Once in a while, there's someone you just really wish the world would give a hand up... and since she's gotten up the courage to write publicly about this, I'm going to take a leap and ask for help from anyone who thinks they might have encouragement or advice to give my friend Ash.
Ash (Ashley) Walker is a friend of mine from college and an aerospace engineer out in Colorado. She's one of those women who's whip-smart both in terms of technical keenness and sheer getting shit done-ness, knows that intellectually, and still sometimes doesn't quite actually believe it even if she knows she ought to. Ash is stubborn, tough, and sure enough of herself to stand against more or less any storm.
She's also in a tough, male-dominated environment - and she's doing it pretty much all by herself. I'll post an excerpt of what she's been dealing with.
There are days when being the only woman in my lab is like being slapped in the face over, and over again. There is no blatant sexism, there are just the little things that seem to pile up and this week the bucket overflowed. Ever been ogled during a data review where you are just trying to do your job? Yep, twice this week. I made my lead go with me to the second data review since it was uncomfortable. Thankfully data reviews with that group are less frequent.
Ever had someone wave, walk right by, start to leave the room, then see your coworker and comment "oh, so there is someone who can help me!" This was concerning things that were more in my realm too. Ever had people listen to you pitch slides but when questions arise they address them to your coworker? My coworker was only there to see what went on in data reviews. I was the "expert" in my system.
These are just some of the little slaps to the face. I have learned to tolerate most of them while working to change the tides. "Quit being such a girl about it" has already been removed from the collective vocabulary in the lab...
And at some point, you don't want to take it any more.
Somehow this week the bucket of tolerance was drained. I was tired of looking at the hierarchy in the lab that I have yet to break into. I was tired of seeing assignments handed to the other people and fighting for interesting work. I was tired of having things taken away when I ask for help. I was tired of being invisible. I was mostly just tired of it all.
I think that many - if not all - of us can sympathize with that sort of feeling. Whether we're male or female, engineers or not, sometimes there are these little things that build up to a breaking point. In the case of Ash, it's been... somewhere around 18 months, give or take a few, if I recall correctly, of just dealing with this day in and day out before the frustration's really bubbled up to the surface.
And it pains me to see this happen to Ash, because ever since I've known her (freshman year of college, when I was her TA) she's dreamed of working on rockets and has fought hard for over half a decade in order to even start doing exactly that. She's also big on giving back; Ash has been coaching and mentoring robotics teams since high school, serving as a FIRST judge, driving ridiculous distances to help out in the middle of Schoolwork Death Time. She's trying to make the world better so that younger students - especially young girls - will have an easier time doing Cool Stuff With Technology than she did.
And after years of this, she's tired.
So do me a favor, if you have a minute: leave a comment for Ash (or tweet @spacenerd). Let her know she's not alone, tell her about things that worked for you, if you know good groups or resources for female rocket scientists or women engineers in the Highlands Ranch, Colorado area - shout out. Sometimes we need a moment when other hands come out of nowhere and lift us up so we can keep on going.