Friday, 8 December 2017

Jeanie Malone DECEMBER 6TH, 2017. This time of year is always hard. For engineering students, the last week of school means a lot of things: final projects, all that last-minute homework, pre-finals stress, the Iron Pin Ceremony for our incoming students, and the annual 14 Not Forgotten Memorial Ceremony. 28 years ago, an armed man walked into a room full of engineers at l’École Polytechnique de Montréal, ushered the men out, and proceeded to shoot the women. His motivation, he told the room, was that “you’re women, you’re going to be engineers. You’re all a bunch of feminists. I hate feminists.” By the end of the shooting, he had killed 14 women and injured ten more. In response to this massacre, Canada established December 6th as the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Gendered violence such as this continues to persist in our society, and this tragedy has resounded throughout the engineering profession. For me, this day is a time for reflection. I’m a graduate student now, but I spent many years involved in the EUS and the 14 Not Forgotten Memorial ceremony. At UBC, I check the boxes of lady, leader, and engineer — so I’ve been asked to speak about my thoughts on this day again and again. And although I’ve been happy to provide my thoughts when asked, it is a responsibility that weighs on me. When I have my student leader hat on, I always feel like it’s my duty to be positive. And sure — I can talk about how the culture in engineering has evolved — I mean, we don’t see our current EUS executives hiring strippers and getting them to ride horses down Main Mall these days. There is a genuine difference in the culture within the EUS itself from the time I started my first year to today — and that progress is good. But these days, I don’t think it’s nearly enough. We get caught up in celebrating our growth, to make the profession and the institution look better — and I worry that this attitude is stifling. The truth is, some days being a woman in engineering is work. There’s still a lot of bullshit to wade through. It’s exhausting, and we can do better. Let’s take one Tuesday two weeks ago: I spent my day being told by adult men in leadership positions that I didn’t need to be here. I was told that “diversity is the opposite of equity, we don’t need women on boards” — some misguided attempt to discuss tokenism led to this person repeatedly telling me, a woman on the UBC Board of Governors, that “we don’t need women on boards”. I smiled, nodded, bit my tongue, and asked for sources backing up this “academic” claim — and I’ve yet to have any satisfactory response. Later that same day, an Applied Science dean candidate remarked in an open forum “you know, the problem with diversity in engineering is a pipeline issue… in grade nine, girls stop liking math and start liking boys”. He was, in my eyes, the most qualified candidate we had seen so far, and at the end of the day he was still my second choice in the pool. That is horrifying — but hardly surprising to me. It’s 2017. Why are we still here? Sure — a comment here or there can seem harmless. But it piles up, and sometimes it feels like you’re drowning. Somedays, the work it takes to persist is too much. There are days when I feel like I don’t belong, that I’m working double-time-and-a-half to reach the same levels of success. And I stick at engineering because I care, because I’m good at it, and because one of the things I have worked on is my confidence — but sometimes, it’s just hard. I’M A FAKE. A part of me still genuinely believes I am not as technically inclined as my male classmates. I am always the “manager” or the “secretary” on group projects. I self-select to do less technical work because deep down, I don’t believe I fit here. I only had one work term that was technical — all of my other work terms were “summer camp”. And yet — in the same moment, I know that I graduated with distinction from electrical engineering last year, and am now in a graduate program in biomedical engineering. I know that I’m not stupid, and I know that I have the ability to do technical projects. But I’m still making the pretty powerpoint on group projects and avoiding prototype design — because just because you are aware of it doesn’t mean that impostor syndrome goes away. And that is work I will be doing for the rest of my life. I’M STUCK IN THE MIDDLE. I don’t know if first-year Jeanie would recognize me now. At this point, I’ve adapted to a male-dominated environment and gotten good at it — I have no qualms about confidence in most situations, I can take a joke and control my temper when needed, and I find that I talk more and more to make sure that my thoughts get heard. I’ve tailored the way that I communicate to the environment in engineering, and I see it whenever I’m in a place with gender parity. When I’m in working environments that are predominantly female, I’m thrown for a loop. I find myself cutting others off, listening less, and acting more aggressively. Some days it feels like I’m walking