Monday, November 29, 2010

Approaches to diversity: Part II

I had promised to follow up on a previous post: Approaches to Diversity from a few weeks back, and so here it is!  Now this is an interesting issue really close to my heart and I have had the chance to look at some of your comments and discuss this further with a few people, so I'm going to try and encapsulate some of it with this post. 

As a quick recap, in the previous post on this topic I talked about the low intake rate and even more dismal retention of women in the field of engineering. In recent years, we have seen a steady increase in intake rate, but a large percentage of these young women are leaving engineering soon after they get their degree, choosing instead careers in business or management. So why are we seeing this happening? Should the government just keep spending money for engineering departments to churn out graduates that are not going to eventually lead to the high numbers of engineers we need to develop our country? What can we do about it?

Afriquanwoman said: 

"One approach is reaching out in schools, from a very early age. Support networks are great too, I have found them valuable is anchoring myself in the profession, especially after having maternity leave."

 I agree with Emang here, we need to get to girls early enough for them to realise that careers in science and engineering are real possibilities and can be fun! This is something that is personally relevant to me as well. When I decided on studying mechanical engineering, my parents, teachers, and many friends all advised me against it! After prize-giving, when it was announced that I'd be studying mechanical engineering on full scholarship, one mother came up to me and said, "But isn't that a very manly thing, Rhea?"

So definitely, educating people on what engineering can be (not just grease and big machines) is important in changing the perception of the field to young women. I love for the work they do, giving girls a platform to grow as young engineers.

Naadiya, co-founder of the awesome and amazing SAWomEng wrote: 

"At SAWomEng, we are in the process of solving or at least putting together platforms to discuss and solve some of the critical issues facing the attraction and retention of women in the engineering industry. This year, from our GirlEng group, about 75% of the girls will be studying engineering next year for the right reasons - to be an engineer. It is exciting times as we aim to "build the staircase" to fix the problem. Watch this space...

So yes, there is a definite trend towards changing the perception of the field, and everyone agrees that 'the engineering flame' must be lit early on, But what about the retention of these girls in the field? I spoke to a lecturer in my department, a particularly old-school professor who had strong (and well known) views on women in the field...(note, I'm paraphrasing here)

Prof C: "I have no problem with women in mechanical engineering. If they feel comfortable being here, they can come! But I wouldn't want people to be in a career that makes them feel uncomfortable." 

(Well Prof, I can tell you right now, being in a class of mostly males is daunting and very UNCOMFORTABLE for most girls!)
Eng-Chic: "But what about the value that diversity adds to the class? What about the fact that having a diverse spread of people will generate a greater range of ideas then if you only had one demographic of students with identical backgrounds?"

Prof C: "Well, in my years of being a design lecturer, I've observed that most students, no matter their backgrounds, will produce a very narrow range of ideas for any assignment. Unless there is absolute proof that diversity benefits mechanical engineering students, I don't see the value. I don't think we should take women just for diversity's sake. And I don't agree with the quota system because it means we end up taking students who are not the best performers, or only applied here because they couldn't get into medicine or business"."

Okay, so this approach was clearly not working. How do you get through to someone who disregarded soft-skills to such a great extent. He's an engineer right, and engineers are logical...

Eng-Chic: "Yes, I get that with the push for a higher intake of female students or the 'quota-system', we end up taking students that are not necessarily top performers. But women are coming and that is a fact. Things are changing and I think the industry needs to change to facilitate it, to help it along even.Women are not taking over from men in the field, we are expanding its scope, adding to what mech eng is and what it can be."

Prof C: "Well, as you say, change will happen. So let it happen naturally. I don't think we need to do anything actively to facilitate it."

