On Being An Abrasive Woman (In Tech)

It's story time, y'all! All the names have been changed.

One of my earlier jobs, I worked at a company that had the family vibe. Everyone hung out together, and we were all "friends." The company also really valued "niceness." I put that in quotes because the people who tended to get pinged for not being nice were women about 80-90% of the time. Heck, there was a guy who would regularly tell people they were "fucking stupid" and we'd laugh it off.   At this company, my team consisted of:

  • My manager (Peter)
  • A guy who had been on the team for a year (Keenan)
  • A guy who had been with the company for a long time but just joined the team (Erlich)
  • And me

For a while, I really liked my manager and my team. The one caveat was Erlich who, like his namesake, was a total creep. He could be funny, but he was distracting and disruptive and just generally skeeved me out. For about six months, Keenan, Erlich, and I shared an office. Then a new developer joined the team (Richard) and I moved into an office with him. It was a lot quieter, and I got so much done. After another six months, Richard was let go. I went to Peter and requested that I stay in an office with this other guy on a related team, instead of moving back into the office with Erlich. I told Peter that Erlich was distracting and he creeped me out, and I would be more comfortable not sharing an office with him for 6-8 hours every day.

I went on vacation a few days later, and while I was on vacation, Erlich was let go. I was a bit concerned about the timing, but he was also a shitty employee! So I didn't think it had anything to do with what I said. However, after I get back, Keenan starts treating me differently. I’m making a presentation to explain what we do to support, and I’m supposed to get feedback from him. I go back to Keenan at least five different times, and every time he tells me to make some other big change. Every time, I make the changes, but every time, it’s not enough.

Then Keenan reports me to Peter for being abrasive. I can't remember the exact content of the email I got from Peter (which had HR copied), but it made it sound like I had cussed out this other guy on our team (Nelson) and I had to wrack my brain for what I said. I kept wondering if I had blacked out and forgotten saying something horrible. When I finally remember, I realized all I said was a rather direct “no, you’re wrong.” I got reported to HR for telling a coworker they were wrong. I talked to Peter about it, and he apologized to me and said he should have spoken to me first, but at that point, I realized I would probably just have to switch jobs.

I've seen this double-standard exist in many places, but that was the most egregious. Maybe a month or so before this I had been eating lunch when Keenan decided to make the argument that "people with downs syndrome aren't people," and yet I was considered offensive for telling a man they were wrong.

I don't have a summary for this story. It's just one I need to tell in hopes that it will make others consider more carefully how they are treating their female colleagues.