the organization will fall apart if I quit, how rare are nice coworkers, and more

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

1. If I quit my job when everyone else is quitting, the organization will fall apart

I am the executive director for a small nonprofit with three staff. One of the staff members, “Abby,” has been there for 10 years and is in a leadership position. She reports to me but because of our organization structure, I don’t have hiring/firing power. Abby can be very difficult to work with when she’s in a mood and refuses to accept responsibility or accountability. For example, I updated our database policy so that all conversation notes/summaries are recorded in there for historical purposes. Abby HATES this policy because she does not take notes during conversations and “remembers” everything. She said verbatim, “I don’t see the point of this and I’m not going to do it.” So of course she isn’t following it, nor is her direct report. There’s a slew of other issues, including her snapping at program participants, board, other staff, and me.

It all came to a head earlier this year when Abby *reamed* her direct report during a staff meeting for asking to take vacation time in two months — plenty of notice. Abby’s employee has since announced that they are leaving the organization to pursue other opportunities. When I talked to Abby about it afterward, she “didn’t remember” what she said, then told me I was misremembering, then said that she didn’t mean it like that, then stated that she has a “direct” communication style and I’m too “sensitive.” I called for a mediation process from our board per our conflict resolution policy, but that has stalled out because Abby is convinced she did nothing wrong and that she has been “harmed” by the process. I’m BIPOC and Abby is white, so I have some resentment on how she has co-opted.

Here’s my dilemma: Abby announced last fall that she will be leaving the organization — in spring 2023. I don’t want to invest anymore time or bandwidth into dealing with her attitude. Our board chair asked me if we need to ask Abby to leave sooner. YES — but I think at the end of the day my heart is just not into this job anymore. I’m burned out from our mission area (think never-ending, like the environment or civil rights) and nonprofit life in general. Abby’s attitude definitely accelerated my wanting to leave.

So, would I be an awful human if I left the organization soon, too? It will likely fall apart since it’s a staff of three and all three left within six months. I feel incredibly guilty but I also feel like I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.

No. You aren’t obligated to stay in a job you’re ready to leave just because others are leaving too. People leave! Sometimes it’s really inconvenient for the organization, but that’s just how this goes. If they care about keeping you on, there are all sorts of things they can try to incentivize you to stay if they care to (like more money or real authority rather than this “executive director without any real power” sham they have going).

On that last point — it sounds like you’ve been … well, not necessarily set up to fail, but set up for extreme frustration. You can’t lead an organization or do the ED job with no hiring/firing power or when your board forces you to rely on “mediation” instead of managing. The fundamental set-up here is unworkable; it’s bad for you and bad for the organization. And frankly, if the board wants to be involved at this level (which isn’t appropriate for a professional org with full-time staff), they’re already set up to be plenty involved when three of three staff members depart for green pastures.

I know nonprofits have a special way of making people feel obligated to them, but please don’t lose sight of the fact that even in nonprofits, you are simply trading your labor for money. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about the organization or its mission or your work, but it does mean that at whatever point you decide the trade is no longer serving your interests, you get to end the arrangement without guilt or agonizing. (There should be a law requiring this to be printed on every paycheck.)

Read an update to this letter

2. My colleagues are really nice; how rare is this?

I’ve spent the last decade working in manufacturing. A couple of years ago I realized I’d need a postgrad degree if I wanted to get promoted, so I quit my job and went back to school. I picked up some part-time TA work to make a bit of extra cash.

The people I work with at my teaching job are so nice. They’re always kind and respectful. Even when there are urgent deadlines, nobody shouts. When I pitch in to complete urgent tasks, people say thank you. There are loads of professional development opportunities, and as a result I’ve been promoted and am now working at the same level (and pay grade!) as full-time permanent staff. In every other job I’ve had, I’ve always felt like I have to manage other people’s feelings about me whilst simultaneously pretending that I don’t personally have feelings (I guess that comes with being a youngish woman in a male-dominated environment, where my entire existence is somehow never “professional” enough.) Here, I can be enthusiastic, I can be weird, I don’t get criticized if I speak in a way that feels normal to me (too fast! too high! too girly!) and what’s more, I got promoted because people like the way I am.

My manager told me that she would support me if I apply for a full-time position with the department when I graduate. I think it would be the best job I’ve ever had. But moving into teaching full-time would likely kill my manufacturing career, since I wouldn’t use any of my technical skillset. I also feel weirdly guilty about dropping out of the STEM pipeline, like I lost a fight I’ve spent half my life (and my entire career) fighting.

How rare is it to find a workplace where there isn’t conflict and where people are always kind, and how much should it factor into your decision about whether to take a job?

I don’t think it’s terribly rare. It’s not something you should take for granted, but it’s not something you should fear you’ll never find again either.

I’d be wary of changing your entire career path because of the culture at this one job, especially since cultures can change, new leadership can come in and blow everything up, etc. However, I do wonder if what you encountered at previous jobs was about the culture in manufacturing as a whole; if it is, then you’d need to decide if you want to sign up for years of that, or if you’d rather move into another field. In other words, leave if you don’t like the industry’s culture, but not just because you like the culture of one office outside of it.

I can’t speak to the culture in manufacturing, but it would probably be useful to talk to women who are in that field to get their take on whether what you’ve experienced so far is typical and hard to avoid. Whatever you decide, though, try to take guilt out of it. You don’t owe anyone your happiness or quality of life just because you originally thought you’d fight this fight.

3. I got a parking ticket while staying late to cover for a coworker

A coworker was 40 minutes late in relieving me from my work station and I got a parking ticket, since my parking was only paid up until a few minutes after my shift was supposed to be over. Any possibility of recourse in having the employer reimburse for it? Is this a cost of “doing business”?

Notes: the coworker is salaried and I am hourly. They are not in my chain of command. The amount I made in the extra 40 minutes was still less than the parking ticket. This is a business that regularly pays mileage/parking when traveling, but only outside of normal job duties/radius.

In theory, if you incurred costs because of your job, your employer should reimburse you for that. This is a little trickier, though, since it’s not clear if your employer could have reasonably known you’d be incurring costs or whether you flagged it for them ahead of time. Ideally when you needed to stay late, you would have made someone aware of the situation — “I can stay until Cecil gets here, but my parking meter is about to run out and I’ll get ticketed if I don’t go add more money to it.” If you didn’t do that, you can still try asking about reimbursement now, pointing out that the pay you received for staying late was less than the cost of the ticket for doing so … but your employer could reasonably feel that you should have raised it at the time, before either of you incurred that cost. If it comes up in the future, definitely flag it in the moment!

4. Hidden instructions in job ads

I’ve been aggressively job searching for a while now, and I’ve seen some weird stuff in job ads. I just noticed this today in a job ad that otherwise looked great and it really turned me off. The employer “hid” a word in the job description and then asked applicants to include it in their cover letter. (They literally buried the words “the magic word is XYZ” in the list of job requirements.)

I’m not sure if I’m feeling raw coming off of approximately 100 rejections, but this seems really patronizing and and weird. Just wondering how you feel.

Yeah, it’s patronizing and not even very effective at its intended purpose of screening for attention to detail. Lots of qualified candidates apply for jobs without reading every word of a posting even though they have good attention to detail on the job (it’s a cost/benefit analysis; since people know they might never even hear back after applying, it’s reasonable to skim rather than scrutinize, particularly given the amount of boilerplate most ads contain) and lots of people who have poor attention to detail on the job are capable of following a single instruction in an application. It rarely seems to be high-quality jobs that try this.

5. I’ve followed up about a job three times — am I just their back-up?

I’ve been waiting for about four weeks after a second panel interview. I have followed up with the company weekly for the past three weeks. They’ve been replying to my emails and in the last email, HR stated that the hiring manager might need another week to make a decision. When I read that, I felt like they already made an offer to another candidate and I’m their back-up. Is that true? I haven’t followed up this week. I want to follow up again this week but my fiancée told me that I’ve been following up for three weeks and it seems like I am rushing them. I truly don’t know whether I am their back-up candidate or they are in the decision-making process. Do you think I should follow up with them again? I don’t want to rush them if they still interview other candidates. Or is it okay for me to ask them if they are still interviewing other candidates?

Don’t follow up with them again. You’ve followed up three times; they know you are interested! If they want to offer you the job, they’ll do that when they’re ready to; you’re not going to speed anything up by continuing to email them.

There’s nothing here that indicates that they’ve made an offer to someone else and you’re the back-up. That could be the case — that’s a very normal thing to happen — but it’s equally likely (if not more likely) that the process is just taking longer than they thought. Hiring nearly always takes longer than anyone expects it to, including the people managing the process. Higher priorities come up, decision-makers are away, questions need to be ironed out before things can move forward … that’s just how it goes. But even if you are their back-up, that’s not a bad thing. This isn’t like dating, where you wouldn’t want to go out with someone who had their heart set on someone else. Second-choice candidates get hired all the time and thrive, and no one thinks about them being the back-up at all once they accept the offer. It’s normal for hiring processes to produce multiple candidates who could do the job well; there’s no shame in not getting the offer first.

But give them space. They know you’re interested.

{ 331 comments… read them below }

  1. Beets*

    RE #2 I have found in any job I’ve worked in is it’s always good to vibe with your coworkers. It usually means you should all have a shared energy and address things similarly. But you do need to also see how your boss and any management are bc that’s the big thing.

    1. EngineeringFun*

      I’m a f engineer of 20 years. I’ve worked as a contractor at many different sized organizations. I ve been screamed at in my second day of work (I quit after 9 days)…. But that was the exception. You can find jobs where people are nice and don’t yell! When interviewing I really try to ask about the environment. Words that are red flags: family, stay until done, this is important work that is mission critical, really fast pace, dynamic goals/requirements, changing/nimble strategies. This all signals to me that the place has no operations plan and they will bully you into staying late because the underestimated the time and cost to get something done.

      1. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        I feel like this list should be bookmarked in the AAM recommended reading.

      2. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Engineering adjacent for about the same time span.

        In general, my industry is LOUD. My particular skill within a loud industry is even louder. It just….is. What I pay attention to? Is it loud in general, or is loud AT a particular individual. It can be just loud. It cannot be loud AT me, if that makes sense. A shouted “Hey Scruffy, could you grab XYZ?” is fine and common during pre-deadline timeframes. A shouted “Scruffy you (bleeped) this up!” is not going to fly with me and I will shut that down so fast heads will spin.

        And a follow up on your red flag words, EngineeringFun – the places that have used those words to a one are the employers who have been loud AT me, not just in general.

        1. Sloanicota*

          This was an interesting letter to me because I think we’ve had discussion on here before about blue collar / white collar expectations. I think in the construction field and probably manufacturing floor type work there’s probably a lower standard around never yelling – work sites are dangerous, and people are doing physically taxing things in demanding conditions. There is never a reason to yell in an office environment so it may seem “extra nice” at first. There is still meanness it’s just a different flavor and less on the surface.

          1. Joanna*

            I work for a very large, international corporation that has manufacturing, engineering, and customer services. Each one has it’s own culture, and manufacturing seems to be the place where yelling at each other might be tolerated a bit. Engineering, no yelling, but scathing sarcasm and “quiet” sexism are pretty common. Customer services is made up of a mixed bag of white collar and blue collar workers, but yelling at one another is not an acceptable part of the culture. Not politely greeting teammates is even kind of given a side eye. Interestingly, when we have to work across groups, the standards in the customer services group are what are expected, and you will get called out if you cross a line.

            So yeah, it’s a company culture thing, and treating coworkers respectfully seems to be a part of the company culture. I suspect there are manufacturing jobs where people are respectful and honestly, I’d rather be able to yell back at the scathing sarcasm then have to respond with scathing sarcasm. I can do it, but sometimes it just seems easier to just tell someone to go jump in a lake.

          2. ScruffyInternHerder*

            That’s a further interesting breakdown (blue collar/white collar). I work in a white collar (ish)/office role for a decidedly blue collar industry. Even the office environment is, well, loud. A lot of what I do is time critical, and I’m also frequently surrounded by men who for whatever reason, can’t/don’t temper their vocal chords nor their sometimes out-sized emotions. This works for me because they don’t apply different standards to me. If I’m either extremely loud for reasons or very agitated, I’m not a “loud hysterical woman”(TM). I’m probably the most in-control of my emotions, though maybe not my volume.

            After 20ish years of this being my working environment, this hardly registers unless its @ me specifically, because its just ambient. Then my spouse meets me at work for lunch or something, and he’s always surprised at the overall volume here!

          3. LW#2*

            I actually thought this at first as well, but this is different. I don’t really mind people being loud. I mind never getting credit for stuff, and having to manage egos in an environment that would be demanding enough if people were cooperative.

            I don’t always get on with my teaching colleagues. Some of them are annoying. But even then, I feel like we all have similar goals and we put students first (teaching-only roles in academia attract a certain kind of person, I think?) which makes it easier to deal with disputes etc.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              OP2, I think if you enjoy it, go for it. Then if things change, you can always find a teaching job where your previous career might be an asset, maybe teaching the kind of course you studied to get into that career in the first place.

              Having personally endured several different forms of toxicity at the workplace, in various lines of business including teaching, I think it’s especially important to be able to enjoy working with your colleagues. I am very diplomatic and tactful etc so I manage to get on with most people if I’m willing to put in the effort, and I’ve remained in contact with those I liked working with, and this was very useful when I started freelancing, because a lot of former colleagues were delighted to work with me again.

      3. Rach*

        Can you? I’ve been at (one of the largest) tech manufacturing companies for 6 years now (first job post college) and every day feels like a battle. I’ve started putting in applications elsewhere in the industry but I’m concerned this is just what it is like to be a woman in engineering. It was certainly similar in my STEM degree program.

        1. Frank Doyle*

          I can’t speak to your particular field, but I’m a woman who’s been in the civil engineering field since 2000 and I’m very happy. (Well, not always, but it’s nothing to do with being a woman.) I’m sure I had to deal with issues sometimes (usually condescension from clients) but I was always treated with respect in my workplaces. I always worked in small consulting firms though, never huge corporations.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          I’ve managed tech manufacturing outsourcing contracts for fifteen years now, four different outsourcing companies.
          1) Three were professional at all levels. The fourth was not.
          2) The three that were professional were larger, well-established companies, all multinationals with US operations. The fourth was a US start-up that’s trying to expand, and has bitten off a lot more than they can chew.
          3) The three professional companies all had women in both floor and management positions. The fourth doesn’t seem to have any women in the company at all.

          Crappy is NOT what it has to be to be a woman in engineering. Look for larger, well-established companies, from construction to OEM to outsourcers (eg, ABB, Jabil, Celestica, Flex, maybe Compal) with branches in your country. Good luck.

        3. Not A Girl Boss*

          I’m a female engineer who has worked in manufacturing for about a decade. I’ve worked in every industry and every size of company – Food & Beverage, Tech, Aerospace, Biomedical. Startup, ~100 employees, ~250 employees, and Fortune 50.

          And everywhere I’ve ever worked, Operations is just a very, very high stress, loud, and competitive job. Some of those jobs, I’ve had lovely kind funny coworkers. Some of those jobs, I’ve been surrounded by screamers and constantly put down for my general existence not being good enough. But the job has always been stressful, like I’m holding my breath and only let it out when I get home (assuming I don’t get any 3am phone calls about machines down etc).
          Part of it is the demands of the job – product has to ship or we don’t make money, and its your job to make the product ship come hell or high water. The split almost always ends up being something like 100% tactical and 0% strategic because the fires truly can’t wait and the field is chronically understaffed because Lean.
          Part of it, I believe, is the type of personality who is drawn to that job – high achievers, busy bodies, people who love to be on their feet on the floor, people who thrive in chaos, cowboys, and people who love using how Important their job is as an excuse for “not having time” or “this being too important” to be nice.

