declining a management role, looking young is affecting me at work, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss told me to stay home sick and now is demanding a doctor’s note

I work in Florida at a private school as a teacher. I had a fever on earlier this month and called in sick per school policy. I still felt I had a fever at the end of the day when my boss/principal called me and asked if I could return. I told her I was feeling better with rest and would like to return, but she said to stay home another day. I do not get paid sick leave or benefits or have any assistance in going to the doctor from my employer, nor do I have insurance. My boss told me that before I can return to work now, I must provide a doctor’s note saying I may return. I feel like I can work and will have had two days off so far. I cannot provide a sick note because I cannot afford to go to the doctor. How can I return to work and is it legal that she is making this demand?

It’s legal, but it’s really crappy. Requiring doctor’s notes for sick leave is already bad policy, but doing it when you don’t even give your employees health insurance is a new level of ridiculousness and tone-deafness. I’d say this to your boss: “I had a two-day illness and am now recovered. don’t have health insurance and can’t afford to go to the doctor when I’m not in need of treatment. If the school would like to cover it, I’d be glad to go but it’s not something I can afford on my own. More to the point, I don’t believe it’s necessary — we all get occasional flus that we treat at home with rest and then are fine to return to work, and that’s the case here.”

And if she does continue to insist on a doctor’s note, I’d say, “I’m just not sure how to do that, without insurance or the money to cover it. Is there another option here?”

2. I look young and it’s affecting me at work

I am a female third year associate at a small law firm. I know I look young for my age (I’m 30 but at bar events for students I’m often asked if I am pre-law). I am getting increasingly frustrated with vendors (and opposing counsel) assuming I am a secretary or paralegal. One even went so far as to send flowers for my birthday, informing me that they do this for all the secretaries at the firms who use them, despite being told repeatedly that I am not the partner’s assistant (when they called to ask my birthday for this purpose).

I dress in suits every day, my work email signatures states that I am an associate, and I sign most of the pleadings that vendors and opposing counsel see. I’m not sure what else I can do to alleviate this problem (aside from not using vendors who refuse to acknowledge that a young women can be an attorney). In some ways this is not a big deal, but there are portions of my job where it matters and the constant repetition of the problem is getting annoying. Is there something more I can do to help vendors and counsel accept that I am an attorney? If not what is the appropriate response? Should I correct them every time or only when it matters for the task at hand?

With opposing counsel, it might be satisfying to just call it out: “I’m sorry, do you think I’m a secretary?” If they try to joke it off, stay stony-faced, correct them, and move on. They’ll get it pretty quickly. (And it’s not that there’s anything wrong with being a secretary; it’s that people’s assumptions appear to be rooted in stereotypes, and that’s the piece that’s insulting.)

Vendors you have some power over, so the next time it happens, I’d say, “I’m sure you don’t intend to signal that you see all women as secretaries. Can you please ensure that your records are updated to get my position correct? Thank you.” And then if it happens again, I might say, “Is there some reason you continue to assume I’m a secretary, despite being told otherwise?” Make them uncomfortable; it might help. But also, yes, stop working with them if it’s anything other than a one-time honest mistake (and if you have that power).

Other than that, though, there’s not much you can do. It’s a problem that’ll resolve itself with time though!

3. Declining a management role I’ve been recommended for

I work for a Fortune 500 company that is very fast paced and has high expectations. During the holiday season, I took on an temporary management position and didn’t enjoy the experience at all. Come January, I decided that I wanted to lay low, come in and do my job and not take on any additional responsibility.

However, now my HR department has recommended a position for me that I’m not interested in it. Do I submit my application and go through the process and see what happens? Or do I let them know not at this time (which could be career suicide)?

Don’t apply if you know that you don’t want the job! I think it’s fine to say that you’ve realized that you don’t enjoy management as much as you enjoy X and that you really want to focus on X right now. (Alternately, you can try being vague — “thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t think it’s quite the right move for me right now” — but you’d want to be prepared with something more specific if pushed to elaborate.)

That said, in some fields the only way to progress is to move into management roles. If that’s the case in your field, it might mean that you’re limiting your ability to move up and limiting your earning potential … but if you hate managing, you shouldn’t do it (both for your own quality of life and that of the people you’d be managing — managers who dislike it are rarely great to work for).

4. Should I send my references before they’re requested?

I recently went in for a second interview with a small nonprofit. I’ve heard from my contact inside the org that I am a top contender for the position.) At the end of the interview, I asked about next steps. The executive director told me they would be making a decision early the following week and checking references. I haven’t provided my list of references to them yet. It wasn’t required as part of the application packet and I neglected to bring a copy with me to the second interview.

It is now the following week, and I haven’t heard anything from them yet. While I haven’t given up hope, I am getting rather impatient. My boyfriend thinks that I should go ahead and send my references before they ask. I feel like that seems a bit presumptuous, and think that if they want to hire me, they’ll follow up and ask for them.

What are your thoughts on sending along references before the employer requests them?

Sure, that’s fine to do. It’s not going to come across as presumptuous; if they want to use them, they will, and if they don’t, they won’t. That said, sending them along isn’t likely to move things forward at a significantly faster pace than they’d otherwise move, so I’m not sure it really works as a strategy here.

The better strategy, as always in job searches, is to check in once after the timeline they gave you earlier passes, and then assume you didn’t get it, put it out of your mind, move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you. If they want to hire you, they’re not going to forget about you, and if they don’t decide to hire you, you’ll have spared yourself all the waiting and agonizing.

5. Explaining UK academics on a resume going to American employers

I’m American but went to university and got my undergraduate degree in the UK. I’m now back in the U.S. and applying for jobs. I’m getting stuck where applications either ask for a GPA or ask for a degree transcript. UK universities don’t use GPA (degrees are classified as 1st, 2:1, 2:2, or third class honours) and the grading system is very different. Exams are designed to be difficult and achieving full marks is not expected of any but the most exceptional students (and there are no marks for attendance or class quizzes). Anything above 70% is considered very good (a 1st class degree is above 70%) and 40% is the pass mark. I got good marks – mostly above 70%, some 90+% – but I know it wouldn’t necessarily look that way to an American looking at my academic transcript.

Should I add a qualifier to the transcript – e.g. a sentence that explains the grading scale in the UK – or assume most jobs asking for an academic transcript know how to interpret one, even an international one? And what about the GPA box – a lot of application forms won’t let you leave it blank.

Yes, I’d definitely add some context that will help American employers translate it in a way they’ll understand. If you can, I wouldn’t get into explaining how the UK system works but instead just provide an American equivalent — for example, “the UK equivalent of an American 3.8 GPA” or something like that. (I don’t know if you can get that specific, but the more you provide that kind of context, the better.)

{ 269 comments… read them below }

  1. neverjaunty*

    OP #3, here’s what you do with opposing counsel: mop the floor with them. This will be particularly easy with the ones who think you couldn’t possibly be an attorney.

    BTW, one of your best tools here is a supportive work environment. Of course you’re capable of standing up for yourself, but your boss and your senior colleagues should be proactive too – for example, informing vendors that their services are no longer needed at your firm.

    It’s 2015 for crying out loud.

    1. Big10Professor*

      I deal with this all the time, and I’m well into my 30’s…at a recent career fair event, I was asked by a company representative if I had chosen a major yet, in spite of a fancy university name tag that says “Dr. Arya Stark, Assistant Professor.”

      In any case, some tricks I try to use to prevent incorrect first impressions are 1) dress in a more classic than trendy style (think pearls instead of silver, for example), 2) get the handshake correct, and 3) just give the puzzled look when someone suggests I’m anything other than a professor.

      (And yes, it sucks that I have to be the one to make changes instead of people checking their assumptions, but it’s the reality of the situation)

      1. Artemesia*

        Been there, done that and I wasn’t even particularly young or young looking. I think there is a subset of older people who simply can’t process women in positions of authority. In the case of a professor, it is interesting that women can be doctoral students but they have trouble recognizing them as Professors (which is the frog form of the student tadpole).

        I would also if the OP pay a little extra attention to dress since it happens so often. There is a sort of black suit white shirt uniform that assistants seem to adopt and so you don’t want your suit to look like this uniform. But while a one off mistake is understandable, repeatedly ‘not getting it’ deserves stronger action including dismissing vendors.

        It is as AAM notes 2015 for pete’s sake.

        1. fposte*

          I adore “the frog form of the student tadpole.” I will find a way to use that in conversation ASAP.

    2. Juli G.*

      Part of me wonders if the OP is showing how much this (rightly) bothers her and opposing counsel is using it to throw her off.

      That’s what they would do on TV so I’m likely wrong. :)

      1. OP3*

        I try not to let it show, and laugh it off much of the time, but yes, I’m sure there are times when the annoyance shows. That is part of what I’m wondering, how do I show that it is not okay to make this assumption, and not that I’m getting annoyed?

        1. Barbara in Swampeast*

          Stop laughing it off. Correct them firmly and then go silent while looking right at them and see if they squirm.

          1. The Strand*

            I was going to say, sometimes silence is the best answer, after correcting them firmly. Then letting them squirm and further embarrass themselves.

            1. Today*

              I trained as a physician and am professional and wear very appropriate suits for wear. I no longer work in medicine, for many reasons.

              One thing that I noticed was that even though I introduced myself as Doctor “Today” I was called a nurse. It was much worse as a medical student, when patients would continue to insist that I was a nurse/tech/or CNA. That last one was my favorite, especially when one woman told me how happy she was that her son was a medical student at the same university as me, be what was I going to become? a CNA right? I swear, she really said that. Her son and I were both at the same medical school, and yet her son was going to become a physician and I was going to become a CNA (certified nursing assistant). I realized very quickly that indeed these people knew exactly what they were saying and doing, and we doing it intentionally because when I would politely point out the correction they would get angry and accuse me of being “sensitive.”

              So, to the young attorney – just smile and be polite and don’t engage with their comments, and let them own their own crappy behavior. A quiet, small smile and a long stare works wonders. Once I started to do that, people would stop and even sometimes apologize to me for being rude.

    3. SystemsLady*

      +1. I have the EXACT same problem and often get asked if I’m an intern by clients when I get thrown a job that’s not in my area and I don’t immediately know how to do. It’s annoying.

      The best you can do is act the part, seem incredulous when asked something like that, and, at the very least, look like a wonder kid if you can’t throw the young image :).

      It is really hard to do anything other than that to “seem older”, unfortunately. Pretty much everything I’ve tried on the fashion and makeup side just doesn’t help offset my baby face.

      And yes, having supportive coworkers really helps here!

    4. M-C*

      #2, ‘young’ is a code word here for ‘female’. Don’t think looking/being older is going to correct the problem in and of itself. Even a sex change wouldn’t be enough for those people.

      I like the advice to make sure not to observe the admins and make sure not to dress like them – in tech for instance, no engineer would be caught dead in a suit. You’d have to adapt this to your situation, and of course a suit is necessary for most law, but it might be worth experimenting with less formal rather than more. Less formal means ‘more secure’ in your position, if you see what I mean? Try it and see for yourself whether that helps in your own situation.

      As to vendors, that’s totally unacceptable behavior. When you’re confronted with this sort of thing, start collecting evidence of other misbehavior so you can argue with your partners that something is wrong with their general professional level. Reach out to local business women’s circles, and cultivate a book of alternatives who will be glad of your business and treat you as a full human being. And then work you way through replacing those vendors with the better choices, in descending order of priority on a scale of offensiveness (the birthday flowers ones would be on top of my list). Find a way to let them know after the fact why you targeted them (“even in a small office, we might want to hire again in the future, and we cannot afford to disqualify half the potential pool of talent because our vendors can’t behave properly”). That might improve their manners to others in a posthumous way. Drop hints to the lesser offenders as you proceed, so they get a chance to change their course (“we’ve had to let several vendors go in the past year already. even in a small office..”).

      And as to opposing counsel, my little sister often snickers about the fools who underestimate her because she’s young and blonde. She loves to smile sweetly at them and bat her eyelashes as she rakes in the wins. They usually don’t make that mistake more than once.

      1. OP2*

        I should point out that my office was completely receptive to changing vendors in this case. While my office is not perfect they are supportive in this area.

        1. simonthegrey*

          There’s always the chilly “I beg your pardon?” if someone makes the assumption in person.

      2. Well*

        I suspect it is different for men and women. I’m in my early 30s and a young looking dude (I regularly got carded at bars until a year or two ago, and still get comments in the professional setting about how young I look). Given the gender difference, I don’t know how helpful this will be to OP, but some observations from my experience:

        1) Dressing “up” is likely to help some, but probably not as much as you’d think. I once had a board member tell my boss that when I wore a suit it reminded her of Doogie Hauser, MD. (And, to be clear, I do wear suits that actually fit.) :)

        2) One thing that did really help was that my boss would go to bat for me when she heard comments like this, or when she sensed that my perspective might be being dismissed because I looked young. She wouldn’t say “You know, Well is 30.” But she would say things like “You know, Well’s got about a decade of federal grant application experience under his belt. He knows more about this stuff than I do.” That validation matters. I was fortunate in that I didn’t have to ask for this specifically, but if you have a senior colleague or boss who would do this for you, that really matters.

