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.