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.

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?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (39 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered using the phrase: "In my book, ..."
posted by Brent Parker at 8:30 AM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Something along the lines of a friendly but assured declaration of your experience would do the job. "Hey, thanks for the advice, I know you want to be helpful, but there's no need to tell me what to do. I've been doing this for years. I wrote a book/papers on it. Hell, I teach this subject ("to guys like you" if you need to be more pointed and less courteous)."

(If it does turn into a debate over who knows more, remind them that all dick-measuring contests and pissing matches are restricted to the men's room.)
posted by pracowity at 8:30 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Josh, have you seen my Github profile? That's not the problem."

I agree this is annoying. If you aren't a man wearing a hoodie or t-shirt between 18 and 27, you aren't considered to be much of a hacker by most people.
posted by michaelh at 8:32 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

You are too worried about seeming nice. Roll eyes and say, "This is not my first time at the rodeo."

Also, creating a professional look doesn't mean wearing a tasteful wool crepe skirt suit and sensible pumps. You are somewhat unusual: an awesome, successful woman in tech. What does that woman look like? How can you make yourself look like that? (I only ask because I know quite a few successful, really geeky dudes, and they still wear T-shirts to work, but they come from Barneys. They've upgraded to designer jeans. What I'm saying is that you're not betraying your sex by caring about your appearance. Dudes do it too.)
posted by purpleclover at 8:50 AM on February 18, 2012 [18 favorites]

You sound secure and comfortable with your accomplishments and are asking for advice on how to make lasting change for the field. As a woman in her midforties who has always been in a male dominated profession (though not computers) and works primarily in less progressive countries, I have tended to go with the thought (right or wrong, am open to other thoughts) that simply being who I am goes a long way towards to correcting these misperceptions and challenges. You say that those who've worked with you respect you, and that this tends to be a first impression. In the long run, its your face on the dust covers and your industry wide reputation that will hold value and matter to other women coming into the field than a few misconceptions made initially. Just imho only, short of wanting to hit the idiots over the head all the time ;p
posted by infini at 8:52 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

purpleclover has a point that I'm learning as well... tl;dr smile less, brusque more
posted by infini at 8:54 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

You need to approach this with a mix of niceness and assertiveness. This doesn't mean that you need to be rude. I always pretend that everybody has the best intentions and that their reaction to me isn't really based on my gender.

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;

Ask them why they think you should defer to someone else (politely, because it's "possible" that the other person knows something you don't). When they answer, tell them that you have X years of experience but would be more than happy to talk to Y person if it would be useful.

or express shock that I have any programming duties;

Laugh and say, "Yeah, I've been doing this X years and I still get that reaction! I even had the publisher of my book on Compiling Ruby Easily (10 Days to Bliss, Nirvana, and Online Startup Success) think that I was the college intern assistant to the author!"

or start offering me condescending advice as though I were an utter novice.

Just nod and smile and then knock them off of their feet with your highly technical response that builds on their original "advice". Turn it into a conversation! "Yeah, isn't that interesting? BASIC really is the language of truth--but I mean, it isn't always the most appropriate choice. Just the other day I was using it to program my cat and I realized that I'd really need to be a CODING ROCKSTAR to pull it off. Like, I'm no GNU-Richard Stallman! I switched to Python, and it made it so much easier. Using map, reduce, and filter helped me pull off the tricks I really needed to succeed. You know what I mean?"

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.

HERE is where you need to project yourself. Interject, project, etc. Assert yourself to this person and let them know you are someone to respect. Catch their eye and speak to them directly. Ask them questions, smile, and dominate the conversation. Don't let them default to thinking somebody else is more important than you. gurl, demand it.
posted by 200burritos at 8:57 AM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wait, why are you working with people who treat you badly? Maybe I'm a prima donna, but I won't work with those people and I haven't for a few years now. Maybe it's time for you to start a company again?

