Am I the one being biased?
August 4, 2017 7:56 PM   Subscribe

I'm a woman in a male-dominated industry (tech) and even more male-dominated office. I can't tell if the men around me are undervaluing my contributions because of my gender, or if I am being oversensitive and reading into things. Help me get some objective perspective. Any advice is appreciated.

I should start by saying I really enjoy my work, more so than my previous jobs, and I like most aspects of my workplace, so I want to make things turn out for the best.

I'm the only woman on my team. There are women in my role in the office, but we're still way less than 50%. In addition, all the women in this role are older, more educated, and have more experience than all but one of the men, which feels... iffy as far as uniform standards and all that.

My manager finds ways to brush aside my contributions. Anything I do that's not directly relevant to the immediate goals of the team is dismissed as "a hack". I haven't heard him use this terminology about side projects that my male colleagues do. He raised concerns that these were taking away from my immediate work (understandable), and I explained that I was doing the pressing work as usual, and working on the other projects on my own time on weekends. He took this the wrong way, got annoyed, and told me not to be pedantic about working weekends, which was not at all my intention. Note that these side-projects are not for my own fun or personal development, much as I enjoy them; they're things that I believe would be useful for the company, and frankly, I want to grow beyond my role and find a way to contribute to endeavors across the company (but I can't say that).

I'm supervising a male intern who is essentially running routine experiments and tweaks on a project that I created. There is a person (not my manager) who recently joined and oversees the tasks of the team. Somehow, this person believes that the intern is doing the project by himself, and consults him about all aspects of it, even though I came up with the idea and methodology, and did pretty much all the work. When I mention the project, he says things like "oh, are you helping Matt with it?" It's frustrating.

He also exclusively consults my team member about another project that we both collaborated on, though I've been chalking that down to the team member being here longer that I have.

I also feel it takes me a lot more effort to convince my team members of something than it takes them to convince one another, but that doesn't worry me as much -- yet -- as the attitude of my two supervisors (the manager and the team-overseer). It could also be explained by the fact that I'm fairly new.

I can't figure out if these are non-incidents that are all in my head. I also feel guilty that I'm jumping to a conclusion that these two men are being sexist partly because they have stay at home wives, one of them is religious, and neither seems to have much experience working with women in the past.

So, two questions: am I overreacting? And whether I am or not, how do I address gender dynamics in this sort of job? (Please don't say things like "just do good work and it will take care of itself" -- because I already am doing pretty good work, I think.)
posted by redlines to Work & Money (21 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
No, it doesn't sound like you're overreacting. I was in a very similar situation (really, I could have written this almost verbatim a few years ago). It sucked. This is a known issue in tech, and I read so many articles talking about it and tried for ages to get things to shift. ("Be assertive but not pushy! Speak up during meetings! Ask for a raise if you feel underpaid!")

I wish I could tell you there was something I figured out to do or say to make this stop. I dealt with it for three years before walking away and getting a job in another (also male-dominated but not tech) industry, where *gasp* my male colleagues and my male bosses actually respect me and value my contributions.

However! You're in a slightly better position than I was (no other women at all) -- I bet the other women in your office have dealt with this and would be sympathetic. Maybe ask one to lunch and politely bring up your concerns, and ask for advice. They might have more specific insight than general stuff you find online.

Best of luck. PM me if you want to vent ;)
posted by ananci at 8:22 PM on August 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I have never heard of a case of this happening where the woman was actually imagining things or in the wrong. But I know from also being a woman in tech how hard it is to be sure about it when you're in the middle of it.

My specific advice for you is:
1. This doesn't sound like a great culture to be in. Keep your eyes & ears open for new opportunities.
2. Don't do stuff on your off time if it's not being appreciated, no matter how good for the company you think it'll be. It won't get you anywhere, even if it turns out great. Slowly I'm learning to figure out how to phrase things in ways that bosses don't take the wrong way and get upset about. This is just something you learn over time.
3. Correct that guy about your role supervising the intern.
posted by bleep at 8:37 PM on August 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

I also feel it takes me a lot more effort to convince my team members of something than it takes them to convince one another

I don't know what you should do about it, unfortunately, but you are not remotely imagining this.

