Can I be a girly girl in mechanical engineering?

Hello,

My name is Mary and I am writing you because you are one of the few fashionistas AND engineers! I spent three years pursuing a business degree, only to find out that I do not take much interest in what it offers anymore. Instead, my life has taken a whole 360 turn, and I've decided to go into mechanical engineering. I feel more passionate and excited when seeing myself as a girly girl, yet taking on a challenge that most girls would turn from. My wish is to inspire MANY other girls like myself. Although I am mildly confident and taking a step forward, I find myself very fearful at times. I am afraid of being judged, misunderstood, or taken as someone who "can't get the job done". I also wish to start a family shortly after graduating, but I'm not sure if a male-dominated workforce would be understanding enough to give me necessary time off, etc.

I guess I have many doubts at times, and would just love to hear about your own personal experience.

Thank you,

Mary N.
posted by Mary, Huntsville, AL on November 11, 2013

Answer by Michelle Mason

Hi Mary,

I'm sure it took a lot of time and courage to come to your decision to switch career paths, so good for you!

The experience I had in pursuing my degree was nothing like you are imagining.  In fact, it is hard for me to see a school that would allow that kind of behavior to take place in a classroom.  If it did, then the problem would not be that you are inadequate, but rather the people around you.  And, if that did happen, then it would be a good life lesson; insecure people will always judge and intimidate no matter what profession you are in.  The solution is teaching yourself how to deal with it in a confident and cool manner.

There will be more men than women in your classes.  That's just how it is.  There were times I was the only girl there.  I didn't let that stop me from wearing dresses, heels, lipstick, and the like.  Approach each class like you would your business classes. As long as you don't make it about your gender, they won't either (i.e. "can you break/smash this for me? You're a guy so you're much stronger than I am" OR "I don't want to pour concrete because I wore my new heels today." FYI, I poured concrete in high heels and I did it as good if not better than everyone else - because I followed directions, not because I am a girl.  See the difference in attitude?). It's not like the school is forcing both genders to take classes together.  You are there because you earned it, so act like it.  

The same attitude goes for the workforce.  Getting time off for maternity leave is a question regarding your employee benefits, not being a woman in the engineering field.  Some companies offer men paternity leave to be with their new child.  Start a family whenever it feels right for you.

As important as it is for men to embrace women in the workforce,  it's just as important for us to embrace it as well.

Good luck in the future and please don't hesitate to ask questions.

Michelle