Girls in Engineering: How To Deal With Sexism In An Area Mainly Occupied By Men

Being a woman is never easy. It doesn’t matter where we are or what we are doing, we will always be harassed or treated differently than men. But in some professional areas, mainly occupied by men, things can get worse. Engineering is one of them.

Since little kids, women are taught to be kind, soft and many other things. And we are pushed to vocational areas that fit in this profile that society created for us. For example, it is a common sense that women aren’t good with math or subjects that involve logical thinking. Because of this, people get really shocked when a girl says that she choose to learn engineering.

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A study made by four female researchers in the United States (Gender Biases in Early Number Exposure to Preschool-Aged Children), says that, usually, parents of boys explain more mathematical concepts than parents of girls. Actions like this reinforce the stereotype that girls should follow careers that don’t involve numbers or more complicated things.

But, despite of the prejudgment, these girls choose to follow their dreams, instead of following what society says. Mayara Palácio is one of them. She is attending Civil Engineering at Mauá College, and told us a little more about her experience with the course. Her parents always gave all the support that she needs, but some close relatives questioned if she was in the right course and affirmed that “construction jobs are for men.”

When asked if she ever thought of quitting, she said “giving up was never an option. Since I got in college, these negative comments just gave me more strength to achieve my goals and prove them wrong. Being a woman is not a reason to stop doing things.” Even though Mayara never thought of quitting, she said that women are not well received in the job market, and that this is the hardest part. “For example, I only have three female professors, while ten are men”.

According to a data survey made by IDados, the percentage of women studying Civil Engineering increases every year: in 2008, we represented 21,4% of the space in the universities. In 2015, the number was around 30%. But when it comes to the job market, we went from 22,6% to 26,9%. It’s a significant difference. Not only we are in smaller numbers, but we also receive less salary. In 2013, women earned 79% of the salary of a man, doing the exact same job. In that same year, we were representing 20,8% in the field of Engineering. (Datas by FNE). 

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Natália Caruso, also a Civil Engineering student at Mauá College, told us that, for her family, the course that she choose wasn’t a problem, but her mother was afraid that she could be the only girl in class. “People get really surprised when they find out what I am studying. I’ve already heard sexist comments like ‘You’re going to work in some bank, right? Because women don’t fit in construction jobs, they don’t like the dirt’.”

The lack of representation is really discouraging, but isn’t the worst part. Being a woman in an area dominated by men brings us a lot of restrictions. Paty Raisel, who studied Material Engineering at UFABC, told us she didn’t wear flashy and low-cut clothes, because there were a lot of rape cases in the campus. About that constant fear, Pamela Oxisque, a Civil Engineering student at São Judas University, told us that she’s been through many situations of harassment: “but the most remarkable was when I was in the middle of the patio, and this guy came and grabbed my waist. I screamed and pushed him, and people just kept looking instead of helping. I told one of my male professors, and he just said ‘Boys will be boys’.’’

Also, in this field, we don’t get the credibility we deserve. This happens because there is a belief in society that women act more with the emotional side, while Engineering demands rationality to create solutions. Besides that, this involves the aspect of what we learn during childhood: we are not raised to be in a position of power. And when a woman is determined and has high goals, she is seen as bossy and a control freak. 

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Paty, in her first job, was one of the ten women in the team, among sixty men. “Male engineers frequently didn’t believe information I gave them and felt the need to double check what I said with some other men.” Julia Takano, a Civil Engineering student at Poli-USP, told us that, during a presentation in class, some men simply turned their backs to her and started to talking among them, as if her speech wasn’t as important as others.

With all that being said, the question remains: how to deal with sexism in this area, which is mainly occupied by men? The answer is the same as always, when it comes to women and their rights: we have to fight. All girls interviewed in this article said one thing in common: they are not giving up. Fight to conquer more space in classes and in the job market. Just by being there, in an area that men dominate, fighting to beat the patriarchal system that we live, we inspire other women to do the same.

And it doesn’t matter what happens, we will always have each other, to fight and keep moving together. As Pamela said, answering the question, “we have to fight now, so that the next generations don’t need to live with the sexism that we do.” We have to teach math to little girls and encourage them to follow the field that they like the most. We have to teach the next generations that women can do absolutely everything they want to.