Welcome to back Ambition Diaries, where women share their real stories of striving for more — and what actually happened. I’m so glad you’re here and hope you’ll consider joining us for more conversations like this by subscribing here (it’s free).
This week, I’m speaking to Hope, a reader based in northern New Jersey, working in the male-dominated data analytics industry.
I was born in New York, but I grew up in and out, living in the Virgin islands, that's where my family's from, so constantly going back and forth. I feel like I'm in a weird cultural sway in which I have Caribbean culture ingrained in me from family upbringing, but I also have U.S. culture from just living here
Do you feel like there is a cultural clash between your ambition and your upbringing?
Oh yeah, a hundred percent. Island culture is very laid back like, "This is just the way it's always been done. Why do you want to change the status quo?" And I like some of that, But then at the same time I don't.
I code-switch all the time. I code-switch while I'm at work - I switch my accent, but I also have to code-switch my speech and know who I'm speaking with.
Tell me about your ambition in the workplace.
I did everything I thought I was supposed to do during college that would land me the “dream job”. I did the right things. I went to networking events. I met the right people. I did an internship with my school.
One of my degrees is in mathematical finance, so I thought I wanted to do financial advising. I did my internship in the financial department in my school and I realized I don't like it.
I like money, I like numbers, but I don't want to do that. I like the analytics behind it. So that's why I switched into a more analytical role, but I'm in a male dominated field, and I'm constantly finding myself, between being young, being a female….*sigh*
My first job, the company I worked for was a pharmaceutical company, and in the financial department of that company, everybody was male. So they gave me a low level role and I was like, all right, but I have innovative ideas and they're like, “No, not from you.” So if it came from my manager, that was okay, but it couldn't come from me.
I was like “I want to learn, I'm thinking I'm doing the right things.” You talk to your manager, you ask for more responsibility, and he was like, “I feel bad because you're not getting paid a lot of money and I don't want you taking on a bunch of responsibility you're not going to get compensated for.”
That was hard. My job became so monotonous that I would get there at seven in the morning, and I could automate my task and be done by eleven, so I had to sit there and look busy from eleven to four thirty.
One time I remember, they brought in the international CFO, and I started talking to him. And the people that I worked with were very taken aback. Like, “Oh, she has ideas, but we never really listened to her ideas before”. And then it's like they only seemed interested in me when he was in the room, but then as soon as he leaves, it goes right back to, we don't listen to your idea.
And I was like, “How is it that the top tier person liked me and liked my ideas, but people that I work under just don't think that what I have to say is worthy of contribution?”
Do you feel like there is a disconnect between what companies are saying their culture is versus how you are experiencing it?
Yeah, everybody tries to say they're inclusive. “We have a very team-focused approach. We're all like family here” - toxic words.
None of that's true. You have to be multifaceted when it comes to inclusivity. You have to be willing to have people that challenge the status quo in your company. That's how innovations get sparked. You have to be willing to look at different cultural barriers, not discount somebody because of their background or whatever bias you may have against them.
I felt that very much in my first role. I left that role nine months in, then I switched into another pharmaceutical company and I was in a much better role, and I was like ,“This is going to be much better than the small company”, and I realized it was more of the same stuff.
I remember my very last week, my director came in from out of state and there were thirty five directors in that room, thirty of them were male. And I spoke to my supervisor, I was like, “Does anybody see anything wrong with that?” He was like, “A lot of the females don't really go for roles that are more analytic based.”
And I said, “So are you saying that females don't do analytics or are we just not given the opportunity to do analytics?” And he was very like, “let’s change the subject.”
It's, “Women just don't seem to be interested in these kinds of analytical roles or tech roles or leadership roles”. Meanwhile, you’re in the meeting asking for more responsibility and nobody is giving you the opportunity. And then, of course, it’s, “We are an inclusive work environment”.
Oh yeah, just not to leadership. Anything that’s low level. And I notice that. So if it's possible, I start looking at company org charts - org charts tell you a lot. You can see what roles these women hold and they're not the leadership.
If your top tier looks like male, male, male, male, male. You are not inclusive. If I go across the screen and all I see are straight white males, you are not inclusive.
Or it becomes a token person, and then you feel like, am I a token? Am I a token hire because I'm Black? Am I a token hire because I'm a woman? Or did you find a two for one and say, all right, we struck a deal here, we'll just keep you here just to say we did that.