          There are niches though! You don’t have to leave STEM to find a place where people don’t yell. I have begun to carve out my own spot in those ‘operations support’ roles where things are calm, there truly is a solid % of your job that is strategic, and you are helping to set people up for long term success.
          Here, too, I have had kind/good/friendly/happy coworkers, and angry/miserable/mean/petty coworkers. But overall, the vibe is about 90% calmer on a day-to-day basis and its… lovely.
          Some job types/areas you might look for if you want a calmer manufacturing-adjacent STEM life: New Product Introduction, Program Office, People Management (managing other engineers, especially in matrixed organizations where your only job is to develop people, and someone else owns the actual deliverables), Overhaul/Repair/Aftermarket, Business Development, and Quality Management Systems (the people who manage audits and sometimes the Quality System as a whole). I also personally enjoy more strategic customer facing roles that are about building positive relationships.

          1. LW#2*

            This is a fantastic comment, thank you very much!

            There is a lot about manufacturing that suits me. I’m incredibly good at problem-solving on the fly, prioritising a ton of urgent problems, and so on. I *am* a type-A busybody and honestly I can thrive in the demands which are inherent to the role. I can’t deal with the fact that nobody respects my authority, that I have to listen to sexist nonsense, and all that.

            I am saving your list for further investigation. Quality management was actually what I was hoping to use my new qualifications to break into, but you’ve given me a ton of ideas to explore. Thank you.

            1. Wisteria*

              My experience is that how quality management is viewed varies wildly from company to company. In some companies, Quality is a highly respected role. In other companies, QEs are the people who are too stupid to be real engineers. It’s hard to tell from the outside which type of company it is, and I have seen people be shocked and unable to adapt when they come from the former company into the latter company.

              If you are already employed in, say, manufacturing, such that you can tell how quality is viewed at your organization and know that it is a respected and valued role, then it’s worth making a switch. But going in from the outside, I would not ever apply to quality positions.

            2. Not A Girl Boss*

              I will speak for my own experience, but please feel free to ignore any part of this that doesn’t ring true for you.

              I too am great at managing rapid fire problems and making quick decisions. I’m Type A classic overachiever, so Ops seemed like the perfect direction for me especially when I was young in my career and excited to Get After It.
              But when I really started evaluating on a deeper level, I realized that just because I excelled in a fast paced ops environment, doesn’t mean it was good for me. Kind of like being someone who drinks way too much coffee, it gave me a jittery energy that was a poor approximation for happiness. I found that I was constantly running on adrenaline, and that adrenaline feels good in the moment but it didn’t really make me into the person I wanted to be. It put me in competition mode with my peers instead of collaboration mode. I was short with others, often frustrated by their unwillingness to go along with my plans, or with not keeping up with my breakneck pace.

              I have obviously had sexist experiences, as have most women in our male-dominated field, but once I took a step back I realized there were other reasons for the way I was treated. The biggest one was that I didn’t focus enough on building relationships – I thought I should just be able to state facts/instructions and have them followed. In reality, I needed to take more time to explain my reasoning fully, and be open to the idea that potentially people were pushing back because of a problem I hadn’t thought of. When you’re in rapid fire decision making mode, its a hazard of the job to make the wrong decision, or to ordain instructions in a way that are poorly misunderstood. Having good relationships helps you decide when to slow down and listen to pushback.
              I also found a huge cultural component to ‘having your opinions respected’ that had nothing to do with my gender. In some industries, particularly high volume ones, the entire culture is to argue about everything until the person with the best idea wins. The pushback and verbal sparring isn’t AT you, its just part of the fun. In other industries, especially risk averse ones like biomedical, the only thing that gets you respected is seniority and tenure. I’ve had experiences where I was objectively 100% right and everyone knew it, but because the senior engineer didn’t agree, we were never ever going to go with my plan. That was just as true when my male boss stepped in and presented the same stance I did. In academia, I feel like the environment is de-facto more respectful and deferential.
              Of course, there have been jobs where there was a sexist boss who had no interest in hearing my opinion on anything. In particular I had a mansplainer who loved to turn to the meeting audience and say “What shes trying to say is…”, except he re-explained it wrong. But for the most part, being listened to was a matter of building relationships and therefor respect, and also waiting out being the ‘kid’ on the team.

              To be 100% honest… If your primary struggle is feeling like you aren’t valued or heard, I’m not sure Quality (especially in a classic Quality Engineer or nonconformance management way) would be the best spot for you. I’ve been a Quality Engineer, a Project Engineer, a Manufacturing Engineer, and a Design Engineer. Quality is usually the lowest priority, lowest respected job going. Its a daily grind of being dismissed or blown off or ignored. No one wants to hear about quality problems. Humans don’t like bad news. No one wants to hear “no, you can’t do that because xyz rule prevents it.” 99% of the job is ‘influencing without authority’ – basically making your business case for why its a good idea for busy ops leaders to invest in boring quality long-term improvements.
              There are proactive quality roles, usually around new product introduction and design for manufacture, or around nonconformance disposition or rework plans, that are much better for being valued and listened to. And there are industries where compliance is truly nonnegotiable – weirdly aerospace cares much more about quality compliance than most biomedical companies – so those industries can help your case. But I specifically suggested quality systems (auditing, mining data, creating metrics and the like) because those interactions are often more positive and proactive.

              1. Not A Girl Boss*

                I do want to take it back and say one thing though – for whatever reason, there is a much larger concentration of women in quality, and that can matter. Having even just one single other woman (assuming she isn’t the terrible kind who puts others down), especially a woman boss, can change the whole entire world. Being the one and only woman is a truly different world, and in my experience if a company has ZERO women, its because their environment is completely inhospitable to women. Women in engineering just aren’t THAT rare.

                1. LW#2*

                  Thanks for taking the time to share this level of detail! I am reading everything carefully. I never get to hear this kind of insight about others’ experiences and it is SUPER useful.

                  Personally, I think I’ve said “quality” primarily because I tend to be good at data analysis and really fussy paperwork/documentation stuff, and in most of the orgs I’ve worked in it’s meant taking a step back from the front lines. (Usually these orgs are small enough that they have one or two quality generalists.) However, the relationship-building aspect you mention is a really useful perspective I hadn’t really considered, and I’m sure that some of my issues in ops are related to this. There’s an element of sexism there, related to how guys at work socialised etc, but definitely a substantial chunk that’s just… my antisocial personality. So a really useful insight into where to focus my job search based on weaknesses as well as strengths. And what to work on.

      4. LittleMarshmallow*

        I’ve been 15 years in a very large manufacturing company. 10 of it was spent in manufacturing and 5 in R&D but still manufacturing adjacent.

        I agree that it can be a rough environment, but many places are getting better and better about yelling AT people being unacceptable. I love working with operators and tradesmen. In my experience 95% of them are nice. You of course run up on an ass once in a while but it’s not that common and I find there are almost more asses in the R&D environment than I remember in the plant. They’re sneakier about it though so you get bamboozled (I find the sexism just as bad if not worse). There’s some advantages to the sort of really obvious bad behavior you run into in manufacturing vs the sneaky bad behavior you get in the more office environments.

        I also agree with what someone else said about people being loud near you Vs at you. Manufacturing is loud. People generally talk more loudly and sometimes more urgently (stuff is dangerous so sometimes you need to make sure your point gets across fast). But people shouldn’t be yelling at you (unless you’re about to be injured).

        All that said, it’s not for everyone (male or female). Some people like the gentler office world and some people like the less polished manufacturing environment. I personally (even as a female) am more comfortable in the unpolished environment. I’m not a polished person so I fit in better where I don’t have to be perfectly put together all the time. Do what’s right for you and don’t feel guilt about abandoning ship if that’s better for you. Those of us that like that environment will fight the good fight still. :)

    2. CaVanaMana*

      this part stuck out to me “I’ve always felt like I have to manage other people’s feelings about me whilst simultaneously pretending that I don’t personally have feelings (I guess that comes with being a youngish woman in a male-dominated environment, where my entire existence is somehow never “professional” enough.)” Be you and so what of it? awe, people have their feelings and? not your problem. own whatever you want to do as you!

      1. marvin*

        This sounds nice in theory but it’s actually really hard to put up with this kind of treatment over time. No one should be expected to deal with an environment where your identity is constantly under scrutiny and everyone expects you to fail. It’s normal to have a problem with that! The expectation should be for these organizations to do better, not for the people who are targeted to magically learn to have it not affect them.

        1. Nesprin*

          Agreed- there’s a double bind for women and POC in male dominated spaces- the expectation is that you should be friendly, helpful etc, so these people are not seen as outstanding when they are friendly and helpful, and punished for not being that.

        2. LW#2*

          100% this, thanks marvin.

          Aside from the mental health aspect, where it really came to bite me was once I had a job where I had to tell other people what to do. Where your job success is measured by that. And where people (ahem, men) just. will. not.

          My current job demonstrated it’s not my soft skills that were the problem there.

          1. marvin*

            Yeah, part of what’s so damaging is that when you’re in this kind of environment for long enough, you start internalizing those expectations and wondering if you are the problem.

            I’ve also been in the position of being treated with way more respect in a new job and having it totally reset my expectations. I’m glad that happened for you too. Now that you know, I think it automatically puts you in a better position to find employers that deserve you.

        3. Not A Girl Boss*

          Yes, thank you, and it has actual career implications.

          One of my (past) bosses had a total angry yelling meltdown at our 8:00am meeting every single day. He occasionally went so far as to stomp his feet or throw his coffee cup like a large toddler. I knew it wasn’t at me so I just sat through his tantrum and then we all got to work.

          This same boss gave me a negative performance review for the topic ‘works well with others’ and the specific advice was “learn to deliver the word ‘no’ with more grace.” It hurt my % raise so it had very real world consequences.

          Whenever I met frustrations, I calmly explained where I was blocked and did my best to avoid showing any emotion other than passively content. However, like having a toddler, it often seemed that no one listened to me until I got mad.
          Here’s the specific example he cited on my performance review:
          Me: I’m leaving on a business trip in 2 weeks, and this thing needs to be done before the end of the month, so I need you to give me the inputs by next week.
          Me: Hey, can you please give me those inputs? We are going to be in giant trouble if you don’t.
          Me (8am): I need those inputs by end of business today.
          Me (4pm): I am willing to stay late if you can give me those inputs by 5pm.
          Me (5:30pm): I want to make everyone aware that this end of month deliverable won’t be done on time, because no one gave me the inputs I needed.
          Me: Lands at 9am from a horrible redeye flight they made me take so they didn’t have to pay for a hotel.
          Boss: Calls at 9:01am and tells me I have to come into the office to finish that month end deliverable.
          Me: I will do that this time, but I want to be clear that I am never doing this again. We need to find a solution so that I’m not the only human in the company who can do this deliverable. We’ve need a solution for months and this highlights why.
          Him: I don’t think you’re embodying our “say yes” culture right now.

          1. coffee*

            I feel enraged on your behalf. “Say yes culture”?! How about we say yes to the boss taking a long walk off a short pier >:(

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I did this and had “tone problem in communications” at my first job. It not only followed me between managers at my old job, but made it into my reference check. Now I’m on my 2nd manager at my 3rd job, and they’re still watching for “tone problems” despite the fact that they have also commended my professionalism.

        There’s a reason I changed my email signature to “Thanks!”, and it’s not because I always genuinely want to express gratitude.

    3. 1-800-BrownCow*

      Female engineer with 24 years experience in manufacturing. I’ve worked in automotive, food packaging and medical device manufacturing. Company sizes of 80 to 20,000 employees (worldwide). Facility sizes of 80 to ~300 employees. I’ve dealt with rude, unpleasant work environments and great work environments. My current workplace is great. People are kind, friendly, and respectful. No yelling allowed. I work both office-side and on the manufacturing floor and I manage both office workers and manufacturing floor technical staff and am both involved in R&D and Operations, so very dual role in my facility. And honestly, the work environment is great in all areas where I work. I’ve even had visitors comment on the positive culture they notice when visiting. As for treatment as a female in a very male dominant environment, almost all people that I cross paths with treat me fairly. I’ve had those few who don’t. I would say unfair treatment happened more early in my career, mostly because I was female and not because I was young, but it has greatly improved over time. All that said, I enjoy working in manufacturing and while I’m sure there are still not so great work cultures out there, I know from personal experience that there are great manufacturing places to work..

  2. Heffalump*

    LW1: If the organization had reined Abby in or fired her, her report would still be there, and you wouldn’t have a foot out the door.

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      This. The board has made their decisions and priorities, and it’s not your job to care more about the organization than they do (even as an ED). It is nice to be invested in your work and the mission of your company/organization, but Alison is 100% correct. You are trading your time and effort for money. When that arrangement ceases to be the best choice for you, you get to move on. Be polite, give notice and do your best to document and transition any info/projects you have, but you have to take care of yourself.

      1. Observer*

        The board has made their decisions and priorities, and it’s not your job to care more about the organization than they do (even as an ED).

        Yes. If the Board were competent and had the welfare of the organization as their top priority, that would be one thing. But neither is true of this bunch.

        I mean, this is someone who snaps a program participants! Letting her get away with that means that they are putting her above the organization or the people it serves. And you don’t need “best manager” awards to understand that you simply cannot let people act the way she does and still have an effectively running organization. I can’t imagine any person with minimal understanding thinking that treating any and all *management* issues like “conflicts” that can be resolved by mediation between the misbehaving staff person and their manager makes any sense.

    2. Artemesia*

      Alison nailed this one. It is a horribly managed organization. How is the OP the ‘Executive Director’ if she doesn’t have hiring/firing power? She should not hesitate to get out of there and into a job that doesn’t kneecap her. The board deserves to be left running the organization which they are already running.

      1. Observer*

        The board deserves to be left running the organization which they are already running.

        I’d probably replace the second “running” with mismanaging.

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          I first read it as “…to be left running the organization which they are already ruining”, which fits rather nicely

      2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Yep. The board can try to keep things running if they want to, but I’m not optimistic.

        For-profit companies fold all the time, due to bad management, bad luck, a change in the economy, bad products/services, etc. Why should non-profits be any different?

      3. Ama*

        Yup. It is not uncommon for very small nonprofits to have this kind of dysfunction, but in my experience the only way to get out of it is for the board to realize that if they want to survive and grow they have to bring in an ED and other staff with experience in the sector and they have to find a happy medium in their relationship with the ED so they trust them to run the day to day of the org while the board helps direct bigger picture goals.

        Right now OP’s board isn’t trusting her to do the full job of an ED. If they aren’t going to do that this org will never change. (I’d also just note even that if the board was willing to change and give the ED role more authority it’s also okay for OP to decide she’s too burned out to stay! It sounds like she’s really been through it and needs to move on to something else.)

    3. Willis*

      And if the board/org wants to maintain their 3-person staff, they can rehire for the direct report’s position well before spring 2023. They certainly have plenty of lead time to rehire for Abby’s position, although depending on how easily the OP can find a new job, maybe she could leave and be replaced first.

      With such a small organization, there’s a huge inherent risk of this situation, especially when the board doesn’t even give the ED any authority to actually direct the place and let’s a bad employee spoil the experience for others. It’s up to them to keep it going, not the OP. And if it folds, that’s on them too, and maybe it should fold if they can’t run it effectively.

      1. Antilles*

        Bingo. It’s early September 2022. If Abby has already openly announced her departure for spring 2023, they have half a year to figure out a replacement. If they can’t figure it out in that timeframe, that’s on them.

    4. JayNay*

      yeah Alison was spot on in this one. How can you be an executive director if you can direct anything? You need to be able to manage your employees! if LW1 had been able to fire/reprimand Abby, Abby’s direct report might still be there.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      OP, you may be titled executive director but they aren’t letting you direct anything.

      This stopped being an Abby problem a while ago. This is a management problem– from the top down.

      Even if they fire Abby before you leave, you can still explain that while the title is ED, the position does not function the way an ED position would be expected to operate.
      You can also explain that bullying, yelling [whatever], and insubordination should never be acceptable no matter the source of the problem. There cannot be two sets of rules. If you behaved like Abby they’d probably show you the door.

      This situation is crazy, no thinking person is going to thrive in this place.

      I understand your concerns here, but I also know that once you step back, you will feel nothing but pure relief. And slowly but surely that ah-ha moment will come where you realize they leveraged your interest in helping people into something that only benefited themselves. They have zero interest in taking care of their staff.

      I am angry on your behalf, OP. It’s an organization that is filling the NPO stereotype. They are contributing as much as they can to the stereotype of the self-serving, malfunctioning NPO. In the end, I landed with a vow that I would never work for another NPO. It’s my own fault, I stayed too long and I let too much stuff go by me without standing up for myself. I can fix those things.

