MIT Community: #ILookLikeanEngineer

by Nicole Morell on August 12, 2015 · 10 comments

in Engineering, In the News

Isis Wenger was told she didn’t look like an engineer. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but this time it was all over the Internet. After being featured in a recruitment ad for OneLogin, the software engineer faced a barrage of internet comments doubtful of her engineering skills because of her looks.

Wenger isn’t alone.

“I’ve witnessed it many times, both for myself and for others,” says May-Li Khoe ’99, MEng ’00. “Women are mistaken for being much more junior than they are, and are often taken less seriously in many roles and academic fields.”

Tired of people not believing in her abilities because of her appearance, Wenger fought back by launching the hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer. The hashtag is growing increasingly popular as thousands of  engineers posted photos of themselves along with the hashtag to show the diversity that exists in the engineering world. “I felt compelled to respond because I wanted to help make us, women (and other people from underrepresented groups in tech) who are or were engineers, visible–to help overthrow the stereotype,” Khoe says.

MIT quickly joined in on the campaign, showcasing professors Sangeeta Bhatia SM ’93, PhD ’97, Mildred Dresselhaus HM ’86, Daniela Rus, and Paula Hammond ’84, PhD ’93. 

Many MIT students and alumni, including Khoe, tweeted their own photos showcase what engineers in the MIT community look like.

When people expect an engineer to look or act a particular way, usually subconsciously, it creates cognitive dissonance for them to receive the same information or work from somebody who doesn’t. As a result, it’s natural for them to take input less seriously from somebody who doesn’t fit the mold. — May-Li Khoe  ’99, MEng ’00. 

 

I was in the defense industry for four years, and even though I was often the only female in the room and half the age of everyone else, I was always respected and treated well. The “discrimination” really came from outside of the work office. People used to ask me what I do, and I would say that I was a rocket scientist, because I did missile integration and radar algorithm design. Half the time, men thought I was joking and didn’t believe me. The other half of the time, they walked away, because they were too intimidated to talk to me. — Sharmeen Browarek ’07, MEng ’10

 

—MIT Professor Rosalind Picard SM ’86, SCD ’91

I constantly get told that I don’t look like a typical engineer. I first heard about the hashtag when I logged onto Twitter and saw other women who looked like me adding to the hashtag. Although there were plenty of women in Course 6 during my time at MIT, I was still one of the very few black women in the major. So in order to encourage other girls like me to pursue or to continue on the same career path as me, I decided I wanted to participate in the hashtag. — Michelle Johnson ’15

 

Earlier this year, the National Society of Black Engineers established a new vision statement: “We envision a world in which engineering is a mainstream word in homes and communities of color, and all Black students can envision themselves as engineers.” I felt that this masterful Twitter campaign was a vehicle for fulfilling our vision–to literally help change the face of engineering. — Karl Reid ’84, SM ’85, Executive Director, National Society of Black Engineers

 

— Aurelie Jean, postdoctoral associate at MIT

Movements like these are so important.  It’s so motivating to see all the faces of engineering.  You may have a bias towards what an engineer should look like but hopefully these campaigns slowly chip away at that view. — Kimberly Gonzales ’11

 Do you look like an engineer? Tweet using the hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer and tag @MIT_alumni in your photo. 

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan Friot August 12, 2015 at 9:47 am

A perspective I wrote you might find interesting, it was written 10 or more years ago.

THE PRIORITY OF WOMEN
Both sexes, male and female, are required for the propagation of the race. I have yet to find anyone you will disagree with this statement. Since we all agree to the above, please keep it in mind as we proceed. Also most of what I say is my opinion i.e. a result of my thinking and not the result of any scientific study therefore you may totally disregard it without causing me any offence.
The first question I ask is, “Is one sex more important than the other?” When it comes to the propagation of the race there is no doubt that women are much more important than men. To prove my contention I raise the following example, which would propagate better an island with 100 men and one woman, or one with 100 women and one man? We need women more than we need men. On an individual basis a man and a woman are both required, but as men and women the women collectively are the more important for the propagation of the race.
The next question I ask is, “Is this conclusion supported by the design differences between men and women?” To answer this question I would like to bring to your attention several known differences, plus others that are a result of my own analysis.
Under a bell curve of distribution women have a greater sense of sight, hearing, and smell. There is of course the exceptional male with high sensitivity. In the wilds these senses are what give women an earlier warning when trouble is coming. I have been told that these senses are enhanced when a woman is pregnant. This makes prefect sense since they are the more important sex, and when they are more encumbered they would get the warnings even earlier.
There is another area where women have an advantage over men. It is in the use of their brains. To me the human brain is the most powerful tool on earth. I analyze it as having two components. One the emotional fast response section that acts as a differentiator, the other is the intellectual section, which acts as an integrator of data. Girls make greater use of the intellectual part of the brain sooner than boys do. When I was growing up people often said girls mature much sooner than boys. I realize males do catch up but it is usually after puberty. Women are given the use of this more important part of the brain earlier than men because of their importance to the propagation of the race.
I believe that if this perspective were used during the analysis of the data available on men and women it would be helpful.

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harold wilensky August 12, 2015 at 8:11 pm

Isn’t there a female MIT graduate who started a robotics company and was also a Miss Massachusetts [or was at least a contestant]?

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Nicole Morell August 13, 2015 at 11:54 am
Miles Fidelman August 22, 2015 at 9:21 am

The annual IEEE Spectrum “Dream Jobs” issue is always good for this. Latest one: http://spectrum.ieee.org/magazine/2014/February

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Harry Elliott August 22, 2015 at 10:01 am

I find even as an MIT educated engineer I have prejudices and perceived biases, color, gender, country of origin. I have had experiences that reinforce these prejudices, profiling. These impact my initial impression, but so many times the individuals have demonstrated they deserve respect for the skills they brought to the organization. Over 50 years of observation my biases have been impacted.
One big change happened over 40 years ago when I was working for a few days with an MIT educated engineer who did not have a chip on her shoulder that I had observed on female professionals previously. Then the female engineer in Louisiana who said I don’t mind making the coffee as the men make it also.
In the short term, these individuals got my respect but also modified longer term my biases and prejudices.
Public proclamations probably do have a place but the day to day activities have had a larger impact on my perceptions, and prejudices.
Harry Elliott

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Yung Liu August 22, 2015 at 1:10 pm

My 2-yr+old granddaughter loves anything mechanical – she already looks like an engineer.

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Kevin G. Rhoads August 23, 2015 at 12:25 pm
Dr. Stan Blue August 23, 2015 at 9:56 pm

Great post. A related editorial just published at Penn if interested:

http://www.thedp.com/article/2015/08/guest-column-allison-schwartz-progressing-past-the-major-bias

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Robert L. Baber August 24, 2015 at 4:37 am

I was an undergraduate student at MIT in the class of 1958. The only thing I had against Tech Coeds then was that there weren’t enough of them. Tech coeds constituted less than 2% of our class. Since then, in engineering, the only thing I have against women engineers is, again, that there aren’t enough of them.

I got good grades at MIT. The only Tech Coed in a tutorial class with me got better grades.

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Joe Kesselman August 24, 2015 at 6:05 pm

Peggy Seeger’s song remains entirely too true today. We’ve got to fix that.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IGVxBb5uYk

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