My Engineer’s Notebook – Rhea Naidoo

I had the great HONOUR recently to be interviewed for the feature “My Engineer’s Notebook” for ASME News.

So exciting! I really could not believe that they even knew who I was.  I hope this is an example that women do have a place in the engineering world, that we are being RECOGNIZED and CELEBRATED and that a career in engineering can be as GLAMOROUS as you want it to be.

If you are a young girl wondering whether you should go into a career in science and engineering, the door is wide open for women in the industry right now.  I hope this MOTIVATES you to DO IT!

(Remember, that this what the EngineerChic blog is all about so if you agree with this message, continue to comment, share and spread it!)

The article is below:

My Engineer’s Notebook – Rhea Naidoo

 

Goldiblox – No more Barbies for Future Engineers

I have always counted myself lucky that my parents gave us legos and puzzles to play with as kids instead of dolls.  My two sisters and I kept ourselves entertained with spatial problem-solving toys, although they weren’t very popular with our young friends. Two of us are now engineers and the other a successful graphic designer.

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Debbie is an awesome, young female engineer who realised the need for a good quality toy aimed at developing problem solving skills in girls. This is how Goldiblox was born.

Goldieblox YouTube Video

The project was funded in five days. I’m just bummed that I didn’t think of this first!

Goldieblox Follow-up Video

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Engineering the Blogosphere – Article for ME Today

Why engineers across the globe are choosing to connect and share online

With the rise of internet accessibility over the past few decades, the art and business of blogging has become commonplace. Budding writers are hoping to be noticed by publishers, entrepreneurs capitalizing on the marketing and economic opportunities of the ‘blogosphere’ (online blogging community) and everyday users wanting to connect with people and share experiences the world over. One thing that struck me, when I started blogging three years ago, however, is the scarcity of practicing engineers who engage in this medium. Excluding the highly-technical sites that turn a profit through advertisements on their blogs, it seems that today’s engineering society is more wary than their counterparts in other technical fields to share their passions, relating to personal and career related experiences musings.

Although this might spark an interesting debate on the reasons that people feel the need to share their thoughts on this type of public platform, and why in particular, engineers don’t; this article instead looks to showcase some of the top ‘personal’ engineering blogs out there, and shed some light into why these engineers have chosen to engage in this medium.

Read my full ASME ME Today article…

http://www.asme.org/kb/newsletters/me-today/me-today—november-2012-issue/engineering-the-blogosphere

Corporate Social Responsibility – is there real value?

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For those new to EngineerChic, I have previously been heavily involved in development work as a student with Engineers without Borders. Now working, I try to stay up to date with my Company is doing in the way of CSR and sustainable development. As an Engineer, we have a responsibility to Society to add value to it whilst protecting the environment (yes it does say that in the Engineers Code of Ethics), so this is a topic of personal interest for me.

This is something I have asked myself many times. Considering giant corporate multinationals with a glossy sustainability reports and CSR initiatives, one becomes a little curious on whether the content of those reports are really nothing more than cover-ups for what the Company extracts from Society rather than a true reflection on what they are doing for Society.  One has to ask oneself if there is real value to Society in a Company’s CSR initiatives.

Beyond CSR: Integrated External Engagement

This McKinsey Quarterly article got me thinking along a completely new line which now seems so obvious to me.  A Company engages with and contributes to Society in so many ways which don’t seem immediately obvious to external observers.  Firstly, it hires people – people who make up the individual cells of Society who depend on the Company for their livelihoods and happiness – along with that of their families. A company creates products or services for Society which add value to people’s lives.  A company can influence the economy or legislation of a Country and in some cases, have been known to change the political climate of a country, or the levels of corruption, debt or tax citizen’s of that country have to endure. In fact, a company influences Society a great deal more than many of us think they do.

Now I’m not saying that all of the companies with the ability to influence Society in the ways above are all adding positive value to Society. But as the McKinsey article argues, if a Company were to think deeply about how their normal operations and functions influence Society and then stream them in order to deliver the maximum positive value to Society, they for one would be able to make a far greater contribution, and also be able to show this in their glossy reports to keep the inevitable negative critics at bay.

