A Day in the Life of a Working Female
Yesterday I got upset and frustrated about work and I broke into tears… my husband, my biggest cheerleader held me close and nudged me to tell him what was wrong.
I started talking. The long part of the conversation doesn’t matter for this story, really, but it eventually led to me reminding him of one of my personal experiences that perfectly highlights how hard it is to be a technical female.
His response: “I didn’t know you’ve been holding on to this for the last 9 years.”
You see, 9 years ago I found a job that capitalized on my strengths better than any job I’d held before. It was the perfect blend of technology and marketing. It was a role that mixed my technical expertise with my creativity, problem-solving and communication strengths.
I worked with a team of people creating a training video for one of our new and upcoming technologies, and we posted it to YouTube. The video was a pretty cool (and nerdy) demo, but it got a decent amount of views and likes and a few comments…
Some people thought the demo was cool, one person made fun of my accent (they didn’t like how I pronounce the word simultaneously ಠ_ಠ ), others asked for more technical details, and then…
One commenter said I’d given blowjobs to multiple coworkers and managers to get my new job.
I *think* I wouldn’t have held a grudge about this for NINE YEARS if the comment had been by some random internet troll who didn’t know me. I know what internet trolls are like: they’re stupid, immature, and mostly harmless.
>> Perfect time to embrace my inner Princess Elsa, right?
But that was not the case. This comment included specific information about my work building, giving away my office location, which means this came from someone who knew me, someone who worked with me.
I froze. I felt sick.
I was hurt, angry, embarrassed.
I could feel the blood rushing through my face and my head, my hands trembling.
I don’t know how much time passed, but eventually I knew that the comment had to be removed for 3 main reasons
1. It was completely false
2. Sexual comments do not belong in technical forums
3. My family was going to watch this video
I had to reach out and contact someone with access to the corporate YouTube account and explain, in very general terms, without going into much detail (because they were going to see this thing anyway) that I needed help removing this particular post.
Thankfully, my email request was well received. My coworker was incredibly embarrassed that someone from our own company was trying to slander me… for what?
That’s the part that I couldn’t wrap my head around. Someone hated me THAT MUCH that they’d create a fake YouTube account just to post a hurtful comment against me?
All video comments were turned OFF from then on and that was that… or that’s what my husband thought…
You know how some things hurt you more when they do them to people you love? That’s what happened to my husband. He was extremely upset when this happened, but once the comments were turned off and I told him that everything was OK, he moved on thinking I was over it…
I doubt there are more than 10 people that knew this story; I would even bet the number is much smaller than that. But a couple of months ago I read an INSANE recount of Susan Fowler’s experience as a female engineer at Uber (I would be surprised if you didn’t hear about this) and while I found myself getting angry and upset and frustrated plus an additional collision of feelings I don’t understand, the sad thing is that none of it was hard to believe.
I didn’t doubt her for one second.
I shared her post on Facebook and added a link that highlights how this is not just an Uber issue. What surprised me is that a dear friend and coworker was convinced that this type of thing never happened at our company.
His exact words were:
“Wow — For the folks who work at XYZ*, we are truly isolated I think. I had no idea crap like this still went on in the US workplace. I am now concerned about what issues our daughter might face as she enters the workforce in the next 6 years or so. Beyond pathetic. Goodbye Uber, Hello Lyft!”
*company name removed
I had to throw a virtual glass of cold water at his face and tell him that he was wrong. I didn’t share the story about the Youtube incident; instead, I wrote this:
Years ago I was working on a project in a very small team of 4 ppl + 1 contractor. The contractor would constantly stare at my chest and my butt and made me so uncomfortable I had to wear a smock everywhere, even if I didn’t want to because I didn’t want him looking at me. It was SO obvious that I had coworkers approach me and tell me they were troubled by this behavior and asked me if I had noticed.
It took a lot of courage but I brought this issue to my manager at the time and his response was: “Do you think you can work with this person until the project is over? Then we can reassign one of you”. I was devastated. I said I couldn’t. Thanks to advice and support from my team leader this was escalated and my second level manager fired the contractor immediately and told me he was really sorry I had been through that.
People wonder why it is hard to retain women in the workplace, especially in technical or other male-dominated fields? Look at what’s happening. My friend was shocked and sorry that I had to go through this. He even asked, “am I the one who is isolated?”
It’s very easy for men to be clueless about this. My husband (or any of my male coworkers and friends) has never been told that because he wore a t-shirt and shorts to the office he’s not going to progress in his career.
He’s never been told by ANYONE that he got his job giving sexual favors to people.
After 9 years I am still hurt when I remember that stupid comment and it comes back to haunt me.
I keep in mind some of the things that I learned from that whole experience and I use them to make certain decisions. Is that the right thing to do? I honestly don’t know…
Being a woman is hard. Being a minority is hard. Being a technical female is hard.
ETA: The original title for this story was “A Day in the Life of a Technical Female”… after thinking about it I realized this is not an issue for technical females, this is an issue for females in general. It’s not only an issue with working females either because female students suffer from the same sexism: “She only got an A because she slept with the TA” (or similar comments).