I’ve mentioned before that I’m an engineer. Engineering is traditionally male dominated because it is a part of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). I’m actually a mine engineer and if you thought engineering was male dominated, well mining is incredibly male dominated. It used to be unlucky to have a woman in an underground mine, similar to having a woman on a ship (but actually more recent even).
Like many women in male dominated industries, I originally just wanted to be treated like ‘one of the guys’. I have realized recently that I am ok with being treated differently. I am a woman and if a man feels he should hold the door for me, I’ll let him. I won’t expect it but I won’t be upset if it happens. Because, the truth is, I am different. Not just because of my gender, but also because I am an individual. And I like being treated like an individual. I think most people like to be treated as individuals, regardless of gender.
I have had those bad experiences that some people talk about. I had a boss tell me ‘if mining was easy, we would have women and children doing it’, thinking he was funny. I was quite young at the time, just out of university so I wasn’t sure if he was insulting my gender or my age or both. Let’s just say, it didn’t go over well. But honestly, I found that to be the anomaly. More often, a lot of the guys just didn’t know how to treat you and how to act around you until they got to know you. They needed to figure out what they could say around you, what jokes they could make, how they could act, without offending you. Mind you, my mind is in the gutter and I swear like a sailor so I was fine with most things but there definitely is a line. But I think everyone has that line, the location and the subject might be different.
What I’m trying to get across, is don’t fear being a woman among a group of men. Because we’re all people. Treat them as individuals and expect them to do the same. At the same time, if they cross the line, tell them. Make that line known because no one should put up with abuse, bullying or harassment. And sometimes people are doing it because they don’t know that it is inappropriate.