So in conclusion, I say continue with the yearly party at the soup kitchen or orphanage, but also think about employment principles that truly support gender equality, mission statements that include environmental upliftment and company policies geared at weeding out corruption not only internally, but also within the framework of the country you are operating in. All this can easily be achieved without sacrificing shareholder value – in fact, they might even thank you for improving the company’s image…

Engineer Joke of the Week

I haven’t done this for a while… enjoy!

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Two Engineers on a date 

Two engineers were on a date at a swimming pool. They are sitting on the end of a diving board when the guy says to the girl, “I think we’re having a moment.” The girl looks to the guy and says, “We’d make a great couple.”

Engineering Luck

Engineers do not believe in luck nearly as much as they rely on it.

The Fridge

A Engineer gets home from work and sees a note on the fridge from his wife. “This isn’t working, I’m at my moms”. he opens the fridge and checks the light, then grabs a beer and feels it cold. The engineer thinks to himself. “The fridge works fine”

Chemical Engineer vs Chemist

What’s the difference between a chemical engineer and a chemist? Answer: about $50k a year

Do Female Engineers Intimidate Men?

In response to a comment from a reader, I am inspired to write this post.  My anonymous reader says that although she is fiercely passionate about mechanical engineering and metallurgy, guys seem to prefer social girls over technical ones. Her last boyfriend even left her for someone who worked in the fashion industry!

At the risk of sounding like a magazine agony-aunt, let me have my two-cent’s worth on this topic.

pretty-nerdIn my personal experience and from what others have told me, guys generally tend to be very intimidated by a woman who is in a highly technical field.  Now here I am talking about guys who you’d meet at the gym or at a party, not guys at work (they are intimidated for other reasons but we’re not going to go there in this post).  I have had a guy at a part flat-out admit that I being an engineer was “actually quite intimidating”. Soon after that, he made some excuse and left to talk to a far more fun-looking girl.  I, for one am convinced that guys are intimidated by smart or technically-focused women.

So, what to do about it?

#1           Be more fun and sociable.

This is what most young, female engineers feel they need to do to attract men. Please girls, don’t think this way.  For one, we are not naturally the life of the party. Not only are we – for the most part – more inclined to being introverted or socially awkward, but we also have serious studies and careers to think about. We just can’t afford to spend three nights a week entertaining ourselves and others. But we also know its going to pay off…and soon!  If a guy can’t handle you the way you are – then its just not meant to be. Sorry.

 #2           Understand the man

Let’s take a minute to think about why a man might be intimidated by an engineer woman.  Our Society is a funny thing that tends to put us all into neat little boxes. That’s how it operates most efficiently. From the time we’re small children, little boys are given plastic screwdrivers and buckets, and little girls are presented with curly-haired dolls. This follows us our whole lives through as everyone and everything around us reinforces these ideals placing us under massive pressure to succumb to these norms as child-bearers and care-givers. Engineering women however – necessarily strong willed, independent, high-earning and technical – go against the grain of some really deep-seated beliefs.  Can we really blame these poor guys for fearing us?

  (My folks gave my sisters and I Lego and puzzles instead of dolls resulting in two engineers and one graphic designer. Thank you mum and dad!)

 #3           Move in the right circles               

As much as you don’t want to hear this, perhaps you would find more relationship success with others of your own species?  I don’t just mean technical men and engineers, but anyone who has a similar status in Society and earning-potential.  As most engineers are destined to become managers, a man may feel uncomfortable knowing that you are more likely to take care of him than him taking care of you.  The male ego should never be ignored (refer to the paragraph above) and as a professional, it’s only natural to want to nest up with someone you can relate to.  Although incredibly difficult to give up an existing relationship, if you are looking for a new one perhaps consider hanging about the chemical engineering building at lunch or getting your friends to introduce you to an up-and-coming businessman.  Word of advice: as tempted as you may be, stay away from the management consultants! Trust me; it’s just not worth it.

