Saturday, May 13, 2006

Career

So I finished college in the US, had my year off which I spent travelling in North Africa visiting relatives, decided against going back to school for an MBA & came back to Abu Dhabi to start job-hunting. My first job was in a bank. They hired me as a Java programmer supposedly. It lasted about 6 months. Then I quit. There was no work for me to do. I don't know why they even hired a programmer. They outsourced everything or bought applications off the shelf. Then I tried a construction company. Same problem. Possibly even worse. They had no programming work. They essentially just wanted me to do data entry & maybe double as a Windows NT administrator. This time I quit after 3 months.

So I learnt an important lesson. If I expected to have a career in IT I had to find work in an IT company. In other organizations - where IT is just supporting the core business of the organization - you might get a job but not a career. In banks, promotions & training etc....go to people in finance or banking. In a construction company they go to civil engineers & architects. They're the stars. So I decided I had to find an organization where the core business WAS IT. Then I won't have to sit around & watch my work being outsourced & there might be room for me to grow right?

The first couple of offers I got were from big names in software. Companies that sell well-known IT products. I was concerned about facing a different sort of problem. And I was right. These organizations don't actually do any development here. It's all done in the US. Their local office just handles sales & maybe some support.

Just as I was getting ready to give up & go back to school after all, one of my best friends M. got a job working for an IT & management consultancy firm. It was my dream place to work if you will. The kind of organization I had seen projects being outsourced to in my previous jobs.

So I ask her if they have any vacancies. She says she'll give my CV to someone in recruitment but not to get my hopes up because they don't hire women in technical positions. She was the only female there other than the secretaries. And she's a translator who doubles as their PR officer.

I said I was surprised they would be so sexist because it's a multi-national with headquarters in Europe. You'd expect them to be used to women working in all fields. She gave me a funny look & asked me who told you there are no sexists in Europe? It's just that in Europe there are laws against that sort of thing & here there aren't. So what they can't get away with in Europe they'll do here.

But she managed to get me an interview. After she pestered one of the managers to death for months. On the day of the interview I was a nervous wreck. I wanted the job really badly. Hadn't found anything else like it or even close. But I knew there was prejudice against me, that he probably just agreed to go through the motions of interviewing me to get M off his back. It didn't help that the first thing M said when she saw me was you idiot that skirt is too short & you're wearing heels they'll never hire you. The skirt was well below the knees. And the heels were like the flattest you could get without actually wearing flip-flops. She was just nervous. I knew that but she still scared me to death.

So that's when I met him - the boss I mean. My first impression was surprise because he looks so much like Bryan Adams!My manager is Swiss, in his late fifties by now. He looks exactly like Bryan Adams. An older version with a very different sense of style but Bryan Adams nonetheless.

The interview started out pretty well. Intensive questioning, very technical but he was being pleasant. He was tough but he didn't give me the feeling that he was trying to trip me up or anything. Then half-way through M called him about some work issue & he told her:"M what are you doing?You know me. I hire monsters not models."

I don't know if I was supposed to respond or pretend I didn't hear that. Ended up pretending to be deaf. But I pretty much gave up at that point. Was very demorlized & half-hearted through the rest of the interview. I thought if I came across as a bimbo then it was hopeless.

And I was left to stew for a whole month before I got the offer. I think that was possibly one of the happiest days of my life. I mean the relief! Just couldn't believe it. And it was such a generous offer too. Much better than I could have dreamed. Was walking on air for weeks. Until I actually started.

My first year was gruelling. I had never been punished so much for being a woman in my life. If I ask a colleague for help I get accused of using my feminine wiles to make the men do my work. In the end my manager told me I don't want you asking anyone other than me for help. But everytime I go to him with a question he gives me stuff like can't you figure it out on your own I'm so busy etc....So what it came down to was that I was on my own - unlike any other newcomer.

I would see the guys getting together to have a coffee break & smoke & feel like little orphan Annie. If such a gathering were to take place in my office or if I were to join one I'd immediately be accused of flirting & distracting the men.

