LOWERING THE BAR

I read another article tweeted by Better Male Allies this week; here it is:

6 Ways To Scare Off Technical Women From Your Company

I was particularly struck by the final item:

“Don’t do this: Lower the bar for female candidates. I once interviewed for a software engineering job on the same day that my husband interviewed with the same team for the same kind of role. When we compared notes afterwards, I was shocked at how hard his interview was. Mine was superficial and skirted any tough technical questions. We both got job offers, but I declined. I didn’t want to join a team that didn’t think I had the same technical chops as a man.

Do this instead: Design your interviews to be just as tough for women as for men.”

This really resonated with me.  I’ve attended interviews where I left thinking, “great, I sailed through that”, but received a call from the agency afterward to tell me that they wanted someone more senior.  I noticed a pattern – they were asking me extremely basic questions because they assumed that that was the level I operate at.  This would generally mean that I’d be asked only simple technical questions, and not anything more challenging or to do with the management aspects of engineering.  And this was in spite of the evidence on my CV that said I was more than capable.

But it gets worse.  I’ve accepted offers from firms after such a successful interview, to then be put in the most junior role on a team.  They interviewed me as a junior engineer, and so they employed me as one.  I’d be stuck doing menial churn work, with zero chance of progression.  And the team assumed I must be “new” as they’d been told by the interviewing panel that that was what they were getting.  Any attempts to query this were met with incredulity, because someone taken on in such a lowly position couldn’t possibly be so audacious as to challenge their authority.

Because of this lowering of the bar, the majority of my time employed in engineering has been in roles that I’m over-qualified for.  It’s demotivating and demeaning.  And while it won’t scare the women off until after the interview, it will cause them to quit.  And then the bosses will no doubt wring their hands over why women won’t stay, or where all the quality female candidates are.

WOMEN AND FEEDBACK

I wrote about two years ago on my unsuccessful quest for honest feedback, and found validation this month in a number of reports that back up what I was saying: that male leaders don’t like giving honest feedback to women.  Here’s the tweet that jogged my memory:

The article is linked in the image – click to go to hbr.org

Here’s another good article on the topic; the video link is worth a watch: Women Receive Worse Feedback Than Men, New Research Reveals (the title is a bit misleading, what they mean is that women receive feedback that is less effective than men do).

A central factor in this giving of half-hearted feedback is the worry that men have of offending or upsetting female staff.  Well, knowing that my career is stalled by unhelpful performance reviews is both upsetting and offensive.

I recognised this in my male managers – I can only think of one who spoke to me on the same level as the men in this regard.  And another actually confided in his boss that “he worries about me because I’m delicate and remind him of his wife” – how on earth could they provide me with professional feedback while holding such a sexist and inappropriate view?

 

JUST SAYING HELLO

We’ve all heard it before, amirite, ladies?  We mention an instance of street harassment in conversation, and some ‘helpful’ chap chimes in with “maybe he was just saying hello”, because clearly our experience is worth less than the hypothetical musings of some random man.  So I will start this post with an example of what is not “just saying hello”, which happened to me earlier this week, and then I will finish with an example of what is “just saying hello”, with the aim of clearing up any confusion.

NOT “Just Saying Hello”

This is just one example of many that I could have provided, like the times I’ve been grabbed in the street, yelled at out of cars and from the other side of the road, wolf-whistled and spat at, and told to smile by someone who has no right to my time or attention.  But this is the most recent, and perhaps the most entertaining.  So here we go, lads, this is how to not just say hello to a lady you’ve spotted minding her own business:

Walking home from a friend’s, and on my way to the little Tesco’s, I passed two blokes out for the night. One of them clearly had had enough (of drink, of the night, possibly of his over-exuberant friend) and wanted to go home, but the other was totally plastered and wanted to stay out.  They were discussing the merits of heading to the Northern Quarter, and as I passed the latter engaged me in the banter as to why they should party the night away.  I’m well aware that getting drawn into these situations can be A Bad Idea, but on that night my faith in humanity was at a high, and it seemed fun and harmless, so I obliged.  Besides, the sober-ish friend seemed to have his head screwed on right, so I felt safe.