      1. Artemesia*

        Exactly — this was quicksand and I am sure the OP got slowly sucked in before realizing she had no authority.

    6. The OTHER other*

      This org sounds extremely dysfunctional, by its very design. I question whether this staff of three, one of which sounds extremely unpleasant (to put it mildly), is doing much if any good on this “eternal” mission of civil rights or whatever.

      It’s hard to see when you’re in it, but sometimes a business or organization SHOULD fail, so that something better can take its place. This sounds like one of them. LW should look for another job that is effective in its mission and not hobbled with a dysfunctional reporting structure or 1/3 of the staff made up of nasty liars.

    7. Petty Betty*

      This. 100%

      I can’t even begin to try to count how many people I’ve watched leave multiple jobs/contracts specifically because of bad people who weren’t reined in or fired when they should have been, for one reason or another. Each and every time it came down to a toxic environment (in one way or another) and mismanagement at some level that caused problems.

      At the end of the day, you need to do what’s best for you. If you don’t, you risk harming yourself (mentally, physically, emotionally, a combination of the three…). Never set yourself on fire to keep a business warm, especially when they have shown that they certainly won’t do even a fraction of the same for you.

    8. Sara without an H*

      She reports to me but because of our organization structure, I don’t have hiring/firing power.

      When I started my career (back in the Pleistocene), a mentor I respected warned me never to accept responsibility without authority. OP, that’s exactly the situation you’re in and it stinks.

      You say the organization will fall apart if you leave. OP, this organization deserves to fall apart. The Board is meddling in day-to-day operations and won’t give the ED the authority they need to do their job? This isn’t an organization, this is a hobby to make Board members feel good about themselves.

      Read everything in the AAM archives about resumes, cover letters, and job search strategies. Update your LinkedIn profile and alert your professional network. Start job searching in earnest, because there’s really no future for you where you are.

      Oh, and when you give notice, and the Board gets all concerned and makes a counter offer? Cover your ears and run.

    9. AnonInCanada*

      … or gave OP#1 an actual title with actual decision-making abilities like hiring/firing and putting Abby on a PIP if need be to ensure the company doesn’t need to read her mind when it comes to her communicating with anyone.

      You look out for #1, OP#1. If the organization fails due to their manglement issues causing all this turnover, that’s on them, not you.

    10. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      You can also see it in a different way: All staff leaving gives the org an opportunity to start fresh, with less burden of the past.
      The board can hire a new ED, this time hopefully with real authority, to build her new team from scratch.
      Your obligation is to document things well so that a new person has all the information to start, and make a graceful exit.
      It’s not uncommon that organizations benefit from such a reboot in the long run.

  3. Beezus*

    RE the parking ticket if you’re in California they likely will have to reimburse you for it especially if it was incurred due to “general business practices” aka your late coworker unless you could have reasonably parked elsewhere or moved your car.

    1. Poppyseeds*

      Also feeding the meter may not have been an option if they parked and then hopped on public transportation.

    2. Sloanicota*

      This is the kind of thing that irks me about my office. They don’t have parking available (technically you could probably get there by public transit but it wouldn’t be very convenient = 100% of us drive) so we’re always ducking out to feed meters, move cars in time-limited spots, etc. (To be fair, we’re mostly remote). I’ve gotten a parking ticket *and* it’s inconvenient for the business because we’re all ducking out all day when we’re there. Granted, I could decide at my own expense to fork over $20 a day to park in an all day lot, but I’d rather play games with $5 in change apparently versus take that expense on myself.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        My old job was a parking nightmare. They had two campuses, one was downtown and the other was further into the suburbs. The downtown office had some lots for employees but they were close to $100 a month and the entry level jobs did not pay enough for that to be possible for most of their employees. Our public transit is miserable, spotty, and slow. People were constantly running out to move their cars. The suburban campus wasn’t much better. The parking was also expensive, and very limited so you could pay that high price and never get a spot. Most people parked throughout the surrounding neighborhoods which as you can imagine caused problems.

        I really don’t think you should have to pay to park to get to your job. Especially if said employer isn’t paying a living wage.

    3. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      I once drove myself and my boss to a meeting downtown. We were struggling to find a spot to park and the meeting start time was getting closer. My boss told me to park in a forbidden zone (not blocking fire hydrants or anything like that) and said they’d cover the cost of the parking ticket should I get one. I got a ticket and they paid for it.

      1. The OG Sleepless*

        I’m glad they did, but sometimes a parking ticket is a best case scenario. I’d be worried about getting booted, which is really time consuming, or even worse, towed.

        1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

          Fair point. But we knew it would be an extremely unlikely outcome in our city. I suppose if it did happen they would have covered all the costs. As it was, we weren’t late to an important client meeting for a fairly small parking ticket <$50.

        2. Anon Supervisor*

          Most of the time, you’re only going to get booted if you have a bunch of unpaid parking fines (depending on the city). I’d me more afraid of being towed, but that’s only because there are areas in my city where they are tow-happy.

    4. The OG Sleepless*

      I used to work in a client facing job that needed constant coverage, and the coworker who came on shift after me was late. Frequently. I was stuck leaving 30-45 minutes late several times, and on one spectacular occasion I stayed two hours late because five minutes after he was supposed to arrive, I had to take on a task that I could not physically stop doing even after he got there. If I had incurred an actual monetary expense on top of all this (we were both salaried), you bet I would have asked for reimbursement. If for no other reason, to make the point with management that he needed to cut it out.

  4. Loulou*

    I totally agree the “hidden word” thing is patronizing and silly. Also, OP, if you are reading this I’m dying to know what the word was. Like, it must be something that wouldn’t otherwise appear in a cover letter for the test to work…but then wouldn’t that break up the flow of a well-crafted cover letter? Ridiculous!

    1. Artemesia*

      Deserves a glass door. And you might let them know that you would have applied but for that. An organization that treats like a toddler on an easter egg hunt during the application is going to be hell to work for.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        It’s dumb, but I think it’s pretty low on the hierarchy of terrible hiring practices.
        I don’t think it really says anything about the organization.

        1. EPLawyer*

          It says a LOT about their hiring practices. Rather than you know, thoughtfully review resumes, ask good questions in interviews, they go with tricks. If they do this with job ads what are they like in reviews? Do they actually manage or do they play “gotcha” games?

          It’s an employee market right now. People have choices, those who are not desparate are going to skip applying for this job.

        2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          I think it says something about the company…there are so many other, less childish, actually useful ways of adding an instruction to a job advert that could accomplish the same goal. This ad was written by someone unprofessional and petty. The whole company may be fine, but they already hired one angry bee…so be warned.

        3. Yorick*

          I agree. It’s not a good thing to do, but it may not be that terrible that they came up with an imperfect way to deal with a real problem.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        Isn’t the hidden word just to screen out the spam resumes? I assumed they got a lot of responses from people who were in no way qualified and clearly didn’t read the job description, and they’re trying to weed those out.

        1. The OTHER other*

          I doubt looking for a hidden word in resumes or cover letters is more effective than simply scanning them for relevance. I suppose you could just set a search for the hidden word and discard if it’s not found. It’s been a while since I have hired but that initial winnowing of the pile getting rid of spammed resumes was generally very fast so I don’t think this would save much time.

          The real question is do you want to work for an employer that treats its hiring practice like a scavenger hunt. What’s their vacation policy? Look for the secret word! How do you reorder supplies? Solve a series of riddles! Your sales goals?hidden in this dance video!

        2. my experience*

          I really feel for the employer on this one. I get so many resumes (especially through Indeed) that are clearly “resume bombing” where their resume (and often even their “objective” on top) are wildly unrelated to the job I posted for. But I agree that ultimately you just have to screen them all, as annoying as it is.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I suspect it’s a hidden test to screen out people who don’t have “attention to detail” and will actually weed out people who are busy and don’t look for hidden tests, and those who think that a word search in the job description is silly and an ineffective way to actually test for attention to detail.

    2. John Smith*

      Unless the job specifically required the finding of hidden words, I don’t see the point of it. Even if it were, the advert shouldn’t have provided the instruction to find the hidden word – it probably should have been obvious to a word finding applicant.

      I remember an advert for a security service that was coded in some way. The advert didn’t say it was coded as it would have defeated the object. The example provided by the LW is just plain silly.

        1. Falling Diphthong*


          I assume a spy thing. “Falling, we need you to do every puzzle on the puzzle page of this major newspaper, and alert us to any hidden words.”

        2. London Lass*

          Go into contract negotiation and have fun spotting stuff the other side tries to sneak in without telling you.

          1. EPLawyer*

            I HATE when opposing counsel makes changes to a marital settlement agreement and doesn’t track changes. They ALWAYS change some key phrase that blows up the whole deal. Like I wouldn’t notice.

          2. Cmdrshpard*

            In the age of track changes, redlining, and automated compare, this does not seem like it would be as big a deal compared to when it was all done by hand/typewriter?

    3. Anonnnnoner*

      Oh, I presumed that you had to put in the hidden word as “and the hidden word is supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, not that you had to use the word in a sentence!

    4. Operation EYE EYE EYE*

      The only reason I could see an employer doing this is to weed out bots or automated scripts people set up to apply for every job available. Just trying to think outside the box here, but for the record, I think it’s annoying too.

      1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

        I thought that, too, that they got the idea from websites who use Captcha or whatever that annoying thing is. My eyes aren’t great and I fail at least half of those, and I get all stressed because I’m afraid of timing out or going over the allotted attempts.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          There are very few visual (or auditory) tests that most humans are still better at than computers, and the number is going down every day.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I saw something similar on a “looking for roommates” ad on Craigslist. The ad included the instructions to use the name of an actor who played character X in movie Y in the subject line of the email. The ad was clear that they asked for this in order to avoid bots, and in that context I thought it was a clever move. In the context of a job ad, it does seem silly.

        1. LunaLena*

          I wonder if they got the idea from the story that Van Halen would include a demand for a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed on their concert rider. The reason behind it was that their concerts included some complicated and potentially dangerous stage setups, so the bowl of M&Ms was a quick way for them to check that all of the instructions in their contract had been carefully read. If it wasn’t there, they would do a check of the stage setup themselves.

    5. Omskivar*

      The hidden word reminds me of roleplaying forum applications. A lot of those would have a code word hidden in the rules that you had to include in your application (sometimes in the header). Even then I thought it was silly, because all you had to do was CTRL+F for “code word/magic word/password/etc” to find it and skip over reading the rules altogether.

    6. A Girl Named Fred*

      My department does this on our daily announcement email. It started with hiding things randomly in the middle of the email asking us to reply and answer that question to prove we read the announcements, and now it’s just weirder and weirder questions (because they’re running out of ideas to use DAILY) stuck right at the bottom every time.

      I hate it, and it’s one of (many) reasons I’m trying to leave.

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        The summer reading program where I work has secret codes that people can use to get extra points. In the early years, we would get weekly update emails and at the end it would say “and here’s this week’s code word, go enter it for your extra points!” But then a new person took that job and instead of just telling us the code word, she started turning it into a riddle where you had to do a super close reading of the email, and usually Google some kind of related trivia in order to figure out the word. That was when I decided I didn’t need those extra points.

      2. MGW*

        Had a couple professors in college who would hide a secret word or sentence in their syllabus that you then emailed to them to get 5 extra credit points. As a way to see who was reading the syllabus

    7. learnedthehardway*

      The only thing I think is reasonable to ask a candidate to include would be a job code referenced in the position title or right under it – and that’s only for organizations that don’t have a good applicant tracking system, but are doing fairly high volume recruitment. In this case, requesting candidates include the job number means they’ll get slotted into the right position.

      It’s also reasonable to expect candidates to apply with the requested materials and in the requested manner – eg. “Please email your resume and cover letter to“.

      Otherwise, HR needs to cut out the silly and patronizing crap.

    8. Applesauced*

      I applied to a job last year that had a hidden question in the ad – buried like 2/3rds through, they asked you to included you’re useless superpower in your cover letter.

    9. Bunny Girl*

      I had a manager when I used to work in food service who would hide cucumbers under things because she didn’t think we were cleaning behind stuff that we said we were (surprise we were that’s how we found the f-in cucumbers). We were totally baffled when we kept finding whole cucumbers until someone mentioned it to her and she said it was because she didn’t trust the night crew to clean properly.

      1. irene adler*

        So what was done with the cucumbers once they were found?

        I shudder that a customer would potentially receive these cucumbers in their food or they’d be placed back into the display for purchase. Please tell me my fears are unfounded!

        1. Bunny Girl*

          We definitely tossed them! It was a sandwich place and she would legit hide these under the cold table or behind tables on the floor so we were certainly not going to put them back up on the table for people to eat. It made me made because it wasn’t like she was putting bruised or old cucumbers under there. They were good ones! It was a total unfounded waste.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        A couple of decades ago I worked in the dining hall of a retirement community, and residents would hide creamers under the upside-down coffee mugs to find out if the waitstaff was washing all the dishes and the tablecloth of unused tables.

        Reader, we were not.

    10. OP#4*

      Hi! I won’t specify what the word is because I’m scared of outing the company for some reason and it becoming a whole thing, but I will say 1) it was a food item and 2) its context in a cover letter would make zero sense.

      I was really intrigued by the job description but the whole hidden word thing turned me off so much I wound up not applying.

    11. Office Gumby*

      Coming from a non-US country that tends to have reasonable selection criteria listed within a job advert, having a “code word” in an ad sounds very childish and shallow.

      I love having selection criteria in a job advert. Basically, it’s the job telling you exactly what to put in your cover letter that will ensure your application gets a second look. It’s stuff like, “Be able to wax chocolate teapots to ICAU standards” and “demonstrate couverture techniques”. None of this, “include the word ‘snazzy’ in your cover letter’.

  5. The Prettiest Curse*

    #1 – Go, go, go without any guilt. You’ve tried your best to make this work, you couldn’t and leaving is an entirely reasonable response. Take the future of the organisation out of the equation. It’s not your responsibility and definitely not your problem. Don’t guilt yourself into being even more burned out than you are now!

    1. anon this time*

      Leaving is not only reasonable, it seems to be a natural part of the nonprofit ecosystem. I’ve seen so many organizers and management moving between organizations in my 6 years or so as a volunteer. I don’t know how much of it is “I don’t have to put up with this mismanagement” and how much is “I’m underpaid and Other Org is paying $2/hr more!” or other personal considerations. But it’s definitely a thing. Some of them also seem to move in and out of city government (direct or contractors).

      LW #1, you should be able to find something better.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        I mean, leaving jobs is a natural part of employment, no? I don’t know of many jobs that people expect to stay in indefinitely.

    1. Jackalope*

      It’s true that as an advice blog for workplace issues, reading Alison’s blog will highlight the many issues that can arise with coworkers. But that’s not what’s going on with this OP. She explicitly states that her current situation is much better than any job she’s had in the past decade of working and gives concrete examples of this. As Alison pointed out, it could have been bad luck or it could be her field (being a woman in manufacturing can be tough)! But it’s not just a skewed perspective from reading about worst-case scenarios.

    2. TransmascJourno*

      I mean, it seems pretty clear that LW2 is speaking to the TA job she picked up in grad school and comparing to previous work experience in manufacturing, so this seems like an inaccurate assessment.

  6. Observer*

    #1 – Out the door.

    Yes, leave. It might cause the organization to tank. But that threat is probably the only thing that will force the Board to shape up and make the necessary changes. And I don’t mean the threat of your leaving – they probably won’t take you seriously and they won’t understand the significance of your leaving. But once they are actually faced with the real world fallout of this exodus, they MIGHT get it together.

    If you stick around, it’s just not going to happen. There will be one excuse after another, and things will fall apart anyway because you are not being allowed to manage.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Honestly this place deserves to fail. They clearly aren’t carrying out their mission if the de facto ED is allowed to scream at program participants.

        OP, not your job to save this place if the Board doesn’t want it saved. And they don’t or your report would have been gone long ago.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Or it might be the kick the organisation needs to get better.

      Either way, whatever happens after the letter writer leaves is something the LW should try not to care about.

