Credit where none is due

I can see what’s happened here:

Twelve-year-old Michelle Flores shared a special moment with her family at FIU this past Saturday: She and her sister Gabriela joined their parents, FIU alumni Leonor and Henry Flores MIS ’01, to watch a 950-ton section of a pedestrian bridge swing into its permanent position across Southwest 8th Street.

Leonor Flores ’98 is a project executive and one of 63 FIU alumni who work for MCM, the construction firm building the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge, which will further connect FIU and its northerly neighbor, the City of Sweetwater. She was excited to share her work with her family, especially Michelle, who is interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) in school.

Michelle said she might want to follow in her parents’ footsteps and go to FIU when the time comes, and that it was fascinating to see her mom’s work in action. “I’m interested in the architecture and the design of the bridge, and the math portion of it,” she said.

Said Leonor: “It’s very important for me as a woman and an engineer to be able to promote that to my daughter, because I think women have a different perspective. We’re able to put in an artistic touch and we’re able to build, too.”

Then the bridge collapsed across eight lanes of highway crushing people underneath, and FIU provided this update:

UPDATE, March 16, 2018, 11 a.m.: To clarify, Leonor Flores did not work on the FIU-Sweetwater UniversityCity Bridge project in any capacity.

When you read the original text carefully, you can see it doesn’t actually say that Flores worked on the bridge. But by including her heart-warming tale of women in engineering in a story about a bridge installation, that’s what they implied. It was a deliberate attempt to link Flores and female engineers in general with this particular project, which at the time was looking like a success and attracting publicity. However, now people across the internet are questioning the wisdom of having a woman put “an artistic touch” to something that goes on to fail in deadly fashion, they’re having to come clean.

This sort of manipulation is not unusual in modern engineering projects, or anywhere else in today’s corporate world. I once worked for a large multinational engineering firm who had on their books a rather photogenic female Russian safety engineer. Sure enough, she featured prominently in several of the quarterly magazines (or whatever they call those propaganda rags that get hoyed in the bin by anyone who does something useful). Now she wasn’t a terrible engineer, but she didn’t deserve so many puff-pieces in short succession. Speaking to friends and colleagues who’ve worked on sites and in yards around the world, whenever there’s a photo session going on the women and ethnic minorities are placed in prominent positions and white men told to stand to the side, preferably behind a large object. An exception is in Nigeria where a European woman, who’d played a key role in the engineering of the installation, was asked to remove herself from the group because having no white people in the photo made Nigerians happier. Go through the prospectus of any company or organisation these days and you’ll get interviews and quotes from women and ethnic minorities, half of whom I suspect don’t even work there. I am absolutely sure most of the “staff” photos are from stock.

I don’t mind women or ethnic minorities being interviewed, and I even don’t get upset if they’re given a little more prominence than perhaps they deserve (it’s PR, after all). But to interview someone who wasn’t even involved with the project is pretty cynical. I’m sure there were women working on this bridge and doing a fine job, but presumably couldn’t provide a twelve year old daughter who comes out with cutesy lines right on cue. I wonder what they thought of the interview when it was first published? I can imagine “Who the fuck is she?” was asked quite a lot.

If companies want people to take women in engineering seriously they need to quit pulling stunts like this, or they might as well go and hire actors.

(With thanks to Lord T and JerryC in the comments.)

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24 thoughts on “Credit where none is due

  1. ‘When you read the original text carefully, you can see it doesn’t actually say that Flores worked on the bridge.’

    Zen vot means “She was excited to share her work with her family”?

  2. “they might as well go and hire actors”: what, stoop to the standards of the FBI?

  3. This is one of the many reasons I hate working in large corporations. They’re far more concerned about who you are than what you do. It suits people who are good at playing those games, identity politics, but all other sorts of politics, too. It’s why they eventually get turned over: a fresh company that is about a quality product innovates where they don’t.

  4. I’m on a charity board with a female civil engineer who worked on the new Forth bridge, if that helps?

    Okay, no. It doesn’t.

  5. what I love most about modern feminism is stuff like this: ““It’s very important for me as a woman and an engineer to be able to promote that to my daughter, because I think women have a different perspective.”