Are there women above your level in your organization? If not, that, along with the fact that most of the women at your level are overqualified, suggests that women don't advance in this organization, and that's bad for your career.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:40 PM on August 4, 2017 [11 favorites]

You are not imagining this! I deal with these things too and I carry a lot of hidden stress that I know my male peers do not.
posted by elke_wood at 8:48 PM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Not to threadsit, but I just want to say that I'm trying to make this work out because I only recently started (and already made a pretty big career change), and I like nearly all other aspects of this job. So while I will certainly keep my eyes open and consider a shift, I'm afraid this may be a chronic problem in tech and I do want to stay within my field for a while since I enjoy it... so I'm hoping to find ways to deal rather than quit.
posted by redlines at 8:49 PM on August 4, 2017

I don't think you're over reacting at all, this sounds shitty and like a semi-mild low-level sexism pervading the whole place. It sucks, and I think it persists in part because it's not obvious lawsuit-level discrimination, and it's very hard to push back against.

But I'm not sure what "tech" means here. Making musical instruments, working on manufacturing processes for soaps , and designing engines or circuitboards are all technology fields, but they have very different histories and cultures. If by "tech" you mean writing code and developing software, then I assume you know that field is known to be rife with (ageist, sexist, racist) biases, though it is by no means universal. (I also wonder how many of these men are white, aged 25-40, earn very good money, and assume they are experts on lots of things outside their formal training in a relatively narrow area. But maybe I'm projecting here, sorry. Hang in there are don't let them push you around :)
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:51 PM on August 4, 2017

I approach this naively, there are zero women engineers in my group.... But
Re: intern.
Who is the manager interacting with about the interns work? The intern might might trying to self promote themselves for a job or otherwise. If you are working with the intern, communicate with the manager about what's going on. And does the intern know who does what? I probably claimed things I did as an intern I actually didn't do, but not out of malice, but of stupidity.
posted by TheAdamist at 9:13 PM on August 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I can't figure out if these are non-incidents that are all in my head.

if your overseer attributes your own work to your intern and credits you with "helping," it is only in your head if you mean like literal hallucinations. which nobody here could tell. but no, I don't believe it is.

I do think you should stop going above and beyond on weekends, though not for the reason that prick had (because it made him look inferior and feel inadequate.) In a healthy, robust, and non-sexist company, extra work will make you stand out and move ahead. Where you are, with the people you are with, they will take all you give them, pass out the rewards to the men closest to you and below you, and never make it worth your while. pearls before swine. making yourself indispensable by doing twice the work you owe them sounds good on paper, but when men literally will not see your work, it's for nothing. Do exactly what you're required to, perfectly, and look for a new job on the weekends.

You need to not be the only woman on your team, and if you aren't in a position to make that happen here, go somewhere it will happen. You can thrive at a generally sexist company, which is lucky since there are so many of them, if there's at least one other woman with you to keep you from being the sole target. they don't even have to be an ally or a friend. but the odds are so much against you when you're all on your own like this and the dudes all have each other. it's not a fair fight.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:16 PM on August 4, 2017 [19 favorites]

This is a very difficult situation. I've been through something very similar, and it's extremely annoying.

1) You are not imaging things. This happens all of the time. It's not always even conscious or malicious, although it sometimes is.

2) The way I've dealt with this in the past is to be thick-skinned, calm, and unruffled, and calmly just assert that you're doing your work, that you're managing your intern, and so on. Look for ways to contribute and showcase your role, but, also, credit people who are working with you.

3) Make allies of the senior women and find out what has worked for them.

Unless the climate changes and they start including, recognizing, and integrating women, I'm not sure how much of a future you have there, so spending your free time building your skills and networking for your next role. I wouldn't spend my free time doing free work for these people. Make sure you're doing your very best for them while you're there, but when you're not, spend the time planning your next steps.
posted by dancing_angel at 9:21 PM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

This is not in your head and I am infuriated for you. In term of coping, I'd suggest finding a female mentor of some kind- someone in your industry in a senior role. Sounds like there may not be one at your own company. There are all sorts of women in tech societies and meet-up groups. Twitter is a great way to connect as well. Personally, I find these professional networks helpful as both a way to let off steam/discuss these issues with people who face similar challenges, and they also can offer practical advice on how to change things for the better. For example, I've been on the organizing committee for a couple of scientific conferences, and I loved being able to influence speaker selection to include more women. Impressive women who have made important contributions to the field, who for some reason (sexism) haven't received as much attention as their male peers.
Also, keep looking for a new job, its pretty clear that you'll always be undervalued at your current workplace.
posted by emd3737 at 9:22 PM on August 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

