Thriving in a male-dominated field
Yes, engineering is a male-dominated industry. But that doesn't mean the men currently working in it aren't open to the idea of women in their field.
Women shouldn't assume men in engineering jobs will see them as less qualified or skilled. Sadly, if a person has no clue about a co-worker's on-the-job credibility, they sometimes assume the worst, and that applies to all genders. This is probably why some engineers feel a stigma entering this field. If you understand the reason behind the stigma and don't take it personally, you can gain your co-worker's trust like in any other job.
Case in point, when I was starting out, I had a feeling my co-workers and customers didn't trust me as much as I wanted them to. They often ask why I pursued this field; some are even shocked to see a female Field Service Engineer.
Instead of feeling down, I observed their work, helped whenever I could, and focused on doing my tasks well. Eventually, I got their trust and my colleagues saw me as someone just like them--an engineer tasked with the same duties, gender labels forgotten.
Maybe it was awkward for my male co-workers to interact with female engineers at first. Now they're excited and want more women in the team. It's more fun in the office if you have a diverse group.
As for customers and healthcare clients, the main challenge was the heavy tools and equipment we carry. I was just lucky to work on the patient monitoring systems modality, so I didn't have to lift heavy equipment like X-rays and CT-scans. This may be the primary reason why some nurses and health technicians are surprised to see a female engineer. What they're probably not aware of is that even the guys in my team do ask for help when carrying heavy equipment, so it's a team effort and not the result of one gender's weightlifting prowess.
Like my co-workers, I was able to gain the trust of healthcare clients by showing them what I can do. Once they see that I can fix the same glitches and product issues my co-workers can, they realize that I'm no different from my male counterparts.
Moving up as an engineer
This is where most aspiring engineers will likely see a challenge in our industry. I don't see it that way though. For one, you won't have trouble standing out as a woman because there's so few of us.
In fact, there are probably more opportunities for me because I have access to both sides of the work equation. For instance, many of the clients I face are nurses--a female-dominated field. Being a woman is an advantage in this situation because they're more accepting and welcoming to me. They're excited to see a woman in my line of work, so they're kind of rooting for me to do well. Since the job also depends on my communication skills and the relationship I build with the hospital or clinic staff, the support and friendliness of these nurses will make it easier for me to excel at my current duties, and even move on to a higher position.
In Philips, we're all given a fair chance to move up; it just depends on how hard you're willing to work for it. I never felt that gender mattered because we're all treated fairly.
To aspiring female engineers everywhere
Go for it. Engineering is a good career path.
Healthcare engineering, in particular, is an exciting new field. Unlike petroleum and automotive industries where demand is changing and new technology is disrupting markets, healthcare is a stable industry. Philips has certainly transformed and is still undergoing transformation due to technology and innovation.
Medical devices may improve with technology but people will still need healthcare for years to come. More hospitals are being built, and more hospitals mean more medical devices, so you'll always be in demand.
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