Wednesday, October 26, 2016

You Don't Look Like An Engineer

I've heard it a million times - "You Don't Look Like An Engineer". 

I was reminded of the assumptions that I and others have made when I read the recent article in the paper about the airline incident with a passenger in distress . The flight attendant didn't believe the female ob/gyn was a doctor and wouldn't allow her to help. 

Here are some bias examples in my own life that came to mind as a result - 

I am thrilled when new people try my yoga class and even more excited when I see them return. I try to tell everyone to stay open to the poses and do the best they can with each one, modifying it to fit their needs. It seems like the men are usually the stronger ones and the women are usually the ones with more flexibility - but it isn't always true. I try to stay open to the possibilities and work with clients equally on everything. Many people assume that because they aren't flexible they can't do yoga so they don't come to class. I let them know that is why they should come - and they actually give it a try.

Many years ago when I was a supervising engineer, one of my employees (a male) invited me to an awards banquet for the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE). My husband was also invited to attend with me. When my employee told a board member he wanted to introduce her to his boss, the board member reached out a hand to shake my husband's. She was surprised to find out I was actually the boss.

When we were examining software programs for our engineering department, we invited sales representatives to present their program solutions to us. I recall one salesman speaking with my employee (a male) and me in a small conference room. The entire time he was focused on the employee and rarely turned his head in my direction. When he finished his presentation he asked my employee if he had any questions or could provide any other information to help with our decision. My employee said, his boss would have to answer that and turned toward me. That salesperson was quite surprised to realize he had assumed the man was the boss. (We just gave our names when we were introduced - not our positions).

It happens all the time - in so many circumstances. We are all guilty of making assumptions and acting on them. The more we experience diversity the less unusual it will be and the more open to possibilities we will become. I believe it will continue to improve with time. 

What's your assumption story?

Keep your eyes open for my new book next year - "You Don't Look Like an Engineer - Busting Assumptions that Hold Us Back".