Eng-Chic: "No, we must actively change. We have to make the industry more attractive to women. Like the Engineering News magazine for instance. Its interesting and important, but completely male-focused! Its painful for me to page through, but the articles are really great. Women respond to colour and design and are being put off by the how the engineering world portrays itself. We need to let the women know that not only is there a space for them, but an entire platform for them to mold and shape the field, bringing in their femininity and being who they are! This way, we will be attracting the girls who would have applied to medicine and business, the top performers. They will come here, to engineering, first, and not as a third option. We need to make this a valuable and attractive career for a woman to pursue. Otherwise, we'll keep just getting women for the sake of having women doing the course."

Prof C: "Hmmm...So make the field more attractive to woman and attract a higher caliber of applicant that actually wants to be here? Wow, you're right. You're absolutely right! I suppose we do need to change."

And thats how Engineer-Chic won....

Just kidding. It was a small victory, but I'll take it. B.H., founding member of EWB UCT and ex-Chair did his thesis on "Challenges in Producing 21st Century Engineering"...I'll get into this one in the next post but for now, I'm trying to have an open mind about things. 

I'll leave you with one last thought from Naadiya that really got me thinking that maybe I need to open my mind even further to the way I view engineering:

"But as we move into the future, and after experiencing the African Leadership Network, I met many engineers from MIT, Harvard etc, many of whom are not practicing engineers, I realised that they still have immense value as they own their own companies creating job opportunities, working in development banks etc...and this just shows the flexibility of our degrees and the ability for engineers to change the world."

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Career Confusion

Well, this post can potentially get me into a bit of trouble, but I think that if I'm to stay true to myself and my purpose for blogging (sharing my experiences and the challenges faced being a young woman in engineering), I have got to include it...

So I'm done with my degree and the new year is approaching. The working year in SA starts in January so the question of what I am going to do next year is something that has been coming up quite often lately! I'm on a bursary with a large, international diversified mining and resources company, lets call them X.  X has been an awesome bursar and the people there have been supportive and helpful throughout my studies. However, during the four, 6-week long stints of vacation-work I've done with them on a Ferrochome Smelting Plant over the past 5 years, I've realised that a career in maintenance was simply not for me! Vac-work gave  me the opportunity to work under various mentors and on some interesting projects but every way I look at it, I still find that this is not the career that I want to pursue. I love project management and operations so maintenance just did not align with my personality or goals. Furthermore, I simply did not enjoy the environment.

So about 6 months ago, I decided to address this misalignment and put in an application to move to the project management division of X. I thought this was a far better (and more dignified) move than getting myself bought off by another company. X had done a lot for me and I wanted to take it up with them first. Around September I heard that my application was unsuccessful and that I was to be stuck on the plant for the next four years...So, when the Global FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) company Y came knocking, I decided to give it a go, and five interviews later, I got an offer in their Supply Network and Operations!   

As you can imagine, I was thrilled! Finally, a job that seemed like such a perfect fit (remember my thesis project was a supply-chain management project). Apart from that, their brand new Sandton offices were not just a little tempting...Everything seemed right in the world until X (who had no idea that Y had given me an offer) suddenly contacted me saying they have approved my move into Projects. Now this is where the fun really started. I was completely thrown off. All of a sudden everything: my future, my purpose, my career!!! was blurred. For a control-freak like me, you can only imagine how dizzying this was. I was torn between what I wanted to be, what I thought I wanted to be and what I thought I 'should' be. 

I took the approach that came naturally to me: I resourced. I talked to my friends, family, lecturers and mentors. I contacted other young women in the field, other bloggers and read anything useful I could find.  I made lists and drew up pros and cons, I compared and contrasted and worked myself up into a confused heap of nerves, terrified of making the wrong decision. These were both great companies after all, and both really great opportunities! From all this seeking and questioning, I only really learned two things: 1. By choosing business (Company Y) I would be divorcing myself forever from the field of engineering. 2. Nobody could make his decision for me or tell me which to choose, the decision had to be made by me.

