Lucy’s Kitbag Episode 13 – Five Challenges Facing Women in Engineering #INWED17
Today is International Women in Engineering Day. So I decided to sit back and reflect upon the challenges facing female engineers in the workplace. I am currently running a variety of workshops including Inspirational Leadership, Coaching for Performance and Teaming workshops with Customers in the high tech and engineering business. Every day I hear about the challenges facing our female engineers in these workshops and I engage in discussions to help women to understand how to deal with their fears and worries in the world they face. There are 5 repetitive themes which appear in the workshops and we often end up having rich discussions around these topics. I thought I would share these 5 themes and perhaps give you all some food for thought.
The first challenge is to value yourself and think about how you can be your unique human self in the work place. The engineering business is a tough world. It is also not a very diverse world. Women entering this world are often strong and intelligent as a result of the hard work they have put in to getting there and also the challenges they have already overcome just to qualify as Engineers. They need to survive the male dominated nature of their business. However women bring an added dimension to the work place. They are often high in Emotional Intelligence, but fail to use this effectively as the nature of the conversations around them are task focussed and they are surrounded by tough male banter. The pressure is there to conform and many women as a result hide a dimension of themselves and feel unable to bring their true selves to work. Hiding part of yourself takes a lot of energy, which in turn can lead to resentment and stress. Men too are often doing this and do not share openly. All this hiding emotion (often behind destructive banter) builds a mental pressure internally which can lead to interpersonal and team conflict. Women can help here by doing what they often do well, listening carefully, using their Emotional Intelligence to understand what is going on around them and watching for the signs of stress in their workplace – internally and in their teams. Value and use your unique strengths to build high performing teams around you.
The second challenge facing our female engineers is the pressure to perform as well as their colleagues and often because they are in the minority to act as role models in the execution of their work. So how can you be a role model? I would start to answer this by asking who your role model is. My workshops on Inspirational Leadership start with this. Delegates are asked to think about their role models and then give a short talk about why they are role models and the behaviours they exhibit. Both men and women find this difficult. I think women in particular have a challenge here and many stand up and talk about male role models because they find it difficult to find appropriate female ones. So I would encourage you to think about your role model – is it your mum, neighbour, a humanitarian, a successful business women you know, a sports personality or politician? Once you find your role model think about what it is they do; how they behave, and why does this appeal to you. Follow them on social media if you can, study them and break this down and perhaps emulate those things they do that you admire. Women in Engineering are often few and far between and as a result become role models in themselves quite quickly. So think about it, what kind of role model do you want to be? What do you want people to see, hear, observe and connect to? In Engineering we need more female role models to attract women to work in the domain.
The third challenge is being a leader in the engineering business. What is your leadership style? Have you stopped to think about this? In the previous paragraph I mentioned being a role model. Role models create followers. In leadership today we often talk about followership. Why should anyone follow you? There are 6 key leadership styles to be aware of and have in your kitbag. The best leaders use all these styles and do not just stick to one style:
- Directive Leadership Style – Directive leaders seek to gain immediate compliance
- Visionary Leadership Style – Authoritative leaders mobilise people toward a vision
- Affiliative Leadership Style – Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony
- Participative Leadership Style – Democratic leaders build consensus through participation
- Pacesetting Leadership Style – Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction
- Coaching Leadership Style – Coaching leaders develop people for the future
Which of these leadership styles do you predominantly use? Two of these styles are short term: Pace Setting and Directive and if overused can lead to leadership burn out and follower resentment. Both are commonly overused in the world of leadership and I would suggest that in the world of Engineering the Directive Style is prevalent. Be different, use your unique talents and vary your leadership style for maximum impact.
The fourth challenge is finding time in a busy world to take time for yourself. In the hectic world today this is where we often fall down. We are so focussed on delivering our workloads, meeting objectives and deadlines and being successful in what we do at work, we often forget to pay attention on our inner world. Women in engineering are no exception to this; in fact they may even face greater challenges due to the fact that their work is often highly task focussed in nature. Remember to stop from time to time, press pause in your busy daily schedule and look inwards and reflect on how you are feeling. This is called mindfulness. Pay attention to how you are feeling physically and mentally in the here and now. This very act will help when facing difficult challenges, it only takes a few minutes in each day but the reward can be great. Mindfulness can build resilience and mental toughness.
The fifth challenge is working as a woman in a business that lacks diversity. The engineering business is still male dominated. It is a tough world to survive in. Men approach their work in one way and women have to find their unique approach in this world. In a world that lacks diversity, conformity and uniformity is often the dominant modus operandi. People will be quick to tell you why you will fail at something or point out your weaknesses. They push you to be like them and conform; diversity is often not encouraged. But by just being a woman you are diverse! The world around you will try to make you like the people in it, taking away from the unique strengths women bring to the workplace. On top of this you may have self-limiting beliefs. Female engineers are on a journey that started a long time ago and no doubt have encountered many people on their career journey who have told them why they can’t be engineers or won’t be successful in the field. Some of this negativity may have stuck and nags at you like an annoying Gremlin on your shoulder, popping up at the most inconvenient time and placing doubt in your mind when you are trying to do something. These Gremlins or self-limiting beliefs hold you back from achieving your real potential. Self-limiting beliefs are blockers to success. To overcome them we must first recognise they are there and then challenge the rationality of them. Recognising a self-limiting belief is easy – it is every time your inner Gremlin tells you ‘you can’t do that because….’. When you hear this, STOP, acknowledge the thought, think about it and ask yourself – is it rational? Or is it something someone has planted in your mind and in reality you can do it. If the answer is yes then change your thinking, change the thought, take action and just do it. By acting, you will learn (from success or failure) and you will slowly overcome the limiting belief. The important thing to realise is that success comes from trying something and having a ‘learning mindset’ not from stopping yourself from trying before you even begin.
So on International Women in Engineering Day, I encourage you to take some time out, reflect on these 5 challenges, practice some mindfulness and listen to yourself. You are all strong, capable women and successful for just being in the field in the first place. To ensure you continue to build on your success I encourage you to:
- Be your unique self
- Seek to be a role model in all you do
- Vary your leadership style to get maximum impact
- Take time for yourself
- Challenge your self-limiting beliefs and overcome your Gremlins!