This is the week I jumped ship. (Mixing my metaphors here…) Self help-y things and inspirational blogs always tell you that in order to be happy, you have to try and get a sense of achievement. My main achievement this week was handing in my notice. It’s not unsurprisingly an incredibly satisfying feeling. The situation is:
I’ve worked a few years at my current employer – an employer that’s considered by many to be very prestigious. Many, many people here are really nice. However there’s a core group of very senior guys in my group who are
bullies “not very inclusive”. It’s really difficult to explain what exactly went on, because it is sort of intangible. But I know that I’m not in the best environment to be allowed to succeed. I’ll probably not get promoted, for example… They don’t give me work and they don’t include me in team things – I’ve never been out for drinks with them, for example – which is pretty much a standard in this industry (and something I did all of the time at my last place).
This time last year I thought about quitting. They made it so difficult for me, saying I was bad at my job and then when I produced information to show otherwise (client work and pages and pages of testimonials), said I wasn’t trying hard enough to be known in the team, etc etc. They put me on a performance plan, a humiliating thing where I had to go each week and be told my faults, all in the guise of “We just want to help you”. (This includes the classic “You don’t seem very friendly” – even though I have loads of friends here, and “You’re too defensive” – which I pointed out is a charge it’s almost impossible to defend yourself against, without sounding defensive!) Bear in mind I’m almost the only female in my team, dealing with regular stuff like the Dragon’s Den incident (where they wanted to give the solitary female on the winning team feedback on the way she dressed) plus the handy role model for Diversity – being the only non-white female in my team at my level. Basically, it felt like an onslaught of “You are different and we don’t like different”.
During this traumatic performance time last year, I was also doing IVF and trying to get through working 18 hour days with the Project from Hell. Each week I’d be told of a new thing I needed to work on. Each time I “fixed” something, they came up with a new reason why they thought I was underperforming. Eventually through a really terrible time, I sold a big piece of work (which they only let me work on because they thought it was unwinnable) and they had to accept I was okay because I had the sales numbers, which couldn’t be argued with. The
main bully lead guy still made it difficult for me by not publicising the win (the tradition being he would mail everyone each time there was a win – he was sent mine three times and never sent it out – another guy senior to me won a smaller piece and his got sent out), and also by telling other senior people not to work with me. When you work in a small industry it is difficult to avoid someone who is influential in that area… But that’s what I did this year.
And it’s an industry problem. I work in an industry where there are fewer women than men across the board. It starts way back at school, so they try and do all these attraction activities but the fact is, I’ve looked at the stats and it’s pretty stable percentages way back to 2000. With everything they’ve done to attract more women, more and more women are leaving in their droves. Why? Because – if you listen to the men – they’re all popping off to have children. But look a bit more closely and I can think of at least four women who left in the past six months who didn’t have any children. They left because it’s an anti female culture. One female who’s senior to me left her job without another job to go to. Another left after six months of sick leave for stress. It just ain’t female/diversity friendly, however you want to cut it. Which is nuts, because without supporting diversity, you’re saying you’re happy to discount at least half the available workforce.
Thing is, I stuck it out for a respectable amount of time. Most people leave after this amount of time (or less). When I told one of my managers (it’s a complicated structure!) he said he was amazed I’d stuck it out this long. Really! It’s almost like they were trying to get me to leave. I even consulted a lawyer about it last year as I was worried it was building up to constructive dismissal. I was told it sounded like it was a bad situation but that I wouldn’t be able to prove anything, so I was better off leaving. I got my head down and carried on, and I’ve done an okay job – but this is not satisfying to me. I want to do a really great job. I am one of those psychos who loves work and I want to take pride in my work and the company I work for. The worst thing through all this is that apparently I’m seen as a role model for junior females, who have asked me to mentor them and give them careers advice. It makes me feel like a giant fraud, especially when I speak with these youngsters who are so full of hope, and who haven’t realised that yeah, it’s quite possible that you’re not going to be treated as well as other people here, because you’re female/ethnic/not a typical hetero white guy.
And here, they kind of don’t think they have a problem. They are too busy congratulating themselves on being so inclusive because they have all these initiatives where ethnic people / women / gay people get together in their own little groups and get on with stuff. They can tell the world they celebrate diversity. Here’s the ironic thing: based on the work that I do, I was on the radio to talk about how my company thinks diversity is important. They take the credit for the stuff I do in their name, when I have to fight every year for funding – even though it’s a tiny amount and less than they probably spend on a team night out.
I stuck it out because I didn’t want to go out beaten, with my tail between my legs. I stuck it out because it’s important to try and be a role model for more junior employees, so they can see that there is someone who isn’t exactly the same as the homogenous mass of white guys in pinstripe suits who run the company and think the most important thing for women is how they look, and who think (as one told me a couple of weeks ago) “We live in a post racist / sexist world”. Who think we should be grateful that our stereotypes are “positive” because “You lot are good at maths and tech”. Who only started thinking about inequality and the gender pay gap when they looked at their own daughters and realised that they were likely to be at a disadvantage to their sons.
And what of me? The one who’s just not trying hard enough to fit in.
I interviewed with two companies.
They both want me to work for them. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go with one of them, the one who is actually offering a lower salary (still higher than my current one!) because they have made me feel valued. They already have plans for me in the team. When I accidentally ended up interviewing with the big boss, that guy said he wanted me to work for him. And the thing is, it might be just the same as it is here. (I think it may be slightly more diverse – just based on the reception test, where I look at the people walking past as I sat in reception. Lots of women. Lots of non-white people. More importantly – everyone smiled and was friendly.) But even if it is… I’ll be paid more money!
