Right Turn: Thoughts from an engineer on #ILookLikeAnEngineer

Author: Guest, 08/28/15

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Camila Londono is currently an intern at CCRM, taking a break from working on her PhD at the Institute of Biomaterials and Biomedical Engineering at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Alison McGuigan. Her research focuses on understanding what governs the coordination of motion in groups of cells. She holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in Engineering Science from the University of Toronto.

 

Recently, Signals published a post commenting on the #ILookLikeAnEngineer Twitter campaign, an attempt to address engineering stereotypes that are, quite frankly, ridiculous. Stacey Johnson, this blog’s editor and the Director of Communications at CCRM, wrote a balanced post that referred to statistics about how far engineering still has to go to reach equality in Canada, accompanied by a picture of CCRM’s extremely accomplished female engineers. (Disclaimer: I’m in the middle of the picture).

I was the person who first brought this campaign to Stacey’s attention, and I did so because I was struck by the difference between this particular campaign and an earlier one that used the hashtag #DistractinglySexy. Perusing the two hashtags on Twitter is a study in contrasts: while the earlier campaign humourously highlighted the lack of glamour and general “unsexiness” inherent in working in a lab – in an attempt to mock comments made by Nobel prize-winning scientist Tim Hunt – the recent one features women at their most “feminine” and “beautiful.”

I hadn’t identified what bothered me about these campaigns until someone else expressed it clearly: While their purpose is to undermine sexist attitudes in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and the patently absurd idea that women are somehow less capable than men, these hashtags continue to frame the discussion around how women look and not how, at the end of the day, we make equally valuable team members.

And yet. A great, short podcast by Renee Hlozek, over at The Story Collider, distills the importance of these campaigns in less than 10 minutes. If we, as scientists and engineers, do not challenge these stereotypes, then we contribute to them. In an ideal world, everyone would leave their biases at the door or, at least, recognize them for what they are: flawed preconceptions. But maybe in this non-ideal one, the only way for scientists to win is to do their jobs well while pointing out these flaws, and hope that little by little biases go away.

Not long ago I read a piece in The Globe and Mail by Allen Lau, Wattpad’s CEO and co-founder, in which he credits Canada’s diversity for contributing to the company’s success. He believes the varying perspectives provided by the company’s international employees are what gives Wattpad its competitive edge.

Two of those capable females engineers who joined me in the CCRM picture mentioned above reminded me that we have made strides in fighting sexism (even if we do have quite a bit of fight to go). However, it is unlikely the fight will ever end if we continue to pit men and women as opponents in this battle. It is not that I am a good engineer despite being a woman, it is that all of my experiences (being a woman, an immigrant, short) are what makes me a good engineer.

I encourage you to click on the podcast below.

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Our regular feature, Right Turn, appears every Friday and we invite you to submit your own blog to info(at)ccrm.ca. We encourage you to be creative and use the right (!) side of your brain. We dare you to make us laugh! Right Turn features cartoons, photos, videos and other content to amuse, educate and encourage discussion.

As always, we welcome your feedback in the comment section.

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Guest

Signals accepts guest blog posts on topics relevant to stem cells and regenerative medicine, as well as submissions for its Right Turn Friday feature. See http://www.signalsblog.ca/about/ for more information. The opinions, accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made in guest posts are the responsibility of the author only and not the editor of Signals or CCRM, publisher of Signals. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with the author.
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