Wednesday, August 9, 2017

The worst engineers I've ever met are all men.

I have a PhD in engineering and have worked with engineers in some capacity for the past sixteen years. So I can say with some authority: the worst engineers I've ever met are all men.

The ones who dangerously disregard safety procedures, who dive into a project without researching how to do it correctly, who would rather get a project completed as quickly as possible than take the time to understand the consequences of every shortcut they take. Ones who argue over someone else's data in a meeting, even if they have no idea what they're talking about and have no purpose even being in the meeting in the first place. Who turn red and yell at colleagues when something completely out of their control unexpectedly holds up a deadline. Who withhold information from other members of the team because they just don't like that guy.

Just a few examples. All men who did this.

Do I think men are naturally predisposed to be bad engineers? Hell no! That's ridiculous because gender has nothing to do with being a good engineer.


A good engineer has many qualities. There are many different KINDS of good engineers. A good engineering team has good people who bring something different to the table. A good team is diverse.

There is one essential quality that every engineer needs, and that is ability to respect the other members of the team. Even if those team members are quiet, or loud, or don't speak English very well, or are conservative, liberal, a person of color, overweight, or a woman. Even if you would never hang out with that person outside of a work environment, you have to respect them as a peer.  If that respect isn't there then that team is going to suck at being a team, and bad engineering decisions are bound to happen.

So when an engineer has the audacity to post a manifesto about how certain people (women) are naturally inclined to be bad engineers, and that promoting diversity is bad for the company, that guy probably is not a great member of an engineering team because it seems kinda clear that requisite respect is not going to be there.

(And, OK, so even if studies show that women are on average more empathetic and statistics show people generally trust male leaders more, who the fuck cares? Does every man lack empathy? Does every man really have leadership potential? That's ridiculous, right?)

I'm not saying men are bad engineers. Even though I literally said "the worst engineers I've ever met are all men." I'm not saying that. I am saying there's too many of them. There's too many men. I'm saying practically all of the engineers I've ever worked with are men, and some of them were bad engineers. Mostly they're just human beings who make mistakes sometimes.

Likewise, I'm sure there's men in my company who expect I suck at my job because I'm a woman, or if I ever make a mistake it somehow confirms their bias, but I hope they have the common sense to keep it to themselves. I have no interest proving myself to them as long as my manager and team members respect me, which they do.

Seriously though, some days I wish I worked with even one woman.

Diversity isn't just a gender thing, it's more than that. It includes people of color, and people who took a nonstandard path to get where they are. It's people who don't look like engineers. These engineers deserve a chance. They deserve respect. They deserve the benefit of any doubt. They are guaranteed to be bringing something new to the table.

Can I add: these nonstandard engineers don't need to be magical unicorn rockstars that need to win everyone over with their amazing amazingness. They shouldn't HAVE to be rockstars. I mean this sincerely and respectfully: they can be average. I'm an average engineer who happens to be a woman! Being average is OK!  If you have a diverse team of average skilled engineers who all respect one another, I promise you that's better than a team of rockstars who disrespect and distrust one another.

Companies should have programs to enhance diversity for their engineering teams. Any person from a nonstandard background who made it through engineering school has experienced enough adversity. It's humiliating and lonely being the odd-person all of the time. Helping them get the foot in the door at the start of their career isn't taking away from anyone else, it can only add.

Nonstandard engineers might be rockstars afterall, once they're given a chance to thrive. They deserve a seat at the table. And if room needs to be made, perhaps companies should get rid of their worst engineers to make it. In my experience, there's plenty of those!