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Understanding the Culture of Hungarian Female Engineers

Welcome to the first post! The following essay was written as an extension of a class I took a year ago. Writing this not only taught me a lot about my defining cultural traits but also was an honor, to interview the amazing females mentioned in it. I hope you enjoy reading it, as much as I enjoyed researching it!


When discussing Engineering Studies, we often focus on the iconic characters of a given era, country, or just simply someone who defined a sense of engineering for many. To understand the future of engineering, we must consider the outlying numbers. The lowest number could also define a sense of engineering by pursuing their passions and living to form a certain engineering culture in outstanding ways.

Hungary has the lowest number of females in Science and Engineering in the EU, according to Eurostat. I am personally, most likely the only current Hungarian female engineer at Virginia Tech, a school of over 30,000 students. I found a remarkable lack of research done over Hungarian female engineers and their culture.

As I began researching the exclusion of female engineers in Hungary, many questions arose. What are the obstacles that both create and limit this number? What are the difficulties these women might face beyond university and education? Do these women have any challenges going into a job placement? Overall, how do these women feel? What are the ideas we can learn from this unique community and culture?

This essay will analyze the obstacles these women face, along with case studies that represent a sense of this unique culture. There are many difficulties women may face, especially from a historical aspect when it comes to employment, as they are entering adulthood. Historically speaking throughout the communist system, almost all females were employed. As the transition began, women not only left the workforce, but mainly remained in areas of education, as men made their way into the economy, and later technology. As analyzed in a case study done in 2011, by Julianna and Janos Dobránszky, rooting from such historical differences, there are a lot of difficulties for these women. Obstacles are prominent, as females emerge from the already male-dominated education. The main one being underlying discrimination, opposed by job requirements, " While there may not exist any direct discrimination by gender, the job requirements and conditions affect these graduates negatively (Dobránszky, 234).” As much as a straightforward gender-based bias and discrimination is fortunately not present in the workforce, many women in higher education will still leave their intended fields. "After several years of study, they can end up in a disappointing situation from which the modification of profession seems to be the only escape, making the years spent at university seem like time wasted (Dobránszky, 234)”.

Moreover, before the move can even be made into an employment setting, these females must push through a male-dominated higher education. Science and engineering-related paths are not only unpopular but, in most cases, unthought-of for most girls who aim to attend university. In a study done by Valéria Szekeres titled Obstacles for women in technical higher education in Hungary, she mentions "The lag in the proportion of women in technology, despite its moderate increase, results in missing out on the possibility of an improvement in gender equality in socio-economic terms, but it also has an unfavorable impact both on the efficiency of companies and, indirectly, on their economic performance (Szekeres, 227).”

Several organizations, around Europe, began tackling the issue at hand, by implementing orientation days for girls. One example is Girl’s Day, originally started in Germany in 2000. The idea has since been followed by 20 other European countries. One of which is Hungary, organized by the Association of Hungarian Women in Science. This orientation day is aimed at showing girls a bright future in STEM. On this day, the girls can get a peek inside big STEM companies and Universities and take part in different activities. Such activities showcase the everyday work done by the professionals at these institutions, companies. The event has been proven triumphant around Europe, with scientific evidence showcasing the success: “More than 96 percent of the girls assess Girls'Day as 'good' or 'very good'. 70 percent got to know professions on Girls'Day in which they are interested. 38 percent of the girls can imagine working in the field they got to know on Girls'Day (Girl’s Day DE).” Furthermore, the event was proven so strong that in a few years it became the largest orientation day in Hungary.

As much as several efforts are coming from organizations, there is a huge lack of participation from the side of the government. All of which once again lead to similar segregation based on gender as seen previously in the discrimination of the workforce. "Although the transition into the international economy provided women with new labor market opportunities, they cannot fully benefit from the increased demand due to the rigidity of gender norms that heavily influence the choice of career leading to the reproduction of gender segregation in STEMfields (Szekeres, 228).” Therefore, we can identify a standard challenge in the underlying gender bias these women face, both in their academic, and professional lives to make such a small number gain a significant understanding.

However, apart from great speculation, not much can be made of the research done over the topic, in terms of the nature of this definitive culture. My interviews with four Hungarian females, who are working and pursuing a career in engineering, provide more nuanced stories. I interviewed them over the topic from an emotion-related perspective. Rather than asking the question they often face, such as their obstacles, why they would have more females in the area, etc., I asked about their feelings towards the outlying number. How do they feel about making such a number, and how the culture is being defined by them?