In my own specialized subfield, women have banded together and started a female-specific interest group that has been able to make a lot of positive changes in the way women are portrayed, which has really changed the environment at conferences. What I've personally learned from it is that I have enough skills that I don't have to tolerate being treated badly. I didn't have the confidence to do that before. Does your field have such an interest group? Consider starting one if it doesn't and joining one if it does. In my field it has considerable power at this point and people know that if they piss the members off that they are in danger of losing powerful allies.
posted by melissam at 8:57 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

For you, its gender for others it may be race or age.

Forget it. Let it slide. You can't change how other people think. However politely done, nobody likes having their biases/ignorance exposed to them.

The best way to help create a more comfortable culture for women is to continue to be outstanding. Sooner or later these people in your specialized subfield will get exposed to your work and realize that they made assumptions and acted like asses. They'll also remember that you took the high road instead of taking them on
posted by Hash at 8:59 AM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

The academic who blogs at Female Science Professor has written about her experiences with, and reactions to, this category of behavior quite a lot over the years. I haven't followed her blog lately, but you may find her archives quite useful (or at least, reassuring in that misery-loves-company way).
posted by amelioration at 9:00 AM on February 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

You may want to check out The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work. I'm working my way through it now.

I believe the author would advise you to ask, "When did you start thinking I don't have (extensive) coding experience?"

The "When did you start" is important because it's more neutral than "Where did you get the idea," etc., and it's important to use neutral body language and vocal inflections.
posted by alphanerd at 9:07 AM on February 18, 2012 [24 favorites]

There are stupid people everywhere. Obviously their opinions don't carry much weight, because you don't describe yourself as being held back in your field through any of the critiques. I think simple techniques of grace will keep you sane here with a minimum of confrontation or drama.

That said, you can be a little boastful. "Yeah, after my keynote at ICANN in Vienna last month someone else said the same thing..."
posted by rhizome at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had this problem myself, for similar reasons - I currently am in a role that wears many hats, one of them being rather IT oriented - but this happened in my previous career as well. I usually laugh and say something like "you're not terribly familiar with my work/what I do, are you?" which usually leads to a sheepish "no" or "should I be?" Then I can briefly run down all the reasons why actually, it's that guy over there that takes the lunch orders, and then I excuse myself to take care of some business.
posted by sm1tten at 9:41 AM on February 18, 2012 [16 favorites]

This doesn't answer your questions about how to specifically respond to certain kinds of questions / how to come across to strangers -

But it strikes me that fighting this battle is hard and exhausting to do alone and what could be really helpful over the long term for you is to actively cultivate a serious network of people you mentor who will do some of this reputation building for you.

"Who's that random woman who just walked into the conference lobby and is talking to [Superstar Expert] there? I doubt she's a programmer, I mean look how she's dressed."

"Hush, you're a damn fool. That woman is [Super Superstar Expert Ninja], she wrote X and created Y and everyone knows she taught [Rising Star in Field] how to Z. Like a BOSS, dude."

(I know, this is far from a pitch-perfect depiction of realistic tech convention scuttlebutt, but consider that your greatest students could become your most powerful word of mouth advocates in these kinds of settings.)
posted by sestaaak at 9:49 AM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

I would say this is not entirely due to you being a woman. I'm sure a large portion of it is, but it's a natural reaction from members of a team (especially one that's already "gelled") to assume that a new member, especially one forced upon them by management, is less competent than they are. And there is a certain amount of truth to this; a new team member is going to be less competent at being a member of the team than the members of the team, but that doesn't mean he or she is going to be less competent generally. Also, management often hires based on criteria other than technical competence.

Smart companies get around this by having members of the existing team participate in the interview process, so that by the time the new person joins the team, the team is already comfortable (indeed, has vetted) his or her competence. Otherwise, as you note, it takes a few days. One thing you could do, then, is ask to meet team members during interviews if they aren't already involved. They will be naturally curious about you at this stage and you can present your credentials at that time, and ask them some questions that show you know what you're talking about.

Either way, what you need to be doing the same thing a male colleague would do to establish his competence, except more so. You should be introduced (or introduce yourself) to the team with a full disclosure of your background, skills, and credentials. Then look for early opportunities to establish your technical competence. This can be done with the help of the manager/supervisor/team lead, who can visibly assign you appropriately technical tasks and conspicuously ask you for status. If you are the manager/supervisor/team lead, you can take on such tasks yourself. This should be done under the guise of "getting to understand the project and the team dynamics and what the team's daily work is like." If you are asked to justify it, or just want to, you can say that you have found that team dynamics are like a language and that the best way to learn that language is by immersion.

