Reputation has never really been something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about. Despite everything, I still live in this naïve world where I believe people should be treated according to their merits, even though deep down I know that it’s an unrealistic view of the world.
The only thing I’ve ever been really cautious about is my reputation in the gaming world. Not really the gaming world at large, but I’ve never wanted to be treated differently because of my gender. And I really don’t want people to think that I am treated nicely just because I’m a female. But now that I’m not really playing MMOs with randoms, that’s not so much of an issue.
I can’t even believe that I’m writing this. A while ago, we had a meeting with senior manager. He asked something, and liked my response, and overall, the meeting went really well. The manager seemed to get along really well with me, and he was happy with what I had done. Afterwards, there was an issue that we needed to bring up with the manager. Because of how well he reacted to my response, one of my co-workers said, “Hey Fodder, you should tell him.” I asked why, and the response was that the news would be better coming from me. Then someone started to say, “You’re the lucky one who gets to suck his…” The stunned glares from the rest of the team stopped that sentence from being finished, but there aren’t many ways in which that sentence could have ended which made sense in the context.
I think I must have had a mini-BSOD or something, I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was just in shock. I vaguely remember someone stopping the conversation, and telling me that it still made sense for me to talk to the manager about the issue, so I did. But my brain was just in panic-mode. I feel like I’ve tried so hard to be seen as an equal to my peers on the team, but what if I’m not? My previous boss told me that the last manager of my area (the person who hired me) was really keen on improving the gender stats on the team, and a part of me has always wondered if that’s the only reason I’m here. I am under no illusions that I’m definitely the weakest developer on my team, but I feel like I do try, which is why I was so willing to do the Java exams, even though none of the other developers on my team have those certifications.
To be honest, the whole thing made me quite sullen for a while. I’ve always been so good at flying under the radar, and so I retreated to what I felt comfortable with. I barely contributed to meetings, and just did what I was told, but I put on my “customer service face” so that nobody would know anything was wrong – in particular the senior manager, as we really needed his buy-in.
I didn’t want to tell anyone on my team, as I didn’t want them to know how much it had affected me. I also think that this is the kind of thing that you can report to HR and get someone fired over, and I didn’t want to be that person. Perhaps the comment wasn’t really intended to be serious, and reflecting on it, I think it was intended as a joke. I thought about Adria Richards and the whole Donglegate incident, and how she caught so much flak for choosing to publicly shame two people for making a joke, rather than confronting them.
My boss recommended this book to me: Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High. So I read the book, and decided to have a conversation and understand why that person would make such a comment. Then I built up the courage and had the conversation. I began similarly to how I started this blog post – explaining my background and how important it was to me not to be treated differently based on my gender. I did not apologise for being this way, which is something the book made it very clear was a wrong move as it minimised the impact of the conversation. Then I asked why the comment was made. It turns out that the person didn’t even remember making the comment at all, but agreed that it was in poor taste, and nothing malicious was meant by it.
It’s kinda bad how caring so much about a particular aspect of my reputation turned a stupid comment into such a big deal. I’m trying not to let my reputation get in the way of things in the future. Did I handle it correctly? I’m not really sure. However, I do feel better at work, and the person has not made any comments like that since (and now that I know there was nothing malicious behind the comment, I believe we still get along well, and I don’t think they feel like they have to walk on eggshells around me, which is something I was concerned about after having that conversation).<
As a side note, I am secretly proud of this other reputation that I have in the office (from Grad Daniel):
In one of my favourite movies, the main character likes to do little things that make the people around them happy, such as creating a fake letter to make a woman think that her husband was having regrets about leaving her for another woman. I really enjoy doing that at work, though it’s becoming harder and harder to leave anonymous gifts.