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I'd like to preface this by saying that I am a woman in software engineering. I don't want to claim sexism here, but maybe a tiny bit it is.

I've been at my current company for >5 years. Until now I saw some minor favoritism here and there for male colleagues but it didn't really bother me (and maybe it should have). There are very very few women here, so take everything below with a grain of salt of course, but literally everyone around me is a man.

Recently though I've been running into situations where I am simply being ignored in conversations/discussions and my colleagues are being addressed in responses even though I was the one to bring a concern up, or was the only one working on a particular issue. It's starting to annoy me because I work hard but do not believe I get appropriate credit. As a result of this I worry that my performance is being perceived as sub-par because I "can't do anything on my own".

There have been instances where I ask a question (a valid question), and the person answer will address my colleague while I'm right there and say the answer to him.

I don't know what to do. I try to stay professional but I'm frustrated because I feel like noone actually listens to what I say, but my ideas sure still get implemented/used. I also catch myself not participating in conversations as much lately because it feels pointless.

What do I do when someone blatantly redirects the response to someone else? What do I do to get people to not ignore me?

(And no, not everyone does it, there are definitely select people who do it but I interact with them a lot these days).

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  • "and the person answer will address my colleague while I'm right there and say the answer to him" What do you do currently when this happens? – sf02 Jan 7 at 18:11
  • @sf02 I listen to the response. – Catsunami Jan 7 at 18:21
  • But do you thank them or acknowledge their response in any way? – sf02 Jan 7 at 18:28
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    @sf02, if the question is over I usually thank them (or say ok or whatever is appropriate). Otherwise I may ask a follow up question, or my colleague might. It's context-dependent. I don't butt in to thank them in a middle of an active conversation, or to redirect it to myself. – Catsunami Jan 7 at 18:34
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    @MichaelMcFarlane, Canada, but coworkers in question are not all Canadian (remote). I don't feel comfortable talking to the higher-up women at my company about this, but I might talk to the one who retired recently. Thanks for the idea! – Catsunami Jan 7 at 20:58
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There are a few things you can do, not all will work in any given situation.

One is to retain the rights and powers you would have had if the person was behaving properly:

A: So how long is this going to take?

B (looking firmly at C): I think a week, but you know yourself it could run into a snag, so ...

A: Thanks, B. I'll make sure everyone knows you are hoping for a week.

This will not work if C is happy to be thought of as asking, and nods, asks followups, or thanks B for the answer.

Another is to "Go meta" and interrupt the answer.

A: So how long is this going to take?

B (looking firmly at C): I think a week, but --

A: It was me who asked, B. I'd appreciate you answering me when I ask you questions.

This has the disadvantage that arguments can now occur and some will sound reasonable like "I'm sure everyone wants to know so I was telling everyone" or "I was answering you, why do you think I wasn't?" and emotions can get high quickly. In these cases you will generally be blamed for "being emotional" and "making it personal" so if you don't have power, it's unlikely to work on the spot. Do not try to avoid these arguments by discussing this one-on-one with B in a different context. B will just deny it and your relationship will not improve.

However, going meta like that in the meeting can lead to a third option (which you can do without ever going meta) and that is to talk to C before or immediately after the meeting.

A: did you ever notice that when I ask B things, the answer is usually aimed at you?

It's possible that C is more than willing to be an ally and will do this:

A: So how long is this going to take?

B (looking firmly at C): I think a week, but you know yourself it could run into a snag, so ...

C: I believe it was A who asked you that. Good question, A.

(If they won't do that, they can at least just sit quietly while you respond as though the answer had come properly to you, as in the first option.)

In the same way, allies can say "thanks for supporting A's idea" when someone repeats a point you just made and takes it as their own. They can remind the group "A did a lot of the heavy lifting on this one and I'm sure we all appreciate that" and so on.

I can't predict which of your coworkers would be willing to be that person who constantly corrects the ones who are ignoring you, but I do know that over half the male software developers I've worked with say they want to help the women around them and be an ally, so telling people a thing they can do may be a gift to them that makes them feel happy and helpful. And the more people around you confirm that you did make that point or do that work, the less awkward you'll feel saying "that was me, actually" and the like.

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    Thank you for your detailed response. I think I run into case 1 quite a bit where C engages in a full conversation with the other person and I kinda get sidelined. I can probably pull of the "go meta" route in about 10 year hah, it's a bit too confrontational for me right now. However, maybe I should talk to the frequent "C"s, they're generally reasonable guys who maybe just don't notice that this happens. Or maybe they think I don't care. Anyway thank you again, I have a lot to think about. – Catsunami Jan 7 at 21:10
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I am a woman in software engineering myself and have met this kind of behavior before and first I want to say that it is not acceptable at all. When people have treated me this way my strategy have been as follows:

  1. Bring up this behavior in a team meeting. Describe it as you to here (I ask person A a question but A directs the answer to person B) This sometimes solves the problem.
  2. Talk to your manager. I have had managers that gave great input and helped me find ways to make the situation better.
  3. Find a new job. There are so many work places with great men that knows how to behave in a normal way (all teams I have worked in have been men only + me)
2
  • Thanks for your feedback! I really appreciate it. I will talk about it with my manager in my next 1-on-1. I'm a bit weary bringing it up in a team meeting/retro, as I don't want to sound like I'm whining. – Catsunami Jan 10 at 4:37
  • @Catsunami Although in such a case the trouble would be with their ears, not with you :) – Luke Sawczak Jan 14 at 22:36
2

There have been instances where I ask a question (a valid question), and the person answer will address my colleague while I'm right there and say the answer to him.

