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I am a woman working with other three male developers on a client project. All of them are nice and open minded and we get along well.

It's all good in informal conversations but when it gets to technical ones, one of my team mates (more senior and very smart and talented) always double checks with one or both other male colleagues from the team when asking me a question about something in the project.

It seems like he never trusts me in these situations and I feel like I need to prove myself each time. To be clear, my other colleague who he does trust (but never knows the answers anyway) is same level as me and I've proven time and time again my coding skills are superior (from code reviews, it's not just all in my head) but he is still the one preferred when it comes to advice or information.

I am sure he is not doing it on purpose but it still annoying as I have to try so much harder for basically the same results. I always try and learn new stuff, contribute with ideas in code reviews and help the team.

Is this a safe topic of conversation in a one-to-one meeting with my team lead?

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    How long have you been at the company? How long has your coworker? Are you around the same age? I'm just trying to determine if there could be other factors at play besides gender. – David K Jun 30 '16 at 15:00
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    Does your boss ask questions of your teammates as well, and does he react the same way when they give him a response? – jackwise Jun 30 '16 at 17:46
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    Nothing in the body of your question leads to the conclusion that there is sexism involved. – user1717828 Jun 30 '16 at 20:21
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    Moderator note: If you want to challenge the OP's understanding of the situation, do so as part of an answer (be sure to also answer the question, and avoid duplicating existing answers). Comments are to request clarifications, not to have long discussions about sexism. Take it to chat if you want to continue. – Monica Cellio Jul 1 '16 at 18:54
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    There are a lot of comments and answers suggesting this is not sexism. I am a male and I believe it is sexism, even if subconscious. You should definitely approach your team lead, who in turn should discuss the matter 1-on-1 with the other team member. If the other team member is made conscious of their actions, and they are as nice and open-minded as you say then they will make every effort to change their behaviour. – SeanR Jul 5 '16 at 1:02

14 Answers 14

276

I was wondering if this is a safe topic of conversation in a one to one meeting with my team lead.

This behavior is an acceptable topic, jumping to conclusion as to the cause isn't. I would come at it along the lines of:

Hey boss. I've noticed lately that when I present technical info about the project you always confirm it with Adam or Bob yet when they present technical info you never confirm with me. For example [two examples here]. Given that Adam, Bob, and I are on the same level technically, I'm concerned that we are having some sort of communication breakdown. How can we communicate better so information I present is accepted as easily as info from our other team members?

This focusses on the specific problem and the resolution without making any assumptions about the cause. This allows him an opening to talk about it if there is something you aren't seeing (difficulty understanding you, difference in perceived skill level, answers not delivered in a confident way, etc).

As an anecdote about this, my dad suffered hearing loss as a teenager and it just got worse with age especially hearing high pitches. In the year leading up to him getting hearing aids, him and I could have a normal conversation as I have a baritone voice but he would have a terrible time understanding my sister and nieces. Mostly he would smile and nod through them talking and privately ask me about it later as he was too proud to admit to losing capability. Not saying that is the case here but just that there can be a huge range of causes for communication difficulties.

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    Thank you, this seems like a very professional approach as I do wonder how I can improve my communication skills all the time. – Nim Jun 30 '16 at 15:42
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    I agree with this answer. Regardless of any present sexism (and if you're all getting along informally this may indicate that there isn't), it would be most effective to present the problem in the most agnostic way possible until you can effectively determine the cause of the miscommunication. It could very likely be that he is older and has been at the company longer, and has very hard-headed assumptions on how things should be done. – jaichele Jun 30 '16 at 20:38
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    @Nim Can you confirm whether your team lead is the same person as the more senior developer who is questioning you? This answer seems to assume that, but I don't see that in your question. – reirab Jun 30 '16 at 22:19
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    @reirab the more senior dev is indeed not the same as the team lead. I think many people answering assumed that (maybe my question wasn't clear) – Nim Jul 1 '16 at 7:36
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    I love this approach. It reduces confrontation to a minimum, which opens the door to a real solution, instead of making everyone become defensive. – Radu Murzea Jul 1 '16 at 8:55
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You cannot automatically attribute that to sexism. Possibly he simply does not trust you and the other two parties are male. Or he is doing it to challenge / engage the other parties. Even if it is favoritism you don't know it is based on sexism. You would need a sample set with many women and many men to show a bias was based on sex.