    “We need more female engineers, because women can do anything men can do, but also because women are different in a good way, but not in any bad ways (you dirty sexists).” And of course the entire thing turns out to be a feel-good fake. Sad!

  6. For my sins, I had to represent the international division of a large company on its main tech committee. The monthly meetings always kicked off with a headcount analysis; percentage of women, Asians blacks etc. and this was nearly 25 years ago. Unbelievable.

  7. “Speaking to friends and colleagues who’ve worked on sites and in yards around the world, whenever there’s a photo session going on the women and ethnic minorities are placed in prominent positions and white men told to stand to the side, preferably behind a large object.”

    I’ve seen precisely this done for a university prospectus! The professional photographer was basically playing a game of “hunt the pretty girl” which I’m sure he enjoyed – he found a stunning young Irish lass to be the “representative engineer”, from a cohort that must have been well over 90% male. In a place that was overwhelmingly white he still managed to complete the rainbow in all the group photos, using genuine students only.

    Do I feel like criticising it? Well not so much. The photographer had a great time. The lasses got to feel a bit special (though had I been selected as “representative person with disability” or somesuch – for which I lack the required photogenicity thank goodness – I’d have been ticked off at being used as a piece of tokenism). Plenty of aspiring male engineers would have been more rather than less likely to apply as a result of a bit of eye-candy. And there would be potential female engineers who would have been encouraged to “see” that it wasn’t a totally male-dominated course. Except that actually, it was. It’s that element of disingenuous I didn’t like. The demographics as they wanted them to be perceived, not the demographics as they actually were.

    There are lots of photos on company websites (“about us”) that I’m sure are stock.

  8. Watching interesting programmes about civil engineering projects, e.g. Crossrail, perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking that the industry is now more or less totally staffed by young, attractive female project managers in hard hats & orange safety gear, and surveyors likewise. I’m assuming that the reality is ‘not yet’.

  9. @DonAnon

    “We need more female engineers, because women can do anything men can do, but also because women are different in a good way, but not in any bad ways (you dirty sexists).”

    Yes. It’s odd. Sometimes it is claimed that there is a systematic difference, e.g. here “different perspective” and “artistic touches”, but “more empathetic” and “better communicators” are common ones too. But other times, even the mere possibility of systematic difference (e.g. in whether men and women are, on average, interested in different areas or have different life-priorities) is denied and questioning the possibility is deemed irredeemably sexist.

    I like to imagine how if engineering were a female-dominated profession, then a token male engineer might have said “it’s nice to show males can do engineering too; we bring a different perspective about how not everything has to be fancy and artistic and instead we can focus on technical excellence and more logical problem-solving”.

  10. The professional photographer was basically playing a game of “hunt the pretty girl” which I’m sure he enjoyed – he found a stunning young Irish lass to be the “representative engineer”, from a cohort that must have been well over 90% male…Do I feel like criticising it? Well not so much.

    You’d have been pretty annoyed if the stunning young Irish lass was a ringer brought in from outside and wasn’t an engineer though, wouldn’t you?

  11. We need more female engineers, because women can do anything men can do, but also because women are different in a good way, but not in any bad ways (you dirty sexists).

    There’s a colossal contradiction in HR departments demanding more women in certain positions.

    Either

    1. Women are exactly the same as men, in which case who cares whether a man or woman fills the role.

    Or

    2. Women are different from men, in which case it needs to be demonstrated that those differences – whatever they may be – are desirable in support of any assertion that “we need more women”.

    What we get is a curious mixture of the two whereby women are exactly the same as men except they have differences such that their insertion into any situation will have only positive outcomes.

  12. Is she implying that men lack “an artistic touch”? If so, the whole history of architecture and engineering refutes her.

  13. “I think women have a different perspective. We’re able to put in an artistic touch…”

    Who will call out this arrogant sexism?

  14. Sometimes it pays to close one’s mouth. Well, we’ve found out the company has a bit of an engineering deficiency, and now we know they are perfectly willing to engage in disinformation. What’s next, are they going to tell everyone they’re cooking their books?

