I Get So Emotional – The time I got dismissed for being myself in engineering

It’s Pride Month which is a time that we celebrate how far queer people have come in being able to be authentic in their lives and at work. However, we still have a long way to go (even in engineering) a study conducted by Stonewall in 2018 showed that 35% of LGBTQIA+ participants had hidden that they were LGBTQIA+ as they were afraid of discrimination, with 18% of participants saying that they’d been the target of negative comments / conduct from work colleagues because they were LGBTQIA+.

I am one of those 18% and this is a story about how I was dismissed as an engineer because I was being authentically me.

I was working in central London, embedded as a tester within an engineering team. The team being younger people and in central London meant that I felt I could be my authentic self; I was friendly and camp and a bit theatrical in my mannerisms (I talk with my hands) and didn’t try to hide myself. Generally things were going great and I got on with the team and was helping them with testing and working to being a trusted advisor.

Then in one meeting I got dismissed, not because of what I was saying, but because calling out my queerness was an easy way to ignore a contribution that someone didn’t like. I was called “too emotional“.

Fig 1. An emotional man.

The team was working on a big programme of work, that was running a bit behind schedule and we needed to work to push to deliver something. The engineering manager wanted us to cut out some processes out in order to speed things up and as the tester my role was to champion quality so I asked “Are we happy that doing this would mean we’re ignoring the company’s definition of done?” Rather than engage with the issue that we could be sacrificing quality the engineering manager said “you’re being too emotional” in front of everyone as a way to dismiss me.

it made me feel both angry and powerless, how can you respond to that? Wouldn’t any response just play into that emotional narrative? It totally shut me down for something that is just a core part of my authentic self.

My queerness was being used to shut me down, as it’s done to many people before me. Multiple studies have been run to demonstrate that rules about feelings are applied differently to men and women or that feeling rules are enforced differently depending on ethnicity and queerness which has resulted in a culture of emotions being seen as negative in marginalised people. The stereotype is that people have to be seen as tough and unemotional at work (i.e. be a real man) to succeed, meaning that a narrative of emotional can be used to highlight failure or dismiss someone’s opinion can be prevalent. In this instance my theatricality and “otherness” was used against me to dismiss my quality questioning, it was an easy way to discredit me because of the whole “emotions are bad” narrative.

I’ve spoken about how diversity can help build quality; I believe that it’s important that we’re able to be open to difference and able to bring our authentic selves to work. Preventing a monoculture of identity will help to prevent an engineering monoculture where nothing is questioned, as questions lead to greater understanding and higher quality. But there’s still a way to go, as my experiences show. We need teams and especially engineering managers to not fall into these behaviours, as they cause this type of discrimination to prevail.

Fig 2. Are robots the perfect engineer? Cold, powerful and logical.

I subsequently left that organisation, but I continue to be my authentic (and emotional) self at work.

Pride month is still important. Engineering still has a journey to go on to ensure that people are actually accepted for their authenticity.