Egirl Team

AddedMonday, February 4, 2019 at 7:16 AM

Were you the only girl in the room?


I’ve heard some engineers say they were the only woman in a class or club in college, or after college on a project or team at work. Has this happened to you? How did you deal with standing out like that and not having any other women around?

Related to Communication Skills, Opportunities/Challenges for Women, Social Concerns, Work Environment, Working with People
  • Kristin Sweeney , Pennsy Supply Inc., A CRH Comany
    Answered Monday, February 25, 2019 at 8:33 AM

    For me, starting in High school taking Engineering classes, I was one of 3 girls in the room. However for me this was never a deterrent, I saw it as a challenge. I wanted to prove myself that I can do anything and just as well if not better than the guys.

    In college, I went to a very large school, that not only had engineering but offered a range of degrees, so the University was well balance. In my engineering classes I was never the only girl but we were certainly in the minority. Again this for me was not something that intimidated me, but motivated me. It also helped to broaden my experiences and mature my views to see that women process information differently in some cases which can enhance the team. In my Engineering Department (Mining and Minerals) my graduating class was 20% women, so we had a great group with lots of “girl power” and support.

    When I began my career, and even to this day, almost 13 years later, yes, I am typically the only woman in the room. Most of our professional women are within the HR or Finance departments. My company has two female mining engineers, myself being one. For my career, since there wasn’t other women mentors around, I found mentors who were very supportive of me and my aspirations, many of them have daughters so I think at times it feels paternal to them. I have always leveraged that I have a slightly different approach, women in general tend to have better “soft skills” then men, and that leads us to come up with solutions that may otherwise have been overlooked or not considered.

    Don’t let the fact that you may the only woman in the room and stand out be a negative, look at the positive of it. I am the ONLY women in the room, use your voice, be heard and find your tribe, be they male or female, they will help you achieve your goals!

  • Priscilla Bennett , Spire / Laclede Gas Company
    Answered Friday, February 8, 2019 at 4:23 AM

    Not only in college classes, but also the work environment did I find myself as the only female working/teamed up with only male counterparts. When we learn to view others for the person, the talents, the traits, the contributions they bring to a situation, it’s easier to overlook external differences. I have to admit, after I realized this would be more the norm than the exception, and accepted this, I rarely considered my teammates as male and me female, but instead I have most often viewed others for what they bring to the table.

    Many young female engineers learn early to not look upon themselves as the minority, but as an equal player in the room. In many team environments, you’ll find your male teammates are appreciative of the sometimes different viewpoint we women contribute to situations. However, be careful to not allow teammates to downplay your “seat at the table” by shying away from the conversation or contributing to the project. And when you find yourself the only female in the group, remember conversation is still simple by listening to learn of common interests/topics and run with those (everyone has family, hobbies, sports teams, pets, or even current events they can quickly talk up). Be yourself!

  • Jamie Krakover , The Boeing Company
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:15 AM

    I have been the only woman in the room before, but luckily it is become more rare as more women pursue STEM. It can alienating when this happens, but it's less about standing out (because you already do if you're the only woman) and more about making sure you are heard as an equal. In order to do this, make sure you are engaged with the group, and seated at the table with everyone not at the edge or the room. Speak up when you have an idea. And if folks talk over you or ignore your ideas, see if you can find an advocate in the room that can help you express your ideas and champion you.

    It can be tough to be the only woman in the room, but you aren't the only woman in your situation. Find other women to talk to and share ideas on how they handle that situation. As the only woman in the room, you provide a different and much needed perspective that a man can't give. Keep engaging and don't give up!

  • Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:14 AM

    I was in college almost 30 years ago and, yes, I was sometimes the only woman in the room. But even then, it was fairly rare. I joined Society of Women Engineers as well as IEEE and many other clubs. I had the same goals as my other classmates regardless of our gender so I didn’t find it difficult to be outnumbered by men in my classes and clubs.

    When I started my career, I was frequently the only woman in the room. I did learn to keep up on the highlights from the big game (football, basketball, hockey, etc) from the day before so I could participate in small talk with my peers. However, once we got to work gender was not very important as we all focused on the work at hand.

