Today, women are struggling to perform in the still-very-male-dominated technological realm. Its not like the actual work is difficult for us; the ‘real’ challenge is to stay in harmony with the prevalent (and sometimes toxic) office environment. As a fresh appointee or even as a senior staff member, many women feel that they stood secluded, completed their work quietly, and remained non-verbal on office matters for quite a long time. Most feared that they would be labeled as uncooperative or bossy if they spoke out.
If a woman thinks a project can be better accomplished in a certain way, it's been generally noticed that she doesn’t speak up for her idea. Normally, as has been generally seen, and especially in our culture, she waits for others to present their points. She fears that her idea might be incorrect, or that she might be considered dictatorial. As a result of this behavior, not only her career is directly effected, but indirectly, the efficiency of the company goes down tremendously. One solution to this is to activate strong allies at the work place.
Most women report that when they were finally vocal on a technical project, and the male boss or male counterparts did not quite agree, they took the disagreement almost as an ego problem. For such men, it is time to understand that diversity in any field at both, institutional and personal levels, is vital for the progress of the company and its work. It is important for a workplace to have different members with diverse emotional intelligence and various technical interests. Sabotaging this multiplicity for personal validation harms not only the individuals involved, but also the company, and the society on the whole. Fortunately, the need of the day is DYNAMIC team work.
Sounds silly that we should be even saying this to adults, but men at workplaces need not see women as a threat towards their own aptitude. There is no need to be ashamed if and when a woman colleague achieves something bigger for the company. Women on the other hand need to stop camouflaging themselves within their emotional shell; rather they should celebrate their success together with all male and female colleagues. Culture of seeking help from colleagues in times of need should be integrated within the organizational fabric, inhibitions should be diminished. Any company can be more productive if it welcomes new ideas and fresh mindsets, instead of sticking to outdated techniques.
Why are allies necessary at workplaces?
The bottom-line is this: This is not a man vs. woman debate. Equality cannot be achieved without support from men. At workplaces, if progress is desired, then men who think a woman colleague is sound in her particular decision, need to voice their agreement out loud. Also, especially whilst in a tech-oriented discussion, when a man feels that the female colleague knows the point of conversation better, he should acknowledge it at large. If an equally qualified woman applies for a job, there are no justifiable grounds to deny her the job based on her gender. If a woman gets harassed in the workplace, there should be zero forbearing for harassment. Period. Inequality just cannot be tolerated anymore. Men need to speak out if they witness discrimination against a female colleague. Trust us, this helps!!
How can one be your ally
An ally who boosts your confidence. Not all people are bold enough to simply walk up to a colleague and ask: “Hey! Will you be an ally to me, here in the office?” It’s a deep-seated global fear. If a woman feels hesitance in speaking out loud in an open discussion, one way for her to be heard is to discuss her ideas with a friendly colleague, male or female. Having done so, she can dispel a little bit of that fear of dismissal, as she would now know that when she does finally speak up, this particular ally will support it. With time, a woman can become comfortable being assertive, as she gains confidence that her ally (and hopefully, allies) are by her side. Like all other life’s relations, this relationship can only be built on trust, positivity, and responsibility.
An ally who helps you out from sticky work situations. When stuck in work, most women generally feel shy to seek advice from colleagues. But most tech projects are greatly challenging, and require quite a lot of R&D. When one is already doing the hard work, then along with all the brainstorming there should be no shame in asking a colleague for help. An experienced colleague can help and mentor a junior for the next big tasks. Not only does reaching out helps solve the current problem, it also creates a healthy and nurturing work environment. Most women noticed that once the initial conversational hesitance was bridged, they were able to get more involved in the larger picture of the organization through conferences and discussions etc., and were able to progress faster.
An ally who stands by you in time of need. Good manners are the key to all that which repels evil. But sometimes, one has to confront people, especially if one is a woman being harassed by a colleague. While this may not be the first choice many women make; asking the harasser, "What do you mean?" can help make the snide remarks or lewd comments more visible. Until recently, the norm has been that whenever a woman gets bullied / harassed, the first blame goes to the woman, regarding her as “guilty”. A solution to this is to make allies who can be relied upon for their help in such a situation. Sometimes organizations have policies for conflict management, whereby they provide moderators for arbitrations. Having allies who can testify about your self can be a valuable asset in such cases.
