Don’t Raise Your Hand, Part 2

Some recent interactions at work have inspired me to the list of “don’ts” as a woman dealing with in a male-dominated office. (See here for the original list.)

Don’t provide food. I have been in a series of training classes that wrapped up this week. I am the only woman taking the class, with a group of six to eight men. I have been trying to integrate a little better with the men, since they’re a close-knit group. I have to work with them once in a while.

I thought about buying doughnuts for the last class, as a way to celebrate getting through it, and to ingratiate myself a bit with the guys.

donuts

I actually stood in line at this fancy doughnut shop to get a $25 box of doughnuts. And then I thought, “What am I doing? Why am I spending my own money to kiss up to these guys? If the situation were reversed, would it occur to them – ever – to buy anything out of their own pockets?” Of course not, sister. So I went to the meeting empty-handed. All the men did too. Of course they did. We finished the training and said goodbye.

Speak up when you’re not spoken to. A male project manager I work as part of a larger group ignores me. A few times a week he drops by our desks to shoot the breeze with the men and absolutely never includes me in the conversation.

One day I posed a question to a male coworker (we’ll call him Tim) who responded that he didn’t know the answer. Tim then asked me what the project manager had to say about it. “Nothing,” I replied. “He doesn’t talk to me. He literally never acknowledges my presence.”

Tim had a strange look on his face that said, “this bitch be crazy.”  So I thought I’d do a little test. I told Tim: “Don’t say anything, but the next time the project manager comes over, you watch what happens.”

Sure enough, the PM came by later that day, gabbed for a while with Tim and another guy about a project that I am involved with, never once turning toward me or including me in the conversation.

Wow,” Tim said when the project manager left.

Yep,” I said, “people think women make this stuff up.”

I wondered – just wondered as I said this – if it would get back to the project manager. Of course. A couple of days later, the project manager came by my desk and asked how I’m doing, what’s going on, blah blah. Not talking about work, mind you, just talking to show the other guys that he does talk to me.

Of course the PM reverted to ignoring me after that most of the time. Occasionally, he realizes he’s ignoring me and he makes a show of including me. One time when he came over to talk to Tim and the others, I looked up and listened in. He apologized for not coming closer to me, saying it was too far to walk. I sit right next to Tim. I just gave him a look – hey hang yourself with your own rope, dude.

ignored

Now, this is a shitty passive-aggressive way to deal with the problem of being ignored. Going all Glenn Close from “Fatal Attraction” isn’t the answer. The second I realized this was happening, I should have told the project manager, “Please include me in conversations about this project, as I am on the team too.” And if he “forgets,” I should remind him, this time in writing: “Hey, I asked you to include me, but you didn’t just now. Why not?” If it happens again, escalate to his manager.

 

Fight Back with Feedback

Do you ever see bad behavior, but you don’t call it out, for whatever reason? Maybe you’re scared. Maybe you don’t want to rock the boat. Maybe you don’t want to get involved. Maybe you’re not sure of what you’re really seeing.

There are a million reasons not to do something, but only one reason where you must act: when it’s the RIGHT thing to do.

Such a predicament happened during a business meeting this week, where some men displayed some very bad behavior against women. So I spoke up. Maybe something will change. Maybe not (these guys didn’t seem like the types given to introspection). But if something does change, it will be because of the way the feedback was received:

  • Done at the moment, not later
  • Based in fact, not opinions or emotions
  • Based on content, not people or personalities
  • Constructive to give people something to act on
  • Band together if you can\
  • Follow up

By “at the moment” and  “based in fact” I mean, sticking to feedback about things that were observed. For example, four men had loud side conversations while a junior woman was presenting at the meeting. It was hard to hear the presenter. The presenter glared at them a few times but they kept going. Finally, I spoke up and asked them to stop. Those are facts that cannot be argued with.

I offered some constructive feedback: the moderator should organize the meeting to provide ample time for presenters. Each presenter should agree to stick to the allotted time. The moderator should intervene if side conversations become noisome.

