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back to article Women in IT: ‘If you want to be taken seriously, dress like a man’

I am female, and I work in IT. I’m not in sales or in management; I am a systems engineer on a team that maintains and supports critical systems for an international, multi-billion-dollar company. I fight the fires, troubleshoot the issues and design systems. So much has been written about the need for more women in IT, but I’ve …

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Anonymous Coward

Its not just you..

"The squeeky wheel gets the grease"

I'm not an expert in being a girl, seeing as I'm a guy in IT. But i'd offer a suggestion that it wasnt just that you're a girl, but the fact is if you make a big song and dance about being amazing and awesome you get noticed.

Some of us guys also just blend in, keep our heads down and dont cause a fuss. We get sidelined and bypassed too.

Best piece of advice I've ever heard was to advertise your successes. It had some buzzword which I've long forgotten, but essentially it was to be (cliche) American. Whoop, WOOT, high five and let everyone know how great you / the team / the project / the product are.

Many good IT teams I've worked on have just kept their heads down and 'got on with it'. Work comes in, work is done, next... Perfectly efficient, no hassles. But zero acknowledgement.

Other omnishambles I've seen, costing 100's millions over years, carried on regardless because they developed their own aura of 'success'. With at least a small amout of judgement to jump before the iceberg.

I've not had the nerve to act on it yet, but theres no denying if you act the part people start believing it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its not just you..

"I'm not an expert in being a girl, seeing as I'm a guy in IT. But i'd offer a suggestion that it wasnt just that you're a girl, but the fact is if you make a big song and dance about being amazing and awesome you get noticed.

Some of us guys also just blend in, keep our heads down and dont cause a fuss. We get sidelined and bypassed too."

Allow those people to make a big song and dance. Then ridicule their failings, of which there will be many.

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Re: Its not just you..

Ridicule never got anyone anywhere. It can be loads of fun, but isn't constructive.

There are risks with the song and dance routine, but more often than not someone will be impressed with it, eventually. If you do nothing to get noticed then you won't get noticed.

A really good way to get noticed would be to tell the song and dance person what they did wrong when they failed and help them fix it for next time. You could be the next Steve Ballmer...

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Happy

Re: Its not just you..

..and it's not just your sex.

I started in the mid 70's (when I was in my mid 20's) and I still come across youngsters (<30) who seem amazed that a doddery old fossil like me can actually work a computer - despite my having cut my teeth on wood-burning steam-powered computers - but it's still a delight to see the look on their faces when I sometimes solve a problem quickly & easily which has had them stuck for an hour or more.

Sure, they do have the necessary knowledge: it's just that sometimes they don't have the experience to know which bit of knowledge to apply, and how & where to apply it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its not just you..

They're idiots; I arrived here as a wet-behind-the-ears graduate, very aware of the fact I knew nothing.

As I learned more and gained experience I realised the only person worth asking technical questions was a contractor in their 50's.

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Re: "Ridicule never got anyone anywhere"

It's also rarely kept anyone from getting somewhere.

I mean we've all laughed at Monkeyboy, and many (including me) are cheering at his departure, but the fact is he's still got more money than 99% of the world put together.

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Re: Its not just you..

>I'm not an expert in being a girl, seeing as I'm a guy in IT. But i'd offer a suggestion that it wasnt just that you're a girl, but the fact is if you make a big song and dance about being amazing and awesome you get noticed.

Best. advice. Ever.

At my last job there were three of us on the night shift, we came in, kicked arse every day and got our heads down, quietly being awesome, generally doing much more per shift than the day shift guys.

However, they made a big song and dance about the stuff they did and as a result were getting 40%-50% more for less work...but then again the culture at that place was very much "you get paid what you can blag" rather than what you can actually do

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Happy

@Ted Treen - Re: Its not just you..

"I still come across youngsters (<30) who seem amazed that a doddery old fossil like me can actually work a computer"

I know 'em!

I've also a background in electronics, whereas most IT types have only a superficial knowledge. One waits an opportunity to solve an electronic problem--especially where's there's an analog explanation, i.e.: (Np/Ns)^2 or f=1/(2 pi LC)^1/2 or a myriad of others and watch 'em just go to water. If done with care and not overplayed, surprising how respect develops.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its not just you..

"Some of us guys also just blend in, keep our heads down and dont cause a fuss. We get sidelined and bypassed too."

Maybe true for you and others. But there are others still who keep their heads down, don't cause a fuss but don't blend in because of their obvious exceptional talent. Almost without exception, the truly talented people I have worked with are quiet and humble - they know they are good but they don't need to shout about it. If I hear a squeaky wheel who doesn't have the talent to justify the noise, I replace it.