If you feel like you are being unfairly questioned then go to your team lead but I would not assert it is based on sexism.

The possible problem you may have is if you mention sexism they may take that as a sexual harassment or sexual discrimination charge and all sorts of things may fire off like get HR and legal involved.

Your previous question is How to feel welcome in an all male software developer environment. It is possible you have a bias to there is sexual bias in the workplace. If you are not getting the respect you deserve then by all means address it but don't assume it is based on sex unless you have specific evidence it is based on sex.

If someone is a sexist it will typically come out in general interaction and you indicate you get along well. But it also can be hidden. There was the NBA owner that was a racist and no one figured it out until a tape was leaked. And he was run out of the league.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jul 3 '16 at 2:12
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    I dislike this answer because setting the required level of proof so high before acknowledging gender bias is a common tactic used to avoid dealing with gender bias issues. While I agree that confronting the boss with an accusation of sexism is probably not the best way to handle it, it's fair to say that superficially it does appear to be just that and blaming the questioner for being over-sensitive is not going to resolve the problem. @Myles answer is much better in that respect, advocating communication without judgement. – user Sep 14 '17 at 16:09
  • Thanks for your considered, thoughtful point-by-point response. – user Sep 14 '17 at 20:16
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    This is a solid answer. Based on what was provided by the OP, I don't see how you can get all the way to sexism. – Mister Positive Sep 28 '17 at 15:35
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Whether this is a safe topic of not, depends largely on the personality of the manager. If one of my team felt discriminated against for any reason, I would want to know (in confidence). Especially if I am discriminating and not realizing it!

In many offices the cultural paradigm is patriarchy. There are people who are sexist, but mostly the issue is the small (and perhaps unintentional) gestures of discrimination. These are difficult to call someone out on. For the most part, sexist behaviour is a subconscious default reinforced by societal trends. You are fighting against the ingrained thought of 'what women say is less valuable'. Even though most people will say they don't believe it, watch how many times women are interrupted while speaking (by both by men and women!).

It's very difficult to confirm that these subtle acts are motivated by either sexist morals, subliminal programming, or something else altogether.

That being said, if you broach this topic with your manager, rather than accusing him of gender discrimination directly, try to get him to come to the conclusion on his own. Calling his actions sexist is a certain way to get him on the defensive and you'll lose the opportunity for candid transparency. Chances are he'll get HR involved and it will escalate higher then you really want it to. You should certainly outline the facts (him double checking your answers, etc) and explain how this is making you feel.

Ask him questions:

  • Why has he been double-checking answers you provide?
  • Was he aware that he was double checking you?
  • Does he consider your co-workers opinions more valuable? Why?
  • What can you do to improve his opinion of you, compared to them?
  • Does he trust you?

    If you don't feel comfortable broaching this topic with him. Then HR is your go-to. They are an excellent sounding board in regards to concerns like this, and can coach you through practical steps to resolve your issue.

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    If I could up vote this answer 10 times, I would. Most of the other people who have "answered" don't seem aware of the existence of unintentional sexism. However, I'm not sure that going through HR is a good move if you are not comfortable talking directly to the manager. HR exists to protect the company from lawsuits. – Amy Blankenship Jun 30 '16 at 17:08
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    +1 Sexism does exist within workplaces, but it is still a touchy subject, whether it is present or not, intentional or not. Best to deal with the base problem in a way that can lead people to come to their own conclusions. – jackwise Jun 30 '16 at 17:49
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    @JoeStrazzere "There is no such thing as unintentional sexism.", "You cannot attribute that to sexism." There are other answers and comments that at the very least suggest that their authors have strong doubts about the existens or extend of unintentional sexism. – tim Jun 30 '16 at 18:21
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    I love this answer because the sample questions you gave use non-accusatory non-confrontational language. I also like that the questions to not imply any specific cause or attribute any specific bias to the questionee, which might otherwise put them immediately on the defensive. – industry7 Jun 30 '16 at 21:57
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    The other answers and comments largely display the correctness of this answer - the moment you accuse men in tech of sexism, quite a lot of them immediately try to prove that it's not sexist. Thus, sadly, you can't necessarily call them on their (bad word) directly, and you have to stick to the facts at least until the point where you need to start getting HR involved and using your company's equality policies. I assume it has some. Unconscious bias means a lot of men don't even know they're doing this kind of thing, so you do have to be careful in getting them to realise it. – Matthew Walton Jul 1 '16 at 9:50
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Let's rewrite your story:

I am a [man] working with other 3 [female] developers on a client project.