I want to grow beyond my role and find a way to contribute to endeavors across the company (but I can't say that)

Uh, I think often of how each of my team members can grow and eventually contribute to endeavors across the organization. If you don't feel able to talk about that, there's already something sub-optimal. If your manager isn't making clear to others that you're overseeing an intern's project, that also sounds off to me. I love telling people the responsibilities my team members have taken on, and if it's two people doing the work, that's two people I get to talk about. Repeatedly dismissing your work as a hack sounds really wrong. I don't hear anything in your post suggesting you have the support or guidance that even a very modest contributor ought to hope for. Your post history mentions you have a PhD in CS focused on a current hot topic? The situation sounds absurd, and if it were me, I'd draw the same conclusions you have. Good on you for enjoying the work itself and for doing it well, but you can find a better team.
posted by Wobbuffet at 9:39 PM on August 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Im the only woman on my team too, and this was me - my problem was that the boss was trying to get me to do all the admin work for the team but I think a lot of the advice I got is adaptable to your situation.

I love everything about my job and didn't want to quit because of the sexism even though I received a fair bit of advice to do so. What has worked has been 1) being assertive, expressing my views about what was and wasn't working, and taking credit for the work I do, 2) figuring out what makes my boss tick and using this information to get him on my side. In my case, my boss has an ego that requires stroking which I did (blerggh) by complimenting him and also, even more effectively, saying nice things about him to people with big mouths so it would get back to him. Also asking him for advice. Both of these things got him well disposed towards me but they had to be coupled with assertiveness so that they didn't cause him to look down on me. It worked very well, and he became my biggest advocate within the company. Last month I went for and got a big promotion and I'm now on the same level as my former boss, supervising some of the men who once literally told me they saw me as "just a woman." Don't give up, don't quit, and in time I think you'll be able to forge a place for yourself where you are. And yes, definitely try to form alliances with some of the other women. Good luck.
posted by hazyjane at 10:24 PM on August 4, 2017 [13 favorites]

As a woman who has usually worked in offices of all or mostly men, I totally get where you're coming from. With me, it often felt like tone policing -- I wasn't suggesting my ideas or asking for things in a way that bosses liked, and they would either think I was being condescending and rude or wishy-washy and unsure. I mostly think it was just because I was a woman saying these things. It's super frustrating because I've never seen that sort of tone policing with my male colleagues and I seem to be unable to strike the perfect balance of how a woman is expected to communicated vs. a man.

Anyway, it's possible that part of this is chalked up to you being new and part of it is just ol' sexist attitudes that these people may not even be aware they have. But I think feeling like you are being treated poorly because of your gender and filtering any sort of criticism or frustrating thing through that filter won't help, especially in cases like these where you really can't know for sure. Definitely take notice of anything and document it all, just in case, but the important thing is doing the best job you can and finding a way to feel like you are succeeding at work.

In a situation where you feel like people are consulting with other teams members and cutting you out, can you suggest a more formal check-in, like some sort of weekly chat, or some sort of email chain or Slack group chat (whatever you guys use)? That way you can stake your claim as being part of the project and one of the people receiving information, and you can present it as trying to keep things organized and everyone communicating well. With the person checking in with the intern, maybe you can simply reach out to them and say, "Hey, I noticed you had some feedback on Intern's project. I'm actually overseeing Intern's project and I set up the parameters of the methodology for him, so feel free to reach out to me directly if you have questions."

Your boss sounds like a bit of a dick about the side projects thing but I think you should be able to tell him you are focused on your main work and that is your top priority, but you think these side projects could help the organization and you want to contribute as much as possible. Perhaps you can start checking in on side projects before you take them? Does your team do regular check-ins? Maybe you can suggest it in a group setting so your boss can't take your credit and maybe other team members can back you up if it's a good idea.

