No, I won’t #HackAHairDryer

Evidently, IBM wants to encourage women to enter science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by telling them to hack a hair dryer. My first thought is that while I appreciate any technology company encouraging women into STEM, did they really have to pick a hair dryer? I would like to give them the benefit of the doubt that it’s a cheap piece of electronics, but let’s be real. By picking a hair dryer, they are reinforcing stereotypes about women and how we care about our looks. I initially thought I don’t even own a hair dryer, then I realized I may own two. I know there is one in my guest bathroom, left by a relative, and it sits there in case any guest wants to use it. I may have one of my own in my bathroom, bought over a decade, possibly two decades ago. I am not even sure if I still have it because it has been a decade at least since I have used it.

My second thought about #HackAHairDryer is, YOU’RE A FREAKING COMPUTER COMPANY! ENCOURAGE WOMEN TO WRITE CODE OR HACK A COMPUTER IN SOME WAY! Computer science is one of the most underrepresented fields, even among STEM fields, it is one of the worst. For goodness sakes IBM, you are a computer company, encourage women into computers. That is a field you should know rather well. Surely you can think of things women can hack in your own field, things that will not play into stereotypes.

My third thought is what age is this campaign aimed at? Hair dryers use electricity, and they produce heat. They are not exactly the safest things to hack. In IBM’s video, there are a few scenarios for “hacked” hair dryers that quite frankly worry me a bit. If a girl or women wants to hack a hair dryer, great, but I hope there is someone (man or women) around who would know when they are getting into dangerous territory.

I can MacGyver with the best of them. In truth, a whole lot of my hacking knowledge did not come from school. It came from playing with things, looking things up on the Internet, and talking with other people with experience. I don’t “hack” that much. I do have a propensity to take things apart just to look inside and see how they work, which is easy. The difficult part is getting them back together again and having the thing still work as intended.

A final thought I have is aimed at any inspiring engineer. If you don’t like to hack, if you have never hacked anything, my personal opinion is that this means nothing to your aspirations to be an engineer or scientist. Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t be an engineer or scientist because X. I can’t remember hacking a single thing before college. I can’t remember hacking a single thing as part of my undergraduate or graduate school experience. My education did involve some hands on stuff and science labs, but it did not involve hacking. Most of engineering education is theory and reality of design. That is, first you are taught the theory as to how something should work. Then you are taught how it doesn’t always work like the theory, so here are some empirical equations with fudge factors that do work. Now throw in some safety factors. Ta la, you have your design.

So young women, hack if you want to, whatever it is you want to hack. Explore the world. Stay curious. Learn how things work. Learn ALL subjects and find the ones that interest you the most, no matter what they are.

IBM, back off the hashtags. Do something actually meaningful that will encourage women into STEM like sponsoring science fairs or building competitions or sponsoring college scholarships.

It’s Not Individualism or Bad Fashion, It’s Sexism

I once hypothesized that male heterosexual scientists and engineers single-handily keep the Hawaiian shirt industry in business. Don’t ask me why, but as a group, they love those shirts. I make jokes about their lack of fashion and just plain dressing ability. I tease because I love. I love their individualism, and I love how they don’t know or care about fashion. I may be a female heterosexual scientist and engineer, but I am one of them when it comes to dress. The last time I remember being fashionable was when I was in fifth grade. I don’t understand or like many fashions. I have my own style, and I like to look nice, but I consider my ability to wear jeans to work and not even own a suit, a serious perk of my career (and employer).

And then there is this.

This is Rosetta Project Scientist Matt Taylor of the European Space Agency (ESA) in a shirt covered in scantily clad women in in sexually suggestive poses. That is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when ESA did the amazing feat of landing a probe on a comet. This is the shirt he chose to wear on a day when he would be interviewed by the media and featured on live webcasts of the events. Not only did he not see a problem with this shirt, but evidently no one else at ESA did either. This. Is. Not. Acceptable. This is not appropriate. This is offensive. This shirt should not exist period, but it most certainly should not exist in the workplace. This is not about how ugly the shirt is. This is not about how unprofessional a shirt like that is. This is not about Dr. Taylor being an individual and expressing his style. This is about a shirt that objectifies women. This is about a shirt that is sexual harassment without Dr. Taylor even opening his mouth or making any type of gesture or doing absolutely anything other than wearing it. This is about a complete and utter lack of respect of women on the part of Dr. Taylor and evidently everybody at ESA who works with him and would have been in a position to say something. This about no one over there seeming to care about whether or not women feel comfortable working there when someone can wear a shirt like that. This about telling women it doesn’t matter your intelligence, skills, education, or ideas, you are but sex objects. The STEM fields continue to have a problem with sexism and gender inequality. My alma mater, a technical college, still only has about a 25% female student body. Wearing shirts like that to workplace will not help. It will not tell women that they are welcome. I quite frankly don’t care if Dr. Taylor is actually a really nice guy who is actually very supportive of women in STEM. His shirt says otherwise. He and ESA owe all of us an apology. That shirt overshadowed what should have been the main headline that ESA did the absolutely spectacular task of landing a probe on a comet. That shirt and the attitude it expressed ruined it for me in fact.

