24 votes

Job hunts after a toxic work experience

I terminated my position over 4 months ago and I'm still not able to apply for jobs. I'm frustrated with my inability to move on from the previous toxic work environments. My background is in a male dominated field and there was always something either insensitive, sexist or racist said in all my previous workplaces. I feel, I know I'm going to be met with some sort of comment in my next work place and I no longer want to put myself in those situations anymore. I don't know how I'll react, I feel like I may explode if I hear another ignorant phrase.

I want to be able to make money. People say I must not have liked what I did very much if I wasn't able to put up with the comments. Other people say that that's just how the world is, "get used to it!" I've also heard that I'm just going to have to wait for change because drastic/fast pace change causes recoil. All of these comments literally tell me to suck it up and allow the same rhetoric to propagate. And, of course, all of this has been told to me by white men, those who aren't effected by the comments said to me.

Things that have happened to me or that were said to me:

  • Smile more
  • I'm too soft spoken/nice
  • I'm too aggressive
  • "Do you want to fix your hair?"
  • A project manager bought me hair product, I didn't ask. I have curly hair and it took me a long time to love my curls, but it's seen as "unprofessional"
  • A Director was staring at my hair throughout an entire interview
  • "I'll put you up there" when the males were talking about strip clubs
  • "Why are women crazy?"
  • I've been kissed on my face and told "if only I met you before my wife"... never had a fucking conversation outside work with this person. I didn't even speak to him more than once a week!
  • "We were surprised that you and Mohammad spoke English". Both me and Mohammad were born and raised in the United States. When I responded with "Why did you guys think that?" they conveniently stumbled and changed the subject.
    ... Many more things happened, but require too much context.

I just don't get it. Am I suppose to let ALL these things slide? Am I suppose to hold empathy for people who don't have empathy for me? Who don't empathize with me and how what they have said may have made me feel? Should I forgive people who would rather hide the fact that they said something rather than apologize? (And yes, I filed reports for some of these comments/experiences and the rhetoric was "She got X fired", not "X's own behavior got them fired".)

And more importantly, how do I move on from this knowing that it's going to happen again? The last job had the most amount of sexism in it. The thing about sexism (and racism) is that it's meant to make you feel devalued, and shocker, I felt devalued. It took me so long to gain my self confidence back. And I want so badly to protect myself. I never want to feel those feelings again. But the world is still sexist and racist and homophobic and xenophobic... all the phobics. And how do I tell my next work place that the reason why I left and why I took a break from working was to deal with the emotional repercussions from a very toxic/sexist work environment (when workplaces see whistle blowers as a red flag)? And how to I prepare my little sister who is in college studying a male dominated field knowing that she'll have to deal with the same things I went through?

It's been 4 months and I'm still angry and still jobless. I've grown to hate social interactions for fear of someone saying some ignorant shit. I've grown a distrust of all people. I hate how much this thing has affected me, how belittled I feel and how I can't move on from this. I feel emotionally paralyzed and money is running out and jobs are hard to come by especially because I'm not white nor am I a male and my hair isn't straight Billie Holiday - I Love My Man.

I'm tired of confusing people with how my looks don't match my attitude/personality that they've been conditionally taught to think it was like. I'm tired of confusing people with how unashamed I am of my existence.

21 comments

  1. [2]
    Pistos
    Link
    I'm sorry you've had to deal with that. I'm not going to pretend to have any certain solutions or silver bullets for you, but one thing that comes to mind is to consider looking into being your...

    I'm sorry you've had to deal with that. I'm not going to pretend to have any certain solutions or silver bullets for you, but one thing that comes to mind is to consider looking into being your own boss -- entrepreneurship or owning your own business. Then you call the shots, nobody is your boss, and you can do all the hiring (or at least involve yourself in it) so as to have a direct hand in building the kind of ideal culture and atmosphere you think your workplace should have.

    I understand that it isn't easy to "just" start a business, but it could turn out really well for you with respect to the issues you've talked about.

