Women's Initiative

Women's Initiative

Technologists and the Princess Syndrome

Thank you to WAVE member Carrie Vos for writing this guest blog.

WAVE member Carrie Voss

Recently, I was reading an article in the Globe and Mail regarding gender gaps in fields outside of STEM (Gender Gaps Persist Outside of STEM Fields, Too) and was struck by the term “Prince Syndrome.” In professions where there are fewer men (such as nursing and PR), men are often treated like royalty and move up quicker professionally. In the article, Donna Lindell (a professor at Centennial College) goes on to explain that there is not a corresponding “Princess Syndrome” in male-dominated industries. “This idea of the Prince Syndrome, that because there are so few [men in PR], often their career track is a lot faster for whatever reason…They have this status, where you don’t see that in professions where women are the minority, sort of this fast track.”

I considered this point and I agree that in my career I have never seen a female technologist have her career fast-tracked based on being the only woman in the engineering office, but I do believe that a “Princess Syndrome” does exist in male-dominated fields of work – and in fact, it has a detrimental effect on women’s careers.

Princesses in Trades and Technology

Women in Technology and Trades Symposium, NAIT

In November 2017, I had the opportunity to participate on a panel at the NAIT Women in Technology and Trades Symposium about unconscious biases. I spoke with several female professionals in male-dominated professions about our experiences. A point that came up repeatedly was that we were treated differently than our male counterparts, but often it was not malicious or an attempt to exclude us. It was often a gesture of chivalry or an attempt to make our jobs easier for us.

I spoke of situations when I was a new graduate of Engineering Design and Drafting Technology and felt that my senior coworkers were protective of me and treated me like a daughter. Another panel member who was a tradesperson spoke of a senior co-worker who would constantly try to do everything for her thus preventing her from using her tools as she needed.

It was issues like these that made me think of the “princess syndrome” in engineering technologies, when read the above-mentioned Globe and Mail article. The few (or often lone) women in the shop, field or office are often treated as special, but it does not result in movement up professionally. It often unintentionally stifles our careers.

What is Wrong with Being a Princess?

The problem with being a princess is the perception that you are delicate and uninterested in technically-challenging work. When starting my first job as the only female technologist in my department, I remember being nervous about whether I would be accepted and respected. I was thankful for the senior staff who took me under their wing and looked out for me. In time, with gained experience, I became more competent and confident in my abilities as a technologist. I felt ready to take on more responsibility. Unfortunately, I was the only one aware of this. I started to notice that I was not asked to do site visits that often and was not offered less pleasant (or more challenging) work. I was also assigned to additional non-technical roles such as the social committee and United Way. I wanted to move up professionally, but now felt stuck in my junior role.

Difficult Conversations

As uncomfortable as it was, I had to talk to my mentors and team leads. I had to make it clear that I appreciated their guidance and support, but I needed to grow professionally. Since they were responsible for project assignments, I needed them to consider me for more challenging work and send me to site as it was important for me to understand construction to be a good designer. They also needed to understand that just because I was female did not mean I necessarily enjoyed coordinating social events.

A Challenge for the Princesses

If you feel that you are being treated like a princess, it is time for a change. You need to push for the challenging projects, extra training and fieldwork where you may have been overlooked. Do not think that others have more experience so they deserve it more than you do. The only way you will grow and gain experience is if you make it clear you want it.

A Challenge for the Allies

If you are in position to offer more challenges to the female technologists in your workplace, then do so – it may be the opportunity they have been waiting for.

Connections and Education

As a woman who has worked in many male-dominated workplaces, I know it can often be difficult to find other women for support. Mentorship and networking opportunities can provide connections to other women in your profession. Some options for mentorship and networking include professional organizations such as ASET for technologists in Alberta. There are often options for post-secondary students with organizations such as NAIT’s WITT (opportunities for professional women in trades and technologies to mentor female students).
Another great opportunity for networking and leadership education is with the Women’s Initiative! Our Women’s Symposium is a great opportunity to network and learn from many female leaders including Crystal Bowen, a journeyman carpenter with Women Building Futures. Hope to see you there on February 10!

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