    I personally like taking the path less taken. Being the “only girl who...” is fun! I have had many opportunities to blaze trails and change stereotypes and I think that is cool!

  • Marnie Smith , LivaNova
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:13 AM

    Yes, this happens often. At my college, 25% of all the students in Engineering were female. I checked today, and that number still holds true with just 15% being women in Mechanical Engineering at Purdue for 2016. It took getting used to for sure! There are pros and cons, there will always be those jerks out there that will make you want to feel like a failure. However, critical to my success was building a network of like minded people - women and men.

    My freshman year, I lived on a floor of a dormitory which was for Women in Engineering (WIE) majors. I made some of my best friends there, we're still close almost 20 years later! The engineering curriculum is difficult and after spending all day with a bunch of guys, it was nice to come home to other women in a similar boat...they just got what I was going through! I also made close male friends within my major who I worked well with because we had a foundation of respect to those relationships and could be silly when we needed to be. These guys were also a layer of defense when the odd sexist peer came into play. In school, I found it critical to have this network of men and women because I knew I wasn't alone and helped me learned different ways of approaching problems, technical and social, which has served me well in my career.

    I hope this helps!

  • Adriana Beal , Carnegie Technologies
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:12 AM

    Heh. In classes, at work, even at engineer friends' parties, it's been very common throughout the years for me to be the only woman in the room. I'm currently the only woman in my engineering team, and today I was in an external meeting with other Data Scientists and I noticed that there was another woman in the room, but only for the first few minutes, as she soon had to excuse herself to go take a call :-).

    As to "How did you deal with standing out like that and not having any other women around?,” I never felt like I had to "deal with standing out" because I'm just one person on the team who happens to be of the opposite sex. One of my colleagues (male) has long, purple hair and matching purple nails, so if someone was going to stand out among us, it would be him...

    Here's my advice for anyone worrying about being the only girl in the room: remember that despite their diverse characteristics and tastes, people have much more in common than differences. Rather than focusing on gender identity, look for ways to connect with your colleagues based on the common interests you share. Since I don't have children and wasn't raised in the U.S., it's possible that if a woman with four kids and a passion for American football joined my team I'd have less in common with her than with male colleagues who share my interest in travel, cars, and playing the piano. It never crossed my mind to worry about being the only woman in a project, and I never noticed any difference in treatment from coworkers when it was only me vs. when there were other women on the team. If you stop worrying about gender distribution you'll probably find your study or work environment much more enjoyable!

  • Hope Bovenzi , Texas Instruments
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:08 AM

    Yes, many times I have been the only woman in the room. In my undergraduate engineering classes there were at most 3-5 women in the class at a time (including myself). The statistics from 2016 show that only 8.3% of Mechanical Engineers are women (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) and you'll find similar statistics for other engineering degrees – we need more girls to go into STEM majors and STEM careers!! Because there are not very many women in these majors, that means not a lot of women are in these careers, so I am very used to being the only woman in meetings at work, in fact I'm the only woman on the team I work on. I don't think there is much to do about this though other than to encourage more girls to go into these careers. Most of the time you will be treated the same but unfortunately sometimes you won't and it's important to be vocal about any discrimination that might happen to you. Just remember: you are smart and good people will value your opinion and hard work.

  • Stacey DelVecchio , Caterpillar Inc
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:07 AM

    I have frequently been the only girl in the room but that doesn’t mean I’ve been isolated. I look for the friendly faces or maybe someone I have something in common with. I push myself to go say hi to people I don’t know. This can be tough but people almost always welcome you in. If the casual conversations move toward something you don’t know anything about, try diverting the subject to something that may be more universal. If you watch/listen shows like Nova, Science Friday, or any other science related show, there’s usually some interesting topics that appeal to many.