        3) Similarly, I found it helpful – where it was appropriate – to refer to my past experience. “You know, I worked at X for four years before I came here, and while I was there we had similar challenges. To handle it, we did Z. It worked because…” Obviously you need to make sure what you have to say on this is genuinely substantive and might be helpful, but this is a thing that older professionals do that younger professionals don’t, really, and it helps to cast you in a new light. I’d frequently see people reevaluating me as I did it — young people simply have fewer professional experiences to use as touchstones, so doing this is kind of a signalling mechanism that indicates you’re further along in your career.

        I mean, you are probably basing your professional contributions to meetings/etc. on your past experience anyway — just periodically call it out as such. That gets some of your bright ideas reclassified from “huh, OP is a smart kid” to “huh, note to self, OP’s really got a lot of past experience on this issue” will help people see you differently.

        4) For vendors, I have difficulty seeing how this happens in any way that doesn’t just reflect badly on them. For opposing counsel – ditto if it happens in anything besides an initial meeting. If they’re demonstrably rude about it, I think Alison’s proposed response (delivered, as always, with an even keel and level head) is excellent.

      3. Today*

        I was in my mid-forties when I went to medical school so I agree, I did not look ‘young’ but I definitely did look female.

        1. MS*

          I am a 30 year old female attorney with a touch of gray hair, and I get this all the time. It has more to do with your sex than your young appearance, IMHO. When I get lines like “Oh, are you Mr. [senior attorney]’s secretary?” I look them straight in the eye and say “no, I am an attorney at the firm” and keep the eye contact long enough for them to look a tad uncomfortable. It sucks, but it might help to start addressing it as the sexism that it is rather than as an issue with your youthful looks.

    5. puddin*

      I had a similar problem for a while in my early 30’s. I had no idea how to tackle it, so I started with awkward “oh I feel so old” or “when you get to be my age…” phrases. Don’t do that – it was forced and phony.

      What did help was I would literally say things like, “I am the expert on teapot-creamer integration” (not AN expert, but THE expert*) or “I will be in charge of the teapot engineering session on Friday”, “I am leading this meeting and will be setting the agenda.”

      It felt very egotistical and like I was lording over people at first (do men have this issue as much as women?). But after a few tries, it became more natural. I started to hear people repeat that I was the teapot-creamer integration expert or that I was in charge of Friday’s meeting. This served to overcome any mis-perceptions, questions, or concerns people had about my perceived age. A side benefit is that I took a step away from impostor syndrome as these phrases became a daily mantra.

      * I say it this way because I feel it connotates expertise among my peers which is different than expertise because I have experience in a subject.

      1. Anonymous Ninja*

        “Don’t do that – it was forced and phony.”

        As a humorous anecdote, I once had a co-worker that said “when you get to be my age” to me several times – except I was older than her.

    6. Ann with out an e*

      I’m a woman and an engineer. When ever how young I look comes up I respond with, “Oh, I’m just aging well, thank you.” or “I’m a prodigy.” You can also go with, “Ohhhhh, I just look young, I graduated X years ago and have Y years of experience in this and Z years of experience with that and these professional licences.” I think the later will be more useful if the opposing counsel is trying to discredit you in front of strangers based on how young you look.

      1. catsAreCool*

        When I got the “young” comments a lot, I’d say “Oh thank you!” in a pleased voice. Sounding happy about looking young tends to make people realize that maybe you aren’t all that young.

  2. Loose Seal*

    #5 – All I know about the UK grading system is that everyone takes the OWLs but only the best students take the NEWTs (unless they are busy saving the world or something).

    Seriously though, perhaps you can ask the alumni association at your uni if they can put you in touch with other grads that are seeking/have sought work in the U.S. to see if you can determine how others have handled this situation. Or you could try to identify some grads on LinkedIn and see how they list their GPA.

    1. Bwmn*

      I would be very interested in hearing how different people have dealt with this.

      I received my Masters degree in Ireland (same grading system) and when applying for my first job out of school, I really struggled with that issue. Honestly, I never truly figured out how to explain it to employers and was ultimately hired in the US by someone who’d gone to university in the UK. As it was my first job out of grad school, I’ll never entirely be sure whether that impacted things or my general lack of experience. But it was clear that where I eventually was hired, the fact that they were relatively impressed by my grades (rather than just acknowledging the achievement of the degree) was very helpful.

      I’m now at a point professionally where it doesn’t matter – but I would be very interested in hearing how others have tried to bridge this information gap.

      1. M-C*

        I came from France, where grading is on a 20-point scale and anything over a 12 was excellent. I merely listed ‘honors’ with my degree and that seemed good enough. But to be fair I’m sure my accent helped convey the fact that some translation would be needed :-).
        If you have time, may I suggest a few classes in the US to complement? Even a few classes would show a reassuring equivalence.

        1. Bwmn*

          I received this degree around ten years ago, and at this point my grades/gpa are no longer necessary. My comment was more to reflect that at the time I greatly struggled and that when I finally was hired it was due to working for someone who had also been educated in a similar system.

  3. blue*

    Why does an employer need to know your gpa anyway? If someone listed that on their resume I would toss it out.

    1. Stephanie*

      Screening. For people with no work experience, it could be used as a proxy that the candidate’s smart, hard-working, etc.

      I don’t think it makes the most sense given that doing well in class doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll do well at a job (different environments), but I could get it for a new grad candidate.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In the OP’s case, she’s being specifically asked for it. Early in your career, it’s not a crazy thing for an employer to request — as Stephanie says, it can be a proxy for smarts, work ethic, etc. when there isn’t much of a track record yet because of youth.

      1. DC*

        The best way to tackle this is to go to a credible accreditation company, and have them provide an equivalency evaluation, which in turn can be used as a supporting document.

        This cost money, but in the end it is well worth it.

        1. Elysian*

          Are you suggesting that young job candidates be forced to take an exam before every job they apply to? I’m not sure I would say that is money well spent.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I don’t think there’s an exam involved, actually. If I’m understanding this correctly, what an accreditation company can do is to look at the OP’s academic credentials and, essentially, “translate” them into the terminology used in, for example, the United States.

          2. First Comment!*

            No, it’s not an exam; an equivalency evaluation is when an organization looks at someone’s international transcript and returns the equivalent US degree. I used to hire for a school division and we got lots of requests for the names of companies that do this, since education is a major part of our hiring process.

            I’ve seen two basic kinds of evaluations – course by course, and degree equivalency. Degree equivalency is easier because it generally gives you the equivalent GPA and degree awarded. Course by course probably costs more, but it outlines the US equivalent of each class’s grade. It might be useful, but unless the OP is going into a field where education is highly important, the degree equivalency is probably sufficient.

            I agree with Stephanie that this is a pointless metric – I wasn’t a great student (unless I liked the class/instructor), but I’m a good employee and relatively intelligent.

            1. Jessa*

              Yeh the degree equivalency would work unless your field requires a licence (in which case you may need the course by course, so you can check the requirements and make sure you’ve met them all.) Especially with things like MD, RN and CPA types. It’s no surprise that given the wide range of requirements across countries those degrees are not automatically equivalent.

          3. Leah*

            No. That’s not what they do. It’s an organization that ” translates” transcripts and degrees from a foreign country for local companies and schools to understand. I had to use one when I moved to the US.

            OP5, I sympathize. Where I come from, marks are on a range from 10-1 and they use that full range of numbers, unlike grades under 70% being an F in the US. Also, basically no one is getting a 10 and very few are getting 9s. Also, since the general culture is to do well but not stand out too much, there is no grade inflation.

        2. LBK*

          I don’t know how helpful that would really be – personally, I’ve never even heard of such a thing, so if someone handed me one as part of a job application it wouldn’t really mean anything to me.

          1. AurelieL*

            I think DC is right. I am French and I studied in France, Italy and England. I now live in Canada and whenever I apply to a job, I am required to provide an evaluation of my academic credentials. All you have to do is get in touch with an organization that provides this type of evaluation in the US and once this is done (after you have paid a processing fee) you will be able to provide your evaluation as a supporting document with every job application that you submit. @Elysian, there is no exam involved here. Basically you pay an organization to certify that a Masters Degree obtained in the UK is as good as a Masters Degree obtained in the States.

            1. Judy*

              I know when applying for some licenses in my state, you have to have a degree accredited by a certain agency or have it evaluated by someone.

              I would look at the accreditation board that the degree would have been granted under in the US to determine where to have the degree evaluated. For example, engineering schools in the US are accredited by ABET (Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology), and it can be seen on their site that they suggest NCEES (National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying) Credential Evaluation.

    3. Brenda*

      I think tossing a resume because it has a GPA on it is a bit extreme. It’s pretty standard information, especially for people who’ve recently graduated and don’t have a huge work history.
      I’ve done this the other way, applying for UK jobs with a US degree. I usually put “GPA 3.8 (equivalent to 1:1)” so they employer understands what it means. The UK grading system can be a bit disorienting, but you can explain how it works if asked. I think in the UK employers almost always want to know your degree class (grade), while it may be asked less often in the US.

    4. BananaPants*

      Many companies use it to screen new grads, especially if they don’t have any relevant internships (although at this point, without an internship or two they’re unlikely to make it to the interview stage).

      Where it becomes silly is once one has some experience. A very talented engineer in my group left the company after 3 years when he applied for an internal development program and was summarily denied because of his college GPA. The requirement was a 3.3 and he had a 3.2+, but it came along with two patent applications and stellar performance reviews, and was halfway through a graduate degree with a very high GPA. He was less than 0.1 short of the GPA requirement and could not convince the program director to consider his entire package and was told to re-apply once he had the graduate degree. After beating his head against the wall he decided to interview elsewhere and very quickly had a job offer from a company in a totally different industry, but doing the same work as he would have done in the development program. In the process we lost an engineer and have no ability to backfill (plus it’ll take a solid year or two to hire a new grad even once we can hire one). Our management is cursing the program director for shortsightedness and it has been fed up the corporate HR food chain, for what little that will do.

      1. Emily*

        I wonder about this with my situation. I’m now 7 years out of school, but my last 2 years of schooling was a graduate program that I dropped out of. I just realized it wasn’t what I really wanted to do with my life and got a job and left after my fourth semester. I obviously want to be clear that I didn’t earn a degree from this, so I write “(withdrawn in good standing)” after the dates in my education section of my resume. But I also have a bullet underneath it that says “GPA: 3.75” not because I think the GPA in an unrelated graduate program has anything to do with my employability in my field, but because I don’t want it to look like I withdrew to avoid failing out. I wonder if even that is something that next time around I won’t need to worry about, since I’ll have probably close to a decade between me and that graduate program by then.

      2. Jamie*

        That’s so annoying. My old company had a policy to never consider anyone, internal or external, for salary-level positions who had not graduated college. They passed up so much amazing talent, and a ton of loyal and extremely competent employees jumped ship the second they found something else.

    5. CoffeeLover*

      As a new grad that recently went through my first job hunt, I will say that every single employer asked for GPA and transcript. Every employer that receives a large amount of applications also had a GPA minimum. I’m guessing you missed that OP is a new grad because I agree asking for GPA from a more experienced candidate is unnecessary.

      1. the gold digger*

        I am experienced but have seen – have completed because what else do you do when you are desperate for a job? – online applications that have asked me for my grad school, college, and high school GPAs. Because even though it has been more than a while since I graduated from high school, it’s important that they know how I was doing when I was 16. (BTW, having a 4.0 GPA has never helped me professionally.)

        1. CoffeeLover*

          A high GPA has definitely helped me professionally. My first job out of uni (which I will be starting shortly) required a 3.6 minimum GPA. That’s not to say it got me the job, but I would not have been considered if my GPA was lower.

      2. Judy*

        Obviously engineering is a unique career type, but at 20+ years of working and 5 companies, I’ve always had to supply either diploma or transcripts at the time of hire (not during interviews, but after hire) for my degrees. I do remember having to tell my GPA for my first out of school job, but since then I’ve just had to show “proof of degree” around my start date.

      3. NowProwl*

        Perhaps it depends on the field. When I was a new grad applying for jobs, literally no one asked for GPA and this was back in 2011/2012. My first job did not require or need a GPA.

    6. Helen*

      I am seven years out of college, and it drives me crazy when online applications ask for my undergrad GPA. (It’s almost as bad as when they ask for the full mailing addresses of each former school/employer, as well as the precise day I left.)

      1. Leah*

        +1. I can’t remember the exact day I started past jobs, why isn’t the month and year enough? Or when they ask current salary, with no way to leave blank. What to fill in? All zeros? Just the truth?

    7. Liane*

      Many job applications ask for GPAs as well. From what I’ve read here at AAM, this is true even when hiring for non-entry-level professional positions. Many companies will insist you fill out an online or even paper application along with your resume.
      Often, with the online ones, there is no way to leave a field blank & continue with the application.