      1. Not teenage but still ninja turtle*

        Exactly. The fact is that refusing to remove one bad employee lost them two good ones. If that doesn’t spur them on, they deserve what they get.

      1. MsM*

        Yeah. I’ve been there, OP. What finally pushed me to leave was the realization that it wasn’t going to get better without a total Board overhaul, and that was never going to happen. They thought they were irreplaceable because of their expertise in the field, and they applied that same calculus to who they chose to placate and who they let tolerate the abuse from those they chose to placate. I don’t think they’ll ever have any comprehension of the ways they’ve hobbled the organization’s impact, but at least I’m not the one stuck trying to convince them any more.

        1. OP #1*

          Thanks, MsM, this is definitely what’s happening at our organization too – Abby runs our main program that she has perfected over the past 10 years. The Board’s calculus, at the end of the day, is that her skills are needed more than mine.

          1. Observer*

            I think that you are giving them too much credit. The whole set up makes no sense. It’s not just that they are protecting her, although that’s crazy enough when she’s mistreating the very people the program is supposed to be serving. It’s way they are doing it that takes it from *terrible* management, to bizarre.

            1. OP #1*

              Very true! The organization developed a “flatter” structure before my time that was headed by Abby on the staff side and no matter how many ways we’ve seen that the structure doesn’t work, Abby then exhausts us with explanations on how the structure hasn’t had a chance to prove itself or that other organizations are moving to flatter structures yadda yadda yadda

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Yup – for whatever reason the Board has chosen Amy, the rest of you don’t matter. The only thing that will make them change is actually having to deal with the logical outcome of having chosen Amy.

      Leave and do what’s best for you OP.

      1. SelinaKyle*

        Although unethical is Amy related to someone on the Board and that is why nothing has been done about her? They must have received complaints from programme participants.

        1. Ama*

          Eh, if Amy’s been there from the beginning (or for a really long time), and especially if she hasn’t always been this problematic, the Board is probably putting too much weight on “but she’s been here forever and knows where everything is” and not clearly seeing “her behavior is affecting perceptions of our org.”

        2. OP #1*

          She’s not related to anyone on the Board, but she has been a part of this movement community for a while and people trust her. The Board always includes friends or program participants that have gone through our program. She has created an amazing program, but I think I’m the first person to complain about her attitude. My predecessor left after 12 years and he was wary of criticizing her (or maybe he just gave up).

  7. Seal*

    #1 – Like the majority of my coworkers, I’m planning to leave my institution in the coming months. All us are overworked, underpaid, and fed up. Things have been falling apart around us for months and once we’re all gone the place will completely implode. Upper administration has been ignoring the warning signs and outright pleading from the staff to do something for months. So no one feels guilty about leaving at this point – it’s not our problem that the people who could have fixed things didn’t listen.

    1. Pieismyreligion*

      I work in healthcare, and this is my agency right now as well. I’m trying to be out by the end of the year, most of my team will be gone by December. I’ve been laying blame on the horror that is healthcare and staffing right now, and haven’t wanted to contribute to it. Then last week I was like, no we’ve been talking to the agency about the problems for years and the turnover has been consistently awful the whole time I’ve been her. So F them, I’m out.

      1. OP #1*

        My heart goes out to you! It’s so frustrating because even I – a member of the public – can see the dysfunction and lack of caring and compensation happening in healthcare. Sending you lots of warmth and support as you find your next job!

  8. Observer*

    #2 – Alison’s advice is spot on.

    I hope you give a long hard look at your field before you leave it. You chose it for a reason, and it would be a shame to give that up if those reasons are still important to you.

    But, the reason to look at your field is to decide if it is right FOR YOU. You have absolutely no obligation to subject yourself to an ongoing environment where you can’t ever be off your guard. I mean yes, in any job you have to be “on” and you can’t just say and do whatever comes into your head. But you’re describing something that is really, really and unnecessarily wearing. You don’t owe it to the filed or to women to subject yourself to that.

    1. Yet Another Unemployed Librarian*

      I can understand the feeling of obligation to continue in the field. When I left my hardcore STEM field where I had been striving to be a proud, brave member of the small female minority, I definitely felt guilty, like I was abandoning my female colleagues, my advisor, the science itself, all the little girls who might enter the field in the future… but since it was causing a mental health crisis it just had to be the end.

      It’s not on you to single-handedly patch that pipeline if it’s not working for you.

      1. Grilledcheeser*

        I also left a male-dominated STEM field after fighting the female fight for years … only woman in my college classes, first female engineer at the plant, etc. After a few years I left for computers & program management, and felt guilty for a while. Not all of us are cut out to be the pioneering fighter, though. I am a behind-the-scenes person. I did manage to convince quite a few of the guys working the floor/line in the plant, to accept me as a good engineer & to be open to more women working there in the future. I decided that was enough for my fighting. I made a dent in their armor. What really helped me feel ok with the move was finding other methods to help support women in STEM. College programs, volunteering at the local public school system, being active in “women in engineering/tech” groups, supporting a local Makerspace & their beginners’ classes & women’s group, voting in every election, etc.

        1. ScruffyInternHerder*

          Seconding the overall sentiment that it can be utterly exhausting to have to be the first.

      2. a tester, not a developer*

        I was also going to say that OP can still be an advocate for women in STEM in her tutoring/teaching work. I would never have considered staying in the sciences in high school if it weren’t for my (female) chemistry teacher. You don’t have to be working on the literal or figurative front lines to inspire others.

        1. Noelle*

          Seconding this. My teacher for my very first computer science class was a woman. Literally the first assignment in the class, my assigned partner (a man) completely froze me out and refused to look at any of the plans or code I’d worked so excitedly on. I had low self esteem back then and didn’t know how to stand up for myself. But my teacher must have seen what was going on, because when we had a quiz afterwards, she showed the class both of our answers and explained how my answer was more efficient than his. If it weren’t for her, I probably wouldn’t be working in this field full time and also getting a masters in it. So if your passion is teaching, I say go for it without any guilt. You could actually make more of an impact there than at your industry job.

        2. Sloanicota*

          Yeah although I wonder how it would feel to prepare enthusiastic female students for a field you know is going to be demonstrably structurally crappy for them. Maybe there’s the idea that you could raise a whole cohort to go in together rather than having one lone “first” woman who has to absorb all the crap, but … it hasn’t always worked for my generation and I’m not sure how to prepare for the ones that come after us either :(

      3. Anon3*

        Just wanted to echo that the women in STEM guilt is real and pretty common, but shouldn’t stop you from doing what’s best for you. I’m still in STEM but transitioned (ftm) and definitely felt it!

    2. LW#2*

      I chose my field because it was broke and I could get a job in manufacturing with my qualifications. I stayed because I developed a niche skillset that people will pay money for! My career developed out of necessity, and grad school was an attempt to push my career in the direction it would have gone if I hadn’t experienced a ton of adversity in my early twenties. I just thought that change would still mean remaining in a technical field.

      It’s great to hear from other people who have experienced similar though. I literally work with zero women. None. Not one. So I don’t really have anyone to discuss this with. The few female engineers I know are either junior to me (and for me, discrimination really kicked in once I got a bit of seniority) or much more senior (and have a tendency to put me down with “it was much worse twenty years ago, you don’t know how good you have it” stories).

      1. bamcheeks*

        This sounds so tiresome, and I am not surprised you’re exhausted! When you have this kind of adversity in your working life you absolutely need spaces where you can go and relax and share stories with people who will recognise your experiences and empathise, and I’m sorry you haven’t had support from other women.

        I would spend some time thinking over the decision, and do as much as you can to think about the “what ifs” — could you return to manufacturing later on if you wanted to? are there mentoring or EDI organisations in your manufacturing field that you could still engage with so you are still making a contribution? Are there ways of bridging both, like teaching or training positions that make use of your technical skillset? The best decisions are often ones that just emerge as you explore more and think about different angles.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I think there are a bunch of us (mid-career STEM women) here on AAM, so you’ve come to the right place!

        I also found it got more… stark with seniority. Having to re-fight every day for the respect one has already earned over and over. Worst part for me so far has been having a child. That’s when the hidden attitudes of people you thought were allies really come out. Sobering.

        1. LW#2*

          I actually got on really well in STEM when I was young and fresh-faced! People were quite happy to instruct the smol quirky visibly queer girl in her early 20s, who was there primarily to learn. The problems hit *hard* at the point that I started having to instruct other people.

          I’m actually on the board of several nonprofits dealing with EDI in my field. It’s where I meet those more senior women who seem much more keen on promoting the interests of businesses than helping others in. This is specifically *why* I do so much nonprofit volunteering, because diversity doesn’t just mean “women”. Since I’m usually the most junior person in the room, I think I’d get kicked out if I left the field, and honestly that would be fine because those EDI nonprofits are EXHAUSTING.

          Wow, I passionately hate my whole field, don’t I? I’m trying to set up as a freelance instructor in my technical specialty but currently working 2 part time jobs to stay afloat through full time grad school…

          1. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

            LW#2, I think you’re burnt out. I don’t think you hate your field. I wish I had advice on how to get through it, but I don’t. I was a woman in STEM as well. While we had more women in my field, it was still a daily grind. I still remember old faculty trying to “help me out” with wonderful, sexist advice like “Smile, the growers like to see smiling faces” and “Drop the boyfriend. You need to move to (area I have no desire to live) and focus solely on your career”. No sir, I don’t want to end up old and bitter in a dried up town. And I’m done with men my dad and grandpa’s age leering at me. I had days I wanted a parka in the blueberry field in July in Georgia.

            I finally left because my mental health was in the toilet. Do not set yourself on fire to light the way for others.

            And don’t knock your experience. As a grad student, I LOVE having instructors who have actually been in the field (for real, not just playing at it like some faculty do). They’re the ones that have made me more passionate about my career choice (higher ed administration). It’s awesome to learn what’s really going on, instead of just theory and reading papers.

              1. Anonym*

                Yep, that’s a great pairing with Alison’s “You don’t owe anyone your happiness or quality of life just because you originally thought you’d fight this fight.”

                I’m not in STEM, but those words hit really hard. Need to do some thinking today.

            1. Spoopy*

              I think it’s also fair to say that folks trying to bring women into male dominated fields – often with the best of intentions – put ALL the onus to be a trailblazer and to forge new paths on the women coming in, and very little pressure on the guys in power to adjust evaluate how they run their lives and businesses and why women don’t want to work there. It leaves women who don’t make it feeling guilty and like they failed, and it’s not fair.

              If you chose to leave, you didn’t fail and you shouldn’t shoulder the responsibility of lighting the way for future women, OP2. The men treated you badly and drove you out.

              You are smart and reasonable to look at how that effects your life and health and consider other options.

            2. Not A Girl Boss*

              Great advice. I also think that the ‘tactical pause’ can be a great tool here. There have been times I made career changes that gave me a freaking break, rather than exclusively career changes to climb the ladder as quick as possible. Its OK to spend a year or two in a tangentially related position where you can just sit quietly with yourself and do the bare minimum. Trust me, its an in demand field with a diversity problem (that sometimes works to your advantage), you will have no problem finding another job in your field in a year when you’ve had a chance to rest and build up a new armor and techniques for tolerating the BS.

          2. Eldritch Office Worker*

            “Wow, I passionately hate my whole field, don’t I?”

            Whatever you decide just keep this in mind when you envision the rest of your career. Your happiness is important.

      3. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yknow, there’s no shame in taking that experience and applying it in a different way. It sounds like your STEM career led you to where you are now, and you can take those experiences and use them to teach and encourage young women who want to enter the field.

      4. Hlao-roo*

        Does either Women in Manufacturing (WiM) and Society of Women Engineers (SWE)have a local chapter in your area? Hopefully the people there can give you advice on whether to stay or leave manufacturing/STEM, and if you decide to stay, they can give you leads on companies in your area that are good/better for women to work at.

        I also want to second what a lot of other commenters are saying, that you should make your decision based on what is best for you. Best of luck with whatever path you choose!

      5. Mac (I Wish All The Floors Were Lava)*

        Hey, LW2, this may or may not be useful info to you, but if freelance instruction appeals to you, I just wanted to share that as someone who has done some freelancing as a business ESL tutor, I find that just by chance I have often ended up working with clients in manufacturing, even though I have absolutely no background in that field. I can’t speak to how the pay compares to what you currently make, but it’s definitely interesting work, I can imagine having industry-specific knowledge would be a big selling point, and the investment for getting my CELTA certification was relatively low. I also have found that teaching ESL is a surprisingly useful space for talking about things like sexism and culture in the workplace. So much about language isn’t just about grammar or vocab, but about register/formality/appropriateness/politeness, which leads really naturally into conversations about what are appropriate ways to treat people.
        Anyway, if nothing else, hopefully this will remind you that any industry is not just one thing, it’s an ecosystem, and even if you don’t feel comfortable with one part of that ecosystem, you might really enjoy another part. Best of luck!

      6. Lissa*

        LW2, I’m a female scientist working in a manufacturing-adjacent position and have also experienced everything you described while working with the plants. I’ve also gone through changes in “dream” career paths getting to this point in my life.

        Rather than say you should/n’t give up on the goals that got you where you are now, I would recommend focusing on what you like and dislike about each career path. Look at the wider industry for each career when trying to figure out if that path is right for you so you can separate your feelings for your work place from your feelings about the career.

        It’s not giving up on a career path if you’ve found something you like better. A favorite professor liked to say “chance favors the prepared mind”. Major discoveries can happen when you’re looking for something completely different. You just have to be open to them.

      7. learnedthehardway*

        I would keep pursuing your career in manufacturing. Consider that just because the teaching team is great, it doesn’t mean it will always stay that way. People come and go, and people are what make the culture. Universities have politics like you wouldn’t believe, and there are still issues of discrimination there too.

        There’s no perfect employer, but there are good ones. And most manufacturing companies with any sense are looking to increase diversity – for good business reasons, such as that diversity encourages innovation and different ways of looking at problems. That’s actually pretty well documented.

        So, look for companies that emphasize diversity in their hiring, and that make a real commitment to diversity – eg. not just hiring women / minorities, but ensuring that the work environment also supports diversity (eg. maternity/parental leave programs, zero harassment policies, leadership that has some diversity, etc.)

        As for senior women who put you down, feel free to point out that it’s not a walk in the park now, either, and that the discrimination you face may not be as blatant, but it’s still there. Remind them that unless they want to only have token women in management, that it’s up to them to support the next generation. Someone gave them a chance. It’s time to pay it forward.

      8. Observer*

        or much more senior (and have a tendency to put me down with “it was much worse twenty years ago, you don’t know how good you have it” stories).

        That’s just obnoxious. Yes, it was worse 20 years ago. But that doesn’t really give you any sense of what you can expect and what you might be able to do about it.

      9. Sloanicota*

        It’s funny because I’m in the nonprofit sector where it is 100% women all day every day. I don’t know what it would be like to work with a dude. Of course it’s not a coincidence that my field is critical to society but also cripplingly underpaid.

      10. Lora*

        I am right there with you, and honestly one of the only things that consoled me about the gross sexism in manufacturing environments was, I had the power to replace most of these nasty harassing dudes with robots.

        I get asked to do these Women In [STEM stuff] things a lot and…honestly, one of the things that has made me extremely bitter was, having to be the first or even the second, is brutal. Nothing prepares you for it, and it’s not something anyone should do with rose-colored glasses on. Are you going to sign up to be paid much MUCH less than the average wage gap, watch the most incompetent men get promoted while your career languishes no matter what miracles you manifest, and get a new put-down, insult or harassment every day that you walk into work, forever and ever, until you retire? Because that’s what you’re signing up for. It’s maddening. It’s stressful. You’re signing up for a work life of (mostly) low-key and (sometimes) serious physical and emotional abuse. Studies have found that over half of the women in STEM whose jobs include field work, experience harassment, and god help you if you do any work in Antarctica or one of the other more remote research stations because there the rates are much higher.

      11. deesse877*

        LW, I’m late and it may have been addressed below, but the promises at your teaching job have A very high probability of being worthless. Not because anyone wishes you ill, but rather as an extension of the overall collegiate. Supervisors in universities generally have minimal control over job creation, and the overall culture is characterized by long timelines and a lot of dues-paying. Be very wary.