Finally, I would like to give mad props to Dr. Paul Coxon for his absolutely awesome idea, that if you want to wear a shirt with women on it, wear one with these women on it.

These would be some of the women of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) celebrating after ISRO’s Mars Orbiter Spacecraft successfully entered the Mars orbit. And they are awesome.

Real Sexy PhD Regalia

It seems to be more and more, all Halloween costumes for women are “sexy” costumes for women. Of course the definition for sexy being showing as much skin as possible. This Halloween, some company named Delicious has given us Delicious Women’s Phd Darling Sexy Costume. This probably sounds stupid, but the only reason this one particular “sexy” woman’s costume annoys me more than others (they all annoy me truthfully), is that this is not Doctor of Philosophy, or any other doctoral regalia. I mean if you are going to demean an entire group of people like female PhDs, at least get your costume close to correct. This costume is not even a Master’s regalia; it is a Bachelor’s regalia with honors. That gold “sash” is a stole, similar to what Bachelor graduates wear if they are a member of an honor society or have high scholastic honors, depending on the school.

Academic dress differs by country, but I am sure this is meant to be United States regalia. So let’s review what is wrong.

1. I’ll just ignore the length of the gown at this point. Because SEXY!

2. The sleeves are too short and should balloon out as bell sleeves. Yes, yes, I know, but sexy means more skin!

3. The sleeves do not feature three velvet bands on the upper arm.

4. There should be two velvet bands running vertically down the length of the gown.

5. It has no hood. The Master’s regalia has a hood that goes about halfway down the back of the torso, and the Doctoral regalia has a hood that goes all the way down the back of the torso. The hood features different colors that designate your specific academic field.

6. The head gear is wrong. Head gear can differ, but normally Doctoral regalia features a tam which can be 4, 6, or 8 sided. The tam is normally velvet also and is softer looking and puffier than the mortar board Bachelors wear.

To demonstrate the difference, below is me in my Doctoral regalia after I graduated. Sorry for the weird blurred out face, but I want some anonymity. However, let me be clear, my actual, hard earned Doctoral regalia is sexy. You know why? Because I am smart enough to become a Ph.D. Because I worked my butt off for six years to earn it, not to mention the four for a Bachelor’s and two for a Master’s. Because mine is REAL. Because sexy is not just about the body, it is also about the mind.

So Delicious and all other makers of “sexy” women’s costumes, why don’t you go demean men for a change?

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia

Me in my Ph.D. regalia


Twitter, Scientists, and Arbitrary Lists

Fairly often some website produces a list of people you should follow on Twitter. Yesterday it was Science with their The top 50 science stars of Twitter. This list, like so many before, is arbitrary, lacks diversity, and is based on, in my opinion, stupid metrics. Many people on Twitter have noted that this list is overwhelmingly white and male. They based the star status on follower count and a completely ridiculous metric called the Kardashian Index,” or K-index, which is about as ridiculous as the people for which it is named. The list also lacks diversity from a field of study standpoint. Also, some people have noted that other “star” Twitter scientists were left off, which according to the article’s author was because they restricted the list to Ph.D.s. I think that is a stupid restriction, and I am a Ph.D. Furthermore, someone noted that one of the accounts on the list is a bot, and another one are simply tweets by the person’s PR person. 

I follow a few people on the list, so obviously I think some of them worth following. However, if you are trying to be more active on Twitter and interact with people, most (but not all) of these people are not the people to follow. The more followers you have, the more difficult it is to interact with them, assuming you are even trying. Don’t get me wrong, some of the people on this and other lists do tweet great information. However, if your goal on Twitter is to network, make friends, learn things, and sometimes get help or advice, then “stars” are not to the people to follow. I have made friends on Twitter, including friends I have later met in person. I have also networked and gotten great advice on work and personal projects. I see tweets on an almost daily basis of scientists helping each other out via tweets. Someone will tweet out asking for advice on some lab protocol or best manner to collect a certain type of sample, and others will reply with advice. Many people, including myself, tweet out a photo of something we are trying to identify. If I know people who know things in that field, I’ll tag them, and via crowdsourcing, we can normally identify the life form or object. That sort of fun learning experience is through interactions with us non Twitter stars.