The pissed-up friend was trying to convince his mate that there would be a naked street party on offer, and it was pretty funny – you really had to be there though – I jpkingly said it sounded great and I’d like to go along too.  His friend, however, was having none of it, and made his excuses and went home after we had walked a couple of blocks down.  We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries, and parted ways.  What a nice gentleman he was.

His friend decided to continue to walk with me up to the Northern Quarter as I was going that way anyway, and he had some serious partying to do (it’s not very far, maybe three minutes’ walk from where we were).  No problem with that. We got talking about politics and what I do for a living, no red flags apart from he wanted to know about my living arrangements in a little too much detail.  He decides he will also go to Tesco’s as he needs some food.  So far, so normal.  But… then he sort of follows me when I’m looking for bread and milk, and begins a deep philosophical discussion about bread choices.  After some consideration, I come to the conclusion that seeded batch will meet my carbohydrate needs. He approves, and then asks if he can come back to mine for toast and a glass of milk.  I sort of nervously half-laugh, and then realise he’s serious when he remonstrates with me that he played a vital role in my selection of baked goods, and this somehow entitles him to my toaster and, ahem, hospitality.  It got rather creepy and uncomfortable, as he’d set this up just right and clearly expected me to cave, but honestly, I don’t take drunken strangers home with me as a habit, and I prefer a more thoughtful courtship than this.  In spite of all my ‘no, thank you’s, he tries the age-old persuasion technique of asking me ten different variants of “oh go on” / “why not?” and then says “ok, I’m not going to push it” (you already have, mate) and then hotfoots it off into the night… I honestly don’t think he saw the problem with propositioning a random person in the bakery aisle.

So that was how to not just say hello.  Here is the alternative, for comparison:

Just Saying Hello

I was on my way to work in the morning, and I passed by a building site.  There was a labourer sat at the gate, reading the newspaper.  He looks up as I walk past, and says “Good Morning”.  I turn to face him, say “Good Morning” in return, and continue on my journey to the office.  Nothing more comes of this.

And that’s it.  It’s not difficult, right?  No stalking, creeping, manipulating me, literally Just Saying Hello.  We know the difference, thank you – if you need to check that we’re telling the truth then perhaps you need to examine your own behaviour.

WRITING FOR WRITING’S SAKE

Sometimes when inspiration eludes me, I get stuck in a mental rut. I put things off, I get distracted, I feel that there’s no point in starting as I’m not in the right frame of mind to write. But over the last year or so, I’ve really focused on the problem. It doesn’t matter if what I write, right now, is a load of complete drivel. I’ve done something, I’ve got it down on the page, and I can return to it.

I’ve got a few articles on the go at the moment, and what I’ve so far put together for each separate piece is not that great. But I can see elements of something quite special in all of them that I might be able to draw on, to pick and choose from, to get the words I want. I’ll probably write, re-write, and edit each one several times and I might not be happy with it then. But if I must be a perfectionist, I must also be a realist. A first draft is rarely the finished item, and if it is, then it’s probably not that good.

I spend a lot of my time alone, and travelling, and it gives me time and space to think. I come up with so many witticisms and points of principle that I do usually recall when I am back, sat at my keyboard. A little bit of distance allows me to mentally edit my prose from afar. The detachment allows me to look at it again with fresh eyes. And having seen the improvements I’ve made since allowing myself to make mistakes, I’m convinced now that this is the correct way to approach writing.

The hope it has given me has encouraged me to start a number of projects that I’ve had in the pipeline. I’d been putting them off, waiting until inspiration found me. Well it doesn’t work like that: you must find inspiration. Inspiration comes from within our own minds. Whether it is the ability to come up with an original idea, or a good eye for spotting an opportunity, it is 100% man-made. There’s no magic formula or mystical connection – it is created by us, and we bring it into being by imagining, re-imagining, and putting it on paper. If we never write it down it remains a dream.