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

 

What It Means to Stay In My Lane

How much do you pay attention to the lane striping on a roadway? Unfortunately for me, I critique notice it a LOT from working in the transportation industry as a field engineer.

Double yellow, that’s easy: don’t cross into oncoming traffic. Dashed white, also called skips: lane changes are allowed. But I mean the finer details. Like when you’re merging onto an interstate, but there’s a long solid white line that slooowly turns into white skips. Ooh, gray area. I bet at least 90% of us cross that solid line before the skips. I can neither confirm nor deny my choice, given where I’m going and how heavy traffic is. These areas are tricky because the lane next to it looks open. So, can’t I sneak on over and be on my way?

The lane lines serve as boundaries of what we can and cannot cross. We don’t own the roadway, of course (as much as we’d like to, some days). And the more I studied “striping” as we call it in the engineering field, the more I began connecting this concept to everyday life. I’ve also studied quite a bit on boundaries in my personal growth, as the notion of it was completely foreign to me until a few years ago. Back then, aside from some obvious ethical boundaries like don’t cheat, I had very few personal boundaries.

I thought saying yes to everything and everyone was both encouraged and expected. “Be a hand raiser!” “Don’t miss a good opportunity!” “Fake it till you make it!” were the mantras told to us as young college students ready to change the world. Seldom were the phrases, “But do what’s best for you” or “But take the time you need to decide what opportunities fit you” added on to remind us to stay balanced. The main message was: get the degree as fast as possible to start making as much money as possible, and the rest will fall into place. An engineering fairy tale at its finest.

I’ve learned that boundaries give us language to say what works and what doesn’t for us, both in life and at work. I think this is really tough for women in engineering to do consistently, because we naturally want to help people out. Sometimes we put up a white solid line (do not cross temporarily) but find that someone urges us to change it to white skips (passing lane, come on in). Like when a manager moves up a deadline when we just admitted (or wanted to admit) we were burnt out and need a short break. Sometimes we put up a double yellow that gets completely ignored, like when we told our significant other that we need to reschedule dinner with the folks, but they forgot and now “we can’t let them down”.

Boundaries are tough, because often others can see our lines, plain as day, yet decide to cross over anyway. The reverse can be true from us to others as well. It takes commitment, strength, and love for ourselves to not only discover our boundaries, but also to hold them, especially with outside pressure.

One thing that took me a while to understand about boundaries is that love and kindness can break boundaries. My rule follower intuitions are so ingrained that default to seeing boundaries in black and white (or, yellow and white, if you’ve stuck with my roadway metaphor this long). We can set our hard lines, but we can choose to open them up and allow them to be crossed over, too. This choice comes from the desire to preserve our most precious relationships and partnerships.

The other thing I learned about boundaries is that it’s more important that I stay in my lane rather than peek over at someone else’s. It’s easy to do this on a road when cars are traveling so quickly; save for stoplights, there’s little time to really check out what the other person is doing. We can try, but a few seconds in, and we’re easily distracted away from our own destination that day. We can easily miss the green light on our side if we’re too focused on someone else’s green.

My own boundary lines help define my perspective of my life. I can choose how much to invest in a friend or coworker who may be temporarily struggling. I can pull over safely near their lane and help support them, but I don’t have to be “in” their lane, problem solving for them and taking over their car. They can get to their final destination better with me as a passenger, not the driver. Boundaries help me stay detached.

Maybe the next time you’re on the road, the road striping will take on a new meaning and new perspective for you. Maybe you’ll wait to merge before the white-lined gore on an off-ramp. Or if someone sneaks over the white line in front of you when they could’ve waited, you’ll smile and think of love and kindness. But if you honk, that’s OK too, since boundaries are all about owning our power and choosing what works for us.

My Word for 2021: Heal

I wasn’t planning to have a “word” this year. I only learned of the practice a few years ago, and I’ve picked maybe one or two annual words since then. It’s typically hard for me to land on just one thing. I don’t want to be disappointed if this one thing, one thought, one feeling doesn’t come through for me. Also, my FOMO kicks in and says, but don’t forget about X, Y, and Z.

Anyway. I just got a couple’s pedicure with my husband, and “heal” came to mind. I loved the symbolism. Heel on feet reminds me of self-care that’s been a large part of my healing, even if I sometimes question if I’m doing it “right”. Heal: something I’ve been trying to do for over a decade now to actually feel closure from past traumas. As I pondered “heal” in the quiet of the spa room, with music gently playing and essential oils lightly diffusing, it resonated deeply.

Trigger warning: I want to heal from childhood traumas that play out internally for me on a daily basis. My dad was an abusive alcoholic who moved away when I was 13 and passed away in a car accident when I was 16.