“Based on content” basically means, no personal attacks. For example, this one guy who presented was giving as “evidence” all these personal anecdotes that were self-serving and not useful. Basically, dude was a serious Baby Boomer blowhard. But that’s not constructive, is it? Better to say: “Your anecdotes help illustrate the issues, but do you have data to back them up? I need data to make decisions, so please provide it next time.”

Finally, banding together helps women navigate these issues. If one woman raises a complaint, it’s easy for the men to dismiss her as “crazy” – an all-purpose epithet for any woman who dares to speak up. But if several women come forward, all agreeing to be constructive, fact-based and focused on content, not personalities, we can get somewhere.

In this case, I had a couple of “off the record” discussions after the meeting with other participants. We agreed on the facts. Then we provided our feedback. We agreed that we will follow up in two weeks to see if our comments were addressed.

Taking a Skirt from Cartoony to Edgy in 3 Easy Steps

I finished a new iteration of the Cynthia Rowley-designed Simplicity 8058. It’s all edgy instead of cartoony now. Here’s the before and after:

Seriously, I feel like this skirt went from something you’d find in Smurfette’s dowdy sister’s closet to a kick-ass boardroom power skirt. I made three major changes to get to this look.

  1. Instead of the cartoony big buttons and the protruding center-front panel, I made added a buckle and made the panel even with the rest of the waistband.
  2. I shortened it a bit and pegged the sides gradually, to 2 inches at the hem, for a sexier pencil shape.
  3. I made this in a high-quality sober gray heathered ponte and silver zipper instead of that blue crap.

The buckle detail required me to make a piece of belting 3 inches by 14 inches, sewn with some stiff non-stretch interfacing, turned and topstitched, then centered on the front panel. It was a bit of a job to line it up and get it tight enough that it didn’t sag, yet not so tight that it would warp that center panel.

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I am delighted with this! I can’t wait for cooler weather so I can wear it to work and kick some ass.

Me Made May at Work

Me Made May is here! This is my look for the first day in the office, with the gorgeous Grand Central Terminal in the background. The top is Simplicity 8058, worn with an RTW cardigan. I’m wearing trousers from McCall’s 6901.

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What’s your Me-Made look for work? For more ideas and perspective from me, see this blog I wrote last week for Sewcialists.

Cheers!

Five Years Ago I “Leaned In”

Five years ago, I found myself at a crisis point in my career. I was feeling restless and dissatisfied. I vaguely felt underpaid and underappreciated, in a male-dominated industry and company. While I had been successful,  I was stuck.  I didn’t know how to move forward, nor did I have the energy or courage to move. I had started looking for my next opportunity, but without any firm direction or goal.

I read “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg shortly after it published, five years ago this week. So had a couple of work friends. We each invited five women to be part of a “Lean In Circle” at the office, to follow up on the book’s advice. A group of about 15 women met for two hours every other month to work through the program and support one another.

“Lean In” changed my life. Today, I am at a much bigger and more prominent company, in a bigger job, with more pay, responsibility, challenge and energy. “Lean In” didn’t do this alone for me, but it pushed me out of my comfort zone, jump-started my career and opened my mind to what was possible.

A lot of people like to disparage “Lean In.” I wonder, did they actually read the book? They complain that Sheryl Sandberg approached the topic from a place of extraordinary prestige, wealth and privilege, as a Harvard graduate and COO of Facebook. Yes, she did. So what? I don’t understand how that invalidates what she has to say, as if the only “legitimate” women’s viewpoint on careers has to come from some hardscrabble perspective. And I really don’t understand why a “women attacking other women” viewpoint in op-eds and blogs is somehow more valid. There is a special place in hell reserved for successful women who don’t help other women succeed.

Here are several real-world examples coming from me, who came from a hardscrabble background, of how “Lean In” opened my eyes and helped me move forward:

Sexism: My manager at my old job was an older British man. I liked him and we got along well. But he did three things that really bothered me:

  • He insisted I get a mentor.
  • He socialized after work only with other men on our team. Me and other women were never invited.
  • He said that me and another woman I worked on a project with lacked “gravitas” to present our project findings on the big stage at a department-wide offsite, so he recruited a man to present with us.

