I would like to start by saying that throughout my seven years of college, I never felt like I was treated inappropriately because I’m a female. I majored in chemistry and math for undergraduate, and in a few of my math classes I was the only female. I didn’t feel like the other students or the professors treated me differently.
However, since I entered the workforce five years ago, I have encountered a few less than pleasant situations. Three specific instances come to mind, which I would like to share here.
My first job out of school was at a company that did chemistry consulting work. One day, the administrative assistant’s husband stopped by. She introduced me to him, and he shook my hand but would not let go, even when I tried to release my grip. They both found it funny. I later found out that he is a nuclear physicist, and he returned on another occasion. I was at my workstation, and I could hear him down the hall loudly saying “Where’s Elizabeth? I bet she’s hiding because she knows I’m going to hit on her.” I felt mortified and now regret that I didn’t speak up and express disapproval at his behavior. I cannot imagine what his female co-workers must go through.
In order to drum up new business, the company hosted an open house, essentially a social event for the clients. Most of the clients were laboratories and engineering firms. My boss assigned me to greet people at the front door. One of the first groups of people to arrive was two men. I said “Welcome to (our company name)”, and he scoffed and said “yeah there you are.” I should note that I am not sure whether his unpleasant attitude was a result of me being female or because of my age. What I do know is that he would not have greeted my middle-aged male boss that way if it had been him at the door.
After I left that company, I started a lab job. My boss was friendly from the start, but after a few months he began pressuring me to meet up with him outside of work. He would ask me to dinner but clarify that “it is not a date or anything.” These encounters quickly turned awkward, since of course I was not interested. I feel like in this type of situation, the rejection can possibly influence decisions on promotions and pay raises. Although I expressed no interest in him, he remained persistent, and even invited me to his father’s farm for camping!
Fortunately he left the company soon after. I exchanged contact info with him, since I needed to use him as a reference, and he sent me occasional emails, sometimes asking me to visit. After a few more months, I noticed that the invitations had ceased. Soon after, I learned that one of my co-workers was pregnant and he was the father.
As a disclaimer, I should say that I am aware that these types of situations can go both ways. Since I have been a girl my whole life, I don’t have firsthand experience with any female-to-male inappropriate actions. But I do feel compelled to share here since I feel that being a female has had some negative impact on my career.