Month: October 2015

Changing Costumes

This is not another post about how Halloween retailers sexualize young girls by labeling costumes with names like “sailor sweetie” or “cop cutie.” This is not another post about the padded muscle costumes that encourage hyper-masculinity in boys (although, to be honest, I really haven’t seen any posts addressing it the same way the sexualization of girls is addressed). This is not another post about how all “girl” costumes feature skirts, glitter, and princesses or how all “boy” costumes have bloody weapons or are superhero-themed. This is an exploration of how occupation or career-themed costumes are labeled as “girls” or “boys.”

First of all, I have nothing against girls who want to be princesses, sparkly witches, or cowgirls or boys who want to be superheroes, pirates, or ninjas. I’m all about Elsa, Ariel, and Spiderman—you do you, Batman. Halloween is all about dressing up and pretending to be someone or something else, and that’s the beauty of it.

I chose to feature major Halloween retailers—Walmart, Target, Party City, Halloween Express, Spirit Halloween, and Costume SuperCenter—and only selected the pictures listed under the occupation or career category. All the websites sorted their costumes by “boy” or “girl,” so when you see a boy wearing a costume on the “girls” side, just know that the picture is there because the retailer categorized the costume as a costume that could be worn by either gender. For transparency’s sake, know that I left out certain costumes. While most of them are definitely real careers, I had to narrow it down in some way. Here is what I left out: athletes, circus clowns, gangsters, “career criminals,” pop stars, referees, and Hollywood stars. However, I kept dancers and fortune tellers because, frankly, the girl’s side was lacking representation.

Click on the collections below to see for yourselves…

Interpret the collection of pictures however you would like, but here are my observations:

  • There are way more occupation or career costumes for boys than girls.
    A lot of the “boy” costumes also could be worn by girls. Some may be more male-dominated, but it’s not like the occupations of firefighters, astronauts, or postal carriers are exclusively held by men.
  • When the retailer did categorize the costume as “either,” the image is always a boy. The default child is “boy.”
  • Target actually had a “gender neutral” costume option, but the only occupations featured under this category were depicted by boys.
  • The retailers all seemed to have the same costumes, but how they categorized them varied slightly.
  • There are very few non-white children featured in the occupation or career theme category of all of the retailers. In fact, Target had all white children featured in their occupation or career costumes except for the two models dressed as Doc McStuffins.
  • I was somewhat hopeful when I saw that Costume SuperCenter carried a brand with a girl and a boy wearing the same costume in the same picture, but then the company categorized the doctor, vet, and chef as either “girl” or “boy” and the construction worker, police officer, and fire fighter only under the “boy” category. This is despite the fact that the image had both a boy and a girl. Take a look below.


So what does all this mean and who is to blame? When children play pretend and imagine themselves in certain careers, don’t we want as many options for our girls as we do our boys? Children should be encouraged to explore all types of careers, and Halloween is the perfect time for boys and girls to take on these different roles. When the occupation or career costumes marked “girl” only feature the options seen in the collection of photos above, when a costume could be for a boy or a girl yet the default image features a boy, what message are we sending to our children? Are we steering girls away from these occupations by not including their images with the costume? Maybe.

As a child, it’s difficult to imagine you can be someone or do something if you can’t see a person that looks like you in that position. Yes, there are lots of other factors that influence which career girls end up pursuing, and, yes, the availability of Halloween costumes probably is a tiny piece of that puzzle. But what’s the harm in at least giving girls the option to explore different roles through costumes in the same way we allow boys to explore?

I’m not advocating that parents should force their children to be something that they don’t want to be. If a girl wants to be a sparkly princess, let her. If a boy wants to be a secret agent, let him. But the option to be a firefighter or construction worker should be given to girls as it is for boys. It shouldn’t be edgy or gender-bending that a girl would want to dress up in the same occupation or career costumes as a boy.

This is not the fault of the companies who manufacture the costumes, though they could feature both a boy and a girl in their costumes to make it easier for retailers to market their products more broadly with more diverse models.

This is not the fault of major retailers who sell the costumes, though they could do a better job of categorizing and labeling their merchandise. Instead of saying a costume is either for a “boy” or “girl,” labeling it as a “child’s” costume would give children and parents the power to decide for themselves.

This is our fault. We, as a society, are to blame for the lack of occupation or career- themed costumes for girls. Manufacturers do not make products that cannot be sold by major retailers, and major retailers do not carry products they cannot sell. Consumers drive demand for products. We have to collectively take action. Our girls deserve better.


