Working in a Man’s World
When I decided to pursue Engineering, many people told me not to do it. “Engineering is for men”, they said. This remark was the beginning of it.
Over the years, this was followed by other discouraging statements. Engineering is predominantly a male field with many obstacles for women who are passionate about it and want to pursue a career.
Around the world, this is improving as women fight to make a mark in all kinds of fields irrespective of gender and solely based on hard work and commitment. However, the situation is still not up to par in South Asia. Women continue to struggle every day to break stereotypes and tackle the challenges that come their way.
I am trained as an Engineer and had the privilege of studying at one of the best institutions in my country with a very conducive environment. They did not discriminate between girls and boys, providing the same avenues for learning and growth to both genders. But when I entered the practical world, my bubble quite literally burst.
After getting a year-long training, I was stationed at a manufacturing facility 50km from my hometown in a small city. I was the first female electrical and automation lead of my team. While that sounds inspiring and is a great line to start a speech, it didn’t come easy.
My team was comprised of technicians, all of whom were men and had years of experience under their belt. They had no female colleague before me, let alone a much younger woman as a manager. It was a struggle for them to adjust to this change. I was learning the ropes of my new role, and at the same time, I was struggling to prove that I was just as capable as my male counterparts.
People ignored my presence in meetings, not giving any weight to my ideas. I was at the receiving end of taunts and remarks about women climbing their way to the top without doing a single day of hard work and simply by batting their eyelashes. People tried to take credit for my work.
It breaks my heart to acknowledge that most women reading this have probably had similar experiences at some point in their lives. What got me through this time was my perseverance and my dedication to my work. I started building my team bottom-up, letting my work and commitment outweigh my age and gender. It was a struggle, but when I was able to deliver results with the joint effort of my team, I was overjoyed.
The happiness didn’t just come from the fact that I was doing well at my job. It came from a deeper sense of achievement at having broken down a shackle, at proving wrong all the people who doubted my ability to work as an engineer and to excel at it.
It might seem small in the larger scheme of the world, but I had taken a step for the other girls around me. I had set an example for them to pursue their dreams despite the hurdles in the way. Furthermore, by building a working relationship with my team, I helped my team overcome their gender bias. I hope that this helps the other women who join the team in the future.
I appreciate the efforts of companies that are increasingly hiring females and working on diversity and inclusion. However, based on my experience as a working woman, I’m in the position to comment that it is equally important to provide them with a supportive environment to thrive in.
For instance, conversations and seminars with male staff to help them recognize and overcome their bias towards the opposite gender will help foster an environment that supports all employees’ growth and excellence. In addition, setting good examples at the top management level will have a trickledown effect on the entire chain.
We are quick to blame the society we live in, but we forget that we are the society. We need to start it at our own level if we expect a change, no matter how small our initiative may be.
We need to have these difficult but necessary conversations with our friends and family to help them realize the impact of their careless remarks that stem from an innate bias and the need to correct their behavior.
We need to speak about the daily struggles of women in the workplace, especially in fields where they are still in the minority — not because of lack of interest or passion but for lack of opportunities and excess of discrimination.
And lastly, women supporting women is the key to bringing about this change. A community we can look to for support and inspiration. Together, we can conquer the world!
This blog contribution was made by Aleena Ahmad.
Aleena is a graduate in Electrical Engineering and currently working as a Market Analyst. She loves to read books, is obsessed with political non-fiction, finds baking therapeutic, and likes to start her day with yoga.
“I believe writing is the best way to articulate one’s thoughts and start a conversation. I feel passionate about women empowerment initiatives and I’m always looking for opportunities to contribute.”
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