The Engineering field faces an internal issue. An endemic set of practices that keeps the field from reaching the full potential of many of its most valuable resources and damages its long term viability and evolution.
Sexism is a horrible practice common to many areas of Engineering, and damningly pervasive on the Information Technologies field where a lot of us work.
As engineers, we must root it out before it compromises the integrity of our entire systems (that is, our practices, inner workings, knowledge transference and resource allocation).
Why does this hurt us
Pretty simple: It actively limits the scope and availability of much needed factors (these being resources, processes and cognitive power) in engineering fields.
Forget for a minute the rightful ethical, moral and basic human rights implications, think of it a simple, sterile boolean algebra / statistical problem.
Let's look at my area of expertise: IT workers are notoriously overworked. We frequently work longer and in more tasks than we should. It erodes the available workforce, just ask around any IT workers if they feel overworked constantly.
Demand keeps increasing for skilled workers, regardless of market pressures or economic downturns, so we need to keep a constant influx of new recruits into these areas to cope with the increased demand.
However, if we introduce artificial limits to adoption, knowledge transfer and resource replenishment we might eventually remove very valuable resources and variation in our internal systems that makes us able to quickly adapt and create efficient solutions.
The need to understand that this issue truly exists
So, how do we understand that an issue exists? How do we make sure that this is currently happening?
We ask someone whose judgment we trust.
Ask your friends. Ask your coworkers. Ask your interns. Ask your bosses. Talk to people and ask, without any agenda. Just ask and listen to what they have to say.
I used to believe this wasn't much of an issue but when I started getting first hand accounts of blatant sexism I realized: This is ongoing , This is still happening to them.
I have seen quite a lot of debate and extremism in this particular point, and most of it seems to stem from both ends of the issue: those who refuse to acknowledge it and those who believe is a predominant issue (luckily, it still can be excised).
There is no hiding or rationalization from system failures.
As engineers, we solve problems.
We have a problem, and we must apply the very same engineering practices to solve it.
Perhaps the most common issue I see when the topic is discussed is just being dismissive or show apathy towards it. That is, we try to deny the very existence of this and tend to treat this as small, isolated little incidents rather than a systemic practice.
This is a mistake. A terrible one.
It is a common failure, though luckily, it can be removed and measures taken to avoid it.
Like all failures, it has to be diagnosed, treated and excised. If left unattended, it might progress beyond its initial stage, eventually causing systemic failures.
Worst case scenarios
One of my worst fears is seeing an entire area of human development stagnated (be it professional, practical or theoretical). Its growth stunted, the problems it was designed to solve still existing and affecting the entirety of the species.
I fear this might happen to the entire field of Engineering if this is not addressed.
I fear my field of development can get horribly stagnated and subject to dogmatic artificial supression factors.
Historically, I think medicine during the european dark ages might be an example of this scenario. Disease left unchecked, barbaric treatments, stagnated development of general understanding and a hugely powerful establishment that artificially limited who contributed and what sort of knowledge and practices was incorporated into it.
It wasn't easy to correct these mistakes, and perhaps we still suffer from some stagnation in the Medical field due to this (just ask anybody who has required extensive medical care).
Imagine, if IT had an artificial dark age.
Imagine we believe women can't contribute to some areas just because they're women.
Imagine we believe men can't contribute to some areas just because they're men.
No pioneering, no availability of new resources or even ideas that don't match an expected source. All viewpoints aligned, all resources the same for all practical purposes.
Doesn't it seem irrational?
Doesn't it seem like a really, really bad proposition?
To me, it seems plainly like a mistake, from inception to end.
Steps to recovery
So how can we solve this issue?
As an engineer, I might not know the full answer, but I can outline what we can do:
We observe. We identify the problems. We propose small systemic solutions that solve a part of the problem. We implement these solutions. We test for the results of these solutions.
We tweak. We improve. We learn and share this knowledge. We keep this going. Again and again.
We do engineering. We solve problems.