 #4           Timing, timing, timing

These days, as the world moves away from traditional notions which made early-marriage a necessity, professionals –men and women – are choosing to get married later on in life.  Young, successful professionals realize that the world is theirs for the taking and no parent or pastor has the sway to force you to settle down early anymore.  This means that us young, career-focused ladies may have to change our ideas of being single or dating (instilled by our conservative mothers) and embrace our extended freedom and youth!

 This is a double-win for us. Not only will we have complete freedom to chase our careers and dreams without the burden of kids and a husband, achieving more success in life as a result, but when we do decide to seriously look for a mate, we will be more mature, sure of who we are and what we want, and will – if we’re smart – have created a large network of industry professionals to launch our search! (Who said LinkedIn was just for job-hunting?)

So I hope to have hit home on some points which other young, professional women – especially engineers – have to deal with.  What’s interesting is that in many places in the world, women right now are at a turning point full of excitement and uncertainty. We are the generation to write the rules for women in this field so it’s bound to be a little rough as Society settles into having this new species of females around.

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.

What Makes a Woman Successful in Engineering?

We’re well into the second decade of the 21st Century.  Most countries are socially and politically stable and democracy reigns supreme. What this has meant in many places around the globe, including South Africa is that there are a whole lot more opportunities for those who were previously disadvantaged – including women. As more and more women are educated and enter fields in engineering, science and business, there is a diversification of characteristics amongst them.  No longer can we lump ‘female engineers’ all into one very limited category. In my own personal sphere of experience, I have met all sorts of women engineers who have achieved vastly different levels of success in their careers.

This is an interesting observation and leads one to start asking questions: what does one woman have that another doesn’t  What specific set of opportunities and disadvantages influences a woman’s career success in the engineering field? What characteristics or personality traits, secrets and knowledge do some women possess which allow them to become very successful in their field?

You might turn around and tell me that this topic has been covered extensively for the likes of both men and women and that everybody knows where to go to find books to aid your career. While this may be very true, I think that women who find success in the field of engineering are not typical. They are unique in their environments and possess a unique mix of personal skills and traits. Engineering is a highly technical field which can give rise to snobbery and elitism in some circles or outright discrimination in others. Information is often hoarded away from women entering the field – making it even harder for them to achieve the competencies of their peers. Sometimes, the engineering field is physically demanding or even dangerous and strenuous and a woman may find it simply impossible to contend with and surpass the performance of her male counterparts.  How then do women in these (rather common) circumstances achieve success despite overwhelming barriers?

What is the trick?

In this post I want to take a different approach than the usual female engineering writer.  Instead of yet another article about how difficult it is for women in this field, and how much it needs to change, I am instead looking at those individuals who have broken through these barriers somehow and presenting some suggestions as to how you can do the same.

If I were a journalist or researcher on the topic, I probably would be able to give you all the stats on what exactly it is that makes some women excel and others not, but unfortunately I’m just a female engineer wondering about these questions just as much as you are.  However, as far as difficult fields go, I probably am at the vertex of some of the most difficult one can find herself in – the mining industry and the construction industry. Also, I am ALWAYS the only women, the youngest and often the only person of colour in the room (in post-apartheid South Africa)…so maybe I can venture a guess on things that have worked for me (by trial and error). And maybe you can let me know if you have tried these and experienced good results?

Success tip #5: Speak up

When I first started working – coming straight out of the very supportive university environment, it was incredibly difficult to not sit in meetings with eyes the size of saucers and stumble through answers to questions put to me. You need to get over this deer-in-the-headlights feeling very quickly and start showing people that you do indeed have a brain.

Success tip #4: Join in the fun

I find that guys are a lot more informal around each other in a business setting than women are.  It’s easy to feel excluded when you are the only woman in the room and everybody else is joking around. Don’t be afraid to join in the fun and build relationships with your colleagues.  Being well liked is always good for your career and the more comfortable you are with those around you, the more confident you will be to voice your opinions.

