Spacefem (spacefem) wrote,

being a mom & an engineer: my new talking points

When I was in college and starting to ask questions about why women in engineering were a minority, one of my helpful professors told me that it was a tough field to stay in because women want to leave and go have babies. Since I hadn't become an engineer or had a baby yet, I had no knowledge to draw on to tell whether that made any sense. I shrugged and said "Hmm, maybe."

Well now I've been there and back again, and am ready to call bullshit on that tired old accusation.

Do we want to have babies? Of course! Especially an AWESOME baby like mine, who I'm sure is going to be a future engineer just like me someday. You should see this girl gather up all the remote controls and cell phones in our house; nothing makes her happier.

Does the baby-having hold us back?

Only if the stereotype says it has to. I took eight weeks for maternity leave... it's not like we discovered cold fusion in that time, people. In fact surprisingly few things changed while I was gone. The company survived, my career was intact, the world kept turning. I took breaks to pump breastmilk at work and managed to get valuable reading done that actually added some real helpful knowledge to the group.

And yes, while my child is small I am limiting my travel and overtime, but I would argue that this is something new fathers should do as well. You're important, guys. You should feel just as bad as I do about missing a tea party appointment with your daughter and Mrs. Unicorn.

Some moms want to take a few years off and I think that's okay too. When I started work I was one of the few people in my group who went straight from high school to college to engineer... the other guys had all tried part-time school or full-time work before school, and started engineering when they were older. If anything they were commended for their "life experience", not criticized for missing out. If I'd have taken three years off, we just would have evened up in terms of years. A few years is nothing.

I've heard an argument that technical fields change so fast that you'll be like a new grad if your brain is three years behind everyone else's. I say we're thinking way too highly of innovation there. This year is 2011; were you around in 2008? Did you think we'd all have internet in our cars, robots doing our laundry and personal jetpacks to whisk us off to work? I haven't seen it. The iphone had already been out for a year. We were done with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies... or so we hoped. The fortune 500 companies are just as big, slow and bureaucratic as ever.

And even if you want to take more time off, the big things don't change. Programming languages, metal fatigue formulas, and Microsoft Office are here to stay. When new cool stuff comes out you'll hear about it at home. My friends who've opted to mom-it-up for a few years are still on facebook, in fact they might be even better at staying up with technology than some of us who are so heads-down in our offices we have to work to research what's new. Skills can go obsolete whether you spend your days on software change requests or diapers.

Sometimes I hear women engineers say that they just want to be thought of as engineers, that our gender isn't important and we should all be blind to who is or isn't wearing skirts around the office. But that blindness is exactly what made me so unarmed as a college student... I'd never thought about my response to the baby "issue" because I hadn't talked to other women about it. I'd only read the Newsweek headlines about how women "struggle with work-life balance" and figured if I was just an engineer instead of a woman engineer, I could avoid the struggle entirely.

What I later learned is that everyone struggles with work-life balance, in our own way, according to who we are, and yes being a woman does change things. But does the change make things worse, better, or just different? And more important, how do you answer that question if you sweep it under the rug?

I'm a woman engineer, a woman pilot, a woman who's a mom, and I say it's no problem. That's the response I'm armed with today.

originally posted at
Tags: engineering, motherhood, women engineers
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