  • Cynthia Hoover , Praxair
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:06 AM

    This happens frequently. I don’t see it as a negative and I don’t feel like I stand out, I focus on the commonalities rather than the differences. We are all on the same team, working on the same problem and everyone brings a different viewpoint or skillset. I have a seat at the table because of my background and expertise, not because of my gender. It is the diversity that allows us to have a competitive advantage. In every situation you will find differences, I think you need to realize that you are with people with a common interest and mindset and your gender does not play a significant role. My male colleagues welcome me in as a peer not as a woman that stands out.

  • Jill S. Tietjen , Technically Speaking, Inc.
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:05 AM

    Oh my goodness, yes. Almost always, I was the only female in the room. For years and years of my career and during the years of my undergraduate and graduate education. I learned to be strong, to stand up for myself, to use humor for deflection, and to have the courage of my convictions. It was really weird later when there were actually other women!

  • Melanie Cragnolin , Cragnolin Engineering and Design Associates DPC
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:04 AM

    In my freshman year at Drexel University there were only three females and about 300 male students in one of my classes. I remember it being weird however most of the guys were really cool and I had no problems. In my current line of work it’s mostly men that I work with in the field but they are all professional and respectful and I can’t complain about that.

  • Nandika D'Souza , University of North Texas
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:03 AM

    I’ve spent most my career like this. The higher you go, the more this happens. I feel comfortable talking to men because studying engineering has already prepared you for this. Standing out based on intellect has worked for me so gender has not been a concern. That being said, I have TONS of female friends outside work and do love hanging out with them. Again, being part of SWE professional groups, leadership women groups has been a positive.

  • Shelby Sutton , Toyota Manufacturing and Engineering of North America
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 4:00 AM

    I have always been one of the few if not the only girl in the room! At my first university, I was one of two girls in Greek life who was majoring in Engineering. At my second university, the ratio was 1 female: 4 male, most of those females were Business majors.

    It took me several years to muster up the courage to ask questions in the room surrounded by guys. I still have trouble with it, honestly. I was afraid that they already assumed I was incompetent because of the female stereotype in STEM fields. So me asking a “dumb” question would just solidify their annoying stereotype of me. I have been in my career for 4 years now and standing in a room surrounded by 20 men twice my age is INTIMIDATING. I have several knocks against me already, I am small, young, blonde, female, etc. Many of them are loud, boisterous, large. I have spent the last four years of my career watching how these men act with such confidence wondering what was different between us.

    I learned that it has little to do with their intelligence and capability and much to do with the way they carry themselves and feel on the inside. So I started carrying myself as if I had confidence, thinking maybe it would trickle into my heart and my head. I stood large, wore clothes that made me feel special, stood at the table in the mix with everyone (instead of off to the side of the room). Slowly I started speaking with confidence, preventing people from interrupting me or telling me to smile more, and taking charge in my presentations.

    I still struggle every now and then with this confidence but I am slowly getting there. Don’t worry about not having other ladies in the room with you! It is kind of a bummer but we are in STEM to one day change that ratio! Just know who you are, do you with full confidence, and focus on your goals. All the other stuff is noise :-)

  • Sayari Ghosh , Concur
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:58 AM

    Yes, I have been the only woman in science clubs in school, quiz (what you call trivia here) teams in school, similar quiz teams in college, project teams in college and university, and at work so many times that now that is what feels normal. As this started from when I was in high school, I got pretty used to this phenomena by the time I started working. In general I am a pretty loud person so it is difficult to talk over me in meetings. If someone ever did that, I would ask the same question again, in a louder voice, until I get everyone's attention. Another thing is, at times when I get interrupted, I look straight at that person and continue what I was saying. Some men will take advantage of the low number of women in a meeting by saying negative things, or make taunting comments. You can choose to ignore, laugh it off, or answer back. I have done all three depending on the situation. Other men will actually be your ally and speak up for you, especially if you are getting cornered. I have not had any situation where my technical inputs were doubted just because I am a woman though.

    My advice is, if you are the only woman in the room, there is nothing you really can do about it (other than hire a diverse group of people later) so don't take that as a negative thing. Being a minority, take that opportunity to shine. Be confident in what you say, don't open sentences like - "I guess I am wrong but.." or "you may not think this is right.." but instead say, "I think" or "we should consider this approach.” You don't have to be loud, but speak in a strong professional voice. If people talk over you or interrupt, call them out then and there. Be polite but say, "please let me finish,” or "this will be clear when I finish explaining.” If someone just repeats what you said just to get attention, then call that out too: "Yes, I just mentioned that, thank you.”