I stopped wearing skirts to the office completely. I still don't. Am always in trouser suits. No make-up. I also never socialize with work colleagues because I can't afford for any of them to start acting too friendly in the office. When we go overseas that's the only time I'll go out sight-seeing & stuff with them because what choice do I have in a foreign city where I don't know anyone else & probably don't even speak the language? Tried hiding in my hotel room or wandering around alone a couple of times but too boring & lonely.

Sometimes when am out in the evenings I worry about running into people from work. I feel self-conscious about them seeing me dressed in something feminine or revealing, wearing make-up, dancing etc...I worry this will change how they perceive me at work too, cause them to lose respect & start treating me like a bimbo etc...Even after all these years I still have this fear.

The outright sexism never came from my manager though. After the initial monsters/models comment he never did anything really sexist. Except for the fact that occasionally I'll say bonjour & he'll say bonjour a toi ma fleur or something like that. Once I was on the line with K & he heard him & told me you have a manager who calls you his flower? But that only happens if he's really, really pleased with my work. Half the time am lucky to get a response at all if I say hi. He's not an easy guy to please.

The outright sexism came from higher up. But the pressure they put on my manager made him feel like he had to justify having hired a woman. So he worked me like a slave. I was constantly being held to higher standards than everyone else, always getting less credit for more, being criticized harshly for things I see others do all the time etc....Couldn't go on any long leave. Couldn't call in sick or come in late unless there was a huge emergency. This while the guys would come in & leave whenever they felt like it & no one would care so long as they got the work done. That goes on until today. Am the only one I know in the IT side of things who actually gets emails about being late even though am one of the first people to come in the morning. The assumption appears to be that they're guys so if they're late they must have a good reason.

Basically I did a lot of crying during that first year. Not in the office though. Couldn't afford that either. I would never have lived it down.

But things started to quiet down about half way through the second year. I guess they got used to having me around & I kind of grew on them. And my manager helped, first by giving me outrageous amounts of work & second by always pushing me in the limelight. He would let me demo my projects even though I was only a lowly programmer & only analysts or project managers are supposed to demo to managament.

At some point - I can't remember exactly when - it stopped being such an ordeal. I got used to the challenge. To always pushing myself. And to succeeding. I stopped thinking about how unfair it was. I got used to it. Mainly because I really enjoyed the work. So much that it made up for everything else. I loved my job. Yes I had a crazy social life etc...but nothing really distracted me from my work. It always came first because it really was what I enjoyed most. My friends couldn't compete. And neither could my ex. Everything else just filled in my free time when I wasn't working & wanted something to do.

The next pivotal point came after I had been working for them for 3 years. There was a time when I was being sexually harrassed by a pretty big client. Someone who was so influential that if my parents had ever found out I'd even come into contact with him they'd have quit their jobs, made me quit mine & we'd all have packed up & gone back home.

I didn't want to deal with the guy. I was afraid of him. But my manager kept pushing me to. Like when I asked that the client should come for meetings in my office because I didn't feel safe going to his office, my manager refused saying that the policy is that we let the customer say when & where. One time I lost my temper & started yelling at my manager, telling him that the guy will probably rape me next time I go out there & if that was his daughter would he force her into that kind of situation?He blew up at me & started telling me that this is why he didn't like hiring women etc....

I was so shocked. I hadn't told him before that because I was too embarrassed not because I believed he would actually blame me if I told him!And he still wanted me to go see the guy?I thought my manager was pimping me!

I had so much contempt for him that day. He kind of had a reputation for only caring about money & business but I always defended him to others. After all I owed the guy. For hiring me & for all the support that helped me to survive. But when he did that he just made me sick. I thought what a coward. I told him I wasn't going to see that guy again & if he didn't like it he could take whatever action he wanted. And I walked out of his office feeling incredibly disillusioned.

Our relationship changed after that. It became much colder & more formal. I knew the client was calling him & asking to meet me & threatening to take his business elsewhere if I don't handle the project etc....My manager would tell him that am busy & just stall.

