Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Office Lunch, aka Not Feeling Awkward when Going to Lunch with Your Office When You’re a Female Engineer

This is my last week at work, which is a bittersweet thing (no pun on my name intended). I like my job, but I am ready for school. I'm ready to be back to football season, the BCM, my classes, my friends, and my new apartment. In fact I am probably most looking forward to my apartment. It will be the first time I am living off campus, and I can't wait. But my apartment is a blog for another time. Today's blog has a different topic: office lunch.

Every time I come to work for a co-op term, the week I am scheduled to leave my Branch takes me out to lunch. For those of you who don't know "branch" just basically means the group of people I work with. We're all under the same boss, aka Branch Chief. There are about twenty-five of us total, but for lunch we only had sixteen, counting me, show up. I got to choose where to go to lunch, since it was my "Farewell Lunch", so I picked Olive Garden, my favorite restaurant. My mentor arranged everything for us, and sixteen of us went to lunch.

So I'm an engineer. This means when my branch goes out to lunch, it might seem a little odd to the random observer. I am a 5'1", 22 year old female. The other sixteen with me were at least 5'7", male, and over thirty. Perhaps you can see how that would seem odd?

At lunch I sat at the middle of this table of all guys, most of which are old enough to be my father. The waitress came up and said, "Are we celebrating something?"

"Her," my branch chief said pointing to me.

"It's her goodbye lunch," my mentor interjected.

The waitress looked at me and said, "I thought it might be you. You do seem to be the odd one out." Odd one out was undoubtedly an understatement. I probably did not look like I belonged at all.

So how does one survive such a seemingly awkward thing? Well first off, these are the guys I work with everyday. It's not usually that awkward. But there are a few key things to remember to keep it from getting awkward.

First point, do everything in your power to keep the conversation from becoming a conversation not appropriate for mixed company. Sometimes this can be hard. With so many guys, it can be difficult to make them remember that I am a girl. They might start a conversation that I really don't want to hear or tell a joke that I found offensive because it degrades women. The key to stopping this is to figure out what's happening before it happens. When I feel the conversation heading in that direction, I bring up a movie I know everyone just went to see that weekend, or a particularly controversial development at work that everyone wants to argue about. One sentence interjected at the right time to the right person can change the course of an entire conversation. Which in this case is a good thing.

Another thought to make the entire process less awkward is to remember that guys really don't mature that much as they age (no offense guys). They are generally just as goofy at 35 as they are at 18. The only real difference is that the guys in my office talk about their wives instead of their girlfriends, and they talk about their kids instead of their roommates. So when it comes to conversations I treat them about the same, though for my boss and other important persons I add a little more respect. (Which is not saying I don't respect guys. I am just saying I will be less likely to tease my boss).

My farewell lunch did not have any real awkward moments to it. We talked about the year, the new co-op coming in to replace me, the fact that one of the guys in the office just bought a motorcycle but his wife is out of the country and she's going to kill him when she gets back, and magicians. We probably spent a half an hour talking about magicians and illusions. No one in my office can figure out how the ring trick works, where a magician seems to push two solid metal rings through each other. The entire lunch table was arguing the different methods that could be used. That is what happens when you get a bunch of engineers together.

I suppose in truth though it looked awkward to those nearby, it was not really. It's my branch, my job, my life. At school the ratio in my department is nine to one, guys to girls. I'm used to being around all guys. It's being around all girly girls that makes me nervous. I can handle Tech girls, but girlie girls? They're scary. But I suppose that is a post for another day.

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