If you want to use Twitter for things like that, you need to seek out people in your field or fields you are interested in, or just people who tweet out interesting things. Ignore the number of followers they have, and look at what they tweet. The less followers they have, the more likely they will follow you and interact with you. There are wonderful people with tons of followers that are worth following on Twitter, and some of them do a good job of interacting, and there are some worth following even if they don’t interact. I just mean that you can get a lot more out of Twitter if you interact with people. That leads to the obvious question, how do you find these people? Look for Twitter lists such Women Tweet Science Too which was created to in reaction to the lack of women on the above mentioned Nature list. Many people have already created tons of great public lists like this for people in various fields. Follow people on these, and then once you find people you really like on Twitter, see who they follow and with whom they interact.

Furthermore, if you want my personal opinion on how to get people to follow you, which you can take or leave, then see below.

1. Tweet. That may seem obvious, but it you don’t tweet, people are not going to follow you. Tweet links to articles you find interesting. Tweet things you find funny. Tweet about what you are working on, even if you think it is uninteresting or no one will understand what you are doing. Your fellow nerds and geeks will understand and be interested. Even if no one if following you, you have to get started somehow.

2. Have a avatar photo. Having one that represents something about you, even if it is not a photo of you. I rarely follow Twitter eggs.

3. Have a Twitter bio. When someone follows me, I look at their bio. Do they work in a field interesting to me? Do they say something funny? Do they have interests similar to me?

4. Interact with people. Even if a person doesn’t follow you, if they ask a question you can help with, reply to them. Give your input.

Let’s Talk Stats, WMATA

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has problems. Lots and lots of problems. They’ve had an ad campaign called “Metro Forward” for a while now trying to let people know how they are using the money that customers pay to improve the system and do much needed upgrades and renovations. The customers, including myself, want a reliable safe system, not a PR campaign though. Recently they have unveiled a few new ads that in most people’s opinions are sexist, stupid, and somewhat confusing. The ads consist of posters with either two men or two women talking. A few examples that I have been able to find:

Woman 1: “A Metrobus travels 8,260 miles between breakdowns. Didn’t know that, did you?” Woman 2: “Can we just talk about shoes?”

Man 1: “A Metrobus travels 8,260 miles between breakdowns. Didn’t know that, did you?” Man 2: “Can we just talk about sports?”

Man 1: “When we take Metrobus, do you think we’ll get to ride the new 32-foot Orion model, or the latest Xcelsior model?” Man 2: “Dude, it’s a bus.”

Woman 1: “I love the way the tamping process aligns and elevates the rails for Metro, don’t you?” Woman 2: “I have no idea what you just said.”

Man 1: “So Bobby, did you catch all those new rail fasteners on Metro today?” Man 2: “No Billy, not so much.”

So WMATA, I’d like to speak to you as a woman and as an engineer. First, the last two ads that I have listed, about the tamping process and rail fasteners, I don’t even understand these. I have a vague understanding what these mean, and if I bothered to spend time on the internet researching, I have no doubt I would understand it better. However the average customer is not going to know what this means, and quite frankly, nor should they be expected to know. Furthermore, these posters seem to insinuate that there is something wrong with them because they don’t know. If things work properly in engineering and technology, people never know how things work, and there is nothing wrong with that. It is only when people’s ignorance of how things work can mess up a system, that engineers really care that they are ignorant. [Example, people who pour grease down the drain and not understanding the problems in the wastewater pipes to which this can lead.]

As for the ad where Man 1 asks which type of bus they will be on, Man 1 is clearly a bus geek, and Man 2 clearly is not. I respect Man 1’s geekitude, even though I don’t share it about buses. Man 2 does not respect the geekitude. How are they friends?

Now, let’s address the ad that is causing the most trouble for you WMATA. The one about the average bus breakdown rate. Most women think this is sexist because Woman 2 just wants to talk about shoes. So let me be clear, it IS a sexist ad. However, in your defense, the male version makes Man 2 look shallow also, so I guess that’s a win-win at making both sexes look stupid. I mean I like shoes. Most women like shoes. I like sports, not as much as many men and women, but I can have a conversation about it. Here’s the thing though. Shoes are not my sole interest. I am I nerd, and I would love to talk about the breakdown rate of your buses. That’s what you say you want, to get people to talk about the system’s reliability. So let’s talk about it.

You claim that “a Metrobus travels 8,260 miles between breakdowns.” Is that the mean or the median? What is the standard deviation? Can you give me a plot of the data? Are the data normally distributed? What is the skewness and kurtosis of the data? I would be willing to bet that your bus breakdown data has some really nice skewness. I bet your new buses work rather nicely, and your old buses don’t. Hence, your new buses probably can go much longer than 8,260 miles between breakdowns, but your old buses probably can go much less. Is one or the other skewing the mean and by how much? How does this lovely statistic that you are presenting to us compare with other DC area buses like those of ART, CUE, DASH, etc.? How does it compare with the breakdown statistics of other large metropolitan bus systems like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, etc.? You are presenting a statistic in a vacuum, and it is almost meaningless.

