Career, women in engineering

Dealing with Gender Discrimination – my experience

I have become more involved on site now that the construction phase of the project is in full swing. Its amazing to see the months and months of heard work all coming together. I enjoy walking about site and inspecting the installation of the mechanical equipment I was involved in from design phase through procurement and finally installation and commissioning on site.

Unfortunately, being based on site has its disadvantages as well.

For one – I have to put up with a whole lot of construction guys gawking at me the whole time and passing crude comments as I walk by. From supervisor level up, the men have a great deal of respect for me as one of the Project Engineers on the job and someone who is involved in so many aspects of the project. On the lower, labourer level, this is not the case. Although I try and be the bigger person and keep a level head about these things, sometimes its not possible to do that.

I want to share an experience I had recently on site that caused me particular annoyance. A friend of mine recently posted this picture on my Facebook page. At first I was a bit peeved but didn’t take it up with him – it was a joke.

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Shortly after he posted it, I was walking about site inspecting some piece of equipment. I was asking the guys working in the area about the work they were doing on the machine. One of the guys stood there smirking at me which made me feel a little uncomfortable. I turned to walk away and he whistled at me to return the way we d on site if someone is doing something unsafe, so I went back to see what he wanted.

Chauvinist Pig: I am hungry

EngineerChic: How is that my problem?

Chauvinist Pig: I didn’t have breakfast.

EngineerChic: Again, how is that my problem?

Chauvinist Pig: Go and get me some breakfast. *huge smirk*

EngineerChic: What is your name and company number?

Chauvinist Pig: Why. No I wont give it to you. Why do you want it?

EngineerChic: I am an engineer, you idiot. I am not here to make you food! I am reporting you to your supervisor.

Okay – thats not exactly what I said. The ‘site-lingo’ I used was significantly more colourful than that but you get the point…

I reported the Chauvinist Pig to his supervisor and head of department immediately. They were livid that one of their staff passed such a stupid and irresponsible remark. In fact, his supervisor took off at a run to go and find the guy immediately. He is now facing disciplinary charges and may be fired (although that is not likely). Its great to know that despite the losers you get on site, there are educated and decent men out there with half a brain and who realise that the ladies on site are there for a purpose no less important than anybody else’s and should be respected as co-workers.

Later, being a typical woman, I started feeling bad about how things turned out and whether I had made too big a deal out of this. I asked my boyfriend (also a mechanical engineer who has been working in the field for years) what he would have done if someone had told him something like that. He said he didn’t know because nobody would say something like that to a male engineer. It was that moment when I realised that I was completely correct in how I handled the situation. I had truly experienced gender discrimination.

I wonder whether my friend would have posted that picture on my wall if he knew the real challenges I faced every day – the same challenge that countless other female engineers have to face on a daily basis.

3 thoughts on “Dealing with Gender Discrimination – my experience”

  1. Most men on a job site, at least from my experience, have tremendous respect and admiration for women engineers. Problem is that construction is also made up of lots of ‘men’ who, due to their upbringing, education, social life, environment, etc, lack the mental capacity to respect the opposite sex. Usually these people don’t respect male engineers either (although they’ll express this differently). These people will remain in the trenches pushing wheel barrows for the rest of their life’s. They don’t, and should have any influence on your life in the slightest way. Water off a ducks back …seriously!

    1. Hi Frank. Thanks for the comment. I do appreciate the empathy and agree that you cannot expect most construction workers to respect you for who you are. You are completely right and I shouldn’t let it get to me. I also think that now that one person has been made an example of, something like this should not happen again.

  2. You know when I started out in this industry 5years ago I was working with 3 female colleagues, they didn’t have it easy at all… Young, inexperienced and of cause black! Not playing the race card, but if you have those three all at the same time you are an easy target in this mining industry.
    The point I’m trying to make is that they suffered from the same experience as yours with construction workers who thinks that it is their kingdom and women are only good enough to do work that was predominantly done by women. It’s going to take a while for it to get to a stage where female workers are seen in the same level as their male counterparts.
    You did the right thing in addressing it to that level which will bring them to a disciplinary hearing.
    Good luck, you will triumph in the end!

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