Saturday, August 27, 2011

Returning to work after a career gap is tough going. Babies or not.

Firstly, before I begin, I can really only speak for women in engineering here. This is mostly based on my personal experience as well with a tiny bit of research that appears to back up my observations. As for women in non-science and engineering fields, please feel free to contact me and let me know what your experiences have been!

Back to the topic.

I don’t have any children yet but I have taken a hiatus from my career for 3 years and then attempted to return. I imagine my experience would be similar to a woman returning from a long stint (a couple years) raising her children. The key similarity here is that what you do during your hiatus is completely unrelated to your chosen career. Even if it is related, it really depends on how you go about leaving. If you are flipping desks over and storming out in a huff your boss wont want you back no matter what. Obviously.

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Why women don’t always get help from professional contacts when finding work.

Some recent research caught my eye today. Namely because the main finding was that Women find it more difficult than men to get jobs and promotions through their connections. If you have ever heard the phrase “Its not what you know but who you know”, you might be interested to hear that this doesn’t seem to apply to women nearly as much as it applies to men.

Using a national dataset of more than 12,000 people, McDonald examined the role work experience plays when people find new jobs through their social connections. McDonald found that men who had lots of specialized work experience were often recruited into a new job through their social contacts without having to look for a job. In fact, men with this kind of experience were 12 percent more likely to find a new job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.

Women, however, did not see this benefit. They were no more likely to find a job through informal recruitment than they were through a formal job search.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Don’t compliment me on my looks. I like to use my mind.

I care about how I look. I stress about how I look. The thought of walking out the door without looking in a mirror horrifies me. I know via my female friends that many women share my obsession. I blame the media and my mother. Although my mother probably got it from the media. She probably blames her mother.

The last thing I want is for others to draw attention to my appearance. Why would I? it takes up enough of my day as it is. I take a lot longer to get out the door in the morning than my partner does. I genuinely worry about not looking my best. Once I walk out my front gate, I have no desire to waste more time thinking about it throughout the day. Especially when it might distract me from my real job.

So I don’t want to hear about it. At least, not when I am at work. Especially not when I am at work. Privately, I am less militant in my objection. Slightly.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Sometimes you think people are being sexist and you are wrong.

Not everyone who utters a sexist quip is sexist. Some are just plain stupid. Or pandering to the stupid.

I could just leave you with that thought and stop typing….

…But brevity was never really my forte so I will give an example of what I mean.

Kristina Keneally, NSW opposition leader, walked in parliament in early August with a different hairstyle. To use very technical, upper-brow terminology, the media instantly lost their shit. So did most of parliament. It did not really help that Kristina appeared to have offered no explanation for the change. She simply sat down and attempted to get on with her job. Which is noble excepting that no-one else could.

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Boys: Don’t hold doors open for me anymore. I’m fine thanks.

More times than I care to count, I have been challenged with the threat “if you want to be treated the same as men, you can damn well stop expecting us to carry your bags and open doors for you”. Generally the man doing the threatening thoroughly expects this nugget of information to shut me up about gender equality. I have had a supervisor more or less say this to me and I have had a mentor say it also. Confronting really.

Granted, it has been some time since the most recent challenge. I suspect the increasing popularity of corporate diversity training is starting have an effect and any bloke with two brain cells to rub together knows that keeping his thoughts to himself is the wiser option. I doubt you could expect the same caution down at the pub though. Diversity training has simply forced sexism out of sight between 8am and 6pm.

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Female engineers, How to get more practical experience. #6 Don’t burn bridges.

Note: This post is part of a series which begins here. Just follow the links in order from there.

Early in my career, a colleague of mine, who I respected very much, gave me the advice that I should never burn bridges with colleagues. No matter what a person has said or done, maintain a positive relationship at all costs. Your career will thank you. He was absolutely right. Bosses that I would gladly have shoved off a very tall cliff gave me fantastic job references, enabling me to get the hell away from them before fantasy murder scenarios became reality.

These days, if you tell an arrogant prick of a boss what you think of him, you had better like the idea of joining him for a long, difficult career. Its now hard, legislation wise, to fire people simply for a negative comment so your boss will probably resort to sabotaging your future rather than stopping your paycheck. Not all bosses do this, but yours is a prick remember? Rest assured, despite keeping your job, you will still fear the pink slip each month from that day forth. Not a good way to live. Better to get out first while you are still on good terms.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

My boss was mildly sexist and I don’t know if I should let it go.

Something happened two weeks ago and I didn’t even realise that it was a bit sexist until now. Which has left me wondering what I should do about it (if anything).

My department is a small group of about 15 technical people within a very large company ( >10,000 employees). The team is very spread out location-wise with some members meeting face to face less than once a year. I am the only woman and the only mechanical engineer in the team (double minority!). In my department, 50% of the work we do is mechanical, 50% Electrical. Team members identify themselves as either mechanical or electrical with no major overlap in the middle as neither understands much about the other field. So of course there is rivalry between the two groups. Could have predicted that with eyes, ears and mouth closed.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Female engineers, How to get more practical experience. #5 Know your place (or lack thereof)

Note: This post is part of a series which begins here. Just follow the links in order from there.

When it comes to your place in the pecking order on a building site (or in a workshop), this is one of the few places where being female is a huge advantage and a powerful thing. Mainly because you are not considered to be part of the pecking order. At all. And if you are not even in the pecking order you can’t be at the bottom. In fact you will most likely find yourself closer to the top. Without doing anything to deserve it what-so-ever.

You see, your male colleagues will have to spend months being very humble, slowly gaining respect over time before anyone will even listen to them. You on the other hand, can avoid all the back-scratching. Men can’t touch you. You will be able to arrive on day one and walk up to the oldest, most experienced, bad tempered bloke on site and ask him to do something for you. And He’ll do it. He might complain to his mates later (never to you) but he’ll still do it. More than once too. Mwahahahahahaaa! The power.

But it comes with an evil curse. It always does.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Science says I was wrong and Rebecca Watson was right.

A about 6-7 years ago, a colleague sent an email around the office asking for a good way to quickly destroy a CD with little effort. He was not keen on snapping them as he had copped a shard in his eye the day before. Trying to be helpful, I replied that putting CDs in the microwave puts on a great show as I had recently discovered when looking for some plastic to melt (another story).

At the time, this neat trick wasn’t all that well known and there was a ripple of excitement followed by paper shuffling as colleagues pulled out surplus CDs (some not so surplus) and formed an orderly queue in front of the office Microwave (don’t worry, it survived the ordeal).

At this point, I received an email from the senior engineer who had been assigned to be my mentor.

Wow! Great suggestion!
How very un-girly of you to discover that!

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Women who wont help other women. Why?

Why do some women abandon their female colleagues as they climb the ladder to seniority? Can you be confident you wont do the same?

It is not often that I read something about gender bias in male majority environments where I actually realise something new about myself. I read a lot of material on this subject and I must admit it gets a little repetitive at times. Especially discussions about why women leave engineering careers early. I just don’t feel like there is any new insight these days. Hell, I left engineering myself (and then came back a few years later) and I can’t explain why either. I was just angry. If I try to go into any more detail I go all “blerghhhh, brain freeze”. I do.

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Feasibility is an engineering based blog designed to reach other STEM people. Non-STEM people are also welcome! I try to give good advice and well-reasoned opinions but please don’t hesitate to disagree with me. This blog exists because I realised that I live in a metaphorical bubble and that simply wont do. Nup.


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