Are there any other ways in which you've been able to identify when you're in an environment that is not going to be supportive of your ambitions versus those that are?
I'm getting better at telling from initial interactions. So when I get into spaces, I look to see, are people going to speak over me?
I understand we're on all these virtual meetings, and if the person pauses and they notice I'm speaking, they're like, “Oh, sorry. You go ahead. You can take the floor. I understand you were speaking. I cut you off. I apologize.” So you can tell that they have that level of respect for you and your thoughts.
What about in the interview process?
In the interviews I can tell when they're being a little bit on the faker side as opposed to genuine. That's when you crack into the personal side. Like, what you do for fun?
Are they open to some new ideas? Because some people may just be very, I only want to know what kind of work you want to do. I'm like, No, but I am a person. I'm not going to tell you everything about my life outside of work, but I want you to realize that I am a person and I'm not just like a machine that's going to crank out work for you from nine to five every day.
I left a large tech company, that was the very toxic environment that I was in for the past year. Tech companies are really interesting 'cause they're male. It’s just synonymous
The whole running joke is you have to put a female title before, it's like “Oh, I'm a data scientist. I'm not a female data scientist”. You don't walk in saying this is a male engineer. It's like all right, but they just assume that everybody's male.
[In tech] your importance and your ego is based on your job title. So these are engineers. It's like all right, I know everything that they know. You just won't give me the chance to tell you that I can run circles around these people. I promise you, with my eyes closed. But you think that because their job title is an engineer that they are somehow more important than I am.
You don't know what I know. You don't know what I have to offer. They just assume that because my title is not an engineer that I don't know what these people know.
I don't say that every male in the world does this, but given that it's a male dominated field year, you’re usually second tier.
What would your ambitions being supported look like?
Me being open to share what I have and not fear some kind of retaliation. Every time I bring up an idea I'm being met with an offense. It's like I'm at a football game and I don't even like football.
But yeah, it's like, can I comfortably share my thoughts with you? Can I share what I think? I have a plan of how I think this next project can work. Can you tell me if you're feeling some of the ideas? If you're not, let me know, we can work through some things, not just shoot everything down that I have to say.
And I think being willing to say, “What are your work needs? Do you feel like you have enough on your plate? Do we need to take some things off your plate? Do we need to reassess? Can we reassign things to other people so you can feel like you're protected and not stretched too thin?
I think being able to say, Do you need a flexible work environment? Do you want to have one? Do you want to be in the office all day, like camera on camera off for the [virtual] meeting, not just forcing everybody to turn the cameras on just because we want to look at you.
Most of these companies, my team is on the other side of the country. It's like even if we were in the office, we would still be doing WebEx to talk to everybody, so it's like, what difference does it make if I sit at home? It's like, do I have to feel like I'm being micromanaged? And do I have to sign it? I had a manager who used to sit there and log how many hours like. “Oh, your Skype is always away.” I'm like, “Yeah, my Skypes’ away cause you tell me to lock the computer to walk to the restroom. Hello, I drink a gallon a day. Do you want to monitor my traffic? Like okay, but how many other employees do you sit here and watch like this?
So often, the advice for women gets framed as well, “You're not asking for it.” But you have been. You have been telling people what it is you want, what you need and what you're interested in, and that is not being received.
It feels as though I'm supposed to be humbled. I'm supposed to be humble that I was given the opportunity to be here, like we selected you. Or you should be grateful so you shouldn't come in to ask for any more than we've given you. You are never supposed to ask for more.
It’s like, why do you think that you're allowed to say this to me? But if another male comes into the office, you wouldn't even dare have this conversation?
I'm sure these conversations do not transpire in a lot of these rooms. You’ve seen the quote where it's like, “ You need to go in with a white male ego when you go in for an interview.”
It's like, “All right, I want a hundred and twenty. I want five weeks of vacation a year, and they're like all right, sold. Here's a job.” Did you even interview? “No, he looks like he’s qualified.”
But they'll make me go through five interviews and I don't understand.
Do you have a story to tell about how ambition has played out in your life — for better or for worse? Let us know in the comments. And remember to join us for more conversations like this one by subscribing to “Too Ambitious”.
If you like this weeks’ diary, you might also enjoy this guide on What to Say When Your Boss Thinks You Have an Inclusive Workplace (But You Don't)
And if you know someone who can relate, please share!
Image: Klaus Vedfelt/ DigitalVision via GettyImages