      12. Curmudgeon in California*

        Both my previous career and my current one are male dominated. I’m AFAB, and I’ve fought the woman in STEM battle for years – since my first engineering class in college.

        A few years back I finally accepted that I’m not feminine and have never been, and went non-binary. But since I still present as (nominally) female due to having boobs, I’m still battling the women in tech thing.

        The nice thing about where I work now is that it’s fully remote and we have a culture of “cameras off” on zoom calls. My boss has a Star Wars character as his avatar, as do several others.

        I can only offer you encouragement to keep plugging, but also to pick your battles and your battlegrounds.

        I’ve been in the work world in male dominated fields for most of 43 years. It is getting better, but damn, the progress is sloooooooooow. I can related to needing to take a breather in an environment that isn’t as exhausting.

        Ultimately, the choice is yours. You don’t owe the world to keep fighting if you don’t want to. Let someone else step up if you need to. You’ve don’t your fair share.

    3. AdequateArchaeologist*

      Also, trying to improve STEM for women doesn’t mean you have to be there your entire career (especially to the detriment of yourself!). Just the time you’ve spent in your position as the first woman to hold the job is progress! The next woman who gets hired in a similar role might face less intense roadblocks because you were there first, maybe another person will consider a woman slightly more capable than they did previously, or maybe yet another person has realized “hey, it’s possible for a woman to exist in this field”. There are incremental changes that your presence has. Don’t feel like you have to do all the things for gender equality in STEM for it to count.

    4. Been There*

      I used to work in manufacturing and I can say with 100% confidence that manufacturing, as an industry, is toxic and will not change. Blanket statement.
      Ofc there are people within that industry who are lovely, kind, helpful people. But the industry itself is stuck in the 1950’s and not likely to change anytime soon.

      I also now work in academia, and the WHIPLASH I got at the switch was insane. It took years for me to stop waiting for the other shoe to drop.

  9. Chocolate Teapot*

    5. The waiting can be frustrating, but it is up to the potential employer. I recently did a round of interviews, was told an offer would be forthcoming, and then it took another 3 weeks for it to arrive! The best way of dealing with the wait, I found, was to think about something else, or apply for another role in the meantime.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Also, I really want to caution LW5 about stewing about whether they’ve already made an offer to someone else, and you are the second-choice candidate.

      Even if you are, that’s not some huge insult. This is a place where job searching is NOT like dating, where knowing that there is a one that got away could say something about your relationship. They aren’t settling for you just because they made an offer to someone else first. It’s not like it needs to be you first or nothing, and anything else means they really don’t like you all that much and wish you were someone else.

      Every time I’ve interviewed candidates for a job, more than one candidate would have been excellent in the job. Picking one over another was something of a coin flip, and more than one of them would have been great; we would have been perfectly delighted to have any of a few candidates accept our offer, even if we could only make an offer to one at a time. They each might have brought slightly different strengths to the job, but that doesn’t mean that the job wouldn’t have been done well. Picking one to make the offer to first doesn’t mean I hated everybody else and the rest were all crappe.

      Sometimes most of the team liked one person, but the big boss just loved someone else, so we started with Big Boss’ person. Sometimes one person was memorable because they had something in common with a decision maker on the team, like a shared hobby or alma mater, and we started with an offer to that person. Sometimes someone was memorable because they said something extra fun or funny in the interview, and we started with an offer to that person (note: I personally have gotten job offers for this reason). Sometimes the first offer went to an internal candidate versus an external candidate. Sometimes one candidate’s recommender is well known by someone on the team, and the other person doesn’t share a network, so the person with an overlapping network gets the first offer. Sometimes it’s a difference of just a couple of years of experience, or experience with a certain software package or organization. Et cetera.

      Absolutely none of that means that the second and third choices aren’t just as good; it just means that we had to start somewhere.

      1. Cat Tree*

        I actually just had this happened. I had two candidates that were both great and it was a really tough decision. I managed to pick a top choice, but she declined the offer. I was so glad that I already had another great candidate, and he accepted the offer.

        I have conflicting feelings about the whole thing. I’m disappointed that the first candidate won’t be working here. But I also feel a sense of almost relief that I didn’t have to decide between the two. And of course I’m excited to work with the person who did accept the offer. I certainly don’t think about him as being the second best.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Same, this just happened to me. Second choices are not bad choices (bad choices don’t get an offer at all), and sometimes the difference between the top candidate and the second candidate is minimal. You still go with the top pick but aren’t the least bit bothered if you end up with the second. I am thrilled with my new team member, they’re doing great, and they seem to be enjoying the challenge and working with their new team.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        All of this. I say this every time people bring it up. If someone is 2d choice for a role, it means the organization liked them a lot and would be very happy to hire them, otherwise, they’d be zero choice. And same experience re choosing among people, it’s really difficult and it either comes down to trying to read tea leaves, or it’s that someone has some experience with something that most people learn on the job, so it gives them a little bump. So, it’s not that not having that experience is negative, just that having it is a slight positive.

      3. Government worker*

        I have even taken a job where they hired someone else and it didn’t work out and they offered me the position maybe six months after I had interviewed. I was still looking and jumped at the opportunity. It worked out great and I never felt like they were settling for me or anything like that.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      ESPECIALLY when the three weeks start in the middle of August, miscellaneous delays are so likely in hiring! We need to consult X, but oops, they are on vacation for two weeks. Once we hear from X, we need buy-in from Y, but now THEY are out!

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        YES. I have been ready to roll on offers and then had to wait around for other decision-makers to get things done. I press the internal recruiters to stay in contact so that candidates know that they are still top of our minds, but I also know I have better than average HR/recruiters.

  10. ButtonUp*

    I’m a woman in manufacturing and my coworkers are super nice! I work at a giant corporation on somewhat longer range projects. When I was job searching, I noticed a lot of smaller local factories had horrible reviews on Glassdoor mentioning sexism, racism, homophobia, etc, so I do get the impression the field has serious culture issues but I think it’s not universal.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, this is my experience as well. Working at a giant company has been the best overall experience for me. They have policies and systems in place to deal with all kinds of things. It’s certainly not perfect, but the most functional of all the places I’ve worked.

    2. Not A Girl Boss*

      I agree, small companies are FRAUGHT with all kinds of cultural issues that are only magnified if you’re a minority. At least big companies have probably already had a lawsuit or two to point them in the right general direction.

  11. Bex (with computers)*

    LW2 – I’ve been in STEM (tech) for 20 years, many of them in male-dominated overall industries (mining, large scale solar farms, heavy construction). I’ve also lived in primarily red areas due to the arc my career has followed.

    I have found good colleagues in every position. I’ve found genuine and surprising allies and friends everywhere – and I’ve found jerks everywhere too.

    Every five or six years, I dither about leaving my field. Six years ago I shifted away from my automation specialization because I’d worked with about a dozen companies in two years (six to eight week contract roles), and there was only job assignment I’d enjoyed and not come to dread due to colleagues.

    I could never be passionate – there was always a joke I was hysterical. And I’m not talking shouting or crying passionate – I mean speaking excitedly about subjects I care deeply about like the intersection of tech and education. The constant assumption from vendors coming in, seeing an unknown woman working, that I was the new secretary. Forever having to balance what I called out and what to let slide for a tolerable work experience (Jay said a series of homophobic slurs so that’s gotta be addressed but Ron just insists on that stupid swimsuit calendar and I mostly don’t have to see it so …). And having to approach so many conversations mindful of maintaining a smile, and a pleasant tone.

    So. I switched out of automation, which wasn’t working for me. I went back to generalist work – I enjoyed seeing the outcome of my work, I liked teaching people, I enjoyed the mix of routine and unexpected. I stayed in the field but changed my focus. And I’m delighted where I am now. Most of my colleagues are awesome and we can support each other with the less awesome ones. I got to stay in industrial type work while changing the environment.

    All of this is a long-winded way of saying, leaving for a new field or tolerating and expecting what you’ve seen now. Check to see if you have options to change your specialization or focus and if they appeal to you.

    And, as my partner always reminds me when I consider leaving and then have guilt for all the women I’m letting down by stepping away, remember that you’re no one’s totem. You don’t have to blaze the trail and you don’t have to keep fighting the exhausting fights just because you’re a woman in a male dominated field. You don’t owe your life or career as an example or guidepost to anyone, and you don’t need to live in fear of letting unknown others down if you choose to walk away.

    I hope you get some clarity.

    1. Bex (with computers)*

      Aug, forgot to finish editing … what I get for typing when I should be in bed.

      There was only ONE* job assignment I’d enjoyed …

      All of this is a long-winded way of saying, leaving for a new field or tolerating and expecting what you’ve seen now *are not your only choices.*

      1. LW#2*

        Thank you for this perspective! As I’ve said elsewhere on this thread, I don’t have any female colleagues or industry acquaintances to discuss this with, so the discussion in this thread helps a lot.

        The original aim of grad school was to remove me from a position where I’m directly involved in solving manufacturing problems. Which for me has meant high pressure from all times from many stakeholders, all of whom believe that their problem is the most important, and most of whom see it as “you should have stopped all problems from happening, you’re doing a bad job, go fix it” not “problems inevitably arise and you’re a pro at solving them”. So high pressure and no credit.

        I was hoping to use grad school to leverage a move into a more strategic role (think QA or ops management) but I have been experiencing fear that I’ll still be in an industry which is fundamentally hostile. It has been mindblowing for me, working in an environment where I never have to pretend I’m not passionate, or make those tradeoffs about what crappy behaviour I let slide.

        1. Lady_Lessa*

          I approaching retirement after working as a chemist in various industries since getting my Master’s degree. I’ve seen some prejudice, especially from men from outside of the US. And my late boss was extremely misogynist, so much so I felt for his stepdaughter. But I’ve got good co-workers (male and female) and recently two men in the sales area chose to be the communication channel between me and this safety information collector from another company. (We were speaking different dialects of English, regulatory and chemical).

          So, if you are lucky and can roll with various situations, you can find good ones.

          Best wishes on your career

        2. hamsterpants*

          You didn’t state your industry, but I had a similar experience with manufacturing in semiconductors. It was exactly as you say: you get in trouble for the existence of any problem and no credit for solving it. Of course, this is reversed for the old men: wow, Bob was so brilliant for solving one problem of the ten that came across his workstation this week! Amazing job, genius Bob! I was able to make a move from manufacturing to R+D. Much of my on-the-job knowledge from manufacturing was transferrable to an R+D environment, where there was much more of an expectation that things wouldn’t go perfectly the first time, every time.

          1. LW#2*

            hamsterpants, are you me? One particular classic: I once got told to work on a project with a “Bob” who, five mins in, said “I’m too old to learn new things” and shambled off never to show his face again. I did the entire project myself, even after a discreet word with my boss.

            My problem has been that breaking into anything R+D, management, etc requires a PhD. Feel like everyone new to the field has the doctorate because it’s the only way to get experience without a company taking on a huge training burden.

            1. hamsterpants*

              R+D still needs people on the floor, technicians, logistics people, organizational people, etc. My team has a kickass, respected technician with only a high school diploma.

              1. LW#2*

                Genuinely, last company I worked in, the techs had PhDs. Your CV would go in the bin if you didn’t have one. We have a local “feeder” uni which churns out at least a dozen fabrication-trained PhDs a year. For some definition of “trained” which didn’t always translate to production environments.

                This strategy lead to a lot of churn as people complained they had spent 8+ years in higher education to do “menial” work. Along with some weird stratification within the company…

                1. All Het Up About It*

                  I am not in manufacturing… but it sounds like your old company was big problem in a sometimes problematic field.

                  If you don’t have other people in the industry you can discuss this with, can you join a professional organization and meet some? What about your professors in the program you are in now? From the comments on this thread it sounds like the field in general might be less welcoming to women than it should be, but that you don’t have to expect the awful treatment you were having before.

                  Good luck and either way, glad you are in a happier position for now!!

                2. hamsterpants*

                  sadly, I’ve seen this as well at my own former company. they only wanted PhDs for night shift tool operators. then they’re surprised that retention is bad. I’m sorry you’re experiencing this, LW2, at your workplace as well.

            2. Lissa*

              Not true LW2! R&D scientists can have Masters or (more rarely in my field) a Bachelors. I was an R&D technician going through college and now am a research scientist with just a Bachelors. For the engineering team I work with, a researcher with a Bachelors is more common. It is really industry/specialty specific, so don’t discount that option.

              1. LW#2*

                Unfortunately 100% true in my very small very specialised field in my very small company. I know every company who’d hire me (without me having to take a massive pay cut). I’ve worked for 50% of them. The industry is just grim in that respect.

                1. Not A Girl Boss*

                  Maybe your effort could go into pivoting industries rather than job types? I’ve worked in many industries and none really require a higher Ed degree unless youre approaching director levels, and then it’s an MBA. And quality is highly transferable and many industries are starving for quality engineers

    2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      You and the LW have already blazed the trail, as far as I’m concerned. No one has to (or can!) do it all. A trail really happens from collective effort.

    1. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      Yes, I was thinking that!

      The Ask A Manager archives have plenty of examples of management ignoring the problem employee because they will be gone in a few months and then they just don’t leave … I agree that OP1 should just go.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      Right! Also just imagine how much damage she can do between now and then knowing she is on her way out. She won’t care about burning bridges because she’s too busy setting the whole building on fire.

      1. KateM*

        And think how much other things she could do between now and then, like training OP’s replacement. OP, start looking for new job NOW – then you will leave your organization in better shape than if you’d do it later! ;)

  12. Emmy Noether*

    #2 I have had a similar experience. The place I worked at during my master’s had the nicest people I have ever worked with. Just… supportive, low-pressure but available and clear in instructions, feminist, everything one could hope for. To the point that my husband called my workplace “the land of the care bears”. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay.

    I think it IS rare that it’s nice to that point: the leadership and the mix of people has to be just right, and they have to have the bandwidth/time to do those things. Most workplaces are… ok. Most people are mostly nice enough, there’s no active discrimination or abuse, but people are also sort of self-involved and you have to fend for yourself. There are some absurdities and injustices, difficult people, but not overwhelmingly much. That’s my level of expectation for a workplace.

    That’s not to say that one should make career decisions just to hold on to that one care-bear workplace. For one thing, it’s not guaranteed to stay that way. A change in leadership, for example, can destroy it quickly. Or you may not be able to stay. There has to be a viable, acceptable life plan if that happens, too.

    What you shouldn’t consider is the guilt of “letting feminism down”. As another woman in a male-dominated field, and an outspoken feminist, I can assure you: you’re not. The central, most important feminist ideal is each woman choosing freely what is right for her as an individual. So: choose what is right for you. You’re not responsible for increasing the quota in manufacturing by suffering through, manufacturing is responsible for becoming more attractive to women.

    1. River Otter*

      I thought the central, most important feminist ideal was destruction of the systems of oppression that privilege men at the expense of others.

      1. NICS*

        Personally I agree with you, but I also don’t think LW#2 can or is required to complete that work in the manufacturing field, especially given how isolated she’s described feeling (she’s been commenting here). Many drops wear down the stone; one drop can’t do it all.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        Yeah, upon reread I don’t know if there is *one* central ideal, there are several.

        Though really, what you said and what I said get at the same thing, yours is the cause side and mine is the effect side. Or, mine is the ideal world and yours is the path. We want freedom, and to get it, we have to destroy the systems of opression. It’s the only way that we can achieve that for everyone.

    2. Jennifer @unchartedworlds*

      The central, most important feminist ideal is each woman choosing freely what is right for her as an individual.

      I don’t think all branches of feminism would put that one toppermost.

  13. bamcheeks*

    Wait– staff of THREE? so you, Abby and her direct report? So you’re executive director but also you can’t direct the person you manage and she tells the person she manages to ignore you to?

    Honestly, this kind of sounds more like a hobby for your board members than a functioning charity. I hope you’ve managed to achieve some good things here, but I personally would feel fine about letting this organisation fail. I feel like it surviving and some other poor sod getting set up for the same kind of pretendy-directorship that you’ve had to suffer with is actually a worse outcome.

    1. Sara without an H*

      That was my thought, too. There’s a staff of three — how big is the board, I wonder? I think you’re right, this organization is a “feel good” hobby for the board members. Any actual productive achievements it produces are accidental.

