In college none of my roommates or friends were engineers, and most of my extra time went to being involved in a sorority and the various extracurricular social actives that went along with that. Whenever I told someone that my major was civil engineering it was always the same reaction. What? You? You don’t look like an engineer. They meant it as a compliment. As in, you are too social and outgoing to be an engineer.
At the time I took it as a compliment, but now see it differently. We need our so-called introverted, geeky engineers (I’m proud of my introverted, “geeky” sides!), and we also need our extroverted and not-so-geeky engineers. Many of us engineers embody different ends of these spectrums in different ways. In my experience, having varied perspectives matters and can mean the difference between an ok solution and a great solution, or an ok team and a great team.
The “engineers-are-geeks” stereotype puts engineers in a box and hurts the industry as a whole. In this Ted Talk (http://ilooklikeacivilengineer.com/resource/are-engineers-human) Patricia Galloway, a civil engineer and a champion for girls in engineering, discusses a research study she was involved in that asked 3,000 young girls why they were not interested in pursuing engineering. According to Ms. Galloway their number 1 response was “oh my gosh do I look like a geek?”, and their number 2 response was “I want a job that helps people”. The answers both imply that engineers are disconnected from people.
In reality civil engineers are responsible for managing large and complex projects, they help build teams and companies, and they frequently are responsible for presenting projects and ideas to the public that we serve. Many of the most prominent roles in civil engineering require skills typically associated more with business and social science degrees than with engineering.
The civil engineers I’ve gotten the chance to know in 11 years in the industry live rich and full lives, have a myriad of different perspectives, and a wide variety of passions and lifestyles. You can read about civil engineers on the I Look Like a Civil Engineer Stories page (http://ilooklikeacivilengineer.com/stories/) and see for yourself. Or just take a look at the bios of some of our Twitter followers who are civil engineers (http://ilooklikeacivilengineer.com/proof-civil-engineers-are-creative-twitter-bios).
Civil engineering is challenging and allows for continued growth and endless possible career paths. We make a good and stable living, get the added satisfaction of seeing the tangible results of our work, and get to directly impact people’s lives and improve our society.
We may embody some of the stereotypes as a whole, or else the stereotype might not exist. But how much does the stereotype enforce the trend? How much do the stereotypes around engineering keep us from attracting the social diversity that both industry and the public could benefit from?
We need to start thinking of civil engineers as being the diverse group that they already are if we want to attract more diversity into the field. Civil engineers can do a lot to change the misperceptions about them by sharing their stories.
If you’re currently a civil engineer, or if your career in civil engineering was a starting point for something else, share your story at http://ilooklikeacivilengineer.com/stories.