Tips for Men on how to be Allies to Women in Engineering

This is a blog post myself and Rachel Tenney wrote for the Graduate Society of Women  Engineers blog. Check out the original post here.

Engineering is a male dominated field. There’s really no dispute about that. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, just 15.9% of employed engineering and architectural professionals are women. SWE and GradSWE are open to people of all genders – this includes men. Men, being in the majority, can play arguably an extremely important role in making engineering a discipline which is inclusive, welcoming, and celebrating of women and other underrepresented genders. Today, nearly 50% of women in engineering will experience sexual harassment by male peers – it will take male allies to bring this number to 0%.

White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, published by Peggy McIntosh in 1989, was written to assist white individuals to identify the ways in which being white gives them often invisible advantages in many areas of their daily life. As a white person, reading this piece was deeply influential in shaping my own ever-evolving understanding of my own power, privilege, and role in society. Unpacking privilege can be a critical first step in fostering active allyship.

In the decades that have followed there have been writings on other forms of privilege such as heterosexual privilege, able-bodied privilege, and male privilege which is the subject of this article. The North American Students of Cooperation put together a resource titled the “Male Privilege Checklist” which outlines some invisible ways that men can be privileged in their daily and gives tips for allyship. There are 27 in this resource – it is absolutely worth a read and a download! We seek to adapt this resource for our male peers inside and outside of SWE:

 

What are some of the daily examples of male privilege that might be experienced in engineering/?

 

  • The odds of being hired for a job, when competing against non-male identified applicants, are probably skewed in my favor.
  • If I fail in my job or career, I can feel certain this won’t be seen as an indicator of my entire gender’s capabilities.
  • The odds of me encountering sexual harassment on the job are very low.
  • If I have children and pursue a career, no one will think I’m selfish for not staying at home with them.
  • I can be somewhat sure that if I ask to talk to “the person in charge,” I will face another male. The higher up in the organization the person is, the surer I can be.
  • My ability to make important decisions and my professional capability in general will not be questioned regardless of what time of the month it is.
  • The decision to hire me will not be based on assumptions about whether or not I may choose to have children sometime soon.
  • I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.

 

Being aware that these are true for men in engineering, who make up almost 86% of working professionals, is an important concept for male allies of women in engineering to acknowledge as they progress through graduate education and prepare for the workforce whether they are entering academia or industry.

 

A critique of such a “privilege checklist” can be summed up as, “now what?” What can be done? Do we just acknowledge these privileges and then move on? The North American Students of Cooperation also created an informative and useful resource called the “Allyship Packet” which discusses how folks of dominant identities can all be allies as white people, men, normative-gender individuals, Christian individuals, and straight-identified people. This is an amazing read for all, even other women in engineering, since we all will need to act as allies to each other in various circumstances. We all have many identities in our lives. Consider checking this out and downloading it as well – it will be a great resource as we strive to be inclusive and welcoming in engineering!

As a male ally, I can…

  • Demonstrate knowledge and awareness of the issues of gender oppression.
    • This can include being aware of male privilege, and issues facing women in engineering.
  • Be present at meetings to make sure male privilege and gender oppression are part of the discussion.
    • If women are being spoken over, questioned in their ability, having projects taken away from them, or experience sexual harassment, I make it a part of professional dialogue.
  • Be willing and able to call other men out on their actions, words, and issues.
    • It is important to realize that being an ally includes conversations that are man-to-man.
  • Raise issues about gender oppression over and over, both in public and in private.
    • I am becoming an advocate and reading resources / news from SWE and GradSWE!
  • Accept and encourage leadership from non-male identified people.
    • When leadership positions or projects become available, consider recommending your women (and other non-male) colleagues for the position.
  • Understand that non-male identified people often have valid experiences that cause them to feel distrustful of, wary of, or angry at men. I do not take it as a personal attack. Nor do I try to make them feel guilty for feeling these things about men. I remember that “its not all about me.”
    • None of this is an attack, and you are not a bad person by default. This is just daily life that many women want to bring awareness to and discuss.
  • Continually educate myself and others about gender oppression.
    • Being an ally – regardless of the group – is a lifelong process. It requires all of us to be dedicated. This includes male allyship in engineering!
  • Model positive behavior for my friends and other men by setting an example.
    • Leading by example is how I engage in healthy and exemplary masculinity.

We hope this helps and can serve as a resource for others. We are all in this – together!

 

Author: Andrea Haverkamp

Andrea Haverkamp is a doctoral candidate in environmental engineering with a minor in queer studies. Her dissertation research explores the support systems and community resiliency of transgender and gender nonconforming undergraduate students in undergraduate engineering education.

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