When Kristina Ericksen tells people she’s an engineer, the reaction is generally the same.
“What? Are you kidding me?”
So when colleagues at the Kansas Department of Transportation asked around for female engineers to take part in a social media campaign to support the nationally trending hashtag #ILookLikeAnEngineer, Ericksen didn’t hesitate to get involved.
KDOT tweeted a series of about 20 photos of its employees Friday – each of a woman holding a sign describing her job – in an effort to dispel some gender stereotypes.
In one, Ericksen held a sign that read: “I specify work zone traffic control and make traffic flow better through work zones.”
“The general public should see that there are women engineers building the world around them,” she said. “And beautiful women, as well.”
The hashtag went viral earlier this week after a recruitment campaign for OneLogin – a security management system for cloud-based applications – attracted both negative and positive attention from the public. The advertisement featured company engineer Isis Wenger, a young woman with styled hair and makeup. Some praised her for coming forward; others said it was an unrealistic depiction of engineers.
Wenger fired back. She tweeted a photo of herself – this time without the styled hair and makeup – with a sign that read: “I help build enterprise software. #ILookLikeAnEngineer.”
Since then, nearly 10,000 tweets have included the hashtag in the past 30 days, according to the website Topsy.com. Female engineers from around the world have joined in with signs that say things like “I’m a gas turbine controls field engineer” and “I was one of the earliest engineers at Pinterest.”
Ann Williamson, public information officer with KDOT, said she was following the news stories last week when she came up with the idea to get KDOT engineers involved.
“I thought it was the perfect opportunity to show the diversity in our workforce,” Williamson said. “I didn’t know any engineers growing up, and maybe if I met any of these women when I was a kid, I might have been inspired to go into it.”
Kathy Deitering, a senior traffic engineer with KDOT, was also featured in the series of tweets Friday. Her sign said, “I develop safety improvement for intersections and roadways that have serious crash rates.”
Deitering said she was inspired to go into engineering because of a ninth-grade math teacher.
“I didn’t want a female-dominated job,” she said. “I wanted to flex my muscle in a male-dominated job.”
She graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in civil engineering, she said, and has been with KDOT for 21 years. In her role as a traffic engineer, she analyzes crash report data and comes up with countermeasures to create safer roads, such as creating roundabouts or adding extra time between yellow and red lights at intersections.
“I never miss an opportunity to try and encourage women to get into the field,” Deitering said. “It’s not like being a firefighter. It’s a completely level playing field. It’s your intelligence and your tenacity. Any woman that wants to, can achieve this.
“I’ll never be able to bench press 150 pounds, but I can hold my own in a room full of men.”
The campaign is a conversation starter among women and young girls, Deitering said.
“It’s not just nerdy guys,” she said.