I have options. I have a contract ready to go. I handed in my notice to the big team boss and he went on the offensive. He asked my reasons and I said that I was leaving because I didn’t feel that it was inclusive and that it was going to limit my ability to succeed.
He said [paraphrase]: Have you ever thought that it might not be us… That it’s you?
(Yes I have. I thought that when I was trying to build relationships with people who ignored me or talked down to me. I thought that when I was deliberately excluded from client work even though team members would come by and ask why I wasn’t on the job, because I was more qualified than the person who was. I thought that when I found out that I hadn’t got certain jobs because one guy was going round telling people not to have me work for them. I thought that when people in my network heard what my work was like and advised me to seek legal advice because it sounded like they were trying to make it untenable for me. I thought that when my female friends quit with no other job to go to, simply because they couldn’t cope with being here any longer. And I thought that when junior women came to me and asked for advice on how they could be as “successful” as me.)
Maybe it is me. Maybe I’m all those things you’ve variously said I am. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, not sensitive enough, a hysterical female, a bossy female, not friendly enough, too friendly… Maybe I’ve got that b!tchy resting face that people always complain that my race has – the side-eye (yeah sorry, I can’t do anything about my eyes; they’re just like that). Maybe it’s that you just can’t tell us apart, because that’s happened to me as recently as a few weeks ago when you mistook me for the office junior because we are both of the same ethnic group. (Never mind that I have a British accent and she has a foreign accent, and is about 15 years younger than me – we literally all look the same.) Maybe I’m just…
Maybe I’m just not a fighter. I’ve had to be, being here, but I’m done. I don’t want to fight any more. I think of what I have to give, and what I want to give. I think about all the great things about this company – because they’re not all bad – the fact that they attract the brightest and best students and that I have had great opportunities to influence that. I’m proud of that. But I think… Imagine if I didn’t have to fight; imagine if I could use all my energy towards doing great work rather than fighting a system that thinks I’m somehow not a team player because they won’t let me in their team… Imagine how good I could be then! I’m just tired of fighting and I don’t want to be a fighter.
It’s like school. It took me a long time to realise that some people just didn’t like me. It took a longer time to realise that it was based on not even knowing me, and a lot of the time it was because they just didn’t like people who are different. Even if the difference is skin colour, or eyes, or gender, or accent – something you have no control over. It’s a bad realisation when you figure that some people will literally want to kick you because of something you can’t change, and it’s a worse one when you realise that there are harsher treatments than physical abuse, and that some of the teachers believe that too. The idea that you are intrinsically different, and somehow lesser because you’re different.
There are some people who aren’t logical like that. And if those people are in power (like the “popular kids” at school), you need to realise that no amount of reasoning with them will get them to like you or include you.
At school, the time I realised that I was was 14 or 15. (I was a late developer. Book smart not street smart!) And I realised I wouldn’t ever be what they were – I wouldn’t suddenly morph into being white, and tall, and good at sports, and a smoker (because smoking was cool….. ironically I did take it up as an adult before I realised what a dumbass thing it was to do).
And the time I decided to be myself… A funny thing happened.
I suddenly got “popular”. I had my own clique, only my clique had a very low barrier for entry which was pretty much “If you want to be in our gang, you can be… Just don’t be mean*.” [Being British, sarcasm is totes okay. Just be a nice person and don’t put down other people to make yourself feel better.] I spent all that time wishing I could be popular when all I had to do was have the confidence to accept myself, and in doing so, be accepting of others. I always thought of myself as an absolute geek… But when I met schoolfriends as an adult they told me that they admired that I was different. “You ploughed your own furrow.” Weird because I always thought I was an idiot. (I probably was/am. But I’m quite nice if you get to know me and ignore the obvious dork alerts.)
And now… I’ve realised the time has come to be authentic to myself. I’ve got to stop beating myself up about not being like those guys who don’t want me in their gang. I have to accept that some people aren’t ever going to accept me, and my efforts are worth more than that. Some people like difference, and some don’t.
In my last couple of interviews, both final round interview panels, I took risks. I made it really clear I was different. (It’s sort of easier to articulate when you look different, too.) I acknowledged that some people find me a bit much… I’m very excitable. I get easily frustrated. I work my ass off and I expect the rest of my team to as well. And I abhor that kind of thinking where people think they’re better than other people for no reason other than race, gender, age. I believe the best ideas come from diversity of thought, and the best teams incorporate a bunch of different people. (It’s like the pub quiz: You need someone for the music round, and someone for the geography, and someone for the cryptic clues – and Dog, for the licks.) I kind of don’t see why you’d want to limit that. In my book, everyone’s default okay unless they show themselves not to be.
And a funny thing happened.
Both of those companies want me to work for them. They think it’s worth having some different people. (And the whole “working my ass off” bit probably doesn’t harm the chances of job offers, either.) They actually seemed to enjoy the ideas and the bouncing so. (I sort of bounce a bit – I drink a lot of coffee.)
So I’m now in quite a nice position. I can figure out the best opportunity for me right now. But I also have a bit of confidence to say, if it all goes pear shaped I can find myself another job. It will be okay. I guess my philosophy has always been that you need to be able to react to whatever life throws at you. You never know what’s around the corner, so keep beavering away and grasp the opportunities when they arise. If stuff is bad, it means on average that good stuff is around the corner! So I just keep going…
Our house (flat) is still going through (slowly).
The transfer of the old house is still going through (slowly).
I’m starting down regulation at the end of March, for IVF cycle 2.
I’ll start Dr S’s borderline protocol alongside.
I’ve lost a bit of weight (though I have my period therefore insatiable craving for pizza, so a bit up, but YTD down).
I’ve quit my job!
I’m feeling a sense of achievement. For anyone who made it this far, you should too!