  14. Badger*

    LW #3 Speaking as a woman-ish person in STEM: If the sexism and bro atmosphere I encountered at my university had prevailed, I would have felt no guilt leaving IT. It was infuriating and tiresome.

    I did fortunately find a company with a decent (though certainly not 50/50) amount of women, including leadership roles, even if it is just one or two token women at the higher levels. Most importantly, I feel respected and in my day-to-day work am hearing nary a sexist thought.
    What I am trying to say is: Look out for companies with a higher ratio of women than you encountered in your previous jobs, look for (at least some) women in leadership positions and of course scour sites like Glassdoor and female industry contacts to get to know more about certain companies.
    If you hear good things, apply and use your interview to scrutinize their attitudes as well.

    If all your choices ARE in the off-putting environments and you’d rather change fields than have to deal with that for another ten years, there is absolutely no shame in looking out for your well-being.You don’t owe your mental health to a nebulous greater good (of improving gender discrimination in the industry).

  15. London Calling*

    OP1 – leave. LET them fall apart. I left a role where I was doing a very good job but had zero support from management over lockdown and I had the distinct impression that they wanted me out. So I went. And 18 months later I’m getting feedback that I’m really missed and the people doing my job are OK but not in my league and it’s holding things up and people are getting frustrated.

    Schadenfreude, my friend. Schadenfreude.

    1. Cookies For Breakfast*

      OP 1 – Having been in a similar situation, this is it, exactly. This line from Alison is spot-on:

      “If they care about keeping you on, there are all sorts of things they can try to incentivize you to stay if they care to (like more money or real authority rather than this “executive director without any real power” sham they have going).”

      I’ve seen this from leaders who, deep down, think everyone is disposable and quickly replaceable, even if what they say out loud sounds like the opposite. And who knows, once everyone has left, at some point they might well find a way to perform at full pace again. But it’ll take time, and it won’t be nearly as smooth or painless they think or hope. That’s their pain to worry about and manage, definitely not yours. Wishing you a smooth exit and lots more fulfilment in your next role :)

      (as a side note, in your shoes, I’d also be the kind of person who doesn’t believe Abby is leaving until it actually happens. So whatever your decision, don’t make that a determining factor, there are still plenty of chances for a change of mind)

      1. Sara without an H*

        Most likely scenario: 1. OP gets a fantastic new job and gives the board her two-weeks notice. 2. Board members BEG Abby to stay, so she becomes the new ED. 3. New staff hired by Abby quit rapidly because she’s so difficult to work with. 4. Board remains clueless.

  16. Luna*

    Abby sounds like a narcissist. Or like the embodiment of that meme of, “They didn’t say that. And if they did, they didn’t mean it. And if they did, then you misunderstood. And if you didn’t, then it’s no big deal. Others have said worse.”

    I say this company is already falling apart, you are standing on the burning bridge and you’d better jump into the water to save yourself. Even if things improve when Abby leaves, chances are it’s gonna take a while, and you would still have to endure the time until then. You have no heart or motivation left, do yourself a favor and leave.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      They didn’t say that. And if they did, they didn’t mean it. And if they did, then you misunderstood.

      Oh man, this part sounds waaaaaay too close to a difficult client we’re having to work with at the moment.

    2. N*

      Yeah, the “I’m just a direct communicator” line has been used on me by a person who also does the “forgetting” thing to avoid accountability for things. A coworker and I were held hostage in a zoom meeting once with this person trying to smooth over a previous conflict with the explanation about why he’s just direct and also he’s intense because he cares so much about blah blah blah…no. He’s just a jerk.

      1. OP #1*

        Your comments really hit home! The gaslighting is what really made me want to leave the organization. She did it right in front of Board members too and then when I pushed back, she tried to gaslight me to tell me I needed to be more “assertive in my communication.” I’m not sure how much more “assertive” I can be than, “Please don’t cut me off when I’m speaking.”

        1. Luna*

          And if you go the whole hog and say, “Shut up, I’m talking, B.” *you* will be considered offensive…

      2. Luna*

        I can be blunt sometimes or come across as uncaring. Yes, I am neurodiverse and really have difficulty with the emotional range of things and subtleties in social conversation. But if I mess up, I *want* people to tell me, so I can learn. I like to think I’m getting better.

  17. EngGirl*

    OP 5

    I’m dealing with this on the other end right now, and what Alison said rings true to me. My hiring process will be entering its 6th week when we anticipated about two. There are people from our first week pending feedback from us. Especially in the summer vacations enter into the picture in a major way.

    On the subject of being a “backup” I want to mention a couple of things because it’s not always the worst position to be in. If you’re a back up and end up being made an offer you may be at a stronger negotiating point than a first choice because god knows I don’t want to drag the process on anymore and I need help like yesterday. It’s also worth noting that there is sometimes the finest of lines that separates the first choice from the second. If everything else was equal it could be that the first choice person told a slightly more relatable anecdote than the second or that the hiring team could see you both in the role well but feels like one person may advance more quickly through the organization (which can be a positive or. Negative depending on the role).

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I was the backup after the original hiree fell through at my job. Been there 20 years.
      I also note that when I got laid off from my last job so they could hire someone else, that person didn’t last very long :P Shoulda stuck with me then, shouldn’t they…

  18. Smaller potatoes*

    LW#2 I’m a woman in manufacturing and 20 years of consulting has allowed me to see the cultures of a wide variety of places. It has been my experience that overall levels of machismo culture vary across industries with American automotive being among the worst. Food manufacturing is middling and pharmaceutical usually some of the best. Of course, individual facilities/companies will vary.

  19. Flash Packet*

    LW#2: I work in manufacturing but at the corporate office. Everyone is *extremely* nice. And kind. And respectful.

    OK, we do have the occasional glassbowl get through the hiring process, but they never last long.

    I know that our warehouses are staffed and managed by equally kind people. And two of our factories are. One factory is maybe closer to what you experienced in the past, and the rest are on a continuum from that negative extreme to super kind.

    I have worked in the orbit of manufacturing almost my entire professional life and, for the most part, the farther away you get from the shop floor, the more respectful and less… explosive/emotional… people tend to be.

    I think if you stay in your field and interview wisely, you’ll be able to find a company whose culture matches that of your TA job.

  20. Smithy*

    LW1 – Leave this job and organization with a clear mind and heart, but personally I found it to be easier if you accept carrying some guilt for a while (or forever) about leaving the issue area.

    I used to work for a nonprofit in a tough, never ending issue area. The job itself also had institutional issues, some basics being pay, limited growth, etc. When I left to work in another nonprofit issue area known for larger organizations, bigger salaries – I got a lot of feedback about feeling no guilt or feeling good to “move up”.

    While it all made sense regarding leaving that employer, it didn’t do anything to address how I felt about leaving the issue area. When I decided that I would always feel guilty about leaving my proverbial “last abortion clinic in the state” (to note, not the work in my case), it was actually much easier to contextualize my feelings. It was always a mission and issue area that I’d care about and would always wish I could have done more. But in 101 different ways, that wouldn’t be my life long path.

    This isn’t to say I wake up regularly and feel bad, but it was an easier way for me to understand my feelings and therefore integrate them. I will likely always feel guilty for leaving, but as a way of saying I cared and not a way of beating myself up.

    1. OP #1*

      Smithy, you’re absolutely right! I think some of the guilt I carry is that this organization _is_ doing good work despite Abby’s terrible attitude and I feel like I’m abandoning it by leaving. I do know that I don’t want to work for another nonprofit for a loooooong time (if ever), and I’m coming to terms that I can help the “cause” by donating or supporting in other ways.

  21. Dr. Rebecca*

    LW2: NO DON’T.

    Sorry to shout, but as a person in academia for many years, it would be VERY rare, not to have nice coworkers, but to have a full time position go to an in-house TA. I’m not saying your boss won’t support you, they probably will, but support doesn’t equal success, and they’re probably not the person (or not the only person) making the decision on a full time hire.

    The only thing, and I mean the ONLY thing, you can take to the bank in academia is unless you have complete control of the decision, someone higher up can and absolutely might take the legs out from under you.

    Apply, absolutely, but don’t throw over your old prospects for this new one until the contract is signed.

    1. LW#2*

      I’m already working a job that should go to a full-time academic with a PhD, it’s just the question of whether they want to make it permanent when I graduate. They have a track record of hiring their TAs into permanent positions as soon as they graduate, so it’s not outlandish.

      Academia is totally its own garbage fire though, and I have questions over how much a great department can isolate me from the dysfunction of the entire field.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Academia is going through a shake-out period. Nobody really knows what the industry will look like in ten years, but it’s going to be very, very different.

        I know it’s nice to have pleasant colleagues and it’s really nice to be wanted. But please think long and hard about giving up the field you originally trained in. Can you network with women who work in your professional area and get their input? Is there a professional association for your field? Try to get some input and then develop a career strategy for getting back into your original industry.

        You can think of your side trip into academia as a pleasant vacation, but I don’t recommend it as a place to live. Before I retired, I had several conversations with senior faculty, in which we all agreed that we were glad to be winding up our careers, rather than just starting out.

        1. Dr. Rebecca*

          *nods* This. Also, OP2, your department wants you, but the administration might not and they get the final say. It took two years after I left my last full time department for a colleague to flat out tell me that while I was wonderful, qualified, one of the best teachers they had…the administration would NEVER have accepted my research trajectory. NEVER. It was a bit devastating, even though I’d moved to some place that I’m happy.

      2. deesse877*

        I am repeating myself, but I agree. Look at it this way: it’s not actually a “track record” because it’s very unlikely your unit had any real control over creating positions. They had a lucky streak, and they want to believe it will continue. That’s unlikely.

        1. LW#2*

          I don’t want to out myself here by being too specific about my department or org structure, but I don’t work within a department which does research, I’m pretty sure I don’t work in the same country as most of you, and I have good reasons for saying what I’ve said above. The short version is that where I work has a much more conventional management structure than most of academia. Which, you’re correct, isn’t necessarily insulation from all the academia awfulness.

          1. Sara without an H*

            Hey, if it’s what you really want, go for it and good luck to you! Just do your due diligence first. (And be sure you get any offers in writing!)

  22. Seashell*

    “I’m BIPOC and Abby is white, so I have some resentment on how she has co-opted.”

    Co-opted what? Am I the only one baffled by this sentence?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      The sentence right before says:

      I called for a mediation process from our board per our conflict resolution policy, but that has stalled out because Abby is convinced she did nothing wrong and that she has been “harmed” by the process.

      so presumably, the OP is resentful that Abby has co-opted the language of systemic inequality/injustice (“harmed” by the mediation process) that is often used when talking about how racism is prevalent and systemic and harms people of color.

      1. Boof*

        I get it, and i don’t know lw’s gender and various other characteristics so no idea about relative societal advantages and disadvantages – but at the end of the day any conflict resolution policy that allows one party to just flat deny there’s a problem and escape consequences even with clearly documented/ credible witnessed bad behavior is rediculously ineffective- but so is giving an ED no management power. Run lw!

        1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          Also, what organization with 3 employees needs a formal, written conflict resolution policy?

          1. to varying degrees*

            I’m wondering how many policies like this and the recording of all meetings are in response to Abby.

        2. Observer*

          Well, we know that they are BIPOC because they say so. So there is enough there to both make the language extra galling and for there to be some real grounds for suspecting that the one who was ACTUALLY harmed by racist processes is the OP.

          Am I the only one wondering is these policies are in place because “Ya gotta be careful with those people. All that resentment is going to make them not be nice to poor White Amy.” (Note – Not that *I* think that anyone needs to be protected from “angry Black people”, but that the BOARD thinks that way.)

          It’s a gross idea but it does make sense. It’s really the only reason I can see for the Board’s absurd behavior. I would think that they are just control freaks, except that they aren’t actually controlling anything.

          1. OP #1*

            Observer, you hit the nail on the head! Thanks for figuring out what I was trying to say when I didn’t finish that sentence. I wrote my email to Alison in a hurry after a particularly bad day and didn’t read over it.

            Abby and I are both CIS women, and she is white and I am BIPOC. I resent her coopting language about harm, especially in this context. The organization prior to this was all white, and I am the first BIPOC person in a leadership position.

            A lot of these policies and processes were put in place over the years because of another longtime employee who also didn’t like being held accountable. I actually managed to get the Board to agree on a PIP for him and he resigned on the last day of the PIP by emailing the Board a five page resignation letter. My impression is that rather than agree that the staff structure, that they’ve been trying to create workarounds through all these policies. Don’t get me started about our “accountability” policies, which are the most convoluted policies I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years.

            1. Dawn*

              Just as an FYI, as “cis” is not an acronym like BIPOC, it is (just like “trans”) generally not written capitalized. I only bring it up because it took me a minute to work out that you weren’t putting some strange emphasis on being cis.

    2. Observer*

      “I’m BIPOC and Abby is white, so I have some resentment on how she has co-opted.”

      Co-opted what? Am I the only one baffled by this sentence?

      Co-opted the language of social justice and institutional harm to protect herself in a situation, where, at minimum she was not negatively affected by racism, and where it’s quite possible that actually benefited from racism.

  23. PsychNurse*

    I had a job in the past where I was convinced the whole clinic was going to fall apart without me. Like, I was basically running the whole thing! No way could they survive if I left! And yet, here I am years later and there they are, plugging along. The company will likely find a way to struggle through even when all of you quit.

    1. Observer*

      Possibly. And possibly not.

      But the bottom line is that it’s not the OP’s problem to worry about. (Just as it wasn’t your problem to worry about, either.)

  24. CheesePlease*

    OP#2 – I’ve worked in manufacturing my whole (short) career and it is a shoutier, ruder place than other workplaces compared to other STEM fields. Somehow the majority male leadership, the fast pace, the strict deadlines make it a place where people are just ruder. Not everyone. 90% of my coworkers are lovely, supportive and amicable. But there is always someone who is always sour, prone to cursing in meetings or thinks shouting is an effective management tool. That doesn’t make it ok, but I do think that somehow this field is like that. I actually love manufacturing (I work in specialty manufacturing now, with my company focused on highly technical engineering design) and really love it! Over the years, I have transitioned to workplaces where the shouting and rudeness is less common – but somehow there is always that one person!

    I think you should make decisions based on what you want in a workplace environment. My manager is great, and I like my role. But I do think that if this was like my first job where 50% of the people were mean and loud, I wouldn’t have taken this job.

    1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      Often people are loud and brief, communicating very directly, because on many shop floors you have to to be understood, due to ambient noise and hearing protection (or hearing loss, alas).
      So a lot of verbal sugar-coating gets omitted – and this communication style carries over to situations where it’s not needed.
      But there is no need to be hostile or a potty mouth, and that should not be tolerated.
      (“You can swear at a stubborn piece of equipment but not at people”, that kind if thing).

  25. Beans*

    Hey OP #2

    I work in marketing for a manufacturing company. I’m non-binary but my colleagues experience me as a woman (and I’m not coming out because of the culture at my work lol). The culture you describe in engineering is familiar to me from the manufacturing side of things. I enjoy my (white collar, office )because my department functions well, like your experience with your teaching job. A lot of this is due to my boss shielding the rest of us from some of the harsher elements of the rest of the company. My department (calm, functional, supportive, mixed gender) definitely seems like more of an outlier in the company than the norm. The company as a whole is very male dominated, especially the factory workers, engineering teams, and senior management, and they are very old school in their thinking and practices.

    I think manufacturing IS just one of those heavily male-dominated, old school industries that’s a bit hostile to people who don’t fit the mold.

  26. Riot Grrrl*

    Re 4: Thank you for bringing this up. I’ve never thought critically about this issue. We don’t put hidden words in our job listings, but I will admit to something perhaps similar.

    Because we do work for many different clients, each of whom has their own specifications, it is critical that the freelancers we hire be able to deliver work to very specific–and unpredictable–specs. This means reading and following instructions to the letter. So when we offer a skills test (which is paid), we always include a nonsense instruction. That is, an instruction that is trivial to do but would only be done if someone has thoroughly read the instructions. (For example, “Please include your last name and the total word count on the last page of the document.”) It serves as a very quick way of finding out whether they read the instructions or just decided to “wing it”.