To shift gears to a less triggering place, I know that everyone has traumas. The more I see my own trauma without judgment, the more I can face it. Some form of childhood trauma affects all of us: not getting picked for a team, the humanity of parents, falling down when we’re sure we can stand up, etc.

I’ve seen 3 therapists since college. One smiled and nodded after I shared my story, then handed me a pamphlet that said, “What it means to grow up in a dysfunctional family.” I experienced a mini trauma from this because no one in my family had used those words before. But deep in the recesses of my mind, it slowly awoke a new awareness.

I described this experience a few years later to the next therapist, and to my relief, she said, “well, that probably felt awkward.” She explained that what he probably meant was that I was an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA). She gave me a beautiful quote by Nelson Mandela about being a gift from God. But I still wasn’t ready to fully dive in. After four sessions, I stopped going. I learned more about ACOA, buying several books but finishing few.

I’ve seen my current therapist for over a year. But it took me 8 years to try again. And I’ve done a LOT of work. I’ve learned all about codependency, boundaries, ACOA, feelings, and more. I feel more informed and emotionally stable. But certain memories still haunt me. Certain sounds still trigger me. So, I’m starting EMDR (just Google it). After all the self-work and introspection, trying to rewire my brain to get to my heart feels like the next step.

I believe in God, and He promises healing to those who believe and seek. “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the LORD.” – Jeremiah 30:17. I believe in the power of these words. Feeling them is hard. And I know that His promises look very different in real time vs. hindsight.

After all my efforts over the years, I just want to feel peace. I know there is no way to “perfectly” heal, much to my recovering perfectionist’s disapproval. Maybe peace is really my word. But right now, heal is the only way I feel I can get there.

I picked this word on Sunday. After our nation’s utterly tragic, historic events this week, I can’t think of a better time to focus on healing.

A Lesson on Kindness from My Last Yoga Session of 2019

In December, I bought a four-week unlimited pass to the yoga studio by my house. I had driven past it for months, wishing I would just go in already. It wasn’t that I hadn’t tried yoga before. I love yoga. But I had been stuck in a mental rut, thinking I wouldn’t “fit in” to the yoga community.

I’m not a relaxed person by nature, and it takes a lot of work to get me there sometimes. While I practice yoga to get some of my Type A energy out, I want it to be self-contained, in that I don’t want it leaking out and contaminating someone else’s calm, soothing space.

Anyway, after getting over myself and signing up, by December 23rd, I was on a roll and headed into my 3rd day of yoga in a row. I was loving how loose and relaxed my body felt. I was starting to feel more mentally loose, too, and it took less and less energy to be present with the poses and let all else fade away for 60 minutes.

And then something happened. At the end of our session, where we sat with relaxed bodies and (somewhat) still minds, the yoga instructor invited us to turn our attention inward. She spoke for about two minutes, giving us specific, beautiful reminders of what to keep in the new decade and what to let go of from the last. Her words were more than motivational for me. I don’t know if it was the intention with which she delivered, or the moment of time I was in (or both), but I felt like she was speaking just to me.

My spirit cracked open wide. Context: left brain here (*waves*). It all felt unnatural at first, but I held onto her invitation long enough and wanted to capture the moment. So here’s what I wrote down (yep, I am that person):

  • A new decade is starting. Bring in what you want, and leave out what you don’t.
  • Acknowledge and honor how much you’ve grown in the past 10 years.
  • Honor the light and the darkness. In the darkness, you celebrate what you’ve learned that brought you out of it. Light always overcomes darkness.
  • Celebrate that you showed up and did the work today. For yourself.
  • Honor any new progress and growth as it comes. It is the essence, the reason, why we struggle.
  • The world needs your kindness.

I wrote a few more notes in my journal on December 27th. “Reflecting more on how I want to start the new decade… No matter what I put on my list, my intent is to tackle it differently this time. There will be no big moment when I am done with my growth. I will appreciate any slow, incremental changes. I will be patient and forgiving with myself. I will be confident and calm in the process. I will adjust or abandon any parts of the process that don’t fit, to stay of healthy mind, body, and soul.”

Enter 2020. Where the world is an entirely different place than what these words were ever meant for.

And yet, I find I’m celebrating myself as I reflect. I hadn’t read the bullet points or my journal entry until now, but I can confidently say I am doing these things now. I am calmer. I am more centered. I am much more focused on bits of improvement over perfection. And ironically? The pandemic gave me that. It stripped away physical and mental burdens that weighed me down, inviting me to deepen my connection to my spirit.

Sad to say, my yoga practice has understandably dwindled this year. I tried the studio’s livestream classes. I’m hesitant to go back in person for two reasons: 1) I still go to work every day and would hate to over-expose myself in either space, and 2) total first world problems, but it just does not feel the same with the extra but necessary restrictions. I did find one instructor who streams free YouTube videos and DJ Yoga sessions, which are so much fun. But I miss the in-person community. I miss the cool, lavender-scented cloth for Shavasana. I miss the hands-on adjustments.