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Re: Its not just you..

A really good way to get noticed would be to tell the song and dance person what they did wrong when they failed and help them fix it for next time.

In some jobs, this is a never-fail reciepe for getting yourself sidelined. It contrasts with the self-preservation philosophy of "never, ever help anyone", "always cover your arse" and, "if anyone screws up, whatever the reason, publicly lambast them" techniques that are prevalent there. Thinking back on some of the more horrid tech jobs I've held, it's kinda like australian politics really... Sigh.

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Re: Its not just you..

Sure. But those ridicules of others' failures will be disregarded just as your accomplishments were.

This week I had the same reality check. After a very long stretch (2 years) of work overload, which I accepted "for the good of the team", I see that others who did a fraction of the work but had the time to too their horns are viewed as "more valuable team members".

Morale: allocate less time for actual work and more time for blowing own horn. It's not the real work that gets rewarded. It's the "visibility".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Its not just you..

Sorry for the harshness, but there is too much self pity in this article. The author is unable to accept any personal failure as just that, and instead blames those around her. Her successes, on the other hand, are all her own doing. A more balanced view would be better, with an admission that we are not perfect, and sometimes other people do produce better work for legitimate reasons. It is not something to worry about.

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Yag

Quite sad...

and it's unfortunately the case in most technical jobs. The few females in our crew get some strange looks at them when they DARE wear a skirt.

at least the "change my hair colour as often as Microsoft releases security patches." part made me smile.

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Re: Quite sad...

Part of doing desktop support means crawling under desks. Part of doing server support means crawling around under raised flooring or having an up and close look at some dusty cable duct. If you are wearing clothing not fit for those tasks than regardless of gender, I'm not going to take you seriously.

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Meh

Re: Quite sad...

Perhaps you should try wearing skirts. I find they afford greater freedom of movement when crawling under desks. Modesty is maintained if you wear thick, dark tights with them also.

I would note though, at least in my job crawling under desks is a small part of it, so I dress sensible but presentable over stereotypical "IT Guy" and found I leave a better impression than my male colleagues.

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Holmes

Re: Quite sad...and sort of

I work in The City and am expected to wear a suit, shirt and tie, despite crawling under desks, installing switches, servers, PCs etc. From from ideal work wear. Cheap suits from Asda and M&S are a Godsend!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Quite sad...

Perhaps you should try wearing skirts.

Asked, denied by management. Well, if they didn't have stupid "no shorts" policy, I wouldn't have needed.

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Re: Quite sad...

Claim to be Scottish, wear a kilt and refer any complaints to the Facefull o' heid department. Problem solved.

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Re: Quite sad...

There is a reason I wear a cheap suit. I spend too much time crawling in the dirt to wear anything better and ruin it.

Mind you, I am damn good at my job and my customers love me.

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Re: Quite sad...

You are Jason Thorne and I claim my £5!

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Pint

Skirts!

At one time, for my sins, I did some visiting tech support at mostly Orthodox Jewish firms. I wore my Yentl outfit, consisting of an ankle-length skirt, tights, and a long-sleeved blouse. It was fine for crawling under desks, actually. Of course anything shorter would have been much less appropriate.

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Anonymous Coward

Boys club

Working with lots of "IT Guys" over the years I'd say that I do mistrust the "Glamourpuss" - male as well as female.

I expect the IT people to look like they're dressed to do work. And that might mean scrabbling around a badly sited server etc. So smart, but practical.

And this also applied to my own professional (not IT) team. Women or men who turned up for work looking like fashion plates always had me wondering what they were trying to say about the job.

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Re: Boys club

Exactly. The jeans/polo isn't so much "male attitre" as 'job uniform". Anyone not in uniform stands out. I'd get as many weird looks if I turned up for work in evening dress as my female colleagues would if they showed up in a miniskirt & Jimmy Choos.

Try showing up for work in a city lawyers office in jeans and a T-shirt, and no matter what sex you are you'll not get much further than making the coffee.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Boys club

Bah, I got told I needed to stop wearing jeans and trainers after some businessey suit types from down south started turning up in the office. Although I've not bothered speaking to them, I don't like them very much.

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Re: Boys club

Yes. Go in to any office up and down the country and you will see the same thing. Men wearing a shirt and tie. You will see about 1/4 of the women wearing inappropriate clothes. From fleece and vest top to looking like they are going to a night club. It seems allot of women do not understand how to dress appropriately in an office. It is all about wearing clothes appropriate to the environment you are in. Men don't wear ties because we like them, and it urks some of us when we see women not fitting in to what is seen as appropriate and getting away from it.