    8. Lily in NYC*

      You would toss out a resume for including GPA? Considering it’s mandatory info required by many firms, I hope you really re-think this. If you truly would throw out a resume for including GPA I’m not sure you should be the person doing the hiring at your place of employment.

    9. AW*

      Why would including that make you toss it? Even if it’s not necessary information, it’s not like it’s wrong. In many cases it doesn’t even take up an extra line on the resume; it’s on the same line as the field of study.

    10. Dynamic Beige*

      A different tack on this: a company I worked for opened a branch office in the US and they wanted to send their #1 creative director Wakeen to head up that office. However, it turned out that Wakeen had dropped out of art school to work full-time in the industry and never went back. Not having that degree made him illegible for whatever visa was required for him to move and work legally in the US.

      So unless the laws have changed to include “commensurate industry experience”, it may not just be the firm that wants to hire you, there could be immigration issues around not having your degree/GPA as well.

  4. Stephanie*

    #1 – Oof. That sucks. I suppose that’s one example of why some of my teacher friends didn’t want to work at private schools.

    #2 – From your letter, it sounds like you’re doing what you can. I’d add to be sure to avoid doing any “women’s housework” at the office if you can (like making coffee, taking notes at a meeting, etc) and not doing things that might be seen as less meaty professionally (diversity initiatives, social committees, etc). And no baked goods. I’ve been there. It’s not fun. Just work on being really good at your job and use Alison’s suggestions for the vendors and clients.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      I’ve worked at several private schools and have never seen anything like this! It sounds utterly absurd. Please don’t paint all private schools with this crazy brush.

      It’s a time-waster for doctors, too, to spend time meeting with people who have gotten over a bug just to write a note saying that they no longer have a fever. It means people who are actually sick will have a harder time getting an appointment to see the doctor!

      1. Stephanie*

        Sorry about that–not my intention. To clarify, what they were telling me was just that things were less standardized (compared to public schools, that is), so you just got a lot more variability in terms of pay and benefits (and, uh, the crazy in OP1’s case).

        Yeah, I don’t even think my doctor would even bother writing a doctor’s note. She’d probably just tell me stay at home and sleep and not come in so I don’t infect the other patients.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Got to echo I’ve worked at three private schools, and all three had very sensible sick day policies. They all, in effect, had no limit. You were sick when you were sick, and you didn’t have to prove anything (prove you were sick, prove you are now healthy). The only bummer is trying to find coverage for classes if you’re a sick teacher…

    2. Michele*

      Good point for #2. I like to bake, and I made the mistake early on of bringing in baked goods. What seems like sharing to you is a signal for others to take you less seriously. Never take notes for another person. No matter how filthy it is, do not clean the refrigerator in the break room. I have also found that instead of correcting people (who will ignore anything you state), it is effective to give them a hard stare and ask why they think you are a secretary. It forces them to engage rather than assume. I have found that often once people have to put their prejudices into words, they think about them realize how bad they sound.

  5. V*

    OP 2 – definitely check out Corporette if you haven’t already; she’s had several good posts on this issue.

    From my experience in computer science, as a young woman you want to dress conservatively and on the older side – you’re wearing a suit, but take a look at the color, shirt, shoes, hair, and makeup you’re wearing with it. If any of it is closer to the secretary than the other associates and partners, ditch it for a more conservative option.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Dressing professionally is key (and the OP says she is). To clarify, I don’t think that “best quality” always means “most expensive.” Not suggesting that previous commenter was saying that either, just want to add that dressing professionally and looking sharp doesn’t always mean spending loads of money on clothes. It can be as simple as tailoring your suits and making sure that they fit very well. An expensive suit doesn’t help your case if it doesn’t fit well, and you look like you’re playing dress up in mom’s clothes. Sounds like OP is already doing this, but for anyone else reading this with a similar struggle – well-fitting suits are more important than expensive suits. I once took a $30 black dress from a mass retailer and spent $50 getting tailored to fit me perfectly. My husband thought I was nuts, but when I wear it, it fits like a GLOVE. You’d think it was a $300 dress the way it looks now!

        1. V*

          Well, OP says she’s wearing “suits”. I’ve seen some very professional looking suits, usually in grey / navy / black made from wool or a nice blend, with conservative styling.

          I’ve also seen “suits” that are bright pink, covered in ribbons, beaded, a trendy “frayed edge” look, or have a skirt that’s basically a miniskirt. There are a lot of things which are technically suits, often pushed by sales associates at trendy stores, which may not be the best clothing choices in this situation.

          Seconding the advice to get things tailored, and make sure you explain to your tailor that you’re going for a conservative look.

          1. Broke Law Student*

            I would be very shocked if a young attorney didn’t realize that a “trendy” suit that you describe would be inappropriate for the office. I know that there are unprofessional people in every field, but even after less than a full year of law school, I’ve been talked to about what clothes to wear more times than I can count.

            1. Panda Bandit*

              Law is very conservative but I’ve heard criminal lawyers can get away with dressing more trendy and flashy.

    1. BananaPants*

      Yeah, I’m an engineer and we have a business casual environment. Unless someone important is in the building, most of our female engineers wear “everyday” clothing similar to the male engineers (khakis and a blouse in conservative colors). That includes me, although I’ll buy pants in grey and dark brown as well. The first time any of my coworkers saw me wearing a dress or skirt was 7 years into working there, when I was in my third trimester of pregnancy during the hot/humid summer and was desperately hot! Plus, I’m a mechanical engineer – there’s a lot of lab work and system testing in PPE, and there’s just no way to wear a skirt or dress when doing a lot of that work.

      We recently hired a female engineer from another company (she has some experience) and a different part of the country and she dresses in a somewhat more formal style, but with lots of skirts/dresses in very bright colors and patterns, more daring cuts, etc. It’s beautiful clothing, just not the style that all of the other female engineers in the company wear. When she arrived, many employees incorrectly assumed she was in HR or an admin rather than an engineer, because an engineer in our company would NOT dress like that. She was complaining about meeting with vendors who assume she’s a secretary there to take notes and I don’t know how to tell her it might be because of what she wears to work.

      1. Some*

        I don’t think it is only the way you dress, it’s the way you project yourself. If they ask you a question and you seem uncertain or that you need to ask somebody to clarify, and the others do not do that, a lot of people would assume that you don’t have the deciding power and somebody just sent you as a filler.

        1. Cheesecake*

          Absolutely! Speaking about secretaries, some of them dress way better than the rest of the office. I met a lot of people, some with questionable profi fashion sense, some with great style and clothes. And i must admit, i do judge by appearance, well, maybe not judge, but assume. However, the moment person speaks, it is all clear who s/he is.

          So yes, i agree we need to pay attention to the office dress code, official or “engineers don’t wear pink” one and apply common sense. But we don’t need to change who we are. And in OP’s case, based on her letter, she does wear suits and she does try to work on her appearance. So i agree with AAM, it is time to be more assertive and firm in the way she communicates.

        2. DuckDuckMøøse*

          We had a lawyer in our legal dept that dressed like Ally McBeal to the Nth degree – super short skirts, very high heels, and half of her outfits looked more appropriate for clubbing than corporate. Every day people would gather to steal a glimpse of what she was wearing for the day. No one took her seriously. I think someone finally talked to her about it, because she did start toning it down.

          1. Cheesecake*

            We had a boss (d-level), who looked very professional 4 days a week. On casual friday i once mistaken him with a facility employee who was fixing our lighting.

        3. dawbs*

          OP, I know you say you already do some of this, (and yay for that), but also…don’t be ‘nice’.

          Polite, professional, sure. But apparently in a lot of office culture, admins are ‘nice’ (approachable, friendly, super polite), bosses are not (aloof, polite but never gregarious, professional, etc).

          Which is BS, but sometimes it helps to play the game.
          And if they continue to assume I’m an admin, I just do the deadpan thousand yard stare over my glasses, through them, until they’re uncomfortable and apologize–remember, making people uncomfortable isnt’ a bad thing.

        4. Melissa*

          Probably true, but research (and anecdotal evidence) has shown that women get mistaken for lower-power jobs regardless of how they act. In most cases it’s more about the stereotypes and assumptions of the perceiver than the actions of the target.

          1. dawbs*

            I can believe that. and even if acting less friendly does it, it’s still BS–friendly male = gregarious. Friendly female = admin/intern.

            But I do know that making myself as ‘severe’ as possible (hair back. Frumpy clothes. I don’t naturally have RBF, but I have cultivated it for use at times) helps a bit.
            But mostly growing older has helped :)

      2. AnonAcademic*

        ” It’s beautiful clothing, just not the style that all of the other female engineers in the company wear. When she arrived, many employees incorrectly assumed she was in HR or an admin rather than an engineer, because an engineer in our company would NOT dress like that. She was complaining about meeting with vendors who assume she’s a secretary there to take notes and I don’t know how to tell her it might be because of what she wears to work.”

        Is there an actual dress code (i.e. no skirts for safety reasons) or is it more of an office culture thing? Could you say something like “oh you know us engineers, we practically wear our khakis as a uniform, I guess since you don’t wear the uniform they think you work in a different department!” It points out the norms without implying that anyone is doing anything “wrong” per se…

        I’m on the other side of this – I dress more “dressy” and colorful than people expect for someone in research. I actually avoid work environments with a very prescriptive casual dress culture because at my last job I got tired of being ribbed for things like doing my hair or wearing lipstick. That said I do tone it down in the first few weeks/months until my work can speak for itself.

        1. Former Enginner*

          And it’s this type of thinking that made me leave engineering. I’m serious. I busted my butt in college for four years so that I could afford to buy beautiful clothes, only to get a job and learn “that’s not how engineers look.” So I quit the profession and switched to marketing and now read countless articles about why girls don’t want to work in STEM fields.

          1. Helen*

            Yeah, I’d be really frustrated if I was thought of as less of a [whatever the profession is] for dressing TOO well. I love fashion, and for the most part I try to buy clothes that I could wear to work and not to work (since I’m at work most days). I’d be super annoyed if I had to buy a bunch of dowdy khakis just to be approved by my coworkers.

          2. Cheesecake*

            i can only appreciate when someone looks good. it warms my heart and makes my day way better. i have a colleague who looks straight out of 90, because she didn’t buy new clothes since then. all i can think of is “please take this off and burn with fire”. (no, there is no money issue there)

            from my experience most of engineers don’t look ..well,good (i go clothes shopping with some of my engineer friends who look so bad i volunteer to help out).

            How do you switch from engineering to mkting (out of curiosity)?

            1. Former Enginner (and poor speller apparently)*

              It was rather easy. I was already at a manufacturer, so just switched from making the product to marketing the product. I should add that this was the early 90s, so the market may have changed considerably and it may not be as easy now as it was then.

              1. Juli G.*

                Happens a lot here too – I also work for a manufacturer and many women make that same move you did for similar reasons (although we’re trying to combat it!)

          3. LBK*

            Thank you for saying this, I’m kind of surprised by the sentiments here. There’s obviously something to be said for fitting into a culture and so on, but if you want to wear something nice or fancy or (god forbid) feminine, I don’t see how that’s anyone’s problem. Are you still smart and doing your work? Great.

            1. V*

              I wish you were right. Unfortunately, there’s “The way I wish the world handled this”, and then there’s “What I’ve actually experienced in the world today”. If you’re a woman in a male dominated field, and having problems being recognized as an equal, sometimes the best approach is to adjust your makeup / hair / clothing choices.

              And this is true for men as well, in some cases – growing out their hair, growing a long beard, wearing jewelry, and wearing clothing that’s too trendy can cause problems for them, too.

              1. Chinook*

                “If you’re a woman in a male dominated field, and having problems being recognized as an equal, sometimes the best approach is to adjust your makeup / hair / clothing choices.”

                This is it – you have to be taken seriously on the inside before you can change the culture otherwise you are just making waves with no real impact.

                My (female boss) mentieond the other day that the first day here she started her newbie training with a director who thought she was an admin (she was the only female engineer in the company). She laughed it off as something she is used to, clarified that he was wrong (and he was emabarrassed) and now is part of a department that is 25% female (and even headed all female field crews). She hasn’t stopped being feminine but she also knows when and where to be so (she has some killer dresses but also knows how to rock the jeans and button down shirt). I think that, because she has been dealing with this since she started university and has learned how to subtly deal with it (though she does still complain that none of the men on a national committee she chairs know how to take good minutes).

                1. Jessa*

                  Of course they don’t know how to take good minutes. They’ve been acculturated to taking minutes = women’s work (not admin work, not secretarial work, not clerical work – all of which can be done by men,) but work done by persons who present as female. They were never taught how to take minutes. Now don’t get me wrong lots of women were never taught either, but we learnt by trial and error because it was a skill we were expected to master.

                  The only way they’ll learn is to go through past minutes, and also to be made to do it. Yes, you might want to have a second minute taker in case they blow the first meeting, to show them what they should have included, but seriously. A lot of times the reason that they do not learn is because they get away with foisting it on the women in the room and nobody ever calls them on it.

            2. Kat M*

              But the thing is, we all know that the workplace isn’t about what you “want” to wear and we’ve talked a lot about dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.