To get past that breakdown statistic, what are your on-time statistics, you know those statistics your customers actually care about? Most WMATA riders really don’t care what kind of bus they are on. They just want a bus runs on time, and actually picks them up at their bus stop, instead of leaving them because either the bus is too full or for reasons the customer never finds out, the bus just doesn’t show or stop. [Yes, this has happened to me several times.]

Speaking as a customer, I don’t want a PR campaign at all. I most definitely don’t want a PR campaign that makes my fellow riders look like fools. I want a system that works. I want a transit authority that actually responds to customer complaints. I want a transit authority that does more than send a automatic form response when I submit a complaint about a driver running a red light. I want to know that things will actually change and improve, and right now WMATA, you just keep failing at that, and this PR campaign does nothing to improve things. In fact, it makes things worse.


I’m privileged. I know I am. I have been my whole life. I’m a white woman who grew up in middle class suburbia. I went to good public schools through high school, and I went to very good public colleges and universities for my Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctorate. I grew up in the South, which I know many associate with racism, but I went to school with plenty of minorities. My one and only “disadvantage” is that I am female, in particular a female engineer and scientist. I do not consider being female a disadvantage, but females tend to get discriminated against as if we are less then males somehow.

This morning much of my Twitter timeline was filled with fellow scientists and then many other people getting very mad at Scientific American over its treatment of one of its bloggers, Dr. Danielle N. Lee. I encourage anyone who reads this post first to go read Isis the Scientist’s blog post about what happened to Dr. Lee, which includes Dr. Lee’s original post. The original post was on Scientific American but now is no longer there, which you can read about in Isis the Scientist’s follow up post. The extremely short version of all this is that an editor a scientific blogging website asked Dr. Lee to write some articles for free and Dr. Lee said no, the editor called her a whore. [Seriously, go read Isis’s blog posts.] My first thought upon reading about all this was, so you think calling a woman a whore is the way to persuade her to do what you want? Really? Does that work for you normally?

Somewhere is the incredulous, anger, and sympathy and respect for Dr. Lee upon learning all the details of these events, I thought how lucky I am. I spent the better part of my childhood in Texas, which has more than its share of racist, sexist pigs, yet I can’t actually remember a time I truly had to deal with one on a personal basis. Last year, I wrote about how lonely it can be to be a female engineer, both in school and in the workplace. I’ve been surrounded by men in the classroom and workplace, since pretty much my freshman year of college. Truthfully though, with one glaring exception, all the men I’ve studied or worked with have for the most part treated me as an equal. Maybe they didn’t, and I was just too oblivious to notice.

The one glaring exception was at the company where I had my first full time job after finishing my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees. My manager, a senior engineer, would occasionally make some remarks that made 26-year-old me rather uncomfortable, but I didn’t think were truly sexual harassment, and it has been so long ago, I don’t even remember what they were. Then shortly before my birthday, the other female engineer in the office and the female secretary happen to be in the copy room with him when upon the female engineer exclaiming “oh, it’s [GGE]’s birthday next week,” he said, “does that mean we get to spank her?” I was not in the room at the time, but this was a tiny office of about nine people. There are no secrets in an office that small, and I was good friends with the secretary. I heard about this comment pretty quick. To say this comment made me uncomfortable would be putting it mildly. I went to one of the other senior engineers, who happen to have previously been my manager, and I told him what was going on. I told him I didn’t want to make a big deal out of any of it, but I really wanted the comments to stop both for my and every other female’s sake. He assured me he understand, thanked me for coming to him, and promised to take care of it. Within a week or so, a human resources person from the company’s corporate office was in the office, and everyone was taking mandatory sexual harassment training. My former manager had my back. He took care of it, or really he made sure the company took care of it. Whether this engineering company that was definitely dominated by men took care of it because they seriously won’t take this kind of behavior, or if they were more motivated by fear of a sexual harassment lawsuit, I don’t know. What mattered was, they took me seriously, and they reacted exactly the way they should have.