Unfortunately in the case of IT this can mean crawling under desks and behind servers in dusty rooms. Wearing expensive clothes and full makeup dose not give the impression that you are ready to do this.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Boys club

Couple of points.

Ties are the only mandated item of male apparel that has no functional use other than to get into your coffee/food when you sit down. Forcing people to wear them should be illegal.

There is one thing that many women put on for the workplace that should also be banned, and that is scent. Deodorant or anti antiperspirant by all means, but scent never. The are some offices that you go into and the smell of perfume is overwhelming. It isn't sexy (why are you trying to be sexy in the workplace?), nice or subtle.

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Re: Boys club

Agreed on the ties ... they're HORRIBLE. But then I hate the whole suit & tie requirement and will only use it when actually asked for at a workplace.

I'm probably not in the average population concerning women's dress codes; I do not complain about what a woman wants to wear to work. Except for high heels in an IT job, mostly because oh dear, it's going to be quite a challenge if you have to work on the IT gear...

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Holmes

@AC 08:15 - Re: Boys club

Wrote :- "There is one thing that many women put on for the workplace that should also be banned, and that is scent..... The are some offices that you go into and the smell of perfume is overwhelming. "

Not only women. There was a guy at our work who wore some kind of perfume, very strong. If he came to see me I would open the window afterwards, or it would linger for 10 minutes. You could tell where he was in the building by following the scent

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Linux

Re: Boys club

The idea of wearing bland practical clothing should be nothing new to anyone in an IT job since this also tends to be the case for the relevant University students too.

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Pint

But what does a woman dress like?

"We talked about keeping my hair pulled back and wearing more neutral attire like the rest of the guys on the team. I took his advice: I traded my heels and Ann Taylor outfits for Gap khakis, button-down shirts and comfy Clarks."

And this basically tells us (us men anyway) absolutely nothing. It makes me wonder if the way you dressed was the problem factor and not so much the fact you wore womens clothing.

The reason I'm wondering is because when I look up 'Ann Taylor' or 'Ann Taylor outfits' I see a lot of outfits which I would describe as evening or party outfits and not so much outfits which are suited to wear when visiting clients who got regular IT problems. And with that I'm not focussing on the mini skirts and cleavages perse (but its something I do take into consideration), but simply the appearance itself.

I'm tempted to compare this with working at a department where everyone is casually dressed while I continuously show up wearing suits or similar which simply make me stand out from the rest. If you visit a client like that you'll get the same reactions, especially since they expected a regular IT guy to come over and fix their problems. Not some IT-manager-would-be, that might even give some people the impression that you're dressed like that in order to hide other things.

Which brings me to another issue; I don't know what kind of problems you and your team solved (you simply mention "regular problems") which is another issue. In more than one cases I had to crawl into places where the cleaners obviously never heard of in order to reach someone's computer, especially when the issues appeared to be hardware related.

I don't see people easily do that while wearing a suit, but I can also see women getting a huge problem with that when wearing something like a mini skirt.

Now, I'm not trying to argue that what happened to you isn't true or anything. The main problem with your story is that you wrote it with your own situation fully in mind. Resulting in several descriptions which tell the readers who weren't there absolutely nothing. When you say you wore "Ann Taylor outfits" then that doesn't tell me anything, and worse, perhaps my Google/Bing 'ing even gave me the wrong impression (as I mostly see women with mini skirts and often cleavages there).

But the thing is; I can easily see your story happening to a man as well.

It's not fully related, but when I switched jobs (years ago) from a consultancy firm (where wearing a suit was simply second nature (I always wore suits; in the office, at clients, it was an unwritten company policy)) to a regular service desk where everyone dressed casual I also started wearing suits, but after 2 days immediately realized that it might be a better idea to change my attire. Both the issue of standing out, but also from a team perspective; you don't want to give the first impression either that you feel to be better than the rest.

So I simply can't help wonder if something like that hasn't been going on here as well. Have you ever asked your co-workers or former manager about this? Because then you'd have the complete story, not one which is only based on personal impressions.

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Re: But what does a woman dress like?

heels and Ann Taylor outfits = pricey and dressy. Appropriate for a sales meeting or dog an pony show, not day to day tech stuff. Also suitable for Devs, but still looks like you are a manger, not a grunt.

