Sunday, February 8, 2015

A rose by any other name...

This chart shows that gender can play a strong role in whether a person is perceived as brilliant or not, annoying or not, bossy or assertive, etc. Not surprising but I'm glad to see that studies involving bias are gaining traction. 

A brief excerpt:
The chart makes vivid unconscious biases. The implications go well beyond professors and college students, to anyone who gives or receives feedback or performance reviews.
It suggests that people tend to think more highly of men than women in professional settings, praise men for the same things they criticize women for, and are more likely to focus on a woman’s appearance or personality and on a man’s skills and intelligence.
“When we use these reviews and evaluations to assess people, we need to keep in mind that the way people write them is really culturally conditioned," Mr. Schmidt said.

Sunday, March 16, 2014


After almost a decade of thinking that I was too sensitive (and being told exactly that by men I shared this story with), I am so glad to see that Julie Ann Hovarth is speaking out about her experiences at Github. In this millennium, I can't believe that hostile and toxic behaviors in the workplace are not only tolerated but allowed to thrive.

Most people think that any issues should be reported to HR, and that they will make things right. In my experience, this is simply not true. At my company, HR's job seems to be to protect the company at any cost. As a fresh engineering grad from one of the top three (constantly rotating) programs in the country, I loved the challenges in my new job. Our team was tiny and the sky was the limit for what you could do. A year into my job, I noticed a market opportunity that we weren't addressing and pitched the business and engineering case to my upper management. The product based on my proposal brought in hundreds of millions of dollars, and launched a very successful multi-billion dollar tier. I was promoted and told that I was on the fast track.

Enter Sexist Boss (SB). He was a good ol' boy who was hired back to lead our time since the start-up he was at failed. He informed me that I was too young to be at my title, and that he was just an engineer when he was my age (um, how old did he think I was?). He also proceeded to declare that I coded like a girl, that I was too shy and quiet (hah!), and that he couldn't take his team to a strip club for team-building events because of me. He called me in ESL in a meeting and I promptly let him know that it was ETL (English is my third language and if he was going to call me names, he might as well get it right).

Despite launching flagship products and working long hours at a customer site over Christmas and New Year's to fix a critical issue, SB found excuses to tank my review time after time. Ironically, he posted feedback from my peers verbatim in my performance review - these comments were in stark contrast to his conclusions. He micromanaged everything I did, including the color schemes in my presentations and the co-inventors I listed in my patents (forcing me to add three non-contributors to a patent I was sole author on). He dragged me down to a VP's office to apologize after I corrected the VP at a project meeting (the VP complained to SB that I had showed him up at the meeting by correcting an incorrect statement that he was going to make to a major customer - aw I must have bruised his big-boy ego).

After trying to make it work for a couple of years, I had enough and decided to switch jobs within the company. Upon learning of my plan to leave, SB came into my office and talked very sweetly to me about what I'd like to do and what would get me to stay. When it became clear that I was leaving in order to expand my skills and try something new, he became belligerent and proceeded to scream at me, telling me that my work was shi*t and that I was making a big mistake. I reported this and other incidents in the past to HR, and was told that "Oh, it's just SB". A few days later, two colleagues asked me why my management was soliciting only negative performance feedback, and asking for only verbal comments instead of going through the formal written feedback process. I informed them that it was probably because I was leaving the team.

I proceeded to let HR know about what my management was doing in order to be protected from an unfair performance review, only to be told by HR that I would not be protected from retaliation. I found out later that this was blatantly untrue. I left the group, got an unfair and incorrect review, and was told by my new and awesome manager to just accept it formally in the system and move on. I now really regret doing that, because if I had known that I was misinformed about my rights, I could possibly do something about SB's behavior. During this time, one of my team-mates asked me if my boobs were real and if he could see them. Almost every new young female hire in our department was harassed by a creepy European genius, so I set up an internal mailing list called "flea", so that anyone who was cornered in her office by him could send out an email to the list and one of the members would stop by the office and rescue her. HR did absolutely nothing to protect us or help.