So to return to Dr. Lee, I was thinking how lucky I have been to only have had one bad experience in my personal and professional life. Scientific American seems to not have her back, and the one time I had a problem, my company had my back. Then I stopped to think, why am I lucky to have only had to deal with one sexist idiot in my career? Why should a woman have to be lucky to not be called a whore? Why should I consider myself lucky for be treated like an equal in school and work? Why should I consider myself lucky for people respecting the career decisions I have made and for whom I would and wouldn’t work? Perhaps that is why I am a feminist because I am confident in the notion that I AM AN EQUAL. I have respect for myself. Calling me names will not induce me to do what you want. I will respect you if you respect me. Isn’t that what we learned in Kindergarten? Treat others the way you want to be treated? As for Scientific American, I cannot understand why they took down her post. I cannot understand why they are not supporting her. Their explanation makes no sense, especially to a regular reader of their blogs. They failed Dr. Lee, and they failed their readers by not supporting her. Their silence on her being called a very ugly name is deafening. People and companies who do not stand up against racism and sexism only allow it to continue. Until Scientific American apologizes publicly to Dr. Lee, I will be boycotting them. I am sure not going to go anywhere near the blog website whose editor called Dr. Lee a whore. I wish I could do more. I wish racism and sexism would end, but until they do, I intend to stand up for myself and anyone else who face them.

Female Restroom Design Basics for Men

I am officially fed up with going into restrooms that have been obviously designed by men. Evidently the women of the world are going to need to take more drastic actions because this situation does not seem to be resolving itself as more women enter engineering, architecture, and construction. Building code covers a whole range of issues from structural to safety to just plain standardization. Clearly, proper female restroom design needs to be put into building code. Perhaps we also need a rule that just as all engineering designs must be certified by a Professional Engineer, all female restrooms deigns must be certified by a female, perhaps not a female engineer, but probably any female who has ever used a public restroom will do.

Men, yes I am aiming this post at men because honestly I find it very hard to believe that a woman would be capable of making such stupid design decisions for female restrooms. This is not to say a female is smarter than a male (that’s an argument for another day), but because any female who has used a public restrooms knows exactly that I am talking about and would not design it so stupidly. So men, I don’t know why you are so confused about what about what we do and don’t need in a restroom. I assume and hope that none of you have been in a restroom when the ladies are using it, but still I would think the things that we need and want would be pretty common sense. Perhaps I should not assume certain men to have common sense when it comes to the ladies though. This election season has taught me that there are men out there who think women have magical reproductive systems. Thus ladies, lady parts, and lady part business is clearly an utter mystery to some segment of the male population. Therefore, let me give you an education about what the ladies want and don’t want in a restroom. I promise there will be no discussion the lady parts of anything else that might make you squeamish.

