Monday, August 26, 2013

How to Act in a Women's Bathroom

I think we've all hear a bevy of stories about the unspoken rules of men's bathrooms: don't use the urinal next to someone else when there are other options,  look straight ahead,  etc. But what are the rules for public women's restrooms at work?

Honestly,  I had never even considered it until one of my coworkers tried to catch up with me in between her no-nonsense grunts from one of the stalls. Something about your acquaintance updating you on her kids' lives while she is taking a shit is a supremely uncomfortable situation. I kept trying to gracefully excuse myself from the situation,  but she just kept talking.

Since that fateful day, I've compiled a list of dos and don'ts for your average office restroom.

1) Keep your clothes on when not in a stall. I don't know why,  but one individual seems to like to zip and unzip her pants by the sinks instead of in the privacy of a stall. This makes everyone uncomfortable. There is no situation in which you will save time by unzipping your clothes before entering a stall and your office restroom is not a place for exhibitionists.

2) Do not engage in conversations where one or both parties are in a stall. I am aware that most of us do this when we are out at a bar with our bff, but when it's a coworker that you only sort of know,  it's weird.

3) Only use stalls with doors.  This isn't an episode of Orange is the New Black,  and nobody is comfortable enough with each other in an office situation to share that type of intimacy. I once worked in a place where one of the stall doors was stuck completely open,  and yet mysteriously every day the blue cleaner in the toilet would disappear by mid morning. I never caught the person using the toilet,  but I'm pretty sure I would have been scarred for life. Or at least the rest of the day.

4) Wash your hands. It's bad enough if you don't do it on your own time, but you should at least make an effort in front of somebody else.

5) Keep chatting time down to 5 minutes. It's true,  we all run into somebody in the restroom occasionally and catch up on company gossip. But even if you are low on work and wasting away your day,  your coworker may actually have things to do. And even if you are both wasting time, all of the men in the office will probably think you are menstruating if you spend 30 minutes chatting in secret, since that is the only reason they can  think of spending that much time in a bathroom.

Those five rules should help you from committing major a major faux pas. Do you have any other pet peeves for things people do in office bathrooms? Share them in the comments!



Monday, August 19, 2013

How To Be An Engineer, Not A Secretary

I took minutes for a few meetings this past week and sent them out to everyone in attendance. Each time, my boss hit the reply all button and commented with a simple and quick, "Great minutes, Ruby. Thanks for doing this." I am fully aware that I respond well to praise and validation, so this little comment from my boss is a nice touch. However, the number of thanks I've got for taking meeting minutes is disproportionate to the number of thanks I've gotten for doing other things, such as my daily engineering tasks. This makes me wonder, I am perceived as a better secretary than an engineer?

I know I'm good at secretarial things, like taking epic meeting minutes. As an engineer, I find it easy to accomplish and integrate them into my daily tasks. After all, I'm the technology-savvy one of the group. I can essentially type at the pace that people talk and capture all the important pieces of conversation while simultaneous pulling up schematics and study designs and contributing to the meeting. I can also manage to reorganize my notes so that it's more cohesive and understandable than the actual meetings.

I choose to complete some secretarial tasks to improve my own job performance as an engineer. But just because I'm good at secretarial tasks shouldn't mean that I should be relegated to a secretarial role in my boss' or coworkers' minds.

In fact, I find that more people (and my boss in particular) are aware of and impressed by my secretarial skills than my engineering skills. This is a little surprising. I know that my technical background can be impressive. After all, one of my coworkers told me I'm one of only two young employees he respects technically. I've also been given the nickname of "genius" (which is really awkward when said in hearing range of any of my other coworkers). Given my experience, accomplishments, and expertise in technical work, it's weird to get compliments on non-engineering work rather on work that takes a lot more skill and expertise.

My question here is: Why is it that I'm more recognized for being secretarial than technical?

I can imagine a number of explanations including gender role prejudices, a subconscious drive on my part to be a secretary, it's a knee-jerk reaction/compliment, or just because I'm the newest kid on the block.

Maybe the reason for my receiving praise for secretarial work can be attributed to gender role prejudices. I know there's a study which indicates that generally women in the group are relegated to "female" jobs such as being the secretary.
Women who have internships or jobs, she [Susan Sibley] explains, find they"are too often relegated to 'female' roles of note-taker, organizer or manager." ~Study by Susan Silbey at MIT 
In Susan Sibley's scenario, the female engineer is in the minority and therefore her coworkers will consider her the only option to fill the role of the (female) secretary. My problem is that this scenario isn't really applicable to my own situation. In my workplace and especially in the aforementioned recent meetings, I have been surrounded by what might be considered an abundance of women. Anything ratio of women:men which exceeds 1:1 is unusually high in the engineering industry. And most of the women I work with are intelligent and diligent scientists and engineers. However, I seem to be the only woman amongh this crowd who takes on the role of secretary.