              I guess I’m not understanding why a woman would necessarily need to look feminine if that’s not what she was hired to do. I am sure men wish they did not have to wear suits all the time, particularly when it is hot out, but they do. If everyone else is wearing khakis and polos and you’re wearing a cute skirt, you’re going to stand out, even in the most enlightened of offices. Even in jobs where I had uniforms or strict dress codes, I always reminded myself that I was free to wear what I liked after the work day was over.

              I am not denying that real bias exists or that people shouldn’t be judged by their appearance…….but I think there are other issues besides what the dress code is.

              1. LBK*

                I guess I’m not understanding why a woman would necessarily need to look feminine if that’s not what she was hired to do.

                My issue with that is that it perpetuates more traditionally masculine clothing as the default, giving men an unconscious advantage in terms of being taken seriously at work. In other words, a guy is less likely to have to adjust the type of clothing he would normally be inclined to wear in order to be seen as professional, because masculinity is culturally linked with professionalism.

                I do understand that scaling how fancy your outfits are accordingly with your company’s culture is important. I totally agree that if it’s a casual company and you show up in a suit because that’s what you want to wear, you’re going to have a hard time fitting in regardless of your gender. But I do think men get more leeway in that regard than women because in addition to the fancy/casual scale, women have to worry about the femininity scale, too.

                1. Kat M*

                  All the same…what did women do in the past when they were just starting to enter the workforce?

                  I’m not saying it’s fair…..but my mother always told me to play the game until I’m in charge and can change the rules (young, baby faced woman here who did have to wear ugly khakis for one position). And, to be honest, I can imagine people hearing women complaining about clothes and thinking we’re all shallow. I agree that it’s not fair, but it doesn’t sound like something that will garner sympathy until women are at higher levels already. Bigger issues, I can see winning on. I can’t see winning on a dress code.

                2. Chinook*

                  “My issue with that is that it perpetuates more traditionally masculine clothing as the default, giving men an unconscious advantage in terms of being taken seriously at work.”

                  Yes and no. Frankly, traditional men’s clothing has evolved to be safer in general whereas women’s has ns not had to go that way (i.e. the form has had to follow function). For example, I would never wear what I am wearing today (dress, boot with heels) in the field as it would be unsafe and is not compatible with PPE standards but pants and shirt with flat shoes do. Does it suck that I, as a female, would have to change to go onsite whereas my male coworkers wouldn’t? Yes but it is my choice.

                  Now, PPE equipment is slowly evolving to become more female friendly (I once saw a coverall design that allowed women to not have to remove the entire thing to use a portapotty and recognized that two women of the same height may not have the same chest to waist ratio), but the design will still be influenced by male fashion because the basic design is safer.

          4. The IT Manager*

            I’m in STEM, but not an engineer. Less you think I dress too poorly, I am interested in looking good in comfortable casual and business casual clothing. And I rarely wear heels because they’re just terribly uncomfortable which limits my options. I’m a pleased to be in a field where the ability to “dress well” and be uncomfortable and purchase ridiculiously expensive clothing is not necessary to succeed. I have never viewed if from the other side where someone might be unhappy to have to dress down to fit in.

            I have to confess as I have never been interested in beautiful clothes, I find the idea that reason that girls don’t want to work in STEM is that they won’t get to dress up very odd.

            1. Cat*

              I think your last sentence is unduly limiting it. One of the reason many women don’t want to work in STEM is because they are expected to play to certain expectations, one of which is that they not behave or dress in certain stereotypically feminine ways. That can be a serious constraint even if you often would have chosen not to anyway because it’s forcing you into a framework that devalues traditional femininity and, thus, continually implies you’re lesser merely for being female.

            2. Former Enginner (and poor speller apparently)*

              “I find the idea that reason that girls don’t want to work in STEM is that they won’t get to dress up very odd.”

              That’s what’s so great about diversity, right? We can look different and yet still have valuable ideas.

            3. LBK*

              I’m a pleased to be in a field where the ability to “dress well” and be uncomfortable and purchase ridiculiously expensive clothing is not necessary to succeed.

              But the core of that sentiment is wanting to be judged on your work and not your appearance, which applies both ways. You don’t want to have to dress up to be taken seriously, other people don’t want to have to dress down. I think you maybe don’t realize it because it happens to coincide with your personal style, but the culture you’re a part of does have almost as much of an image focus as cultures that expect people to dress up, it just swings the other direction.

              Our company just downgraded the official dress code from business to business casual and you would be amazed at how many people are resistant. They like the image they feel they project when they wear a suit. I don’t experience this with business clothing, but I certainly enjoy wearing a casual outfit that I think looks really good on me – it’s a confidence booster. Same thing can apply to what people wear to work, and I don’t see why it matters one way or the other as long as the outfit isn’t inappropriate.

              1. Judy*

                If you can’t do your work because of how you dress, or avoid part of your job’s duties because of how you dress, it becomes an issue.

                I generally wear slacks and blouses, rather than khakis and polos. But I also do not wear anything too expensive because if an issue happens, I need to be able to go wherever to help solve it, and there are many places here that are greasy and dirty. I’m not one willing to climb a ladder in a skirt.

                I guess I think that is the root of the “engineers don’t look like that” comes from.

                1. Cat*

                  But there are plenty of engineers for whom that isn’t an issue and where there’s zero chance they’ll suddenly have to climb up a ladder.

                2. LBK*

                  If the concern was about practicality, why wouldn’t a) the coworkers actually talk about it that way instead of just being vague and saying she doesn’t look the part, and b) the employee be able to come to that conclusion on their own? I’d think if you realized you would potentially be running around in dirty areas, you would be capable of adjusting your wardrobe accordingly.

                  I get where you’re coming from, in that the dress code of the culture has to some extent been determined by the type of work being done, but I still think it’s an overly generous reading based on how the problem was actually positioned to the employee.

                3. Judy*

                  I guess I think that people aren’t as direct as they should be, especially when talking with younger women about their clothing choice.

                  And once some male says, oh, you’re dressed like that, I’ll just do X for you, sometimes they don’t get the message.

              1. Former Enginner (and poor speller apparently)*

                I am referring to research on females under the age of 18. Should I be using a different term?

                1. nona*

                  Sorry if I misplaced my comment – I meant to reply to IT Manager, who seemed to be calling grown women girls.

            4. catsAreCool*

              One of the things I like about working with computers is that casual shirts and jeans are OK. And I can wear pink shirts if I want.

              Most of the programmers where I work do tend to dress casually.

          5. Current engineer*

            I dress well for my work group. I’m two years out of college and my first job out of college treated me like crap. I has sexist, sexual comments regularly, I felt uncomfortable wearing professional clothes (traditional pencil skirts and heels) so I wore combat boots and jeans. And I freaking hate jeans.

            Eventually, I gave up caring how my coworkers treated me and I started dressing the way I felt comfortable and started seeking a new job. I found one on the east coast, and took it. I negotiated a much higher salary, and switched from electrical engineering to software engineering. I won’t look back. Here, they treat me much better, and I’m not mocked for wearing “girly professional attire” even though I dress better than my peers in slacks and sweaters.

            I plan to leave engineering one day to work in management and hopefully become CTO of a company, but I can say with certainty that the reason that so few women stay in STEM fields is due to how poorly we are treated. Throughout my degree, my internships, and my work I’ve been told that I wasn’t smart enough to be an engineer. That I was too pretty to be an engineer. And I was given membership to Tau Beta Pi, the engineering honor society. Ugh. /end rant

            1. Mabel*

              I’m not surprised – but I am sorry – to hear that this is still going on. I had a friend in college (late ’80s) who was the only woman student in the physics department. In her senior year, she switched to a math major (and had to take a ton of classes to be able to graduate on time with her new major) because she couldn’t stand anymore the way she was treated every day at school.

              1. ES*

                Ugh, my sister is a physics major (freshman in college), and before she even started she was warned about how awful it would be for her as a woman. I mean, it hasn’t all be awful experiences, but she has quite a few classes where she’s the only woman, and she’s creeped out by her advisor, but there’s not much she can do about that because he has tenure.

                1. Calacademic*

                  Woah, woah, woah. Your sister should NOT be getting creeped out by her advisor, she should not feel like it is awful to be a woman (even if there she is the only one) in physics. Trust me, her physics department is THRILLED to have her; they know the stats on how few women there are in STEM fields generally and physics specifically. They desperately want her to make it through and find a job that uses her physics major. They want her daughters, nieces, female cousins too.

                  Your sister should go to a trusted professor RIGHT NOW and ask for a different advisor. The department will (or at least should) do back-flips to help her out, especially as it sounds like their male-to-female ratio is subpar.**

                  **Sorry for all the caps-lock. This is a subject near and dear to my heart that I am rather passionate about. Also, sorry for the further tangent.

                2. mweis77*

                  Chiming in to agree that being creeped out by her advisory is NOT ok. It’s hard without specifics (that shouldn’t be posted here anyway – so I’m not asking), but a reputable dept will allow advisor switches. Especially as an undergrad – it’s not like she’s about to defend a dissertation and wanting to change the day before! If she’s worried, she can just say she’d like a better “fit.” If she’s developed a good relationship with another professor, she can ask to change to them. Or at a minimum ask about how to change advisors. I could see the dynamics being different at a larger school than a smaller school. But she should most definitely change.

                3. mweis77*

                  Oh – and sending her virtual hugs and “hang in there” vibes. This type of stuff can be difficult for people with years of experience professionally.

                4. M-C*

                  +1 on getting a new advisor! No specific sub-field is worth that much grief. And not only would the department not necessarily be happy to have a woman driven out because of their statistics, but sexual harassment is one of the very few offenses that tenured people actually lose their job over. So even the vaguest hint of a lawsuit would freak them out. Don’t go ask to be assigned to another advisor, go get one for yourself. Attend department teas/talks/conferences, strike up conversations with people, and if one seems to be doing interesting work and hits a chord personally, just ask them to be your advisor. It’s a much better way than asking the department, who otherwise will try to unload you on the creeps nobody else wants. And it’s the way it should be, advising is a 2-way street: you hope to get someone who will actively help you get through school, and they hope to get someone who’ll eventually enhance their academic reputation. But at least you need one who won’t creep you out, even if it’s only while you search for the ideal for your final, all-important thesis advisor. Please, please, change now! Get another one this week!

          6. Chuchundra*

            If the wardrobe you wear to work is more important to you than the actual work you do there then you definitely made the right decision by leaving engineering.

            1. Former Enginner (and poor speller apparently)*

              I work so I can support myself in the lifestyle I want without having to be dependent on others.

            2. LBK*

              Huh? That’s the exact opposite of her point…which was that she wanted to focus on the work and others made her feel unwelcome based on what she wore. Her wardrobe was more important to her peers than her actual work, not the other way around.

            3. Cat*

              Maybe not being judged for her clothing by jerks who have opinions about how women should look and behave was more important than doing a specific job. Shocking thought, I know.

              1. Chinook*

                “Maybe not being judged for her clothing by jerks who have opinions about how women should look and behave was more important than doing a specific job. ”

                But why are you assuming they are judging her by what women should wear/behave and not on how an engineer should look/behave? It may not be a case of “eww – woman” so much as “are you sure you are an engineer? You don’t look line one because you dress nicer than one of us and more like our bosses/head office staff.”

                It is a subtle difference with the latter having nothing to do with gender as it could also apply to a guy showing up in a suit when everyone else is in khakis.

                1. Cat*

                  Because this stuff doesn’t exist in a cultural vacuum. If you have a uniform of khakis, fine. But what we’re talking about here is a situation where traditionally male forms of dress are okay and traditionally feminine ones are not okay in a place where women are traditionally discriminated against on a number of axes. That adds up to another barrier on women and another way to devalue their work; and moreover, it reinforces the idea that engineers “look” a certain way that is traditionally gendered male because engineers are male.

                  All of that adds up to help create an environment that is hostile to women. And it is separate from just dressing “nicely” vs. “less nicely.” The female equivalent of a man wearing a suit is a woman wearing a suit; it is not “a woman wearing any dress or skirt or anything that’s not khakis.”

                2. aebhel*

                  Sure, but if ‘how an engineer should look and behave’ coincides perfectly with ‘in no way associated with anything at all feminine in dress or manner’, then that is sexist.

                  And I say this as someone who would wear jeans, boots, and flannel to work every day if I could. But I’ve spent a long time in geek culture, and there’s a wide and ugly streak of sexism running through it. Women are accepted if and only if they eschew any and all markers of traditional femininity, and that’s BS.

            4. Laurel Gray*

              I don’t really think this is fair. I don’t think anyone in this thread feels their wardrobe is more important than their career. I don’t think it is right that women are still judged in the workplace by how we choose to dress. Even worse when it comes from other women. I don’t think our college major and desired career path should be an indicator of how we should dress. I understand some environments are more casual than others but as long as a woman is within the company’s dress code, there shouldn’t be whispers or assumptions if she chooses to wear a wrap dress in a sea of khakis or a patent leather pump in a cubicle farm of flats and sneaker-shoes. An engineer has every right to want to wear a cute pencil skirt and blouse the same way an EA or analyst would.