This must be very frustrating. The frustration linked to being ignored is damaging. Consistent not recognizing someone or ignoring them is simply bullying.

And it's very difficult to find a solution to that:

  1. If you don't do anything, you risk the behavior will escalate. Plus, your contribution may not be recognized.
  2. If you react assertively - addess the problem heads-on - but your environment is sexist, you run the risk they will bully you even more or criticize you for being "aggressive".

The way to go is 2., trying to formulate the reaction lightly and with humor (which isn't easy).

Even then the reaction can be negative, but there's really no viable alternative, is there? Unless you want to withdraw more and more and lose your self-confidence.

I don't know what to do. I try to stay professional but I'm frustrated because I feel like noone actually listens to what I say, but my ideas sure still get implemented/used. I also catch myself not participating in conversations as much lately because it feels pointless.

If the above doesn't work, the alterative is to find a job with a better culture. There are companies where such a behavior isn't accepted.

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  • I agree that the issue should be addressed very directly. However, I would only recommend the 'lightly and with humor' approach if that feels natural to the person. Otherwise the people around them may not perceive it correctly. Here, being authentic is more important than being kind. – Theo Tiger Jan 11 at 13:46
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(And no, not everyone does it, there are definitely select people who do it but I interact with them a lot these days).

This could be those people are simply ignoring everyone else, not just you. Do you notice that they only answer/talk to people within a certain group? Could be that they are ignoring you but not because you are a female.

There have been instances where I ask a question (a valid question), and the person answer will address my colleague while I'm right there and say the answer to him.

I don't know what to do.

The way I see it is you need to be brave and confident. You need to make it clear that you a) have a question, and b) you want a specific person to answer it. That would mean you need to put it out there, "Excuse me <insert person's name> I need my question answered." That would put ball back in their court because you just made it clear that you are talking to them, and that you are expecting an answer. At that point, it would be clear to both you and the other person if they are deciding to ignore you specifically.

At that point if they don't answer your question, I would go to a manager. Say you made it clear that you asked them a question - in a polite manner - and that they refused to even acknowledge you being there. If the company won't help, then you probably need to either bring it up with HR or go find a new job.

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I have seen something like this before, and in one cases it has it was a co-factor to a company loosing one the best engineers which I ever knew.

First: separate valid concerns about your professional perception from hurt feelings about being ignored. I am not saying that the latter one are no problem, on the contrary, but it's hard to communicate this since it is highly subjective.

There are three things to be dealt with primarily:

  • did you observe that somebody ignoring you did lead to a problem in the project? If this repeatedly happens, you should talk to your boss in the next 1:1 about it. Address it as a question on how you should tackle the problem.

  • how does your boss think about your performance? Ask them about it. Maybe they know the other colleagues, and sees you differently.

  • is there something in you behavior which enables this? Due to the different social norms women sometimes are in meetings not as aggressive as men (I have seen non-agressive men suffering similar problems in certain contexts). No this is tricky. Getting more aggressive will potentially violate social norms exposing you to all kind of prejudice, and by no way the meetings will get more productive by one more person in the room pushing their own opinion in an aggressive manner.

Practically speaking: If your Boss understands that excluding people from discussions because they are not loud enough causes trouble for the company and is aware that certain colleagues are problematic in that aspect, they will assist you, and keeping it cool will contribute to you professional reputation. I would expect a team lead to understand such things. If the company as a whole or your boss does not give you the feeling that they understand the problem (without you mentioning sexism), then run. A lot of companies have programs to help in this, and some are actually about training women to effectively communicate if such environments (i am not a fan of this being necessary) - maybe you can ask for such a communication training. Maybe it's also possible that your boss puts you in a formal role in which ignoring you is actually an unacceptable professional transgression (i am not a fan of this being necessary either), but on the long term it can help to sort out the team.

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    I don't like this answer. To even ask "did it lead to a problem in the project?" shows that you don't think it matters that the OP feels excluded and ignored and unwelcome. Then you go on to say that it's possibly the OP's fault: "your behaviour enables this". The advice to get help from the boss is good, but it comes only after a pile of not at all good. – Kate Gregory Jan 8 at 16:58
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Id like to put forward a different approach altogether. Just putting it there - im Male, struggling with this for years

I am very effective in small meetings (3 or less participants including me) , very ineffective in larger ones. I arrange lots of discussions with stakeholders before these large meetings and communicate my points of view, information, concerns I have etc. During large meetings I keep to myself, take notes and leave the actual talking to my more dominant collegues.

I take solice in the fact that my opinions and concerns are brought to the table one way or another. I have little hope that this will change but I manage.

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Quit and find a job in a better environment.

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