At the time, I didn’t see these things as sexist, but “Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • Sheryl Sandberg wrote a lot about and how older people are always encouraging young women to get mentors. This push makes young women feel inadequate and forces them into artificial relationships with senior people who… you guessed it… make them feel even more inadequate. Mentors can be wonderful, but such a close relationship must develop organically.
  • By not being invited to after-work events, I missed out on valuable face time with the boss.  The men had better relationships and more insight into what the boss was doing and thinking.
  • “Gravitas” is a fancy way of saying “you won’t be taken seriously.” The man who my boss pushed into the project ended up doing some harm to it because he had to throw his dick around.

Equal Pay: I pushed for better pay when I joined the company, but I was told “this is our offer, not up for negotiation.” I was getting paid more than at my last job and this was a big opportunity, so I accepted it. Once I got promoted into management, I got a small raise because it was in the middle of the budget year, with a vague promise I’d get more later. I wasn’t happy, but I was naive enough to trust the system. Then two things happened:

  • I realized that most of the men who reported to me made more than me, and the lone woman on the team with equal experience to the men and at a higher position made even less. My complaints got me nowhere. I was never made whole and each year I sank a bit further back in pay equality because new people were brought in at higher salaries.
  • I was a top performer and earned raises and bonuses regularly, but I still was underpaid. I earned about 85% of what peers from the “Lean In Circle” earned. And they were underpaid compared to men in similar positions.

“Lean In” opened my eyes:

  • I didn’t understand how compensation works. If you are underpaid today, you will always be underpaid. The compensation system is rigged against you and no one will fix it.
  • If you want to be paid more, you need to know your value and negotiate hard. I learned how to negotiate and how to calculate my value to get better pay and other perks at my new job.

Taking Risks: I am by nature rather risk-averse. I don’t seek thrills or take many chances in life. “Lean In” made me realize I was too comfortable where I was, not challenged enough or interested enough to find fulfillment at my job. I noticed a few things:

  • My job was in a female ghetto – an operational role that was viewed as a cost center, not revenue-generating or otherwise contributing much to the bottom line. My boss took another job and I had a new female boss, who in turn reported to a woman, “Big Boss,” who was one of only two women leading our entire division. Only human resources had a higher proportion of women than our group did. Men made the decisions, and we women (for the most part) executed them.
  • Women at my level within this group were moved around like chess pieces to satisfy whatever demand at the moment fell on Big Boss’s ears. These lateral moves were good for gaining experience, but they never seemed to lead to promotions or big opportunities, rather just putting out fires and shoring up crumbling walls. Some women had been at these types of tasks for 5 to 10 years! Strategic decisions came from a higher level they didn’t penetrate.

Because of “Lean In” I realized I needed to take chances in my career. The longer I stayed where I was, the harder it would be to move. There was a reorganization and Big Boss wanted me to take one of these lateral-move jobs. I had a meeting with her, where I laid my cards on the table and told her flatly what I wanted. She said no. So I left. I never would have had the courage to do this without “Lean In.”

Leaning In at Home: Sheryl Sandberg inspired the most vitriol with her insights into how to manage a work-life balance. Such a powerful and big earner of course could have endless nannies, maids, assistants and other helpers. She didn’t understand the struggles of single mothers, or of women whose partners also have demanding jobs and are unwilling or unable to take on more responsibilities at home. This is a valid criticism.  And Sandberg herself viewed these challenges through a different lens when her husband suddenly died a few years ago. Also, I don’t have kids, so I can’t comment on the working mother dynamic. But this doesn’t mean that all of Sandberg’s ideas are bullshit.

  • Just like at work, at home you also have to ask for what you want. Your partner and kids won’t read your mind.
  • Your husband needs to be an equal partner, or you will tote around resentment along with all the housework, shopping, cooking and child care responsibilities. If he won’t meet you halfway before you’re married, you have no hope after you’re married.
  • Don’t put your career on hold because you might get married, might have kids, or might have to care for aging parents. Do what you need to do at work. If personal life throws curveballs later on, deal with them then.