So, having been filled with as much good advice as I could manage, and even more confused than when I started out, I decided to think about things very differently. I sat down and thought very long and very hard about, well, me. I realised that I'd been so caught up in the awesomeness and glamour of these opportunities that I'd completely lost sight of who I was and what I wanted my life to be. Emang (aka Afriquanwoman) gave me possibly the best tip of all:

"We often give so much of ourselves to our employers and sometimes, it does not do us the best of favours for our own personal careers. So definitely prioritise. Which company satisfies your own personal causes, I note your passion for development and social consciousness? You do not necessarily have to share all your personal goals with your employer, in some cases they will not match your employers, and that’s ok. But be true to yourself and your journey."

I cut out all of the frills and fancies, the salary, the name, even the work and just looked inwards. I asked myself, 'What are you passionate about?' and came up with the following:
  • Development in Africa
  • Women in Engineering
  • Education in Science and Engineering
And surprisingly, things became very clear, very fast. All my passions and interests lay in engineering. I read the Engineering News magazine each week, Popular Mechanics and Mechanical Engineering Today. I am an active member of ASME, an Engineering society, and Engineers Without Borders. I mean come on, I have a blog about how awesome it is to be a woman and an Engineer! Why wasn't this as glaringly obvious before? Why was there so much confusion in the first place?  I am an engineer. I was born an engineer and I think like an engineer. This is the perfect fit for me, and I'm gonna stop trying to be someone else.

Well, I suppose there are many reasons for the confusion, all boiling down to me being too focused on what I thought I wanted to do and what I thought I should do.  In the end, it doesn't matter to me if I end up on a plant, in a lab or in a fancy office. All that matters is that I'm doing what I love, what I'm passionate about and what is going to ultimately lead me to my major life goals. I'm going to follow the path that opens doors, and not just anyone's random idea of what a 'door' is, but the right doors...for me! If I am really going to stay true to myself, then there is only one option. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Back to work

So I'm back home and all settled back into my regular routine...well, not quite. I'm so badly jet-lagged that I only get to bed at 3am and sleep until 12:30! While this schedule may be all well and good in Vancouver, I'm ending up wasting most of the day! Its almost 1am here so after this blog, I'm going to down a warm glass of milk and try to get to sleep.

I met today with some EWB project members to catch up on what I'd missed while I was away. The major TD4SUD (project EXCO) meeting apparently went very well, except that the City of Cape Town has planned to go ahead with the upgrades to the project site, Nyanga Interchange and this may change things quite a bit. Unfortunately, they wont let us in on their plans so we have to be flexible enough to work around them. Also, this pushes back our timeline quite considerably! Due to their upgrades only transpiring in 6-8 months, where does that leave the traders during that time? Will they be able or willing to invest in the stoves we are subsidizing if they know they are going to be (temporarily) displaced in the near future? I guess we have to keep pushing The City for more information until we can make some solid plans.

It seems we are going out to the site again this Saturday morning (jet-lag allowing). This is great since I've been admittedly a little, well, terrified! I know it sounds crazy but I'm still shaken by the story I mentioned in the previous blog. Even walking down the street out here in the university-suburb of Rondebosch has my heart pounding in my chest, grasping my handbag and keeping my head down. I really think that the trip on Saturday will be cathartic, a way of "getting back on the horse" so to speak. The great thing is that other project members I saw today (who are coming along on Saturday) completely sympathize and understand my feelings. (Thanks guys, you know you're awesome!) I will definitely be letting you know how it goes.

Check out some of these blogs about how I came to terms with working on the streets of Nyanga this year.

On another note, my technical leader, Matt has taken up a vacation-work position at an energy-efficient stove manufacturer, Honeycomb for the Summer! These guys have been hard at work developing us a stove to meet our (the traders') requirements! They are extremely cool and I am thrilled to have had a sneaky hand in setting up the vac-work opportunity for this bright-eyed first year who has shown time and again that he totally rocks at getting things done! I'm not letting any secrets out just yet, but I'm expecting great things from this young man in the near future of this project!

