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Jennifer Konikowski
Jennifer Konikowski

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On Being An Abrasive Woman (In Tech)

Originally posted at

It's story time, y'all! All the names have been changed.

One of my earlier jobs, I worked at a company that had the family vibe. Everyone hung out together, and we were all "friends." The company also really valued "niceness." I put that in quotes because the people who tended to get pinged for not being nice were women about 80-90% of the time. Heck, there was a guy who would regularly tell people they were "fucking stupid" and we'd laugh it off. At this company, my team consisted of:

  • My manager (Peter)
  • A guy who had been on the team for a year (Keenan)
  • A guy who had been with the company for a long time but just joined the team (Erlich)
  • And me

For a while, I really liked my manager and my team. The one caveat was Erlich who, like his namesake, was a total creep. He could be funny, but he was distracting and disruptive and just generally skeeved me out. For about six months, Keenan, Erlich, and I shared an office. Then a new developer joined the team (Richard) and I moved into an office with him. It was a lot quieter, and I got so much done. After another six months, Richard was let go. I went to Peter and requested that I stay in an office with this other guy on a related team, instead of moving back into the office with Erlich. I told Peter that Erlich was distracting and he creeped me out, and I would be more comfortable not sharing an office with him for 6-8 hours every day.

I went on vacation a few days later, and while I was on vacation, Erlich was let go. I was a bit concerned about the timing, but he was also a shitty employee! So I didn't think it had anything to do with what I said. However, after I get back, Keenan starts treating me differently. I’m making a presentation to explain what we do to support, and I’m supposed to get feedback from him. I go back to Keenan at least five different times, and every time he tells me to make some other big change. Every time, I make the changes, but every time, it’s not enough.

Then Keenan reports me to Peter for being abrasive. I can't remember the exact content of the email I got from Peter (which had HR copied), but it made it sound like I had cussed out this other guy on our team (Nelson) and I had to wrack my brain for what I said. I kept wondering if I had blacked out and forgotten saying something horrible. When I finally remember, I realized all I said was a rather direct “no, you’re wrong.” I got reported to HR for telling a coworker they were wrong. I talked to Peter about it, and he apologized to me and said he should have spoken to me first, but at that point, I realized I would probably just have to switch jobs.

I've seen this double-standard exist in many places, but that was the most egregious. Maybe a month or so before this I had been eating lunch when Keenan decided to make the argument that "people with downs syndrome aren't people," and yet I was considered offensive for telling a man they were wrong.

I don't have a summary for this story. It's just one I need to tell in hopes that it will make others consider more carefully how they are treating their female colleagues.

Top comments (8)

maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

It sounds like a lot of misunderstanding there, and overall a lot of relationships between co-workers that only look nice and friendly, but they actually hide some deeper interpersonal issues. Probably business problems too? Because I've been there, and it doesn't take much until someone start screaming their frustration out of their lungs.

The only thing that's not quite clear to me is how is that related to your gender. Perhaps there's something I'm missing from your story? Did you notice Peter made that kind of "mistakes" only towards women?

jennifer profile image
Jennifer Konikowski

Well... I was the only woman on the team. I don't actually really blame Peter. I think he got information from Keenan and trusted him, which is not unreasonable. Peter was going off Keenan's account, which was quite exaggerated. I think Keenan saw that his friend, who he knew creeped out all the women in the company, got let go, then made the (admittedly correct) assumption that I had talked to Peter about him.

There was never any screaming there. This is just yet another case of a small thing that I definitely couldn't prove was discriminatory (hence why I quit instead of going to HR myself), but there was definitely something off. And I think it is related to my gender given that men at the company spoke to other much more harshly than I ever did and never had any trouble. I was also the only woman in the entire engineering department at the time, not just on my team.

maxart2501 profile image
Massimo Artizzu

Thank you for clearing all out for me.

I mentioned screaming because that was part of my personal experience - your story made me think it could have happened there at any time.

I've never been subject to discrimination at work, so I can only imagine how bad that would be. Even worse, it could be implicit and harder to expose. Like a hunch that something is working against you, but you can't really speak out or your co-workers might think you're paranoid or even a trouble maker.

Being the only woman in the department might not mean anything but that's certainly a red flag. I get from your story that other women were there, but eventually left? That would be another flag.

It's clear at that point that the environment has become toxic and you'd better quit before losing your inner peace. I wish I gave myself this advice a while back...

Thread Thread
jennifer profile image
Jennifer Konikowski

I was actually the first woman hired in the engineering department. There were other women in the company and a few had faced a similar double standard and one had left as a result. I never talked to any of the people who had been on my team again (except for Richard, who got booted before this all happened), so I don't know if it was on purpose or subconscious or what. But sometimes all you have is that you know something is different (in a bad way). In some cases, it can be worth reaching out to the person and be direct, but in this case, I'm pretty confident that Keenan would have denied anything was different. What can you do? 🤷🏽‍♀️

jfrankcarr profile image
Frank Carr

I've been down a similar road more than once myself and I've seen it happen to other people over my 30 year career. Sometimes you get put on a team with someone that you have difficulty working with, even if the skills match-up looks good on paper. In my case, the problems were personality type based but I have seen this happen where race or gender were involved. As with your situation, one or more skilled technical people ended up leaving the company, usually abruptly.

The worst have been manipulative bullies and it sounds like that was the toxic situation you were in. When this happens, it's best to head for the nearest exit and not make yourself sick hoping to get something or someone to change their nasty ways.

damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset

I am Jennifer's complete lack of surprise...

kspeakman profile image
Kasey Speakman • Edited

He is wrong.

annarankin profile image
Anna Rankin

Jeez, that's awful :( I can relate - it's hard to be told to "speak up" and "don't be afraid to have an opinion!" when stuff like this happens regularly. Thanks for telling this story :)