We asked over 50 women space leaders for words of inspiration. Here's what they told us

Jan 3, 2023
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The article ignores the fact that
20% of engineers are female. Maybe men and women have different aptitudes and interests that result in the lack of female engineers, but it has nothing to do with sexism. Sorry if that doesn’t fit with the authors politics.
 
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Well, there is sexism of various sorts still apparent from some individuals. But, I agree that the fraction of engineers who are women is not a useful indicator of that.

I used to car pool with a female engineer who was short, blond and had a voice pitch that was clearly female rather than male. At one point, a male engineer was taken off a project that was having major problems, and she was assigned to it by our boss. The head of the project immediately called our boss, complaining that they were already having trouble and he resented having this "little girl" assigned to his project. A year later, when she had things moving along properly, our boss pulled her off that project and sent her into another problem area. Which got another call from the project head complaining that he didn't want to lose her, now that she had straightened things out.

But, she did recognize that she had a stereotype problem, and made some efforts to speak in a lower voice pitch.

First impressions are often influenced by stereotypes, and there is even some evidence that stereotyping is just the "fuzzy logic" version of recognizing conditional probabilities associated with the most easily perceived attributes of a person.

So, the real test is what the impression becomes after experiencing the actual performance of specific individuals. If actual accomplishment is not respected, then that is prejudice (and stupid).
 
In the corporation I spent my career with, such a "little girl" comment, not in private confidence, but in a negotiation for personnel reassignment, would have resulted in a verbal correction, possible inclusion on the yearly performance review. Whatever corporation tolerated that kind of behavior is behind the times. Like about 50 years. June 1974 was when I started. First thing they did after the safety briefing was two weeks of multiculturalism.
 
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To be clear, that event was decades ago, and the person making the comment was not a government employee, nor a government contractor. And the comment was made in a one-on-one telephone conversation, so any sort of reprimand was not really feasible.

The best retort was that she did the job and earned the respect of the person who had misjudged here by her appearance. She has done well in her career. I am not so sure that making a big deal over that comment would have been a good thing for her or the project, because it would have been a distraction and left a bad impression on both sides. The boss had confidence in her, and he did not waver on his assignment. He told the complainer to work with her and he would be happy. The only reason we heard about it was that the boss considered the comment to be both improper and way-off in its assessment, and (correctly) figured the complainer was about to learn something about judging engineers based on what they look like.
 
My comments included everything you added. Does not matter how long ago this was. I specified this was the situation since 1974. That was when Title 9 kicked in and every company started getting with the program. In my company, for the last 50 years, if you told another manager that comment over the phone, in the course of negotiating an employee move, you'd be disciplined. It would not occur on the phone call, unless the person was your boss, but when solicitations went out on your birthday for your yearly formal written feedback, to be collated and presented by one's manager, that comment would be thrown back at you and would cost you dearly in your ranking.
And let me add, if you were on the receiving end of that comment and you failed to confront the person at that moment, and word got out, you yourself would be disciplined. No such thing in our company as "turning a blind eye". This confrontation must occur whether private conversation or not. Someone talks to you like that you have to say something to them.
 
Bill, I have been in the workforce just a bit longer than you, so our views of history are probably pretty similar. My experience has been that Title 9 did not magically eliminate prejudicial behaviors - they persisted at slowly diminishing levels, even in government, with some companies doing better and some not nearly as well.

So, my point is that there are still some out there who are prejudiced and act on their prejudices, perhaps in less easily identified and prosecuted manners than before.

But, I also doubt that accounts for the less than 50% female composition of the engineering ranks. Males and females are given equal rights in the U.S., but clearly are not physiologically or psychologically identical creatures. Not even all males or all females are physiologically and psychologically identical to their particular sexual chromosomes.

The point is that each individual should get an equal chance to do what they want to do. Quotas that assume identical aptitudes and desires for all individuals are actually just as discriminatory as assumptions of unequal aptitudes and desires based on non-relevant parameters for the specific tasks.

And, note that I said non-relevant parameters. Obviously, some parameters are relevant for some specific tasks. But, from an engineering job perspective, those are not really correlated with easily observed physical traits such as sex, size, etc, A "big brawny man" is not necessarily going to be a better (or worse) engineer than a "little girl". Same goes for pretty/hansom vs plain/ugly, etc. etc.

Although there seem to be differences in the averages for various attributes for various identifiable groups, the variances within those groups are too large to allow predictions of who is better between 2 individuals from different groups. But, the differences in the averages may well account for different fractionation of the work force in a particular field vs group identities.
 