    Remember, you don't have to "fit in the boys' club" and be like them. You can (and should) be who you are!

  • Una Trivanovic , University of British Columbia
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:57 AM

    Different engineering fields have different male-to-female ratios but my field, mechanical engineering, tends to be particularly skewed. Around 5% of the people I work/study with are female. So I am very often the only woman in the room. However, it has never been an issue in my career. Yes, you stand out a little bit more but own it! Don't change to try and be "one of the boys" if that's not you. People will respect you for being a contributing member of the team, not how well you blend in. Be proud that you are paving the way for other females to follow in your footsteps. Also keep in mind that engineering isn't any more or less sexist than other professions. I have found that my own insecurities, doubts, and fears have been much more of a hurdle than anything external! Remember that you DO deserve to be there as much as any of the men. It can also be nice to join women in engineering or women in STEM groups for extra support, and those types of groups can be wonderful networking and mentorship opportunities. Don't let the gender ratios stop you from following your dreams!

  • Danielle Forget Shield , SCC Americas
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:55 AM

    I was frequently the only woman in the room – especially as I progressed in my career and rose to higher levels in companies. It became really easy to develop professional relationships and friendships with men that I worked with because we only socialized at work. And outside of work, I invested lots of time in maintaining relationships with women – both professional and personal – who I could go to for advice, or just to have fun. There are some great benefits to keeping working relationships separate from personal relationships.

  • Ruth Gay , Environmental Systems Corporation
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:54 AM

    Yes, I am often the only woman in the room. I work in a facilities/energy role and there aren’t always women - or young people, for that matter. Personally, I am comfortable in that environment; I think having a women at the table brings in a different and valuable perspective. I prefer to be treated like a sister or daughter rather than as “one of the guys”; either scenario is possible in this situation. Most of the men I have worked with have appreciated having me on the team.

    That being said, if someone seems a little uncomfortable, be courteous towards them and give them physical space while still encouraging them to participate in the meeting. Put yourself in the others’ shoes and ask yourself how they would like to be treated. Be yourself, be professional and respectful, engage in the conversation, and keep your sense of humor about you!

  • Katie Smith , Appalachian Power Company
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:50 AM

    Absolutely, starting in college. I’m the only woman amongst 30 men at my job. You learn to get used to the environment, and most of the time it’s not that big of a deal. If girls stick with it and keep pushing to become engineers then the numbers will rise and there will be more than one girl/woman in a room currently full of men.

  • Liz-Hasbleydi G. , Tech + Desing
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:30 AM

    In Bogota, Colombia, where I studied, my university and its faculty of Electrical Engineering began to accept women in STEM fields. When I started studying there were only 5 women compared to the higher number of men there. Even so we worked with men in jobs and projects. As we progressed in engineering studies and attended different classes in STEM, there were fewer women and we always integrated with the men in jobs, projects, clubs and engineering laboratories. Some men classmates were very indifferent or cold with us but others were very kind and nice, so I think it depended on their mentality and how they were educated and raised. We integrated very well over the semesters and we graduated with effort and teamwork. My females classmates and friends ended up doing their projects and thesis with male classmates, and so did I. I was a mentor for men and women, I won a logo competition with a male friend, and I finished my thesis with a male classmate. It was not about women or men engineers, it was about humans learning engineering together.

  • Stephanie Meyen , Richard F. Caris Mirror Lab (University of Arizona)
    Answered Tuesday, February 5, 2019 at 3:20 AM

    I am glad that this question is featured because I think that the image that is created by the "Women in STEM" discussion is exaggerated to the negative. It is meant to raise awareness for issues that are real no doubt. But it makes it seem like girls and women need a lot of help because the male-dominated conference room is like an arena full of snarling beasts who will overhear and trample down any woman who is brave enough be there on her own.