I wish the underlying advice weren't "Try not to let it bother you," but... I mean, welcome to being a woman in 2017. Just get your experience, have a good record of work, and then move onto a role where you'll be better appreciated some day.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:30 PM on August 4, 2017

Another vote that this is a real dynamic and you're not making it up. I also agree that if all the women in your organisation seem highly qualified compared to the men but this doesn't equate to seniority, that could be a big red flag.

But you've also said you're fairly new to the company. Could you speak to some of the other women who work in similar roles and find out their take on the company culture? When you're new it can sometimes be really hard to tell how well your team dynamic represents the wider culture - you might have ended up on a team with people who are particularly bad for this in a company that is actually not that bad for this, or your team might be 100% representative of wider attitudes, but I think it'll be relatively hard to tell which situation you're in as a newer person unless you get some additional perspectives from outside your team.

Figuring this out influences the problem-solving direction you might eventually want to take - if your team is worse than average for this you could look for opportunities to move teams, whereas if it turns out the whole company is bad you might want to think about how long you want to stay for and then start searching again.
posted by terretu at 12:47 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

Wait hold the phone. One of the comments says you probably have a PhD in a hot topic and people think that you are helping the intern who is leading some work?Is that accurate?

If so then I really would look for another job, or heck, if you could weather unemployment just say that the next time this "misapprehension" comes up: Bob, hang on a second, I need to say something important to you. It seems like you are unaware that this is my project, my ideas, and my methodology. I'm not sure what's keeping you from understanding that. But just as a reminder, I have a proven track record of academic research in this field, and I am on the team to contribute at that level. Thanks."

This is such bs.

Note: I'm not in tech, but I am having conversations like this.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:03 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

You're fairly new so it may be lack of track record as well as gender. However it doesn't sound like a place where you could thrive. Build up a track record and transferrable skills and find somewhere better to work, could you transfer to a new manager where you are?
posted by epo at 5:36 AM on August 5, 2017

1) Not in your head.

2) Agreeing with others to stop the side projects. Or at least stop doing them for the company.

3) Send a diplomatic but firm email to the person who misunderstands your interns role, and copy it to your intern. Phrase it in a way that's not defensive but rather that as the leader you want to make sure you're in full communication. "My intern [name] does a fine job testing the code I have created, but in the future please address any questions or comments about it directly to me. As the head of the project it is my responsibility to make sure it meets the requirements and goals of [etc etc]."
posted by The Deej at 6:37 AM on August 5, 2017 [4 favorites]

After the comment about you having a CS PhD, I looked at your old questions for more context. Not trying to play "gotcha" - just wanted to understand your situation better.

So yeah agreeing that people are being sexist in your workplace (the thing with your intern is egregious, and you should correct it every time someone makes that error).

But it sounds like your boss is oppositional, and that's a bigger problem. He's denigrating and questioning your work ("hack") and they way you communicate with him ("pedantic"). He doesn't support your growth as a professional if you feel like you can't say you want to have a wider impact on the company. Maybe he is intimidated by your academic background and experience, and he's trying to keep you in "your place" to salve his ego. Maybe he has internalized the systemic sexism of the workplace and values you less because of it.

There are similar issues with your team lead ignoring your contributions. It is hard to move up, get more responsibility, better projects, better title, and more money without the support of your boss. Not impossible, but really tough.

Doing side projects is great, but do some projects for you - work on something you're interested in, do some work for a nonprofit that could benefit from your skills, and then promote this work to help you move to a better working environment. Go to meet ups and meet other women in your field. Learn about where they work and what places they think have good work environments. Treat this place as a stepping stone - just a first step in your career that you will leave behind in a year or two.
posted by jeoc at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2017 [5 favorites]

Is it hard for women in tech? Yes, at least in some places, and it sounds like you are in one of them. But it's hard for a lot of men, too, sometimes for similar reasons, sometimes for very different reasons.

It's a hard fact that sometimes you have to be the solution for a problem that is not of your creation. In this case, you have to learn to be very pro-active in situations where that might feel uncomfortable, maybe even very uncomfortable.

For example, when someone began interacting with an intern you are supervising and on a project you created, you should have had a sit down with the guy to explain that it's your baby, what the long term goals are, what parts of the structure are inviolate, etc. You do this with the very legitimate purpose of making sure your intern is not led off the yellow brick road, and also to set boundaries with the interloper.