In the end I got out of the situation with the help of an Emarati friend. She told me that this client was influential yes but his wife was even more influential & that he was known to be scared of her. She told me she'll take me to see his wife & that if the guy knew I know his wife he'll lay off & leave me alone. So that's what happened. And he did lay off. He delegated the project to one of his staff - which is what he should have done from the beginning. And I didn't have to deal with him anymore.

The incident still soured things up between me & my manager. I used to look up to him & I was feeling so disappointed. Somehow I had expected more from him. More what?I don't know.

A few months later the second pivotal point came. My manager had a stroke in the middle of the conference room early in the morning. He was gripped by some sort of convulsion & then he was screaming in pain & then he was unconscious. We called an ambulance & he was carried out of the office on a stretcher. I'll never forget that day. I cried so much. Was so worried I made my Dad drive me to the hospital to see him in the middle of the night. Was too upset to drive & terrified that he would die during the night.

When I reached the hospital his wife & 2 daughters were there. They'd flown in from Europe after hearing the news. I remember feeling embarrassed that I was the only one who couldn't stop crying because they weren't. I know I shouldn't judge them & am sure they were very concerned about him but the time I resented it because they made me look like an overwrought fool.His wife sat me down & asked me if I was there when it happened. I said yes. So she asked me to tell her what happened. And I did. It was funny that she was the one who was trying to get me to calm down!

Thankfully he recovered. But what was even funnier was that my parents became concerned that I was becoming too attached to my manager. Imagine that!My non-Arab, non-Muslim, much older, married manager!What a disaster that would have been!

Needless to say, it was nothing like that. Am just a hypochondriac so I was distraught that it happened infront of me & I have this intense dislike of people dropping dead on me.

I think the fact that he nearly died infront of me made me forgive him for the first incident. His family told him about my concern for him & he was really touched. So we had a sort of reconciliation.

And my life in the office improved even more after those two incidents. He's much more supportive now, very sensitive to any implication that he's not. I know he fought really hard to get me my promotion. One of the directors was reported to have told him you say she already works so hard she can't work any harder so why should we pay her more to do the same amount of work?And my manager supposedly defended me like a hero. So says the office gravepine i.e. the secretaries.

When I took time off to get married, came back & he sent me for training for almost two weeks, then a couple of months later I took another two weeks off because of my miscarriage I was expecting trouble. No one takes that much time off in such a short period. But nothing happened. Not even a negative comment.

Ok so that was my career history. Felt like writing it. Hope it doesn't turn out to be an obituary of my career. Still spooked about what happened on Wed. But getting over it slowly.

Labels:

19 Comments:

Blogger aroundtheclock24_7 said...

Do you know that i was expecting to read a line at the end that said:
" ...but unfortunatly, today i went into my manager's office and handed him my resignation."

I was really glad that this wasn't the ending although knowing your style of writing i would have expected what i jotted at the beginning.

Wish you all the best and glad you are getting over it.

Take care and as always Keep Smiling ;)

5/13/2006 02:20:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

I thought of resigning actually. This is why I was trying to remind myself how hard I had to work to get where I am. And what it cost me.

5/13/2006 03:22:00 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

I guess your boss does sound kind of sexist, but comments like the "model" one are not considered out of line here in the US either. Not really sure where the line is drawn between flirtation/being complementary and harrassment, but it's not there. Calling you his flower though... I'd be pretty mad if somebody was saying that to my wife I think. Hmmm.

Really interesting story, though, LouLou... thanks for sharing it :)

5/13/2006 06:41:00 PM  
Blogger roora said...

oh loulou, i feel like you passed and struggled a lot. No wonder all these circustances and the struggling you did and the challenging thing with your colleagues , I couldn't of handle that honestly , probably i would of resign.

But maybe this shaped you who you are now , confident strong lady !

5/13/2006 08:26:00 PM  
Blogger Safiya said...

Wow! You have some sense of perseverance. Masha Allah for working so hard to be taken seriously.

Always remember though, that it is just a job. No one is indispensable and no one lies on their deathbed thinking "I wish I'd spent more time at the the office".

5/13/2006 09:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jane said...

