Can Extroverts be Engineers?
Updated: Jan 13, 2019
A common image of a engineer portrayed in the media and through repeated stereotypes (I'm talking to you, New York Times, you HBO's new show, you, the movie, the Social Network) is that of an engineer being a socially awkward loner. A serious introvert. The guy or gal sitting in their cube working away and only comfortable talking to people as long as they are speaking virtually.
Well, that is a STEREOTYPE. Let's review what that means:
ster·e·o·typeˈsterēəˌtīp,ˈsti(ə)r-/nounnoun: stereotype; plural noun: stereotypes
1.a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing."the stereotype of the woman as the carer"
From Urban Dictionary: A commonly-held view about a particular group of people e.g. a nation, social group, religion etc... Often incorrect and/or offensive.
From Miriam-Webter: to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same.
Synonyms: standard/conventional image, received idea, cliche, hackneyed idea
Why am I repeating and highlighting the definition of a stereotype? Because the myth of an engineer being a socially awkward loner is so pervasive, so often repeated, so believed that it is insidious. It is this myth, this stereotype, more than any that turns most women off from pursing engineering, science, or math at the collegiate level and beyond. Young women look around, they believe the stereotype, and self select out. They think 'I don't look like I fit in' equals 'I don't fit in'. 'I want to do something that has me work with others. I like working with others and from what I've been told (i.e. the repeated and pervasive stereotype) I don't fit in.'
Well, guess what guys and gals, any time you sample a large group of people you will be able to identify certain traits. Yes, in STEM there are introverts. Sure, there are people who are socially awkward. However, just the same, in that large sample of people, there are engineers, mathematicians, and scientists, that are outgoing, bubbly, talkative, social cheerleader types too. There are. Imagine the STEM version of Legally Blonde! Look at the profiles you see on this blog so far. None has raved about the amount of alone time they get. Each has talked about the team of people they work with and how they were inspired by their others.
Speaking of teams, working in STEM and even at the undergraduate level, you will be working in teams. (sometimes, more than you care to! haha) No matter how amazing, how brilliant you are in your respective field, you can count on having to work with others. Often you will have to rely on others to help you complete your work and achieve your goals. Your ability to work with others is one of the key factors to your professional success. In fact, a question interviewers often think before hiring a new employee, is how well do we think this person will fit on this team? Do we want to work with him/her?
My point is not that STEM is made up of extroverts or introverts. There are all types of people and personalities. The work requires all types. Really. We have to break through the stereotype so that competent, capable, young persons don't weed themselves out before they even begin.