Monday, October 7, 2013

First Impressions of New Hires

Disclaimer: This is not meant to scare you, just to share what happens in my non-conventional work environment. It is meant to inform you, but not to make you paranoid of every nice gesture on your first day.

So here is the honest truth about what happens when a new girl  has joined one of my companies where there are over 80% men. The biggest thing to understand is that men and women in this environment have adjusted to the fact that female engineers are as rare as a rainbow unicorn. So when a new woman starts and people don't know who she is, chances are people will bet that she is a secretary, marketer, salesperson, or any other non-engineering job their company has. This has something to do with the fact that women tend to dress up for their first day in a stereotypically "non-engineering" or feminine way (I spent over an hour getting ready before my first day of work), and something to do with the fact that statistically the new girl is almost never an engineer.

Wouldn't you be surprised if you worked with a unicorn? 
Once everyone meets her, people tend to place the same sort of bets on who will be the first one to ask her out, date her, fuck her, etc. It's wildly inappropriate, but it happens consistently in my workplaces and can range from more innocent comments to very explicit statements. For the new girl, the awkward onslaught of people hitting on you can be very uncomfortable when you are just trying to figure out how to charge the time you work and where the bathroom is. 

The majority of guys involved try the awkward engineer approach, like the one who told a new female engineer on her first day: "I really love the way you wear... colors. You really pull it off." Others will drop more standard pickup lines into work conversations, or invite the girl to spend a weekend with him at his lake house. It all sounds innocent enough, but everyone else can hear these conversations from their cubes. In my opinion, a lot of it is done for show and the woman is often established as the "new woman" and not as the "new engineer". While I don't believe the men intend to be vicious, I do think that it creates an environment where women are initially not taken as seriously as their male counterparts.

I'd like to point out that none of the female engineers I've worked with have actually dated or slept with one of the men involved in these bets. Usually it just means that all of the guys are overly nice to the new girl, and that there are a few awkward conversations. 

It's not just men who can make the transition awkward for new female hires. Note I said earlier "people tend to place bets" and not "men tend to place bets"- some women make similar bets on who will be the first to hit on a girl. This is interestingly usually done in a way offensive to the man, as if he is so desperate he'll hit on any new person he meets. 

In addition, the female engineers will have one of three reactions to new female hires in this environment. The first group will not care at all, and will react the same for male and female employees. The second will have a strong negative reaction to a new woman because they will have less attention and some even feel like their job is less secure. For example, if there are only two women at the company, it is hard to fire one without seeming sexist. But if there are four women, firing one of them seems less sexist and more that the woman was under-performing. The last group will be super excited to have new women in the office, as it may help change the testosterone filled environment. I am somewhere between the first and third group, since I'm pretty excited for new hires in general but I enjoy having a coworker that is guaranteed to not try and talk about his dick.

Is there room for more than one unicorn in an office?
The women end up usually coming around within the month when they feel more comfortable that their position is safe, and usually the original "challenge" phase is over for the men when they realize they can't win you like a prize at a carnival.

If you find yourself with some overly "nice" brand new coworkers, try not to worry about their possible bets and bullshit. Your new coworkers don't expect you to know about any of this, so you can't exactly address it head on. Take help that is offered to you while maintaining professional behavior, and use their eagerness as an opportunity to get yourself up to speed as quickly as possible. You'll soon find your niche at work, and prove to everyone that you are competent and they are lucky to have you on their team for your skills (not your gender). 

The easiest way to change this environment is by proving it wrong one awesome scientist and engineer at a time. So go ahead, take that hour to get ready for your first day at work if you want to, and bust some stereotypes. 




  1. Aaaand read this before my first day of work next Monday. Lots of thoughts running through my mind, like am I not supposed to dress up? (I mean, I'm still just wearing pants. But most of the engineers there that I saw wore jeans, but people say to dress up for the first day. Ugh, this is stupid.)

    1. Don't stress too much about this. In the end, your engineering prowess will outweigh whatever you wear. I'd also tend to recommend "dressing up" a little for the first day, but it's just a different type of dressing up than some women are used to coming out of college (ie bright red lipstick, mini skirt, and stiletto heels). Wear something that is professional, and gives you the confidence to own your first day to your full potential.


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