I had a similar experience when I first shifted to IT support work. I've always worn what I consider business casual, button down shirt, pressed pants, but no tie. But my super wore khakis and polos. If we went to a new customer location, they'd look at my clothes and assume I was the lead when the reverse was true. You could always see the internal double take as I looked to my super for confirmation or advice. At some point the owner of the company bought polos for all of us. After that clients looked at body language instead.

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Re: But what does a woman dress like?

I'm probably going to be downvoted to hell and maybe I deserve it but this bit, the celebration of her final triumph of 'getting there':

"I wear pretty shoes, paint my nails with glitter, and change my hair colour as often as Microsoft releases security patches."

made me die a bit inside, and then a bit more. There's so much about appearance and clothing in the article than about skills and achievements and as someone who wants full equality for women in all areas (and is still waiting for it) this doesn't help. If I was interviewing this lady, what's written here would tip me heavily against her - not the clothing per se but the repeated details of the utterly irrelevant.

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Re: But what does a woman dress like?

I think the issue is that the details should be irrelevant but we're not yet at the stage where they are.

In some ways it's like serving an apprenticeship - you're on the lowest rung so you conform to the requirements of those above you as you establish yourself. Some of this is just common sense because they've got the experience to know it's right, some of it is just prejudice and personal preference that gets imposed, and in an industry like IT, probably much worse for women. Once you've advanced up a few rungs, you get more freedom and power to do what you want and hopefully the useful stuff you were forced to do has stuck, and the petty stuff can be cast aside. That's what I read into the choice of clothing at the end, someone with a bit of a track record and enough confidence to be herself.

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There is nothing better than SIgourney Weaver fixing stuff in 'Alien'...

> "I traded my heels and Ann Taylor outfits for Gap khakis, button-down shirts and comfy Clarks."

GOOD!

> "I’m sure many of you reading this are wondering why I didn’t report him to HR"

That would be reaction of the whiney "but the world owes because I have vagina" feminist claptrap crowd. BAD!

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Thumb Down

@Destroy All Monsters. I suggest old chap that you look up the concept.......-

........."rhetorical question" because that was what the lady was posing - hmm..?

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IT Guys

In my experience, people in IT (sysadmins, DBAs, devs) dress very minimally and casually. They are proud of their T-shirt collection and spend much money on them. They get their hair cut when it gets too long and buy new runners only when they must.

When I wear an expensive suit into work, colleagues ask me if I'm going to an interview. Why otherwise would I be wearing a suit? I am attracting attention to myself by changing the uniform, or worse still, wearing the hated uniform of marketing or sales.

In the IT world it depends how good you are at your chosen field. And by 'good', I mean how knowledgeable you are and how good you are at solving problems. Enthusiasm helps greatly. Back in the late 90's, a colleague came in all excited because he had spent the previous few nights and mornings writing his own web browser. This sort of thing of impresses fellow IT-people.

You can wear formal business-wear all you like, but if you can impress those with whom you work, you will earn the respect of colleagues. I really don't believe that there is much of a sex-bias amongst geeks.

And finally, as for selling yourself to your bosses, guys have to do it too and many, many IT-guys are very poor at it.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: IT Guys

In my experience, 'people in IT' tend to treat other IT people who dress well with suspicion; this is usually because they have aspirations to move sideways into the businessey stuff, and therefore shouldn't be trusted.

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Stop

Re: Women are discriminated against

I don't buy this.

You work in the IT department, you dress like the IT department. If the IT department wears suits - weird but it happens, especially at IBM - you wear a gender appropriate suit in a style similar to everyone else's.

If the IT Department wears shorts and t-shirts, you wear shorts and t-shirts.

"THEY TREAT ME DIFFERENT BECAUSE I DON'T DRESS LIKE A MAN" is a lie.

"THEY TREAT ME DIFFERENT BECAUSE I DON'T BEHAVE LIKE THEM" is the truth.

If you want to fit in, fit in. If you don't, stop bitching.

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Re: Women are discriminated against

In case you haven't noticed, women are not a minority group.

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Re: Women are discriminated against

In case you haven't noticed, women are not a minority group.

They are in IT.

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Re: Women are discriminated against

How would that pack of men in a pub behave if they saw a man hitting a woman?

What about if they saw a woman hitting a man?

If a woman asked to join them would they shun her?

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Re: Women are discriminated against

I remarked that women are not a minority group and nor are trades unionists. Humphrey agreed, but explained that they share the same paranoia which is, after all, the distinguishing feature of any minority group.

