khaanoom mohandes

7 09 2007

[By Shideh] 

Today I attended a meeting at PEER (Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research) head quarters, here in Berkeley, with a team of visiting engineers from Pakistan.  They were mostly interested to learn about the progress in earthquake engineering practice and research in the U.S. and the performance and success of research supported by government organizations.  During the meeting, from what I heard, I thought Pakistan and Iran have a lot in common (culturally and socially) and creating joint programs between the two countries can be effective in their progress. 

Another topic of interest in this meeting was how to increase women participation in engineering, in Pakistan. The last topic was especially of interest to me, as there seems to be a fast trend of increasing women engineers both in practice and in academia across the world.  I’m eager to know exactly what portion of engineering students in Iran are women.  As a high school student in Tehran, I remember that engineering was a hot topic and many of my friends dreamed of becoming engineers and getting the title of “khaanoom mohandess.”   It seems to be different here in the U.S as (I think) science is the focus in most high schools and math and engineering are commonly detested. 

This can be a controversial topic, but I think it’s generally thought here that female engineers are better employees for their detailed calculations and analyses.  Of course this can be a topic to debate, but I also think perhaps the increase in female participation in both design and construction in a city like Tehran will lead to less corruption in the system and therefore better buildings and infrastructure.  The downside to having women involved in the construction industry may be the cultural issues with having a female engineer ordering around male construction workers and other male engineers none of whom are used to the situation.  What are your thoughts?    

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6 responses

10 09 2007
koohestan11

nice post, khanoome mohandes!

Interesting point that female participation might lead to less corruption. out of pure curiosity, I wonder if there are any studies on the correlation of corruption and gender. on one hand, i wouldn’t be surprised if females are less likely to be corrupt. on the other hand, corruption is correlated with power, and maybe because most powerful positions are held by males – we only see corruption in men.

Also, that’s extreme to say “math and engineering are commonly detested here.” weakness doesn’t mean they detest it.

10 09 2007
koohestan11

that’s a cool “visitor map” you got on your blog. there are visitors from usa, europe, iran, india, and china!

10 09 2007
Shideh

Thanks koohestaan11 Aghaa for the great comment!

You’ve got a point about saying “commonly detested”. It’s probably a more extreme sentence than I had in mind.

I should make it clear though, that all the comments in this post specifically, are purely my opinions and open to debate (and are not based on any studies, only on pure impression). My goal was to hear what others think in an informal way, as it’s hard to come with hard statistics on such topics.

I’m going to do some research to see if I can find any studies on gender/corruption correlations and will let you know if I find anything. It must be an interesting topic to study and of course very important for policy makers.

damet garm

11 09 2007
shawhin

Good point on the power-corruption thing. I wonder… in my personal experience with working under high-standing women in engineering I find that in general their practice is more transparent whether it be management style, etc, etc. But that may just be because of the nature of their (still somewhat) unique positioning in the infrastructure/engineering industry in the US.

So, I think what I’m trying to say is that though we may not be able to determine if women in practice are in general more accountable or run a cleaner operation, it may be possible to look at the issue from an angle such as “since women in leadership positions in [whatever] industry are in general fewer in numbers, and perhaps since they are sometimes more under the microscope of uppermanagement… then by the nature of their precarious/unique position (especialy in Iran), they would be under external pressure to run an operation in a given fashion.”
Did that make sense? I think there’s a much easier way to say what I just said…!

In my experience, I’ve found it easier to work for women bosses… they seem more accomplished than their male counterparts (maybe they needed the extra acheivement to get into such and such position) and they are more comfortable for me to deal with… IN GENERAL! I’ve definitely seen the other side of the spectrum… but moreso with men.

Anyhow, just running at the brain here.

11 09 2007
shawhin

Some more rambling thoughts on the benefits of women in leadership roles in infrastructure and engineering:
• it would balance the field. Well, obviously. But it means a less male dominated industry, which I think is a great thing
• more women in leadership might attract more women into industry in general
• in my mind, most Iranian women I’ve worked with or met outside of work are more often than not, extremely savvy (baa orzeh) and sharp… particularly the educated ones… often very action oriented too… and I think that’s really important in Iran (observation from a distance)

25 09 2007
Mei

Hi Shawhin and Shideh –

Great website, great discussions! You started a very interesting topic here. As a not-so-young woman in the engineering field myself, more often than not I am the only woman in a meeting of 30 men. At this state and age (at least in North America) I don’t think anyone in the building industry think twice about it. I will have to see if things are any different when I move to Hong Kong!

One thing I do definitely notice is the small percentage of women in the management level. At grad school or even at work here, the gender ratio is almost 1:1, but the ratio for women in the management level is quite pitifully low, as far as I can see. I am still trying to come up with reasons for this, but family duties that comes around the time of promotion and traditional gender role expectation of woman is the first thing that comes to mind.

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