    10 votes
    1. beanie
      Link Parent
      That might be a goal of mine in the future! I definitely need to set up a financial/business plan. For now, I'm looking to gain experience and capital until I can get there (and my professional...

      That might be a goal of mine in the future! I definitely need to set up a financial/business plan. For now, I'm looking to gain experience and capital until I can get there (and my professional engineering license).

      6 votes
  2. [5]
    Omnicrola
    Link
    For context, I'm speaking from the perspective of a white cis hetero male, and I recognize that the below perspective is a highly privileged one. The first thought that occurred to me is possibly...

    For context, I'm speaking from the perspective of a white cis hetero male, and I recognize that the below perspective is a highly privileged one.

    The first thought that occurred to me is possibly trying rehearsal interviews. This may or may not be appealing to you based on how you're feeling.

    What I mean by this is try applying to a place that you don't actually want to work at, but theoretically could. If you get an offer, turn it down. If you don't, who cares because that wasn't your real objective. In my case I did this when I already had a job and was not actually in need of another one. The objective was to learn more about different companies, practice interview skills, and do some soul searching about what I really wanted out of a job instead of just accepting the first thing that seemed reasonable because I was out of work. In your case it might be to help rebuild some self confidence, and focus on trying to spot signs that your might encounter the same problems you've had to deal with in the past. This is a potentially long and exhausting process though, so may not be a good idea for you right now.

    My second suggestion might be the more reasonable, which is look around for something in the academic sphere. I started working in a university setting about a year ago (as staff, not a teacher or researcher). I've been amazed/overwhelmed with the amount of discussion and attention DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) receives in every aspect of my job. And not because "someone in management said we have to do it this way too be more inclusive #eyeroll", it's because the people I work with believe in it. So while I'm under no illusions that my workplace is perfect and nobody ever feels marginalized, it does seem like it's a lot better than other places I've worked. Or at the very least, people are generally more self aware.

    9 votes
    1. beanie
      Link Parent
      I've been working with a therapist and doing some moc-interviews. A recruiter got in touch with me the other day and I've been keeping in mind the mindset you've mentioned: seeing interviews as...

      I've been working with a therapist and doing some moc-interviews. A recruiter got in touch with me the other day and I've been keeping in mind the mindset you've mentioned: seeing interviews as practice and to build my self confidence.

      As for your second suggestion: I'll try my best, sounds good.

      8 votes
    2. [3]
      Pistos
      Link Parent
      I understand the practical benefits of what you're suggesting, but I can't help but think that it seems a little unethical to take up people's time (and therefore money) with deliberate intent not...

      What I mean by this is try applying to a place that you don't actually want to work at, but theoretically could. If you get an offer, turn it down.

      I understand the practical benefits of what you're suggesting, but I can't help but think that it seems a little unethical to take up people's time (and therefore money) with deliberate intent not to carry through with employment acceptance. Perhaps shade the suggested procedure a little, to something like: "Do some job seeking and interviewing while you currently have a job, to gain job seeking experience, but without any pressure to secure employment quickly. If an offer comes for something even better than what you currently have, you could consider it."

      7 votes
      1. joplin
        Link Parent
        For what it's worth, there are companies that offer mock interviews for people to practice on and get feedback. A quick search turned up this company though I know I've read of others on...

        For what it's worth, there are companies that offer mock interviews for people to practice on and get feedback. A quick search turned up this company though I know I've read of others on HackerNews. I don't know how many of these are tech oriented vs. other types of jobs, but it might be worth looking into.

        4 votes
      2. Omnicrola
        Link Parent
        You make a good point, the way I phrased it sounds a bit malicious. I have a strong people-pleasing tendency, and so it helped me personally during that time to try and keep my mental framing...

        You make a good point, the way I phrased it sounds a bit malicious.

        I have a strong people-pleasing tendency, and so it helped me personally during that time to try and keep my mental framing centered on what I needed, and deliberately disregard what others might think, to avoid psyching myself out.

        2 votes
  3. joplin
    Link
    I have no words of advice but wanted to say that I'm very sorry you had to endure this. Your feelings are completely valid. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of crap. This is pretty much...

