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I’m the scapegoat of jokes, being the only female

Dear Office-Politics,

I have a situation in which I’m not sure how to look at. I am a programmer and I work with a team of six men (or boys). My direct boss and I get along one-on-one but when all of us are together for a meeting, I’m the scapegoat of jokes, being the only female. It’s pretty clear where I’m at on the totem pole, regardless of skill level. What I’m concerned with mostly is how I should handle myself in terms of future prospective advancements. The direct boss and two other guys on the team are good friends and they hang out outside of work as well.

To make matters more difficult, one of these programmers, “Sam” and I are at the same level skill-wise but he is sitting directly across from a senior programmer, who helps him whenever he needs it. My direct boss will not allow this senior programmer to help me. If he catches “Brian” explaining something to me, the boss will ask him what he’s doing and tell him to get back to work. Sam is quickly learning and advancing. The rest is obvious.

What do you suggest I do? More importantly, since the dynamics are so tricky, should I begin to look for another job?


diana, from The Adventures of Johnny Bunko Diana, the unlikely career advisor starring in The Adventures of Johnny Bunko has been put into service for the benefit of Office-Politics readers. Diana’s kick-ass advice is featured in the letter below. Read the Office-Politics interview with Bunko author Dan Pink.

Dear Working-the-Bugs-Out,

Seems like you have two options.
#1. You can file a lawsuit for sexual harassment — since your workplace might qualify as a “hostile environment.” #2. Or you can get out.

Since I’m not a lawyer — and since you shouldn’t be taking legal advice from a manga character — think about that second option.

What’s going on in your workplace is ridiculous, uncalled for, and demeaning. And those are the good things. Take those meetings. Please. The idea that you’re always the butt of the jokes is appalling. Don’t stand for it. But don’t be a fool either. Complaining to five other men will be about as effective as Johnny Bunko trying to organize a military invasion.

Instead, talk to your direct boss about it during your one-on-one meetings. Don’t whine about it. Phrase it, “I was wondering why our conversations are so normal one-on-one, but when you’re in a group, you and everyone else make me the butt of your jokes.” Make it seem less like you’re complaining and more like you’re trying to understand the ways of this weird species. If you haven’t noticed already, men love talking about themselves.

Of course, this might not work. Since that same boss won’t let Brian help you, he’s clearly at least part weasel. Which means that ultimately, you’re better off working somewhere besides that locker room full of rodents. Believe me: If you leave, you’ll be better off. And your “team” will be worse off. To paraphrase a old feminist saying, you need that dysfunctional cadre of losers as much as a fish needs a bicycle.



Kick-ass counselor
The Adventures of Johnny Bunko: The Last Career Guide You’ll Ever Need


Dear Working-the-Bugs-Out,

Diana provided two options for you. But I’d like to suggest two more options which are actually based on her advice to Johnny Bunko.

In the Bunko book, Diana outlined six lessons to find career success: 1. There is no plan, 2. Think strengths, not weaknesses, 3. Persistence trumps talent, 4. It’s not about you, 5. Make excellent mistakes, 6. Leave an imprint.

In your case, I think #2 Think strengths, not weaknesses and #6 Leave an imprint apply.

OPTION 1: Think strengths, not weaknesses
One of your strengths is that you are passionate about computer programming. You didn’t choose IT because it was the easy way, but because it was the best use of your talents. I’d say you are to be commended for bravely charting your own path. You are following your inner compass — which both Diana and I would say is super smart. When you are coding you are probably wrapped in up in total concentration and in love with what you do. That is a tremendous strength and great foundation for a long and happy career.

But then you raise your head and hear a coworker making a joke about you. (Sigh) Even though you’ve found the right work for your strengths, you have not found the right place for you. So what can you do?

Stand out and be remembered

Being a female programmer presents challenges as the field is dominated by men — but it can be a strength if you play it right. Since women in IT are in the minority, you can stand out and be remembered. You are different. Use that to your advantage. You are fighting old-fashioned preconceptions of what women can do. You know that your ability to program has nothing to do with your gender — but there are obviously guys in your office who think otherwise.

Nobody in your current office expects you to be the star programmer. Low expectations are good — work hard, network in the IT community and surprise the hell out of those guys. They may be jealous of the plums you turn up. To find those plums bond with other women and look for ways you can leave an imprint (option 2):

Bond with other women in IT

Grow your network of female friends in the IT field using social media tools like Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn. These friends can help you identify new opportunities, and learn ways that you can combat the misogynist bozos (though truth be told I’ve met lots of nice nerds). Do a search on Google and you’ll probably find a local Women in IT group you can join.

