To the Women Working in Male-Dominated Fields

Vulnerability can be a daily hazard for those who identify as a woman in a male-dominated industry. Why? Because we take risks every day showing up as ourselves when the world expects us to constantly talk, act, think, and work like a man, yet still be a kind, good, obedient person who keeps her head down.

Working with men requires vulnerability when… 

  • you have to ask for help.
  • you’re still the only woman in the room (yet the statistics keep saying “it’s all fixed now”). 
  • you ask for time off or set boundaries to your working hours.
  • you have to decide how to take action (or not) when men ignore you.
  • you realize that some men genuinely see you, and you wouldn’t be where you are without them.
  • you choose to say yes quickly to a great opportunity, even when you’re not quite ready.
  • you take said opportunity then think, did I just get taken advantage of? 
  • you allow yourself feel all the hurt, anger, fear, anxiety, embarrassment, disgust, jealousy, and judgment that comes any time you feel vulnerable at work.

For me, I have a double whammy when it comes to working in a male-dominated field. I’m a civil engineer, of which there are about 25% females on average. But I also work in the construction industry, of which there are about 10% females on average.

What’s worse is that these statistics don’t even consider other affected groups: Asian/Asian Indian, Black, Latinx, Native American, and anyone with any form of disability, seen or unseen. The statistics nose dive drastically from there and still severely lack inclusion.

No matter what industry we’re in, women benefit more in the long run from bringing our whole selves to work. Not the scaled down version that confines to “their” rules. We got into our industries for a reason by something deep within propelling us forward–NOT by how many people told us we couldn’t or shouldn’t because we may not fit in.

It took me nearly 10 years into my career to feel that I really belonged in it. And what I’ve learned thus far is this: by focusing more on who I am, it makes what I produce that much richer, more connected, and more sustainable. But that’s a story (or maybe a book?) for a different day.

I wrote this manifesto to remind us that our voice–however WE choose to express it–matters in our line of work. 

I am… Human. I will know that my ability to bring humanity to my job is an asset, not a liability.

I am… Determined. I will take a seat at the table, not on the side. I will get there early enough to take that seat.

I am… Vocal.  I won’t hesitate to raise my hand, when I’m ready. I will speak up when I’m convicted, even if it’s uncomfortable. If I don’t speak up, I will not shame myself. I will decide what “vocal” looks like for me.

I am… Curious. If I don’t know the answer to a technical question, I won’t doubt my ability to learn. I will gracefully respond with “let me get back to you” as I’ve witnessed my male peers do. I will give myself time to find answers and never stop asking questions.

I am… Empowered. I will know that I am tougher than I look, whether society wants to see it or not. I am NOT an imposter. I belong here as long as I choose to stay here.

I am… Balanced. I will listen to my gut, especially with outside commitments. I do not have to go to everything. I will go to happy hours, work trips, and conferences to the extent that I’m able. I will say no if it competes with my overall well-being or sanity based on my family commitments. Saying no does not mean I cannot succeed.

I am… Creative. My ideas and perspectives are worthy of sharing. Only I possess the traits and skills I have, and only I can give myself permission to share when the time is right. My field depends on it to stay on the cutting edge.

I am… Decisive. I will deeply consider the importance of the decisions I make every day, big or small. I will say no when I mean no, and I will say yes when I mean yes. I will do this guilt-free, and I will take the time I need to make the best decision I can, given the time allowed, people involved, and information at hand. 

I am… Resilient. When someone asks me what I do and I say I’m a “fill-in-the-blank” (engineer, lawyer, mechanic, pastor, choir director, pilot, firefighter, architect, farmer, software developer, TV/film camera operator, the list goes on…), I will wait for their “I didn’t expect that” reaction to subside. And if I need to go vent afterwards, I will absolutely give myself permission to do so. 

This is for any woman who’s ever doubted her place, talents, or contributions to a male-dominated field. Writing this is a vulnerable act for me in itself. I wouldn’t have even thought to write this without having gone through my own fears, doubts, and struggles from my experiences working in a field where I often feel less than. It is difficult to even admit I’ve felt this way about a career I enjoy so much.

Still, I implore us to heal our self-inflicted wounds, ignore the silence from those we hoped would support us but don’t, and proudly show more of ourselves every day in the career we chose, the purpose we love.