    I have no words of advice but wanted to say that I'm very sorry you had to endure this. Your feelings are completely valid. Nobody should have to put up with that kind of crap. This is pretty much the definition of a hostile workplace environment and in most businesses, there would not only be firings if these incidents occurred, but probably mandatory training for managers and the team they manage. I hope you're able to fulfill your dream of working under normal, sane conditions. Good luck!

    6 votes
  4. [4]
    vegai
    Link
    The fact that these people have been assholes is not your fault, but you could have and/or cultivate some skills in trying to cope with them. Because I'm afraid you're never going to be able to be...

    I feel, I know I'm going to be met with some sort of comment in my next work place and I no longer want to put myself in those situations anymore. I don't know how I'll react, I feel like I may explode if I hear another ignorant phrase.

    The fact that these people have been assholes is not your fault, but you could have and/or cultivate some skills in trying to cope with them. Because I'm afraid you're never going to be able to be entirely separate from them.

    So, my recommendations, in no order of preference: seeing a psychologist, meditation, martial arts. Again, these are not to suggest that any of the things you've experienced is your fault, just suggesting that there are ways to make yourself stronger against the avalanche of evil that sometimes is humanity.

    6 votes
    1. [2]
      beanie
      Link Parent
      Therapy and yoga (and meditation) is central to my self-care in helping me cope with these experiences. I like the added suggestion of martial arts. I feel the discipline and mindfulness of...

      Therapy and yoga (and meditation) is central to my self-care in helping me cope with these experiences. I like the added suggestion of martial arts. I feel the discipline and mindfulness of martial arts (and many other forms of physical fitness/team sports) offer practice in the idea of respecting the process, respecting yourself and respecting others. It offers practice in really honing in on targets which can offer benefits in other aspects in my life as I try to tackle issues with precision. I think I'll extend my physical practice to include martial arts.

      7 votes
      1. vegai
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        Cool. And as an answer to you and @mrbig, martial arts came to my mind first, because it's the primary sport I've gone for my whole life. Probably many other sports would work as well. My personal...

        Cool. And as an answer to you and @mrbig, martial arts came to my mind first, because it's the primary sport I've gone for my whole life. Probably many other sports would work as well.

        My personal positive experience with martial arts in relation to abuse was that when I ended up in a situation where I was being (non-physically) abused, some primitive part of my mind could be more relaxed because it could think (perhaps unrealistically, but still) "I could totally take them out if they decide to attack me."

        4 votes
    2. mrbig
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I'm curious on why do you think martial arts would be particularly useful for those situations.

      I'm curious on why do you think martial arts would be particularly useful for those situations.

      3 votes
  5. [4]
    Akir
    Link
    I’m not a woman, so I don’t have any first hand experience on this, but I do have some advice that I hope is helpful. The first thing I would recommend is to collect some allies. Even in a male...

    I’m not a woman, so I don’t have any first hand experience on this, but I do have some advice that I hope is helpful.

    The first thing I would recommend is to collect some allies. Even in a male dominated field, there must be some women somewhere, right? And even if not, there are sure to be some men who have empathy. If you can get enough people then they will help tilt things to your favor. But even if they can’t do that, then they will at least be a support network for you.

    The second thing I would recommend is to bear down on the people who would treat you this way. I mean put your foot down and don’t let up on someone who does this until you get an apology. No matter what, do not just let them get away with it. Talk to them like you are disciplining a child; “No, this is not acceptable. No, we can’t move on until you acknowledge your mistake. No, we are not moving on until you learn how to treat people with respect.” Sure, some people may not like you because of that approach, but it’s better to be thought of as mistempered then as subhuman. And heck, you might find others admiring you for commanding the situation.

    5 votes
    1. [3]
      beanie
      Link Parent
      Thank you for this advice. I have to remind myself that the last job I had was *particularly a toxic work environment compared to my previous ones. I unfortunately wasn't able to find/cultivate...

