Well-intentioned advice grating on my mind

A few weeks ago I talked with someone who works in an industry related to my current research.  S/he is generally a great source for advice and has proved to be excellent at providing feedback whenever I have worked with him/her.  I figured it would be useful to meet with this person for a chat about careers and hear what s/he had to say about some of the companies and types of positions that I am looking at.

Overall, I came away with some helpful insights and an improved list of local companies to consider.  However, one thing that s/he said really struck me.  I told this person that I was considering going into orthopedic or biomechanical engineering and the response that I received was, essentially, that I should be wary of going into engineering fields with such a (relatively) high female:male ratio, since the glut of women would result in a more competitive job market for me, as a woman.  S/he implied that I was less likely to be hired based on the need to fill some sort of “woman quota” rather than based purely on my qualifications.

At the time I just nodded and took note – I have heard similar sentiments before within the engineering community and wasn’t exactly shocked, but was a little taken aback.  Did this imply that s/he felt I couldn’t get a job based on my qualifications?  That I would need to take advantage of my status as a “female engineer” to make my way into the field?  Because that is a bit insulting…and nicely fuels the fires of self-doubt, thanks.  Did checking the ‘female’ box on my application form get me into my undergrad program?  Or get me onto that grad visitation weekend at Penn State?  Or my current grad program?  *Shudder*

On the one hand, maybe s/he was just trying to warn me.  Maybe I don’t have a chance except as the token female.  Although honestly, is a company *really* going to hire someone worthless for the sake of ‘diversity’?  I suppose it’s probably more of an issue if you have two otherwise equal candidates and all that.  I suppose it’s good to be prepared for a tougher job search in my fields of interest.

And maybe I’m being a total wimp about all of this and just need to suck it up and deal with the awkward, though well intentioned, advice.  After all, I’m lucky – I don’t hear stuff like this every day and I’m sure I face far fewer comments of this type than I would if I were part of a less represented minority group.

The only things that I do know that I sure as heck am not going to base my career goals on female:male ratio.  That would be ridiculous.  And honestly, I’d far rather struggle through a long job search than leap into a spot offered to me based on the fact that I call myself ‘Carly’, rather than something gruff and manly like ‘Carl’ or ‘Carlos’.

Out of curiosity, for those of you working in either a male or female dominated field – do you notice this balance influencing how hires are made?  Do you feel that you have to be more competitive when competing with a greater proportion of peers that are of your own gender?  Does anyone know the female:male ratio in the biomedical/ortho/biomech engineering fields (yea, I looked for these but my usually reliable google skills are apparently sub-par today)?

*For some interesting numbers to look at regarding gender ratios and minority percentages in engineering studies, degrees awarded, and tenure, check this out ( numbers are from 2010 – 2011 ).  I had a general idea of how crummy some of the percentages are, but seeing the actual numbers was a good reminder of exactly how depressing the situation is for certain groups.

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