Just as I thought, you are one tough cookie. It seems that women have to work twice as hard to be thought of as half as good. Even here in the US sexism still exists, although it is improving due to laws against such things. I truly admire your strength. I don't know that I could have made it working in such a hostile environmont.

5/14/2006 04:41:00 AM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Craig,

"I'd be pretty mad if somebody was saying that to my wife I think. Hmmm."

Yes my husband was NOT happy. I used to complain to him when I've had a bad day at work. I didn't like the reaction so I stopped. Just like I never let my family know how tough I had it at work. If & when I decide to leave I want it to be my call. I don't to be pressured into it by over-protective parents or brothers or my husband.

From this & other comments I get the impression you're kind of possessive/protective yourself though. Are you?

Roora,

"I couldn't of handle that honestly , probably i would of resign."

If I leave for something less after all my hard work it means conceding that a woman shouldn't do as well as a man. I'd leave in a second if I found the same or better & if I could be sure I wouldn't face the same sort of situation in my new job.

Safiya,

"Always remember though, that it is just a job."

Am a Libra. We have a BIG problem with anything we perceive as unfair. We don't accept it.:)

Jane,

"I don't know that I could have made it working in such a hostile environmont."

Am stubborn & I have this perverse streak. What am really curious about is if more women come into the firm will it be easier for them after my experience or will they put them through the same crap?

I really wish other women would join. They say on their European websites that they're an equal opportunity employer etc...And I always think yeah right. A few days ago I saw an ad in the paper. They're advertising for new people & they say they have flexibe working hours. And I thought flexible for everyone except me.:(

Went through a phase of wondering if I take my case to the head office in Europe. Would they do something? And if they don't can I sue them over there? Never got round to looking into whether you can sue a multi-national for what they do overseas. Don't know if there are precedents for that.

5/14/2006 10:11:00 AM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Hi LouLou,

From this & other comments I get the impression you're kind of possessive/protective yourself though. Are you?

Yes, I suppose I am. I view it as part of the "marriage contract" - if there is such a thing :) - that one of a husband's duties is to protect his wife, as best he can. Likewise, I see that as one of the roles of a family, as well... to protect each other. I don't like to think I'm extreme in that, though.

I was married for about 10 years, for instance, and I know I can handle guys flirting with a woman I'm involved with. Though I don't like it. Your boss calling you "my flower" seems inappropriate, to me. I had a similar problem (when I was married) with a neighbor (who was also married) who used to make subtly suggestive comments to my wife when I wasn't around. She never told me about it. One day, when he was out in the front yard, she asked me to go over there with her and she asked him to repeat what he had just said to her, in front of me. He just stood there with his mouth open and stared. And that was the end of that. Some people just don't know where the boundaries are, I guess. You're probably right not to tell your husband about things like that, because his natural reaction is going to be to "do something" about it, which may not be helpful.

I've worked for multi-nationals for quite some time, but I've only been outside of the US while working for one (which were all American companies) once. As far as I know, company policy is company policy, regardless of geographical location. So, you could probably pursue an internal complaint through company channels if you decide to. Watch yourself, though... people who do things like that have a habit of covering their asses (CYA mode as it's known here) and it might backfire!

Legal action would have to be taken where the "offense" occurred I think.... though I'm by no means an expert! There may be a way around that?

5/14/2006 11:46:00 PM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Craig,

"Your boss calling you "my flower" seems inappropriate, to me. "

My husband said it was disrespectful. I think he's right. It does bother me but not as much as it bothered him. I've reached a point with my manager where if he's addressing me am getting tense expecting criticism/an attack etc... & getting ready to go into a heated self-defence. If the attack doesn't materialize am too relieved to worry about anything else.

I don't think you're too extreme. And I like the way you & your wife handled the problem with your neighbor.

I think most women like to feel protected & cared for. I do appreciate my family & my husband. It gives me a sense of security to know that I'm not alone in the world, that if I'm ever in a situation I can't handle I can count on them.

