Stereotype Reminders

I spent Tuesday this week at my alma mater doing some recent graduate recruiting for work.  Unfortunately, it also ended up being a reminder that gender stereotypes continue to exist- even with those in college today.

The career fair lasted for 5 hours and I was talking to people non-stop.  I would guess I talked to about 75 eager job hunters.  Three people out of those seventy five assumed that I was an HR person.  They were somewhat suprised when I responded that I had graduated with a degree in electrical and computer engineering from this very school and had a very technical job at work as an engineer.

Now I’ve never been a man.  But I would venture to guess one of students approaching a guy standing in front of a technology company booth at a career fair  would not immediately assume he was with HR.  I can hope that the other 72 people I talked to thought of me as an engineer and did not immediately categorize me as probably being with HR.  But I’m really concerned that here in 2010, where women have been pushing to break down those stereotypes for over 60 years, 4% of the engineering population at a very established, highly regarded school, still verbalized the stereotype.

In fact, just last week we had a senior women’s lunch at work.  I was chatting with the most senior technical person in my division.  She mentionned that a few weeks prior she was doing interviews for an open position.  She walked into the interview room and the young man vying for the position said “hi, nice to meet you, this must be the HR interview”.  She nicely put him in his place and replied with “no this is a harder technical interview than your last one with the most senior developer on the team”. 

Just typing this takes me back to one more story.  A few years back I won a very presitigious achievement award at my company.  There were just over one hundred winners from around the company.  They flew us and our spouses to San Diego for the weekend to accept the award and party with management.  As my husband and I mingled, person after person walked up and congratulated him.  Each time he would smile and say, “no I’m just the husband, Allison won the award”.  Needless to say, there were a lot of red faces and “sorrys”.

Sometimes when I hear all the push about increasing diveristy and breaking down stereotypes I start to wonder if there is too much hype.  Maybe we’ve been talking about this all for too long.  Maybe women have gained enough of a footing in the technical space that we don’t need to keep pushing the equality.  Then I have an experience like this week and it reminds me- there has been progress, but there is still a way to go.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I can so totally relate. More so being from India.
    As much as I am proud of my achievements on making to study for an advanced degree in Engineering in the US from India on a scholarship, on my own, when I am with my husband, I am somehow automatically perceived as a ‘wife’ who has just followed her husband to the US from India. It bugs me to no end.
    Like HR, in India people automatically assume you are in ‘IT’ or ‘software’, they dont even understand what Hardware is and dont know that real engineers do things other than churning out application code for the fortune 500 companies.

    Reply

  2. Posted by magoodma on February 12, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Good point, I can imagine that other cultures have similar stereotypes to various degrees. I would think that the US is probably one of the better countries for gender equality.

    Reply

  3. Posted by Deb on February 12, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    I was just recruiting at University of Illinois this past week and had a similar experience. I was talking to a young man interested in an engineering job and he kept looking around at the other recruiters at our booth while we talked. So I asked him if there was someone he was looking for in particular and he said, “yeah, I would like to talk to one of the technical recruiters”. yeah, the stereotypes still exist but it seems to me that by now we should at least be beyond assuming the stereotype – he could have politely asked what I do rather than just assume I was not technical. Common sense, anyone??

    Reply

  4. I’ve experienced it myself and I always try to make talk myself into not believing it’s due to a stereotype. I say to myself, maybe the last few booths they went to had HR recruiters or something but the truth of the matter is that people do have these stereotypes and denying them won’t make them go away. People shouldn’t make assumptions but the hardest thing to change is someones mind… I think speaking in schools, recruiting and participating in engineering organizations help to break down theses stereotypes because they get to see someone that doesn’t fit the mold that they see on tv and read about in books.

    Reply

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