  1. Probably the biggest complaint that I and many other women have is the length of the stalls. Here is how it is fellas, ladies like to do their business in stalls. We don’t use the urinals. Not only do we like to use stalls, but we like to have doors on said stalls to give us some privacy. No problem, you say, we always give you stalls with doors. Well, yes, you do, but here’s the thing, evidently you have never used a toilet in a stall with a door because if you had, then you would understand that the stall needs to be long enough that we can close the dang door without standing on the toilet or straddling the toilet. Seriously, the stall should be long enough that we can stand in front of the toilet and close the door at the same time. If you can’t imagine what I am talking about, I invite you to go to nearest toilet and stand in front of it, facing away from it (like you might sit down or something on it). Now look at the distance your body takes up in front of the toilet. We need at least that much space between the toilet and the swing area of the door. Since the swing area of the door is put onto building plans, you already know that distance, so just add a proper distance between the toilet and swing area so that you can stand there. Simple right? Makes sense?
  2. We need a coat hook or something like it on the back or the door or the side of the stall. You might be aware that many women carry purses. Sometimes we also carry jackets or backpacks or other items. We like to be able to hang them when we are in the stall, so we don’t have to put our stuff on the floor. See this stuff is really not complicated.
  3. We need a small trash can inside each and every stall. Some restrooms have those neat trash can and toilet roll hangers that fit in the wall between two stalls. Those are just fine, just as long every stall has a trash can that can be reached from the privacy of that stall. I realize you may be confused as to why on earth we would need a trash can in each stall. Let me just say that at certain times of the month, we need to carry certain, shall we say feminine hygiene products, into the stall, and we like to dispose of, shall we say used feminine hygiene products, in the privacy of the stall. If you want further information please go ask your wife, mother, middle school health teacher, or the internet.
  4. While I am sure it is obvious that the stall needs to have toilet paper in it, what does not always seem to be obvious is where to put it. To put it simply, 99.999% of women are not in fact contortionists, and I imagine even the 0.001% of women who are, don’t like to do contortions in order to reach the toilet paper. It should not hitting our leg. It should not be behind the toilet. It should be in an easy to reach location.
  5. One more thing about the stalls. I can only presume that someone somewhere at some point created some calculation as to how many stalls would be necessary based on the planned traffic in the bathroom based on the design occupancy of the building. Whoever they were that came up with this calculation, they were wrong. I don’t care how smart they were and what kind of glorious calculus and statistics they used. They were wrong. If you don’t believe me, I invite you to go stand outside any women’s restroom at any sports or performing arts venue, airport, dance club, or any other place where you can find large groups of women. There will be a line. However outside the men’s room, there will be no line, or there will be a line 1/10 the size of the women’s room line. So whatever your calculation says, throw in a large safety factor, maybe upwards of 1.5. We will call it the female safety factor. It is a safety factor both from the traditional engineering standpoint of being conservative in design but also from the standpoint of you may be in danger if us females find out who is responsible for these horrible restroom designs that never seem to improve.
  6. Enough talk about the stalls, now let’s discuss the sinks. In general, the time spent in the stall is the time limiting step in a women’s use of the restroom, so there does not need to be as many sinks as the stalls. However there should be an adequate number of sinks, and they should be placed such that traffic can easily flow to, away, and around them.
  7. Staying with the sinks, optimally there should be one soap dispenser per sink, however, if needed, this number can be reduced to as low as one dispenser per two sinks, if and only if, the dispenser if placed between the two sinks that share it. I’ve been to too many restrooms where there were three sinks and two soap dispensers at either end. Let’s think about this. Where the heck is the person using the middle sink supposed to get her soap. While I suppose some people may wash their hands differently, I and everyone I know, wets their hands, then puts soap on their hands, lathers, then washes with water. If the soap is not near the sink, are we supposed to get the hands wet, walk around someone else, get soap, and return to our sink, all while dripping water from our wet hands? Common sense. That is is that is really needed here. Also, if the reason for this stupidity in restroom design is due to restroom designers not being the type that wash their hands after the restroom, then gross, and wash your dang hands.
  8. Now that we have cleaned our hands, we need to dry them. Shocker. Similar to the sink discussion, there should be enough paper towel dispensers or hot air dryers, to keep traffic moving in the restroom. I don’t know the optimal number, but if there are ten sinks, then more than two towel dispensers would be a good idea.
  9. Next, we are back to trash cans. Yes, I know, I already stated that we need trash cans in each stall, but we also need them outside the stalls. After we use paper towels to dry are hands, we need to throw the used towels away. This is where the trash can comes in. Sometimes, we have something else we might like to throw away, who knows, so trash cans are good. Also, to get into more detail, big trash cans are good, and trash cans that we don’t have to touch to open are really necessary for hygiene reasons.
  10. The next item that is necessary is a baby changing area. However, I am not sexist; the men’s restroom should have this too. Daddies change diapers too nowadays. A space specially dedicated for changing babies is required.
  11. Now let’s discuss furniture. We don’t need it. I don’t know what you fellas think we do in restrooms, but in general, we do our business, wash our hands, and get out. Sometimes, a lady might want to freshen her makeup or do other personal tasks. Sometimes, if we are with a friend, we might chat. In general though, we don’t use the restroom as a living room. We don’t need couches. We don’t get the vapors and need to use the restroom to have a lie down. However we keep finding restrooms with couches in them. My theory is that the couches are there because the restroom is being used as a storage location for the couch. Look if the restroom is huge, then fine put a couch there, and if some women has a use for it, she can use it. However if the restroom is huge, go poll all the women you know, most of us would vote for more stalls, not a couch. [See number 5]
  12. Are you ready for advanced restroom design? I know you can handle it. For hygiene reasons, after you wash your hands, you should touch as little as possible. That is why some of the newer restrooms don’t have doors at the entrance, they just have a slightly torturous route from the opening to the restroom to provide privacy. These are great. If this is not possible, consider placing a trash can right by the door, that way we can open the door with a paper towel, then throw it away afterwards. Simple.

Edited to add the following three based on comments from others:

  1. No pedestal sinks. They are pretty and all, but just as we have stuff to bring into the stalls, we will still have that same stuff when we leave the stalls. Where do we put said stuff if there are no counters?
  2. Consider that humans are different heights. While toilets and sinks normally are at generally standard heights that does not always accommodate everyone, there is flexibility in the height of paper towel dispensers, hand dryers, mirrors, and a few other items. Try putting them at different heights, so short people can use the lower ones, and taller people can use the higher ones.
  3. I have been informed from a couple of males, that I may have assumed too much when I said the bad female restroom design reflects ignorance or unthinking on the part of men. I stand by my statement that the problem is probably men because statistically speaking most engineers, architects, and contractors are men. However, I have been informed by men that male’s restrooms have just as bad design as the female’s restroom. I have also been informed that there are bad design of urinals. I know nothing about urinals, so I will not comment on how to improve them, other than to say that improved fluid dynamics design may be needed.

This has been your basic introduction to proper female restroom design. Please consider it carefully because if not, we are going start coming after those responsible for bad female restroom design. You have been warned. Women, was there anything I forgot? Please feel free to add to this in the comments. For further amusing discussion on what both women and men want in a restroom, please see this Storify Twitter discussion.