      Thank you for this advice. I have to remind myself that the last job I had was *particularly a toxic work environment compared to my previous ones. I unfortunately wasn't able to find/cultivate allies (male nor female - males were quick to deny anything was wrong (one stating they've become nose blind to the issues and to stop "correcting" them) and females were too few and unwilling to say anything for fear of retribution). I should see this work place as an anomaly (although bits and pieces of what I've experienced can be seen in other places, just not to this degree). I have tried to keep people accountable for their actions, but I plan on doing this sooner/stronger (I'll keep in mind your approach) and, to add, I want to invite HR to the conversation as soon as it happens.

      Thank you again, I'll add these tactics to my tool belt.

      5 votes
      1. [2]
        tiltedcerebellum
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I'm sorry you've had to go through that. Maybe there are some nicer guys there to befriend/ally? As a woman who has worked in a male dominated field before attending uni and doing a proper career,...

        I'm sorry you've had to go through that. Maybe there are some nicer guys there to befriend/ally?

        As a woman who has worked in a male dominated field before attending uni and doing a proper career, I can say the approach that @Akir suggested has worked for me in the past. But, I did this always with an edge of humor and cheekiness for palatability, more like "one of the boys"... albeit one whose figure they scoped on the regular (I did do/mean what I said in good humor, whilst also making a very subtle point). Once the guys realized that I wasn't going to put up with shit, that none would see the inside of my bedroom, that I had humor but was all business, and I would bust back on them with some good humor if they busted on me... they tended to respect me and saw me as someone could both hold my own but would also hold them to account. I hate to say it but females and especially unique or attractive females can sometimes get more of this type of behavior and/or a male version of, for lack of a better term, shit-testing. Finding a way to relate, be it humorous, being "one of the boys", or whatever approach works for you can potentially lessen this a bit. Sometimes I'd take a statement one of them said to me and turn it around slightly on them (nicely, with humor and maybe a tiny bit embarrassing/chiding, saying it smiling) and tease them with it "how would you like it if... hahahah", and well, they often got the point and knocked it off. Usually once they figured out I was good natured and wouldn't accept crap they'd not dish it. My allies I related to usually helped me bust back on the few that didn't clue in.

        Another approach that worked was to show personal interest in people's lives (especially about their partners or kids) and found ways to relate and be supportive of their work and/or life/self which also tended to earn trust and respect (and get their support in return). I find that a lot of men also like to know where they stand in terms of respect. Some like to give advice/be helpful (I have a tendency to appreciate humor, knowledge, capability and respect, and like to readily acknowledge these things in others which tends to create good bonds this way). It is hard to treat poorly folks that earn our at least partial friendship, respect and appreciation (unless someone is just plain an asshole). I started in a trades-related field as support staff first in smaller cities before ending up in very large cities, so I had the backwards progression of your experience, I went from very informal to very formal, which I think is easier. That said, there will always be some backwards behavior or people who think other's should be treated this way regardless, which is BS. I find human behavior puzzling at the best of times frankly.

        Any of these approaches might not work other's though, depends on you, your audience, your own preferences for interacting etc. Everyone is different, so no doubt you'll do what comes best to you. I also believe a person's intent matters with this kind of thing. A lot of times things can stem from ignorance and lack of exposure and awareness rather than malintent. So, I tend to gauged my reactions (and my potential forgiveness or willingness to let something slide or educate) based on that and I do tend to go into educating mode in funny and relatable ways, which is helpful. I like to build allies and educate rather than correct, but sometimes either is hard to do without coming off wrong. If someone really had malintent, that's another matter entirely. I would however try to find workable approaches prior going to HR. And, I if I left I would most definitely do an exit interview and if possible speak to someone high-up about the issues or write a letter about it. People can't fix what they aren't aware of, and, in doing things as objectively as possible with common sense people are more apt to listen. There has to be someone there you relate to and get along with who can be an ally?

