I've been working with my current company for 7 years, and have received 2 promotions (i.e. from coop student, to engineer, to intermediate engineer). There are only two more levels in my company (6000 employees total): principal engineer (we keep about 12 on staff), and chief engineer (only 3 exist in the company, each with 4 principal engineers reporting to them). The promotion to principal engineer comes with a large boost in pay (stocks, salary, bonuses, benefits), and my own boss mentioned to me that I was (during my previous performance review) a "strong candidate" for being a principal engineer. My office is small (less than 60 employees), so there's only 1 spot for a principal engineer (the current one is retiring). I'm also one of the few female engineers in my company.

My boss, sadly, decided to go on sabbatical, due to the stress of his job, and won't be returning for a year. His replacement, "Ted", is easy to work under, but is very machine-like (i.e. is completely unemotional and speaks to people like we're robots). Ted has decided to hire an outside engineer, "Alessandro", to act as a lead-senior engineer in the office, alongside me.

Alessandro is very smart, and seems to spend his spare time on weekends and evenings coding on Github for large projects (Linux kernel, and a lot of common open source technologies and cloud platforms). He's also capable of learning a new programming language every weekend (he claims to read 2000+ pages of tech news and programming books every month), has several industry-relevant certifications, and doesn't seem to forget anything.

I cannot compete, as a mother and someone who has an actual social life, with a machine like Alessandro.

I'm concerned that Ted will promote Alessandro over me, despite me being promised this position and being with the company much longer, and losing out on the promotion I was previously first-in-line for. How can I fix this?

  1. PLEASE!!! Don't advise the usual "StackExchange special" of "find a new job": it's not practical for someone like me who has arranged work-from-home benefits and worked my way up in an industry that's hostile to women. I'd have to start all over if I joined another company.
  2. I possess knowledge of company products that Alessandro will need me in order to learn in time to be useful. I could inform Ted that I'm aiming to advance soon or take an extended stress leave due to the stress of my job and family life. I am worried that this might be seen as goading my boss though.
  3. I feel I have superior social skills to Alessandro, and can work much better with people in a "team lead" capacity: is there any way to convey this to Ted?
  4. I'm wondering if this could be brought up with an external agency, such as the #MeToo movement, but am worried that it could become overly political and get me blacklisted. Is there any way to anonymously draw attention to my employer being unfair to women in terms of promotions and compensation?
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    Was there a separate promise not mentioned? Strong candidate is not exactly a promise. maybe rephrase the question a bit, as your core points dont really seem to be related to the promise
    – Benjamin
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 3:46
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    Is Ted aware of your ambition to become a principal engineer? It might be a good idea to sit down with him and see if he would be willing to work with you to come up with a plan for how to get there. I find that with these types of “machine-like” managers, you have to be very direct and specific about what you want. It doesn’t mean you’ll get it but at least you’ll know the rules you’re expected to play by. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 4:59
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    1) #metoo isn’t really an “agency” with representatives you can contact as far as I know. 2) It’s more about defending victims of sexual assault/violence as rather than employment discrimination. 3) Do really believe you’re being discriminated against? I see you added the sexism tag but I don’t see anything in your post that would imply discrimination besides the fact that there aren’t very many female engineers. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 12:24
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    The title is misleading and doesn't match the body of the question. Where was the promise made?
    – Darren H
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 13:21
  • 6
    This looks like trolling, especially the part with #metoo. Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 18:48

4 Answers 4


You weren't exactly promised. Get that thought out of your head. Because it sounds entitled, and entitlement will not win you the race.

Instead, treat it as a typical race for a contested promotion:

You told us what Alessandro does better. What do you do better? Social skills is vague. Put this into concret examples that you can show Ted. Preferably examples that relate to the position in question. Since you described Ted as robot, focus on hard facts. Like resolved disputes or such. Anything to vague will likely fly under his radar.

Does this position only need technical skills, or organizational skills? Maybe presentation or teaching/coaching? Having knowledge is one thing, effectivly sharing it is another thing!

Then let Ted know you want that position. Make the best case you can. Do not bring up Alessandro. You want to argue why you are perfect for this position.

  • 1
    Just as an additional hint in marketing yourself: being at the company for a long time can also be a benefit - OP knows the processes and likely will stay another 10 years, while an external hire might be gone in a year if he has a history of switching often. There is however also a downside that the outsider might not be so stuck in existing company procedures and bring "fresh" strategies. Whether you can counter the latter and/or which one is valued more for the position OP needs to decide though. (Feel free to include that in the answer if you feel it fits). Commented Feb 20, 2020 at 13:32

I'd like to add something.

You say:

I feel I have superior social skills to Alessandro, and can work much better with people in a "team lead" capacity: is there any way to convey this to Ted?

And then you also say:

I'm wondering if this could be brought up with an external agency, such as the #MeToo movement, but am worried that it could become overly political and get me blacklisted. Is there any way to anonymously draw attention to my employer being unfair to women in terms of promotions and compensation?

These two thoughts directly contradict each other. Yes, you will be blacklisted. And most likely shunned in the workplace or outright fired for doing something so audacious.

