Help me undermine assumptions about women in STEM jobs
February 18, 2012 8:07 AM Subscribe
I need a tactful but clear way to correct stereotype-based assumptions about my abilities.
posted by anonymous to human relations (39 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
I'm a mid-30s woman in a male-dominated technical field. In my (admittedly very specialized) subfield, I am considered a leading expert. I am frequently asked to speak at industry conferences and in academic settings, sometimes in other countries. I've started and sold a company and published a substantial body of work.
So far, so awesome. I love my career. But, not infrequently, I meet coworkers at my current job or people at conference networking events who are unfamiliar with my subfield and my work (which is of course fine) and who express sexist assumptions about what I do (which is not). I've had people tell me I need to defer to people with coding experience though I've been coding, publishing my code, and teaching other people to program for over a decade; or express shock that I have any programming duties; or start offering me condescending advice as though I were an utter novice. In some cases, I've seen them in more or less the same breath be much more polite/accepting/respectful to a man with significantly less experience than I have.
I want to be courteous and a pleasant coworker (in the cases where that applies). I don't want to come off as smug or boastful about my accomplishments. I'm proud of what I've accomplished, but I don't need to make sure everyone around me is impressed. But I also find it distressing that these assumptions about my (lack of) ability seem to be based on my gender and nothing else. People who have worked with me for more than a few days generally treat me with respect; this is first-impression stuff.
I want to let these people know that they have guessed wrong about what I can do, as part of helping create a more comfortable culture in our field for all the women who participate in it.
Unfortunately, some of the standard ways to project authority in other workplaces, such as dressing better/more expensively and presenting a more polished professional persona, often seem to be read in this industry as a sign of not really being part of the coding/engineering culture.
So my question is: how do I courteously, quickly correct these misapprehensions without making anyone feel too uncomfortable, and without boasting or turning the conversation into a power game about relative status?