An MIT Alumni Association Publication

MIT Community: #ILookLikeanEngineer

  • Nicole Morell
  • 10

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Isis Wenger was told she didn’t look like an engineer. It wasn’t the first time it happened, but this time it was all over the Internet. After being featured in a recruitment ad for OneLogin, the software engineer faced a barrage of internet comments doubtful of her engineering skills because of her looks.

Wenger isn’t alone.

“I’ve witnessed it many times, both for myself and for others,” says May-Li Khoe '99, MEng '00. “Women are mistaken for being much more junior than they are, and are often taken less seriously in many roles and academic fields.”

Tired of people not believing in her abilities because of her appearance, Wenger fought back by launching the hashtag #ILookLikeanEngineer. The hashtag is growing increasingly popular as thousands of  engineers posted photos of themselves along with the hashtag to show the diversity that exists in the engineering world. “I felt compelled to respond because I wanted to help make us, women (and other people from underrepresented groups in tech) who are or were engineers, visible–to help overthrow the stereotype,” Khoe says.

MIT quickly joined in on the campaign, showcasing professors Sangeeta Bhatia SM '93, PhD '97, Mildred Dresselhaus HM '86, Daniela Rus, and Paula Hammond '84, PhD '93. 

Many MIT students and alumni, including Khoe, tweeted their own photos showcase what engineers in the MIT community look like.

When people expect an engineer to look or act a particular way, usually subconsciously, it creates cognitive dissonance for them to receive the same information or work from somebody who doesn’t. As a result, it’s natural for them to take input less seriously from somebody who doesn’t fit the mold. — May-Li Khoe  ’99, MEng ’00. 


I was in the defense industry for four years, and even though I was often the only female in the room and half the age of everyone else, I was always respected and treated well. The "discrimination" really came from outside of the work office. People used to ask me what I do, and I would say that I was a rocket scientist, because I did missile integration and radar algorithm design. Half the time, men thought I was joking and didn't believe me. The other half of the time, they walked away, because they were too intimidated to talk to me. — Sharmeen Browarek '07, MEng '10

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harold wilensky

Wed, 08/12/2015 8:11pm

Isn't there a female MIT graduate who started a robotics company and was also a Miss Massachusetts [or was at least a contestant]?

Joe Kesselman

Mon, 08/24/2015 6:05pm

Peggy Seeger's song remains entirely too true today. We've got to fix that.

Robert L. Baber

Mon, 08/24/2015 4:37am

I was an undergraduate student at MIT in the class of 1958. The only thing I had against Tech Coeds then was that there weren't enough of them. Tech coeds constituted less than 2% of our class. Since then, in engineering, the only thing I have against women engineers is, again, that there aren't enough of them.

I got good grades at MIT. The only Tech Coed in a tutorial class with me got better grades.

Dr. Stan Blue

Sun, 08/23/2015 9:56pm

Great post. A related editorial just published at Penn if interested:

Kevin G. Rhoads

Sun, 08/23/2015 12:25pm


Have started a collection, just added these.

Nicole Morell

Thu, 08/13/2015 11:54am

Erika Ebbel Angle '04 was named Miss Massachusetts in 2004, but other students and alumnae have run as well:

In reply to by harold wilensky

Yung Liu

Sat, 08/22/2015 1:10pm

My 2-yr+old granddaughter loves anything mechanical - she already looks like an engineer.

Harry Elliott

Sat, 08/22/2015 10:01am

I find even as an MIT educated engineer I have prejudices and perceived biases, color, gender, country of origin. I have had experiences that reinforce these prejudices, profiling. These impact my initial impression, but so many times the individuals have demonstrated they deserve respect for the skills they brought to the organization. Over 50 years of observation my biases have been impacted.
One big change happened over 40 years ago when I was working for a few days with an MIT educated engineer who did not have a chip on her shoulder that I had observed on female professionals previously. Then the female engineer in Louisiana who said I don't mind making the coffee as the men make it also.
In the short term, these individuals got my respect but also modified longer term my biases and prejudices.
Public proclamations probably do have a place but the day to day activities have had a larger impact on my perceptions, and prejudices.
Harry Elliott

Miles Fidelman

Sat, 08/22/2015 9:21am

The annual IEEE Spectrum "Dream Jobs" issue is always good for this. Latest one:

Alan Friot

Wed, 08/12/2015 9:47am

A perspective I wrote you might find interesting, it was written 10 or more years ago.

Both sexes, male and female, are required for the propagation of the race. I have yet to find anyone you will disagree with this statement. Since we all agree to the above, please keep it in mind as we proceed. Also most of what I say is my opinion i.e. a result of my thinking and not the result of any scientific study therefore you may totally disregard it without causing me any offence.
The first question I ask is, "Is one sex more important than the other?” When it comes to the propagation of the race there is no doubt that women are much more important than men. To prove my contention I raise the following example, which would propagate better an island with 100 men and one woman, or one with 100 women and one man? We need women more than we need men. On an individual basis a man and a woman are both required, but as men and women the women collectively are the more important for the propagation of the race.
The next question I ask is, "Is this conclusion supported by the design differences between men and women?” To answer this question I would like to bring to your attention several known differences, plus others that are a result of my own analysis.
Under a bell curve of distribution women have a greater sense of sight, hearing, and smell. There is of course the exceptional male with high sensitivity. In the wilds these senses are what give women an earlier warning when trouble is coming. I have been told that these senses are enhanced when a woman is pregnant. This makes prefect sense since they are the more important sex, and when they are more encumbered they would get the warnings even earlier.
There is another area where women have an advantage over men. It is in the use of their brains. To me the human brain is the most powerful tool on earth. I analyze it as having two components. One the emotional fast response section that acts as a differentiator, the other is the intellectual section, which acts as an integrator of data. Girls make greater use of the intellectual part of the brain sooner than boys do. When I was growing up people often said girls mature much sooner than boys. I realize males do catch up but it is usually after puberty. Women are given the use of this more important part of the brain earlier than men because of their importance to the propagation of the race.
I believe that if this perspective were used during the analysis of the data available on men and women it would be helpful.

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