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Lil Women Engineers à Go-Go

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An aspect that has made life rather hard for women in engineering are the social constraints they face from an often bigoted society--including other women. Are they male subtypes? Are they frigid? Are they...sluts?

It's not a question likely to be addressed in any standard engineering course that's for sure. Traditionally to fit in, women are supposed to be obedient and adapt to corporate male-dominated culture. Often that means adopting corporate values. Do good work, watch the bottom line, and you will be generously recompensed.

But women in computer and engineering sciences become recalcitrant when they realize that their work successes go unrecognized. They receive less praise. They are not promoted. They do not advance in salary commensurate with their male counterparts. Their male counterparts leave them in the dust.

The frigidaire advice from the locker-room? "Keep your head to the grindstone and just work harder." "Go back to school and get another degree." "Pass that P.E. exam, then maybe we'll have something for you." All of this is so old-school, one heaves a sigh* at them doing it once again to a naive (minority) female graduate.

Women have careened themselves into outer-space not fitting in, according to Judith S. McIlwee and J.G. Robinson in their Women in Engineering: Gender, Power, and Workplace Culture book, basically because society and male engineers suffer from too much ingrained chauvinism. It cuts so deep that women-engineers often are scornful of other women-engineers from internalized false consciousnesses.

McIlwee explains how chauvinism exists when early in life, girls are purposely steered away from tinkering with anything from erector sets, to 3-D molecular models, to transistor radios, or rocket models. In comparison boys are encouraged to rival and compete with one another as "tinkerers" developing a lifetime of male-bonding advantage before they graduate from high school.

However according to Peter Gerlach, author of Break the Cycle, these same societal gender types frequently feed formation of false selves. True Self is grounded, aware, light, purposeful, clear-headed, serene, alive, and confident. False selves rely on closed-circuit stereotypes, often perpetuating a cycle of misery--and in the process creating more false selves.

Now a new generation of organizational entities, including women in sciences and engineering, are working toward widening possibilities for girl "tinkerers." If girls can excel in math, then surely they can excel in the physical sciences and technology, if they have more equal opportunity.

Here is a list of possibilities for resources. Once you begin the search, it's clear that the sky's the limit!

  • National Building Museum (NBM). This is one of the best kept secrets in the DC Metro region. Here's a video of a sample gender-friendly activity that is presented by Joanne Seelig called "How to make a Green Roof." NBM is also a past sponsor of Girl Scout Day.
  • Joann Fabric and Craft Store. Give domestic engineers the credit they deserve, whether it's as a home decorator, quilt designer, needle arts, or general crafts. Joann.com's mail order site now includes general crafts and a Kids & Teachers section with science kits.
  • Girl Scouts helps expand the horizon for all girls from ages 5-17 with all inclusive programs such as leadership and extracurricular journeys. Here's a sample Success Story called, "A Green Mansion for Girl Scouts" where Troop 7239 performs an energy audit.
  • For girls who are creative and home-schooling, check out Valerie Deneen's Inner Child Fun website. You don't need an expensive budget to do arts and crafts, and Valerie has organized them by the season, holidays, age, quick-and-easy, and teaching tutorials!
  • Engineering for Kids is private franchise phenomenon begun by Dori Roberts, a former high-school technology teacher. In order to foster development of science-technology-engineering-math (STEM) for the next generation, she founded a dynamic business that includes aerospace, mechanical, and robotics classes, and birthday parties.
  • American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently developed a wonderful kids, parents, teachers outreach webpage. There is a Just for Fun games page & also Girls love engineering too! link for career exploration and mapping.
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE) has long had a K-12 Outreach program whether for parents, teachers, or the community. The Aspire section contains many neat links for students. Here is one page for middle school teens called, "try on a career."

Notes on Books:

1. Judith S. McIlwee and J.G. Robinson,Women in Engineering: Gender, Power, and Workplace Culture, New York: State University of New York, 1992.

2. Peter Gerlach, Who's Really Running Your Life, Bloomington, IN: Xlibris, 2011.

*The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Examiner.com or any organization listed.

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