Let me start by asking you a few simple questions:
Have you ever been told how good your hair looks today?
Has someone ever commented on your outfit, shoes, laptop bag?
Have you been ‘talked to’ about not dressing professionally because you weren’t wearing makeup or heels when your job requires you to crawl on the floor?
Has someone ever recommended that you should join weight watchers?
Have you ever had a disagreement with a boss that ended with rumors that she just doesn’t like me or it must be that ‘time’?
Have you while working in an IT position worked for a non technical leader?
Have you worked for a female non technical leader while in an IT role?
I start this missive as a fact finding session. Female technologists are the Unicorns of the IT world. We are technical, highly skilled and not usually prone to the same girl like tendencies as others in an office.
If you are starting your IT career you quickly learn the ins and outs of working with strictly other male engineers and techs. If you are mid career you have learned the skills of navigation and pretty good at knowing the boundaries. Mid career female engineers are still prone to a few mishaps and mistakes but quickly fix what is broken. Senior female engineers, they are out there but, they are a rare find in most industries. They are poised, calculated, and can read through the vendor hypes, the sad sorrow stories, and can do it with a poker face. These women are like highly decorated Corporate officers. They have their battle wounds hidden and they will never let you see them sweat.
I have learned a lot in my career. I am one of those mid career females. I have learned when it’s appropriate to tell jokes in the office and cut up with the guys. I have also learned how to deal and manage a family while working 60 hours on a project or handling after hours support issues. I have managed my Brand so that people know who they can rely on when it comes to an issue. I do it with a smile on my face and i genuinely care about the outcome.
However, I know what it’s like to be discriminated against for how I dress. I have dealt with sexist, masoganist men. I have cut my teeth, survived and thrived in a male dominant field. I have never been called a slacker or an egotistical glory hound until now.
I was asked of all the companies I have worked for have I ever had an issue like this. When I was asked I said no, but it dawned on me in my early morning stupor that yes this has happened once before. It too was while I reported to a non technical female leader.
Being an engineer is hard. Being a female in IT is difficult. Being a mid career female engineer is a huge challenge.
But bad leaders can break you. They make you doubt who you are. They make you question your skill set. They don’t build your confidence or self esteem. They can destroy your Brand with your current company and make others doubt your abilities, recommendations and choices.
In a typical leader (male vs female) men can talk it out work through the problem and move on. It’s the ages old adage about two men disagree, go out behind the woodshed duke it out. They come out problem solved and continue on.
Women are wired very differently. When we are slighted we tend to hold it in until a breaking point. Once we have an opinion or a disagreement with a person, that perception will forever be placed on the offending party. If it’s a man we just chalk it up to it just being a guy. We forgive a little each day until we are done. But we never forget. If it’s a woman that has gotten on our bad side, hell hath no fury. Isn’t that the line?
For me I know my next steps. The question I pose to all of you is what have you experienced and what did you do?