 

Success tip #3: Make sure you get the credit you deserve

For this one, you will have to be very assertive.  There is no point in staying up late working, being meticulous and thorough or having a great idea if the people who make the decisions don’t even know what you’ve done.  This is one that doesn’t come naturally to many women, but try to build the skill to make others aware of the good work you have done. Take pride in yourself and your abilities – there is absolutely nothing wrong with that!

         Useful tips to avoid giving credit away:

  • As soon as you have finished an important task, make an appointment to discuss your work with your boss before being asked about it at a group feedback session. Let him/ her see just how competent you are and how much effort you’ve put in.
  • When reporting back on work you did, don’t unnecessarily mention that others helped you unless they made a very significant contribution.
  • If you have a great idea, take it to your boss directly and don’t ask someone else to mention it to him/ her.

Success tip #2: Be Inquisitive

Walking around site, there are so many things that are new and different to me. I did not grow up taking car engines apart so I simply don’t have certain critical technical knowledge that others might. So what should you do when you don’t know the difference between a tipper truck and a dump truck, or a sprocket and a pinion? Ask! Don’t just mellow in ignorance – embarrassed about what others may think.  Asking lots of questions does not make you any less smart – it just means you are willing to do what it takes to become competent at what you do.

 Success tip #1: Have Tenacity

Tenacity is probably the trait that helps the most in the field of engineering. This is a field where you as a women are going to be judged and questioned (albeit internally) every time someone meets you for the first time. You will have to prove yourself to every person individually. Tenacity, persistence, doggedness is the key to pushing through this frustrating reality.  When asserting your ideas in meetings, negotiating deals with colleagues and suppliers or managing contractors and suppliers, you will have to be like a fox terrier – relentless, undeterred, annoyingly so! This comes with confidence however and is something most women will have to work hard on to get right.  If you truly believe in what you are talking about (tip: always have your facts straight because this is the easiest way to be disregarded in an argument), you will find it much easier. Once again, I must emphasise knowing your topic very well. They may be able to intimidate you with their size and aggressiveness, but if you are adamant about your facts and have the back-up to prove it, nobody can push you around!

So all you have to do to be successful is to walk into meetings fully prepared, always go above and beyond and make sure people know it; when you know you’re right, push your case and don’t give in; be heard and don’t forget to have fun! Phew, is that all?

So to close off, I have asked some questions that hold a particular interest for me, and have presented some answers based on my own experience and understanding. I hope you out there will share some tips and hints, or stories about your experiences of success. I would love to hear them!

Engineer Joke of the Week

Well, it’s been ages since I’ve posted some engineering jokes, so for some Sunday fun:

Engineer Joke #1:

Two engineering students were walking across campus when one said, ”Where did you get such a great bike?”
The second engineer replied, “Well, I was walking along yesterday minding my own business when a beautiful woman rode up on this bike. She threw the bike to the ground, took off all her clothes and said, “Take what you want.”
The second engineer nodded approvingly, “Good choice; the clothes probably wouldn’t have fit.”

 

Engineer Joke #2:

Q: What do engineers use for contraception?

A: Their personalities

 

Engineer Joke #3:

A man is flying in a hot air balloon and realizes he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts: “Excuse me, can you help me? I promised my friend I would meet him half an hour ago, but I don’t know where I am.”

The man below says: “Yes. You are in a hot air balloon, hovering approximately 30 feet above this field.”

“You must be an engineer,” says the balloonist.

“I am,” replies the man. “How did you know?”

“Well,” says the balloonist, “everything you have told me is technically correct, but I have no idea what to make of your information.

“The man below says, “You must be a planner.”

“I am,” replies the balloonist, “but how did you know?”

“Well,” says the man, “you don’t know where you are, or where you are going, and you have made a promise which you have no idea how to keep. The fact is you are in the exact same position you were in before we met, but now it is somehow my fault.”