Check out Honeycomb: the proudly SoutAfrican, sustainable energy manufacturer! 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On murder and fear in South Africa

As I was packing up in Vancouver and getting ready for my long flight home, I heard the news about the brutal and senseless murder of the UK honeymooner, Anni Dewani last week in Cape Town. For a number of reasons, this story, of all bad stories you hear in SA affected me considerably. I thought I'd share some sentiments. For those of you that haven't been following BBC's hounding of the story, here it is in a nutshell:

A wealthy newlywed Indian couple from the UK were in Cape Town on their honeymoon. After a day at the wine farms, at around 10 pm, they were heading home in a hired cab when Anni asked the driver to show her some of 'the real South Africa'. The driver took a detour through Gugulethu township, on the Cape Flats, a dangerous area. They were hijacked by some men who shoved the driver out of the car. A short time later, Mr Dewani was pushed out of the vehicle and the assailants took off with the beautiful, young Anni in the car. Her body was found in the backseat in another area of the Cape Flats afterwards. 

Hearing the news really shocked me at first. I felt terrible for that poor woman, her husband and her family. After the initial shock, came the fear...I suddenly realised that Nyangathe place that my Engineers Without Borders project is based, is right next to Gugulethu. I realised that I had been to Gugulethu, and often walk around the streets of Philippi and Nyanga working with people and gathering information for the project. I remembered that I often visit people in their humble homes, walking off major roads and into the shantytowns.   I also remembered how fearless I had always been, despite knowing that Nyanga was the worst murder zone in South Africa!

I was suddenly terrified, shaking. Standing alone in an apartment in Vancouver, I struggled to breathe!  I didn't want to continue my work in Nyanga. I emailed the EWB Chair saying that I couldn't go back there. Not after this! Why was this story affecting me so badly? Maybe it was because it was a young Indian woman, like me, and that it happened in the areas I so casually wander around...

It was only when I'd calmed down that I considered the facts. People are raped and murdered in that area every day. Nyanga is no more or no less dangerous now than it was last week. The reasons for the violent crime in South Africa are numerous and varied, but all stem from a history of oppression, slavery and violence. Gangs, drugs, violent crime: all products of an amalgamation of displacement, institutionalized poverty, and most of all peoples' desire for a retribution that never transpired. Are the poorest in this country not still as poor as they were during Apartheid, if not more so? Was the dream of freedom and democracy not tainted with the severe lack of service delivery and corruption from our new government? Did I not already know this? Is this not why I was working in these areas in the first place, trying to put right the wrongs of the past, (a past in which my family also suffered under Apartheid) by engaging and uplifting? Did my parents and godparents not join The Struggle and fight against the evil that plagued their lives? Did I not owe it to them to continue their legacy?

A memory came to mind, one that I still hold as the strongest moment in my time in Nyanga: 

An old man, coming home in his blue overalls. He stops next to our group of multi-cultural UCT students, and shakes each of our hands saying "Touch my blood", a brotherly term used as a greeting in the area. He thanks us for being there, for venturing out of our false-first-world paradise, for caring enough and not being ashamed to "see the people".

So I sat in the airport in Vancouver, downing a Scotch and feeling torn between the fear and the love in my heart, the hurt and the passion that drives me back to Nyanga each time...Sure, I never venture into the Flats at night, and never without an escort and well-known translator from the community. Sure I go in groups and take every precaution on the rare occasions that I send members out without me. Sure I trust the people in that community, sure they know me and know what we are trying to achieve. I was always so brave, or was it that I was just naive? My friend L.O. told me (bless him!) "Courage is not doing something in the absence of  fear. Courage is knowing the risks, feeling the fear, and doing it anyway!"

And I guess that pretty much summed it up. I made a decision: I wont run away or turn my back on the work that is so important to me. I wont live in fear in my own country, the only place I call home. I will keep doing developmental work in Africa, because that is what I am the most passionate about, that is what motivates me and that is what I want to devote my life to doing. I will not run off the Australia and Canada or the UK like so many other educated South Africans do, because this is my home, and I want to do whatever I can to make it a better place for my people. 