This essay is brought to you by my womxn’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find us on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out these amazing writers and their perspectives on Vulnerability below:

Being Vulnerable With My Body by Hannah Kewley

Quitting Cold Turkey by Mia Sutton

I Have Been Sick All My Life by Jennifer Brown

Anxiety Hangover by Christine Carpenter

Butterfly Wings by Megan McCoy Dellecese

with love, eunice by Eunice Brownlee

 

Challenging the Relationship between Trust and Fear

When prompted with the subject of trust in my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing, I found myself wondering how fear and trust are related. How the two are intertwined, yet at odds with each other. Turns out after a quick Google search, that many agree: trust and fear are inversely proportional to each other. So, the more fear I have, the less trust I have. And the more trust I have, the less fear I have.

In other words, trust must be far greater than fear to eliminate it. 

Sometimes, I like to go to the Bible when I can’t get my head around words that capture me. Regarding fear, the first verse that popped into my head was this:

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” — 1 John 4:18a

This verse mystifies me. It is simply stated but difficult to practice. On my less confident days, it feels like a standard I’ll never live up to. On my more optimistic days, it feels like an invitation that I can rely on. Fundamentally I believe this verse is a call from God to trust Him with everything in my life. This level of trust has no room for fear to live out the purpose He has placed on my heart—despite rejection, failure, even the fear of silence when I crave specifics. But I also believe it addresses the fear we have in our closest relationships with others, especially in conflict.

When tension arises between me and a loved one, it’s uncomfortable. It often results from one or both of us having some truth within ourselves that we feel we cannot speak aloud. Digging deeper, it seems we fear speaking our truth when there is a lack of trust of how the other will receive it. Our behaviors betray our feelings, resulting in reactions that downright oppose our individual truths.

It can be terrifying to be exposed, seen, and known, unless I have full trust that I will be accepted and loved just the same. Because when I speak my truth without fear, I am actually trusting myself and not relying on the other person’s response. 2020 in particular brought this concept to light for me. How many of us share the same truths across the board on masks, vaccines, AND healthcare response, not to mention the state of the economy and the racial justice movements in our midst? I engaged in more enriching conversations than ever last year by pushing past fears of surface-level acceptance that long held me back.

In essence, I’m learning to accept the risk of an unfavorable outcome. This can range from a simple misunderstanding with quick resolution, to an intense life-changing battle. The paradox is that the bigger the risk, the more I fear what I say and what I do not say in equal measures. If I trust myself, how will my truth land? If I don’t trust myself to speak it aloud, can I survive? What will I sacrifice either way? How does it align with my loved one’s truth?

In the verse, note the phrase “cast out”—which is different from avoiding. To cast out is not to bypass, but to remove it, like a cancerous tumor, before it consumes. How can I access this “perfect love” that holds so much power? The stakes are high when it comes to trusting myself with a spouse, family member, best friend, or lover. At the highest level, I often wonder: is “perfect love” most attainable after surviving one of life’s most gut-wrenching fears—death of a loved one, divorce, trauma, prison, bankruptcy—to find a lesson in love through the worst imaginable pain? Love when fiery anger melts into genuine compassion. Love when it sees past someone’s behavior to their shame and doesn’t turn away, or shame back. Love when it hurts to decide whether to speak or not speak, to stay or leave, to grieve, to forgive.

I won’t fully know what Jesus meant in 1 John 4:18 until my earthly life is over. Until then, I rely on this: I can trust myself. I can trust the pure example of perfect love that I believe Jesus exemplifies. And both levels of trust will help grow my expression of love into a force that banishes fear from existence in my most precious relationships.

This post was inspired by a theme from Illuminate Writing by the editors of The Kindred Voice who share womxn’s powerful stories.

Please check out these amazing writers and their posts on Trust

Trust is Hard to Come By
by Mia Sutton
My Superhero in the Sky by Sarah Hartley
Pattern Making in Parenting by Laci Hoyt
In How We Trust by Liz Russell

Original publication date: August 27, 2020

Stay Hopeful, My Friends

Life’s little moments

Give us hope when all else seems

Fraught with fear, despair

NAVIGATING COVID

Gratitude for my

Shelter, food, health, it’s all here

Hope in quarantine

.

We leave a short note

To say thanks for your service

Hope from frontliners

.

Hilarious prints

Germs contained, and coffee breath

Hope from wearing masks

.

Universal Yums

Snacks to learn of great countries

Hope without travel

MY CIRCLE

She asks with concern

How are you really doing

Hope from a girl friend

.

We have a spa night

Just like old times as a kid

Hope with my Madre

.

We send pics, music

Share our creative outlets

Hope from my cousin

.

He embraces my

Wild ambition, big dreams

Hope with my husband

WORK

We laugh at meetings

Instead of arguing, mad

Hope from contractors

.

They give water to

The homeless on the corner

Hope from laborers

.