It Can Be Lonely Being a Female Engineer

Today is my mom’s birthday, so I’ve thought about her many times today and how she has influenced me in so many ways. The way she has influenced me has been in stark contrast to different news stories that came out recently that have distressed me a great deal. First, Iran has banned women from almost 80 different college majors. This does not affect me at all, but this sexism is disturbing. Many of the majors women are being banned from are science and engineering majors. Second, a Yale study recently concluded that women are  still biased against in universities in science majors. This Yale study is just astounding and to me really depressing. It is particularly depressing to me since I am scientist and engineer, and I realize just how far we have to go until women have equal footing with men in the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields.

When my mom was little, she had trouble in her math classes. When she would tell her mom this, my grandmother would tell her “Don’t worry honey, girls aren’t supposed to understand math.” At some point, she took this to heart and stopped trying to understand math. My mom is not stupid, and she doesn’t give herself enough credit for all the things she does and understands. I don’t think she has full confidence in her abilities though. My mom told me about what her mom told her, several times when I was older. She told me that when she had my sister and I, she was determined that we would never be told that there was something we could not do. She always told us that we could do anything to which we set our mind. Somethings might require more work than others, but we just had to work harder. My sister struggled with math at times, so she went to a math tutor. I can remember when I was in junior high, and at one point had trouble with math. Then at some point, something clicked, and I started to excel in it again, as I had when I was younger. It should be noted that I have always had a skill at math. My grandmother, the same one who told my mom that girls weren’t supposed to be able to do math, used to tell me a story about when I was little. I had just started to learn addition in school, and when my grandmother was driving me somewhere, I would ask her to give me numbers to add. I must have really liked math already, and I wanted to practice. She would give me numbers like 5 and 3. I would reply “No Maw Maw, give me big numbers.” I would demand she give me three digit numbers to add. After this happened once, she later my mom there was something wrong with me. I guess she just couldn’t understand a little girl liking and being that good at math. [As a side note, I believe at that point, I was already displaying the signs that I would grow up to be an engineer. I was good at math, and I was already a horrible speller. Parents, if you notice these traits in your child, they may be destined to be an engineer. Please take precautions.] I don’t mean to describe my maternal grandmother badly. She was a wonderful grandmother, and she was always supportive and proud of me. She was just from a different era. I credit my mom with being determined to break gender biases and wanting her daughters to have equal opportunities as any male. I credit my mom and her telling me I could be anything I set my mind to, with my becoming an engineer.

I am not sure if I have been biased against as a female engineer, but I have definitely felt like an oddball simply for being a female. As an undergraduate, I went to a small technical college whose student population was and still is only about 20-25% female. My undergraduate department of chemical engineering had one female professor, and I never actually had her as a professor. As I think back, I can’t even remember that many female professors at all. I think the math department had possibly the best ratio, close to 50%. I think I had one female professor in the engineering department, and she was as adjunct professor. Of the geology, physics, and chemistry classes I took, I can’t actually recall one female professor that I had, but I think each of these departments had a couple. I graduated from college in 1995. I am not ancient, and this was not that long ago. The civil engineering department of the university where I got my Master’s degree was similar in terms of student and professor female ratios. My advisor was a women, but she was one of the few females in the department. At some point back in college, I just got used to this type of ratio.

In my first job as an environmental engineer at a consulting firm, the company was dominated by men. There were female engineers, but not that many. I worked in a small branch office where initially I was the only female engineer. I can remember being in meetings with clients from a municipality along with coworkers from my firm, and I was the only female in the room. Later I worked for a state agency where once again, most of the scientists and engineers were men. When I went back to graduate school a second time to get my Ph.D., like with my Master’s, I had a female advisor for my Ph.D. The fact that a women was my advisor had nothing to do with her gender but that she studied a topic that I wanted to study. The department I was in actually had a number of female professors, but it was still dominated by males. I don’t know the ratio for the students, but it was pretty good. I think one reason it had plenty of female students is that it was environmental science and engineering department. Environmental engineering seems to have a greater number of female engineers than other other engineering fields. The hypothesis many people, including myself, have is that part of environmental engineering is caring for the Earth. Perhaps that “caring for the Earth” aspect attracts women more than other engineering fields.

In my career, I can’t remember feeling biased against as a female. It is possible I was, but like other aspects of my life, when I have felt something like this, I would just plow right through it. I can remember when I did field work such as working with drillers, I would sometimes force an air of confidence on myself that I didn’t really feel to get through the job. However just as importantly, I never felt particularly encouraged as a female engineer. I have no wish for special treatment or recognition just because I am a female, but when the only females I sometimes worked with or interacted with on the job were the secretaries, it would have been nice to have a female mentor to talk to just when I was tired of all the testosterone. I feel very fortune where I work now because there is an extremely good ratio of women to men in the science and engineering positions. My boss and her boss are both women. I am no longer lonesome being a female engineer.

