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Femininity, an untapped resource in mathematics, science and engineering

This is a comment on the last phrase you may find yourself in the SAWomEng site, co-founded by Nadiya (one of us). To see the phrase, you may go the site,

then (wander gracefully in it: the experience is really positive, and forceful - and when you like) navigate to the pillars page, and follow the link "Embracing the multi-faceted nature of female engineers".

Nadiya, please forgive me: I get "the" sentence right from your site:

"SAWomEng aims to nurture the facet of women most neglected by the industry: their femininity"

True, femininity is not celebrated by industry, nor considered a resource.

This, in my opinion, is a real pity (to those industries: they lose a significant competitive edge).

May we try being even more specific?

I feel this might be great service, and I try to give some impressions, on a very personal side.

Femininity is, really, multi-faceted. Thinking to a "feminine" scientist / engineer, my imagination goes to many characteristics I've seen in many people, and which in my tiny company I try to search in all new colleagues, male or female.

Give my very personal list (in random order, as usual from me).

- Love for the subject. Many scientists and engineers seem more interested in feeling successful than really in "discovering" and "inventing". The hard sciences are specially prone to this problem, solipsistic "geniuses" being still today so celebrated. But as I've seen, the real geniuses are deeply in love with their world, still remaining deeply and warmly human. You can't endure, nor have energy for long, if you reduce yourself to a uni-dimensional figure.

- Attention, and love, for the process. Bottom line seems the only important thing in today's world. But it isn't. A balance of results and process is paramount, in building successful enterprises. And besides, being passionate about the process allows you to feel your day-to-day work never really repetitive, enjoying doing it. And delegating as a gift, not as something dirty or "too detailed" to get rid of.

- "Placing people in the equation". So many products are designed apparently with people not in mind. Sometimes, they are completely useless, if not harmful. In other cases, they may have been interesting, but have been designed for toy-loving geeks. Really useful, lightweight, usable products are designed only starting from people, and not from technical prowess.

- Ability to tolerate ambiguity. The world, especially in science, is so complex. A primitive, either-or logics may not be adequate in so many cases. We need using other paradigms to understand, the both-and among them. This demands both a mastery of sophisticated logics, and and idea of using it as a tool of exploration, rather than a rhethorical weapon to "convince".

- Cooperation. Very little to say here. Complex achievements or constructions decidedly do not develop easily in a competitive environment. A warm, spontaneous cooperation, accompanied by sharing of information and will, is really useful.

- Receptivity. OK, this is quite obvious, for us. On a first glance, who isn't receptive? The will of being changed and enriched by experience is so strong anyone engages in this on h*self... Or not? Not all are so, as I've seen. If attitude to work is purely instrumental to an end result, then receptivity isn't really needed! Nor is valued. This way, a scientist or engineer will become obsolete in two or three years.

- Celebration of interconnectedness. Our Western world is enamoured of divisions, and all our disciplines seem so different. Ecology, economy, mathematical biology, ... Specialists in these disciplines should speak more and more, for their specialities to be really useful.

- Ability to see the context, and form the big picture. Thinking strategically, and appreciating long term perspective, is in the end what makes companies and institutions endure.

- Technical knowledge. It seems an obvious thing, but, have you wondered how many people lie in their curricula, claiming a preparation they don't have and bragging every time? Face work is very useful to advance, in traditional hierarchical settings. But it also tends to select people whose skill are much beyond their self-appreciation. I've seen one ting: the less people brag, the more they know.

These characteristics are important for anyone, although in our culture they are considered "feminine".

They are undervalued in traditional settings, but they shouldn't:

- They let your organization endure

- They help to reduce costs, and increase the bottom line

- Allow doing enterprises and organizations which are more "useful", and justifiable, to people and the environment

- "Feminine" characteristics are an advantage to individuals too, allowing them to thrive and grow personally, developing a form of power no one may steal you, and which definitely allows to "build". To engage in that sort of pregnancy which, in the end, is any kind of creative achievement.

And true, these characteristics should be nurtured, sometimes "despite" the mainstream.

So, let's work together on this!



naadiya's picture

The competitive edge of females

I think we should never underestimate our natural instincts as women. We are sometimes more cautious in our approach to problem solving, and more inclusive in our decision making process. We also have great intuition, and that is all part of our femininity and should be celebrated. We no longer need to be "one of the boys" to succeed in engineering. We as individuals can rise to the challenge of engineering and science without compromising our selves

Mauri's picture

You are so right

Engineering and science has all to benefit from contribution of everyone, from their deeper, authentic self.

And companies too.

In Italy this process has began later than in other places, but is progressing (often behind the scenes). Both in corporate world, and (even more important, given our social structure) in small-sized companies.

So, I'm optimistic: if this happens even here... :-)

Just a nice thing. I've seen a side rendering of the Regium Waterfront at Reggio Calabria, by Zaha Hadid. Is the roof a one-sheet hyperboloid?!

(This would not surprise me, as dr.Hadid, so a famous architect, is a mathematician by formation; she loves merging differential manifolds with other smooth and complex shapes - as a "sort of" mathematician, I found these shapes beautiful and evocative; maybe, a civil engineer trying to realize them might suffer cold sweating...)



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