These interviews were conducted with 4 very different women, coming from very different backgrounds, and two main age groups: 20s - starting a professional life, still in academics, and 30s - established work in engineering. What I found fascinating were the recurring words to their answers, all of which aligned perfectly with given ideas: A click, disappointment, and pride.

All four interviewees expressed a very deep sense of passion when talking about why they ended up becoming engineers. As much as most of them mention, their dads, or even brothers pursuing and working in such careers, what they emphasize is not how they were introduced to the path. They mention and even admit being influenced by family, or other males when learning about the path. However, when talking about the decision of pursuing the path, they rather talk about a click. A click which they all define, with this idea of finding a calling. As if a switch went off in their head, knowing this is what they were meant to do and even born to do. All of this resembles a very deep and emphasized dedication to the profession. A profession that was chosen not in order to simply obtain a job. They are doing it because they feel as if they were meant to do this. Thus, leading to an emotional connection to their work, and career choice. Ideas going well beyond payment, and social observations of the path.

When asked about how they feel in situations and rooms in which they are the only females, they all mentioned disappointment and acceptance. They might be disappointed by the metric; however, they have come to terms with it. They do not seem to have an emotional connection to being part of a statistic. As expressed by the older generation, "I think the statistic itself is unimportant. Diversity is only a metric; inclusion is the merit/value/culture you want to achieve (Biró).” All of this leads to a sense of strength within the community. They are not scared to stand out, and have accepted their situation, and will not look at it with a sense of personal and interconnected difficulty. Because they observe it as simply a metric, they do not take offense to the stereotypical challenges they might face in the setting, as they see it as a fault of the setting, not them or their counterparts.

However, the most mentioned, and highlighted feeling they put out into this topic is pride. They mention a deep sense of pride when asked about being, in a sense, trailblazers. They are proud to be the ones, taking this path, which relates to their sense of passion towards the path. Not only are they proud of it, but the younger generation also goes much further. They highlight standing as potential role models for girls coming after them. “I am proud of it, and try to be a role model, for those younger than me (Südi).” While understanding the obstacles, “: Maybe this way others will brave choosing the same path (Vas).” All showcasing a great stand for making the metric better, not by much else, other than this sense of deep passion, which they believe many others could find in engineering. The older generation, however, may not state it as such but have already served as outstanding role models. Working, volunteering in settings that aim to show more girls the possibility of the path. “In the past 6 years, I have been involved with organizations and projects that aim to invite women into tech, e.g. I taught beginners workshops and courses in coding aimed at girls and women. I am very proud to say that some of my students are already training as engineers or even working as engineers (Biró).”

Beyond this idea, they also mention a sense of pride, in a very different setting. When asked about what it means to them to be female and following up by how they feel about being a Hungarian engineer, they all mention pride. They almost all highlight how much of their knowledge is in English, as opposed to being in their mother tongue. Consequently, they relate the way they work to be a Hungarian engineer. They feel the pride of their origins and highlight that they are carrying ideas of their culture. Therefore, not only are they a great representation of cultural hybridity in a profession, but they are definitive of it.

Overall, these women are a very interesting point of discussion in engineer studies. Rather than focusing on the obstacles, or feeling pushed back from the profession, it seems as though those who succeed are deeply committed to their profession. This formulates an overall course of their culture, creating a very determined, hard-working, and deeply passionate atmosphere. In nature, they are proud and feel that their work is not only important but definitive of later generations of their community. Making Hungarian female engineers, the trailblazers of a minority, defining a new way of finding a voice. One, that I can sense in myself, as I am working to become a Hungarian female engineer. Therefore, we are left with an idea, and possible exploration, whether the way forward could be not fighting the statistic, however, working with it. Whether the metric of female engineers could be improved by redefining the culture within and not by regulations. This topic and many of the ideas mentioned require further investigation, which could alter the course of the coming generations in STEM.




Citations


“Beratung.” Startseite Girls'Day, www.girls-day.de/.

Bereczki, Anna. Interview. 13 April 2020.

Biró, Júlia. Interview. 16 April 2020.

Dobránszky, Julianna, and Janos Dobránszky. "Placement Difficulties Faced by Young Female Engineers in Hungary." Journal for Perspectives of Economic, Political, and Social Integration 17.1-2 (2011): 223. ProQuest. Web. Accessed 20 Apr. 2020.

Szekeres, Valéria. “Obstacles for Women in Technical Higher Education in Hungary.” Gendering Postsocialism, 2018, pp. 211–230., doi:10.4324/9781315100258-13. Accessed 18 April 2020.

Südi, Beáta. Interview. 14 April 2020.

Vas, Alexa Zsófia. Interview. 13 April 2020.


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