“You don’t look like an engineer”

I can guarantee most female engineers, and often POC who are engineers have heard this phrase at least once.  Generally people mean it as a compliment (at least with women). But it stinks in the same way that “don’t get so emotional” stinks when its been said by a male colleague after you’ve proven your point. I’ve never once heard these phrases directed at a man.

What is wrong with “You don’t look like an engineer”? : 

  1. Yes. I do. I am an engineer, therefore, I look exactly like an engineer.
  2. Would you ever say ” You don’t look smart”? If the answer is no, then don’t say “you don’t look like an engineer”. It means exactly the same thing. If you would tell a girl “you don’t look smart” then please, exit the internet.
  3. If you have an idea in your head that people in STEM all like Amy or Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, that is your problem. Nerdiness knows no color or gender boundaries.
  4. If you want to tell me I’m pretty ( which I think is often the intention?) then please, just say that.

I went into engineering because I love knowing how things work. I love looking at a complex system , like a power plant , or a chemical reactor and knowing that with equations and some time I can build it from the ground up.

I get to build , really, really cool things. This is why I do my job. Its as simple as that. But somehow this is hard for people to believe.

As I’m writing the above I’m starting to get a bit emotional, which is a little surprising. I’m not a very emotional person. I’m analytical and introverted like a lot of other engineers. I have a pretty thick skin, and in general, am treated as an equal by colleagues. But every time I hear ” you don’t look like an engineer”, “don’t get so emotional”, “we need someone more experienced“, “can we talk to the lead engineer?”  I see the capital T Truth.

The Truth is, that no matter how good I am at my job I will always need to work a little bit harder to be seen as good. I will always need to be extra careful to prove a point in a way that doesn’t offend my male , senior colleague. I must be careful to not get too excited or enthusiastic because then my argument will mean less , because I am “emotional”. And even when I do all of these things, I will still probably never rise very high in my current company. Because that is just the way the world works, and sometimes it makes me sad.

If you don’t believe this. Your eyes are not open.

I still love my job. If I cant have the impact I hope to at my current company than I will find somewhere I can. Because things are getting better. For every guy who says “you don’t look like an engineer” There are three guys who were in my study group, who know that I look exactly like an engineer. The kind of engineer who still remembers the day she learned how to use the Schrodinger equation to explain hydrogen’s existence as a diatomic as one of the coolest moments of her life.

And no matter how many things about my job suck. At the end of the day. I built something and no one can take that away from me.


Below is a link to an amazing ted talk about women in engineering, bias and how we can all help to increase diversity in STEM:









  1. 7willows · February 3, 2016

    This sounds frustrating. I’m still in school but I also feel that awkwardness when I know my computation is right and my male group member is wrong and I have to be oh-so careful when I let him know. I don’t get why men will often take it so personally when it just so happens that a woman instead of a man is telling them they’re wrong. Their anger or stubbornness in this situation is based in the idea that if we have different answers, obviously theirs is correct because women can’t possibly ever be better at math then men!! It’s just wrong.

    Best of luck,


    • xinlit · February 10, 2016

      I’m surprised you didn’t slap those losers in their face, cuz I would!

      I’m curious if that’s a frequent event for you, since I have to say most of time I didn’t experience that or simply ignored it…I suppose that’s a bless.

      At my work, my male co-worker made this comment that I should feel offended but turned out to be somewhat true. He said, you will never get fired, since you can always say someone did blah because you are a woman.

      Oh by the way, that kid is beyond shallow, the kind of guy judging another female co-worker’s size as she just had a child, so I chose to laugh at him.

      Society tends to mark you as a thing. Who you are and what your personality is like, to me, has so much to do with how you are raised and who are surrounded. I feel sorry that you have to deal with jackasses like that, but don’t get ideas such as “men will always be right because they would naturally do math better” in your head. You know what? If he is so stubborn about something, unless you are in group project, why bother correcting him? People who are naughty LOVES to take advantage of sweet people, and all you are doing an spoiling him when you carefully trying not to hurt his little, fragile heart. The only message he would be receiving is, he’s right, and you are wrong (sometimes has nothing to do with you being a girl, but you being too nice and sensitive).

      Why feel awkward? Be proud of yourself when you do things right! And when it’s time to show your GPA on your resume to company who’s looking to hire you, that is when arrogance and stubborn will place no chips on the table. Good luck!


  2. xinlit · February 10, 2016

    Maybe cuz I’m from a different culture, or maybe it’s just me being me. I get how emotionally it can hit you, but I actually have a different opinion about this subject.

    If we dig a little deeper, what frustrates you aren’t so much about being or not being considered an “engineer”. Engineer is simply a title, you can be a doc, you can be a lawyer, any profession as you wish. Engineer is hard work, for us; unfortunately, most people (I have some pic in mind, girls in Starbucks with UGG boots, wait I wear those sometimes too) are more willing to say “oh I can’t believe you went through school for that, you must be smart”, while thinking what a crazy and boring bitch (pardon my language). You know, marry my daughter rich seems always to be the fix, though there will be other people judging her for only being hot and dumb. Which is better? I don’t know.

    We each live in our own little bubble, but people outside would never understand what the bubble’s gonna be like. Let’s be honest, do you know much about what Civil or Mech engineers have to go through? How about “financial” engineer? We don’t. But to the general public, we are a lump sum of something, this nerdy, loser-like, ugly, computer staring creature.

    What about people who studies philosophy? General education? I probably will be as guilty as those people who called you “you don’t look like an engineer”, because I would have my own stereotype about someone and picture them to dress like how I think they should be. And how about the buzzfeed (god helps us all O.o) boy with green hair and covered his arms with tattoo, who I thought to be gay and prob have an unfortunate amount of debt from a private school with a J degree? He might be none of them, but I just made up this image in my mind. Guess what, I can’t stop it, and you can’t stop those shallow people to think however they’d like either.

    I did find one thing interesting about this article – you get emotional about such subject, but engineer shouldn’t be emotional. Data speaks the truth. For that, you lost a level of qualification as an engineer. Com’on man!

    I never feel like engineer is something I feel more proud of than any other parts of me, you shouldn’t either. Every inch of you is who you are and it’s not other people’s job to remind you that. I’m certainly not down playing the importance of this occupation, though I am more money drive which sometimes makes things a little more clean cut. Engineering pays well, and I like it! Also keep in mind, people say shit like that because they couldn’t find other way to attack you. When things like that get to you, think about weird stuff such as how you can make better bread and has more visas than that dude (he prob doesn’t even have a passport!!)!

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s