Sir Desmond Glazebrook -- Yes minister

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Re: Women are discriminated against

They're defined as one under the 2010 Equalities Act.

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Re: Women are discriminated against

They are in IT.

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Re: They are in IT.

Working at the coalface in IT is the most egalitarian place in the world. You either cut it or you don't. If you do you are accepted and become part of the team. Woe onto you if you don't.

If the numbers don't work out at what you consider equitable, the problem isn't at the coalface.

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Anonymous Coward

It's a sad truth of the world sadly...

But it's there. I've had the occasion to work with women doing IT jobs - at one time we sat around doing the work that needed to be done from 16:00 until 01:00.

My opinions tend to be either you can do it, you want to learn or you can't do it and aren't willing to learn. If either of the first two you will have my respect irrelevant of gender and if the other two you won't. Simple as that(I don't care about the shinny).

The other thing I generally like about working with women is that unlike guys they are willing to listen to input and not just dish it out. I've met way to many guys that just try to steamroll their own opinions over everyone elses with no disregard for any arguments why it should be one way or another.

Anyway glad you have what you want and that you enjoy it.

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Happy

Re: It's a sad truth of the world sadly...

I agree 110% with your last statement - the women I have worked with in IT and other areas have, in my view, all been better in their approach to understanding the client's needs and problems and not just imposing a solution without further ado. More than that, sharing information about how they will go about resolving the client's problems - where they feel the client will benefit from using that information, in order to perhaps avoid precipitating future problems etc.

Which, to my mind at least, would indicate that both men and women have a lot of knowledge and experience to share in IT - let's look past gender and get on with a learning experience together.

Have to agree with the suitable work-wear statements echoed above though. But as to 'pack' animals, women have just the same propensity you know.

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Sexist numpty

I dont expect to win votes on this but seriously, this is an aweful article. Women suffering actual sexism I do take issue with but lets analyse the 'problems' here-

"He told me that standing out was a distraction and customers would judge me less on my looks and more on my skills if I toned down my appearance. We talked about keeping my hair pulled back and wearing more neutral attire like the rest of the guys on the team. I took his advice: I traded my heels and Ann Taylor outfits for Gap khakis, button-down shirts and comfy Clarks. I was an IT guy now; I was one of the boys."

So we have a group of people (the guys as she points out) who dress one way. Then we have someone who makes an effort to look entirely different and then complains because this is noticed. Why do you wear make-up? If you dont know then check the adverts, its to be noticed AS A WOMAN. If the guys came in painted up would they be noticed for it? Yeah duh. Why do you wear heels (not comfy and designed to make your womans body shape more prominent) instead of (in your words) comfy shoes? Or your outfits no doubt designed to show off your body traded for comfy clothes? Is it because the rest of the group is wearing them? No, because you made the trade of your flashy clothes to blend into the group you are working in.

If one of the guys dressed up in whatever showed off his 6 pack and tightly clung to his muscles while pained up and wearing platforms I am sure he would get looks and comments, and probably surprise that he can do IT.

"I made sure that I didn’t fall behind on what was going on in the industry, but being away for six months (three at the desk, three on leave), you get rusty – and the added pressure of a new baby made it worse. I was behind, and I knew it. I was competing against young men in their early 20s who could work all sorts of crazy hours. All of the “fun” projects were given to my male counterparts, and I was left maintaining the desk with a little bit of technical work to keep me content."

So you took a desk job for 3 months then 3 months off and complain that you were considered rusty? If one of the guys moved to a desk job and then took 3 months off I am sure he would be assumed a little rusty too. If he came back and found he had personal troubles which got in the way of him competing with the other staff he too would likely find himself being pushed out of the way too.

"This is where I failed and let the stereotype of IT being a man’s world carry on. I did not tell my manager that this bothered me until it was too late, and I had already started looking for a new job. I was doing what I had been taught to do since grade school: behave and sit quietly."

So you (YOU!!!!!!!!) didnt speak up. Well done. You act the stereotype of not speaking up. Congrats. Instead you went looking for a new job because people wouldnt just read your mind and do what you telepathically wanted. Really? Go away.

"As I’ve grown professionally and gained recognition from my superiors, I no longer hide behind khakis and polo shirts. I wear pretty shoes, paint my nails with glitter, and change my hair colour as often as Microsoft releases security patches."

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. I went to uni with a guy who changed his hair colour regularly and painted his nails. Guess how seriously he was/is taken? He prefers ripped clothing instead of pretty but the outcome is the same.

All in all a self made situation is not a real situation. Real sexism is bad. This is complaining because you want to

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