Engineer, Energy, Sold, Oil
By Sarah Correa
These words have frequented the past years of my studies and have gained strong practical significance during the past three months. For me, engineer is problem solver. Energy is a base necessity of human civilization. Sold, is not selling oneself to the job, but the sale of an inanimate item. Oil is dark, glistening, sticky.
In the dictionary, these words will not appear associated with any reference to male, female, heterosexual, bisexual, transgender, patriarchy, maternity. In practice, though, significance is so closely linked to experience and observation. And it is true that at my internship for an energy company, there is never a line for the women's restroom. There is only one female engineer. There are no female managers. Equally important, my supervisor has never linked my capacity to complete a task to my gender. In no work process manual or literature paper that I have read has there been the notice: "Women, please begin on page 8" or "Carry out this process with method A,B,C,D,... depending on your sexual orientation." When I applied to this company, I filled out the same form as every other applicant. I checked the box for female, and I was never asked to declare whether I was heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, left-leaning, or right-leaning.
Therefore, I have observed, I ask, and I continue to ponder...why? Why, in this particular field, is the minority figure the woman?
The response that resounds the most strongly to me is that society, exactly like the humans who built it, will change only when it is costly for it not to. This cost can indeed take many forms, whether monetary expense or harm to reputation.
Therefore, even though there are increasing numbers of women graduating with technical degrees, this is not yet visible in the management ranks of companies. Society is slow-moving. I do not deny that there likely exist underlying mechanisms that attempt to thwart change. Change means different, and different means something yet to be defined ... a risk. However, there is great incentive for an increasing number of women to enter the energy field because it will be costly for companies to not hire a large portion of the educated younger population. Companies cannot afford to miss potential talent. Minorities, thus, are the scouts of future progress.
As a scout, I feel like the blue Nanas of French artist Niki de Saint Phalle. These large, blue, brilliantly adorned ladies are a strong, singular presence. A bold force in the Zürich train station or Bilbao's Guggenheim museum. Exactly a year ago from today, I looked up in awe as this dauntlessly blue angel marked her presence with an electric red belt amidst the hundreds of millions of train travelers around her.
Now, when I am at work, I am this big, blue lady. As a female foreigner in an energy company, what I say, how I dress, what I do is different and stands out. As one of the scouts, I am very aware that how I problem solve and respond to challenges will reflect not only upon myself, but on the currently forming definition of "women engineers." Furthermore, I would be unbelievably naive and vain, if I were to suggest that my style or thought process as a woman engineer even begins to scratch the surface of defining these changes in the work force. This change will be defined and formed by every participant, and I am so very grateful for the opportunity to partake.
Every day is a learning process for me. I used to think that my opinion would only be respected if I wore pants. Then, last week I came to my senses. My superiors would place value in my ideas if I presented my arguments and myself respectfully and tastefully!
Maybe, it was me role-modeling the blue Nana, maybe it was me thanking my turquoise lover for serving as my metaphorical muse and guide in this gender exploration...
...But this time I presented in a dress of blue.