After I left the team, I found out that SB had grabbed a very senior engineering manager's butt at a team building event. She called me up, shaken, to ask me if he'd ever done that to me. Thankfully he hadn't. SB also told my office-mate at the time, and fellow team member, to shake her "baby-maker" at a bowling team-building event, and that his kids couldn't get As because of immigrants like her. A male intern whom she mentored was made a manager immediately after she went on maternity leave. He was not only promoted ahead of her but is now on par with her boss - and while this is subjective, she is technically much more knowledgeable than him and has let very high-profile projects. She is way more qualified to be a manager than person she mentored. In my personal opinion, she was passed over for these two promotions by SB because of her gender. After I left the team, she was the only woman in SB's group; SB's team has not hired in any female employees in all these years. SB promoted many men who joined the team after her to titles above her position. It's a shame that his stone-age thinking is allowed to mess up a talented engineer's career. It's even more shameful that he's allowed to continue to stay on in a Fortune 500 company in a very, very senior management role.

Wow that was long but so cathartic. More next time. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Moment of Zen

Happy Saturday!

My moment of Zen for the week:
At yesterday's weekly Friday meeting, my boss looked at me (the only female in my team), and said "Please don't take this the wrong way, but I wanted to share a saying 'There's no such thing as an ugly woman, just a lazy one'. We can apply this same principle to innovation..."

Turns out my boss was channeling his inner Helena Rubinstein.


Friday, March 14, 2014

Sticks and stones

The campaign to "Ban Bossy" is getting a lot of attention right now. Lean In and Girl Scouts are collaborating on this campaign to ban the usage of the word "bossy" from our vocabulary. The premise is that since "bossy" is an adjective applied mostly to females,  young girls who are told that they are bossy often exhibit less and less of their leadership qualities over time. The end result is fewer women who are willing to be assertive in the workforce.

There are many people lauding this effort, and probably as many criticizing it. While I certainly don't like the word "bossy" (and I'm intimately familiar with the word since I was a young child), I also think it's a little extreme to go around banning words. Instead of banning bossy, why not ban what it stands for -  gender double standards? The kind of double standards that this Pantene commercial so beautifully portrays. Labels aren't going anywhere, but we can ensure that we don't apply some specifically to a particular gender. If we're going to call men assertive, let's use the same word for women instead of referring to them as pushy/whiny/nagging or the other b-word. The same goes for assertive (men) vs pushy (women), or passionate (men) vs aggressive (women).

Banning a word isn't going to change how little girls perceive their behavior. Changing adult mindsets so that they are mindful of the weight gender-based labels carry just might stop adults, and therefore their children, from blurting out "bossy" or "whiney" or something similar in the playground or workplace. The same way I used to flippantly say "Oh, that's so gay!" till one day gay friend pointed out to me that it was not a very respectful phrase to use. I didn't think about the impact my words could have. I haven't used that phrase since, and every time I hear it, I gently bring up the point that using the phrase might be hurtful to some people. The same goes for the word "retarded". There are several other such words and phrases that I would use without thinking because they were OK where I grew up, but I stopped using them when I realized the impact they could have. Sharing my thoughts with friends and family when these words were used led to some people modifying their vocabulary. It's a ripple effect. Ethnic stereotypes are very common where I grew up, but living abroad opened my eyes to how insensitive I could without intending to. Sharing these perspectives can enable other people to realize how they are hurting other people, and it allows them to modify their behavior, and their children's behavior, and so on.

In my opinion, a changed mindset is more powerful than just banning a word. Ban one b-word and several others will pop up. Change a mindset ... and well, the rest follows.

Maybe someday we won't have the icon of her time writing songs like this because the words just won't be true anymore. I can hope.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hello World

Many years ago, I started this blog to use humor as an outlet for situations that I encountered in my daily life. I changed jobs multiple times over the last few years, and my experiences progressing up the corporate ladder made me think long and hard about several things I used to take for granted. I'd like to change gears and start talking about these things.

On the off-chance that anyone reads this, I have a request. If you know me personally, thank you for reading. Please do not use my name or any identifying information in your comments. If you don't, it's a pleasure to meet you.

Disclaimer: the views represented here are my own and do not represent those of my employer(s).