Must a woman tone down her feminine side?

My 16 year old daughter adores math and engineering, and wants to be either a nuclear engineer, or a civil engineer. However, she is also a very, very girly girl who loves high heels, glitter, wearing pink, party dresses, and, well, just think Engineer Barbie, or Legally Blonde. She has been told that she will need to tone it down (a lot) if she plans to be taken seriously in engineering. Is it really that important that she subsume that part of her personality in order for her to pursue her career dreams? She'd know better than to wear high heels to a construction site, but in an office, what does it matter?
posted by Jean, Port Angeles, WA on May 10, 2013

Answer 1 by Patricia Eng P.E.

Hello. I am glad that your daughter is interested in engineering. It is a very rewarding and fulfilling career. I have worked as a nuclear engineer for over 30 years and never gave up my femininity. Being a girly girl is OK as long as it doesn't cross the line into poor taste. I love my clothes and makeup too, but when I need to work, I work hard. Obviously low cut dresses, see through or tight clothing, or dresses that show a lot of leg can be distracting on the job and may give the wrong impression to staff and management, in some cases it can invite sexual harassment, but wearing trendy but tasteful clothing in an office setting is fine. The key is to be professional. It may be helpful to contact the local section of the Society of Women Engineers for additional information . . . Good luck! And I hope your daughter pursues engineering. It is a great career with a bright future!

Answer 2 by Rebecca Goldberg

Hi Jean, thanks for your question. The general answer is that you can let your personality shine, whatever your outfit looks like. I love color too; as I write this, my top is bright orange, bright pink, and black.

You have to remember that engineering is no different from law, from medicine, from accounting, etc. – to be taken seriously, we need to dress professionally, in and out of the office. Now this certainly allows for dresses, skirts, colorful outfits, jewelry, high heels, etc. Just not all at once, no 5-inch heels, nothing low-cut, no mini-skirts, and no glitter. If your daughter still likes wearing glitter after college, the time and place is when she goes out at night or on the weekends, same as it would be if she worked in another job.

I’d hope your daughter wouldn’t shun a rewarding, potentially lucrative profession just because “wearing glitter in the office is frowned upon” – but that’s for her to decide. Wishing her luck in her future endeavors!