On sexism in STEM.

I bookmarked this post at the time I was working in the most toxic, abusive, and deeply sexist environment I’ve ever had the displeasure of working in. I’ve been lucky, in my career, in that I managed to get about a decade of experience in before I hit my first big wall of nope.

I’d had minor incidents, of course, like the time I worked on a combined Level 2/3 support team. I was junior–although not the most junior–but high-performing, and I got on well with the senior ops guys and my (female) direct supervisor. It was about eight or so months of the best job I’ve ever had. Then they split the team up, segregating the Level 2 from the Level 3. Guess who the only people from the old combined team that got sent to the Level 2 team were? If you said, “the only two women” then, ding ding ding ding! You’ve been paying attention.

I was miserable in that team, in part because it represented the loss of an obvious career path (from junior to senior administrator).1 I used to resolve ten to a hundred times more cases a month than anyone in any other support team–to be clear, that’s thousands of cases–and yet was still so mind-numbingly bored all day I got dressed-down for under-performance because the boss’ boss kept walking past and seeing me reading books.

Needless to say, I got out of that job as fast a I could (not fast enough), and within a year in the new organisation had been promoted twice and was on double my previous salary.

One of the things it’s hard to overstate is how insidious events like that are to the professional psyche. I have absolutely no doubt I was shuffled down to the Level 2 team because I was female–the Level 3 manager was and still is a notorious chauvinist–and that scar, that knowledge that no matter how well you do you’ll never be enough, messes you up. So do things like asking a former favored manager for a referee report, only to find he’d rated you poorly because you didn’t spend enough time cleaning up after morning teas.2 So do the sanwitch “jokes” and being called “luv” and “sweetheart” by men twice your age. So do…

You know what, Imma stop right there. Before I get onto the stuff that really sucked; the stuff that’s still too raw to talk about.

So… yeah. The meat-grinder. How ’bout that?

  1. Incidentally, this is a systemic problem in these sorts of tiered support teams; they’re very trendy but they’re shitballs for employees, and also for customer outcomes, both in and out of tech. While I was struggling with my own “demotion’, a senior mentor was performing a review of systemic issues in a non-tech-related service desk run by national organisation. The findings from that review were that there was one state whose service desk was functional, and it was the one state that didn’t separate out into the classic three tiered system. []
  2. Yes, that happened. No, I hadn’t organised the morning tea to start with. []