One of my team mates (more senior and very smart and talented) always double checks with one or both other [female] colleagues from the team when asking me a question about something in the project.

What about this story clearly suggests that this phenomena of questioning your knowledge is due to sexism?

Nothing.

Knowing that women can also be sexist, I flipped the genders. Yet in doing so, I don't see any blatant sexism going on. Here is an example of clear sexism:

Jenny said, "Let's ask what Sarah thinks of Jon's response because, well, you know how men are hahaha"

That's sexism; a decision was made and Jon's response was questioned due to gender bias.


Go to this coworker and simply communicate with him your concern, which is that your knowledge is being questioned and that you'd like to know why or what you can do to gain his confidence.

It's that simple.

20

Yes this is a very common form of sexism as many, many studies have shown. In fact, women's opinions/statements/input are often treated as less valuable in the world of work. When this happens, smart men listen to the women's suggestions that are ignored and then make the same suggestion five minutes later where it is greeted with enthusiasm and support and generally implemented with the man getting the credit. A woman who says, "Hey I suggested that first", will be often verbally dismissed as no one else actually heard what she said.

So first, you need to accept that this is the way of the world and there is no way to ever completely get rid of this behavior. Not that you can't fight it (and you often should). But, you will fight this battle hundreds of times in your career - every time you work with a new group of men.

Advice that just do your job well and eventually people will notice is ridiculous. You need to be pushy about getting credit for your work and letting people know when they are dismissing you. But as discussed below, you need to use judgement about the time and place and whether it is a good idea.

Women are generally socialized to not rock the boat and that cooperation is valued over competition. This makes you appear weak. Often women present themselves in a way that makes them sound unsure (women are also, in many cultures, taught to make statements with a rise at the end of the sentence that turns it into a question). That contributes to men not taking your words at face value because you contributed to making them think you are unsure.

So the first step is making sure you are not sabotaging your own words. Check yourself out in a video and see if you are sounding positive or unsure. If you sound unsure then work with the video until you have practiced not ending with a question or questioning note. Practice until it becomes second nature. This may take months of practice.

Now as far as the men who patronize you (As so many of the respondents to this question have), you need to learn to judge which ones to fight and which to just accept. If the person is a client or a very senior manager or someone you will not be dealing with frequently, the best bet is to accept that the person is a jerk and ignore it. In the case of the client, it is sometimes best to then find a smart man who will give you credit and have the most important things presented by him. You can usually arrange this in advance once you know a particular person is a problem.

Peers and your immediate supervisor are another matter. Talk to your immediate supervisor first about his issue of checking everything you say with someone else. Point out that he does not do that with other people (assuming he does not do this with the other developers). Do not call your immediate boss on this directly in public. If he asks further questions that you know and the man he asked does not, then you can say something along the lines of, "Sam didn't work on that module, but I did and it does..." If he asks for a confirmation of what you said, then you have fewer immediate options, but you might be able to get the other devs on your side to say that they have complete faith that what you do is correct. After the meeting, you can privately ask you boss why he asked "Sam" to confirm your input.

If people interrupt what you were saying and interject comments, you interrupt them in turn and say, "I was talking" and then go on to make whatever point you were making.

What you don't want to do is go to HR with this problem. You need to be seen to solve it for yourself. If people see you as a person who complains to get "Special" treatment (Yes I know that what you are asking for is the same treatment, but to the people (and some of them are women) who do this treating women the same as men is special treatment), then your reputation at that work place is pretty much unrecoverable.

Another thing to do is to look for female allies in the workplace when you search for jobs. It is much easier to get taken seriously if you are not the only competent woman at that workplace.

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    I've removed the comments. There is a chat room for this answer if anyone wants to discuss it further. – Jane S Jul 4 '16 at 23:08
  • @HLGEM I find it highly ironic that you complain about sexism, and yet you end up using a sexist term like "mansplain" yourself. – Hugo Zink Oct 7 at 13:31
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"Sexism" is an amazing thing... you can always find it if you look for it hard enough.