But. The world needs my kindness. Yoga or not, at no other point in my life have I felt the importance and gravity of those five words more.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Myself After 10 Years of Marriage

My 10 year wedding anniversary is today. I feel like we blinked, and 2020 showed up. There we are in 2010, in the traditional black and white garb, followed by a colorful honeymoon in Hawaii. In the next blink, it’s a blurry, action-packed ride, and 2020 zoomed on in. The year that many of us want to erase or rewrite almost as soon as it began.

I’ve always been a Learner type – it’s one of my five strengths in the CliftonStrengths themes. I love soaking up knowledge, whether just to “know it”, or to categorize and file it away for future use at some opportune time. When I got married, I knew I’d learn and grow as a wife with the same curiosity and vigor that I had throughout friendships, my career, and other aspects of life.

But what I did not anticipate was how much I would learn about myself. Just me, outside of all the other hats I wear. More so this year than the past 9 years combined, I’ve grown and stretched in ways I never anticipated. I feel more comfortable in my own skin than I ever knew I could. I’m certain I wouldn’t have had this much personal growth without the gift of marriage, where you link up your life with another: hopes and dreams and vulnerabilities, flaws and struggles and fears, all of it. 

To commentate this major milestone, I want to take a different spin and pause from the “here’s how we did it” angle. That is all good and worth celebrating, don’t get me wrong. But today, I’m reflecting with gratitude on all that I’ve gained from the mid-20s woman I was to the mid-30s woman I am now.

  1. There is no limit to the amount of grace I can show my spouse – especially when they don’t deserve it and especially when I don’t want to. It is really difficult to put this into practice. But, the more I try, the better I get. This goes for relationships beyond my marital one, too.
  2. The illusion that each spouse gives 50/50 to the marriage is irrelevant and inaccurate. Some days I feel like I give 65 and he gives 35, he gives 80 and I give 20, etc. There is no magic formula, and self-awareness goes a long way when assessing where I’m at at any given time. (side note: Brené Brown refers to this concept as the family gap plan – highly recommend listening to S1, E4 on her podcast, “Unlocking Us”).
  3. Humor is a nonnegotiable asset; specifically, it is a lifeline in the heat of an argument. I really hate it when my husband makes me laugh when I’m just about to land point #378 of how I’m right. But then again I love it, because I get to laugh with him, and the argument ends sooner. I wish I had countless examples of how often I embraced this, but it’s a regrettable few.
  4. My husband is supportive of my personal ambitions, while at the same time keeping me in check when I stray across the line of overdoing it (marriage has definitely exposed the depths of my intensity). But ultimately, I am the one who gives me final permission to fulfill my goals and passions. They may have evolved or shifted from when we got married to now, but they are still mine to own once I’m start pursuing.
  5. Self-care is an absolute necessity, and a practice that I did not intentionally start until last year. I was fooling myself when I thought I was tough or brave or sacrificial if I didn’t workout or take a long bubble bath once in a while. It did not make me “super-wife” like I hoped it would. My dissatisfaction with myself slowly seeped into other areas of my life, until I made the conscious decision to take better care of myself.
  6. I do not like awkward silence; I’ll be the first to fill the dead air with mindless banter to avoid any real or perceived discomfort. However, I learned the importance of autonomy and letting things just “be” sometimes. Magical things can happen in silence, such as moods shifting, clarity to tough decisions, missing each other, and so much more.
  7. This may sound trite, but I discovered I can host parties by myself. As a kid, I was an only child, and all of my relatives lived out of state, so we didn’t have regular get-togethers. My husband has a knack for whipping the house into shape, gathering people around the kitchen island, and cooking a delicious meal. His skills rubbed off on me, and being able to share quality time with friends and family at our house is one of my all-time favorite activities.
  8. The Fruits of the Spirit are my anchor when I am lost and feel like I’m failing, in life or in marriage: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Who doesn’t want one or more of those?! Sometimes I’ll meditate on just one word for a few minutes to help bring clarity to my angst.
  9. I am a recovering codependent. It basically means that you look to others to fulfill your innermost needs instead of looking within. I am now a self-proclaimed work in progress and have woken up to the reality that the Land of Perfection is a fictional place.
  10. Actively choosing to be the things I want to be – kind, joyful, patient, etc. – is incredibly challenging. But, it is way more effective than just wishing or praying for them. I naively thought these qualities would “just happen” and be bestowed on me by willpower or “should”-ing myself. But once I gravitated toward books, sermons, or podcasts with actionable steps that felt doable, I slowly began to grow and mature in grace.

Marriage has taught me so much, and I know it will continue to as I share life with my best friend. I’m closing with one of my favorite quotes that I want to start off with for the next 10 years. Cheers!