We wave at workers

No matter background, job type

Hope with a smile

.

We discuss kindness

While watching traffic fly by

Hope from a flagger

.

He brings me coffee

When we have a busy day

Hope from a colleague

.

GRATITUDE

Warm hands, giant hugs

I’ll have these again one day

Hope is before me

.

Lifelong memories

Of full concerts, planes, gyms, church

Hope is behind me

.

Laughter over Zoom

Strong internet, still have wine

Hope is beside me

.

Sun in December

Bluebird skies, warmed skin, breezes

Hope is around me

.

He promises us

He will overcome the world

Hope is within me

Life’s little moments

Make a difference each day

Stay hopeful, my friends

This message of hope is brought to you by my women’s writing group, Illuminate Writing. You can find more of our work on Instagram @illuminatewriting and @thekindredvoice.

Please check out more messages of hope from these amazing writers below!

hope in the time of 2020. by Eunice Brownlee
Shifting Sands of Hope by Mia Sutton
In It Together by Laci Olivia
Who is your Only Hope? by Amy Rich
The 2020 Storm by Adeola Sheehy
Hope Over Survival by Sarah Hartley
Optimist on Purpose by Megan Dellecese
A Story About a Dog by Jenn Norrell
Both Fragile and Enduring by Danni Brigante

.

.

Your Words are Worthy

Words upon words upon words. From grade school on, women are the classic note takers. Scribbles on sticky notes. Endless to-do lists. College notebooks full of formulas, theories, and literal word-for-word jargon from professors, in hopes it can be deciphered later. Love notes to kids or spouses in lunchboxes. We are the quintessential journal keepers, no matter if it’s once a day or once a year.

Why do we take note of so much? For one, it engages us. It activates our busy minds that run nonstop, even in our sleep. It plants us in the moment and grounds us when nothing else will. The act of writing promises hope that we won’t forget what we feel we need to remember.

Anytime I hear from a fellow woman writer that she doesn’t feel the urge to write, my heart cracks a little. This may be temporary based on the busy day/week/month ensuing, where she’s likely busy taking care of everyone else around her. My suspicion is that deep down, she silently feels her words aren’t worthy. And this makes the crack in my heart even wider, because I am so inspired by the words of other women. It is the very thing that has emboldened and empowered me on my own journey. I can’t stop reading others’ thoughts of desperation and moments of hope that this fragile, historic year has brought.

This is a pep talk I give myself that you can borrow in whole or in part anytime you need: Do not ever let someone poison you, with either a glance or a litany, on whether or not you’re worthy to create. You are the only one that gets to decide that. Let failure be a teacher and a gift once the pain subsides. When you’re ready, have the guts to face your weak areas instead of avoiding them. The lessons of growth when you go through the fire are always, always worth it. You have more grit than you give yourself credit for, so start digging in to get you where you want to go.

Whether you write 50 or 50,000 words, every syllable matters. Let those words of yours, faintly simmering below, start to bubble up and out. It counts if it’s privately in a journal or publicly released to the world. If you needed this reminder, I hope it’s coming to you at the right time.

Today, tomorrow, next month, or next year–there is no deadline on the worthiness of your words.

This post was taken from a bit of the first draft of my memoir as a woman engineer. I started this project on a whim when I learned of NaNoWriMo two weeks before it launched on November 1, 2020. I got to 40,000 words, and I have no idea if I will ever finish and publish it. What propelled me to write was this: “Will there ever be another time in my life where I can dedicate a whole month to writing?” And I didn’t want to wait to find out.

All I know right now is that I have stories of mine to tell. Writing is the therapy I need right now to re-imagine, process, and let go.

PS, the Unpublished Podcast by Amie McNee has been one of many inspirations to my writing journey this year. I encourage you to check it out if you need a boost of encouragement, wherever you are in your creative writing journey right now. As Amie often says, only you can write what you can write, no one else can.

Two Pens, Two Purposes: An Engineer Writes Fiction

This is a storied timeline of two pens, two purposes. One pen writes reports and calculations on a construction site. The other writes articles and pitches as a freelancer. One story is fiction; one is fictionalized but mostly true. Both individuals are working (or attempting to) in the pandemic. Apparently, both hate the morning alarm but love long walks and Spotify.

The Engineer.

5:30am – That damn alarm. 1 snooze and I’ll get up. The sun peeking through our window tells me I won’t need my jacket today (phew).

6:30am – Just finished my morning quiet time. Meditation on my Calm app and some prayer/silence. Total bliss—wish I consistently did this.