    If you are a girl and want to pursue your interest in science and engineering, you might be worried about ending up as the only girl in the room. It is quite likely that this will happen at least sometimes. But if you think about it. What is so scary about that?

    It is actually not so bad. Guys are generally very nice and fun-to-be-with creatures! I should know, since in my last job I have been the first and only female engineer in the entire company of about 40 employees and now I am one of 2 female engineers (working in separate groups) within an organization's subdivision of about 100 employees. When I was doing internships during my college time, I was also usually surrounded by guys. Sometimes I look around and think "oh, I'm the only girl!" but generally I feel as much part of the team and as respected as anybody else.

    I think it is important to be open minded. If you are the only girl in a room full of boys, but you all have the same interest or play the same game, what is the big deal? If we think that there are just a bunch of brains sitting together, nobody would make it an issue. Yes, we sometimes encounter problems at work that have to do with being a girl in a world of boys. I have encountered problems like that with some guys and it is really difficult if you need to work closely with this person. But it is important to remember that many guys are NOT like this. I have found that guys are usually easy to work with, very much willing to help and I usually feel respected and recognized. I also never had any problems to find good mentors and friends among my colleagues so that I did not really miss another woman around.

    Often though I do feel that being the only women is more difficult when it is not about the work. It is easy for the guys to hang out after work and have a beer or exercise together. On those occasions I feel much more the difference than in any work meeting. Even when it comes to just having lunch together. The guys hold back because they don't want to get in trouble with their wives or because a dirty joke slips over their lips. And I don't want to give the impression that I am looking for an affair or something (especially after being married myself). It makes it difficult to connect with them personally. In that respect it would be nice to have another woman to hang out and have lunch with.

    Mostly though, I feel comfortable being the only women. Guys really don't bite :-)

  • Jodie Lutkenhaus , Texas A&M University
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:55 AM

    I am still often the only woman in the room! I remind myself to sit at the table and speak my mind just as I was always would. If I feel like I wasn't able to be heard at the meeting or gathering, I'll share my thoughts with key individuals so that I can still have a chance to get my interests heard.

  • Margaret Byron , Penn State University
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:53 AM

    I am often the only woman on teams and projects! My solution has been to make expectations clear from the beginning. For example, one time I was on a project team in college and my (male) teammates told me that they wanted a woman on their team so that they would have someone who was organized with neat handwriting. They lost THAT illusion very quickly since neither of those areas is a strong suit for me :-) Sometimes you have to push back to make sure you don’t get stuck with all the work, or work that’s often assigned to women for no good reason (like taking notes at meetings, or bringing snacks to a late-night work session). Have a frank discussion about everyone’s strengths and divide tasks appropriately from the start; set clear, achievable goals (with deadlines) so that nobody falls through the cracks. Another thing that helps is to have a group of female friends and colleagues who are also experiencing similar things and get together with them regularly. That way you can vent about the downsides (like feeling like you have to represent all of womankind in your class or club — so much pressure!) and maybe start a team or project of your own to tackle issues related to women in STEM! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been hanging out with my engineering girlfriends and we’ve brainstormed a great idea together.

  • Kim Linder , Honeywell FM&T
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:51 AM

    I was often the only girl in the room and still am! At first it was an issue to me, but I have quickly found that as long as I do a good job, and am a good team member or team leader, this issue goes away quickly. Working and learning in an engineering field, I have found people to tend to be very logical and results-focused. So while something may be unusual or uncomfortable at first, once the work starts everyone gets focused on the problem at hand. There are many reasons someone can stand out in a group, and I have found that if I simply don’t think about it and do my best, the issue goes away in my head. I also decided to take the stance early on that I need to do a good job as I may be forming opinions in others minds about female engineers. So I think of it as an opportunity to show anyone what a great job the “only girl in the room” can do, and know that it will make it better for the next girl engineer they interact with. It’s really a time to show off (but in a humble way, of course)! :-)

  • Nancy Post , John Deere
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:46 AM

    Yes, I have often been the only woman in the room, on a trip, in a meeting, etc. When I first started working in 1987, I was the only female on my project for almost 5 years. I spent most of my time in a computer lab, developing electronic hardware and writing software. I had to actually walk to another building to find a women’s restroom! Luckily, it was indoors to get there.