Ask questions that show you get it. If you do software, for example, ask them about their version control system, why they chose it, and their branching strategy. There is certain to be someone on the team who is eager to go into great detail on this, tool choice being almost a religion to some. You can engage him in a discussion and demonstrate that you are in fact a peer.

Maybe you will need to be more assertive about inserting yourself into the team than a man would, but don't worry about being pushy. Engineers in particular expect people who know stuff not to be timid about it, so they tend to read reticence as meaning you're not sure about yourself. In your shoes I'd rather be thought of as pushy but competent for a few days rather than incompetent; either way, this will change after they get to know you.

The good news is that, while there are still plenty of engineers who assume women are less competent than men, there are also plenty of engineers who have worked with competent female engineers, and their ranks are growing. Scientifically-minded people know that one counterexample is enough to disprove a hypothesis, so male engineers should be more amenable to rethinking their sexist attitudes than men in other fields, and indeed, I have noticed a lot of change in the field even over the past decade. So by no means should you feel discouraged; progress is being made.
posted by kindall at 9:51 AM on February 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

"No programming experience? I'm sorry, I think you've mistaken me for someone else."

Otherwise I'd say that prevention is better than cure. When you meet someone new, mention something overly technical in the first thing you say, in the same slightly non-sequitur fashion that young tall blonde women mention their boyfriends in order to avoid getting hit on for the 20th time. "So were you at that talk about XYZ? What did you think about his suggestion that A implies B but not C?"

I'm a big fan of "you're not familiar with my work, are you?" from above and I'll be using that myself...

I also think it's not necessary to be tactful 100% of the time; I might consider occasionally leading with "Maybe you need to stop being a patronising asshole?" if I thought the offence was particularly egregious.
posted by emilyw at 9:51 AM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

"Have you googled me?" ~ I confess to using that one. But given rhizome's advice I now realize I need to drop those keynotes more often ;p ACM's CHI plenary anyone?
posted by infini at 9:59 AM on February 18, 2012

This bias is real, and your reaction is important. I've worked in several places with female coders/engineers and have personally made mistakes like this (in small ways). Now I keep my mouth shut and listen for signs of technical competence before making ANY judgments about ANYONE's technical ability.

Your response should never be defensive. Brusque and factual is best. Push the responsibility for the mistake on them. But also, give them cues to your competence right away. Discuss code and math/science/whatever, mention past work in introductions where appropriate. It's a lot harder for these kinds of things to happen that way.
posted by fake at 10:03 AM on February 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

But I should warn you that brusque can and will bring out the worst in the insecure ones who will then make snide remarks about your lack of femininity - just ignore and carry on.
posted by infini at 10:16 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Law has changed hugely in the past 25 years with respect to gender. The incoming lawyers are about 50 percent or higher female. But there's a generational swath of over-60 men (lawyers frequently practice into their 70s) from an earlier era who practiced for decades in an all-male world. Many are great. Some, not so much. For me, the problem sorted itself out as I got older and established a reputation; also, I tend to "speak with authority" (sometimes to a fault, sigh, but it is effective -- my one bit of advice -- speak clearly and directly, with an "I'm quite certain this point is correct" vibe -- when the folks in the know listen, the clueless people start to get it). BUT -- I look back and wish I had stood up for myself more. I'm still mad about one or two situations, years later. I'm glad you're thinking this through.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:20 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like infini's idea.


Bob: See here, what you need to know is that with the kerbangle you have to adjust the -
You (firm and mildly amused): Bob. Google me. (walk away or change the subject)

Or if you wanted to be mean:
Bob: What a cute little thing like you wouldn't know is -
You: OMG BOB! First can you show me how to look myself up on google??? Please??? now??

