Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Geekery For Girls

     Don't do it girls.  Just don't.  Avoid geekery and find something else to do.  It's too frustrating, climbing over walls that aren't there for the boys, over and over and over.

     In my work, I have both general and specific skills, and both general and specific duties and responsibilities.  Any more, the general stuff -- working as one of a half-dozen electronics techs at a communications facility -- makes up the bulk of my work.   Connect this, install that, unsnarl some bit of legacy improvising, work out and build interface gadgets, respond to user problems (often under considerable time pressure), assist managers in long-range planning -- that's most of what I do.  It's the basic skill set of my line of work.  But on top of that, I have considerable experience and training in the installation, maintenance and operation of high-power radiofrequency equipment, including cooling requirements.   I've been doing that for nearly forty years.

     It doesn't make any difference in terms of trust.  Time and again, I diagnose a problem and propose a solution, only to have to explain and justify the entirely predictable and understandable behavior of that specialized equipment at great length, unless I can get a man to tell management exactly the same diagnosis and propose the same solution, at which point it is accepted without question.

     The impression I get -- from several different managers over the years -- is that at some barely-conscious level, they just can't convince themselves that some woman could possibly know what I know.  And yet many of them have resented my attempting to explain in detail so they can follow the observed symptoms and my reasoning as to the cause and remedy.  There's no way around it.  When I can, I'll use factory support engineers or consultants as cut-outs to short-circuit the cycle of skepticism and cautious explanation, which wastes time and effort.  It works.

     But I reach a point where it's all I can do to keep myself from saying, "I told you so, I've been telling you so and how I can fix it, but you won't believe me," clearing out my desk and going home. Who needs it?

     Edited To Add: Things went better than I had expected.  I was able to explain the particular problem that I was concerned about with sufficient clarity that my bosses were confident about the nature of it and my proposed remedy.  The new guys are not the old guys -- there's still the problem of always having to prove myself in a way the boys do not, but it helps considerably to be working for people who are not impervious to reason.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Having worked for and with highly-competent females for most of my working career, I can only say that I am sorry for your situation. (I will note that I have also worked for and with highly-incompetent people of both sexes and/or genders. It is what it is.) I worked for years in my current job with a woman who was a C coding wizard. Even after all these years, I can barely program in C, and she always impressed me as supremely competent.

The closest I've ever come to seeing what you're talking about in real life was years ago when my ex-girlfriend asked me to go with her to Sears to get a new battery. I asked why she needed me to go with her. She said, "I went in and waited and waited but nobody would talk to me, even though I was standing right there at the desk and two service guys were yakking it up while I waited."

So I went in with her and they immediately asked how they could help me. I pointed at Julie and said, "You can help me by helping her. She came in here earlier to get her battery replaced and couldn't get the time of day out of anyone."

Of course they apologized all over themselves and said that couldn't possibly be and etc etc ad nauseum; I replied, "Just take care of what she needs and I'm good. And don't make assumptions in the future that a woman standing around in the tire and battery section is only waiting for her significant other to show up."

I like to think things are better in 2018 but I am constantly reminded that they are not.

RandyGC said...

I got a taste of that while in the Air Force. My NCOs (both sexes) where highly skilled, technically competent and often the smartest people in the room. My job as an officer was often to parrot what they had just said to other officers so that they would actually listen. (I understand it's worse in other services).

A subset of this was getting pilots to listen to and understand anyone who didn't have wings or wear a flight suit. Didn't usually get that with navigators, I think because they dealt with being second class citizens to the radiator winged gods themselves.

Merle Morrison said...

I know it's not much comfort, but not every shop is like that.


Tam said...

I feel your pain. :(

Anonymous said...

It is sad/frustrating/infuriating that you and so many other women have to put up with that nonsense. It is a waste of time and skill and kills morale.

I am sorry that you have to deal with it.

Jeffrey Smith said...

From my observation, this is not confined to the geekosphere, and sometimes the culprits are themselves female. So don't hurry to clean out that desk, because the problem will likely appear at the new desk's location.

Anonymous said...

I can't speak for a woman's point of view but I'm in a similar line of work as you ... and the same problem exists for males. One of my buddies of a "preferred" class of people was complaining of the same thing just this afternoon - and he's in management. I have to agree with Jeffrey Smith. I do believe it's hierarchical rather than sexist or racist. Doesn't much matter what the reason is, the problem seems pervasive.


Paul said...

It happens. No, I do not know the answer.

But we are getting closer to retirement so there is that.

pigpen51 said...