Since you acknowledge that the "sexism" is unintentional, and isn't present in non-technical conversations, perhaps you need to ask yourself whether it's possible that your coworker's behavior is being motivated by your demonstrated technical competence rather than his sexist attitude.

Having worked in this field for 27 years, my personal experience is that computer geeks are some of the gender-blind people around; our profession by-and-large operates as a meritocracy. Black, white, male, female, straight, gay... most techies don't care about any of that as long as you're right a lot and deliver results. You can't demand that people automatically respect you in a meritocratic environment on the basis of your degree or certifications or job history - that respect is earned (and lost) by your demonstrated competency.

IMHO a far more fruitful way of dealing with the situation is to ask your colleague why he doesn't trust your technical judgement, and what you have to do to earn that trust. Putting the onus on yourself, rather than accusing your colleague of being sexist, is less confrontational and won't put the rest of the team on the defensive.

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    In circumstances where discrimination against X group is actually present, an attitude of X-blindness means remaining willfully ignorant of that discrimination. Describing the field as a meritocracy is a flat assertion that discrimination isn't happening, and isn't the cause of any disproportionate representation. – Phil Miller Jul 1 '16 at 2:19
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    @Novelocrat So, the NBA discriminates against Asians, because there is virtually no representation? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 1 '16 at 14:04
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    @Matthew The fact that you answered "Possibly" is indicative of the problem. Repeat after me, "Data is not information" – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 1 '16 at 17:35
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    Re: "my personal experience is that computer geeks are some of the gender-blind people around; our profession by-and-large operates as a meritocracy": My personal experience, in this same field, is that people think this . . . but almost every time I've said, "I agree with <female coworker>", someone has asked me to repeat what <female coworker> said, because they weren't paying enough attention. That's never happened when I've said "I agree with <male coworker>". I'm sure they don't realize they're doing this, but -- they are. – ruakh Jul 1 '16 at 19:59
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    There is a lot of evidence that gender discrimination in tech is a real problem. vogue.com/13387424/female-discrimination-tech-industry-study wired.com/2014/07/gender-gap en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexism_in_the_technology_industry – user42272 Jul 5 '16 at 2:40
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I'd like to add an answer that no one else has added. The answer is simply that you are not experiencing sexism. If you were being dismissed because of your gender, then your input would simply be dismissed. Instead, your input is clearly being considered, given the fact that you admit to achievement and your team discussing your input.

Discrimination doesn't take the target it is dismissing into consideration. The function is precisely the opposite.

Acknowledging this, the only possible answer to your question is that you consider what other very reasonable explanations there can be for your perceptions. Perhaps you're simply not in a position of trust (length of employment) to declare your own ideas as being valid and beyond review/discussion. Perhaps you over-estimate your own skill level, something we're all prone to doing. The only way you can find out is to open a reasonable dialog with your supervisor without making any assumptions.

This brings me to my last point. Assuming that because your colleagues are male, they must be subjecting you to sexism, is sexism itself. You're making a huge assumption, based on the (lack of) evidence you've presented here, that simply because they have male genitalia, they're being sexist. Worse, "they don't know it", as if it's just something that men do subconsciously.

Define Sexism:

prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination on the basis of sex.

If I were your colleague and you came to me suggesting that I was subconsciously being sexist to you because it's in my DNA, that'd be a death blow our relationship. I'd report that sexism to HR and request to be transferred to another department so I wouldn't be subjected to that abuse anymore, and prevent my career from being sunk by baseless and extremely dangerous false accusations. If you really believe you're experiencing sexism, I suggest you do the same thing. Being subjected to discrimination is not a light fluffy thing you shrug off.

