What is it like to be a woman in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) field?

One could say that being an engineer is in my blood. With a mechanical engineer as a father I was born, bred, and buttered in the engineering field. At the young age of 16 my dream turned into reality as I started an apprenticeship as a design engineer working with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Before long I knew this would be the life I want to lead, no matter what obstacles lay before me.

I didn’t expect to encounter an obstacle on my first day of technical high school; I was the only woman in the class. That was the moment the challenge of entering a historically and internationally male-dominated field became real to me.  Even in those first days I could tell that this dynamic would remain an obstacle throughout my journey to pursue my passion. Trust and respect is and should be hard-earned, but as a woman whose work and effort must constantly be verified and validated by men, the insider/outsider dynamic creates endless frustration. This phenomenon of being judged for my work as a woman instead of solely on its engineering merit remains a fact of engineering life that I have learned to navigate.  But I will never truly accept it.

After my four-year apprenticeship working and graduating as a design engineer, I went to the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Lucerne, Switzerland. To no surprise, nearly all my peers and professors were male, but on rare occasion I would be joined in class by another woman. This gave me hope and some much-needed humor. In some situation dozens of men would be left puzzled and stuck,  and we as the only women could provide the answer. That was all the motivation I needed to keep working hard so I could proudly graduate as a mechanical engineer.

As humankind is facing increasingly complex worldwide challenges brought on by things like climate change and a growing world population, we cannot afford to let gender differences limit our potential in STEM fields. By not embracing women in engineering and leadership positions, we are stifling the voices of half the global population. The archaic notion of “men’s and women’s work” based on physical ability no longer applies. Societal change is happening now, and to survive we too must change. A new generation of engineers are developing, and the number of women STEM continues to grow. Individually and collectively, their drive and inspiration will bring equality and will give humanity a better chance to overcome both engineering, societal, and cultural problems.

As the challenge continues, we must realize that the answer is in front of us. We must familiarize, relate, and connect the aspects of engineering to build a society of qualified engineers, regardless of gender. Our differences make us equal in the eyes of the world.

Men are different – women too, and this combination leads us to a brighter variety of solutions for the good of our environment.

Franziska Rebsamen received her Bachelor of Science in Building Technology with specialization in Heating-Ventilation-Air Conditioning-Sanitary Engineering in 2014. Before working for Baumann Consulting she was working as a Project Manager at a Mechanical Engineering Company in Switzerland. She is a great asset to our Chicago team.

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