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.

Othello

I was brimming with excitement all of Thursday. I couldn’t stop thinking about my date with Seabiscuit. I was very excited about his joining me at the theater plus the night adventures that would follow.

I hurried home after work, took a quick shower, and headed out. It had been a warm day, and I was doubtful that I needed my jacket; however, then I remembered being cold at a previous performance in the evening. Even though I had checked the weather and saw Orinda was only predicted to be in the low 60s in the evening, I knew that up in the hills, where the theater is actually located, it can get much colder. I felt foolish carrying such a large jacket on BART and felt too warm to need it, but better safe than sorry.

It was good I did. By the time I arrived at the theater, it was significantly cooler. I was happy without a jacket but realized that once the sun finished setting, I would need to put it on. I waited for Seabiscuit to arrive, and was excited to see him clean-shaven–as I had ordered as his Mistress. How good that he should obey so well! And he finally looked like one of his own photographs.

I told him previously that he appeared to be a servant of the Many-Faced God because his face never seemed to match from one photograph to another. The angles were off or something seemed so strange about it. He didn’t look like his photographs. I knew it was him, but how strange and different they all seemed.

There was a crowd, and I could tell he felt a bit shy. We hugged and kissed each other’s cheeks, then held hands as we walked up the hill from Will Call to the theater.

He bought dinner for us at the café, and we continued holding hands. The line was long, and we really only had 10 minutes to eat before needing to be seated. He was impressed by my tickets and how close we were to the stage. The temperature had dropped significantly, so I put on my jacket when we were seated but he was astounded that I didn’t close it until after intermission. I held his hand in his lap during the first half.

During intermission, he rented a blanket while I used the restroom and got my free bag of Peet’s coffee for renewing my subscription for the theater. We shared the blanket, and for the second half, he held my hand on my lap.

The performance was amazing, as all the shows I have seen there have been. CalShakes has done very well at selecting and directing plays that resonate with race issues going on currently, and this play was exceptionally well done in that regard. Seabiscuit enjoyed it greatly, and I told him he should return with me for all of next season. He said he would love to. It was his first time going to the theater in a very long time, and he said the final scenes with the bed on stage would linger in his memory for a long time.

The Seabiscuit of San Francisco

Having hidden in the background for so long, at last he has finally made his opening to the forefront. That stud, that stallion pacing so softly but steadily, has raced his way to the head of the pack and is ahead by so far that it’s hard to imagine there could be an upset at this point. It should be an easy win, for the closest competitor is behind by a few leagues.

Seabiscuit has clinched the number one spot in the race. The score is 79, now 80, and Lord Byron, the most promising of the recent horses to join the race, is still at 12. However, Lord Byron did this morning send his completed manuscript of a novel that, while he had a literary agent, never found a publisher, so that ought to boost up his stats a few compared to the other leaders left on the scoreboard. I am looking forward to reading his work and laughed out loud once, just upon the first page. He sent it to me to keep me entertained while he is off to London for a week regarding a new publication of his (not the novel) and won’t be online.

I wrote a poem on the bus ride home today. I titled it, “San Francisco” and recorded it when I got home. I emailed the poem to both Seabiscuit and Lord Byron. I asked Seabiscuit if he would want me to send the recording over as well, as he did very much enjoy my voice before when reading his poem. He responded quite quickly; of course he did.

There is something wonderfully attractive and alluring to have someone enjoy my voice so much. He has been quite playful in his language back to me. I do believe we call this “flirting”. Still, I think both of us might be hesitant to go too far. We’ve had some lovely exchanges in the course of a month, and I’ve felt very comfortable talking to him more than to all the others. We’ve discussed a lot more variety of subjects than I have with others from Craigslist: race and racism, politeness in restaurants, others on Craigslist, and ourselves.

I was very touched by his thoughts on race and racism in his email to me this afternoon, responding to the thoughts on that topic I had written to him. It was a very thoughtful recognition of being a white male. (It could not have been any more different than Patrick’s email where his logic boiled down to “I have black and Asian friends and dated a Mexican girl once so can’t be racist.”) It was very understanding and acknowledging the issues that he is blind to by his own privilege as a white male. I appreciated the sincerity of it. I have found it is hard to talk to someone on the other side when it comes to race; hell, I even have moments where I raise an eyebrow to something my own mother says, realizing she has no idea what challenges her children face by only being half-white, and only one of us (not I!) passes for white.

Could this be going somewhere, besides circles in my head? I am very curious to hear his voice too. How attractive would it be? Would I find his voice as alluring as he finds mine, and hear that call of the Sirens in it? Would there be whispered words exchanged by phone?

I have been wondering and entertaining the thought for a while now of doing recordings and including them here, short podcasts of a kind, whether tales from Craigslist or reading my own poetry. But what is the proper length of a podcast? Can it be the mere introduction and reading of a poem? “San Francisco” is only about 30 seconds on its own. Would people listen to a podcast series that was only poems read aloud? Seabiscuit is all for it and says he would certainly listen to any podcast of Craigslist stories so that I can prove there are real women on Craigslist (ha!), and I’m sure he would as eagerly listen to only poetry too-whatever the Siren of San Francisco reads across the waves.

The Virgin Queen

There are times where I feel my color–where I can feel the color of my skin, the otherness, and alienation of some DNA sequences and melanin. Those moments are a mix of what’s said and unsaid. For example, when I’ve been verbally assaulted, like one of the last few times I was in Southern California, I was walking in a sidewalk with my brother (who passes for white, easily). A car drove by and the driver screamed at me, “BLACK WHORE!” Or when, the kid who would be valedictorian of my high school, sneered at me outside of Spanish class and said, “All Mexicans are stupid.”

In the other category are those moments of reading between the lines of what’s not said but understood silently: when I walked into an office for an interview and immediately felt unwelcome. It was an office full of white people, absolutely no person of color in sight anywhere. I had this sickening realization then that no matter what I did or said, this interview would not go well for me. It was over as soon as I walked in the door and showed my face. Or that time I received a jaywalking ticket by a white police officer–and the ticket had previously been made out to a white male some 15 minutes before my arrival at that intersection. The officer hadn’t even bothered to change the gender on the ticket before handing it to me. (And just so you know, I was in the crosswalk; my error was not in realizing it was an offense to begin crossing once the hand started blinking.)

Then there are the moments where I feel my gender. The police officer story was a good example of feeling both–color and gender. It was particularly infuriating. So typical! Of course a white male gets off for the same offense. Of course! But feeling my gender still comes up on its own–and not in the monthly hormone cycle, although there’s that too.

Feeling my gender otherwise comes up not as often as the color, but certainly enough, often things you would think of in the workplace: having a male boss who does nothing to stop sexual harassment of other women or makes inappropriate sexual jokes (a coworker who admitted her dream job is to become a dancer was told, “So you want to be a prostitute?”), or being the victim of a creepy customer who keeps coming back to make small talk, or knowing there a lot of men out there paid more than I am for the same (or less) amount of work.

However, I felt myself particularly surprised to feel my gender Saturday evening while playing a game with a group of males.

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