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    Except that's been the default answer to women's complaints of discrimination for like, thousands of years. – Yumecosmos Jul 1 '16 at 18:28
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    @TechnikEmpire - I actually feel this is a good answer. As an engineer I often ask other engineers I trust, to verify what another engineer I trust, have presented to me. This is because, I myself have verified what that first engineer has presented me, and simply want a third verification. Once something has been presented, I often find I am biased toward that information one way or another, and simply want a third opinion on the matter. – Donald Jul 2 '16 at 9:04
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    The OP never once said that her co-workers have to be sexist because they are male. She talked about a specific experience where her input was not being considered fairly. It is entirely possible that this is because of sexism. Sexism can be insidious, and it is important to consider the possibility that her co-workers subconsciously don't consider her to be an equal contributor to the team because of her gender. With all due respect, if you are not a woman in tech, then you don't know what it's like to be a woman in tech. – C_Z_ Jul 2 '16 at 15:32
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    This would have been a good answer in 1970. We've come a tremendous way in our understanding of how sexism functions in particular in the workplace since then. See research on "unconscious bias" and how it exists. – user42272 Jul 5 '16 at 2:33
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    @TechnikEmpire See research on "unconscious bias" or Google "sexism in the tech industry." If you want to get in giant comment threads instead of educate yourself on the topic then certainly don't blame me for that. – user42272 Jul 5 '16 at 3:07
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I would caution you not to assume that the reason you are not trusted is because of your gender. There is no such thing as unintentional sexism. The fact that you even have that concept in your head may be a significant part of the problem.

I am hearing impaired, diabetic, and autistic. I do not go around assuming that any negative or even lukewarm reaction that I get from my coworkers is due to my disabilities. You should similarly abandon all external excuses.

You may be projecting the whole "I am a woman, I know I am going to be subjected to sexism" bit. It's a chip on the shoulder that others can see. Ditch it, it does you no good.

Assume instead that there is some other reason and TALK to the people. Oh, and in the IT world, the best coders don't always win. If you are the best coder on the team, and the rest of the team can't keep up with your miracles, you, not they, are the weakest link. I saw it happen to a coworker. He could run circles around the rest of the team but nobody could maintain his code. He was let go.

So, while your code may be "better" it might not fit into the team structure as is.

Sit down and communicate with your team, it is the only way you can improve your situation.

NOTE: I should add that I grew up in an era where REAL sexism existed, as did actual gay bashing which I experienced. Believe me, I can take a few harsh words a good deal easier than being beaten and kicked, so this whole unintentional bit seems like nonsense to me.

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    If a job needs maintainable code and he can't write it, he's not the best coder. – user36758 Jul 2 '16 at 14:50
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    "There is no such thing as unintentional sexism." Yes, there is, and studies have found it, time and time again. – SQB Jul 3 '16 at 19:50
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    @SQB You and a few others keep citing imaginary studies. Please link to articles that are not funded by "Down With The Patriarchy Inc." that prove your points or delete your comment please. – user41761 Jul 4 '16 at 19:47
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    @TechnikEmpire: Perhaps you always know exactly what all of your motivations are for every action you take. (I actually don't think that's possible for a human, but fine, I'll accept it for argument's sake, since you say you find it very insulting for anyone to suggest otherwise.) What you seem to be missing is that the OP's question is not about you. Billions of people have had the everyday human experience of not knowing quite why they did something, or of not realizing they were doing something until someone pointed it out. The OP's question is almost certainly about one of them. – ruakh Jul 5 '16 at 4:21
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    SQB, I don't suppose you have any links to these imaginary studies? Nope, guess not. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Jul 5 '16 at 12:07
8

I wouldn't go to your manager/team lead without first trying to resolve it directly with your coworker - especially since you said you get along well and you said you aren't sure he is doing it on purpose. I would say that is a good place to start.

Ask him

I noticed you always confirm what I say with so and so. Is that on purpose? Is there a reason you usually do that?

4

I was wondering if this is a safe topic of conversation in a one to one meeting with my team lead.

Clearly that depends on the culture of the company, the attributes of the team lead, and your relationship with her/him.

For my team, all topics of conversation are safe in a one-to-one meeting. Hopefully, that is true in your office as well.

4

I would agree with most, if not all of the answers here. Engaging the conversation based on what you have observed (fact) vs. what you feel (opinion) will go much better and won't involve HR. HR, I agree, is there to protect the company, not necessarily its employees. Some of the posts had some really good questions to lead the conversation.

I am by no means dismissing your feelings in this matter, merely stating that this might go better and resolve itself by sticking with facts, your observations.

I am currently, at work, in a summer book club and we are studying a book titled 'Crucial Conversations'. This issue you have brought up fits perfectly into this book as this is a crucial conversation. One that needs to be had so you don't continue to feel left out or slighted (my reading into your post, nothing else).