Actually, don't do that unless Bob has an amazing sense of humor.
posted by bunderful at 11:16 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is not an answer, but just a bit of encouragement. There are women just starting out in tech who may be looking to you for some sort of role model behavior/guidance. There are few (visible?) women superstars in my field, and I personally am fist-pump inspired when I see one leading the conversation.

When people are making negative assumptions about your skill level, ask yourself, "What would white guy leader in the field do?" Not because you should be emulating his responses, but because "white guy leader in the field" probably doesn't give a sh*t about the moron with shallow, unsubstantiated opinions. And neither should you.

Also, watch these:*

*Will make less sense if you've never seen Grey's Anatomy. : )
posted by ariela at 11:25 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd advise you to prioritize getting your point across over being nice. I mean, the people making these assumptions already have a sexist bias and are probably expecting you to be meek (cause women are meek, right?) so if you respond by being meek/overly nice then you're going to reinforce some part of their assumption and diminish the effect of what you're saying. (Which is ridiculous but so is this entire situation.)

That's not to say you have to be sarcastic or witty. I particularly like emilyw's responses as they're still polite but are very direct and don't coddle the jerks. Plus by immediately offering a new/another topic of discussion, they don't have to respond to your callout directly and can save face (which may limit conflict).
posted by buteo at 11:36 AM on February 18, 2012

I loooove "google me".

I too work in a male-dominated , though otherwise quite different profession. I *sometimes* get shit from people in the field, but not that much -- the sexism in my world is subtle and insidious, more than in-your-face. But I get it all. the. time. from people outside it. I think next time I get a "what's a pretty little thing like you doing x for?" type reaction from, like, a dentist or airplane seat mate or something, I'm going to say, "what's a pudgy middle-aged man like you doing pretending it's 1957?"
posted by kestrel251 at 12:45 PM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Focus awareness on your code. Present yourself primarily as someone who codes, has written, debugged, shipped codebases. It's the "rubber meets the road", no-bullshit criterion a lot of people in the field evaluate one another on, and the women-do-not-code trope is the main instrument of bullying and stereotyping used to reinforce the gender gap, establish a pecking order.

(Same pecking order sorts within those-who-code; you want to focus awareness on the lowest level work you have done. Scripting < business logic < systems logic < kernels and toolchains. Think of it in terms of construction: who has greater authority about a building, the architect with a nice-looking blueprint, or the people who laid the foundation and put up the walls?)
posted by ead at 1:16 PM on February 18, 2012

I like a lot of the

Clueless Bonehead: Well, if you'd ever turned on a computer, missy, you'd know...
You: (incredulous laugh) [Any one of the hilarious and succinct retorts above]

But! I'm also snickering at the idea of you getting a tshirt made with some very specific to your field joke, that other people won't get (easily), and wearing that from time to time.
posted by thylacinthine at 1:42 PM on February 18, 2012

Part of this is that the culture in tech. I've worked in construction engineering and science, both fairly male dominated and the past few years I've been working on a project with a lot of programmers. People in programming are noticeably rude compared to any other professional field. It seems to be acceptable to be a rude jerk, to challenge people and to complain and or refuse to work with a team well. Which annoys the living shit out of me, I have to admit. In no other field that I've ever worked in has it been acceptable to act the way a lot of IT people do.
posted by fshgrl at 2:10 PM on February 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Are you a purely technical person, or is there a management (either people or project) component to your work? Because in my experience women are much more likely to be technically adept than random management types. Saying something like, "It's OK, I'm from the tech tribe" (or however you want to phrase it) should clue them in to what it is you bring to the table (i.e. not a newly minted degree in business and not much else), neatly take gender off the table and give them a face saving out all at once without you having to beat them over the head with a rolled up copy of your resume.

Work your way up to the giant laser from there.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:34 PM on February 18, 2012

1. What to say
I agree with the advice to model your response after what a gracious but powerful white dude in a position of unquestionable authority would say.

If it's someone who's not clear on your role, just correct them graciously and firmly.
"Ah, no - I think you have the wrong idea, I am actually [the senior whatever]" or similar clarification.

or, pointedly namedrop in a way that's relevant to the project and makes your experience clear:
-proper techy jargon
-"When we had a similar problem back in [long time ago company], we did x, maybe we could consider that here"
-"When I was designing [famous system], I did x, maybe we could consider that here"

2. Averting these comments without directly addressing them
I think being well-dressed-for-your-field does help to an extent, because it conveys the idea that you are a little older than they might have assumed.

