Help with a recurring people problem
One of the worst things about being a postdoc is what I call having pseudo-authority.
You have a PhD, yes. But you are a temporary employee, not staff. And everybody knows it.
This means there are often power struggles with staff-type people who are
a) not that into their job, just into the paycheck
b) paid better than you and working fewer hours
c) fully expecting you to fail and leave while they stay on and on and on forever
So, they treat you like dirt.
At least, this has been my experience. Not always- some staff have been very polite and helpful. Others, not so much.
In particular today I am talking about a certain kind of guy (because that is usually where I have problems).
This kind of guy does not have a PhD. He might be a student, a tech, or some other kind of staff. He has always been there longer than I have.
I should say here that I do not always have problems with people who fit this description. I can think of a few who were my best friends when we worked together, who always treated me as a peer and we helped each other out, and I really miss working with them.
Which is probably why I'm baffled when I meet one who treats me like dirt.
I might outrank this guy by two or 9 years, it doesn't matter. He looks at my boobs when I'm talking to him; he is late when we make an appointment; he does not do what I ask him to do, even when it fits word-for-word into his job description; he apologizes about his irresponsible behavior only if it is dire and too late to fix whatever he did or did not do that created enormous problems for me.
I should say here that not all of these qualities mean the guy is going to be a jerk to me forever. I have worked with ones who were disrespectful at first or irresponsible occasionally but mostly okay and I really did believe them when they apologized.
And then there are the ones who always stare at my boobs instead of my face when I am talking to them; who are always late and disregard my instructions as if I never gave any. As if my time is worthless and I might as well have been talking to thin air.
I'm blogging about this as a general concept because it has happened to me over and over again, in various jobs and situations, and I suspect it will continue to happen and I will continue to be upset about it every single time until I figure out what to do about it.
The problem is that I never have any real authority over these guys. In theory they are working for me or with me; they may even report to me. But usually when I finally work up the nerve to complain to my/our boss, invariably it is a guy and he looks at me like I am from Mars.
But That Guy is a great guy, he says incredulously when I try to explain that I feel I am being harassed, and disrespected, and can't get my job done.
At this point, I pause and make a choice. I have tried both the
a) explaining my case just fact-by-fact, as in "here is what happened" with no judgments, just my point of view of what happened when and whose job it was and how an objective person might expect things to work instead of the way they are not working right now
b) explaining my case from the "try to put yourself in my place"* point of view, which would work with a normal person** who might be capable of, I don't know, empathy (even for something he has never experienced himself).
Neither has ever worked. This has happened with multiple bosses, every few years or so, there is always one of these guys who simply cannot treat me like any other colleague, but has to make a big deal about my gender.
So I have tried various approaches to to pointing out how uncomfortable I am and how difficult it is to get my work done.
Always, the man in charge will, instead of apologizing or offering to speak to That Guy, he will give me a speech about how maybe I am difficult to work with, how I need to lighten up or be more patient or ask more nicely, etc.
I should point out that these are the less-sexist bosses. These are the guys who think they are enlightened. And they still do this.
So invariably, I give up, and I simply cannot get my work done. Eventually, I hate going to work, until I can find a way to drop that project or do it myself while avoiding That Guy.
It definitely slows me down.
In fact, if I have to be really honest about what has hurt my career the most, the one people problem I still can't solve is this one.
I have figured out, more or less, how to avoid and/or extract myself from the crappy outright-harassing boss situations. I have figured out how to power down insubordinate students. But it's these in-between pseudo-peers who still manage to completely trip me up. And I still don't know what to do about it.
Of course part of me lives in terror of someday actually supervising, on my own, this kind of woman-hating jerk. I would certainly hope that, if I'm ever in the position to hire anyone, I would have the knowledge of how to NOT hire someone who would disrespect me this much. Men or women.
But in the meantime, I am stuck having people assigned to me whom I did not choose. And I really don't know how to deal with these situations, because they are just subtle enough that everyone just tries to sweep them under the rug.
Eventually, That Guy will get kicked out or leave. It always happens if I just wait long enough.
But I can't wait forever, and in the meantime, I am always miserable and left wondering if it's better to make a formal complaint, and risk the backlash (which inevitably comes, along with whatever hit my recommendation letters must take), or to just sit tight, or to quit.
Because I don't have forever to wait for everyone else to wise up. And I'm just really sick of it. Lately I am so sick of it that I'd say this is one of my two biggest complaints about being a woman in science (the other one will be the next blog post).
*or my bra
**read: non-scientist type of human being