Ok, so thats the end of my rant. Please read the blog below written by Kevin Bloom. It really is very thoughtful, and is more factual.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

IMECE Vancouver

So I got home from Vancouver yesterday, what a week! I went over to attend the 2010 International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Exhibition (IMECE) and it was totally awesome. The committee meeting I had to attend was the main reason I went, and it was a very productive meeting. I always learn so much about ASME at these, and hearing about what everyone else is involved with is very interesting! 

I also was also asked to present on a panel. This was extremely cool! The session was all about "Global Experiences in Operations Engineering Education'. There were three other panelists: a sociologist who is involved in teaching systems thinking at Oakland University, USA; an engineer who spoke about Green Lean from Portugal's University of Minho; a lecturer from Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta who spoke on program governance and industry's response to mech-eng graduates; and of course me

Now if you're wondering what the hell is Rhea doing on that panel of educators and experts? you're not alone, so was I!  In fact, I didn't really see how I tied into all of this until I met the other panelists and heard them speak. All of them were discussing and advocating for the inclusion of operations engineering and systems thinking in the teaching of mechanical engineering. All of them were talking about the real-life experience and softer-skills that it adds to the students' development. So since I had completed two projects applying Operations Engineering to actual business scenarios, I was the 'real-life' student everyone was going on about. "No pressure!" my supervisor joked...I'm just excited that I got to be in the program!

Anyway, it went really well and I got to do some fun things apart from all the conferencing (which I enjoyed nonetheless). I met some really great people and got to see some of the sights. It was incredible meeting young people who are so energised, so motivated to excel and work hard to do great things! These young leaders make me feel like such a slob! Wow, I've got to hand it to them, I was really inspired! 

So some highlights from my trip:

  • Couchsurfing with the most sweet, fun and accommodating host!
  • Riding on bikes around Stanley Park
  • Eating Pumpkin Pie for the first time (the Americans were aghast that I'd never tried it before)
  • Seeing the Capilano suspension bridge
  • Meeting Nancy Fitzroy, the first female president of ASME (who signed my book)
  • Meeting the current President Elect, Victoria Rockwell (who told me to smack any guy upside the head if they gave me stick at work 'coz I'm a girl). Thanks ladies!
  • Seeing the lights of the city and harbor from Cyprus Mountain at night and the revolving restaurant
  • Presenting
  • Meeting fun, awesome and inspiring people!
I'm so glad that I chose to be an engineer. I've often wondered if I'd made the right choice, and its difficult trying to explain to people why I chose to be a mechanical engineer, of all things. But IMECE really solidified it for me that I am definitely in the right place. I meshed so well with the people, found the topics so interesting, and really learned a lot of valuable stuff! I'm glad that I stuck it through, and I'm glad that I've chosen to pursue a career in engineering (and not be a corporate-sellout and go work for a bank: not that I think thats wrong if you know thats what will make you happy). 

But all in all, I had an amazing time. It was a great experience, and I'm so grateful for getting the opportunity! Thanks ASME and Prof K!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vancouver Baby!

So I'm leaving today for Vancouver, to attend the IMECE conference! International Mechanical Engineering Conference and Expo!  I'm so excited, hopefully I can get to do some skiing while I'm there! Its going to be freezing and I own NOTHING that is really warm enough. Give me a break, I live in South Africa! My flat mate from New York laughed at my thickest, warmest winter jacket, saying that it was "a start at least"!

Looks like I'm going to be layering!

So I have to rush home to pack, but let me just give an overview of what exactly I'm up to in Vancouver! Firstly, I'm a volunteer on a committee of ASME, the society who took me to the States in June for their Annual Meeting. So the various committees are meeting again at IMECE and I have to put together a bit of a presentation to show what I've done over the last few months...*stress*

Apart from that, my thesis supervisor has put together a panel from around the globe to talk about Lean and Lean education as applicable to Mechanical Engineering students. They are talking about learning of Lean by students, teaching Lean to students, Industry's changing requirements of students etc. Well, this is all good and well, but you cant have so much talk about students and not actually have a student of lean, who has actively engaged in lean learning and projects, who is going into industry...And guess who's been asked to be this said "Lean Student"? Well, you guessed it. I'll be submitting myself to be the Guinea pig of the day, being observed and questioned and prodded..

