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Being a Female Engineer in an Arab Workplace

Girls go through the same engineering education as guys, but as soon as we enter the Real World, we get treated differently; especially in Arab workplaces. From my personal experience and the experience of my friends, international workplaces tend to be better, but then reading posts like Isis Anchalee’s You May Have Seen My Face on BART hint that there’s still a problem in the professional world where women are concerned.

First of all, there’s the typical sneers and offensive remarks that circle around the general idea of, “What are you doing in the workplace? Why aren’t you in some kitchen cooking?”

They make you feel like you don’t even deserve to be there; that you unfairly took the job away from some more deserving guy. “What’s the point of hiring you when you’ll just leave once you’re married? My (male) friend should have gotten the job.”

Then there’s the idea that you’ll be treated like a secretary, which doesn’t make economical sense really. Writing up memo’s, transcribing notes, most of the tasks that get thrown your way can be done by a secretary at one-third of the pay. So I don’t know if this is some sort of hazing technique so the girl quits and moves out on her own. I have a friend who was given so much admin tasks that when she complained, her boss actually said, “I don’t want to teach you technical stuff because then you’ll leave me and find a better job.”

They won’t take you seriously. Sheryl Sandbery talks to women about how they need to sit at the table, lean in, and speak up, but she really needs to address the men running these offices. A friend of mine gave a suggestion but her boss didn’t take her seriously. When a male colleague made the exact same suggestion, it suddenly became a very good idea! It’s like they have selective deafness.

Another thing you might see happen is how guys use female bathrooms shamelessly. They snigger about it too. “There’s only one female engineer on the whole floor, why let that bathroom go to waste?”

Last but not least is this; As a female engineer you get hit on…a lot…by creeps. A friend of mine had a client propose to her, “I want you to be my second wife.”* When she said, no, he started talking about how she shouldn’t be too picky because her biological clock was ticking too fast.

Another friend of mine had a serious stalker who seemed to be really delusional. Someone else was told by a guy on their first meeting, “Why don’t you come and live with me?”

And the thing I noticed is that girls tolerate this type of harassment and never complain, which makes it worse for the next female in the company. It’s very easy to think that, “Maybe he didn’t mean it the way he sounded,” but when nobody speaks up against such behavior, it propagates.

If you’re an engineer in an Arab workplace and you’ve never experienced this, then you’re one of the fortunate ones.

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Published inCareerEngineering