Stand out, be brave!
So, to wrap up:
Dear male colleagues,
And, if you see something, say something!
Engr. Ayesha Alam Khurram
Be brave to challenge the norm you can’t digest.
What are the best engineering fields for girls? The bigger question is why do you want to know that? Why is there no question like: What are the best engineering fields for boys? Do girls lack talent? Are girls devoid of problem-solving skills? No, right? Then what is the issue? Why should a girl chose a field in the light of being a girl, and not being a brilliant student? Why does a girl need to think of her marriage and responsibilities even before she chooses her academic path? In my opinion, the only problem is the prevalent mind-set in our culture. Unless this problem (or should I say epidemic) is cured, the answers will remain muddled.
Throughout their educational career, from nursery to graduation, girls study hard and manage to clear all exams with flying colors. After graduation many want to be professional and put forth all that hard work into reality. The "REAL" challenge begins then, i.e. being girls, can they work professionally in their fields of graduation? So many girls have to hear unwelcome suggestions of the like: “You should do a job in school because you are a girl and you cannot work in a male dominated office.”
Dwelling in this fast-paced high-tech world, it is quite the right time that girls, based on their interests step forward to choose engineering, and especially within the engineering field that allures them most. Girls across Pakistan have started to realize that they can do anything and they do not lack talent! Here are few examples of Pakistani girls who have chosen their field not under societal influence but in the light of their brilliance and competencies.
Can a girl become a professional Aeronautical Engineer? The answer might just be as simple as no. When you think of an Aeronautical Engineer, an image of a boy must be formed in your mind. Let me unravel that image and introduce you to this Aeronautical Engineer who is not a boy. Maria Shahzad with her love for planes is proving herself as an Aeronautical Engineer. After graduating from College of Aeronautical Engineering, Risalpur, she is now working in Airblue Airline as an Aeronautical Engineer. She endures night shifts, extra hard work, and stays strong.
Ayesha Imtiaz has always been a top scorer like many girls are during their study years. She graduated from University of Engineering and Technology, Lahore. But unlike many girls, Ayesha Imtiaz is not wasting her expertise and not giving up on her endeavors. She has overcome her so called girlish fear and has become a Performance Engineer at General Electric, Saif Power Plant, Sahiwal, Pakistan.
They say a girl cannot be a Site Engineer. When asked why, they do not give a specific reply. That blunt reply which stems out of the mist revolves around: this is not our culture, site job is tough, there are only men at site, freshness of a girl is affected, she has to marry soon, what people will say, etc. This type of talk has caused many talented girls to be dormant and has ruined countless careers. But this daunting drill of defining fields for girls might not be able to stop those with courage, perseverance, and determination. After graduating from Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) when Kiran Sadhwani developed her love towards tech, she wanted to be a Site Engineer. She not only faced opposition from her immediate family but also from her Thari community of Tharparker. Instead of giving up on her dreams, she decided to withstand the odds and stood firm for her aims. She has become Engineer in Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), at Thar Coal Project.
The above are but few examples of girls thinking and working out of the box. The point is that there is no field yet devised which can be genuinely gender-specific. Girls stay confused and do lots of calculations before they pursue any field. The time has come that girls choose fields and jobs that they want to, even if these careers are notoriously known to be men-only domains. Girls, we must recognize our responsibility in creating a better path for other, forth-coming girls.
So ladies, after knowing the above mentioned engineers, you need not worry anymore. Just overcome your own suspicions and jump right in. You must live your life as per your potential, instead of opting to teach at school at somebody else's opinion, or doing literally nothing at home. Choose a field that lets you dive into the ocean of brilliance. Choose a career that lets you unleash you potential.
Engr. Ayesha Alam Khurram
Be brave to challenge the norm you can’t digest.