Telecommuting Guy asks:
I work (telecommute long-distance) for a small company as a developer. The organizational structure is very flat– there’s the owner/boss, then as a developer I have a boss for programming but not for other aspects of the job. Essentially I have one guy as my boss for programming but in all other aspects, the owner/boss is my direct boss. Unfortunately the boss/owner is kind of a jerk. Fortunately I only really have to deal with him when we’re working on grants and a few other things. Recently we were working on a grant, and, as is the case for many companies in my field, the only woman employed at the company and the only person without a PhD (other than the clerical work that our company out-sources) is the grant-writer. During our conference calls on this project, it was obvious that the boss was extra jerky when talking with her. (Not explicitly sexist, but frequently short and condescending in a way that was noticeable, especially compared to how he treated everyone else.) I don’t like this, but I’ve only been employed at this company for a little over 6 months. I don’t feel like I can address it to the boss directly. The chain of command isn’t really through my programming boss– he only gets final say on code, not anything else. I want to be a good guy because I care about making tech more equitable, but when push comes to shove, I find I’m too worried about my own employment stability to make any waves.
I enjoy this job, for the most part, and it would be difficult to find another one that fits my skills and allows me to telecommute (which I need to do because my wife is a tenured [humanities] professor in a small town –we don’t want to go back to living apart). Is there anything I can do that would help but won’t get me fired? Also, the grant writer does great work and the company has been very successful with grants.
Oh gee, that’s a tough one. Probably Wandering Scientist is a better person to ask.
In an ideal world, you’d be able to just go up to your boss (or, better, your manager, and then your manager talks to the boss) and address this issue straight-on, discussing implicit bias, and how important it is that such a great employee as your grant-writer is valued and feels valued. (Using your Crucial Conversations skills.) You would help make sure there were systems in place that would encourage a great work environment for everyone.
This is not an ideal world. You haven’t been with the company long. Your boss is kind of a jerk and you don’t know how he’ll react if you bring anything like this up. And, on top of that, you’re telecommuting.
You probably don’t want to bring it up directly with the grant-writer either. It might make her feel worse (though it might also make her feel less gas-lighted), or encourage her to find new employment, which might be better for her, but maybe not so good for the long-term viability of the company at which you work. Also, gossip also has a way of getting around and it sounds like you can’t afford it to.
We will say that there are things that you can do to help your colleague feel more valued. When she says things that are ignored and then repeated by someone else, say, “Yes, that’s just what [grant-writer] was saying,” or “[Grant-writer] made that point too.” When she does great work, thank her. Say good things about her work to other colleagues. After each grant has been sent off, send her a thank-you email detailing what great work she did and cc the boss in.
Other than that, we don’t know what to suggest. Perhaps as you gain seniority it will become easier to speak up. Or maybe someone else will speak up and you can back them up. We wish we had better advice for you. #2 thinks you should submit to Ask A Manager, and pronto.
Grumpy Nation, what would you do in this situation? What would you suggest Telecommuting Guy do?