OPTION 2: Leave an imprint

In Johnny Bunko ‘leave an imprint’ means finding a way to make a difference in your job, in your community, in the world. Maybe your current job doesn’t leave you a lot of opportunity to shine? We don’t know. But in your free time you could consider these to-do’s:

Your To-Do List

1. Donate your time and talent to Open Source programming. This is a powerful way to get known. You’ll quickly find yourself networking with people who just happen to have day jobs at companies like Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft etc. right through to small brainy software shops.
2. Look for opportunities to raise your profile in IT (e.g. submit papers to conventions, speak at conferences, volunteer to contribute to a website newsletter.)
3. Get involved with non-profit organizations. There are many that need IT help — and they don’t care what gender you are. Environmental orgs, charities, etc. would love to get free programming help.
4. Blog: Start a blog that talks about your struggles to get accepted in the software industry and how you are overcoming them. Invite other people to join in the conversation and you could have a whole new career. (Marketing tip: If you do start a blog, make a blogging card for yourself — it’s the same idea as a business card. It makes it easy to share your contact info at networking events.)

Increase your POWER and VOICE in the IT community
These strategies could, and should, open doors for you that you can’t imagine right now. Raise your head and look up. You are currently mired in a sexist environment but I think with a little effort on your part you can improve things. Let’s assume you can’t switch jobs. Fine. Use the strategies to increase your POWER and VOICE in the IT community. Bonding with other women can help you to understand you are not the only one fighting this battle. And it may give you the courage you need to stand up to these guys and tell them to ‘bug off’.

Computer code is not male or female by nature. But it is always buggy. Write a new program for yourself — go for the next version! You are the master programmer. Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.



Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game

The Adventures of Johnny Bunko is America’s first business book in the Japanese comic format known as manga – and the last career guide you’ll ever need.

dan pink and Johnny Bunko book

Daniel H. Pink is the New York Times bestselling author of A WHOLE NEW MIND and FREE AGENT NATION. He lectures to corporations, associations, and universities around the world on economic transformation and the changing world of work. In 2007, he won a Japan Society Media Fellowship that took him to Tokyo to study the manga industry. Pink lives in Washington, DC, with his wife and their three children. Rob Ten Pas is the winner of TOKYOPOP’s annual Rising Stars of Manga competition. He received a B.A. from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and now lives and draws in Wisconsin.

  1. 4 Answers to “I’m the scapegoat of jokes, being the only female”

  2. Ooh! I’d watch out with that advice about blogging. For an example of what can happen, check out the #1 “mommy blog” in the country right now, Dooce, and read about what happened to it’s author when she blogged about the daily occurrences at her day job.
    Ps. Dan Pink kicks butt. Read all his books, but pay special attention to A Whole New Mind. Creativity is key.

    By Carolyn S. on May 31, 2008


    Agreed — blogging could get Working-the-Bugs-Out into hot water IF she wasn’t smart about it. Read my post on: CNN fires employee for blogging

    But CNN is talking out of both sides of their mouth, as they actively promote their blogging anchors e.g. Anderson Cooper.

    Social media is here to stay. People cannot be easily silenced. Power comes from blogging.

    See my personal art site on the environment: http://www.mygreenconscience.com

    Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind is fabulous.

    By Franke James on Jun 2, 2008

  4. I’m the original poster of this situation and I wanted to update you on this situation to see what you think I should do. “Sam” has since been promoted and a new guy was also promoted. On the day that the new guy was promoted, my direct boss stopped by my cube and made a degrading comment based on sexuality. Later that day, he called me into his office to explain to me that I was not being “left behind” in getting promoted and that I just needed to do a little more work. I’ve worked longer and harder than the “new guy”, I’ve definitely earned the respect of my colleagues and worse yet, the new guy is valuable to my boss b/c he makes him look very good in front of HIS boss. Do I quit or do I fight?

    By Working the Bugs Out on Aug 15, 2008

  5. I’m in the same boat as you. What I’ve choosen to do is to earn as many certifications as possible since my company will pay for them. I sweet talk the boss into purchasing training materials, and anything else that will help me increase my skills. I make careful notes on the projects I work on, and add them to my “list of things to promote” when I go looking for a new job.

    You can’t stay there indefinitely. If things change, it will be slow, and take years of dedicated effort on your part. There’s no reason for you to be a martyr. I appreciate your efforts to prove woman can program as well as men, but don’t kill yourself for this. You HAVE to take care of yourself.

    The safe suggestion:
    Start documenting everything you’re working on so you can use that information to land a great job where you’ll be appreciated and rewarded.

    Kiss your bosses ass to get as much free training as possible from the place.

    The not so safe suggestion:
    Don’t be passive. Do not be docile. Use your brain. When they rag on you, rag back. Take what you need in order to get a leg up on life. No one will hand it to you. Make this a big joke. When the boss stops “Sam” from helping, make it a joke that he must be worried you’re after his job.

    Main point here – Respect yourself. No one is asking you to give up your happiness to change a few cro-magnon male’s minds on female programmers.

    By TellCode on Dec 7, 2009

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