But in super techy fields IME the only way to fully overcome this is by demonstrating your chops. It is especially useful to demonstrate them to whoever is seen as most "powerful" within the group -- if that person starts treating you deferentially, the rest will pick up on it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:18 PM on February 18, 2012 [4 favorites]

You are too worried about seeming nice. Roll eyes and say, "This is not my first time at the rodeo."

I agree with this. I usually come back and poke fun at somebody when they make assumptions about me because of my ethnicity. Or be like, "Hello, what year are we in?!"

These aren't exactly "sensitive" people who make these comments. One should respond to them with the appropriate level of "are you kidding me" in one's tone.
posted by The ____ of Justice at 6:12 PM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

"No programming experience? I'm sorry, I think you've mistaken me for someone else."
I'm a big fan of "you're not familiar with my work, are you?"
"I'm quite certain this point is correct" vibe
Roll eyes and say, "This is not my first time at the rodeo."

Yes, all of these. And then quickly move on and get right back to business, no lingering or waiting for validation.

what you need to be doing the same thing a male colleague would do to establish his competence, except more so. You should be introduced (or introduce yourself) to the team with a full disclosure of your background, skills, and credentials. Then look for early opportunities to establish your technical competence.

This is what male leaders-in-their-fields do? Put forth a lot of effort to establish their competence? I mean, it's what they probably should do, and some of them probably like to dig in and get their hands dirty right away just because they want to see what they're dealing with, but I wouldn't say that the average highly-accomplished expert labors overmuch to literal prove their bona fides.
posted by desuetude at 8:47 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I agree with kindall that this isn't necessarily entirely (maybe not even primarily) about gender. Have you explicitly asked any of these people why they made their assumptions?

Thing is, I am a female and I worked as a coder for over a decade (still do freelance work). I've dealt with sexist environments (e.g. cheesecake posters on the VP's wall, coworkers comparing fax machine features to sexual services), but I cannot recall ever having anyone overtly make assumptions about my abilities or lack thereof because of my sex.

Therefore I don't think you are dealing with a strict gender issue here. I am guessing there is something about your appearance, behavior or demeanor that makes people either more likely to make assumptions, or feel more free to share their assumptions with you. Maybe you look young? Maybe you don't seem assertive? Perhaps there are adjustments you could make in your vocal tone, speech patterns, eye contact, dress, etc. etc. that might make this type of thing less likely to occur.

For what it's worth, I'm a non-small woman, I'm serious, quiet, and not very smiley (oh how I have been tortured about that in social contexts), and people sometimes mistake me for being more conservative than I am.

Yes, it's not fair that you get this, and you shouldn't have to change, but as someone upthread said, you can't change how other people think.
posted by parrot_person at 10:56 PM on February 18, 2012

You have a lot of good advice and suggestions above about corrective responses. But I don't think a sharp/aggressive response is always appropriate. Remember the golden rule: People love to talk about themselves. In my experience this is especially true in tech, which is a more productivity- and intellectually-driven industry relative to, say, government or law, which function on appearances and hierarchy and professional protocol.

In other words, these guys that come up to you and spout off about whatever are really just showing their plumage. In another industry, it would be ties and suits and job titles.

So... in situations where it's actually just relatively harmless plumage-ruffling, consider the classic response of, "What makes you say that?"

Then rather than trying to get your plumage fluffed out and properly larger/more colorful than theirs, you get them doing what they really want to do, which is to talk about themselves. Then you can agree with them, ask real questions, etc etc.

Because -- if I were in your shoes -- what I would really want out of these interactions is for the offending person to walk away thinking "You know, anonymous really knows what she's talking about. It wouldn't be such a bad thing to hire/work with her/buy her book after all." Zinging them with the perfectly intellectually emasculating comment won't get you there.
posted by woot at 5:39 AM on February 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love a lot of the ideas you've gotten. Sometimes you just need to name- or tech-drop first off to get the point across.

