As much as I'd love to say that women in engineering and science don't face increased challenges when compared to men.... I'd be lying. It won't take long for you to google examples, but I'll make it easier for you by suggesting you look at the June 1 Careers column posted online by Science, or find an article on the public comments made earlier this month by a Nobel laureate at a luncheon honoring women, about the problems with having girls in a lab. Happily, in both of these cases, the reaction was swift, vocal, and fairly unanimous in condemning these statements.
As a mother of daughters, engineer, and educator I try not to overemphasize the negatives. I see my role as showing my daughters and students how to forge their own path, and hopefully do so with kindness, humility, and an effort to support others on their own paths. (I've written before about my experiences as a female engineer/engineering professor/mom.)
Recently I found myself thinking about this while at a playground. My daughters and I love to wear dresses, and we also love adventure. Thus as I watched my four year old scrambling up a climbing wall in a bright dress and bare feet and found myself calling out to her "Don't step on your dress! It makes it harder to climb." At the time I meant it literally, but as I watched her happily scaling to greater heights, I realized the symbolic meaning of that phrase and discussed it with both of my daughters on the drive home from the park. The three of us decided that "Don't step on your own dress or on other people's dresses" is a good way to sum up many of the literal and metaphorical obstacles that we face in our lives. The thing is, stepping on someone's dress helps no one. You're most likely to end up causing you both to fall.
Giving in to self doubt and failing to try new things because of a fear of not succeeding? You're stepping on your own dress.
Being overly critical of yourself and convincing yourself that you aren't good enough, or don't belong? You're stepping on your own dress.
Being mean to another child in your class and telling her she's not good at something? You're stepping on their dress.
Not speaking up when you see another woman being put down or not being supported? Stepping on their dress.
For that matter, let's stop stepping on anyone's dress, cape, or apron. Instead, let's help each other climb the walls we choose to climb, regardless of what we're wearing*.
*or not wearing... kiddo claims it's easier to climb barefoot!