  15. I like to imagine how if engineering were a female-dominated profession, then a token male engineer might have said “it’s nice to show males can do engineering too; we bring a different perspective about how not everything has to be fancy and artistic and instead we can focus on technical excellence and more logical problem-solving”.

    Replace “engineering” with “teaching” or “child care” and you’ve got it bang on.

    Both of those fields are near monolithically female, and men in those professions or interested in those professions are assumed to be pedophiles. That’s not an exaggeration; I know two men who used to be ECEs who got out of the profession because they couldn’t stand the constant insinuations and whispering.

  16. “I’m assuming that the reality is ‘not yet’.”

    From what I have seen historically and currently around the world it is definitely not yet, thats for engineering and there is even less of them in construction.

    We are a small going mid sized international construction firm and I know most of our operations and key staff pretty well. In Australia we have a total of one female staff in construction, in Africa zero, in the Mid East we have a couple of office bound type engineers that are very good and that is it for females in engineering and construction roles. We have a higher ratio of females in finance and accounts and that all seems to work pretty well. We intentionally don’t have HR, just payroll and that also has a higher amount of females as well.

    I had a pretty good experience with a client’s General Counsel a few weeks ago, she was a Sheila. This was in Accra, I was introduced to her and many others at the same time in the foyer of a project owners office and then we attended a pretty heated meeting, there was huge attendance at the meeting and other than my colleague this was the first time I had met them all, where she was the only female in the meeting room other than a videoconference group from Milan that had two good female engineers on the other end. Half way through she had her moment in glory and took a huge shot at me and my firm, that’s when I looked at her card to see that she was their lawyer. We were in dispute with them at the time and she basically attacked me, laid out her defence and did it in a telling the headmaster way to the owners contract manager. I couldn’t believe that she did that in front of me which is a big no no for anyone that doesn’t work in this area. The Russian male contracts manager asked her if it was English law and she said it was, he then looked at me and I said that I would be quite happy to give him my opinion of the situation privately after the meeting, he said it wouldn’t be necessary. This young lady was obviously from a wealthy and connected Ghanaian family, educated in law in London, massive tickets on herself and absolutely fucking shite at her job. We won that dispute by the way and I seen her a few times in my client’s office after that and I swear she was trying to undress me with her eyes.

  17. Cross rail – Canary Wharf, one of the stations is near me. A big one. And their office in one of the office buildings. There are quite a few women in orange and with cross rail passes wandering around locally. Probably far more men though but definitely enough women to be noticeable that they are a common sight.

    No idea whether they are any good at their jobs though.

  18. Maybe traffic controllers, community liaison door knockers, HSE Officers, document controllers, cost clerks or smoko bringers?

    “Sweet deal: Traffic controllers earn up to $130000 — all thanks to the construction boom

  19. There’s a colossal contradiction in HR departments demanding more women in certain positions.

    HR Departments are where inadequate but power-hungry women go to find fulfilment – the rest follows from there.

  20. I’m sure there were women working on this bridge and doing a fine job, but presumably couldn’t provide a twelve year old daughter who comes out with cutesy lines right on cue.

    Um, more likely is that they just didn’t go to FIU. The story is on an FIU website, so of course they are going to look for an FIU connection, however tenuous, which means obviously they are going to mention an alumna who happens to work at the same firm, regardless of whether she was on the project, over someone who was actually on the project but went to a different university.

  21. S,

    From the article:

    Leonor Flores ’98 is a project executive and one of 63 FIU alumni who work for MCM

    63 FIU alumni, not one of whom is working on the FIU bridge? I expect there were several, but all men. So it came to a choice of interviewing an ex-FIU man who worked on the bridge versus an ex-FIU woman who didn’t.

  22. So it came to a choice of interviewing an ex-FIU man who worked on the bridge versus an ex-FIU woman who didn’t.

    Right, yes, but I was responding to: ‘I’m sure there were women working on this bridge and doing a fine job, but presumably couldn’t provide a twelve year old daughter who comes out with cutesy lines right on cue.’

    I think it’s more likely that the women working on the bridge weren’t alumnae, and the alumni working on the bridge weren’t women, so they went for the nearest person they could find who was in the Venn intersection.

    Nothing to do with the daughter, who is there merely to add a touch of vomit to proceedings.

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