‘SWE Sounding Board’: The Adventure of Life

What does it mean to make your own path in life?

I used to ask myself this question a lot. There are so many people on earth—even just in America, 20.2 million students will attend universities this year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It is incredible that so many people can achieve a higher education; however, it does make one feel like a small fish in a very expansive sea. With so many other people pursuing higher degrees, how can I carve out a path that is truly my own?

I witnessed the answer to this at the SWE national conference in Tennessee. I became a part of an entire convention center full of motivated women with unique aspirations. Even though we were all women in engineering and most of us had similar skills in math and science, I was exposed to so much diversity of thought. We could all see the world’s problems, and we each wanted to help tackle them in our own particular way.

When I was at a panel about women having a global career, I discovered how professional women are taking what they learn on international engineering trips and applying them back home. They used good team work skills from Spain and relationship-building between corporate partners from Japan; they were open to better ways to solve problems.

During a session for LGBTQ inclusion, I discovered different ways to be a voice for colleagues and help them raise their own, to be an ally.

The most exciting discussion session for me was about women in sustainability. There were five different women who each were discovering their own way to help overcome environmental issues. One woman was part of the Clinton Foundation’s initiative to bring solar power to island states. Another was the founder for Woman in Wind Energy. Yet another was a graduate from MIT who worked with a solar installation company. Others graduated from the Naval Academy and decided to go after careers in renewable energy services. All of these women started somewhere different and, through their technical careers, decided their mission was to give back to the earth. They each had their own way of solving what they thought were the most pertinent environmental problems.

What one of the panelist said really impacted me. She said how each of us may believe we have to solve all of the world’s problems, but if you think of the world as a human body, you can remember that there are countless cells working toward the body’s health. Not one cell contributes wholly. Each cell works beside the other. I felt like that was very true for this situation because all of these women came from different backgrounds and were working on their own tasks in order to better the world, and I know that there are countless others tackling separate environmental issues and other problems such as poverty, education, and social justice. We will all find a way to contribute to the earth by being part of the world and working through it to carve our own diverse path.

SWE ‘Sounding Board’: Reaching Out to Reach Up


It isn’t what you know; it’s who you know. We’ve all heard this cliché countless times, but how true is it? Do we even want it to be true? I can’t think of too many people that I’ve met who have been thrilled about this prospect—plastering on fake smiles and rubbing elbows to get ahead in life? No thank you! I would like to amend this cliché: it’s about who knows what you know.

Through my involvement with the Society of Women Engineers (SWE), I have had the privilege of forming lasting relationships with countless outstanding women. These women come from all different places in life, from collegiate to professional to retired, and all different fields of practice, from technical and design-based engineering to project management, leadership, and entrepreneurship. These women come together, reach out, and reach up: hoisting one another to great new heights.

Many people see networking as an uncomfortable experience in which you cannot be true to yourself or just connecting on LinkedIn with that person you met on the elevator with a fancy sounding title. While in some situations, yes, that’s how you make connections, it isn’t the only way. Forming those connections is as easy as reaching out: find someone you admire and ask them to be your mentor.

Forming these relationships, dreaming big, and voicing those goals will ultimately help you achieve them. Those who believe in you, want to help you succeed, and have the resources to do so cannot unless they know where it is you want to be. This is what being a SWE member has taught me.

Most of my SWE-based network may not be directly related to companies I want to work for or even fields that are of interest to me, but it is full of leaders whom I admire. Those that dream big and empower other women to do the same. These women know what I am capable of and have faith in who I am as an emerging leader. They serve as role models, cheerleaders, coaches, and advocates.

Surround yourself with strong, empowering people and you will go far. Networking is far more than who you know—that is only scratching the surface. Your network should have confidence in who you are and what you are capable of and be willing to stand up and say, “Yes, I have absolute confidence they can do that.” These are the connections that will make a difference—not only in your professional career, but in your life.

Photo courtesy of Jessica Messick: (Left to right) Brooke Sroczynski, Melissa Lindsay, Jessica Messick.

SWE ‘Sounding Board’: In a Room of Engineers…

Picture this: a room full of 9,000 women engineers ranging from first-year college students to seasoned, middle-level engineering managers. The excitement fills the air as these ladies fill the room, chat, and hustle to find their friends and meet new people. This is the first event of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) 2015 Conference, taking place in Nashville from Oct. 22 to 24.

