Be Taken Seriously at Work – as a Female Engineer

career development women and work May 31, 2021
Female engineer holds clip board and stands in front of construction site wearing a hard hat.

We all want to be taken seriously at work. It should be a given, but for women in male-dominated fields like engineering, it's not.

Female engineers report frustration that their male peers and male leaders do not take their work seriously. From Harvard Business Review: "...the people whom I work with don’t take me seriously. Not everyone does this, but a fair amount of the older men in my working environment do this. They’ll treat me like I know nothing.” (Why do so many women who study engineering leave the field?

While this is their fault it has a big impact on you. Here are three actions you can take to be taken more seriously at work.

  1. Know how your role is tied to the business plan. This helps you when deciding which tasks are most important to focus on and changes the way you talk about your work to your leadership. There is research (conducted by Lee Hecht Harrison) that shows that women in the most senior positions made a point of knowing this throughout their career. In good times this will help you grow your career, in tough times it helps you protect your job.


    It’s not enough to just say, “I help the business make or save money” — I want you to get specific. Know the exact goal and business objectives that your work falls under. Start to track your impact and relate it to the results of the business plan. The next step is to talk about your work in terms of the results you are achieving or the results you are supporting that impact the business plan.


    As Annette Verschuren says in her book Bet on Me: “Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more saleable, promotable or valuable than your ability to take massive action and deliver results.” Translation: knowing the results that matter most to your company help you talk about your work in a way that commands interest. It shows that your work is important to the success of the company, and so are you.

  2. Change how you communicate with your boss. I’ve chatted with a few leaders and asked how they like working from home. They say they don’t miss the commute but they are frustrated because they spend more time than usual on calls with their team and it makes it harder for them to get their own work done.

    Be mindful of how often you’re reaching out to your boss. You want to stay top of mind but you don’t want to be adding to their to-do list. Offer to host a weekly meeting for your teammates without your boss. It’s a time to connect with one another, help each other overcome challenges and give updates on work that the entire team’s a part of. This will hopefully cut down on the amount of time your boss spends answering questions or hosting meetings. It also positions you as helpful and as a leader.

    You can also send your boss a weekly email updating them on this meeting and your work. This will take time at first, but once it becomes a habit you’ll get it done much faster! I’m working on another post on how to do it so stay tuned for the link!

  3. Ask for direct feedback. This has two major benefits. The first is that it will help you grow as a professional and do your job better. It also shows your boss and colleagues that you care enough to ask them — so I guess there are actually THREE benefits!

    The next reason is about contingency planning. Ask your current and former colleagues and bosses some questions about you. Record what they say in a document or device you own.

    Getting feedback is huge. It helps you understand what’s important to people so that you can build more trust with them. It helps you see gaps in your work or your working style that you aren’t aware of, and it tells you where you’re excelling.

    Because you have a better idea of what’s important to people in your industry, you can use this information to help you write your resume and cover letter in the future. Assuming you received positive feedback (because let’s face it, you’re awesome!), ask the person who gave it to you to write a recommendation for you on LinkedIn, and use their words as a confidence boost.

Engineering is the most male-dominated field in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math). Steps have been taken to get more women and girls interested in engineering which has helped address the pipeline of female engineering students. What hasn't been addressed is how women are treated when they become engineers. 

Please remember that this is the industry's issue - it's not your fault. It's common for women to start to questions their abilities and worth. If this happens to you, recognize these thoughts when they creep in and put a stop to them.

Try the steps above and over time you'll see a difference. Let me know how it goes and if I can help further. I'm rooting for you!!

Please share this article with your friends. You don’t always know who’s struggling and who will benefit by taking action. Remember that in STEM, her success is OUR success.

Shine on,

Kristen

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