Sigh, well, I'm not really sure what exactly they expect of me, but I think I'll figure it out..

Ok, gotta go get packing! Eek, I hate flying! Sooooo much! *panic*

Remember this post?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Engineers and Business

 Firstly, thanks for those who sent replies to the last post. I'm really interested with what you came up with! While I'm thinking it over, I thought I'd give you an update on my Engineers Without Borders project.

A lady who works at the Abalimi Bhezekhaya community
garden in Nyanga
Well, since its the middle of exams, most of the work has been grounded for now. But knowing me, I'm still hard at it, trying to keep things moving forward! A few months ago, the project took a dramatic turn into a completely new direction and to be honest, this was quite difficult to cope with.


Well, remember the township caterers, cooking food using treated wood that was potentially making them really sick???   We had initially wanted to implement a biogas digester: a huge, expensive device that would decompose organic waste into a rich sludge (to use for gardening) and feed off methane gas for cooking! But for a bunch of very good reasons, we went with high-efficiency stoves instead!


Traditional method of cooking using treated timber
Now these nifty things are just great, using ridiculously little wood to make a variety of foods and being light and portable! The best part is this: They are CHEAP! Well, a lot cheaper than a biodigester would have been! So we were all very excited because this would mean that our budget allowed us to could reach out to more than one trader. Way more than one! And this changed the ball game entirely. This wasn't the only thing that changed though. A ton of papers and research done on technology deployment suggested that we DIDN'T hand out stoves for free. This causes dependencies and the technologies not being properly looked after or resold almost immediately! If a person has invested in something, they are way more likely to want to keep it and use it!

Understanding Motivations

So now we were talking about things like subsidization policies and micro-finance...We looked at a more holistic approach to the impact we wanted to make, offering the traders business skills training, pitched at their level and actively uplifting them while tacking the health issues at the same time! My mind reeled as I thought of all the amazing possibilities this new approach could bring, and for the first time, things were really starting to look sustainable (remembering that this is a pilot project for this type of intervention!)

A micro-finance scheme, the
Kuyasa fund offers people the opportunity
to purchase solar water-heaters and
insulation for homes
There was just one little problem with all of this..No, actually it was a huge big problem! This was an Engineers Without Borders project, run and managed by engineering students, supervised by engineering lecturers, operating in an engineering capacity! But what we needed to do was develop a business model to market the stoves, invest and manage a micro-finance scheme and run business-skills training workshops! SAY WHAT? Not only did my engineering colleagues not have an interest in these things, they didn't have the background or skill-set to be able to move forward on this!

(Let me just add in here that a major learning from this project has been this: when delegating work to people, you should ask two questions. Does she/ he have the capacity (skills/ personality) to perform this task? Does this person want to do this task? And believe me, its the second one that is way more important!)


So after yapping about business and asking about business and reading about business, and begging my project team to read/ talk/ ask about business I finally had to admit that I was really making no progress. The powers that be were also putting massive pressure on me from above to get a move on. Thesis hand-in was looming and I was running out of time! It was time for a change, and quick. So I decided to contact SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise), UCT. Luckily I knew one of the organisation's leaders through Global Citizens who was more than happy to introduce me to the head of Projects for SIFE, UCT.

Well, I'm happy to say that they were quite excited about the project...and agreed to help where they can (which we all are pretty uncertain of still, but I'm hoping we'll clear that all up soon!)


Who are SIFE? Well, SIFE is an international organization that seeks to link business students with projects and mentors in order to create a better and more sustainable world...

Hmmm, why does this sound so familiar? Oh yes, EWB does exactly the same thing, but with engineering students! Wow, yay, how exciting! I cant wait to start working with these guys!

