Helping Women Achieve in Academic Science

GoodSenseCorsetWaists1886page153And now the thrilling conclusion to the previous story…

A female Ph.D. friend in the company told me that if I wanted to escape from the anger (which was getting to be a regular experience) and the permanently low pay, I needed to switch managers.  She also explained that Dr. Jekyll had been removed from management roles in multiple companies because of his poor performance.  The fact that his only report (me) was trying to leave would be particularly upsetting to him.

It took me more than six months to act on my friend’s advice.  Leaving Dr. Jekyll’s team meant leaving research and development.  Opportunities for first-authoring a paper with exciting new results would pretty much disappear.  Returning to academia would be much harder.

On the other hand, the economy wasn’t in great shape at the time.  I didn’t know of any opportunities outside the company.  Plus, my field is quite small.  I wanted to “clear” my good name.

Note: I’ve since switched subfields.  I use the my science and knowledge from my “Dr. Jekyll” period but no longer interact with any of the people from this period in my career.  It would probably have been wiser to start fresh with a new team rather than sticking around to prove myself.

One day, Dr. Jekyll flat-out accused me of having a male colleague generate for me all of my results from the prior two weeks. I had worked long hours and weekends to get these results for an external deadline.

I finally relented to my friend’s recommendation that I go to Dr. Jekyll’s boss and request a transfer.   She also recommended I ask that Dr. Jekyll not be told of the transfer until right before.

Dr. Jekyll’s boss was understanding, but said that Dr. Jekyll should know about my request to leave his team.  “We’re all adults,” I thought, “Why not tell him I’ve asked for a transfer?”

I will never forget the next meeting with Dr. Jekyll. He said:

  1. I don’t think you belong at this company, but I can help you find another job elsewhere as your friend.
  2. You don’t belong in science and engineering as a career choice
  3. Have you just stuck with this engineering thing because your father is an engineer?

Unfortunately, this meeting was also my annual merit review.  I was told that because so many of our projects had been cancelled, I didn’t really “get anything done” that year.  What’s really crazy is that after this nasty meeting, he fought to keep me from transferring out of his team for months.  Yet he also continued to repeat to me that I didn’t belong in science and engineering as a career choice.  I was wise enough not to respond to most of his remarks.  I did, however, ask him point-blank to stop saying such unprofessional things to me.  He said no, that I needed to hear “the truth.”  I had to go above his head again and tell his peers and boss about his abusive words to get out of his team.

The worst part about all this was that I was so alone.  When I talked with other engineers about my work, Dr. Jekyll accused me of wasting their time “getting help.”  When I actually asked them for help, he said they were “doing my work for me.”  As a result of this and the lack of female peers, I had cultivated little in the way of a social network within my department.

Note: Gender is a stronger determinant of friendships in the corporate world than age, race, or ethnicity.  Having guy friends wasn’t as effortless as it was in grad school.  I’ve since taken initiative to develop friendships with my mostly older, married male colleagues, but I usually have to work harder at them.

It didn’t help that Dr. Jekyll was strikingly kind, witty, and personable in public.

I once stopped to chat with the head of HR moments after leaving a particularly unpleasant one-on-one with Dr. Jekyll.  “You work for the nicest man in the company!” she said to me as I blinked back tears.

I’ll never know how much my gender had to do with this experience.  Dr. Jekyll occasionally made sexist remarks.  He told me I was “no good with mechanical things” despite the fact that I had successes in projects involving complicated “mechanical things.”  One of the only times Dr. Jekyll praised me was with “women are such great communicators!”  He also tried to give me social event planning tasks I associated more with administrative assistant than engineering responsibilities.  But the sexism was never more overt than this.

Note: My next manager told me that my communication style was my greatest weakness, which seemed like a fair assessment.  To date, I’ve heard Dr. Jekyll utter more sexist remarks than all the other people I’ve met in corporate settings combined.

After my transfer, I suffered for a couple more years. My new team was very pleasantly surprised at how productive I was given what Dr. Jekyll had said about me.  However, because of the way the ranking and raise system worked, I continued to be paid and ranked less than what my new managers thought was fair.  I eventually had to get an external offer to get to salary parity.

Dr. Jekyll never got another direct report after I left his team.  Two years after I left, I finally got the top ranking in a department-wide performance review.  I started hearing Dr. Jekyll say to other managers around this time what a great engineer I’d always been.  I was stunned the first time I heard it – this was most certainly not what he had been saying about me when I reported to him.  It sounded to me like his mis-representing of my work may have become uncomfortably transparent to the rest of the department.

I later met another person who had worked for Dr. Jekyll before me.  I found out that this person, too, had been isolated from colleagues and then “sold up the river” by Dr. Jekyll to make himself look less bad.  Apparently Dr. Jekyll had told outright lies about this individual that could have lead to a termination.  I was relieved to  hear that I wasn’t alone, and it all really wasn’t my fault.

I’m now at a new company making over three times what I made as a new hire into industry.  I’m being paid well more than the average male Ph.D. with my level of experience.  I got the job mostly through studying material from grad school and rehearsing for months, and in small part through recommendations by college friends.

Conclusions:

    • Build your network:
      • I got my first industry job offer through a connection.
      • I thought I was trapped working for a bad boss because I didn’t know of other opportunities outside my company.
      • I got out of the bad boss situation through advice from a colleague.
      • I got a new job with a kick-ass salary mostly though hard work but partly through friends.
    • If you find out your boss is blaming you for big things that aren’t your fault, start looking for a new job ASAP.
    • If you encounter anger when asking for a raise, think about whether there isn’t some lower-hanging fruit elsewhere.
    • Don’t directly criticize your boss’ pet project, even if it’s doomed.
    • Be very cautious about publicizing plans to leave before the move is final.
    • Fantastic career advice on handling bad bosses and navigating the professional world in general can be found at manager-tools.com

Thanks so much for the story! I think I speak for everyone when I say, I am happy the ending was positive, because the last post was very sad and scary. So glad that this WomanOfScience got out of that horrible situation and was able to get the credit and pay she deserved! Post or comment! You can get an email every time there is a new post by pushing the +Follow button.

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