    This isn’t something that has really bothered me and over the years I quit noticing. I’ve had times when I had to ask myself if I was starting to act too much like the men. I adjusted my dress to be more feminine and professional and to fully express myself, and I concentrated on laughing out loud when appropriate, rather than stifling this as I had been doing. This might sound strange, but I felt like I was modifying in order to fit in more and didn’t want to do this. I wanted to be more authentically me!

    Often times, other people ask me how it is to be the only female in a situation and I have to honestly answer that I don’t notice. It has been my norm for many years. That said, I do notice how many more women are in most of the meetings I’m in recently and it is very refreshing! It is very nice to be able to go for a walk in the mornings with someone when I’m on a trip or just to have conversations with other women when I’m on business trips. I still don’t have many women around me who are in engineering.

    My one bit of advice: be yourself and express who you are and what you uniquely bring to every situation.

  • Natalie White , CyberSource
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:43 AM

    As a woman in Computer Science, I was frequently the only girl in the room in my High School and College classes. In fact, by graduation day at TCU, the group of Computer Science undergraduate candidates had been reduced from about 10 women in a class of 70 to just me in a class of about 30. Since 2004, I've had a successful career across four companies in four different industries. Two were around the same ratio of 1 woman for every 10-20 men, but two (including the company I'm at right now) have been very close to 1:1.

    I've found that the culture in the groups with a more even ratio was more balanced and coordinated, and had much less turnover and less toxic social constructs. Being "one of the guys" may be one way to succeed as the only girl in the room, but sometimes that's not possible. Sometimes the culture is so toxic that you have to remove yourself entirely, for your own career's sake.

    It's not all bad news – I do feel like things are getting better, at least anecdotally. Obviously it varies among industries and individual companies, but overall the fact that companies with more diverse work forces are demonstrably more successful and better to work for has finally convinced some business owners to proactively change the culture of their engineering groups for the better. There are so many reasons people leave and stay in different jobs and responsibilities, but being excluded from advancement or patronized because of one's gender shouldn't be one of them!

  • Jacqueline Wilmot , National Fire Protection Association
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:34 AM

    I am frequently the only woman in the room. There are instances where this can absolutely be intimidating. Anyone see the new movie On the Basis of Sex? Some of the scenes highlighted in the movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg I feel as though I can relate to. A few scenes highlight how she must have felt being under a magnifying glass at all times. This feeling can make it difficult to feel comfortable to speak up or ask a question. The feeling of always having to prove yourself holds true for me. I try to think of being the only female in the room as an opportunity to present a different perspective. All of us bring something unique to the table. Take advantage of the opportunity.

  • Maria Marenco , Robert Bosch
    Answered Monday, February 4, 2019 at 9:31 AM

    Yes, I am (very) often the only woman in the room. I am a mechanical engineer working in the automotive industry. Although my daily work would be as exciting (and sometimes boring :-) ) both for males and females, it is a fact that not many women decide this is the path they want to go… Many women just feel overwhelmed by this lack of women and decide not to get in, which makes it a vicious circle.

    My experience in these circles is that it is essential for a group to have variety. The best solutions come from a working group with different personalities, backgrounds, cultures, generations, and gender. This is more and more recognised, also by the management. And many companies now recognise that they have too little variety on board, and putting efforts on recruiting, for example, more women.

    I also was told that men left alone are usually more aggressive, and the presence of a woman, even if she is the only one, makes the conversation much more civil, calmer, and more outcome-oriented. This of course I couldn’t prove it, because wherever I go there is at least me. But I believe it. Of course, when things do go too personal, when emotions start to rise, women have many times the role of the mediator. I think it is intrinsic to all of us.

    I enjoy having women around, and I have learned a lot with both women and men. Don’t be scared to be the only one. At first it is a bit overwhelming, but it also comes to your advantage at some point. You can have much more voice that you may think :-)