This post is part of the “If I Were A Boy” Carnival, a series where female bloggers share their candid experiences or observations about women in the workplace. This is not at all meant to be a male-bashing exercise! Please check out the links to other participating bloggers at the end of this post!
I had gotten most of the way through high school before I realized girls weren’t supposed to be good at math. Sure, I could be good at doing sums in elementary school. That was OK. I was never supposed to be good at middle school geometry or algebra, but my mother passionately argued for my brain and had me moved up into the advanced classes. I really wasn’t supposed to be good at calculus, but at that point there was really nothing anyone could do. Still, my smarts were stealthy. Our calculus teacher graded on a curve, and he used to write everyone’s test grades on the board as a way to illustrate our performance along that curve. The nosier people in the class would try to figure out who had earned the best grades, the worst grades. Once, I got a 100%. The class investigators never even looked at me when trying to figure out who had gotten it.
When I got to college, I discovered that most guys will ignore the fact that you’re a girl if you can help them with their homework. Still, it was around this time that I started having doubts about my own abilities. I attended a seminar on the Impostor Phenomenon, which affects high achievers and makes them feel like intellectual frauds. Although I’m sure this affects people of both sexes, I noticed an interesting trend within my group of friends. My male friends, receiving a poor grade on an exam or lab report, would immediately launch into complaints about the professor. Us girls would shrug, tucking the paper into a folder, and think to ourselves, “I guess someone finally figured out that I’m not smart enough to be an engineer.”
When senior year rolled around and we were all freaking out about finding a job, a classmate and friend (who had copied my homework and who I had outscored on every test) snorted and said, “What are you worried about? You’ll get a job because you’re a girl.” Apparently, my hard work and good grades were nothing against the mighty power of quota-filling hiring practices.
It still took me a while to find a job, but I did get a few offers. I took the one in California because it seemed like the coolest place ever to a girl born and raised on the East Coast. Chad was still looking for work, but focused his search in LA. His job offer was $3,000 more than mine, despite the fact that my GPA was higher and we had comparable work experience. I don’t think this was gender-related at all, but surreptitious glances at the salary sheets in my new hire seminar showed that most of the men were making about $3,000 more than me. I’ve never quite been able to shake that feeling.
(As an aside, I understand that salaries are almost never fair. There’s negotiation skills and the amount of money available at any one time and job types. And I was working in a slightly less technical area, which generally means less money. Of course, all of the people working in my slightly-less-technical area were women…)
I did get lucky to have bosses who would advocate for raises and promotions (and I was hired during the good years, so I like to think I did OK). Two months before I graduated with my Masters degree, I got a raise that pushed my salary about $100 beyond Chad’s. With the job I was offered in May, I negotiated another promotion. I know that I’m now paid very fairly, especially since I got to sneak a peek at a coworker’s paycheck.
Even knowing that I’m fairly paid, however, doesn’t mean I don’t have to deal with sexist crap sometimes. I once spent an hour debating sexism in hiring practices with someone (thin, straight, white male. Shockingly.) who insisted that large engineering companies were hiring 50% women, when women (he claimed) only make up about 5% of engineering graduates. He based this off of the number of females he had in classes in college and how one time he worked as a recruiter and 2/4 people they hired had to be women. Upon further discussion, he revealed that his boss had insisted on the 2 females because he had already hired too many men. All of my explanations about inherent bias were dismissed, even though the story clearly shows that the hiring practices up until that point were influenced by the hiring manager being male.
In reality, 20% of graduating engineers are women, while the total percentage of women employed in engineering is somewhere around 12%. These facts did not sway said male coworker. He also complained that our boss “hires only girls.” Two women, in fact, into a group of 15 people that had previously only included one female (sounds like got us up close to about 20%!). If our boss had hired 2 men, I doubt anyone would have even noticed. But which one would have been less fair?
The highest ranked woman at my work site is pretty incompetent. She is one of many incompetent managers. Most of the underlings have asked how such stupid people could be in positions of power. It is only for her that they think they have the answer.
She’s married, but doesn’t have any kids. Other women I interact with include a respected woman who is not married and has no kids, and a woman who would probably be in management if she worked more than two days per week (she takes the rest of the time off to take care of her 3 kids). Interestingly, the second woman’s husband works with us, and I have never heard of him taking any time off for child-rearing.
Obviously, there is a lot of personal choice going on here (choice, or social conditioning?). I just hate that I have no one to look up to as someone who was able to make it work. If I were a boy, I’d have plenty. My (male) boss has 7 (!!) kids. Guess which parent cuts back their hours to watch them? Nearly all of the men in my office have at least one child, but have wives who stay home or who work only part-time. If I want to work full-time when I have kids, I’m going to have to blaze my own path.
If I were a boy, I would never have to worry that my accomplishments would be attributed to affirmative action. I wouldn’t live with the knowledge that my failures would reflect poorly on my entire gender – possibly even being used as an excuse to exclude women in the future. I would never have been asked, “Why are you studying engineering? How is that going to help you raise your children?”* I wouldn’t have to worry about family planning, trying to time a pregnancy so that I’m not getting pregnant too soon or putting it off too long. I wouldn’t have to struggle with knowing that I want to work after I have kids but that I will be judged for it. I wouldn’t think that just because I can be anything, I have to be everything.
Please check out the posts by other female bloggers, and feel free to share your experiences in the comments!
- Jacq of Single Mom Rich Mom — Accounting, 40s
- Fabulously Broke in the City — Consulting, 20s
- Stacking Pennies — Engineering, 20s
- Musings of an Abstract Aucklander — Publishing, 20s
- Little Miss Moneybags — Publishing — 20s
- Dog Ate my Finances
- Young and Thrifty — Public Sector, 20s
- Insomniac Lab Rat — Science, 20s