Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Boys Club

This week was one of those weeks where I burned out on the Boys Club. By the end of it I am not proud to say I was a crabby mess who just wanted to get away from work. The odd part about this was it had been a great week. I finished my first semester of my masters degree,  had a fantastic performance review, and things are really going well.  I just need a break from the boys. 

There are days when being the only woman in my lab is like being slapped in the face over, and over again. There is no blatant sexism, there are just the little things that seem to pile up and this week the bucket overflowed. 

Ever been oggled during a data review where you are just trying to do your job? Yep, twice this week. I made my lead go with me to the second data review since it was uncomfortable. Thankfully data reviews with that group are less frequent. 

Ever had someone wave, walk right by, start to leave the room, then see your coworker and comment "oh, so there is someone who can help me!"  This was concerning things that were more in my realm too. 

Ever had people listen to you pitch slides but when questions arise they address them to your coworker?  My coworker was only there to see what went on in data reviews.  I was the "expert" in my system.

These are just some of the little slaps to the face.  I have learned to tolerate most of them while working to change the tides. "Quit being such a girl about it" has already been removed from the collective vocabulary in the lab.  To me part of being a woman in engineering is learning how to roll with some of the misunderstandings and keep going knowing that you are helping to make it better for both yourself and those behind you.

Somehow this week the bucket of tolerance was drained. I was tired of looking at the hierarchy in the lab that I have yet to break into. I was tired of seeing assignments handed to the other people and fighting for interesting work. I was tired of having things taken away when I ask for help.  I was tired of being invisible.  I was mostly just tired of it all. 

Thankfully I have a boss who is awesome.  She understands this battle since she has been here. I can talk to her without fear of things trickling back to the boys.  She is proof that I can do this.  She even told me to go home early Friday when I was burned out and on top of that offered to talk to call my lead to up date him on a test they were trying to run this weekend so I wouldn't have to talk to him.  She's helped me learn how to deal with one of the guys , understating I wanted to learn how to stand up for myself and not have someone come save the day.  I know I still have a lot left to learn from her, and I hope I can continue to do so.

Thankfully this week is another week.  The holidays are coming up soon, and things are always getting better.  I can only hope that one day the women behind me will not be facing these same battles.


  1. I know this awesome person, mel, and she said you were awesome, nuff said. She said you did awesome stuff like FIRST. I wish I had something awesome to say. Maybe come dressed with groucho-marx glasses and see if they notice your 'male' alter-ego (that is suppose to be serious and funny).

  2. I followed over from Mel's site too.

    All I can say is that I've run into that stuff. Ended up mistaken for the wife of whatever random guy I'm talking too, ignored or assumed incompetent by customers, the sense of loneliness anytime I'm reminded I don't quite belong.

    I'm lucky; I've now found a group that is half women. It is half woman because my boss made a point to get it there. I still face those things when I go out into the larger company, but I can always come back and commiserate with my coworkers, men and women, because that is considered normal.

    He's a guy. He gets it, and from that I take hope that someday more people will also get it. That is it teach-able and learn-able. That the world can change.

    When things get too frustrating, I hang out on the devchix mailing list, or read about the history of women in computer science. It makes me feel better to know that there have always been women where I am, facing at least as many assumptions, and that I can find their stories even though they have often been ignored, or even systematically erased. Rediscovering their stories feels like miniature acts of rebellion; I hope that some day in the future someone will rediscover mine and feel better about whatever behavior they are facing.

  3. I'm really sorry to hear you are going through this. It is sad that this still goes on; you'd think as a society we would have advanced past this by now.

    You mentioned that they were only little things, not blatant sexism- but the little things can be just as damaging. There is even a name for them: microinequities. There is a good article explaining them here:

    Keep up the good work, and try not to let them get you down. It *will* get better, I promise!

  4. Hey, a friend of a friend referred me over here. I work in games as a female PM, and - well, fortunately, I have had the luck to work in groups that are generally well-balanced gender-wise, and I haven't had to fight this battle alone before.

    However, I can relate in another way - as someone who's generally considered "flighty" by nature, who's been discriminated against as a PM (it is the most irritating thing about being a PM ever - everyone else seems to look down on and belittle your own intelligence) and as a person who's ethnically Chinese, I've had to fight my own battles, so I know how it can feel to be in the same position.

    It's great that you have such a good lead to look up to and to help support you. The next step - though, admittedly, I know little about the structure of your lab - is to recruit the people who work most closely with you into helping you win this battle.

    Example: when a coworker accompanies you to a meeting, talk to him beforehand and ask him to help direct any questions pertaining to your field to you - that is, if someone directs a question that YOU are more suited to answer towards him, have him say, "That's more her expertise; she'll be able answer your question for you." Step in to answer yourself; when this happens, say, "I can answer that question for you." and answer it. Don't let the fact that it wasn't targeted at you prevent you from answering. After this happens a couple times, hopefully the questioner realizes who the person they should be speaking to is!

    This goes with lab behavior, too. Your group mates should know what your area of expertise is, and whenever someone goes wandering after another group member thinking that he's the better person to answer a question, have him direct that person towards you, instead. It's not a battle you need to fight alone. Your group members should know better than anyone your abilities - they know that you are capable of doing your job and that you are intelligent.

    I hope that you are able to speak to your group members and get their support. They may not be aware that such a problem exists; it might help very much to make them aware that you're bothered by this small inequalities that all add up together, and let them know how it frustrates you that you are constantly overlooked for your efforts. Ask them to help you gain the recognition you deserve.

    Best of luck to you - I honestly hope that you don't get so frustrated by the situation that you want to leave the work you love so much! Nobody should be forced out of the field they love because of stupid people. :)

  5. Found your blog via the Nerds in Babeland twitterfeed... and this line just jumps out at me!

    "I was tired of having things taken away when I ask for help."

    Thanks for putting that feeling into words.

  6. Ash! Somehow I haven't had your blog on my RSS feed (I got here from Mel's blog too). Sorry things aren't going so well. I remember hearing similar stories before, so I know this has been going on for a long time. Sounds like things are slowly changing, but I can imagine that patience for this kind of crap goes away really fast. You do awesome work and deserve the recognition for it. Keep it up! Hope to see you again when I'm back in the states.

  7. Got here via Mel. My thoughts are with you.