    I don’t think this is as patronizing as a hidden word? But now I may have to rethink this.

    1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      It’s still a gimmick. In the course of daily business, would you just drop the specs on the freelancer without any commentary? Or would you say “Oh, since this is the first time you’re dealing with client X, be aware that they have funny style rules about parentheses – see section 4 of the specs. Our other freelancers have gotten bitten by that before.”

      Why not use *actual* precise wording from previous clients in your tests?

      1. Riot Grrrl*

        Food for thought. The way our industry works is there are certain industry standard manuals. When you provide a supplementary set of instructions, that is the further commentary. That is the process of saying “watch out for these things.” However, we find that some people ignore that commentary. The problem is determining whether someone followed the specs “by accident” because they happened to have done it this way before or whether they followed the specs because they specifically read the instructions. With a short skills assessment it would indeed be possible to luck into doing it correctly. So you need some sort of red flag that says, “They didn’t just get here by luck; they actually took the time to read the commentary.”

        Still trying to think of a better way to do this though…

        1. SJ (they/them)*

          With this context, personally I think the way you’re doing it is fine! It’s a re-creation of a specific challenge that will come up in the job itself. I vote not gimmick in this case.

        2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          Huh. Well, as part of the exercise, could you have them do directors-commentary on how they did the work? Or could you observe them do it? That would tell you something.

          And of course, I’d still say cobble together realistic extra specs. Anything bizarre like “include word count” is something that even a conscientious candidate could miss, because it’s so far out of the mainstream. They could read it at the beginning of the exercise, think to themselves “weird, but OK”, and then forget to do it at the end because it’s so far out of the mainstream.

        3. Zephy*

          Why not say something in the interview to flag the supplementary instructions for the candidate? You could be more reasonably assured that someone followed all of the arcane instructions on purpose rather than just accidentally having a style that matches the hypothetical client’s exacting demands if you specifically told them to do that beforehand.

      2. Just Your Everyday Crone*

        It doesn’t seem like a gimmick to me–they’re trying to test for careful reading and this indicates careful reading.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      This seems different to me, for two reasons:

      1) The expectations around a job ad and a skills test are different. As Alison notes, a lot of people skim job ads and are still good candidates for the position. It’s way more reasonable to expect people to read the instructions on a skills test.

      2) Reading the instructions is one of the skills you are testings for! And it is relevant to the job, because part of the job you are hiring for is carefully reading and following instructions/specs.

    3. Allonge*

      As long as this is not a pass / fail thing, I can see how it could provide a useful data point. I don’t find it partonizing, but I am pretty ‘meh’ also on the original question, so…

  27. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    LW#4: This is so weird! I have seen this done exactly once. On LiveJournal. In 2001. A then-popular artist would make you go through her reeeeeaaaaaaalllllllly long, rambling, nonsensical bio to find a single sentence that was the password before she’d add you to her friends-locked journal. The code sentence was in Japanese, and this was before auto-translate was really a thing.

    So (especially if you couldn’t read Japanese, which was most people on LJ), you’d have to skim tons of lines of stream-of-consciousness nonsense poetry that she thought was really deep (’cause ain’t no one got time or desire to read all that mess). Then you’d have to happen to stumble across a bunch of kanji/kana, think “Oh, this might be the password,” find an online translator, paste it in, hope it properly translated the result,* then put the original sentence in a comment on her one public “comment here to be added” entry. Comments were screened, so you couldn’t glean the password by seeing what others before you had posted.

    She claimed this was to screen out spambots, but the same effect could have been achieved by just…talking to people she met on LJ who wanted to be friends. And she did it to everyone, even people she already knew before LJ (like me). It was definitely an ego thing for her. She loved farming attention and stirring up trouble to get it if she had to.

    I’ve no idea if it it’s an ego thing for a potential employer, but I’d phrase it to myself like this: do you really want to work for anyone who plays games with you at the start, and who behaves like an early adult LiveJournal dramamonger just in the job ad? Your very first impression of the business, the one that’s supposed to make you WANT to work for them?

    *As I recall, the sentence just said, “This is the password.” Having to perform tricks in order to just be her LJ friend is one of many things that ultimately pushed me away from her. Wanting you to jump hoops for her to notice you definitely extended to other parts of her interactions with people.

    1. OP#4*

      Oh yes, the whole thing totally turned me off from applying. The LiveJournal reference timetravelled me back into the mid-2000s though!

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I still say that LJ, (now mostly Dreamwidth because LJ went down the tubes), are kinder, gentler social media than Facebook or Instagram.

    1. Smithy*

      I get that this is the story they tell and even if I believe the origin is from a safety concern….if this is was the only way to make sure that venues paid attention to safety issues, then it does seem that the larger take away is that venue to venue had non-standard safety practices and their traveling team probably had to do more “double checking”.

      Because have you ever heard of a situation where Van Halen canceled a concert because of the brown M&M’s (ergo their assumption that safety measures were not up to snuff)?

      Again, even if this is a story that is basically the truth – that their manager/lawyer said “put something weird in your rider, it makes sure venues pay more attention”- how much did it actually correlate to venues being safer as opposed to yelling at an assistant to fix the M&M’s? I think that’s ultimately the point about the word test in a job posting. Is it actually going to identify the most observant and conscientious staff members while on the job? Or the ones who have the time to spend that level of time/energy on individual job applications.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        My understanding about the “no brown M&Ms” in the rider is that the bowl of M&Ms was a visual cue to Van Halen that showed whether the venue read through every line of the rider and followed the specifications exactly.

        A venue that picked all the brown M&Ms out of the bowl also (presumably) read and followed the line that said “the stage must be set up in xxx manner in order to support our yyy lbs of equipment.”

        I imagine if Van Halen say brown M&Ms they then made a big stink about the safety issues, not about the M&Ms.

        A venue that skimmed the rider and provided a bowl of M&Ms with the brown ones left in also likely skimmed the line of the rider that specified how the stage had to be set up.

        I can see how this is a useful “test” in Van Halen’s case, but I agree that it does not ad value to a job ad. A company should be able to judge the conscientiousness of applicants through cover letters, resumes, communication to set up an interview, and the interviews themselves.

        1. Smithy*

          Personally….I think that even in the Van Halen case it seems a bit more akin to an industry theory more so than anything that would hold up to scrutiny. Because most likely the person/team in charge of the green room (aka the M&M’s) isn’t setting up the stage.

          Like – if they asked for the stage to have a straight, unbroken line of duct tape run across the stage exactly 12 inches from the edge that would at least be done the same person or team responsible for other stage stuff.

          1. Observer*

            Not really. Because a lot of this is about the decision making at that top.

            In any case the real point here was that they were trying in some form or fashion to do something real and it did, in their experience actually co-relate to their experience. According to David Lee Roth (a lead singer), every single time there were brown M&M’s they found problems.

            And the key reason why it might make a difference there but not in an Ad, is because the was part of the *actual contract*.

          2. Important Moi*

            No they’re not, but the venue have someone responsible for ensuring all the rider requirements were met?

          3. Green Tea*

            Yeah I agree with this. I think it was done as a ‘boss’ move back in the day to make sure the venue was treating them with the care and attention performers felt they deserved. And then public perception shifted toward ‘hey, this is really obnoxious, bordering on abusive of lowly paid assistants.’ So now there are PR efforts from a few different performers, not just Van Halen, on why they weren’t actually being obnoxious.

            But like you said, the backstage assistant picking out brown M&Ms is not the same person as the stage assistant setting up equipment. No brown M&Ms could mean a backstage assistant with excellent attention to detail, while the stage assistant is a hot mess. And when you are a busy venue dealing with dumb requests from performers, you are more likely to miss actual safety issues, not less.

            1. Observer*

              But like you said, the backstage assistant picking out brown M&Ms is not the same person as the stage assistant setting up equipment.

              But the person overseeing BOTH of them is the person who decides how closely the contract is being followed.

              1. Green Tea*

                Yeah maybe! Or they are supposed to and not doing their job properly, and the backstage assistant picks out the brown M&Ms because they’re good at their job without supervision and the stage assistant misses an important safety check because they are not.

                Like I said, the more dumb requests a contract contains, the more likely that something actually important gets missed.

                1. Observer*

                  That’s possible. Which is why they didn’t say that if the brown M&Ms were not there they knew that all was well. What they said what if the brown M&M’s WERE there, it knew for sure that they were going to find a problem.

                  That’s not useless information.

                  Given that this was the only dumb request, with everything else being a capacity or safety issue it’s hard to make the claim that this is the thing that’s going to cause overload on the details.

  28. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

    When I talked to Abby about it afterward, she “didn’t remember” what she said, then told me I was misremembering, then said that she didn’t mean it like that, then stated that she has a “direct” communication style and I’m too “sensitive.”

    Oh, gawd, someone cloned my diagnosed-narcissist mother. I’m so sorry, world. You deserved better. One of this type of person is too many. More than one is a nightmare.

  29. CleverUsernameGoesHere*


    I once spent several years working for a large privately owned manufacturing company. The actual manufacturing departments (as opposed to shipping, accounting, sales, IT, purchasing, etc) were overwhelmingly male. There were a lot of obnoxious and abrasive personalities within these departments. I think the biggest contributor to this wasn’t them being nearly entirely male, but rather the company’s culture of promoting from within. The plant managers were all previously department managers, who in turn were all previously shift supervisors, who in turn were all previously machine operators and packagers. Most of these people had 20+ years tenure with the company and no recent professional experience in any other environment.

    There’s nothing wrong at all with working your way up from the bottom, but if they’d had a better mix of managers who had no formal education but lots of OJT and managers who had a business or management degree and outside experience as a manager, I think they would be much better off.

    I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying not to write off manufacturing as a whole, but a company with a better environment could be worth working in.

  30. Just… no*

    LW 5 —- The next time you’re in this position, do not follow up three times, especially not three times in three weeks. This runs the risk of really annoying employers and it could count against you when hiring decisions are made.

  31. Rock Prof*

    LW2, this position would be something like a lecturer, I’m guessing? Based on your other comments, you’re probably aware of some of the problems with positions like lecturers and adjuncts in academia: how tenuous they can be and how exploited your time might be. Of course, there are some schools that do it better that others. All that said, if you’re still within an engineering department and wanted to stay active in STEM, could you look at what research is happening and maybe try to get in on a grant? I know quite a few lecturers who still do research on their field with soft money from colleagues’ grants, generally part-time and/or over the summer.
    I also know a bunch of people who’ve come and gone in and out of engineering fields. Though I don’t know your specific field, really none of them have had a hard time going finding an engineering job after trying something different job (teaching HS, working for a nonprofit) for a number of years.

    1. LW#2*

      Good news and bad news. Good news is I’m in a teaching-only department where all the positions are permanent and not tied to research grants or anything.

      Bad news is that the lack of ties to engineering really degrade my chances of re-entering engineering in another five years.

  32. 2Legit*

    OP2 – a supportive boss can change the trajectory of your entire career. Someone who sees you and who sees what you can bring to the workplace & wants you to succeed? It can change everything.
    Supportive/amazing colleagues can also make a difference & make you really want to get out of bed & go to work! They can help you survive a tough job or tough season at work, too.

    As far as feeling like you’ve wasted years fighting or something…. I get it.

    However, it sounds like you’re really “fitting in” to this organization… they see you as you are, they like you, and it sounds like maybe you’re playing to your natural strengths. Perhaps you’ve found your people so to speak?

    Follow your intuition. If it tells you to go for it, then go for it!

    If it doesn’t work, you can always go back to manufacturing….

    I really disagree with the advice to “talk to other women” about their experiences… because YOU are the CEO of your own life. Their experiences are just that- THEIR experiences. It sounds like you are crushing it in this new job, & your leader sees potential in you.

    Sure, this leader might change, colleagues might change, but as someone who has changed careers/career paths many times…. my instinct says that if you take advantage of this opportunity, you probably won’t regret it. Go get ’em!!

    1. Making up names is hard*

      I really disagree with your reaction to learning about other women’s experiences… As you say, she IS the CEO of her own life, which is why it behooves her to do all the research she can before making a big decision like leaving industry for teaching about for the industry. Discouraging talking to peers with similar identities or backgrounds is definitely a way to perpetuate gender & race gaps (like wage), suppress knowledge of unsafe environments for marginalizes identifies, and also suppress knowledge that a certain field or company is actually welcoming and good!

      I do suggest to LW to talk to women st a range of career stages in her industry. what someone whose been in the field for 30 years says will be different than 15 or 10 and all will be valuable insight. also maybe talk to someone else who made the switch themselves.

    2. Empress Matilda*

      Wait, what? Of course it’s important to talk to other women about their experiences! This kind of conversation is important in every field. Especially when you’re just starting out, and especially when you’re likely to be a minority (like women in STEM), you really do need to get a sense of what the industry is like.

      If OP talks to three women with a combined thirty years of experience, they can give her a sense of how typical her current culture is, and help her weigh the pros and cons of taking this particular job. They’re giving *advice,* not instructions – OP is under no obligation to do anything they say. If she’s the “CEO of her own career,” then as a CEO she needs to make good decisions – and she can’t do that in a vacuum. She needs good information in order to make those decisions, and the best way to get that information is to talk to people with similar experiences.

    1. SJ (they/them)*

      I was about to say the same thing — leave and leave FIRST. Don’t wait for Spring 2023, get out now. Good luck!!

  33. Empress Matilda*

    #4, I agree that’s ridiculous. I always skim job ads – not because I lack attention to detail, but because I’m always applying for variations of the same job, and about 80% of the details are the same from one to another.

    So if I’m applying for a job as a Senior Llama Groomer, I would look through the job ad to see if my role includes nail clipping, because in past SLG jobs sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. But when I get to the bit about attending meetings, working as a team, blah blah blah, I definitely skip to the end because I’ve seen it all before.

    I wouldn’t say this is a dealbreaker on its own, but it’s definitely annoying!

    1. londonedit*

      Yep, same. I’m an editor so I’m generally expected to have a decent eye for detail, but anything I apply for is going to be a variation on what I already do, so I definitely don’t bother reading the entire listed job description. Most job adverts in my industry have a descriptive paragraph about the role/type of books/company and that’s the most important thing for me, and then I check the top-level points to make sure there isn’t anything in there that I definitely don’t do/don’t want to do, but as you say once you get down to the ‘ensure relevant databases are kept up to date, attend editorial meetings, work with design and production teams’ I assume I don’t really need to read any further.

    2. OP#4*

      Yeah, I’ve been applying to countless very similar jobs and it has become clear to me that cover letters are rarely (if ever) read, which is why this weird little extra step has got me particularly salty.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Yeah, I seldom bother with cover letters unless they specifically ask for one. Sure, ideally I’d lovingly customize my resume and cover letter for every position, but that’s just not happening when I’ve applying to 20 or more positions a week. That kind of nonsense, along with the “handwritten thank you note after an interview”, is out the window with video interviews, leetcode tests, take home BS and cumbersome ATSs that you have to enter every little detail about your job history (duplicating your resume), including exact dates and supervisor name into.

        I sincerely do not feel respected by most company’s application process, even when I am referred in by a friend. The only thing that keeps me from being too salty about it is the knowledge that these garbage ATS systems also drive the internal recruiters and HR bananas too, but their management has drunk the koolaid and they are stuck with it.

  34. Dawnshadow*

    My thought is, nice coworkers may not be rare, but a job without any problem coworkers?! It’s like a unicorn. Still, the advice that people leave and things change all the time is a good one. Would you still want to stay if there was one problem coworker? Because to me, one problem coworker is enough to offset like, five nice ones. Would love to find a place without any!

  35. ICode*

    OP1: Do NOT feel bad about leaving! They could have kept you if they allowed you to handle the situation with “Abby,” but the board chose not to… They made a (poor) decision, and you get to leave any time you want to!

    OP2: I’m a woman in STEM (though not in manufacturing) and most of my current coworkers are nice. No place is perfect, but it is possible to find an employer where the majority of your coworkers are decent people.