7:30am – Smoothies and coffee are made, and I’m headed out the door. Wait: forgot my lunch, and takeout options are still slim. Say goodbye to the fam for the second time, and off I go.

8:30am – The #coronatraffic is definitely picking up—need to start leaving earlier. I pull up to the jobsite and finish my morning check-in with the superintendent.

9:30am – I’m in the office trailer–a bland shade of beige. It’s stayed very clean since I constantly imagine COVID germs lurking about. I fire up the generator so I can get internet and power and start catching up on emails.

10:30am – Concrete pour for an inlet base, where I spot check measurements on the rebar and forms. Weirdly, fresh concrete is one of my favorite smells. It signifies something new is being built that will last a long time. 

11:30am – Lunch by myself in the trailer. It’s quieter now that my inspector was reassigned to another project last month, due to budget issues. If I had a nickel for every time I thought, thanks COVID…

12:30pm – Daily check-in call with my client. We discuss the schedule slipping *sigh*. Our Indian summer weather is holding out for now, so we can finish paving and stand up some signal poles this month before the snow hits.

1:30pm – I add a couple things to my Lessons Learned report. I’ve recently made this a habit: writing down things our team could improve, or wish we’d known, before the next job starts.

2:30pm – Out for another site walk and think: Well, this is new. About 10 Xfinity trucks are here, with manhole lids popped off everywhere. I talk to their supervisor. Turns out, even after the 2 months my team spent notifying companies of a duct bank we needed to relocate for our new inlet, they didn’t get the memo. Sorry to whoever was cut off from the world for 4 days – is it even possible to go that long without TV or internet right now??

3:30pm – Writing my Daily Diary, where I’m always thinking: be objective, thorough, concise. Sometimes I feel more like a lawyer than an engineer when I write these.

4:30pm – Midway through my commute home with my favorite passenger, Spotify. Today we’re listening to The Confessional and Unlocking Us at 1.5X speed. I set the cruise control and enjoy.

5:30pm – Dog walk with my boys. We walk up the hill to take in a view that never gets old: watching a soft coral sunset turn to indigo over the hazy foothills.

6:30pm – Finally getting this at-home workout routine down. Ingredients: 30 minutes, a 20 lb kettlebell, “Mood Booster” on Spotify, and my $10 Amazon poster with umpteen exercises to choose from.

7:30pm – Takeout Thursday! Tonight, we go local and get a Matador pizza with salads. Jalapenos, cream cheese, chorizo, red sauce—yep, gang’s all here.

8:30pm – Quick journal entry. I used to be a morning journaler, but I’ve grown to like the end-of-day reflections. Even if they’re scattered, tired, flat. More realistic and strangely calming.

9:30pm – Spent. I’m catching up on Nashville and forgot how much I love the music. Even though I gave up country music years ago. I snooze on the couch for 20 minutes before my husband coaxes me to bed (my big bad habit is here to stay).

The Writer.

7:30am – OK, OK, I’m up. 5 snoozes later meant 45 minutes in iPhone land. Oops. Why hasn’t Apple figured out a way to give us custom snooze options yet?

8:30am – It’s a hair wash day. Ugh. One nice thing about the pandemic: I’m down to once a week. Grab a souvenir coffee mug and think, where should I travel to today? Hawaii or… Hawaii? I listen to the Unpublished podcast at 1.5X speed.

9:30am – That blank cursor feeling is legit. But it’s because I have so.many.stories brewing at once. Gonna take some effort to get them out, both connected and flowing.

10:30am – I looove my home office. My velvet Cleopatra chair sits in the corner, inviting me in for a read or a write when that desk gets old. But, I miss traveling. 

11:30am – Squirrel! Started looking for photos for an article, then scrolled for a half hour before I caught myself. Now I really miss traveling. And the theatre. And squeezing my face into group pics.

12:30pm – Hunger calls: tacos for lunch. Mmm. Have I ever met anyone that doesn’t love tacos? Have I discovered the one thing all Americans can agree on, besides Dolly Parton?

1:30pm – Ever spend an hour on thesaurus.com for one word? Yep. I just did. #enneagram1blues

2:30pm – I attend a Writer’s Digest OnDemand Webinar called, “8 Things First-Time Novelists Need to Avoid”. Great tips, if I ever get to this phase of my writing career. Just completely in the dark on a concept or theme right now *sigh*.

3:30pm – The fairy dust fueling today’s inspiration has worn off. My partner has been on a conference call, on speaker phone, for the last two hours in the living room. Time for a walk….

4:30pm – My last hour to meet client deadlines and rally my self-imposed hustle. Refueling with Diet Coke. C’mon, words.