One other thing, when you're assigned someone to "look over" your code or somehow be your partner in a babysitting way, is to turn the tables and act as though you must be there to mentor/help this person. "OK, but Ken's just going to look over your work first." "Oh, I'm glad to be on this project because I've worked on these kinds of systems for twenty years, and I'd be happy to give you and Ken advice whenever is needed".
posted by lillygog at 2:57 PM on February 20, 2012

This is all very context-dependent, but I generally favor a matter-of-fact response to a snarky one. You're not attacking him or being pompous; you're just firmly correcting an erroneous assumption he made. No need to smile or be nice. It's enough kindness to correct him, then move on to the matter at hand, rather than dwelling on his mistake.

And good for you for asking this and for speaking up. The bias is real, and ignoring it doesn't make it go away. You're making things easier for other women in tech...thank you.
posted by orangejenny at 6:06 PM on February 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

A lot of people here are giving you what you asked for, suggestions about how to respond when you are mistaken for someone who is young and inexperienced. That advice is great, but what you really want is for people to stop making these assumptions. As parrot_person said:

"...I don't think you are dealing with a strict gender issue here. I am guessing there is something about your appearance, behavior or demeanor that makes people either more likely to make assumptions, or feel more free to share their assumptions with you. Maybe you look young? Maybe you don't seem assertive? Perhaps there are adjustments you could make in your vocal tone, speech patterns, eye contact, dress, etc. etc. that might make this type of thing less likely to occur."

You need to come across as older, wiser, and more self-confident than you currently do. I understand that wearing Chanel suits will not work in this industry, but as a woman, you have more options in hair and clothing styles than men. Some possibilities that may help: shorter hair, cut in a precise, sharp style; quirky, but expensive-looking jewelry; and jackets.

I cannot tell you how much jackets have helped me (I'm a woman in my fifties in a biomedical field). When everyone around me is dressing casually, I can still get away with throwing a blazer on top of my dark pants and sweaters. It's not too much; it's just enough. I choose somewhat less formal styles, like these jackets from Coldwater Creek or Ann Taylor.

Anything that makes you look taller can help, like dressing all in one color.

And here's a book recommendation:
Talking from 9 to 5: Women and Men at Work

Good luck!
posted by islandeady at 11:34 AM on February 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I found many of the insights (if not always the suggestions) helpful in The Princessa by Harriet Rubin
posted by infini at 11:38 AM on February 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Coding seems to be like driving in that 70% believe they code better than the average whereas only 30% have average skills.

Work is business: a fair share of collaboration and complicity on one side, and you-or-me competition on the other. They would not necessarily treat you much nicer if you were a guy. Giving them too much attention could backfire on you. Act as if they said something stupid, something improper coming out of the mouth of your younger, mentally retarded brother.

Did you try addressing the issue directly?

1) When they come off as sexist "When you say xyz you sound like sexist to me."

2) "I know. I have written a book about it." (agree, add twist)

3) "You are mistaken. ."

4) silence, cold stare

When I sense somebody is trying to impress me it puts me on guard. When I see somebody dressed up, walking with shoes full of pep I am tempted to suspect that they lack better arguments. Writing a book that I have not read does not impress me much -- too many bad books have been written. Same thing with the internet. Neither does teaching, for example a math teacher can be a very good but that does not imply extraordinary mathematical prowess.

posted by EuroBunny at 5:50 PM on February 24, 2012

...something improper coming out of the mouth of your younger, mentally retarded brother.

When you use the word "retarded" like this, I question your judgment about human relations.

OP: I've been thinking about this thread. I think "When did you start thinking I'd need help with this?" might be the best way to call this out.

Not to be confused with "When did you start thinking this was something I'd need help with?" which is more confrontational. Or "When did you start thinking I needed help with this?" which puts you in a one-down position with "needed" being presumed rather than hypothetical.

It sounds like beanplating, but I think these differences matter.

What you're looking for, I think, is something that changes people's beliefs about you without drawing any more attention than is necessary to the fact that the wrong ones were there to begin with.
posted by alphanerd at 1:26 PM on February 25, 2012

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