  36. Making up names is hard*

    I’ve seen the hidden word thing in roommate / housing ads on Craigslist… which kind of makes sense, because if the rental market is that you’ll get dozens of inquiries for a single room, it can be hard to as a regular person with a life to weed through them to find the ones you want to meet. but for a job listing that is ridiculous.

  37. BellyButton*

    My new job took 2 months and 5 interviews with around 10 people. However, they touch-based with me every week or so to let me know what was going on and that I was still a top candidate. It was summer, people were on vacation, and someone had Covid. Their updates were appreciated and I let them know when I was reaching final interviews with other places, but they were my top choice.

    I don’t think 4 weeks is out of the ordinary, people are still interviewing, and then all the people on the panel have to get together to discuss, then HR is likely doing a review and getting approval for the salary offer. It does take time. As Alison said you have done your part, now it is just time to wait and keep exploring other options.

  38. Dust Bunny*

    Re: Both 1 and 2:

    1) I work for a nonprofit. We don’t have issues like this because if you’re a jerk, somebody does something about it. All the way to the top–we fired a dead-weight executive director, even though he was a big cheese in the discipline we serve. If your organization didn’t deal with Abby, they set this up to happen. Leave and don’t sweat it. If everyone else also leaves and the whole organization implodes, then . . . oh, well.

    2) My coworkers are, on average, really nice, both in my department and in the organization at large. I think in past jobs I’ve had a few individual coworkers who were sort of jerks but, mostly, people were OK.

  39. Jasmine Clark*

    I disagree about #4. It’s always important to read job descriptions carefully and follow instructions! That’s not an unreasonable expectation. If I wrote a job description, I would not want anyone to skim it! I would probably include a hidden word too.

    And you should want to read job descriptions carefully for your own sake. I always read job descriptions multiple times when I am considering applying and as I write my cover letters. I want to have a thorough understanding of the job.

    It’s better to carefully apply to jobs that are a good fit for you than to rush and send out a ton of applications and go so fast you don’t read job descriptions carefully. Quality over quantity matters when you’re looking for a job.

    1. Observer*

      It’s always important to read job descriptions carefully and follow instructions! That’s not an unreasonable expectation.

      That’s where you go wrong. There is a level of care that makes sense in a job application, and a level that does not. Reading it carefully enough to know what the basic job entails? Absolutely. Carefully enough to know how to apply and what materials to submit? Definitely. Following those instruction? Absolutely no doubt.

      But combing through the ad as though you are copy editor paid to find the errors? Not only not reasonable. It’s often a really bad idea. Because when you start getting that nitpicky at that stage you often wind up getting side tracked. And guess what? Even a position that requires “high attention to detail” needs to have someone who can tell which details are important and which are not.

      Like, if you are a copy editor, you need to be super “picky” with the punctuation of any materials that go out to the public. But you do NOT do that with your boss’ internal emails!

    2. Person from the Resume*

      I think the hidden word thing is dumb and gimmicky, and it would turn me off. But I do agree that applicants should read the job description/requirements closely. They should be more than skimming if they’re going to spend the time applying and tailoring a cover letter and resume as you said.

      1. Observer*

        Yes and no. What you want to do in many cases is to skim for the things that will give you key pieces of information. Like are they using lots of buzzwords, what’s on the list of job duties regardless of what specific words are used, do they provide a payscale, etc. “magic words” are the kind of thing a careful reader is actually likely to miss because their focus is going to be on the content of the ad rather than on individual words.

    3. I.T. Phone Home*

      Would you feel it was appropriate if a candidate put something nonstandard into their application materials to make sure you had read them closely or would that make you question their judgement? This isn’t intended as a gotcha, I’m legitimately curious.

    4. OP#4*

      Sorry, but I have to disagree. Job searching is difficult enough and involves enough hoop-jumping without an additional patronizing step like a hidden word or code. It just perpetuates the idea that employers will always have the upper hand. Treat your employees like adults – assume they have read the job description, actually read their cover letters, and don’t do this weird answer-bridge-troll-riddles gimmickery.

  40. C in the Hood*

    LW1: I agree with what everyone has said about leaving. Another point is: even if Abby leaves today & you stay, what’s stopping the company from replacing Abby with another Abby?

  41. HaychAreYouSerious*

    Moving away from manufacturing opens up a whole world! I just stepped away for a government job after 15+ years as an HR professional in the manufacturing world. I think you can be confident that you can get back to manufacturing within 5 years if you wanted to, especially given the past 2 years and the labor market projections.
    Being away from manufacturing makes you realize that the stakes for deadlines in the non-manufacturing world are *so different*
    It’s great that you found a culture that is supportive. If the salary is something you can live with, I recommend taking a manufacturing sabbatical. (Come to Michigan when you’re looking to get back into manufacturing!)

  42. Grey Panther*

    #4 My first thought on reading this was: The “no brown M&Ms” clause lives!

    The decades-old story is that in their multi-page performance contracts, a big-time rock band—maybe ZZ Top? Van Halen? KISS? I forget—included a requirement that a large bowl of M&Ms be placed in the dressing room, and that the bowl contain no brown M&Ms. So when the band showed up to perform and casually rummaged through the bowl, if they found a brown M&M they’d know the venue hadn’t read their contract all the way through and possibly hadn’t met some of the band’s other (maybe more important) requirements.

    Could be just another rock legend, but I don’t think so.

    1. OyHiOh*

      What I’ve read is that the band had had some early experiences with stage set ups that weren’t safe/had fallen during shows. The candy clause became a quick check to see if the venue was capable of dealing with the small things. If they were, the odds were they were capable of correctly setting up the stage safely as well.

    2. Grey Panther*

      Thanks for the confirmation, OyHiOh and voluptuousfire. Actually, I thought it was a pretty good method!

  43. Slap Bet Commissioner*

    ooof. i really needed letter #5 today (and the insightful comments about it here). I am in a similar “waiting” position. I have read this blog for a long time and have seen the other posts on the topic. I have even been a hiring manager and know how long it takes sometimes. but knowing all that in the logical part of my brain is not making it any easier for the illogical part of my brain that is, frankly, totally spiraling.
    so thank you for letter 5. every little bit helps me from pulling out all my hair. ;-)

  44. Risha*

    LW2: Honestly, I think it’s extremely rare to find a job with nice coworkers/management. I’m not familiar with your industry, but the industry I work in is known for not treating employees well (all genders/races get treated like crap so equal opportunity to be f’d over!). In my current job, my coworkers and boss are so nice that at first I was wondering what’s the ulterior motive. Like, why is the boss telling me it’s ok that I made a mistake, we can just fix it. Why isn’t my boss shaming me to the entire team for making an error? Why is she being so nice and understanding? My coworkers aren’t phony and back stabby. We all work together and help each other. I actually took a paycut to work for my current company because of their reputation for how well they treat their employees in our industry.

    Hold on to your job for as long as you can. Of course, your life may change and this job no longer suits your needs, but believe me a job like you describe is truly rare indeed. And let this be your standard for how you’re treated at any job moving forward. Just like the standards for a personal relationship, make this job the benchmark. Never tolerate any less than how you’re being treated at this job.

    1. Happy Lurker*

      This has been my experience too! The comments make me think I haven’t looked hard enough for great places to work. My a personal 1, maybe 2 out of 9 places makes me feel like Risha does.

    2. Little My*

      I strongly agree! If you’re happy now, continue to chase that happiness! It doesn’t make sense to leave a job you love—if you’re making enough money and have stability, that’s the whole point of the extra education you got.

  45. Spark*

    On #2, I also work in a male-dominated niche and I have found a much nicer environment in government workplaces. I would definitely recommend looking into what may be available in your field.

  46. eep*

    To LW5: years ago I got a job offer, a month+ after I interviewed, after they had been turned down by two other candidates.

    I accepted the job and I’ve been there for ten years now and it’s the best job I could hope for.

  47. All Het Up About It*

    LW 1 – I am currently working with an entity where their entire board AND staff quit at the same time. They had to find a lawyer so that they could hand off the keys to the building.

    People stepped in and things are still running. There’s a new board and new staff. Obviously there was period of time where work stopped, but it wasn’t as long as you would expect. I’m sure that the scenario is different than your exact one, but please take Alison’s advice and take care of YOU! Said from a former non-profit worker who might someday go back – but who has NEVER heard of an ED who can’t fire staff. What in the world was that mess?!

  48. Air Ball*

    OP1 needs to seriously reconsider their policy of mandatory note taking at all meetings. This would be intolerable to most employees and it’s hard not to wonder what the ones who are silent about this policy think.

    Requiring saving the notes to a shared resource is a mixed bag, but reasonable. But mandatory notes is really burdensome. I don’t blame the employee for being annoyed at this.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      I’m assuming, as a former non-profit individual, and the fact that this is going in the database, this is more about notes during client meetings, etc. If so it’s an EXCELLENT policy.

      I’m imagining notes after a client meeting like “Spoke about x, y and z with client. They are most excited about y. Considered offering them A grant, but after conversations about “past experience” decided they were not a good candidate.” This is not the onerous meeting note taking you are speaking of, and historic notes like this can be crucial for other staff members who might deal with the client next.

      1. OP #1*

        ^^ All Het Up About It is correct – it’s not meant to be onerous but to save notes about what was discussed so that you can build up rapport with the person and know what to reference later.

    2. Observer*

      This would be intolerable to most employees

      Not in a well run organization, in this kind of context. When you are meeting with clients there HAS to be a history of what you discussed. Not every um and ah, but a summary. In fact, the person who refuses to take notes is the one who any good auditor is going to want to investigate….

  49. All Het Up About It*

    LW 5 – Good luck!

    I know it’s so hard to wait. Last time I hired I had to keep my finalists hanging longer than planned because I actually wanted two of them and was trying to get approval to hire two positions opposed to one. It didn’t happen, unfortunately, but there are so many possible scenarios out there, you will drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what’s happening. Agree with your BF and Alison, you’ve got to scale back your follow-ups. You need to be waiting at least a couple weeks in between contacts. At this point, maybe even three weeks.

  50. GlamorousNonprofiteer*

    Dear LW#1, no job (nonprofit or otherwise) will ever love you back. If your organization’s structure is set up in a way that doesn’t support positive staff interactions and give the ED the authority to hire/fire/discipline, then it’s what I call a Hot Mess Express and it’s time to GTFO.

    Unpopular opinion here but there are too damn many nonprofits and most of them are either “in name only” or so poorly structured/funded that they can’t achieve their mission. Unless it’s a truly unique cause or it’s an organization being set up by a Black, Indigenous, or community of color to serve said community, there’s no damn point. Fiscal sponsorship is your friend and so is a well-structured organization and a Board that knows their lane and stays in it. (And I am looking with DEEP side-eye at all of the arts orgs that have a MD and an AD and let the AD make admin/ops decisions.)

    1. Totally Subclinical*

      Yes. If I ever win the lottery, I would rather donate to an existing group that’s doing good work than set up a new nonprofit that might be duplicating their efforts.

  51. Coin_Opperated*

    #3 I am thinking the employer should cover the cost of the ticket, providing this was an issue of the late co-worker being spontaneously late. Allison’s advice, to me, reads like it only applies if the LW knew in advance the employee they were covering was going to be late and they could raise it beforehand, but the way I read the letter, it was as if they were stuck and unable to leave until co-worker arrived without any notice, which in some jobs that can happen.

  52. Dawn*

    I think the reason for the “magic word” in job postings is more to automatically filter bots and carpet-bombers in positions that get a lot of them.

    You can of course feel your own way about it but the thing is, it’s REALLY easy and time-saving to set up a filter to just screen out any application that doesn’t include “purple monkey dishwasher” or whatever; for jobs that are frequently subject to automated or essentially-automated applications it probably literally screens hundreds of applications that would have been filtered out anyways for having nothing to do with the actual job qualifications.

  53. A Pound of Obscure*

    #2: I know what you mean — it can be almost hard to believe that a workplace and/or your coworkers are so nice. I am nearing the end of my career, looking at an early but comfortable retirement in another 3-5 years, I hope. The job I’m in now is my favorite, by far; so good that the thought of actually going through with that early-ish retirement makes me a little sad already. The job isn’t easy, and sometimes I feel stressed and frustrated like one does in any job, but it’s still great. I report directly to our organization’s executive director and that person is wonderful. Intelligent, extremely competent, unfailingly nice, cool-headed, and with no ego about them. I still marvel at how good they are, without even trying. My coworkers (approx. 2 dozen of them) are also extremely dedicated and competent. Only one or two have personality quirks that make me glad I don’t have to work closely with them on a daily basis (and they might feel the same about me!) but in general, their quirks are so much less… well, quirky than any other coworkers I’ve encountered in all my prior workplaces. The entire org is dedicated and competent. But even I know that the excrement could hit the fan tomorrow and nothing is guaranteed; for example, my excellent director could be wooed somewhere else, which would make me ugly-cry. So for now I just enjoy it and marvel at how fortunate I am to have found a great place to end my career. I’ve been here almost 9 years, which is the longest I’ve stayed at any job.

  54. Emily*

    LW #1: Abby is a nightmare. You are an “Executive Director”, but the board has tied your hands so you basically have no managerial power. (Also, if the board bought into Abby’s complaint about being “harmed” by the mediation process they are utterly ridiculous. You are the one being harmed because you are not being allowed to do your job effectively). The board has made their bed and now they have to lie in it. I hope you find a wonderful new job that is deserving of you.

  55. SupplyChainManagementRocks*

    #2 I’m a woman who has worked in manufacturing for 6 years at 2 different companies (after switching careers). I worked in management on the floor at both facilities and they were/both fabulous places to work. Friendly smiling faces and people eager to help. No sexism. Not all manufacturing is dour.

  56. Gnome*

    Lw2 – I know it’s been said, but environment can change over time, so while it is incredibly important, it’s not something that will stay the same.

    I had one that’s as pretty good… Until one guy started being very cold towards me and another coworker for no discernable reason. I won’t go into details, but management wouldn’t deal with it (I tried first) and Cold Guy was refusing to share information I needed to do my job. My good environment changed to toxic. Why? Because management wouldn’t manage. It wasn’t an issue until someone decided to be unprofessional. The net result was that I left a year after it started. I’m still clueless about what happened to make me the target of… Whatever it was.

    Now I’m in a different position where my grandboss won’t tolerate fools. My client is difficult and cranky, but my mental health is recovering.

  57. Lobsterman*

    LW1: any org which doesn’t give its ED hire/fire plans to fail. Your last day can be today. You were set up to fail and deserve to be angry.

  58. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    OP 5 nobody knows except those hiring, and honestly, what does it matter? Would you feel slighted at being the “backup” and refuse if you’re not their first choice? It’s more likely someone who has to sign off on the decision is away or swamped. But even if you’re the backup… I don’t see the problem. There are probably millions of people who can do your job, and maybe half of them can do it better than you. The point of applying is to get a job, and it doesn’t matter whether the hiring manager thought someone else was better than you then it turned out one of their references then let them know the person was a disaster waiting to happen, or whether they wanted you only you but needed their boss to get back from the conference to sign that bit of paper (and hopefully not remember they were hoping to give the job to their nephew). If you get the job, you rock it, and they’ll know they made a good decision.

  59. tysca*

    LW #2 :

    I’m in (sort of – you’ll see why) academia. A few years ago I accepted a permanent, full-time teaching and research position in a university. Friendly, kind, generous colleagues; an incredibly supportive and wonderful line manager; a sense of care towards students, colleagues and the wider world that aligned with mine. After several years of adjunct work, I thought I’d found myself in a dream job.

    A year or so after I joined the VC retired and was replaced. My line manager left and was replaced by someone awful, distant and high-handed. We very quickly found out that the VC had a vision for the university and it involved focusing on a handful of programmes that have high recruitment and are relatively cheap to deliver. Smaller programmes and/or those with an expensive practical element were slashed. Mine was one of them, and I accepted voluntary severence with a payout rather than being made redundant. I’m currently unemployed and job-hunting, and given the scarcity of academic positions in my area, there’s a non zero chance I won’t work in academia again.

    What I’m saying is that, if you’d spoken to me in 2019, I too would have been effusive about my fantastic permanent job and wonderful colleagues. University priorities and cultures can change blindingly fast and can leave you reeling. Don’t make huge decisions about your career path based on the work culture you are experiencing right now.

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