I work in an all female office and I am male and at times feel as you do. I have had conversations with my direct report and she was not aware she was doing that and did apologize and has since made effort to change. I am not saying that will definitely happen here, but to show it is possible.

One item I take from that book, which I highly encourage reading, if not for now but for all relationships, business and personal, is that you can talk about anything if the conversation is delivered in a safe environment and the conversation doesn't change to an attack on the person or you, but stays focused on the issue, the reason for the conversation. The attack can happen really fast and unintentionally, it takes a lot of mental effort to stay focused and calm. Believe you me, it is tough, but oh so worth the effort.

This might even increase his respect for you for being able to come to him this candidly. Maybe, no promises as everyone is different. But, as you say, the informal is good, so I don't see this resulting in a worse situation, only if the conversation turns into a 'pissing' match, pardon my wording, where each party starts bringing up trivial things that bother them about the other person rather than staying truly on topic, reigning in the emotions.

I admit I have a hard time not getting emotional when a conversation turns crucial.

I hope this helps.

1

How long have you been working at the department? Are you a new transfer? Have these guys been working together a long time and you're the new kid on the block?

It may simply be that those guys are friends. When they need to double check, they subconsciously think 'Oh hey, I'm friends with Greg, I'll go ask him'.

Furthermore, if you're new to the team, it's possible that the guy hasn't completely sized you up yet. If he's been dealing with the other 2 for quite some time, they'll have a certain degree of unspoken communication with each other, and know what they mean when they talk to each other. However, he may not know what you mean when you say something. 'I don't think this looks good' can mean radically different things depending on the person who says it.

I'd say the first step is to assume that they're simply being like all groups of guys, a tight knit group. Simply tell him you feel you're being left out and if he can include you a bit more. If he doesn't change how he operates after that, then it's time to start investigating the sexism angle.

The worse thing I think you can do in a case where the sexism isn't blatantly obvious is start with it, as that can lead to a hostile work environment. You may get more work, but you'll have less friends.

0

Let me attempt an alternative view of your situation.

Is it possible that the 3 guys know that your understanding of subject matter is superior in most cases, accept that fact and rely on it? Then it may be a bit intimidating to them all, if you yourself are challenging your competence being superior every time and again. So the senior team mate's reaction to your statement asking your co-workers for their opinion would just be an attempt to get them involved.

You could challenge your assumptions and try to avoid being the first to answer questions for a while and let others have their spin first. Naturally, if you get asked directly, you can't evade a response, but you may try to not come up with the full solution in one go, but give a more open response that leaves room for others to fill. This might help you steer the social dynamics in the team to a place where you feel more comfortable.

This is intended more as food for thought and experimentation than a direct and workable solution to your problem. Also I might have misinterpreted your situation.

-4

Adjust

You won't be able to handle the "reverse of it", if the boss ever happens to sort of "favor" you to accommodate your need, so I suggest you learn to adjust.

I know the feeling, but you would rather wait to gain unanimous respect unwarranted (not asked for), from both the team lead and the one same level as you. I assure you it happens at least once when you put yourself on record, and they on one end, and you end up right. You will feel more confident under this arrangement, than having to feel like you solicited all the favor you will then get.

I did the same at my first workplace, and it lasted a few months before we finally were made to work in individual projects which proved my qualifies through results, such that even my colleagues would refer me whenever something was brought up in my absence. This is respect earned, and you deserve that. Keep working consistently till you prove yourself.

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    Oh, that is BS. I have been on record and been proven right more times than I can count, and the only time that causes any changes is when things completely go down in flames because my opinion is not weighed equally with that of others. – Amy Blankenship Jun 30 '16 at 17:04
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    I guess it now depends with how patient ones needs to be to get the better option of having good work speak for itself, or try to change someone's arbitrary preference? Certainly, as a good developer, I would not prefer having my work equaled with someone else's when I certainly know I produce better, just because I can't stand being sidelined, I'd rather let him keep his preference, whilst producing preferable results. Generally, some people we seek to recognize us, are not even worth recognizing our talent, they distort it's worth, and that's what she has to understand. – Pilling Fine Jun 30 '16 at 19:37

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