The SWE Conference is the “world’s largest conference for women engineers,” as it says on its website. This year’s theme is “Reach Out to Reach Up,” a message of how women standing together and supporting each other can make dreams become reality. Voices Raised will be the sounding board for the 12 SWE-UD members traveling from Dayton to Nashville to experience the seminars, speakers, networking, professional development, and career fair opportunities this conference offers. Be ready to hear from all 12 members.

Here’s an overview of what happens:
Our 12 SWE-UD members pile into vans and drive down to Nashville on Wednesday. Thursday will be filled with seminars and speakers on every topic under the sun, related to collegiates, professionals, career movement and more. The keynote speaker is Nicola Palmer, the senior vice president and chief network officer for Verizon Wireless. Other seminars include “What to look for in an offer and how to personalize it,” “Overcoming the hype of 3D printing,” and “Mind the Confidence Gap: How to overcome fears of being a young professional in a technical environment.”

Thursday night will be busy with “Hospitality Suites,” where companies from the career fair each take over a room (similar to the conference rooms in KU) and host open networking hours – a great way to talk one-on-one with a couple of your top companies before the career fair even starts. Friday consists of even more seminars and “lightening talks,” shorter talks on hot technology or topics in engineering, and, most importantly, the massive career fair. Over 290 companies will be represented at this year’s fair. Everyone from NASA and Google to Boeing and Praxair (and 286+ more companies) will chat and interview the over 9,000 SWE members that attend. Talk about a lot of awesome opportunities at your fingertips. Friday night will conclude with a night of exploring, as the SWE-UD section carries on it’s annual tradition of eating dinner one night with all our members at a local restaurant.

Saturday continues with even more great speakers, volunteering opportunities at the annual “Invent it Build it” event for middle school girls and their parents. This wonderful event promotes STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers and opportunities to young girls, since most girls choose whether or not to continue studying science or math as a life dream when they are in middle school. This event provides parents with loads of information on how to keep their girls interested in math and science, as well as numerous hands-on activities and experiments for the girls to play with and try their hand at, all with some of the 9,000 SWE members that attend conference as their volunteers, role models, and activity helpers. Talk about inspiring.

Saturday evening concludes with the annual “Celebrate SWE!” awards and dinner event, where the collegiate scholarship winners and SWE award winners are recognized, and everyone celebrates and remembers the advances of women in engineering and is motivated to continue working in engineering. Then, the event turns into the dance party for all the collegiate members. Finally, the conference wraps up as everyone packs up and heads home on Sunday morning. And it’s back to the books.

You can follow @SWEtalk on Twitter and Instagram and look for #WE15 and #BeThatEngineer for daily content on SWE and WE15.

The Gray Treatment

“Don’t do it!” she warned, her face displaying a mixture of surprise and concern.   “People won’t treat you with respect if you do.”

My young friend’s perspective softened soon after, when she showed me a picture of a not-yet-twentysomething Kardashian sporting a head of long, gray locks. 
So maybe letting my hair revert to its natural—presumably some level of gray—color wouldn’t be as disastrous as she’d initially thought, she concluded.

It was a “transition” I’d been contemplating for several years, but only seriously since I’d passed the half-decade mark.  I’d discussed it with my hairstylist on and off for years, but she’d discouraged me from taking the plunge.  Not that she was a disinterested party to my decision: for years I’d paid her a good chunk of money every four weeks for her skill with scissors and chemical colorants.  But now I’d made my decision—not for any momentous reason—it just felt like the right time.

I called her from the car midway to my monthly date with “medium ash blonde” and said, “I’m on my way but don’t mix up my color. I’m going to LET IT GO.”  Of course, I didn’t say the words in an ominous tone, but saying them still felt significant.  She must have sensed my determination, as she didn’t even question my decision once I sat in her chair.  Together, we planned a shorter-than-normal cut for the much-feared “grow out” stage, then I was in and out of the salon in 20 minutes flat, with a still-damp head and much smaller dent in my checkbook.

Back home, I went straight to the bathroom mirror to check the result and was relieved to see that this first round wasn’t very noticeable.  Over time, as the gray overtook my head, I was initially relieved that people didn’t immediately notice.  Truth be told, once it became clear to me just how gray my hair now was, I was really liking it.  It somehow felt empowering to no longer worry if gray was peeking through.  I started to appreciate when people noticed the change.

And back to my young friend’s concern—has it become reality?  Do I have any sense that people treat me differently now?  Frankly, no—at least not that I’ve noticed.  But maybe the truth is they do, but because I’m happy with the gray, with myself, and with my life in general, it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps there’s real truth behind the old saying, “People will treat you how you let them treat you.”