We just finished production on a video that I want my children to see. Both of my kids are daughters.
The video (watch it here) is a profile of GE Aviation manufacturing engineer Rebecca Miller. It was created as part of an outreach aimed at presenting manufacturing to middle school and high school children. As I write these words, the video is so new that I haven’t yet shared it with my kids, but I’m looking forward to their response.
We adults tend to overlook some important factors when we try to match young people with vocations. In my own case, for example, I did not know I wanted to be a writer because of any aptitude I showed for composition. Rather, I knew I wanted to be a writer when, at about age 12, I encountered a stack of typewritten pages an author had produced. It hit me that people making pages just like those were the source of all the books and magazines I was reading. I loved that. I wanted to make pages, too (though it turned out a typewriter would not be part of that). In other words, though my aptitude is what qualified me, it was the undefinable that drew me in.
Which brings me, oddly, to gender. Would it have made a difference in that moment if I had seen a female author typing those pages? It might have. I got drawn in because I could imagine myself doing the work. If the person doing the work had been that much different from me, perhaps I could not have made the leap. The undefinable would be less accessible.
Something like that recognition guided our choice in this video. Since manufacturing engineering is a majority-male field, any kid’s exposure to it is likely to involve a male engineer. Because of this, Bart Aslin of the SME Education Foundation (which will distribute the video to schools) suggested we aim to portray a female engineer. That complicated the search for a candidate, but in the end I’m glad he suggested this. I am also grateful to the southern Ohio chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which helped us find the candidate we did. Ms. Miller is someone my daughters could quite naturally aspire to emulate.
Will my kids be drawn to manufacturing engineering because of this video? Probably not. Given all the choices, it’s unlikely that this field will be the “thing” for either of them. However, even if the undefinables of this particular vocation do not draw them in, that’s not all I want them to see. In this video, I want them to see a woman describing why an environment that is not right for everyone—a manufacturing plant floor—is nevertheless the right place for her. I want my kids to understand that each of us is unique, and we can each find special places to thrive and contribute. I want my daughters to know that they can find just such a place and just such a role for themselves, and that they should not settle for less.