Is my boss sexist or am I a wimp?

Hi Aunty B,

Important things first – love your column! Hopefully you can help me with some straight talking and smart thinking about how to make the most of working in a start up.

I work for a small web consultancy that has been in start up mode for over six years. Think Portugal has problems? This has meant we’ve never moved out of ‘austerity measures’ including promotions, bonuses and raises. Apart from my official responsibilities of producing and project coordination, I’ve also contributed quite a bit towards winning new business and we were in the black for the first time last year; so raise expectations aren’t unreasonable.

My main issue is the low to no recognition and rewards, and the fact that this seems to be skewed against the women in the company. Given, there aren’t that many women in IT (or our offices) in the first place, but I’m not sure if I’m being oversensitive about this. However, our female MD in her early-50s has made more than the occasional comment about how she finds female employees draining/demanding; and I think this says more about her than any women she may have/be working with.

While working for a start up may mean long days and low pay, the sexism part could be ‘just another workplace issue’. Having tolerated both for awhile, I think I’m allowing both to fester and impact my job performance. I need a plan to (a) bail (there are factors making this my last option), (b) change my mindset so that I can learn to deal or (c) find a non-confrontational way to discuss this. The sensible option is probably to talk it out, but given how exploited and sour I’ve been feeling I’m not sure how I would go about that?

I’m sure you won’t pull your punches; looking forward to some straight talking advice!


Dear Melly,

Start up mode for six years! I don’t think so. Yes, a start up might last three to five years but I am afraid you are now working for a struggling small business. Have a good look at the future of this business. How can it get out of Struggleville and how can you contribute to its successful future?

Your female MD obviously has issues. But they are more to do with her. When I hear businesswomen talk about finding other women draining, I usually find the woman who doesn’t know the difference between work and friendship. Those female bosses can get too involved in the emotional life of other women and therefore do find women “draining” and “demanding”. I am a bit younger than your boss but as an employer, I have never found women employees demanding or draining. The opposite in fact! I love employing and working with women and draw a lot of strength from their vitality and determination.

So your first problem is the struggling business and the second problem is a female boss who is a poor manager. You are the third problem. You have not approached the idea of remuneration in a professional manner. What is your long-term plan for your career? Where do you want to be in five years time? How will you get there?

You have been drifting and now feel resentful.

Yes, you have been very supportive to the business in its early stages. But now you make it clear that you expect recognition and reward.

But go in with the plan. What title do you want? How is that going to help the business move forward? What sort of salary increase do you want? Is there any chance of equity?

I hate to be sexist but men are much better at these types of discussions than women. I would advise you to have a chat with a leading businessman or businesswoman and ask them for their tips. Practice your pitch with them. And remember: be prepared to walk if you don’t get what you want. Doormats only get one thing in life: dirty shoes wiped all over them.

Good luck!
Your Aunty B


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