              1. Judy*

                Unless she has to be able to climb ladders or climb under a section of assembly line. Engineering is about designing things, whether products or manufacturing processes. Even as a software engineer, I’ve had to go on the production floor to look at something, and I’ve ruined more clothes with grease and industrial solvents than I’d prefer to think about. I’ve spent days looking at a test process of a product in an un-airconditioned plant in the middle of the summer.

                Especially when you’re a young engineer, being unwilling to help the team solve a problem can be an issue. I guess if you had a go bag in your car, and could change quickly without fuss, you might be able to do that.

                1. Laurel Gray*

                  But part of being a professional is knowing when and how to adapt. I do not think anyone in this thread working in an engineering capacity was trying to wear open toe high heels and skirts while working in a plant. I know engineers. Some days it is sheath dresses and pumps and the next day it’s khakis and some kind of company approved shoe. I think most in this thread were specifically talking about work in the office, not the plant. In the office, no female engineer should be made to feel bad or uncomfortable for dressing feminine.

                2. Mike C.*

                  If she has to climb ladders or be exposed to industrial solvents, why would she dress in a way that would prevent her from doing that?

                3. M-C*

                  Even in software, I often enough end up lying on the floor with my head in a dusty tangle of cables. If I wore a skirt, or a blouse that can be peeked down, this would not be good. And if I wore a suit, I’d totally be mistaken for an admin. I’m more interested in clothes than the jeans and ripped-t-shirt crowd. That’s OK, I have full license to wear weird clothes, strange prints and topologically advanced things from Japanese designers :-). Being eccentric is not a drawback in engineering.

            5. Cordelia Naismith*

              And being stereotyped by negative comments like this one didn’t factor into that decision at all.

            6. Stephanie*

              Hrm, but therein lies the problem: you have to put on your “serious engineer costume” to be taken seriously.

              I didn’t pick up Former Engineer was talking about running around the office in haute couture looks–it sounded like she just wanted to wear a dress (I hate khakis too and think they make me look sad and frumpy).

              1. Laurel Gray*

                I have a 27 inch waist on what feels like 60 inch hips. If I even reach for a pair of khakis on the wall at the Gap I will be escorted out by security.

            7. Mike C.*

              This is a pretty terrible attitude. No one should be treated as though their ideas are worthless simply because they put on a dress or skirt rather than pants.

            8. aebhel*

              Huh. Maybe having people make obnoxious assumptions about her on the basis of her wardrobe–you know, kind of like how you’re doing now–is why she left engineering. Just a thought.

          7. MaryMary*

            Khakis and a polo/button down also aren’t the most flattering clothes for a lot of women. I’m on the cusp between regular sizes and plus sizes, and dresses are my go-to for something that fits and flatters. Even when I wore smaller sizes, khakis were never my favorite (I’ve always been curvy, even as a size four). Khakis wrinkle and fit less well than a nice pair of dress pants.

            1. Anonna Miss*

              This. The standard uniform of khakis + buttown shirt/polo shirt doesn’t flatter a lot of women’s body types. And granted, a lot of women don’t care that much about dressing up versus fitting in, if that’s the issue. But many men will turn around and complain that the women look frumpy, even though they’re wearing the same genre of clothes as the guys. In a lot of places, it’s a can’t-win situation.

              1. MaryMary*

                Or even if no one complains, a lot of it is subconscious. When I wear something I know I look good in, I’m more confident. If I look frumpy and sloppy, people might assume I’m disorganized or less competent. It’s so complex.

            2. Emmy*

              I haaaaate khakis and polo shirts. Reminds me of the awful preppy abercrombie trends of my youth. And button down shirts are…rather tricky in the chest area. Give me a nice sweater any day.

        2. Melissa*

          I dress more dressy and colorful than most academics/researchers too. I’ve found I constantly get comments on it at conferences, but they are typically positive and generally from other women, lol. That said, I have definitely been in environments in which I was gently teased for “dressing up.” I would also want to avoid a culture where casual dress (or, god forbid, jeans and a hoodie!) are the prescriptive every day dress code.

          1. Laurel Gray*

            Right on! I get complimented on the clothes I wear to work – all work appropriate and this is a business environment. We do not even have a casual Friday and boy how I wish we did. Casual Friday to me would be jeans, a blouse, blazer and a modest pump or flat. But alas, I just wear a more twill type slack on Fridays.

            Off topic: a friend’s roommate worked with the same company for 8 years that was a ripped jeans and hoodie environment. When she was laid off she had great difficulty moving past the first interview stage and we strongly believed it had to do with her clothing choices. It seemed like PreviousEmployer completely warped her view on what was professional attire.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              When I started, I was so happy not to have to wear business casual that I wore jeans, trainers, and a t-shirt every day. On holiday, I dressed a little smarter to knock around the city, and I got used to it. Now I still wear jeans to work but they fit better. I have a jacket or cardigan, boots or dressier shoes, and I feel utterly naked without a scarf. I keep a cardigan in my cube for AC chill in summer. No dresses or skirts, though; heels kill my back and we typically have no reason to dress up that much.

              We’re VERY casual here but rips, Crocs, etc. are frowned on. When we have to dress up for visiting clients, it’s hilarious because a whole ton of people will suddenly find a reason to work from home. I think dressing slightly better has helped me, not so much with my job here (no one sees me unless I’m covering the front desk) but overall. I feel more confident. That would really help someone when they’re interviewing–if you look good, you feel good and it shows.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            Literally just now, Accounting girl ( that wears running shoes jeans and baggy tshirts every day which to me is not Business casual) just walked by me and said “Ooh fancy today” because I’m wearing earrings! (Simple silver hoops)

          3. fposte*

            I think gender and field intersect in complicated ways sometimes; I know a male physicist who, a few years ago, said that even dressing in a suit would make him suspect in interviews–the physics way was a t-shirt and jeans, and if you deviated it looked like you didn’t understand the code.

            I don’t know how being female would work with those expectations, and what the consequences would be for deviation. Are you dismissed for not being conventionally dressed for a woman, or would you be dismissed if you wanted to wear a nice dress, dammit? Maybe both by different people.

        3. BananaPants*

          It’s mostly an office culture thing. The organization is over 90% male and tends toward conservative (boring) styles and colors. If male employee came in dressed in Nantucket reds or a seersucker suit, he’d get a side eye just as much as a woman in a black-and-fuchsia peplum jacket. The admins and HR tend to be more creative and dressy with their look but not the engineers. No one’s going to say anything if I wear a purple polo or a light pink button down blouse, but that’s about the extent I’m comfortable taking it. No one is ribbed for wearing makeup or having nicely-done hair.

          Our dress code forbids a lot of footwear styles , capri or cropped pants (even dress ones), sleeveless shirts, denim of any color, and skirts or dresses need to be a “professional” length if worn. There are a few practices not codified in the dress code that are safety-related (no scarves/ties near rotating equipment, not wearing dangly jewelry). Most mechanical and systems engineers don’t wear skirts or dresses much because our testing work often involves standing on elevated scaffolds or ladders with coworkers below.

    2. Anonymous Ninja*

      While these things may help, they’re not the golden ticket to bust other people’s incorrect assumptions. There is no magic bullet or magic phrase or magic way of acting that will prevent other people from being stupid. I know – I’m 41 and it’s STILL happening to me. Some people just find it easier to make assumptions on first glance than to bother to read name tags, realize the other person is wearing a suit, or the ultimate gauge: listen to what the other person is saying.

  6. Anonymous Educator*

    If they want to hire you, they’re not going to forget about you

    What Alison says here cannot be emphasized enough to job-seekers. I’ve been involved with a lot of hiring processes, even when I’m not the primary hiring manager, and in every search we never forget about the candidates we want to hire.

    The hiring process can certainly take longer than originally planned or not be the most urgent priority, but if we get the sense we’re going to lose our top candidate, we move on it! There’s no way this employer is sitting around saying “We really want to hire OP#3, but she hasn’t sent her references to us unsolicited yet. Oh, well… guess we’ll move on to the next candidate.”

    Every time I’ve been hired and it’s gotten down to reference-checking, the hiring manager has always asked me for references. The same will happen for you if it comes down to it.

    1. OP #$*

      Thanks! This is definitely a good reminder, and something I’ve seen Alison say on here before. I was definitely just being impatient. In the end, I didn’t get the job, but I am hopeful something better will come along!

  7. Retailer4life*

    #1 this is what the affordable care act solves. If you work more than 30 hours a week your employer must provide health insurance. If not you can sign up through the affordable care act and receive insurance for a very low rate (my friend on a low income pays $1 a month and very small copay to get a doctors note). Look into the new laws if you haven’t. They are much more employee centric.

    Also here’s hoping laws change to provide mandatory sick days for all!

    1. Rebecca*

      Doesn’t this apply to employers with 50 or more employees? It’s possible OP#1’s school may not have that many employees. Spot on about the ACA. This is what it’s for. She should not be going without health insurance.

      1. Mpls*

        If her employer is not required to provide insurance, then she can go to the exchange and possibly qualify for a subsidy (depending on household size and income).

        1. Cordelia Naismith*

          This does depend on what state you live in, though. Here in Georgia, for example, our lawmakers did not expand Medicaid, so unless you make a certain amount of money, you don’t qualify for the subsidies…and if you don’t make that amount of money, you can’t afford to pay for health insurance without the subsidies.

    2. NurseB*

      Unfortunately, the ACA doesn’t help everyone and not having insurance is still a reality for many. My relative lost her job to downsizing so signed up through the exchanges, all while being told her physician accepted the insurance. In reality, the physician did not and the insurance did her little good. She decided not to sign up this year and just try to get insurance through a future employer.

      Many people who do have the exchange insurance are finding out their tax return this year is much reduced due to the subsidy they received for their insurance. Those that didn’t have issues on the front end are finding that their deductibles are in the thousands and many things, like certain medications, are too expensive for them to afford, even with the coverage.

      The ACA still had a long way to go in terms of being a help to many of the people in the most need of it.

      1. PEBCAK*

        It is indeed a shame that Florida’s legislature rejected the federal dollars that would have greatly expanded coverage in the state.

        1. De Minimis*

          My state is the same way….basically leaving money on the table. I work at a health clinic and am responsible for determining how we pay for expenditures, and in our case most of the time that money is going right into the private sector, and often to small businesses. And that doesn’t even take into account the spending and tax revenue from our employees whose jobs are funded from Medicaid.

          1. Jessa*

            Yeh and in my state we fall into the “Feds say you qualify for State, State says ‘nope,'” loophole. There’s a very narrow band where I live of both sides saying you’re eligible for the other and neither wanting to get off that line. So I remain uninsured right now. I do not have the energy (due to my disability) to actually stand and fight them anymore. So whilst it’s awesome in a lot of cases there are a zillion reasons why people are still not insured.

            1. Stephanie*

              Yup, I fell into this loophole. Now I did already have an individual plan I bought through USAA that met ACA standards, but I was trying to see if I could get something more comprehensive. Feds sent me to my state and state said “nope.”

      2. LBK*

        I’m really confused how you can be unaware of what your deductible is…does it not show you the deductible before you select the plan? I haven’t used the exchanges myself.

        People that want a big tax return are a huge pet peeve of mine, all it means is that you gave the government an interest-free loan for a year (the exception being things like EIC that can greatly sway your tax liability). You shouldn’t want to get money back.

        1. brightstar*

          I disagree with saying that people shouldn’t want to get money back. It doesn’t work for you and that’s fine but for some people, they wouldn’t save the money any other way. Or it comes at the just the right time.

          One employer told me that if I took any sick time at all, even leaving early for a migraine, I had to have a doctor’s note. I had not been abusing PTO or even taking a lot of time off. I ended up coming in with migraines or contagious until I found another job. Policies such as that one are inadvisable and sometimes ridiculous.

          1. LBK*

            Except you usually don’t recoup all the money you pay into it, so it’s a really bad savings plan – you should be making money off of saving, not losing it. I get that for some people, monetary impulse control is a struggle, but there has to be some better option out there than giving money away.

            1. Mpls*

              Have you seen interest rates lately? Nobody is earning a lot on interest, so having the government hold it starts to become a wash.

              1. De Minimis*

                Yeah, I used to be in the “try not to get a refund” camp, but don’t really see a big difference anymore.

                I make an exception with my state income tax, though, I do prefer to give them as little as possible so I do micromanage my state withholding in order to minimize any extra amount they get.

            2. Natalie*

              Eh, some people just won’t. There’s lots of reasons for that, some of which can be mitigated with incentives, but at the moment those incentives largely don’t exist. So good for anyone who’s figured out that a large tax refund is an effective life hack for them – better than nothing.

              1. LBK*

                I suppose if it works for you, it works for you, but I question how many people actually understand where their tax refund comes from and make a conscious decision to save that way vs. those that just see a big check and don’t think twice about why or where it comes from. I suspect many who like getting a big refund fall into the latter category.

