Being a Woman in the Workforce

I am not an engineer, but I have worked with many of them, side-by-side in the different job roles I have had. Outside of work, I have taken coding bootcamps through RailsBridge and even volunteered at an event or two. I am employed in the tech industry of the Bay Area, and I have worked at different startups over the years.

It was upsetting to me to read the (now) ex-Google engineer’s manifesto about women in tech. Horribly upsetting. I will not go into why he is wrong as there are other great responses out there, such as this one, that have already covered that territory. What I will share is my experience as a woman in the workforce.

It is fucking hard to be a woman in the workforce. It gets even more difficult the more checkboxes you can select for being a part of marginalized groups.

On Thursday, we had two sales reps from one of our vendors come to the office. My boss had left early for a flight, and my coworker who would also be joining was running late. This left only myself to greet the two sales reps, introduce myself, and escort them to the meeting room. I am relatively new to the company, so I had never met these reps before.

I introduced myself and said I would be part of the demo meeting we were having. The male rep (who dominated his female counterpart and gave her little room to speak), shook my hand and said, “Well who are you? Where’s Chris?”

Chris is a white male who no longer works for the company. I said he was no longer there. Next the sales rep asked if he would be meeting with X or Y — two other white males (only one of which is still employed at the company.)

I found it a bit rude. Here I am introducing myself as taking part in the meeting, and instead of chatting with me, he is trying to direct himself to talk with a white male instead of me.

I shake it off as insensitive, poor manners (trying to give the benefit of the doubt that it’s not blatant racism or sexism or both) and escort them to the meeting room. My boss had asked me to ask for a pricing sheet to make sure we were up to date for our billing processes. Once we were seated, I explained that I would be taking over billing and would like a copy of our pricing sheet to make sure what we have is up to date.

His response: “What background do you have in billing? Have you ever done any?”

When I said I had at my previous job and gave the name, he answered, “Never heard of it.” He remained unhelpful, did not offer to get the pricing sheet and told me to ask my CEO for a copy of it if I wanted one.

Around that time, my late coworker (a white female) finally arrived. He then focused most of the demo on talking with her rather than me (another flag). But I did not miss his comments to her, “Oh you actually know your stuff.”

What does that say? It says that he doubted our abilities, our experience, and our knowledge. He questioned everything we had to say, our credentials, and our authority.

I want to say that this was a one-off experience and rare. Sadly, it is not. These types of interactions are common for women. I cannot count how many times I have been in a room where someone has a computer question and I know the answer, but the person assumes a male next to me is the one who knows the answer.

How often does a white male encounter that? How often has he found his abilities, his experience, and his authority are questioned?

I cannot imagine meeting someone, having them say they’re a computer engineer, and then responding, “Do you actually know anything about computer programming?” But this happens to women all the time — in tech and outside of it.

I was angry after that meeting. Livid. So many wounds were opened. I thought about my white male friends in tech. Have they ever experienced this? I bet it’s been rare, if they have, while this has happened to me dozens of times. Dozens of incidents that you try to shake off and move forward and not let yourself become bitter despite the anger and pain it causes you.

I went to bed upset. I was still upset the next day and worked from home, not wanting any more human interaction than was absolutely necessary.

My boss wanted me to schedule a meeting on Friday with an engineer to execute a plan we had gone over together and that had been approved. So we had our video conference (my video wasn’t working, thankfully), and essentially the engineer said he was not comfortable with the plan and would not execute it without speaking to my boss first. Even though I had been clear about why it needed to be done and that the plan had already been reviewed and approved by my boss, he refused.

It was too much. My authority was questioned again, even though my boss had put me in charge of project managing this plan and had signed off on it, he was absolutely refusing to do his part. Alrighty then.

I had to do an hour walk after that meeting. I was angry. I was deeply hurt. I was suddenly reminded of all the times I had worked with other engineers where I pointed out there was a problem, the engineers would doubt me, and then I turned out to be right.

I’ve had moments like this all my life. Even now, I am still deeply hurt and angry. Every time I encounter just “one more” incident like this, it gets harder, not easier. The numbers keep piling up. It can feel hopeless: yet again, another obstacle to overcome.

I wish I had an answer for it all, but I don’t. I just know it gets harder and harder. I don’t want to let myself become bitter and hateful, and it’s taking all the strength I have to keep moving forward.