        I have seen humor in dishing it back used by very otherwise reserved and soft spoken women too (bank manager for e.g. who is all business), and it seems to work, while maintaining healthy respect. Everyone is different though, different people need different approaches. I hope you find the approach that works best for you, because in the end that's what matters most. I have a bit of a belief that if something bothers me, I need to speak up about it, though doing so in a way that lands well is sometimes hard to determine. Sometimes there is no way for it to land well. Nothing will change if I don't make an attempt. I tend to not shy away from conflict (though I very much dislike it) and will communicate what I need to in as neutral a way as possible, presenting the logic, while not backing down. In the end, logic is logical and it is hard to argue with.

        4 votes
        1. beanie
          Link Parent
          Sorry for the late reply. I had a lot of personal struggles that required my attention. Thanks for providing me with your input. Thank you for the apology. It means a lot to me. There weren't....

          Sorry for the late reply. I had a lot of personal struggles that required my attention. Thanks for providing me with your input.

          I'm sorry you've had to go through that.

          Thank you for the apology. It means a lot to me.

          Maybe there are some nicer guys there to befriend/ally?

          There weren't. Everyone was trying to work on their own job security and were scared of retribution. I'll try and make allies next time. I know they exist and in larger numbers in liberal cities. I hope to get back to my liberal city/home.

          But, I did this always with an edge of humor and cheekiness for palatability, more like "one of the boys"...

          Yeah, I tried that. The boys never let me in their boys club. Also, that shit gets old fast and it's exhausting. My job responsibilities don't include being "palatable" for those who are sexist to me. It's to do my job.

          I hate to say it but females and especially unique or attractive females can sometimes get more of this type of behavior and/or a male version of, for lack of a better term, shit-testing.

          I can't respond to the first part of this, because ew. But the "shit-testing" part: like people don't have enough shit in their lives. It's freaken Covid and everyone's just trying to make it to the end of the day. Why do I have to deal with more shit that's not included in my job description? No thank you. They didn't want to listen to me no matter how palpable I made my words. They were determined to misunderstand me or just plain ignore me.

          Another approach that worked was to show personal interest in people's lives (especially about their partners or kids) and found ways to relate and be supportive of their work and/or life/self which also tended to earn trust and respect (and get their support in return). I find that a lot of men also like to know where they stand in terms of respect. Some like to give advice/be helpful (I have a tendency to appreciate humor, knowledge, capability and respect, and like to readily acknowledge these things in others which tends to create good bonds this way).

          Aha, yes, what I call "ego-stroking", I tried that. Again, it's exhausting. I don't need to baby adults who should know better or tell them that they are so great when they are literally being sexist/sexually harassing me. Also, this idea of men giving advice/being helpful... just kinda sounds like "man-splaining". Maybe they can ask me what would be helpful instead of lecturing me on how to be a female in a male dominated field. I had one guy who wasn't a female or an engineer try and explain to me what I should do... Sorry buddy, I don't think you have any experience in that field. He could have asked what the struggles were, we could have had an honest conversation. Instead, he just wanted to hear his own voice and me say "thank you" afterwards. "Yes, daddy, so helpful. Daddy daddy, give me more! You're soooo smart."

          I also believe a person's intent matters with this kind of thing. A lot of times things can stem from ignorance and lack of exposure and awareness rather than malintent.

          I used to have this point of view. I don't anymore. Most of the time, people mean well. So when someone does something shitty, why not tell them they are doing something shitty/hurting someone. If they truly mean well, they'd listen to how they're hurting people and if they didn't mean well... then they wouldn't listen and make excuses for their own behavior. And the idea of it stemming from "ignorance", ignorance is no longer an excuse for me because once you state "I wonder what HR thinks about the comment you just made" they all straighten themselves up and start acting professional... which, in my opinion means they recognized they did something ill. They can try to describe to HR that they were ignorant of the subject even though HR is required by law to give a talk on harassment. I'll let them take a stab at trying to vouch for their ignorance/intent.

          I have a bit of a belief that if something bothers me, I need to speak up about it, though doing so in a way that lands well is sometimes hard to determine. Sometimes there is no way for it to land well. Nothing will change if I don't make an attempt. I tend to not shy away from conflict (though I very much dislike it) and will communicate what I need to in as neutral a way as possible, presenting the logic, while not backing down. In the end, logic is logical and it is hard to argue with.