I don’t know that STEM fields will ever reach a point where there is an equal number of women as men working in the fields. I get the impression that certain science fields are doing better than others at attracting women. The engineering fields seem to be eternally struggling to attract females. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do think it is very important to have females as well males in the STEM fields. Having females and minorities in STEM fields brings diversity to solving problems and even recognizing problems that can be vitally important. We also must make sure women are given equal opportunities. Even if for whatever reason females just don’t like STEM fields as much as males, we must make sure that females who do like STEM fields are encouraged to enter and stay in those fields. [Helping women to stay in STEM fields during their careers is to a certain extent a whole other issue.] We must make sure little girls are told they can be anything they want to be. We must make sure girls and boys are not told that there are girl and boy subjects. If we can’t even accomplish that, then we have no hope of equal opportunities.

Women Don’t Need Pink Tools

Evidently, Bic has decided that women can’t use normal pens and has decided to market a pen specifically for us. “Bic for Her” they call it because we need more pink crap. [I am not the only person who finds this demeaning and stupid. They have been inundated with sarcastic reviews on Amanzon.] I tweeted my indignation about this, and I asked what else do they think women need especially for us. You know, pink stuff. Do we need special hammers and power drills? I was quickly informed that the pink insanity does not stop with pens. There really are tools marketed especially for women, and yes they are pink. There are Little Pink Tools, which quite frankly make me want to hurl. There is also Tomboy Tools, which seems to be almost anything as long as it is pink. As if women can’t or won’t use something if it is not pink.

To be clear, I actually like the color pink. I use it in doses in my home decorating, and I have plenty of pink clothes, shoes, and jewelry. It is not my favorite color though. Pink does not mean something is “girlie,” and something does not have to be pink to be feminine. I am sure plenty of little girls love the color pink, but not that many women do. Women don’t need pink things just like girls don’t need pink legos or any other pink toy just for them. You know what kind of legos little girls like? They like legos, plain and simple. We could do a lot to end gender stereotyping if we stop shoving pink frilly stuff at girls and “manly” toys like guns and trucks at boys. If a girl likes pink and frilly stuff then great, but don’t assume just because she is a girl that that is what she wants and wouldn’t want to play with trucks and other stuff. And vice versa for little boys.

My sophomore year of college I moved into an apartment with several roommates. While moving in, I needed some basic tools. I think I was putting together a desk or something. I went to Walmart, and I bought a toolkit called Do-It-Herself. Yes, it was actually called this, and all the tools had baby blue handles, except for tools like the socket wrench, which were pure metal. I didn’t buy it for the silly name, and I certainly didn’t buy it because everything was matching baby blue. I bought it because it was a toolkit with a nice selection of basic tools that came in an organized, easy to store carrying case. I actually still have many of those tools, including the pliers, socket wrenches, and screwdriver. I still have some of the screwdriver bits too, but of course the philips bit has been replaced numerous time. It was a nice toolkit that fit my needs at the time. Looking back, I guess I should be happy that it wasn’t pink because evidently companies have decided that’s what we really want.

I am currently renovating the third house I have ever owned. I have renovated all my houses. With each house, the renovations have gotten more intense, and I have done more and more of the repair and renovation myself. Over the years of home ownership, I have bought more tools and replaced old ones or upgraded to better ones. Years ago, I bought a power drill and small drill bit case with bits of about ten different sizes. It served most purposes. Then years later, I bought a drill bit case with about 30-40 different sizes of bits. Last year I bought a circular saw, reciprocating saw, and a rotary tool. I’ve rented those before, but if you do enough renovation, it is cheaper in the long run to just buy them. You can also buy higher quality power tools than you can rent. Also when you rent, you have to buy your own blade anyway. And no, none of the tools I have bought since that original toolkit have been baby blue or pink or any other girlie color. I don’t buy tools because of how they look. I buy, or try to buy, tools that will last, that will work well, and that are reasonably priced. I would never buy a pink tool, partially because it is stupid, but also because if the tools is being sold because it is pink, then it is probably not being sold because it is a good quality, reasonably priced tool.

In short, women don’t need pink tools! We need good quality tools with easy to understand directions. We want them reasonably priced and easy to use. In the case of power tools, we want them to come to come with safety features, so we or anyone else who uses them doesn’t injure themselves. In short, we need exactly what men need.

For the record here are my tools, or almost all of them at least. You will notice a few baby blue ones from my original, aforementioned toolkit. However, not a single pink one among them.

My manual and power tools