There has been much fuss about this whole diversity thing. Yes, we want women in the workplace now. Yes, women are slowly infiltrating and you see more and more of us wandering around the plant or lab. Yes, its all “PC” and everything. But is there a real benefit to having them around?
Lets just look at some of the counter-arguments for a second (which I have heard first-hand):
1. Women cant do the heavy lifting or the physical labor men can- fair enough, there are exceptions, but mostly we don’t
2. A company spends money training an employee and at some point, they all leave to go have babies– true, but thats because of poor flexibility of work times for mothers (and of course the stigmatism)
3. There is no real, definitive benefit in diversity. A woman is just as good as a man, so whats the point of pushing women into fields for the sake of having them there?
Now, although I would love to rant on and on about the first two points, this past week I had an interesting conversation with a female engineering colleague KN which really got me thinking about the third!
So KN and I noticed that our section of the plant had a very poor safety training program. This is necessary for all new personnel on the plant. Its an overview of the processes, machinery and all the ways they can kill you (and trust me, there are many!) Its to ensure you are aware of the hazards and work as safely as possible.
So we went to our engineering manager to request that we revise the safety induction. Using our engineering skills and hands-on experience, we started by identifying the major hazards on the plant. Next, we thought about how we would communicate these dangers to people who had no understanding of the plant, and didn’t speak much English either. We used simple, clear words, explanatory pictures and are planning on holding focus groups to figure out where the gaps are. This took a whole bunch of skills that you didn’t learn at campus-skills we call ‘soft-skills‘. Men have soft skills too, but these come more naturally to women.
One male engineer and mentor I knew said that women were inherently charismatic. We have certain gifts, attributed to our caring and nurturing nature, that sometimes make us better listeners. The time of the aloof and condescending professional engineer has ended. People have realised that to be able to work better, you’re gonna have to build relationships with and communicate well with the people on the ground! And in a workplace that can kill you in 100 ways, its absolutely important (for people’s lives and well being as well as the company’s reputation and legal interests) that everyone work as safely as possible. For these reasons, women are not only as capable, but actually have a slight advantage!
ASME’s Vision 2030 stated something interesting:
and guess what they found?
Out of five different messages tested, the survey responses revealed that girls found the following two messages the most appealing: Engineering makes a world of difference (boys also rated this highly), and, Engineering is essential to our health, happiness, and safety (boys did not rate this highly). [Not considered to be appealing by any of the survey populations was the message “Engineers connect science to the real world.]”
Andrew Lamb, CEO of Engineers Without Borders UK said in an interview (see link):
JR – So would you say that female volunteers have a unique role to play in international development?
AL – Definitely… In many cases, even though there are vast differences between cultures, women tend to spend most of their time working in or around the home. As a result, if we were working on a clean water project, it makes sense to talk to the women in the communities, because they have to collect the water every day and will have a far better idea of what the issues are. By simply being a women, we find that female volunteers can often build trust with women in these communities a lot faster than male volunteers, and gain important and accurate information.
I honestly believe that KN and I are making our workplace a safer place due to the fact that we’re women. And it looks like women everywhere are realising that engineering is a way to make the world a better, safer and happier place!
So to all who don’t see women bringing any significant benefits to the table, all I can say is that the proof is in the PUDDING!