Yes, of course discrimination did not go away immediately but that has nothing to do with the fact that behavior would result in discipline in my company. And that has been the standard for 50 years. And I am not talking about a private gripe session, those are off the record. I am talking about a business conversation with another employee who you don't know well.

I don't know about government work.
 
Bill, I guess I am mot seeing your point, because you seem to think it conflicts with what I posted.

What I described happened. It was after Title 9 by over a decade. Yes, it some places, it would have become a big deal, and people would have lost things and companies would have lost things with the big legal conflicts that would arise. But, in this case, none of that happened, and none of it was necessary. I just pointed it out because it was a clear display of prejudice that had a clear outcome in the person who displayed it coming to the exact opposite conclusion after some actual experience with the real person. In this particular case, no damage was actually done by either the prejudice or the lack of conflict over it. It was simply over-ruled and the outcome was positive for all participants. The prejudiced person probably learned a better less from this experience than if he had been thrown out of the company and never seen the results.

On the other hand, we have all seen the news stories about discrimination lawsuits. So, other cases occurred too, And some of those lead to serious legal conflicts - well after Title 9 was enacted and training was developed and delivered.

So, I am not disputing that Title 9 prohibits what that person said on the telephone. And you apparently aren't disputing that prohibited things still occurred. Are you implying that all prohibited acts must have been punished if they actually occurred?

I doubt that will ever be the case. Even people who realize that they are being viewed with prejudice usually are smart enough to pick their battles carefully - overcoming where they can without resorting to legal action. And, unfortunately, it appears that not all allegations of discrimination are true - it is sometimes the refuge for people who are really being passed-over or even fired for good reasons. So, raising the issue can be viewed as a negative by people who don't really know the facts one way or the other.
 
There is nothing you say I have any issue with. I speak only about what would have happened in my Fortune 20 company over the last half century. Using the described language in the workplace would result in discipline. I cannot speak for any other workplace.
 
OK. All I am saying is that even with that, it still doesn't provide real evidence that the less than 50% fraction of female engineers in the work force could not have any substantial contribution from discrimination against women in STEM positions. And remember, I am not saying that it does, either. The evidence in either direction seems pretty weak. It is just that activists for various causes keep trying to use it to make their particular cases - which are in conflict with each other.
 
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Jan 7, 2024
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I'm a girl who is studying in a senior high. And it is my dream to study Flight vehicle design and engineering in university. Thanks for this article and these words, which really make me more courageous to chase my dream. ٩(๑•̀ω•́๑)۶
 
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Stellayu, if I understand your emoticon correctly [based on https://www.fastemote.com/raised-in-anger-1 ] , you are frustrated and angry, and apparently Japanese? Are you studying in Japan, or the U.S., or elsewhere? Are people trying to dissuade you from your dreams? In the U.S., it seems strange to read that it takes courage for a woman to work in STEM professions, because there is a lot of promotional activity to get more women into STEM positions in this country. And, I have had the privilege of working with several of them, so I can attest to their ability to perform at the same levels as us male coworkers. I have personally learned a lot of things from female coworkers, and hope I have returned the same, helping them learn what I know. It has been a series of good collaborations. I wish you the same good fortune.
 
Jan 7, 2024
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Stellayu, if I understand your emoticon correctly [based on https://www.fastemote.com/raised-in-anger-1 ] , you are frustrated and angry, and apparently Japanese? Are you studying in Japan, or the U.S., or elsewhere? Are people trying to dissuade you from your dreams? In the U.S., it seems strange to read that it takes courage for a woman to work in STEM professions, because there is a lot of promotional activity to get more women into STEM positions in this country. And, I have had the privilege of working with several of them, so I can attest to their ability to perform at the same levels as us male coworkers. I have personally learned a lot of things from female coworkers, and hope I have returned the same, helping them learn what I know. It has been a series of good collaborations. I wish you the same good fortune.
Hi!Thanks for your reply and wishes. I just thought that this emoji meant cheering up. I'm a Chinese , actually. And it did take courage to make such decision, not only because there are still lots of conventional people thinking girls are less competent in such field, but also because I must get a grade that high enough in the college entrance examination to gain admission to a good college that has this major. However, luckily, I have been working hard to chase my dream with great determination and confidence! There are more and more female scientists in the fields of high technology, both home and abroad, which is really an inspiring thing. This year, in June, I will step into the exam rooms of the college entrance examinations, and I believe I can make it with my determination, diligence and hard work. Thanks again, and wish you all the best! Have a nice day! (●'◡'●)
 
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