I appreciate this piece.
There are code phrases we hear all the time about ourselves. I was told I think “too fast,” and was “too smart,” and that made some of my coworkers “uncomfortable” on a 360 review once. I have been denied opportunities, where it was between me and one other person — the reason — “felt the other candidate could relate better to the team” — jobs were internal moves to teams I already had great relationships with and still do.
I have reached out to people for help troubleshooting an issue stating, “so I’ve ran through x, y, z thing and keep getting stuck at b place, I think I have a mistake in my config and I know if I could just point to the right place it will work.” The response I’ve received repeatedly is that they will help, and while they do so, they explain the root cause of the issue back to me as if I hadn’t told them already “here’s exactly the problem.” They explain in the most basic terms what I already summarized.
This happens a lot. These guys are my friends. I respect them deeply. They don’t know they are doing it. And when I tell them, they often argue, in a kind, friendly way, they put up a fight. Its *sigh*… if they are important enough to me, I will explain to them what they are doing and show them, then suggest an alternative.
Some of them feel awful about themselves for a while afterward. I help them through that too. And I’m not saying this is so bad. It’s not. I like talking to my coworkers. Its just that all of it could be avoided if my words meant as much as words out of the men around me.
I’ve sat in meetings and explained in technical and non-technical terms problems and rational, elegantly simple solutions to be met with low level barely enthusiastic interest and then watched as a man in the room with me regurgitated my ideas five minutes later and you would think Jesus, Mohammad, Vishnu, The Buddha and Confucius walked into the room with all the excitement…
I finally started giving my buddies the answers in advance and telling them — they won’t hear it if I say it because I have lady parts… you tell them so we can get this fixed faster. Works. Every. Time.
Oh and then there was this one time where I identified the correct root cause of an issue and one of the engineers didn’t agree (because he couldn’t translate storage hardware names between Windows and Unix), so he spent the entire day trying to prove that my findings were wrong — as if I hadn’t already tested my hypothesis with help and peer review. He was told repeatedly that he was incorrect and I had identified the issue, please go fix it now by the senior engineers on his team. The guy flatly refused to believe I could know what I was talking about.
The saving grace in that last story is that my coworkers noticed how irritated I was by the whole business and they help me see how funny it was that the guy was chasing his own tail. We joked about it for months after it happened.
Anyway, for me this all comes down to my voice having less value then my male counterparts. It is frustrating. At the same time, when I find those gems, those guys who see me, recognize my abilities and work with me, there’s nothing quite like the rush I get from knowing that at least to them — I belong.
I cling to that. I imagine that’s how working with you would be. So don’t underestimate the power of seeing your female colleagues for all they are. It makes a difference. Bigly.