ed piece on women in engineering, I kind of cringed.

First of all, I don’t like discussing how being a woman in an engineering/STEM field is different or difficult. Maybe this is because I want to believe that it isn’t different or difficult, that being a woman is the same as being a man throughout college, graduate school and your career. I want to say, “What? It’s the same for everyone!”

Maybe another reason I don’t want to discuss it is because there are differences, often subtle, and I don’t want to admit it.

I try to focus on the positive aspects of my life and career, and facing some of these realities might make it so that the negative aspects cannot be overlooked.

Growing up, I remember a few of the comments I’ve heard from teachers, peers, etc. Comments like the muttered “pretty good for a girl” from my gym teacher, and other comments from professors or other professionals when I was in college that might have indicated any sort of gender bias. I think I have worked hard in my subconscious to forget these comments, to pretend they didn’t happen, or that I misheard someone.

Maybe I feel like if I believe I am the same, that it will become true. Fake it until you make it?

Anyway, I sit here thinking of how to write this piece, and I think it’s better to write it as a person, instead of as a woman, who has sought to reject stereotypes and follow my passion. The truth of the matter is that people are stereotyped for numerous reasons, whether it’s based on gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, learning disabilities, etc. If people don’t fully believe in you, no matter what their reason is, remember that all of us who have experienced this bias and have gone on to become successful anyway can tell you a story of how we blocked out the noise from the fringe and moved forward.

The most important thing you can do is believe in yourself, and surround yourself with people who support you, and do your best to become the most capable person you can. Build up your skills and your knowledge. You shouldn’t have to beg people to listen to you, or to trust your judgment; you just need to show them over and over again that you are capable, reliable, innovative, creative, and committed to excellence and integrity in your chosen field of study. Don’t get bogged down by the negatives; stand up for yourself and act like you belong, because you do, and the smart, insightful people around you will believe it and respect you.