By Samantha Haack
I have worked at my current place of employment, a state University, for three years and have had my current title for two and a half years. At the beginning of September, two people in the position directly above mine announced they would be leaving. I, of course, applied for the openings. Not only were two other candidates chosen over me, but in the same breath that I was told I wouldn't be offered either position, I was asked to train the incoming employees. I abruptly declined. I explained that not only would I refuse to be involved in their training but I was also going to submit a request to be removed from the grant program I was working on.
To say the grant manager was shocked would be an understatement. I was immediately asked to defend my decision. I explained that if my experience did not qualify me for the position immediately above my current one, it would be a waste of my time to continue working with the program. I had no intention to stay in a stalled career path. Quickly realizing how many financial and administrative tasks there were that only I knew how to do, she asked how I expected the new employees to take on these tasks without my instruction. I said that was not my concern.
As with any office environment, word quickly spread. I was counseled not to make a decision out of anger and that I was being emotional, even though I had decided before even applying that this would be how I would handle this possible outcome. When I didn't waiver, I was offered financial compensation for taking on the tasks, compensation that wouldn't have been offered had I not decided to leave. I declined. After I left work for the day, I received text messages from one of the departing employees for the next day and a half begging to meet privately and discuss my exit strategy. I finally had to block his number.
After all of this, I decided to take some time off to de-stress and explore other career options. I returned to work to find that my new identity was a disgruntled employee who could no longer be trusted with delicate patient and financial information for fear of what she might do with it. The grant manager crafted this story herself in my absence in order to devalue anything I would say to contradict it. All the while, I was chastised by my supervisor for burning bridges.
Looking back, this was not the first time the program had treated me this way. My male coworker would be asked questions about tasks I had completed. When I provided answers he couldn't, follow-up questions were still directed at him. I would be asked to prepare detailed materials for meetings and then not be invited to the actual meetings. Other coworkers would present the materials on my behalf. I only started to get verbal credit when I jokingly threatened to apply a watermark to anything I made. I had been discouraged on three occasions from applying for positions I felt I was qualified for and would help expand my career, including this most recent one.
A man choosing to move on in order to advance his career is smart and ambitious. A woman doing the same is selfish. As a woman, it was expected that I would put the needs of the program above my own career aspirations. It was expected that I would be happy to put my own progress on hold in order to lift those around me now. It was assumed that I would be complicit in the continued undervaluing of my own skills and abilities. It was shocking to them all when I stood up for myself.
For too long I believed that I shouldn't be demanding recognition and should just appreciate being a part of the team. This experience has led me to question why I have spent all of this time and effort maintaining bridges that won't take me anywhere. If I devalue my work by giving it away to anyone who will take it, nobody else will value it either. I am my own best advocate. If a bridge is only going to lead me to a place where my work ethic is taken advantage of, I say let it burn.
Samantha Haack: https://www.linkedin.com/in/samantha-haack-177014198/
Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.
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