            3. Tax Nerd*

              There are a lot of people, not just at the lowest income levels, who will spend money if they have it readily available. An extra $10 (or $20 or $100) in their paycheck will get spent on dining out or movie tickets or going out for beer, or whatever. But if they let the IRS hold it, they get it all at once, and can buy a large-ticket item.

              Sure, it’d be great if everyone had self-control to just put their money in the bank and not spend it. It’d also be great if banks paid 8% interest while only charging 1% for mortgages, but that’s not the world we live in.

              I used to have clients that would want to owe the IRS enough to not owe underpayment penalties, but to not get a refund so they could invest it. Now, most don’t care, except the very high earners.

          2. Stranger than fiction*

            I think the point we’re missing is regardless of insurance one should not have to roll out of bed use gas and pay the $20 copay or whatever only to waste yours and the doctors time to be told you have a bug go home and rest…most places don’t require a note until you miss 3+ days and even then it’s more of a note saying it’s ok for you to come back I.e. It’s safe and you’re no longer contagious

            1. Jessa*

              Particularly when, if I read the OP right, the OP wanted to return BEFORE said note would be needed and boss said “stay home.” Thus triggering the note requirement. Heck no. Especially for a teacher, they rarely make enough to not be living cheque to cheque. Where is that extra appointment going to come from?

    3. JoAnna*

      #1 OP may not be able to afford insurance through the ACA. While the plans may be cheaper in some cases (but not in others), the plans aren’t free, and teacher salaries are notoriously horrible, especially for entry-level teachers.

      1. Stephanie*

        Or the plans available have high deductibles, low premiums. When I checked, I was guided toward a bunch of $6000 deductible plans since I’m a healthy 20-something. Good for low premiums, but I’d be SOL
        financially if I actually needed to use it for anything but preventative care.

        1. la Contessa*

          That was exactly our experience. My husband’s COBRA got cancelled and replaced with something that had an astronomical (for us, with him being unemployed) premium, so we went to the marketplace . . . only to find that the cheapest plan was still more expensive than the one that got cancelled, had a $6,000 out of pocket max, and had a specialist co-pay of $80 (which was a 700% increase over his previous co-pay of $10, and actually cost more than the $75/visit the doctor charges people with no insurance). We saw no reason to pay more for worse insurance, so he just didn’t have insurance for a year and paid the doctor out of pocket. It’s looking like the promised exemption won’t cover us, either, but we’ll be ahead even after paying the penalty-tax (and that includes his trip to the hospital), so I guess that’s a victory.

        2. Mpls*

          Stephanie – but that’s the point. You are a 20-something that is unlikely to have to go to the doctor, so why pay for coverage you likely will not need. Take the savings in premiums and put it in an HSA (if you have an eligible plan) to help cover any doctor’s visits you might have.

          I guess this really boils down to whether you see health insurance as a backstop against racking up lots of medical bills (so more towards the catastrophic end), or if you expect it to cover all of your costs. The first model is an effort to make people conscious about their consumption of medical resources, but give them a safety net if something really horrible happens.

          1. Stephanie*

            Well, right. That wasn’t a huge deal for me (and I did stash the excess from lowered premiums into an HSA). But if OP1 says funds are tight, an HDHP from the exchange isn’t great either as that will all be out of pocket until she hits her deductible.

  8. TheLazyB*

    OP2, I can’t believe your work gave out your birthday at all, let alone in those circumstances :(

      1. TheLazyB*

        Oooh, you could read that either way. It still sounds to me like it wasn’t OP2. I hope she clarifies!

        1. OP2*

          I don’t actually know who gave it out, but I can completely see someone in the office doing so thinking “oh they want to send flowers, how nice” without thinking about it any more.

          1. AW*

            Still, that’s kind of a security problem, isn’t it? Your birth date is one of those “prove that you’re you” questions on forms.

            1. TheLazyB*

              I would be furious if someone gave out my birthday (even without the year) without my permission.

              Would you write them a letter OP2? Explaining that you are not a secretary and guaranteeing that they understand that and will not treat you as one?

              (Disclosure, I am a secretary!)

  9. Ruth (UK)*

    5. If you got a first it might help to explain the breakdown of how common that is. In the year of my graduation i think it looked something like this: 10% of people get firsts, 40% get 2.1, 40% get 2.2, 10% get a third

    Also note those are percentages of people who graduated. It doesn’t take into account people who failed or got a pass with no honours.

    I got a frustratingly high 2.1 in my degree that leaves me saying 2.1. I got 69 and of course 70 is a first. And even sometimes other subjects wont understand how high your grade is when you say the number. I found maths and science students were marked out of 100 and it was a technically possible grade to achieve. My subject (English language) was very much out of 80. The highest mark I heard of anyone getting was 79 until a girl in the year above me got a special award when she graduated for getting the highest mark in her year and in the whole decade, with 80 in every module which was considered a perfect score and almost unreachable. Still they’d often say it as a percent which seems to suggest you did less well…. Like you’re missing 20% you could have got…

    1. Puffle*

      In my uni department (UK), someone once got a 85% on a lit paper but it was decided that that was “too high” and the grading curve must be “skewed”. How did they resolve it? They knocked everyone down by 10% ><

    2. Sarkywoman*

      I did English in the UK and I knew people getting over 80 on essays and exams. Maybe it’s a matter of University preference.

      1. Daisy*

        It definitely depends on the university. Where I did undergrad 75 was remarkable and higher than that basically unheard of. I got 73 for one of my finals and that lecturer still brings that up when he sees me as being a great paper.

    3. Noah*

      Very different from the U.S. method. I’ve never seen grades as anything but based on 100% being the best. Sure we have letter grades (A is best, B is good, C is average, D is poor, F is failing) and GPA (usually 4.0 is best, although some schools use a 5.0 system). However, even when courses or assignments have points, it is generally converted to a percent system. So, lots of my school courses had a total of 500 points for the semester. Those 500 points were spread across exams and papers. However at the end you received a percent and letter grade on your transcript.

      In the U.S. it is fairly common for excellent students to say “I graduated in the top 5% of my class”. Or whatever the percentage is. Maybe that would be an easy way to convert over so a U.S. baser employer could easily understand.

      1. Marzipan*

        The trouble is, an average of 15% of students now get a first, and beyond that you don’t know exactly where you ranked alongside them. Saying ‘I graduated in the top 15% of my class’ comes across as rather underwhelming, and actually #5 may have done much better than that sounds.

        1. UKAnon*

          OP may be able to get around that if they wanted to go that way – they can contact the person who was in charge of the year and ask where they fell in the marking, both in actual numbers and in percentage terms, and see if either of those are useful for them. Also any awards might help; my uni did awards for various things, including getting a First across the year, getting the highest marks in the year, getting the highest marks in various modules etc. Those would probably also help to contextualise it.

          Incidentally, I would love to know what subject OP did. 90+ was unheard of in my area!

          And thank you to everyone who’s been explaining the American system. It’s always been as much of a mystery to me as I assume the UK system is to you!

          1. Marzipan*

            Having worked in HE admin, I’d have been very wary of doing this, because you’re tacitly acknowledging other people’s marks, which shouldn’t be given to others – even if you’re not naming names, within the context of many courses students would often be able to tell who must have got what. I’d have been happy to provide an explanation of the marking scale to accompany an international application, though.

          2. nona*

            It’s been interesting to learn about the UK system! I was surprised to hear how hard it is for a student to make a 90+ grade.

            The school district I grew up in had a 7-point scale. So 93 and up was an A, 86 and up was a B, and so on. A grades were hard but possible. I wonder if the knowledge that would earn an A on one of my high school’s tests would earn a UK student an 80. A UK student could move here and be shocked by their high grades!

            1. BritChick*

              Secondary (high school) grading isn’t that different here because the nature of teaching and learning is still at the level where you’re learning and proving knowledge of information in exams….so you have the types of fact/knowledge-based tests US students would be familiar with (regardless of subject ) where you can get everything right and score 100%.

              The big shift comes at university level bebecause then you’re being taught to use critical thinking and analytical skills not just facts, so you move away from being able to be simply right or wrong.This is particularly true for humanities and social sciences subjects.

              My degree was in English Lit and I studied abroad for a year in the USA during my degree (my 2nd year of UK degree so I was a “junior” in the US). I found the nature of the lessons, homework and assessment methods to be like what I was doing in A levels (grade 12 and university freshman year equivalent) at home in England.

              There’s a lot more emphasis is discussion and defending independent thought at university here.

              That’s just my experience though and it may have been different in mathematics, the Sciences or engineering type subjects.

              1. copperbird*

                I did get 100% in one finals paper for a UK engineering degree (it was a maths paper) and everyone was a bit shocked, even though it is technically possible it was the first time anyone had done it. (In this case I finished early so completed some extra questions because I wasn’t allowed to leave yet.)

                I can tell you with complete honesty that aside from the other people in my year and my tutor, no one has ever cared :)

              2. Ife*

                I did an undergrad in math in the US, and the UK grading system doesn’t sound too different from ours. Usually an 80% would earn you an A on exams. They curved everything to fit into the A-B-C-D-F grade scale. I think some of the engineering and STEM departments used a similar system.

        2. Turanga Leela*

          I actually think this could be a pretty good solution. Even in the US, grade distributions vary widely from school to school, so a lot of employers want to know class rank for entry-level positions. (At least, that was the case in jobs I interviewed for—it probably varies by industry.) I graduated from a school that refused to rank its students and had weird names for its academic honors, so if I needed to explain where I fell in the class, I said something like, “We don’t rank, but the Grover Cleveland award goes to about the top third of the class.” Employers were pretty receptive to that.

      2. BritChick*

        Because of the way teaching differs in the UK at university level, and because different academic subjects require different skills, we don’t hve the same types of exams here than they do in the US. I can see how this makes it difficult for others to interpret our grades – the idea of doing an exam where you know it’s impossible to get 100% sounds illogical; but…. depending on the subject it is really qite simple while this is the case. Once you get into university level education youmove on from just remembering and regurgitating information in the type of tests where your answer is either right or wrong – for humanities subjects such as English Literature or Philosophy you’re being taught to think critically and construct a convincing argument. That’s what you will be assessed on, not things like remembering and quoting lines of poetry – we leave that behind in “high school”. So in an exam you are giving your opinion on a topic and aiming to persuade the examiner of the strength of your argument – as such you can’t be 100% right, so no 100% marks.

        Obiously it’s different if you are studying a more scientific or logic-based subject where you need to remember specific information or how to execute a process – then sure, if you get it right you get it right. In those cases much higher grades are possible.

        This response was a bit of a tangent but I just wanted to put our weird grading system into context. One person in my graduating class got a first.

        1. Brenda*

          Yeah, it was explained to me (American doing a masters in the UK in a non-STEM field) as:
          100% – perfect, world-leading, better than the professors, better than 99% of people working in the field (i.e. sure, theoretically possible but never gonna happen for a student)
          90% – at the same level as what a professor would produce (also very unlikely)
          80% – really excellent for a student (basically the highest you would expect – although I did get an 85% on one course and I’m still pretty astounded by that)
          70% – very good
          60% – average
          50% – below average but satisfactory
          40% – pass

        2. Amtelope*

          I think the subjects of our exams in the US are often similar — I’d expect a college-level class to require students to do more than remember and regurgitate information, and for critical thinking and constructing a convincing argument to be a large part of the grade. But typically you can earn 100% (on an essay exam where you’re not just counting up correct answers) by giving thoughtful, accurate, well-argued responses that meet all of the professor’s expectations for an undergraduate student who’s mastered the material; you don’t have to give the best answer a professional in the field could possibly give.

          1. BritChick*

            But if someone mentions the points the professor expects whatever they are arguing is still just an opinion so it can’t be objectively 100% correct.

            Or…what if the student has the exact opposite opinion from the professor? Will they be marked low for being “wrong” even if they take a valid position?

            I had never been told the equivalents Brenda mentioned but I also note that she was talking about postgraduate work which would be expected to be at a higher standard than undergraduate work. At the undergraduate level we’ve always just accepted that in a humanities subject where you’re expressing a position and arguing your point of view it’s not emprically assessable so you can’t be 100% right.

        3. JB*

          Maybe it depends on your school or program, but neither my undergraduate university or my law school program here in the US would have let its students get away with just remembering and regurgitating information. It was definitely geared toward critical thinking.

          1. fposte*

            Absolutely. The big difference, at least in undergrad, is that in the US you get graded on aspects of your performance throughout the year, including, often enough, classroom participation; in the UK, it all hangs on the single exam, the way US law school generally does.

            1. BritChick*

              Most UK degrees are modular now with the majority of the assessment via coursework so it is assessed through the year each of the 3 years, but with heavier weighting on the second and final years.

      3. ThursdaysGeek*

        I often tell people “I graduated in the top 98% of my class.” People who understand math get it. Everyone else is impressed.

    4. TheLazyB*

      And then the Open University confuses things massively, too. 85% is a first there. I was gutted to receive 73% and my sisters kept saying ‘but that’s a first!’. Not in the OU!

