Career Networking Presentation WISE women in computer science

Who Do You Think I Am?

Odd One Out
Credit: flickr / cH@0s

Recently, I was at an event. A colleague was giving a talk, which I’d worked to set up. Someone “important” at the location, who I’ve met, who in fact once signed a thank-you note to me and was, I’m told, part of a (positive) conversation about some of my work days before came down.

I approached and asked if he was coming to our event. He, brusquely, said, “I’m here to thank the speaker”. I said that I was sure our speaker was nearby and went in search of him. We found him, and I was very much not included in the conversation as he gushed about how grateful they were that the speaker had come to give this talk.

I didn’t get a “hello” – let alone a “thank-you”. I was dismissed, and I wondered if he thought I was a student, or a recruiter? Why was I not worth even a modicum of courtesy?

So, this guy was extremely rude and I was pretty disgusted by his behavior. But, it’s not like I haven’t noticed that people assume the guys I work with are engineers, but don’t assume for me. They ask what I “do”. It drives me a little crazy.

I’ve been conscious ever since of sidelining myself. Of setting myself up to be a “token girl” – giving warm fuzzy talks but leaving deep technical talks to a male colleague. Of being an organizer rather than who things are organized around.

Also, I’ve been thinking about clothing. Did he assume I was a student? If I was dressed better, if I was carrying a designer handbag and wearing shoes rather than sneakers… it would have been clear that I was not. But it seems like as a female engineer you can’t win because then geeks will think you’re not one of them. I dress casually to belong, but maybe it’s making me invisible.

So, I’m having a bit of a wardrobe revamp. I bought dark-wash jeans long enough to wear with heels, and tops that are not t-shirts with brands or slogans on them. And I’m being wary of being a “token girl”. But, I’m still a little… concerned. Somewhat disappointed. And, increasingly cynical.

6 replies on “Who Do You Think I Am?”

Yes! This resonates with me! (I have never commented here yet, btw.) I’m a software development lead, and the only technical woman at my company. So many client meetings in a room full of men result in a struggle not to be relegated to the status of note-taker or sit-quietly-while-questions-are-directed-to-others-(men). It’s like chasing a shadow to find the most effective way of dressing, speaking, and presenting yourself to be “effortlessly” included.

(That all sounded pretty negative – mostly I love my job and role, but there are certainly difficulties as well!)

Thanks for commenting 🙂

Yes! I always make a point of introducing myself as “software engineer” because people so often seem to assume otherwise. Like you, I love love love my job. But – some things are harder. Dressing to look professional to non-techies but still acceptable to techies is a constant challenge.

I was in a situation similar to yours a few months ago. I ran into someone who remembered a fairly technical presentation I did in the past with a male colleague – he remembered him but not me. What’s ironic about the whole encounter is the fact that my colleague was there to deliver the warm fuzzy stuff and I was focusing on the technical nitty gritty and answered the questions.

Mostly I’m so optimistic and then things like this – I realize we still have so far left to go. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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