I wish I could tell you that things would get better, but I don't think so. Part of the blame is on the male dominated culture, maybe most of it. But also a part of the trouble seems to be that the feminism movement has left behind women like you, the competent ones who work with their brains and their hands.
Of course, I am probably all wrong, and for that I apologize. But whenever I have seen women trying to gain equal rights, it was not actually for ALL women, but for women of a liberal bent. The type with the degrees in social studies, who end up either marrying money or getting a dead end job because they have no marketable skills, and then complaining that their pay is not equal.
However, I hesitate to give you advice on what to do in your situation, since I worked at a job from right out of high school, for over 35 years, and they decided that I didn't need to work their and so they found an excuse to fire me.
Whatever you do, I hope it works out for you in a way that you would choose.

Historian said...

Not Invented Here syndrome is common among management/supervisor types, and especially among those who are undereducated in the technical subject matter in play.
It may well be worse for women than for men, but I too have seen the same thing; senior management will not accept a solution proposed by in-house staff, but eagerly accept THE SAME SOLUTION when promulgated by an outside consultant. I have seen it again and again,at multiple employers, over 40 years in my field.
The unspoken assumption on the part of leadership seems to be that 'our person,' since they work in the organization that has the problem, cannot be competent to diagnose and correct the problem.
They want a consultant to tell them the answer, often exactly the same solution you suggested, at which point your solution, (which the consultant got FROM YOU,) will be cheerfully accepted. Reminders of your having proposed the exact same remedy are denied and resented by leadership.

This behaviour is very common; my experience has been that an organization that does accept in-house solutions proposed by indigenous staff is rare. Again, it may be worse for women, but this behaviour is sadly not at all rare

Igor said...

I had a (woman) boss that sent me to school on a new piece of equipment, then ignored my recommendations for sizing and capacity (hardware) when I was planning installation.

Lo, and behold, the equipment we procured was not up to the task. I informed my boss that my original recommendations were overridden and now we were in a world of hurt, which was duly ignored. I said, "You sent me to school to be the expert and you ignored my expert advice!". Needless to say, I quit about 3 months later due to lack of Management support and lack of a decent level of pay for my abilities.

Yep, I feel your pain!

B said...

One might wonder if a great deal of that issue is/was caused by the legacy of (many) females being promoted to well beyond their level of competence in the recent past simply because of "equality" and to meet quotas for hiring to satisfy the Federal requirements.

Which is not imply that ALL females were so promoted, nor that most are incompetent....Simply that it happened and that legacy still exists and affects many managers thinking.

Not an excuse for the behavior, just a possible explanation.

Sadly, I don't know a solution.

I'm sorry for your frustration.

pigpen51 said...

While I can understand what you are saying about quotas and such, the truth is that probably more men are advanced to where they are not competent then women. I have seen it on many occasions and no doubt it has happened at my former place of employment more than I was able to see, since I was not in the front office, but rather on the floor.
I am pretty sure that you are familiar with the book, The Peter Principle, which says, quoting from memory here, so I might not get it quite right, " In a hierarchy, everyone will advance to the highest level of their incompetence."
In other words, you do a good job, and so you get moved up to being a supervisor over the whole group. You do a good job there, and are promoted to being a Department Manager, but you are not really a good fit there, you would be better off having stayed where you were, able to go hands on to show those who you supervised exactly what you are saying.
Now you are a Dept. Manager, and you are not really very good at it. You don't have the temperament, or the intellect, or patience, to do a good job, and so you are incompetent with where you are. And because you are incompetent at the job, you are passed over for any further promotions. You have, in effect, risen to the highest level until you have become incompetent, and now that is where you stay.

I am reminded of the football story, with the home team being just killed by their opponents. After one more dropped pass, the coach turns to the bench and tells a receiver, " Get ready, you are going to replace Jones." Then the coach promptly forget about the new player warming up, catching passes on the sideline. After about 10 minutes, the player drops a pass from warming up, and you hear a shout from the stands " Put him in coach, he's ready!"

Roberta X said...

B, there aren't many women who do what I do -- out of maybe 50 - 60 people working at my trade in town, there is one (1) other woman. And even the sub-par techs I have worked with were, in fact, either adequate or gone withing six months. It's not a line of work that can afford featherbedding, promote incompetence upward or fill quotas with whoever shows up.

B said...

Perhaps not many today, but in the lat 80's through the early 2000's there were a LOT of "minority" types that were promoted to WAAAY past their incompetency level (women were a "minority" then) and were retained when that happened, where a male would have been shown the door....and were, in fact, given roles where the decisions they made could snarl things beyond belief..... and the legacy still persists. Especially for women... I worked in a similar field from '84 through '92.....which was a part of why I chose to change careers...

Roberta X said...

B, that's not how it works in my specialty. That's not how it has ever worked. I have seen people get hired because they looked as good on paper and in interview as other applicant *plus* they fulfilled diversity requirements -- but every hire of every background for the technical specialties either proved themselves adequate or didn't last long. You can't fake what we do and there's no way to cover for people. Oh, you can kind of suck at it -- but where I am, where I have worked for over thirty years, what we consider "kind of sucky" is an order of magnitude better than what passes for okay in many other markets.