          Same. And, at the same time, it's HRs job to work through this. So, I'll hand that responsibility to them. They are way more experienced than I am in the subject matter. Also, I'm tired of protecting people who don't have my best interest in mind. Making it palpable for them, ego-stroking, telling them they're great, leveling with them... they don't do any of that stuff with me, so I won't with them. My job is that of what was described to me in the job description/interview. It's not my job to baby-sit. They don't have to like me, but they sure have to work with me. And if I'm fired/laid off, I'll have all the reports from HR, something in writing to protect myself.

          3 votes
  6. Bullmaestro
    Link
    Best advice to deal with this stuff is to find allies within the workplace that can vouch for you (ideally other women), as Akir suggested, but also document everything that happens and then, and...

    Best advice to deal with this stuff is to find allies within the workplace that can vouch for you (ideally other women), as Akir suggested, but also document everything that happens and then, and only then go to HR.

    You may need further evidence of such behaviour and that can be difficult to get. That's when you'd research the laws in your state and your employee handbook on recording conversations.

    If there was concrete evidence of you receiving sexist or xenophobic comments in the workplace, or of you being sexually harassed or assaulted, that would probably lead to a serious investigation and probable termination of said employee(s) because HR does not want to risk a lawsuit.

    As for people viewing you as the person who "got X fired", forget about them. If their buddy getting fired for toxic behaviour doesn't change their opinion of them and makes them blame you, it probably means that they wouldn't be your friend anyway and aren't worth knowing.

    5 votes
  7. [2]
    Qis
    Link
    What field are you in? I read your longish post a couple weeks back about coping with negativity and I've been reflecting on the limits of a "better to listen" approach. Everything you've written...

    What field are you in? I read your longish post a couple weeks back about coping with negativity and I've been reflecting on the limits of a "better to listen" approach. Everything you've written here makes me feel very tired and I can relate to the feeling of general distrust.

    4 votes
    1. beanie
      Link Parent
      I studied civil/environmental engineering. Most of my experience has been in the construction field (a field I am looking to move out of). I can't speak to your feelings of being tired, I can only...

      I studied civil/environmental engineering. Most of my experience has been in the construction field (a field I am looking to move out of).

      I can't speak to your feelings of being tired, I can only speak to my own. Me feeling "tired" can be an indication of me feeling helpless and not wanting to admit there is nothing I can do (out of pride): I can't change the past nor the present world to be more inclusive and less insensitive to diversity. The feeling of "distrust" that I have can be a feeling that is trying to keep me safe: if I avoid people/situations altogether then there's a 100% chance I won't be mistreated. I'm frustrated by these feelings because it is stopping me from living the life I want to live/achieving my goals.

      Why do you feel tired and distrusting of people? I understand if you're not ready to answer that question, sometimes questions like that can bring up and remind us of uncomfortable situations/experiences.

      5 votes
  8. [2]
    archevel
    Link
    Not sure if it is feasible in your situation, but have you considered moving to aore progressive geographic area. Depending on where you live now maybe the stat/country has more instances of...

    Not sure if it is feasible in your situation, but have you considered moving to aore progressive geographic area. Depending on where you live now maybe the stat/country has more instances of racism, bigotry and sexism than other places? Of course leaving might not be an option for a myriad of reasons, but worth considering at least if it might be better elsewhere.

    Sad that these things are somehow still acceptable. Truly hope you find something nice next time!

    4 votes
    1. beanie
      Link Parent
      I moved from a pretty liberal city in the west coast to a suburbs in the midwest and I strongly believe that this behavior is a related to the culture here (where issues of racism, bigotry and...

      I moved from a pretty liberal city in the west coast to a suburbs in the midwest and I strongly believe that this behavior is a related to the culture here (where issues of racism, bigotry and sexism are debatable) although it'll be unfair to say that all the residents here are sexist, racist bigots. My significant other and I are planning on moving to a place that resonance with our views. Fingers crossed!

      8 votes