It was my Junior year in Undergrad at Arizona State. I was tackling a normal course load of about 16 credits. My goal was to graduate with honors in my engineering field (while having some fun along the way); get married and have a child within 10 months of graduation. It was quite simple.
The Engineering Student Council had recruited me the year before and it was a great extra curriculum where I would interface with industries across the valleys, older engineering students and receive mentor-ships from professors and even the Dean on a regular basis. On one spring afternoon, we were called to go to a lower income school district to talk about engineering careers to 6-8th graders. We wanted to pump them up and teach them how good grades now, equates to scholarships later. Some of these kids didn’t have college on their radar because of the finances, a sad story we don’t talk about enough.
They looked bored and were not remotely interested in what I had to say. Well, three of the 8th grade boys tried to get my number, but that was the extent of their interest. We were failing miserably and the awkwardness was killing my peers. So I reached into my back pocket and held up my first smart phone – Motorola Android. Their eyes widened and I said: “Why should you become an engineer? So you can make a better version of this!” Now they were excited. For the next couple of hours, we talked and did some experiments and they were sad to let us go.
On the 45 minute commute home, I realized I had found my calling: Leadership, with a focus on technical development. From that point on, my whole world view had changed. I wanted to inspire people all of ages on innovation, science and technology and be a mentor to those around me. Relationships went from being my priority to being something my mother talked about.
Looking back, I know I made the right choice. But on this journey, I have learned that some men are intimidated by career oriented women. Growing up with four boys, I was always one of the boys, so this concept never became a reality until recently, where I stepped my feet back into the dating pool. The intimidation is real and can create conflict in relationships and sometimes leads to ending the relationship before a chance is even taken. Or worse, women tend to feel discouraged and question their career decisions.
Although we don’t have arranged marriages in my culture, I still receive marriage proposals, which are basically a formal request to date. Last summer I was asked by a cardiologist and we went out for coffee. I thought to myself “how bad can it be? I make pacemakers and he implants them.” He spent a good 40 minutes giving me his back-story, which wasn’t too impressive but I was respectful. When it got to my turn, he asked what excited me and I said my career. I spoke a little more about that and his first follow-up question was “would you ever consider being a stay at home mom?”
I was speechless and wished Google translate could take what I had said and repeat it in the native language of Mars. Luckily the barista at Starbucks kicked us out because they were closing and I almost gave that teenager a hug for saving me!
When my frustrations and heartaches grew, I was on a mission to find out why. So I conducted informal surveys across 10-15 men with different job titles. My method had no rhyme or reason. The first set of men I asked was at work and I asked them casually in a response to a question they had for me about how my weekend had gone. The second set of men was more fun since it was done at bars or restaurants, so no filters!
And this is what I found out, where I later grouped into the three themes: Culture Changes In Society, Successes differ between genders and General personality traits.
} Most men don’t know how to react or communicate to intelligent women
} Women who are gullible and easy to control are easier for men to be with
} Male dominated world and women came in as pests taking jobs with little to no training or education
} Napoleon Complex (Dictionary.com: condition of being small in stature by aggressively ambitious and seeking absolute control)
} Men were used to being the breadwinners
} Own self failures result in resentment towards women
} Success for men and women are defined differently
} Women tend to be more emotionally intelligent
} Women can come off as harsh or dominant
The results weren’t too surprising but I did some research to understand how it originated.
First, the cultural changes in society mainly stemmed from World War II. With the surplus of men deporting overseas, women were forced into the industry to maintain our economy on-shore and when the war was over, they basically said “we like working.” The Women’s Movement had another piece of the shift and it helped when women started to get elected into higher positions.
Next, defining success to women is more based on personal worth and relationships. How am I perceived at work? Am I approachable? Most men define success strictly on materialistic attributes such as title and salary. This causes disconnects and resentment. If I made more than my signification other but thought it was so great half the company looked up to him, he may feel so small that his female partner made more than him.
Finally, your personality is the deal breaker. Regardless of career choice, salary or title, your attitude towards someone defines your relationship.
In my previous post, “Defeating The Intimidation,” I point out three ways to try and help the situation, which are: Value Their Career, Let Them Lead, and Don’t Try and Be An Engineer With Him.
The afternoon drive home from the middle school was a wake-up call that I was born to be a leader and I happened to have a great passion for engineering. Yes I struggle with not being able to hold onto a relationship for more than six weeks with someone but I deserve someone who values me for me.
Not only have I firmly defined my worth and will never second guess my career decisions, I have a new understanding for why men feel the way they feel and it has helped me communicate better. So maybe I’ll be able to onto a man for seven weeks before he goes off screaming.
Tima Erakat conducted her first professional talk at the Society for Women Engineers Regional Conference in San Luis Obispo on February 28, 2015.