My one and only brush with sexism… I think

I hear a lot about how much sexism women in tech face and how hard it is to get into the field, let alone progress in it. This is not something I’ve really come across. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m just saying it doesn’t happen all the time, and it doesn’t happen to every woman in the technology field.

I experienced sexism from a handful of men in a male-dominated workplace. As far as I’m aware this is the only time it’s happened, unless I’m completely naive and blind to it. Thus the ‘I think’ in the title.

It occurred at the start of my tech career, when I was working for Sporting Index (a sports spreadbetting company). I put it down more to a lack of intelligence and a desperate attempt to be funny, rather than an act of malice. But they were trying to stunt my career, and had it been someone less thick-skinned than me it could have had far more of a detrimental effect. As it is I came out on top…

Up until a redundancy at the end of 2008 I had been working as an administrator for a busy London financial recruitment company. Soon after, in early 2009 I landed the job as an administrator in the marketing department for the aforementioned sports betting company. I quickly realised whoever had been doing the job before me was either very slow or very lazy as I was struggling to get enough work to fill my days. I was asking for more and more work, and eventually was given amends on html emails to do, creation of the text versions, pulling reports etc, and so began my email career.

I found it fascinating. I started teaching myself HTML as I worked. I was constantly googling things to find better ways, for process as well as code. I created a board that outlined when emails were due in the week to work backwards from. I was always on the phone to our ESP asking for advice on how to interpret the stats. Comparing open rates to the style of subject lines we’d used. I was doing all the right things out of instinct and common sense rather than actual knowledge. I even approached my manager with a pitch about how email could be a full time role if we did more work on it, and made more improvements.

Ah. My line manager. Now we get to the crux of the matter. My manager turned out to be a misogynistic Marcus Brigstocke / Louis Theroux look-a-like (sorry Marcus & Louis)

Now might be the time to point out that yes, I believe in equal rights, but I’m not the kind of woman who would be offended if you held a door open for me. Nor do I get offended by the odd ‘Love’ or ‘Darling’ from men I don’t really know. I also make allowances for men of an older generation, who were brought up ‘that way’ and are just set in their ways.

So my manager. My lovely manager. When I started as an administrator there, I had to take on a certain amount of PA duties to this man. Things like fielding some calls, diary management, receiving an email from him to print an attachment that prints out inside his office… you know the normal mundane crap that management OBVIOUSLY can’t be bothered with themselves!

To be able to deal with some of these issues he requested from IT that I be given access to his emails. So he knew I had access. And he knew I had to routinely go into them

(Can you see where this is going yet?).

Around the time he turned down my pitch to have an ‘email’ role, I decided that it was time to start looking elsewhere (Actually it was at the point that while I was looking for a bug in some html, he came out to tell me the paper had run out in his printer, that I made my mind up I could do better). I wasn’t stupid, I knew I didn’t have much experience, so I used my credit card to pay to do the CIM Professional Certificate in Marketing to help me on my way .

However, also around that time another member of the marketing team left, and I decided to show interest in the role. My manager encouraged me, saying it was the logical next step for me. I was chuffed. Until I saw emails between him and the Head of HR discussing the matter and how to gear the questioning to a marketing graduate and be able to easily rule me out.

One of the emails regarding this:

Letter

I was shocked and embarrassed by this. Embarrassed because  for a short while I thought it was my fault: that I’d been trying to punch above my weight. I soon recovered though, and realised how amazingly unprofessional this was – from my manager for one, but definitely from an HR manager!!

Well obviously I saved a copy of the email while I considered my options. Having decided it might be time to leave, I initially didn’t do anything. then over the course of the next few months I came across other emails…

Someone had emailed my manager asking him to nudge me to send across some paperwork; the response back from my manager:

Letter

Lovely! Comments on the size of my backside!

And the final straw, an email from my manager to another senior member of staff whom I also did work for:

Manager: Ref Review: I am doing this at 10am this morning – please let me know if you have any comments beforehand

Senior Staff: 

Get a breast reduction you are distracting [name] and blocking his sunlight

Manager: 

I thought you were looking a bit pastey sitting in the shade all day.

On that day I accepted a role at another company.

After handing in my notice to my manager, I then sent an email to the MD and to the Head of HR (yes the one listed above colluding against me) with copies of these emails in, citing the real reasons for wishing to leave.

It was terrifying!

The MD almost immediately called me in an apologised to me that I’d had to sit through this for the past few months. He then assigned a different member of HR to ‘my case’ who I met with straight away to discuss it in full. she was brilliant. Another Senior member of staff was assigned to investigate, leaving the MD free for if anything was later escalated. After some arguments, I refused to take gardening leave – I didn’t feel I had anything to hide from, and I needed to complete handover docs for my team. My manager was subsequently asked to work from home.

I received what I asked for, the costs of my course back plus materials. I didn’t want to kick up a massive fuss, although I was probably entitled – I had a new job to go to and I didn’t want it interfering with that. I was also told that members of staff involved would all be sent on some kind of training course- I have no idea if that ever happened. The senior member of staff though went out of his way to apologise to me, in all honesty he’s one of those men I mentioned before of an ‘older generation’ and, right or wrong, his comment hadn’t offended me as much as my manager’s involvement with it.

Anyway – that’s my story of the only time (I think) I’ve had to deal with sexism in the workplace.

2 thoughts on “My one and only brush with sexism… I think

  1. This really touched a cord with me! I work in a male-dominated industry (cyber security) and i’ve had several cases of sexism – from being told that just because i’m being praised from my work, it doesn’t mean that my work is any good. Being told that it’s been noticed that in the office i wear clothes that ‘accentuate my assets’ and I shouldn’t feel like I need to do that cos I have a nice personality.

    What worries me is that a couple of years ago, I would have accepted this as genuine feedback – luckily I’ve grown enough in this time to be able to answer back and stand up for myself. To the guy who said the latter comment, I asked him if when he wakes up in the morning, does the pick clothes that accentuate his assets? He replied no, of course not. I said neither do i, and sassy walked away!

    I made senior management aware of this – they were genuinely shocked. I think they were blinkered to the fact that this happens in their company. Realistically, out of 60 employees, there’s 7 women (and no HR department). So sadly, it’s inevitable.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kirsty. I’ve been lucky since I hit dev properly that I’ve not encountered anything like this (as far as I am aware) – and I still find it surprising that people are so ignorant as to think that saying things like this is ok… I just don’t understand how their thought process works…

      I’m finally reading Lean In at the moment, and I can understand how the subconscious stuff happens – but the overt comments are unforgivable!

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