Fighting against Sexism as an Industrial Engineering Student

When I was in high school, many people told me that I should study engineering since I was “good at math and science”. I was all over the place, but I did not want to study engineering. While I progressed through high school, I realized I needed to seriously consider my future.

I have several relatives who became engineers, but my cousin Sarah was the one who stuck in my head. She was an industrial engineer working as a consultant. Her work appealed to me because she got to travel and manage projects for a living. This is the reason why I decided to study industrial engineering.

After completing my first semester of college, I knew that engineering was where I was supposed to be. That semester, I enrolled in an industrial engineering first-year seminar. This seminar confirmed that industrial engineering was the right field for me. Both the consulting and manufacturing angles of the field were appealing, and I was excited for my next four years.

As a proud Asian American woman, being in the minority was not a new concept for me. Though I enrolled in the college of engineering, I had read that industrial engineering was the field of engineering with the highest percentage of females. Yet I still was struck by how few girls were in my classes. It was at this point that the realization set in that I had a long road ahead of me.

Even now, two years later, I am in awe every time I step into one of my engineering classes and see that the male to female ratio is approximately 15:1. I have experienced sexist recruiters that immediately seem put off when they see that I am a girl. I have sat through interviews where it is clear that my gender is a factor for the interviewer.

Currently, I’m working as a project engineer for a manufacturing company as a college co-op. When I speak to contractors or meet them onsite, it is clear that my being a female bothers them. What really blows me away is the judgment of not only men but also women. I have found that female contractors judge just as much—if not more than male contractors. I do not know why, but apparently, they believe that my gender equals incompetence.

It’s hard to justify myself to every peer, professor, and professional. I am just as competent as male engineers. I did the same work, took the same exams, and got the same education. The only difference between male engineers and me is that I had to fight harder. Some may argue, but I stand firm in my belief. I have had to fight every moment since I made that decision to study industrial engineering. People have been telling me it will be hard and unfair, and it has been at times. However, this also makes success, which is what I always aim for, that much more rewarding.

We are proud to announce Kimberly Sabol is one of the current DiversityJobs Scholarship finalists. Vote for her essay (Facebook and other social media sharing options in left column) and/or leave comments of support to help us with the selection process.