But it's been a long time since I actually asked for help/protection in the way your wife did. With my brothers I learnt very early on that while yes they will stand up for me they won't know where to stop. They find it hard to forget these things & will obssess about them long after I've forgotten them & start trying to restrict me in an effort to prevent whatever it was from recurring & I dislike that.

At least my husband - unlike my brothers - actually makes an effort to find out what my feelings are about whatever it is he thinks should be done. He doesn't like to embarrass me. But still I wouldn't push my luck.

"As far as I know, company policy is company policy, regardless of geographical location."

One would hope so. It's such a weird internal culture isn't it? A friend of mine is a safety engineer & she has the same sort of problem & worse. In her case it's an aircraft maintenance company & she's out in the hangers all the time. There's a lot of physical labor involved. But you don't need muscle to be in IT do you?

A co-worker once told me you know what your problem is?You're too soft-spoken & you don't swear. It seems they want me to start acting like a man!

This is why I was so self-conscious going back to work after the miscarriage. That's such a FEMALE thing to do isn't it? And I work in an environment where female is not really appreciated that much.

Another co-worker - an Eastern European - was once complaining to me that you can't get Arab girls in UAE unless you're willing to pay & that he doesn't like prostitutes. He said what's the point in dating Russian girls in the ME when he can date Russian girls in Russia. I looked at him & said and you're telling me this why? Because you want a free lay? He backtracked & started apologizing, saying no I misunderstood him. I mean this IS sexual harrassment isn't it? He shouldn't be talking to me like that.

5/15/2006 10:15:00 AM  
Blogger GC said...

Sexism is rampant in the workplace. The company I work for rarely higher women in any key position. They always think that a woman will not be in the company for the long term since she has to get married, have babies, etc..... My sister even got fired from a job she had when they found out she's getting married soon.

5/15/2006 12:34:00 PM  
Blogger Maxxed`ouT said...

I was dreading reading your post since it was seemingly quite long ...
When i started it just flew by ...
Your story is inspiring . Good luck .

5/15/2006 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Leilouta said...

Wow Loulou! I love your stories. I have to go to your archives and start digging for more at home.
About calling you "flower", some of us call each other 'sunshine' here, and I started it :)
I even tried some Tunisian cursing, but most just don't get it. They think that " I hope you get a sun burn" "سخطة" is just funny not cursing.

5/15/2006 11:34:00 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Thanks, Leilouta... I added سخطة to my collection!

I have a question, though. If I want to say:

"I hope you get a sunburn, kafir!"

I have to go invert it right to left, correct?

سخطة كافر

Like that? But what do I do about the comma and the exclamation point?

PS... nothing wrong with "Sunshine" that's a nice thing to say to somebody :)

5/16/2006 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Leilouta said...

Wow Craig!! I am impressed!
You speak better Tunisian than my husband :)
سخطة كافر is good. You also can say يعطيك سخطة يا كافر

5/19/2006 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Leilouta said...

oh here is another one بقلة

5/19/2006 08:37:00 PM  
Blogger tota said...

Loulou ... i remember once before u mentioned that there is a new girl that u r training her ... what happend with her?

5/20/2006 07:51:00 AM  
Blogger LouLou said...

Tota,

She wasn't training to work for us. Sometimes when we've developed systems or done restructuring for a client, part of the contract is that we train their staff to use the new technology & the new procedures. Her case is an example. And even then my boss didn't like her. He thought she was too dumb & wasn't learning anything. He wanted to ask the client to send someone else for training - preferably a man. When we were done I had to fight to get him to sign that she passed & is qualified etc...And she WAS. She had a slow start but I thought she did really well in the end.

5/20/2006 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

Leilouta, thanks! I don't speak any arabic though, I only know a few words :)

I'll have to ask somebody to translate what those new ones now... most of what I have in my collection came from you :D

My friend told me it doesn't really mae sense the way I tried to write it here, but I didn't really understand the explanation of why not.

5/20/2006 06:13:00 PM  
Blogger programmer craig said...

It says

"May you get a sunstroke you kafir!"

And it makes sense now :)

5/20/2006 06:28:00 PM  

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