Two weeks ago, Isis Wenger took the social media world by storm and coined the term “#ILookLikeAnEngineer” in a Twitter post challenging sexist and discriminating comments she faced in the workplace. Since then, there have been thousands of posts supporting the cause, created by men, women, engineers, and other professionals.
As a female engineer, it’s exciting to see the tremendous amount of support that people are starting to provide toward this cause. I’ve always been passionate about being a technical woman, and have made it a goal to ensure that young females interested in engineering receive the support that they need to help them be successful.
But amongst all of the support that has been generated, there has been some confusion about what it means to be an “engineer”. Across the Web and even in the workplace, I have heard and seen many people state that some individuals who have claimed to be engineers aren’t actually engineers. For example, a group of female engineers at Axcient gathered to take a photo supporting #ILookLikeAnEngineer. To my surprise, the photo was met with claims that not all of the women pictured were engineers. This instance, along with other instances I have witnessed online, have led me to wonder – what does it really mean to be an engineer?
To many people, the term “engineering” refers to those who apply math, science, and technology to complete tasks in their professional life. For example, this might include writing code to develop computer programs, or mixing chemicals to create the next breakthrough in medicine. But to me, there is much more that goes into being an engineer than simply a job title and knowledge of STEM concepts.
Although I come from a technical background and was trained in engineering throughout my college career, I believe the main reason I am an engineer is because everyday, I set out with the intention to solve the problems that my colleagues and our customers are experiencing to make their lives easier. I may not have a job title that explicitly says I’m an engineer at Axcient, but I am certainly applying engineering principles like critical thinking and creative problem solving to the work I am doing on a daily basis.
Being an engineer simply means that you are actively building and creating solutions for the everyday problems that people face. Although in most cases, this does involve the application of science, technology, or math, none of these elements are the main ingredient in the recipe for solving real world issues. They are useless without ingenuity, or the ability to imagine and implement creative solutions. Ingenuity is what allows humans to solve the world’s most challenging problems – without it, we would be stuck living in the status quo, trying without luck to solve problems with the same, unsuccessful solutions.
When we look at the true meaning behind #ILookLikeAnEngineer, it is meant to discourage the idea that all engineers fit into some kind of cookie cutter stereotype. It’s a statement that tells us that anyone can be an engineer – without regard for one’s appearance, cultural background, education, training, or job title. As long as you’re trying to solve problems and better the lives of others, you are practicing the principles of engineering and your ideas should be welcomed.
The intent of #ILookLikeAnEngineer is to provide a safe and welcoming place for innovation to thrive, but questioning the identity of those who claim to be engineers does the opposite. It causes us fall into the very cycle of discrimination and judgment that we are trying to combat.
Although allowing everyone with an innovative idea to call him or herself an engineer might subtract from the prestige of the title, I believe that there are bigger problems in the world that need to be solved. If we all have the same goal of solving real world problems, does it matter whether the person that came up with the idea was an engineer or not? Instead of making judgments about people and worrying about job titles, let’s each do our part in creating a community where all are welcomed to contribute and the true values of engineering are upheld.
At Axcient, I am grateful to be surrounded by people who truly believe in these principles – innovation, creativity, and community. My experience as a female engineer has been nurturing, yet competitive, so that I am held to the same standard as other members of our company. I am excited to see how #ILookLikeAnEngineer will inspire change for all women to have the same kind of positive experience in the workplace.