You do not have "superior social skills" if you think it would be even remotely appropriate to report your "situation" to an external agency before speaking with any of your superiors first, especially resorting to something like "#MeToo," which as others have noted is reserved for victims of sexual violence.

How do you think your team would feel working for someone who would do something like this? For someone who would use gender as a weapon and bring politics to the workplace?

You seem to think you are better than Alessandro by virtue of being a woman, and having been "promised" the promotion. You weren't promised anything. You were told you are a strong candidate for the position. If someone better and more qualified comes along, you bet they're going to get the position before you. That has nothing to do with sexism.

Can you show proof that what you are experiencing is in fact sexism, besides the fact that you are one of the few female engineers where you work? Because if you can't, then this is all mostly in your head.


Firstly, "strong candidate" is hardly a promise. It just means that you should apply. I have had various people doing the hiring tell me that I am a strong candidate for a position and then did not even get an interview. I also suspect that your boss doesn't have the authority to make such a promise unless he is one of the chief engineers or other executives.

"Strong candidate" can often be said to motivate people or avoid hurting their feelings. I have told more minor friends this because I wasn't going to be the one to destroy their hopes and thought that while they were rolling the dice, they should try anyway and might get lucky. Ask yourself whether he meant it, as about 70% of the time I say it, I don't mean it. Close friends get a teardown.

Promises in business are also not worth anything unless they are a signed contract (and even then, they are only worth the penalty for violating the contract).

We first must start with an analysis.

What does the principal engineer do typically? What is expected of them? How do your circumstances compared to other principal engineers?

  1. Are they on-call? In many tech companies, such a high level engineer is required to be available in the case of a major outage. Plenty take all the on-call tasks themselves. A friend of mine had a boss who refuses to make his subordinates do on-call, so he lives 10 minutes away and doesn't take any vacation ever.He left the job to start a family and was replaced by yet another solo on-call tech lead engineer who moved to be within walking distance of the office.
  2. Is a high level of technical mastery expected? Are they supposed to solve problems nobody else can solve? Or is it actually a people management role? You can promote your people skills all you want, but is that actually something expected of the role? You admit that Alessandro outcompetes you here.
  3. Has there been a work from home principal engineer before? You have negotiated certain benefits. The problem is, those benefits may work against you. In the aforementioned company where the tech lead took 100% of the on call, part of the reason his replacement won the job was because he never took vacation. Not one day. For 5 years, he instead had it paid out. Having a team lead who is not in the office is also something many subordinates would find frustrating as then they can't just go grab them easily. Do principal engineers often have to travel?
  4. Knowledge can be the basis for a promotion, but the difference needs to be substantial. Possessing unique and company critical knowledge can be a valuable argument for promotion, but depending on how long Alessandro is there, he may acquire the knowledge needed for this to not be seen as an issue. Companies also don't value institutional knowledge that highly. They know they should, but they don't. It also matters whether that knowledge is documented. If it is documented, then between that and his ability to consume information like a "machine", it is a weak argument as he can consume knowledge. It is an especially weak argument if Ted is an outside hire. How much knowledge would Alessandro appear to be missing when it comes time to decide who to promote?

We can't answer these questions, but it is quite possible that you are practically beaten for the job already.

There is fundamentally a math problem here. You are someone with constrained hours trying to compete against someone with far more hours to put into the job. Unless you are smarter than he is or have a crucial talent he lacks, he will prevail because of the larger amount of time he can commit to the job. Even the fact that he can work long hours is quite possibly an appealing characteristic.

If you want to win this, you need to find some characteristics that you have that the company values and that Alessandro does not demonstrate or just does not have. Social skill is one possible characteristic, but the question is whether the company finds that important. Are you a coach outside work? Then you can make the argument that you can develop talent. Have you done more hiring than he has? Are you a better presenter? Are you more trusted? You need to ask yourself, why would a third party choose you over Alessandro?

Also, telling Ted this would scupper your promotion

take an extended stress leave due to the stress of my job and family life.

As if you are struggling to handle the current level of responsibility, it would raise questions about your ability to handle more.

  • The extended stress leave is a threat to the company and her bargaining chip. Though it would ruin her chances for future development anyways.... Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 23:37

There's nothing you can do. The company doesn't owe you a promotion, what you promised was not in the contract, and it was not even by the current manager. The company should always promote the best candidate for the job, it sounds like "Alessandro" is a better candidate for a senior engineering position while you're more suitable for non-technical jobs.

You may want to market yourself to your new manager, but if your manager is unbiased, only the best (Alessandro) would win. You are unlucky that your old manager was gone, you lost your protection net.

Stay happy for your current position if you're not promoted.

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    @Frija Men and women should be equal. You're trying to get promoted because you think you are a female. Not right. "Alessandro" sounds a perfect candidate for a more senior technical position. Not based on gender.
    – SmallChess
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 4:13
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    @Frija you say you have superior social skills and can work better in teams, but painting this community as anti-women when you're asking for help clearly shows you're not as easy to work with as you'd like to believe you are.
    – Alex F
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 4:48
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    @Frija do you believe you would get this promotion over Alessandro if you were both male? What about if you were both female? Would it make a difference? He sounds like he's just a better fit for the job, you aren't coping well
    – Darren H
    Commented Feb 9, 2020 at 13:19

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