Monday, September 19, 2011

Why don’t we have more women in top positions?

When I finished my engineering diploma I was fully convinced that I was going out into an even playing field and that I as a woman would have the same opportunities as the young men I graduated with. I can’t say whether it turned out like that for the other three you women who also graduated in mechanical engineering with me among 60 young men but for me it didn’t.

I moved to Australia after graduating in 1989 and I was immediately faced with the challenge of finding a job in unfamiliar territory. I managed to get a job as a mechanical draftsman. The job lasted for three months, it was a contract position, and it was the last job I had directly related to my chosen field. It wasn’t until my last job as a draftsman that I was asked why I had abandoned mechanical engineering for a career as an electrical draftsman.

It wasn’t my choice. In Australia in the late 80s and early 90s there were hardly any women working as mechanical engineers or draftsmen. In my 11 years of working as a draftsman I came across one. One! I made a good living out of being an electrical draftsman and I was really good at it, and it served me well when I eventually applied for a job as a technical writer a job I had wanted to do since my early teens, but that’s not the point. I couldn’t get a job easily working in my chosen field.

I don’t think a lot has changed since I graduated. It’s scary but I don’t think it has. In the department I’m in now, there are 40 engineers, technicians and graduates. Two are women and they’re both electrical engineers. When my team moved back into this section we doubled the number of women in the department to four. It’s scary.

One of the female electrical engineers recently commented on her Facebook page that the project she was doing at the time was the first one where she had felt like she was allowed to work as an engineer and not some sort of assistant. I know the guy she worked with. He’s of Eastern European extraction and over there they seem to have a lot more women in technical fields than we have. Maybe for him it’s more natural to let her do her job, I don’t know.

In the company I work in there is also a lack of women in power positions. The ones that make it to the top seem to have everyone gunning for them. Women don’t really stick up for women surprisingly enough. Women appear to wait to be told what to think and what to do rather than going out there being all pushy even when they know they’re right. Women don’t function like men do. They don’t have the same sense of entitlement and they’re a lot less quick when it comes to selling themselves and promoting their achievements.

The question for me is really whether women should learn to become more like men in the workplace or it’s time to change the workplace to better suit women. It seems to me that we push women into being something that we’re not naturally and by doing that we don’t necessarily help women stay in the workplace to plan careers. I think it’s high time that we change the way we look at women and start, as a society, to think of them as highly intelligent beings.

There’s no doubt in my mind when I see Michelle Obama on TV that she’s a capable women but she could be so much more. She is the first lady of America and she should be allowed to be more of a role model to women!

When it comes to Australia’s prime minister, the first woman prime minister of Australia, the papers spend more time talking about her clothes and her hair than anything else. When it was announced that she was the new prime minister my daughter came home from school and announced with great excitement that finally we have a female prime minister and then she asked me if I realized how significant that was. She was twelve years old at the time and for her it was a sign that women can be just as good at leading as men can. It’s shame the media can’t treat her appointment with as much excitement as my daughter did.

I don’t know what happened to the momentum we had at least in Northern Europe in the 80s that really made young girls believe they weren’t all that different from young boys in the brain department but I want to see more of that again. Women in the Western world have far more opportunities than their sisters in the Third world but surely we can do better than what we have now! Surely there should be no difference and surely women have as much to add to society as men do!

When you think about it it’s really backwards that it’s not already more equal.


  1. I think Europe is leading the way, certainly insofar as you consider women politicians.
    My last company, the engineering floor (including tech writers) was about 90% male. Engineers alone, the ration was probably closer to 97.234%.

    Let's hope that Europe is blazing a path, even if it's a slower path than we might have hoped.

  2. I never thought my sex would be a hindrance but it has because I lack the ruthless, demanding, pushy gene that makes me successful.
    Plus I gave up work for 10 years to be a mum and that put paid to a high-flying career.
    I don't regret it, never have, that was the most important job I ever had.

  3. I had an incident at work yesterday when it became obvious that I lack the same gene. I suggested a change that would mean a massive cost saving to the company over time plus a more common look and feel for customers when it comes to technical documentation. It's no-brainer to standardize documentation! My boss however told me in no uncertain terms that I need to basically get back in my box and wait to be told it was OK to even look at the job.

    I went home and cried, felt like the world is unfair and continue to feel like it's not bloody worth sticking your neck out.

    Did I mention that my boss' boss' boss had already asked me to put a proposal forward because I had discussed it with him months ago? He had and yet...


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