2018 Women in Engineering Empowerment Essay – Justine Munich

People in a majority group often ask and expect minorities to do most of the work in relating their experience and how it can be improved. By the very power dynamic making these folks a minority, however, the biggest capacity for change rests in the hands of the majority. As such, if I may, I will aim this essay at cisgender men in engineering. Given that audience, I wish to make the assertion that the majority of change can come from two shifts: a self-reflection, and a surrender of authority.
It is useful to start by exploring your own conceptions of who is a woman. Are trans women welcome in this initiative? Are nonbinary folx? How about women of colour, or immigrant women? Women with disabilities? It’s normal to experience frustration when faced with these sorts of questions, to think “but I’m already working towards gender equality, isn’t that enough without having to also tackle systemic racism as well,” or “I just don’t have energy for this”. This feeling of frustration can manifest as defensiveness and is natural. It means you’re addressing a deep-seated bias; one of the truly core causes of inequality. Half of the battle happens internally; your mindset must change as well as your actions for true, lasting developments to take place. Working through these defensive reactions and practicing the thought patterns that you wish to have can result in more inclusive habits.

Outside of self-reflection, the biggest single thing that can be done to foster minorities’ presence in any field is simple: give up power if you are not a minority. This can take a myriad of forms, and a quick online search is enough to reveal an overwhelming amount of advice on how to practice this. But the ultimate question is this: do you, a man in a male-dominated field, feel as if you’ve truly given over some power and authority to a woman? Or did you simply create a new position for her, a new position of authority in which she doesn’t ever encroach on your authority? The latter is tokenizing; making a woman the head of a committee is not helpful if you only ever make her head of the committee responsible for diversity that did not exist prior to making her its head.

The next question to ask yourself is if you are comfortable with giving the reins of authority to a woman. If she makes a decision you would not have, and her decision causes a problem or failure, would your reaction be to think, even for just a moment to yourself, that women can’t lead? Or would you be able to appreciate that beginners always make mistakes, regardless of their gender? That your initial instinct to turn this instance into a generalized belief about a whole gender is normal but discriminatory?

Change is uncomfortable; if it is not, then you’re not doing enough. The real question what you value more: your own comfort at the cost of others’, or equity and diversity in all fields?