After several years as a Nuclear plant technician in the military, I found a civilian job working for a building controls company. Being that building fire and HVAC systems are not terribly complicated compared to nuclear power, it was pretty easy to distinguish myself and I was soon recruited to run a quick-turn project team across the country. I was the first woman they had ever hired in a technical position (much less as a project manager), but my new boss seemed really excited to bring me on, and was willing to relocate me, so it should be all good right?
Everything started well. Stepping into a position that had been vacant for over a year without being covered had some challenges, but the feedback I received was all positive. My boss told me I had Operations Management all over me and documented a career path in my file.
Nine months later, my new boss left the company and a new person was hired to replace him. Our first meeting did not go well. It literally started with “Don’t take this personally, but I wouldn’t have hired you. Women just don’t have the intuitive understanding of mechanics needed to be successful in this field.” I explained that having worked in a nuclear power plant as a mechanic for most of my adult life, I would say that mechanics were pretty intuitive for me. His response was that he was stuck with me and we’d make the best of it.
It didn’t take long before the small cuts started. Suddenly I had to run every decision by him, even if he wasn’t available and caused delays. Orders to my crew were countermanded. Customers were told that I didn’t understand the process and my decisions were changed. I suddenly needed to check in everywhere I went. My crew were asked to file weekly reports on how I was doing and how long it took me to respond to emails or phone calls. He even had a white board installed outside my cubical so that I could update where I was (even to go to the bathroom) “In case someone needed me”. All this without ever having done anything to deserve a police-state work environment. No one else received these requirements.
At the end of the year, I was not given a raise even though I had hit all my personal metrics. The reason given was that I was new and the company did not do well this year. He did manage to find me a bonus of $200.00 as a reward for hitting my metrics. I later learned that I was the only person in my department not to receive a raise and the average bonus for the year was several thousand. Still, I hoped that I could change his mind.
The next year, my metrics were adjusted beyond an achievable level. I analyzed them and showed him the data on how it was physically impossible for anyone to put in that many hours (one metric) while also cutting every project budget by 50% (another metric). Even projects sold at a loss were not exempt. No other project manager was under these constraints. He suggested that I consider moving to another field. The finance department was always looking for people and it was much less technical over there. People hired after me (no women, of course) were promoted even with huge project losses. I was told that my career path had been deleted because it seemed to be “over-stating” my abilities.
It got worse. He would call me after hours to check on projects and berate me for hearing my children in the background, but if I let it go to voicemail so I could step outside then I was “too unavailable”. I needed to be on site more to oversee my crew; why wasn’t I ever in the office? If my schedule changed while in the field I needed to make sure my white board was updated…Why wasn’t my white board updated? It got to the point that I had to psych myself up every day before going in. Sometimes I would cry in my car for awhile before work. But my husband had been laid off and we needed the work.
I spoke to another department head and tried to get an intervention. The response was, “Well, he’s a good guy. He just has a hard time understanding women. He’ll come around.” He didn’t. I spoke to the HR rep. and came with documentation. Her response was that he had already been to see her about his frustration regarding my “lack of work ethic” and had let her know that I seemed “overly upset” and would likely “blow things out of proportion”. She suggested I transfer to another department if I couldn’t learn to work with everyone in mine.
My husband called me an hour later to let me know he had gotten a job and my letter of resignation was on his desk 15 minutes after that. I put in my last two weeks and did a full turn over on my projects. During my exit interview, the HR rep told me that she knew it hadn’t really been that bad for me or I would have just walked out rather than simply giving notice.