    5. CurlyQ*

      I’m a Canadian living in the UK and I took a Masters here. The first essay I got back I had a 58%. This was literally the lowest mark I have ever received in my life. I’ve never had anything lower than low 60s in grade school, high school or in my undergrad degree.
      I was crushed. My partner and all my co-workers tried to reassure me that it was a perfectly acceptable grade, but I never got used to how low the grading was. I worked pretty hard but I ended up with an MSc with Merit on a 63 average. I still don’t feel great about it.

    6. Cath in Canada*

      I got a first class degree with an average of 78%, which was the highest in my year (I got a GBP20 book prize that says so, lol). My Canadian colleagues think that’s a ludicrously low average though! The fact that our undergrad degrees tend to be three years, rather than four, and that I did my PhD in 3.5 years, also make North Americans think less of British degrees (I got postdoctoral fellowship application reviews that say so). I used to get so angry about all the sarcastic comments I get about my “obviously way too easy” education that I had to have a rant about it on my blog. It’s my all-time most-viewed post and still gets dozens of hits per month, four years after I wrote it!

    7. Tau*

      I spent my entire first year at uni thinking marks were out of 85, ha. I did maths, so I did end up with marks in the 90s and a perfect 100 or two, but that was really because if you got everything right on a maths exam there’s not much they can do about it! I was fully aware that for the humanities those sorts of marks were not available.

  10. Marzipan*

    #5, since you have to send a transcript, I actually would suggest that in addition to doing your best to convert your degree classification to a GPA (there are several resources online for this) you include a brief mention of the very different grading systems – because, like you say, to British eyes a mark like, say, 79% looks unattainably amazing (in a lot of subjects, anyway), while to US eyes I gather it’s pretty average. I’m not sure the concept of ‘basically no-one gets 100%, and anything above 80% is rare’ would be clear without that, although I’d keep it as concise as possible.

    I feel your pain – in addition to my brick uni degree I’m also halfway through doing another undergraduate degree with the Open University (who DO mark all the way up to 100%), after which I’m considering doing a distance learning master’s, possibly from a university in the US or Canada. So, I’ll have to explain my grades being on two completely different scales!

    1. BritChick*

      Hi _ In your case Marzipan I’d definitely recommend an official evaluation of your credentials…the university you apply to for your master’s will probably require it.

      1. Liz*

        I was about to say the same thing.

        OP#5, there are companies who will essentially translate your UK transcript into American. Most people use this when applying for higher education, but you could use it in the workplace too.

        1. Judy*

          I would try to use the one recommended by the appropriate accreditation board. As I said in my example above, engineering degrees in the US are accredited by ABET, and their website suggests NCEES credential evaluation.

    2. M-C*

      Before forking over the inflated fees for an official appraisal, I’d google around and see whether you can find some sort of comparison of the 2 grading systems from a University on either side of the Atlantic, or some official source like that. Put that link in your resume, let them see for themselves how what you claim is not just your personal idea..

  11. Robyn*

    #5 I had the oppposite problem when I came to the UK with US BA!

    I had an advantage in that my father in law was, at the time, a provost of a university and asked if he knew of any conversion scale, and there is one!

    I would contact an international student department of a local university and ask if they have it, or you may be able to find one online. It was 10 years ago now, but as far as I can remember, 4 GPA was a first and then I think it went down in .5 increments. But I could be wrong so check!

    1. nona*

      Just out of curiosity: Is it possible to earn anything higher than a first? US college GPAs go up to 4. A high school GPA can get higher than that with AP classes and college/university courses.

      1. Marzipan*

        Generally, no. A very small number of universities may award a ‘starred first’ to exceptional students, and you’ll very occasionally hear of a ‘double first’ from Oxford or Cambridge (although what this means has changed over time), but for the vast majority of people the most you can achieve is a first.

        For school students, grading is a much more recognisable A, B, C system, though there is an A* grade.

        (For Masters degrees, it’s different again, and you generally get either a pass or a distinction).

  12. CAinUK*

    #5 – as someone with a US BA and a UK MS, I feel your pain – both ways!

    It sounds like you did very well, so if you actually received a 1:1 degree I would ensure you not only list the equivalent GPA (plenty of online conversions) but ensure you the overall distinction/honours – this helps signpost your ranking more than anything. So for example:

    DEGREE, SCHOOL (Honours), Date. Then GPA if requested.

    If you want to go one step further, you can find out the US equivalent of the Honour (e.g. Cum Laude is likely a high 2:1, and Magna Cum Laude might be a 1:1 – it will depend, but for me a 3.74 was Cum Laude at my school in the US).

    If you had distinction on particular courses but not the overall degree, just put the GPA equivalent and avoid too much explanation (IMO) – it can veer into looking defensive/too much info, and the GPA equivalent is what matters for screening at those stages.

    And good luck on the job search!

  13. BritChick*

    #5 – Have you considered getting your credentials evaluated? When I applied to university in the USA from the UK I had to get my grades officially evaluated for submission to the US universities. There are companies out there that “translate” international qualifications.

    There is a rough equivalency guide of UK/US university grades on the Fulbright Commission website, plau details of credentials evaluation companies: do i convert

    1. BritChick*

      First Class Honours= A (4.00)
      2:1 = A-/B+ (3.33 – 3.67)
      2:2 = B (3.00)
      Third Class Honours = C+ (2.30)
      Pass = C (2.00)

  14. Christy*

    Hi Alison,

    Got a mobile ad where it popped me over to the App Store (iOS) to install Game of War – Fire Age.

  15. jasl*

    #5… there are ways to convert to the U.S. Equivalent. I found a service online and some academic websites provide a breakdown in table format. I’m a British person living and working in the U.S. with a British education. With this universal time we live in you’d think there’d be a standard in place for qualifications and international recognition.

  16. Blue Anne*

    OP #5, I’m an American who went to the University of Edinburgh. When I’m explaining the system, I usually just say a first is like an A average, a 2.1 is like a B average, and a 2.2 is like a C average.

  17. kos*

    #5 – I had to do the same thing when I finished a Scottish undergrad and started looking for stateside jobs. I found a service to do an official transcript ( I think there are several good options though, so you might want to shop around.

    It wasn’t cheap to get a good translation, especially since I wanted a breakdown of how I did in each course, not just my final GPA. This was a good call, since I ended up applying to grad schools a few years later.

    One thing I recommend though – when you order a translation, you can usually get extra copies for a small fee. I have about 20 sealed copies filed away, along with official transcripts from all my other degrees. I keep thinking I don’t need them anymore, but something always comes up. Recently I started a new job that involved a pretty deep background check, and the investigator was thrilled to have the official grades available.

  18. brooksider*

    OP 2: Ugh. Hate that you’re going through it. I’m in a similar situation (different field, same problem). Lots of the responses have focused on attire — if that’s something you’re interested in addressing I think Extra Petite does a good job of looking at attire/building confidence here. Worth a look even if you’re not petite (I sure am not!):

    On a personal note, my boss told coworkers my AGE before I was hired, making many of my first conversations with my new coworkers about my age rather than the fact that I have a stellar track record in our field and am bringing in a new and needed skillset to the team. Doesn’t help that I’m a decade younger than the next youngest person either…
    All that said to say I’m definitely looking forward to the responses on this one.

  19. TotesMaGoats*

    #1-I’ve got nothing except that you work for a crappy employer. But given what I’ve heard from friends who tried to get ACA coverage (when our state system eventually worked) it cost more than they could afford too. The only reason I can see that a school requires a doctor’s note is to prevent someone with a communicable illness from spreading it. When my kid has a fever or throws up at school, he has to go 24 hours fever free before being allowed back. A doctor’s note will get him back earlier if it proves he just has an ear infection or something that you can’t share.

    #2-It sounds like you’ve got your fashion in order and if you are “acting” older then you need to confront the inaccurate perceptions. Politely for those you think do it unintentionally and sternly for those that do it on purpose.

    #3-If you don’t want the job then don’t apply. This is like the question the other day where the person applied for an internal but then didn’t want it when offered it. If you don’t want it, don’t apply. It may impact your forward progression at this company but it’s better to be happy than miserable.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      #5-You can use World Education Services or American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) to get your UK transcript “translated” into US terms. It’s a couple hundred bucks but might be worth the cost. Make sure that whoever you get to eval your transcripts is reputable.

  20. Brit in US*

    OP #5- there are agencies that take your British qualifications and translate them to American-ese. It costs a couple hundred, and you have to send them originals of everything, but you get an official transcript back. That may be an option for you. I got a first class degree, so I usually translate that to ‘equivalent of suma cum laude’ and move on, putting a dummy number in the GPA box.

  21. la Contessa*

    #2, I’ve been in a similar boat (31 years old, female, 5th-year associate at a large regional law firm). I sound roughly 5 years old on the phone, although I look old enough in person.

    When dealing with opposing counsel, if it’s someone else’s case, I always put in my first email, “I am an associate working with Wakeen . . .” so they get it in their head right away that I’m an attorney. If it’s my own case, my name is on the complaint, so I’ve never had a problem.

    My bigger problem is with vendors. For example, I had a secretary at a vendor sending me invoices that she couldn’t get paid through the assigned attorney. I thought she kept sending them to me because I helped her out once (and I kept doing it just to be nice), but after about two years, I started to get mad that she thought I was someone’s assistant. It turned out that she DID think I was someone’s assistant, but not on my own merits–she thought I was one of our secretaries who has the same first name as I do. I regret how snippy I was when I told her that I’m an attorney, because she just thought I was someone else. At any rate, be up front and tell people as soon as you get the impression they think they’re not an attorney. If you can, do it kindly, so you can maintain the relationship. If you’re not sure and don’t want to risk awkwardness, throw out something like, “Okay, I’ll have my secretary send it to you,” which signals your position without expressly calling someone out.

    And unless your city or specialty is larger than mine (I’m doing insurance law in a major city), I would never fire a good vendor for something like this. There’s a finite number of, say, engineers whom I think are good, so it would take a lot more than thinking I’m a secretary (which is only insulting in the “Hey, I went into $200,000 of debt for that ‘Esquire,’ you’d better use it!” kind of way, since being a secretary is hard work and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with it) to get me to fire one of them. If you do a great job but think I’m a paralegal? Whatever, just do what I pay you to do. (I’ve only fired vendors twice–once for being so rude to an opposing expert that it almost cost us the negotiation, and once for threatening to shoot someone at an inspection)

    1. OP2*

      Thanks for the advice. Your right that there are vendors I put up with it from, but those with a lot of competition I don’t, maybe that’s petty but there are enough court reporters I didn’t even blink at changing.

      My question for you is, my name is on the pleadings, and my email signature says associate, I worry that starting the email with stating I’m an associate may come off as weird or overly concerned. Should I repeat it that third time the first time we meet anyway? I had been assuming people could put it together, but maybe that’s my mistake.

      1. la Contessa*

        If I had “associate” or “esquire” in my signature, I might not introduce myself that way, but our signatures aren’t set up with our titles (it’s annoying, I don’t know why they did that). If I signed the complaint, generally defense counsel is calling or emailing me first specifically because they got my info from the complaint, so they know who I am. I only insert the title when it’s someone else’s case and I have not entered my appearance, so opposing counsel would have no clue who this random person emailing them is. We do a lot of pro hac vice stuff, so usually only one of us gets admitted. In those cases, I’ll specify “associate” so they know I have some authority. If I had the title in the signature, I think I would drop it from the greeting, but I would say, “working with my colleague Wakeen” or something like that.

        I also pre-empt some of the questions when I call a vendor with a new case by saying, “Hmm, I don’t know if I’m going to be the assigned attorney on this one,” because the one thing that actually makes me mad is, “Which attorney are you working for on this one?” RAWR. I don’t hire my own court reporters, though–the paralegals and law clerks do that. I agree, they are more interchangeable.

  22. JoAnna*

    #2, my sympathies. My first thought was, “Have these people never seen ‘Legally Blonde’?” Maybe you could ask them the same thing? :P

  23. Michele*

    I wish #3 would explain why it would be career suicide to not apply. Some bosses are relieved to have solid, reliable employees who are satisfied if they aren’t constantly climbing the corporate ladder.

    1. LBK*

      My guess is that in some office cultures it would be considered a slap in the face or otherwise rude to turn down a position that’s more or less being offered to you on a silver platter. It could also be perceived as a lack of ambition, which could be a permanent mark on your reputation.

      1. Persephone Mulberry*

        This is exactly the scenario my husband is facing. He is an assistant manager at a retail store. He really likes his role. But his store manager just gave notice, and it is likely that he will be offered the promotion. He is torn between accepting a position he doesn’t really want vs a) looking bad for turning it down (his regional management can be really fickle like that) plus b) the possibility of getting a manager from hell (he has had two of those in four years, one of which was so bad he had to take a mental health leave of absence followed by a store transfer to get away from her).

        1. Artemesia*

          It is worth asking the question: do I want to avoid this promotion and then have to report to a boss who is less competent than I am?