I can't tell from your brief account how to handle your boss, but I'm inclined to think nothing is going to impress him other than superior work. Even there, being the one person who doesn't ever need help is as likely to let him forget about you as to impress him. (Oh, we must have given her the easy parts...) It sounds like he's the kind of guy who clings to stereotypical gender roles (women do coffee and admin..). Frankly, I don't think you can fix that. Your best defense is to earn the friendship and respect of your peers, and let them know you think the boss is a [epithet here].
posted by SemiSalt at 6:45 AM on August 5, 2017

You're not overreacting and you're not imagining it.

And you're right, keeping your head down and doing solid work often isn't enough to deal with it. You need to put a lot of conscious thought into the image and narrative you build around that work as well. And sometimes even that's not enough.

The bad news is that this is a real thing that happens in a lot of places.

The good news is that it happens a lot less in some companies than in others even within the industry, and you have a pretty good chance at finding a better situation by switching jobs without having to leave the field.

If by "tech" you mean software development, well, I'm a woman and a programmer and feel free to PM me if you want to chat more.
posted by 168 at 7:27 AM on August 5, 2017 [2 favorites]

I absolutely have seen the dynamic play out where women aren't listened to in tech jobs because they're women, more than for any other reason.

Anything I do that's not directly relevant to the immediate goals of the team is dismissed as "a hack"...I explained that I was doing the pressing work as usual, and working on the other projects on my own time on weekends.

You probably have a bad manager. Anyone who is willing to do extra is absolutely the kind of employee you want. I might discourage you from using too much of your own time, just on a personal level. But I wish I worked with more people like you.

Not to threadsit, but I just want to say that I'm trying to make this work out because I only recently started (and already made a pretty big career change), and I like nearly all other aspects of this job.

I think this is something that really needs elaboration. When you say "pretty big career change," does that mean you went from being an auto mechanic to a front web developer via a boot camp six months ago, or does that mean you went from something like a career database administrator to, say, a back end web developer?

If it's the former and you're a brand new tech worker, chances are decent that your work isn't great yet, which complicates how much of this is gender versus inexperience. If your work isn't great, and no one wants to tell you because you're new, it might to some degree explain why your boss doesn't want you doing other work. However, doing extra would make your work better, especially with the right direction, so you almost certainly have a bad manager.

Anything I do that's not directly relevant to the immediate goals of the team is dismissed as "a hack".

This is a stupid thing for your manager to say. You're trying to make yourself better, and I have seen SO MANY PEOPLE who won't do this. SO MANY. Let's say your extra work isn't 100% correct for some reason. What the manager should do is take 20 minutes, look at it, and tell you how to do it better. Then he benefits, and you benefit. To do anything else is self-defeating. Bad manager.

I also feel it takes me a lot more effort to convince my team members of something than it takes them to convince one another

Gender is definitely an issue here, but so is assertiveness and experience. We know your gender and we know that's an issue in tech jobs. As above, we don't know how experienced you are, or how assertive you are. But to answer your basic question, you're not imagining things, and women do have a harder time convincing men in tech that they're right. While I've absolutely seen women be dismissed, I have also seen women who are the unquestioned expert on thing "X" that no one else knows much about at all, and when they talk, that's pretty much the end of the discussion.

All that being said, this:
even though I came up with the idea and methodology, and did pretty much all the work.

Makes me think you must have been in some sort of technical role previously or are pretty damned good, even if you're new.

I'm afraid this may be a chronic problem in tech and I do want to stay within my field for a while since I enjoy it

It is a chronic problem, but it's going to vary by workplace and manager. To whatever degree this is gender (which sounds significant to me) there's a reasonable chance it will be better somewhere else. Maybe ask a coworker who you respect and who respects you where you can improve, especially if you're new to the industry. Also consider talking to other women in your workplace on their general impressions of being a woman where you work, or just about your manager if you feel like you can do that.

If you're not new to the industry and/or are doing good work, put in your time where you are, learn what you can and eventually try to transfer to another manager or change jobs. While you might earn a certain level of respect where you are from "putting in the work," there's always going to be a basic level of doubt and disrespect there based on your gender that you shouldn't have to put up with.
posted by cnc at 11:05 AM on August 6, 2017

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