When I took my new job, which has a long commute and longer hours, I told my husband that he must take on some responsibilities at home, such as making dinner two or three nights a week (including cleaning up after), vacuuming, paying some bills and shopping for groceries as needed. He doesn’t like it, but he does it, and he acknowledges it’s fair. “Lean In” helped me craft these discussions with my husband, to get to a satisfactory agreement.

What’s next?

I think I will reread “Lean In” this month to see what else I could learn or other places where I disagree with Sandberg. I also wonder what other women think. Have you read the book? Did it help you?

Don’t Raise Your Hand

I’m back home from an overnight business meeting. Another meeting where men dominated and treated women dismissively, and women (myself included) did dumb things that didn’t help.

The meeting was for an industry group of people in technology. There are six women (three of whom are lower-level staff people) and 20 men (including two senior male staff people).

Monday night, at a dinner at a steakhouse (natch) where do I end up standing during the cocktail hour, but with two of the women, who talked the whole time about their kids and families while all the men talked shop. I peeled myself away and tried in vain to insert myself into more substantive conversations.

Then for the meal, determined to break in with the real action, where do I end up sitting but at the “girls’ table” with the three other women! I ran to the bathroom before the meal and when I returned, all the seats were taken except for two, next to the other three women and one of the women’s male coworkers. Those seats were vacant, of course, because none of the men wanted to sit at the “girls’ table.” I made the best of it, and we had good substantive conversations, but the worse tendencies of men and women in business were off to a bad start.

One of the men who led the meeting is always welcoming and engaging. The other one literally ignores me – it’s like I am not in the room. I made it a point to say hello to him and to engage him in conversation.

At the meeting today, I intentionally crossed the room to avoid the other women and sat in the middle of a pack of men. I engaged them in conversation and we had a good meeting. Then during a Q&A after a presentation, I could not get my question in. The men kept talking over me. At one point I actually raised my hand like a schoolgirl, which just made it all worse. Eventually I half rose out of my seat and just talked over another man  – the jerk I mention above – to get my question in – really just steamrolled him the way everyone had steamrolled me. The question was answered and sparked a good debate.

At the afternoon break, over coffee, the man who did the presenting actually said to me: “Did you get what you needed out of the presentation? You didn’t ask a question.” “Yes I did!” I shot right back at him. “I asked about X.” “Oh yeah,” he said, backing off, “that’s right.” I grabbed my coffee and walked away.

The meeting concluded with a man in the group taking credit for an idea I have been pushing for a year. It was a minor point after everything else that day, but it just felt like the last straw. I took an early train home.

If you find yourself in this situation:

  • Don’t stand around with a gaggle of other women shooting the shit. Look to see who everyone else is talking to, and talk to that person.
  • Never sit at the girls’ table.
  • If you have a question, ask. Don’t raise your hand and wait to get permission to ask. Just do it.
  • If someone does something sexist or even just thoughtless (hard to tell sometimes), call him on it, right away.
  • Be in the present. Get your ideas down early, speak up, repeat yourself if you need to before the men will listen.

Who Loves a Business Trip?

I’m on a business trip for a few days. Nothing fancy, just a hop on Amtrak to Baltimore for a couple of days.

I love business trips. Although I’ve been traveling for work a little for 20+ years, it’s still thrilling somehow. I feel like Peggy from Mad Men with her smug satisfaction, even if it means staying at a budget hotel, drinking low-quality whiskey.

Or, in my case, a fruit, veggie and hummus plate from Amtrak…

Business trips cure my craving for alone time. Something about a hotel room, all to myself, a flight without a companion, even a meal alone feels great. I get time with coworkers during the day, or I interact with lots of strangers at a conference, but any time after that is MINE. At home there’s always something that needs doing, or my husband wants to chat, or the TV is blaring… Always something demands my time. 

Most importantly, I get lonely after a few days, or I wish I was home again. And then I am – feeling refreshed.