        2. OriginalEmma*

          What makes a good assistant manager is different from what makes a good manager. I worked retail, had an excellent manager and a good assistant manager. TPTB, thinking that good assistant manager = good manager, gave him his own store. Within 3-6 months they had to get someone else in to help clean the place up…because those are just two different sets of skills and expectations.

          And this was for an assistant manager that actually *wanted* to become manager.

    2. Swedish Tekanna*

      I agree, Michele. People’s strengths lie in different areas. You can be promoted without being put into management. Besides, you can’t have managers without people for them to manage.

    3. Stephanie*

      Yeah, this is interesting me. Both companies (professional services) I’ve worked at depended on people becoming skilled individual contributors versus climbing into management (well, and they also depended on attrition to some extent). They needed more ICs doing the work itself.

    4. Linda*

      Hello. Im the one with the promotion situation. I feel that it would be career suicide to NOT accept a promotion because it might hinder other opportunities in the future. However, after working 30 years in high status jobs, Im at a point in my life where I do not want the extra stress. The toll it takes on my health and home life is not worth it to me. But as an update..I did not apply for the job and have not yet been asked why. If anyone does inquire about it, I will just say the timing is not right at this time. Thanks to everyone who helped answer my question.

  24. Iro*

    I went to U.S. Highschool that didn’t use GPA, yet we were doing calculus based physics, human physiology, organic chemistry, and independent research.

    I did what Alison suggested when applying to universities and basically made-up a GPA I thought was a good indication of the grades I was making at that school.

  25. Leah*

    #5, do you have an idea of where you graduated in your class? It could provide some context to say “Top X% of graduates” or just note the average score for the graduating year (to show that you’re above or way above average).

  26. coffee or tea*

    OP 2 – same thing happens to me constantly. I’m a first year associate and the first female attorney the firm has employed. Everyone from opposing counsel to clients mistake me for a secretary/assistant/paralegal. I dress conservatively/classic with suits or dresses everyday. I usually try to politely correct them as Allison suggested, but sometimes it’s difficult not to seem annoyed. A few times someone has asked my age and I’ve replied (with a smile) “a lady never tells.” Probably not the best response, but that was my annoyed side coming through. If you come up with a good solution let me know!

  27. Scott*

    Companies in which management is the only opportunity to advance usually tend to have bad managers. I say this from experience. I worked in several tech companies where the only path upwards was to management, so people took these jobs to get more money but knew NOTHING about managing people and didn’t particularly learn.

    Good companies have both a technical career track and a management career track so that tech people can move ahead without having to become managers.

  28. Development professional*

    OP#2 – A lot of people on this thread have given you advice about what to wear and talked about wardrobe, but as you’ve already perceived, it’s both deeper and more subtle than that. You should consider working with an image consultant who works specifically with professional women. Different than a stylist, an image consultant can help you craft the entirety of how you come across – wardrobe, yes, but also grooming, voice, posture and presentation. It’s really hard to objectively evaluate this stuff on yourself. You need an outside eye with professional training in doing this.

    Don’t get me wrong. I hate it that women are held to standards in the professional workplace that men are not, especially young women. But if you’re not getting the response you want, you have to change something, and that might be hard to do on your own.

    1. S*

      I was going to suggest a stylist but an image consultant is even better. Plus, you can likely deduct it from your tax return as a job-related expense.

  29. automaticdoor*

    #2, just sajfkhagkjhadkhja. I’m 28, law school grad, working world for almost three years out post-schooling, but I still get mistaken for being an intern by many new colleagues I meet. “Oh, you’re [boss]’s intern?” “No, I’m his senior associate.” “Oh… you just look so young!”

    Things that have helped are that I’ve started wearing a full face of makeup (I’d been doing “no-makeup” makeup, and now I’m wearing eyeliner and lipstick) and that I cut my hair into a styled bob that I maintain (it was previously much longer and worn up a lot). I have discovered that you have to be polished to go with the nice outfits.

  30. Ellie H.*

    We had a similar problem to #5 at my previous job (graduate school administration) translating foreign GPAs to evaluate the eligibility of transfer of credits. The problem is that even if a conversion scale exists, the basis of grading (stated another way, how much “grade inflation” there is or isn’t) is so different that it might not translate well. I remember we had one grade conversion from a German university. Even though I procured a statement from the program director that the grade in question would certainly be up to our university’s standards it was a bit difficult for the panel to accept that what looks like a B- or whatever it was was indeed satisfactory by American standards.

    1. Tau*

      I had a major headache dealing with this applying to British universities having gone to high school in Germany. It’s easy to say “well, 1=A, 2=B, 3=C, 4=D”… but that doesn’t get at how basically nobody ever got 1s in all their subjects at my school and how a mix of 1s and 2s was the closest equivalent of straight-A and all the subtle differences in what grades people actually get and what they mean that can get lost on a scale. I think I came off as a worse student than I actually was on my applications as a result, and I remember the offers I got were pretty hard to meet.

  31. Corporate Newbie*

    For #5: I had my degree in SG which follows a British system (1st class, 2:1, 2:2, etc). I actually had it transcribed via an official service called WES international. I did it because I was applying to grad school and most reputable schools require such a transcription. Your overseas university would need to send your transcripts to them directly, and then will do a course by course transcription from your letter grade to GPA.

  32. Tattypoo*

    To OP#2. I’m afraid it doesn’t get better. The issue you have is not that you look young, it’s that you are a young woman. Twenty years ago, I received a gift of a book about women lawyers and the obstacles still facing them in the law. Pshaw, said I, convinced that my work ethic, determination and talent for writing would not leave room for discrimination. It was 90s,for heaven’s sake! And all those guys at school relied on me to help them, so all this handwringing was just excuses by people who couldn’t cut it.

    Well, I was wrong. Despite plenty of women lawyers, men are deferred to, their temperament issues are “evidence of a strong personality.” Women are shrews. Men get away with doing less work (unless called out on it), and clients defer to them over women. I’ve experimented with situations where I give legal advice but client not receptive. Send in a male intern, and it suddenly seems a great idea.
    I could carry on but I won’t. The question is how do we, as female professionals, stop it?

    One way would to stop gossiping about other female lawyers, unless it’s legal tactics. Someone’s weight, hair, clothing should be verboten because it gives men an opening to value our appearance over experience. Stop sniping, Men don’t generally do that. They criticize skills, but not a male lawyers personality, body type etc. (exceptions abound, just my view).
    Now, I sit in the big chair behind the bench. This nonsense continues even as the judge.

    As to appearance, I appreciate that someone mentioned be sure to dress professionally. However, OP says she wears a suit each day. Key here is that it is not OPs fault men treat her as someone other than a lawyer; it’s their fault for making assumptions based on sexual stereotypes. Over the years I’ve learned to ignore much of this silliness, however, there are plenty (all older women) who think my hair has to be up at all time, my skirts must be sacklike over the knee, that a dress at office is unprofessional. I finally figured out that to a certain generation, professional means stripping away any femininity you possess.
    It’s 2015. About time men and women learned you can be attractive and smart even if you’re young (or old). So OP, wear your suits, style your hair nicely, wear your makeup and walk confidently into any còurtroom. Remember, this isn’t about your clothes, hair etc., it’s about what these guys want. That is to keep you off-balance and worried about their opinion of whether you look like a lawyer. Eff ‘em; you look like a lawyer right now. Why? Because you are one.
    Good luck!

  33. ZSD*

    I think #2 is facing two different problems: one that she’s seen as young, and one that she’s a woman, and is therefore seen as “less than.”
    I agree with Alison that the age problem will eventually solve itself, but I’m afraid the assumption that woman = secretary will *not* solve itself with time. Eventually, she’ll just be assumed to be a 40-year-old secretary.
    But I think Alison’s advice on how to deal with it is pretty good. Basically, make people realize what jerks they’re being. Normal people will feel ashamed and shape up.
    (On the other hand, someone I knew at a law firm had a client who specifically requested that only male lawyers work for him, and the law firm *acquiesced*! How did they sleep at night?!)

  34. Jake*

    In fairness, I’m a young looking 26 year old man, and I run into stuff like #2 all the time.

    I don’t have any advice other than to kick ass at your job though.

    1. beckythetechie*

      If I could offer one suggestion for you, then, it would be to make sure you show appropriate support and/or deference to women who are expert in their field or senior to you and not get drawn in to the Boys Club mentality a lot of workplaces have. Someone making the assumption that a female partner is the administrative aid needs to hear “Imogen is our most experienced contract negotiator. She’s netted over a million dollars for Hearis, Mein, Handle, & Spaut clients in the last three years.” until they get the point that secondary sex characteristics do not a lawyer make.

  35. The Strand*

    Actually, young looking OP, I am going to tell you NOT to overthink how you dress or style your hair too much. I trust that you mean it when you say you’re wearing suits and that they are classy and not overtly youthful or sexualized.

    Bottom line, sometimes it doesn’t matter how you act, how you dress, whether you drop your voice down an octave to sound more authoritative (look out, Bogie and Bacall voice syndrome is a real thing, and can damage your voice). I can wear beautiful dresses, dowdy suits, casual clothing: I have had short, short boyish hair, long wavy hair, and my hair tied in a bun or ponytail at work. I have worn makeup and no makeup. Ultimately, people first perceive me as a twentysomething. I just turned 40 but I will probably not look it for a while: other family members also look 10-20 years younger than their ages.

    I may have posted this before, but I have a dear friend in her sixties now who, when I first met her, was over fifty, and a project leader at a top university. She had been there for ages. She was also 5’0 and very young looking and blond. She looked like the heroine of a children’s book. She had long since accepted that people thought of her as being a kid with immense grace and poise. You never spent more than a few minutes before you realized she was intelligent, experienced, and funny.

    Stop worrying about your youthfulness. I agree that some of the behavior you describe sounds more like harassment and crappiness to throw you off your game. Youthfulness is not always associated with callowness, it depends on the field, and you work in one where sexism still leads certain types of behaviors. In the fields I work in, looking young can mean being inexperienced, or being up on the latest trends. In film circles, youthfulness is a real benefit: everyone lies about their age. In Silicon Valley, even the alpha males in the boys club are supposedly sneaking off on Fridays for brow work and mini-facelifts.

    Assume that people will first consider you a young person, and that since you can’t change that first observation besides wearing a paper bag over your head, that you’ll instead focus on being competent, doing your job and blowing them away with your skill and experience. Let the misconceptions slide off your back, OR use them to your advantage – let them think you’re a cream puff and then roll over them when they’re snickering.

    Believe me, if you stop letting it get to you, it will only be a minor inconvenience and not a defining quality, especially as you grow in your career and your confidence. Bon voyage to your future adventures!

  36. HR Manager*

    #2 – Is it primarily vendors who are having this problem? If that’s the case, I wouldn’t even worry about it. A vendor has zero insight into your company and is not likely someone who could have any real influence in your career there (unless you did something egregiously horrible to them). I’d be more worried if you are getting that perception from clients or your colleagues. Opposing counsel may be something entirely different, but even then…it’s something you can correct once, and you should expect them to remember that.

    I sympathize with you because I look VERY young . I appreciate it now as I’ve gotten older. I’ve had to hold my own against a few people who have made the wrong assumption and questioned my ability to counsel them on HR matters, but it has never extended beyond their first initial meetings and interactions, and I don’t feel it’s ever hampered my career at any of my companies. Carry yourself with confidence and show them your ability and people will not make the same mistake twice — believe me.

  37. brownblack*

    I am also very young looking, and it has caused me a lot of trouble in my career as a fundraiser (you don’t want to show up for a meeting with a million dollar donor or major corporate sponsor and have them ask who’s assistant you are.) I’ve left that job for work that’s not so outward-facing, and it’s helped, but the fact remains that at 32 I still look 24, which is not a humblebrag but a real problem sometimes.

  38. Michele*

    #2, Something you may want to work on is your voice. I have always had a very childish voice, and when I started in my field, I was much younger than my coworkers and one of few women. I worked on developing a professional voice that is slightly, but not weirdly, lower than my normal speaking voice. It originates deeper inside my body and projects more authority. I am in my 40s and still have a childish voice, but this really helps make men take me seriously.

    1. Mephyle*

      And for those who may not find it easy to figure out on their own how to do this, a session with a voice coach or speech therapist could help.

  39. Mephyle*

    OP#1 wrote “My boss told me that before I can return to work now, I must provide a doctor’s note saying I may return.
    Unlike the problem more often complained about, where people are required to provide a doctor’s note to stay home sick, OP#1 is being asked for a note to be allowed to go back to work.
    Several people commenting on #1’s situation missed this and commented on the “note required to stay home sick” scenario.

  40. Looks Young Also*

    OP2 – This is probably not the most forward-thinking or politically correct answer to your predicament, but I work in healthcare, am very short with a high voice, and generally am thought to be much younger than I actually am.

    I find that what shuts people down the quickest is appearing flattered by the suggestion that you look very young. Something along the lines of “Oh, haha, thank you, I hear that less and less as time passes – I’m actually an attorney” and then just move on. I’m sure some feel that’s not the “right” thing to do – but it works well for me. Best of luck to you!

Comments are closed.