It could be that thanking me for secretarial work is just a knee-jerk reaction on my coworkers' part. It could be that it's a habit to compliment someone for doing something outside of the scope of their everyday job in the same way it is a habit for you to always respond to, "How are you doing?" with a simple "good" or "fine." It's possible that my coworkers would give the same compliment regardless of who did the actual minute-taking. In this scenario, they aren't necessarily pointing out that I was doing secretarial work, but just that they appreciate it was done.

Perhaps, as I mentioned earlier, this whole situation has arisen because I have the unconscious mentality that I should be a secretary. I personally don't think of my note-taking and organizational abilities as my subconscious trying to make me into the obedient little secretary it always wanted me to be. That would be a seriously weird and devious move on my subconscious' part. Rather, I think of my actions as a means to obtaining the best notes possible and not being able to trust someone else to do it as well as I can. Because seriously, no one takes better notes than I do. And if getting the best notes possible is the goal, then taking them myself is the practical solution. (Mindset of a control-freak engineer, right here.)

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it's hard not being recognized for your braininess. It's hard to be recognized for your simple, mundane (though necessary work) when what you really want is to be recognized for the big things that I accomplish.

You want to be called first and foremost an engineer because you put in your time at school, you went through the pain of all-nighters, you learned those complex formulas and processes, and you earned your engineering degree. But you're not done yet. You have some more time, pain, and learning to go before you'll be universally recognized as a engineer.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

How To Work Hard Without Seeming To

Today I was trying to figure out when I needed to start my next experiment, and head over to check the group schedule board. A coworker saw me walk in, the following scene transpired: 

[I walk into the room and head over to our group schedule board. A few coworkers idle close by.] 
Coworker: Hey Ruby, you know you’re working too hard.
Me: Um, okay. Thanks?

[I check the board, and walk out.]

And now you know why I’m an engineer and not a screenplay writer.

I’m still not sure how checking a group schedule board merited such an accusation. Maybe I was walking with too much gusto. Or maybe it was because my coworkers had forgotten my usual work methods after a few days of not seeing me. After all, it was a Monday morning, so morose melancholy is the work mode of choice for most people, making anyone who is acting at normal capacity seem to be excessively productive.

If you’re anything like me, you see yourself as having a reasonable level of productivity, yet you are constantly told how unexpectedly fast you work and what a workaholic you are. I love working with people who are quick and passionate about their work. And yet, when a coworker comments on my work ethic, it is with surprise and a little aversion. The accusatory manner in which my work ethic was greeted this morning was typical of how people react.

After some time in the work force, most people will slide into one of two well-worn paths.

In the first, category you become complacent and secure in your job. Some people in this category stop feeling motivated to put more than an average amount of work in unless under a difficult deadline. Other people in this category actively look for ways to get away with doing less work whenever possible. If any of these people do end up putting more work in, they feel cheated or like the company owes them something.

In the second category, you are recognized as a genius/expert in the company and your obsession with working is acceptable because you are so knowledgeable and passionate. The people in this category are who you go to for advice; they are the sage givers of wisdom; they are always willing to help you understand a technique/technology more in-depth; and they are always excited by new, innovative projects.

However, as the new hire/recent college grad, you have not been in industry long enough for the established employees to accept you in either category. I'm assuming here that you're excited about engineering, that you're excited about proving yourself, that you're excited about making a difference, and therefore that you are aiming to fall into the second category of expert/hard worker. Even if you're knowledgable and passionate, you won't be accepted as the genius/expert in the company until you've proven yourself. And let me tell you, the only way to do that is to consistently work hard and excel over a period of time. Yes, folks, my answer to your problem of getting people to accept you as a passionate engineer/scientist is super helpful: all you need is time.

Here is the obstacle that you will likely face: In trying to achieve this goal, you are going to be judged for working too hard. Working hard is a necessary step to being accepted as a hard worker, obviously. But there is a stigma attached to being an extremely hard-working newbie. Workaholism at a young age will be seen as a problem by most of your peers because you are lower on the totem pole, yet you will be making them look bad. It’s a giant flashing sign indicating how green you are and how different from everyone else you are.

So here’s my (sad) advice to you. Your productivity is a dirty secret. Keep it up, but keep it on the down low. When I make lists and flow charts to organize my day, I either do it digitally or hide the lists under a stack of folders. When I am doing background research for a new project, I only share the most insightful articles with the group, while maintaining a more extensive library of relevant articles in a personal folder on my computer.

Best of luck,