5:30pm – One more hour… #ThisGirlIsOnFire… I click Submit, Send, and Save Draft on three pieces I fought hard for today. 

6:30pm – Time for our nightly beach walk. So glad we indulged our pipe dream and moved to the coast last year. Footprints in the sand never get old. Ever. 

7:30pm – Grocery store run. Feels like I’m in some bent universe when I leave my 2D imagination and enter 3D life with real trees and cars. Did I really just hunker down for two days pouring myself out on paper, or did I dream it?

8:30pm – We rally and whip up some Chicken Marsala and mashed potatoes for dinner. Add a little heavy cream to the sauce and a LOT of butter to the potatoes. A cold glass of Pinot Grigio gives us a sweet finishing touch to the meal.

9:30pm – Just cracked open my new journal for a quick brain dump. It starts with the quote: “Okay fine, I’m grateful!” Appropriate. I spend a few minutes writing and a lot of time doodling quotes or scriptures on my mind.

10:30pm – Kindle calls tonight instead of Netflix. I should not read “Welcome to the United States of Anxiety” before bed. But it’s teaching me all about the evolution of avocado toast, and I’m here for the entertainment.

2:30am – I slowly wake, and my mind is abuzz. Think I’ll work on that haiku series I dreamt of this week. Who knows if it’s publishable, but it demands to get out now. Sleep, I’ll see you when I see you.

Photo location: Seattle, WA. Ocean on the left, mountains on the right, symbolically bridging my two worlds.

Read more about an Examination of Life this month from the amazing women at Illuminate, a product of The Kindred Voice:

A Day in My Life by Laci Olivia

An Ideal vs Actual Day in the Life by Ashleigh Bowling

What Makes a Life? by Amy Rich

A Real (and Imagined) Examination of Life by Sarah Hartley

The Things We Carry by Jenn Norrell

An Examination of Life by Danni Brigante

life itself. by Eunice Brownlee

Thoughts on Craving More from My Life

When I read the word “hunger” (a prompt from my women’s writing group, Illuminate), it dawned on me. I am perpetually in a state of hunger. Hunger to succeed in anything I pursue. Hunger to improve as much as I can. Hunger to love better – myself and others – every day. It’s insatiable. While I’m enjoying the ride, I often want finality to this hunger, to arrive at some sort of destination of fulfillment (that’s the engineer in me, but I digress).

But, it’s a catch-22. If I have less hunger, will that make me complacent? If I have more hunger, will that make me greedy? If I maintain my appetite, have I simply arrived at acceptance… or just the illusion of it?

Hunger encapsulates so many things for me. Physical hunger (craving). Financial hunger (success). Emotional hunger (love). Spiritual hunger (soul). Mental hunger (education). Relational hunger (community). An endless menu of desires to satisfy.

Taking them in all at once, with the pandemic as the cherry on top, I can honestly say my hunger in all states has intensified, subsided, ratcheted WAY up, crashed WAY down, and everything in between. When I originally considered this word, it was 8:30am on a Saturday, and I was uncharacteristically starving for a big breakfast (I calmed down and settled for yogurt and berries). Finances seem somewhat stable for once, since many big purchases have simplified–a wedding gift, clothing splurge, or airplane ticket feel far away from my current reality. Emotionally, I’m begrudgingly getting to spend lots of time with all of my #coronacoaster feelings (feelings aren’t my favorite, but I’m less and less resistant). Spiritual hunger is always there–what did Jesus say again: show love to everyone, especially (not except) those who are different, difficult, and/or despondent? Chasing new things that expand my mind is second nature to me, and this season, I’ve become a lifelong anti-racism student.

My reflection on relational hunger surprised me. Intermittently in the pandemic, I’ve had vivid dreams with faceless people where I’m searching for some sort of undefinable connection that won’t manifest. It feels barely within reach before I wake up. I would be remiss if I didn’t attribute at least some of that to the lack of human connection due to social distancing and face masks. Where hugs feel slightly dangerous. Where handshakes feel inappropriate. Where happy hours feel unclean.

Will I ever not have hunger? I hope not. I can control my appetite, but only for so long. And I know I won’t ever “arrive” at an even-keeled state of maintenance, as much as my achiever side wants to. An internal and/or external force can whack that out of balance at any moment.

We are evolving creatures meant to hunger. For to hunger means to be alive, still wanting, still searching. Destination or not, I absolutely want in on craving more, so I can keep soaking up all that I can in this one glorious life.

Follow #illuminatewriting on Instagram for more inspired writing.