This blog is not intended to provide legal advice, legal services or legal anything else. Don't sue me. All I have is debt anyway.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Could we speak to someone who knows what they're doing? Like, you know, a man?"

When I was 18, I started working for the [now-defunct] computer superstore, at its local grand-opening. Although I would eventually move to corporate sales, I started out at the "upgrades counter," selling computer parts to customers who wished to upgrade their machines, or build their own from scratch. This included harddrives, motherboards, processors, RAM, even CPU cases. It involved at least basic knowledge of computer hardware, which wasn't really a problem for me since I'd gotten an excellent education in computer tech work in high school, and built plenty of computers from spare parts.

However, I wasn't prepared for the amount of sexism I would face by customers, particularly by other women. The most obvious occurrence was when a woman, probably about 15 years older than me, came in asking for more memory for her computer. I asked for her computer model, looked it up in our reference book, and quoted her a price. We are out of stock, but we can order that for you, ma'am. She blinks at me, turns to my co-worker standing next to me, a guy who's my age and wearing blue fingernail polish, and asks him the exact same question. He picks up the exact same reference book, looks up the exact same computer model, and gives her the exact same information. Oh, okay, thanks, let's order that.

WTF? But it was a pretty steady stream of that sort of thing. No one believed tech information coming from a girl. I had many customers complain to managers when I would give them advice on technology issues, because they were just appalled by the service of a stupid teenage girl. (Fortunately, most of the managers would stick up for me.) It certainly didn't improve when I moved to the tech department to actually do repairs and upgrades (out of the frying pan, into the fire). Finally, I transferred to corporate sales where I traded my red polo shirt and khaki pants for short skirts and tight blouses and could sell anything and everything to dirty old businessmen oogling my bewbs. Embracing sexism for my own personal profit, I suppose. By age 20, I was promoted to department lead and we had the highest sales and profit margins in the region, and I had personally landed several larger accounts. (Until CompUSuck shut us down, that is, to make corporate clients place their orders over the phone to a call center out of Dallas, like that wouldn't piss off our corporate clientel who required a significant amount of hand-holding. Fail.) I had given up on doing tech work because I didn't really like it, but part of what I didn't like was how people treated me. Like I couldn't possibly know what I'm doing, because I'm young and female.

I hadn't experienced that yet as an attorney. No one here has treated me with anything other than respect, other than one old geezer thinking I was the court reporter, but oh well. I have girlfriends who are constantly asked if they are really attorneys, and then get comments from clients like, surely you're too young to know what you're doing, you don't have any real-world experience, etc. I don't know of any male attorneys that get that, but I suppose if you look young enough, it happens. (My husband looks about 10 years younger than he is, and he got that quite frequently as a nurse when it meant he looked 15.) I guess I don't get that much because I'm not really that "young" anymore. There are attorneys my age who have been practicing for 6 years.

But... then it happened. I had an incredibly unpleasant conversation yesterday with an attorney from a large city, and finally, I did what I knew I shouldn't do, which was transfer the call to The Boss because I was going to lose my composure. (Of course, The Boss told him the exact same thing I told him, and all was fine.) I should have stood my ground with the guy, but I took it way too personally, and if I continued the conversation, I was going to say something incredibly ugly back to him and it would have been counterproductive. I shouldn't have gotten upset about it. The guy's a jerk, and he's out-of-state so he doesn't care who he pisses off, he doesn't have to work with any of us here.

Anyway, it's been a bad week, and it's only Tuesday. We fired two of our problem clients yesterday, both ones I'd been working with, both clients I had successfully managed until an intervening third party screwed everything up (a social worker and an out-of-state attorney, respectively). So, I feel a little defeated. And tired, thanks to a toddler that refused to sleep last night. I've got a ton of work to do, and trying to find the motivation to do it in this momentary slump in my bad-ass lady lawyer confidence.

But Husband will be here this evening, and there will be alcohol. And he will get up with the kid if she chooses to not sleep again tonight. I will be well-rested, self-medicated and my calm restored.


Melissa said...

I have encountered sexism in my judge - mostly from a few of my clients but I think that, in the big span of things, it's a small portion of the whole. I deal with a large volume of people in the job that I have (a public defender). I also experienced sexism from a judge but I won't get into that now.

Allison said...

Sorry you're having a bad week. :(

Shelley said...

I have a similar tech background and a similar history with sexism. As a lawyer now, most (but not all) of what I think is the worst sexism comes from older women attorneys! Drives me nuts.