How to network without really trying
I went to a “technical talk” at another company in a related industry to mine last week. It was put on by the Society of Women Engineers and a local organization of Systems Engineers. I’ll admit I had diverse motivations in attending this. The topic interested me, but honestly if I was 100% happy staying at MegaCorp I probably wouldn’t have gone.
On the outside it looked much like my own company. Non-distinct white buildings with glass windows several stories high. Grass and other greenery around the perimeter, and the occasional benches and tables for employees taking their lunch. The lobby looked much like any lobby I’ve ever been in. Then I turn around and see a placard for Women’s History Month. A variety of events were occurring, some with the company and some not. Let’s just say that this sort of thing would not be tolerated at MegaCorp. Some dude would loudly ask when Dude History Month is and why we have all these “special” things for non-white dudes like himself. I mean, he never got an unfair hand up.
I was further surprised when I realized their women’s bathroom had “mother’s room” attached. Or I am assuming, a lactation room or whatever you want to call it. I have no experience with motherhood but I probably signed something when I started at MegaCorp where I agreed not to lactate within five miles of any work buildings (see MIL-STD-JK). So all of this was pretty foreign to me.
But besides the obvious advantage we women had going into it, the actual talk was still overwhelmingly male from the local systems engineering group. There was one woman from that group, and two other women both members or officers in SWE. And all of the women there had jobs. There was another probably eight dudes, half of which were currently unemployed. And I couldn’t help but wonder that their being unemployed was the only reason they were there.
They looked uncomfortable and awkward as you might expect from a guy without a job who showed up because he hopes he’ll meet someone here where he can get a job. Some were “project engineers” (who blog readers will know I have no love for). All were easily over 40. Everyone there was white. I had to wonder as we all introduced ourselves and they heard all the women cite employers if the dudes watching were angrily thinking to themselves how easy it is for a woman to get a job and how difficult for them. And I wonder if there’s not a difference there that’s leading to this misconception.
I know several graduating female engineers who have job offers already, or at least some place to pay them for a while. I also know several still unemployed graduating male engineers. All the female engineers I know with early job offers worked internships. I’m not sure if this is because of a purely male/female thing; perhaps female engineers knew they would have to work harder to prove themselves and wanted “practical” experience. Perhaps the kind of woman who becomes an engineer is already more devoted to the field than the average undergraduate male. And when they all have job offers, but some percentage of the men do not, that can create a mis-perception that women have an easier time getting jobs.
And I wonder that maybe because of this, that women already in the field know they have to be ever vigilant and stay up to date in order to keep up with their male colleagues. That oftentimes they will be expected to work harder to be treated the same. Or in my case, feeling alienated at my own workplace I reached out to a woman’s group just to meet people a little like myself and not feel so alone as a female engineer. So though we all had jobs, we were still there. But the guys clearly didn’t need this support system until they were actually job hunting.
Just my observations. I’ll wait for the barrage of guys who would like to write in and tell me how easy women have it in getting scholarships (I should know, I never got a single scholarship, as someone who worked full time and went to school part time the deck was stacked against me as well as most scholarships require full time status) or how easy women have in getting jobs (again despite having way more experience than my classmates my job hunting experience has been about average, or slightly below average when you consider I should be doing better). And all that is dangerously anecdotal. But I do think the way men and women treat networking is something interesting to consider, especially in a male dominated field like engineering.