 Check out this link!   SIFE WEBSITE

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Approaches to diversity

Now I must admit, at one point in my university career, I reveled in peeving off everyone around me with feminist taunts and arguments. I was taking an elective in contemporary art and visual culture (yes, an engineer did a humanities course, and loved it *the horror*), which sparked my interest in feminism, particularly 3rd wave feminism and the sexual revolution... I bought a book called Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy (which turned out to be nothing more than a frumpy prude at the back of the room making a lot of noise) and The Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler, (which is simply awesome and incredibly emancipating!) amongst others...Now give me a break, I was never a bra-burner, but consider it as me freeing myself from the mental slavery of the 'norm': the accepting world in which we live...So the long and short is that I used to be quite vocal and opinionated about my views, and I admit, I did take it a little too far, (DW, you don't have to say "I told you so") pointing out every time any lecturer/ classmate/ friend made a sexist slur or being overly harsh on my girlfriends who thought pole-dancing was a sexy, fun workout!

But somewhere along the way, I realised that people weren't listening to my rantings, calling me over-sensitive when a male classmates openly treated the girls as intellectually inferior. I was confused, I didn't understand why I couldn't rally up any troops, no matter how much sense my arguments made to me! What was wrong with these people? Were they really so blind to the fact that there were only 5 females in our class, even fewer who would pass? Did nobody stop to ask why??? So I took a break from being a feminist, possibly for ever, and decided to have a long, hard think about things...

Global citizens, the course I did recently talked about different approaches to service: take a look and the (very bad) comic below...((forgive me, I'm no Che, but you get the point right?))

So Engineer-Chic sees these people all walking off this cliff like lemmings, and falling into an injured heap...

The question is: what do I do? 

Option 1: The Medical approach

Option 2: The Engineer's approach

Option 3: The Sociologist's approach...

Now, as you can see, each has their merit and each their problems. The first option sees the symptoms of the problem and tries to fix them on an individual level. While this is important since somebody needs to do something about the injured heap, the scale of this approach is very limited and you will always have more and more people to treat. This can be thought of as me ranting and raving in my neo-feminist frenzy! I made a lot of noise and perhaps got through to one or two people, but really did nothing about the actual problem.  (I'd just like to add that in no way am I hating on medical people! They are awesome and necessary and we NEED them!!)

The second option makes a lot of sense...if you assume that people are jumping because they simply want to get to the bottom of the cliff. But it doesn't actually ask the people why they are jumping, or what their motivations are. This approach has some reach, but the reality exists that you might not be tackling the right problem..This can be likened to the 'quota-system' in university intake, or the fact that industry demands female engineers to meet their equity stats, so females are more likely to be given bursaries to study engineering and don't need as high marks to get in. Yes, we get more girls in engineering, but why are they there?  Because they got a bursary?  Because they are using it as a springboard into management or business?  Are they really capable of getting through this incredibly challenging degree?  Sure, it does help many women get opportunities to chase their dreams of being engineers, but it doesn't do much for the way women are perceived or accepted. Neither does it boost throughput or the retention of skills in the field of engineering (engineering grads staying in engineering)! This is really bad since our country  has about half the engineers it needs to develop at the rate it should to and our government spends tons of money on educating young people who flunk out/ change programs after a few years of studying, or leave the country right after getting their degree!

The third approach however, is quite tricky. Firstly, this approach doesn't actually physically do anything to help the situation. What it does do, is get to the heart of the problem at hand, engaging with the people who are jumping, finding out their core reasons for their seemingly senseless suicide attempt, realizing that its not as senseless as it seems, investigates the institutionalized barriers to freedom and tackles them head on. This method is slow, far slower than either of the above, and its difficult for anyone to see the results at first...But slowly, things start o change, and eventually, a critical mass is reached...and when that happens, change is cant stop it, its explosive and irreversible!

This is the only way to really fix the problem...

So how can one apply this to the problems I've mentioned above: low intake/ throughput/ retention of female mechanical engineers? Or how can we come up with a new approach to dealing with the problem?

Do you have any ideas??? Please comment/ contact me with suggestions.