It seems my last post sparked up a little bit of controversy from readers…I absolutely love that, of course!

Here is what V said:
I just read your blog, I just thought that I should share my opinion and what I learnt at the [Major SA bank] Pioneering Young Women Conference I was so fortunate to have been selected to attend:

‘I disagree. Juniour or not, I wouldn’t pour the coffee, unless I wanted some for myself – in which case, I would ask around if anyone would like me to pour them a cup as well. This would not be out of insolence, but out of the philosophy that ‘you teach people how to treat yo’u.   As a juniour, who would be vying for promotion and greater responsibility, I believe that people will judge you not by your coffee-pouring etiquette, but by your performance and knowledge, and the respect you have for yourself at a meeting. Yes, you are sitting in, but you’re not there for vac work and you attained your qualification legitimately. You are an employee of the organisation, just like everybody else. And while you were cringing while he poured you your coffee, everyone else was thinking about the task at hand and viewing the coffee-pouring as normal or okay.

I’ve worked with a lot of guys my age, and they too take it without a thought. As a junior – I will not be making the coffee, taking notes or running the errands. That’s not what I hope to have gotten my engineering degree for. And if that were the most challenging aspect of my job at work, then it’s never too late to find a new one. There are so many organisations that explicitly say that you did not graduate to do some filing. I believe that when given the chance, one should own their seat at the table to the best of *one’s* ability. Yes, you may be young but I definitely feel that you are talented. I really hope that at the next meeting, you will speak up if you find that you may have something to share. When I was with [..], even just as a third-year student, the engineers there were so amazing and chilled. They had no problem offering to pour me a cup of coffee, at which point I would be like ‘it’s fine, thank you so much’, and most probably return the favour at a later stage, but would take that graciously.’

I don’t know 🙂 But as usual loving your blog. Congrats on your presentation in Mozambique. And thank nyou for sharing your experiences. Am such a fan! Subscribed and everything.

Regards

V 🙂

Here was my reply:

Hi V,

Thanks for commenting!

I agree that I didn’t get an engineering degree to make the coffee or take notes, but I think you will find when you start working, things are very different to what you may have expected and that it is not ONLY your engineering skills that are going to get you promoted. It will be a combination of skills, competence and how you interact with others-who you (sorry to say) suck up to and how you deal with difficult situations and people. Also, remember that you will be entering an environment filled with older men-many of which will see you as a threat since you have the advantages of BBBEE (South Africa’s affirmative action) behind you and have a degree-which they may not have. Saying that, its VERY important that you remember that you are still “small-fry” until you have earned respect. As women, its even harder to earn that respect and entering a job with ‘an attitude’ that give the impressiong that you don’t know your place in the pecking order wont get you far.

As for me chirping up in meetings-don’t you worry- I have not issue with that. In progress meetings with the mine managers whose plant I’m building I am very assertive and the Mettalurgical Manager generally makes the coffee. My supervisor and I both share the responsibilities for the minutes but I have told him that we need an assistent-to which he’s agreed. The meeting I blogged about had really nothing to do with me and involved very high-level planning of the project- so there was really not much I could contribute in any case. Sitting in was a privilege, but you are perhaps right – it shouldn’t be expected that I got the drinks and I shouldn’t have had that cringing reaction (maybe thats just also something lingering from my Indian upbringing too).

One last thing I’d like to stress is that things will be different when you’re a student/ vac work and when you’re an employee. The boys in your class are not your superiors. When you have real responsibilites and real competition, you will discover a dynamic to the working environment that you will need to manage carefully in order to get the credit for which you are due whilst not coming off as arrogant.

Good Luck with this! But the only way to really learn is to get thrown into the deep end, make a few mistakes, stick your foot in your mouth a few times and never stop learning!

Thanks again for sharing and keep reading and sharing!
Rhea