February 1, 2013

Office Grace



Having a career in any office presents challenges – refrigerator food theft, heading to the break room about to pass out only to find an empty coffee pot because that new intern is not doing his job, waking up early, sitting next to a mouth breather, trying not to go insane within the confines of your gray, dreary cubicle, and all sorts of other fun stuff.

How about adding this to the mix? – you’re an electrical engineer and are part of an overwhelming minority of women in your office. On top of all the standard office challenges, you are provided with the experience of being treated differently from your peers. This is my life. I’ve noticed different sets of obstacles provided by older men and by younger men – but both are frustrating and it’s easy to have a hard time. 
Granted, the times are changing for the better. Younger men who are not accustomed to old-fashioned culture are respecting women more as engineers. They expect the same level of expertise regardless of gender. They trust women with equal responsibility, which makes excelling in the career much easier. However, I’ve found that a new set of challenges (and some old ones) occur with younger men in the office.

If you have these issues, your main weapon against “woman treatment” is... You are an Alpha Phi! Alpha Phi's are strong, and Alpha Phi's know what they are doing. Alpha Phi's also receive advice from other Alpha Phi's. Here's mine for any of you who are uncomfortable in a male-dominated office:

Ask questions if you don’t know how to do something. However, begin your question with a display of your knowledge.

I’ve noticed that whenever I just asked a question at work, an older gentleman would begin his answer with the most basic principles that any engineer should already know, which he wouldn’t do if a man had asked. For example, if I were to ask how to set up my voicemail, some older men I’ve worked with would probably say “So, a telephone is a device used to communicate with another individual remotely – which means from a distance. Some phones are equipped with ‘voicemail’ which is a system designed so that you can leave a message in a person’s phone if they are not near it at the time of your call.” This frustrated me to no end. However, I discovered that if you display your knowledge up front on a consistent basis, men will raise their expectations, your responsibility levels, and consequently their respect for you.

Ask for constructive criticism frequently.

At first, men may be hesitant to give you any. But after some period of consistent badgering, they will start to answer your questions about what you can improve upon. Eventually, they will start to offer unsolicited advice, and you will be able to really thrive in your career.

If someone pulls a prank on you, do not take it personally or complain to  management.

Most companies will advise you to report office mischief, but I disagree (unless the prank caused damage to yourself or your cubicle). On most occasions, pranks are sort of an initiation into a group, which is a good thing. I have noticed that women are usually prime targets for multiple “attacks,” though. My theory is that young men expect women react to pranks in ways that are incredibly humorous to them. So what should you do? Laugh about it, and take revenge on the perpetrator (in a safe, harmless way of course!). It will show that you’re easy-going and not high maintenance, which can make people more comfortable working with you. Having working relationships is extremely important.

Keep in touch with your sisters on breaks.

Many of your alumnae sisters may be in an office environment as well. It helps to air any grievances to each other, and you may be able to give and receive some good advice! My chapter has a message board set up so that the alumnae and collegiate members can communicate all the time. We usually have threads dedicated to work/office complaints, and it really does help us all out with uncomfortable situations. Some of the stories actually end up being pretty funny too, and a good laugh can help you get through a bad day no matter where you work.

Get used to/ignore being called “hun,” and other terms of endearment.

I haven’t been able to avoid this particular nuisance. On the bright side, at some point the younger men who are used to modern culture will be the only ones who haven’t retired. I think this is just something that will take a few more years to phase out, and if this is your only obstacle related to being female in a male dominated, you are doing really well for yourself.

Happy careering, ladies! I expect to see you as CEOs. :)


Yvette Babich was born and raised in the beautifully scenic land of Southeast Michigan, where she recently graduated from the Iota Epsilon chapter of Alpha Phi at Kettering University. As an undergrad, she took exciting opportunities to hold positions within her chapter, including Director of Publicity and Advertisement, Director of Music, Director of Member Development, Chaplain, and Vice President of Chapter Operations. The chapter truly shaped her into the confident person that she is today.

These days, she holds a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering and is at the starting line of her career as a power systems engineer in downtown Detroit. She’s looking forward to what's in store and the adventures she will continue to have with sisters/best friends, and is thankful for the opportunity to share her alumnae experience with the best and brightest women of the world!

2 comments:

AshleySaxon said...

I'm an Aerospace Engineer and I also work with mostly all men. In addition to engineers I also deal a lot with factory workers. I have a few other tips I've encountered to share with you:

1. Dress conservatively. I know all APhi's know how to dress classy for work but it's easy to draw too much attention for the wrong reasons - I've heard some of the comments made about the few other women when the guys think she can't hear and I make sure to dress such that those comments are never about me. Doesn't mean you need to dress like a nun, just be careful not to overdo it (especially when you first start).

2. Don't feel like you have to bring in a cake for everyone's birthday (or other homemade goods) unless that's the norm for your office or it's a VERY small office. Sometimes these treats lead people to think that someone is getting preferential treatment if not everyone is getting the same thing.

3. Be nice to people but not in a way that anyone could construe as flirting - this will only lead to awkwardness later.

4. Often, females in a mostly-male environment don't get along as well. It's as if they compete with each other. Instead of trying to "best" the few other women there, become allies! Show your company just how valuable ALL of its female employees are. Plus you never know when one might turn out to be a sister of Alpha Phi!

5. If the group goes out after work and hangs out or goes to the bar - definitely join them! But don't get too crazy - stories of the drunk girls seem to make headlines even if they did no worse than any of the guys there...and any pics may get seen by more coworkers than you realize (regardless of whether that photo made it onto a social media site).

Don't be overwhelmed by all our tips, the author of this article adjusted fine, I adjusted fine and I'm sure you will too! These are just some ideas to help you fit in faster and get the career you want!

AshleySaxon said...

I'm an Aerospace Engineer and I also work with mostly all men. In addition to engineers I also deal a lot with factory workers. I have a few other tips I've encountered to share with you:

1. Dress conservatively. I know all APhi's know how to dress classy for work but it's easy to draw too much attention for the wrong reasons - I've heard some of the comments made about the few other women when the guys think she can't hear and I make sure to dress such that those comments are never about me. Doesn't mean you need to dress like a nun, just be careful not to overdo it (especially when you first start).

2. Don't feel like you have to bring in a cake for everyone's birthday (or other homemade goods) unless that's the norm for your office or it's a VERY small office. Sometimes these treats lead people to think that someone is getting preferential treatment if not everyone is getting the same thing.

3. Be nice to people but not in a way that anyone could construe as flirting - this will only lead to awkwardness later.

4. Often, females in a mostly-male environment don't get along as well. It's as if they compete with each other. Instead of trying to "best" the few other women there, become allies! Show your company just how valuable ALL of its female employees are. Plus you never know when one might turn out to be a sister of Alpha Phi!

5. If the group goes out after work and hangs out or goes to the bar - definitely join them! But don't get too crazy - stories of the drunk girls seem to make headlines even if they did no worse than any of the guys there...and any pics may get seen by more coworkers than you realize (regardless of whether that photo made it onto a social media site).

Don't be overwhelmed by all our tips, the author of this article adjusted fine, I adjusted fine and I'm sure you will too! These are just some ideas to help you fit in faster and get the career you want!