23 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.

19 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. [2]
    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. 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
  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