a fine line: when my field feels like it is actively pushing me back, but I no longer fit in more traditionally female dominated places. I’ve worked so hard to get where I am — but what was the cost? I DON’T SEE MYSELF HERE. It frustrates me to no end that some days I am still the only woman in the room. All of the shortlisted candidates for the new Applied Science Dean were white men. None of the current department or program heads are women. Although we have female associate deans and associate heads — that’s it. They are, quite literally, second. I look at my undergrad department of electrical and computer engineering and I can count the women instructors: 6 full faculty members, 1 emeritus professors, 2 sessionals and 1 post-doctoral fellow. This is a department which houses over 1000 undergraduate students, and has nearly 100 instructors. This means that every single one of those women is a role model. When there are so few women, the asks to mentor, to help, to champion diversity — they’re never ending. It’s the extra, side-of-the-desk work that piles on — work that is important and critical, but work nonetheless. I’M TIRED. I’ve gone to industry mixer events and had an alumni trap me in a corner behind a couch and repeatedly (drunkenly) insist I go to some bar with him and his friends. This happened last year, at an event I was running. This is not an unusual occurrence — when I related it to a few of my female friends, the response was “is it really an industry event, if no creepy old alumni hits on you?” And when you think about how this is one of the few exposures that our students get to industry, to engineers in the field, outside of co-op placements — is it any wonder why retention is an issue? There are countless stories in the news about discriminatory and frankly unsafe environments in tech companies — from Google, to Uber, to Academia. It’s not just in tech. The word assault has been smeared across every news outlet this year, and last month you couldn’t move without reading a #metoo story. The President of the United States has proudly admitted to groping women. The national inquiry into Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women has been plagued with resignations, and has all but dropped off the news. Welcome to 2017, where gun violence is on the rise in America, and the 1989 Massacre is dwarfed by the 14,000+ gun deaths (including 323 mass shootings) in the United States this year alone. There is nothing more exhausting than reading, hearing or seeing the dehumanization of people like you. And that is the work I hate the most. So. It’s 2017. 28 years after 14 women were killed for “being feminists”. I’m at the 14 Not Forgotten memorial, holding a white rose like I did the year before, and our Women in Engineering chair is reading out a description of the woman I am laying the rose on the memorial for: Annie St-Arneault. A mechanical engineering student. She was killed the day before her graduation. And I just graduated. And in 1989, my mother was a practicing engineer. And there are a million and one tiny cuts that have irked me this month, this year. And you can call me an angry feminist (don’t I have the right to be?). And you can say I am overinflating issues or being emotional or any other reason to disregard these words, but please — I beg you to consider: is what we have right now enough? Has the world changed that much from 1989? Because today, from where I’m standing — it doesn’t look like it. (And I’m pretty sure I’m one of the luckier ones, counting my privileges.) So today, as individuals, I ask you to take some time. Think about your communities, and think about how gender plays a role — because this isn’t an issue that only impacts engineers. I’m challenging you to think critically, to seek out resources to educate yourself on inclusivity, to identify how you act to certain people, to speak up. Look at who is doing the work, and look for ways to help. As an institution, I ask UBC to step up. We have made progress, but we are far from done our work. Hiring practices, recruitment targets, equity training, cultural shifts, mentorship of young faculty, support of our graduates as they move into careers — they all play into this. I hope we can continue pushing for change. And lastly, I encourage everyone to think outside of the gender box — in engineering, we speak about our gender diversity constantly, but we hardly ever mention other minorities — there is an abysmally small indigenous representation in engineering, for example. When we discuss gender diversity, it often is used interchangeably with “women” — but trans, non-binary, and genderqueer folks experience the extremes of systemic and individual discrimination. It’s 2017. We need to do more. So let’s get to work. Want to learn more about December 6th? You can read more about the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women here. You can learn about resources for women on campus here. You can sign the white ribbon campaign pledging to end violence against women here.