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Achieving Alignment With Male Colleagues

Personal Growth
Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

5 October, 2021

Sony Mohapatra
Sony Mohapatra

Senior Engineering Manager at Cruise

Sony Mohapatra, Engineering Manager at Cruise, is never one to jump to conclusions when a difference in opinion brings her work to a grinding halt.

Problem

Throughout my career, I’ve seen how difficult it can be to work as a woman in this industry. Growing from an IC into a leader was not an easy journey to make under these circumstances. I became a manager amongst a group of peers, so there was a lot of pushback to be found there. The entire team consisted of men only --- not a single other women.

I know that there have been problems that I have faced in my career. I share my experiences so that other women coming up below me can learn from them, as well.

Actions taken

At a former company, I was an IC. After getting hired, it took some time for my colleagues to warm up to me fully. I took my ninety-day ramp-up time frame and did what I could to pick up everything that I needed to learn.

Initially, I was very hesitant to raise my voice during meetings. I was a tech lead at that time; the room used to be full of men. I was working on a very critical project, but I remained very quiet despite this. It wasn’t until my director approached me that I thought to change this about myself.

They reassured me of my expertise in the area, but I was worried that I simply was not there yet. They coached me through these hang-ups and helped to instill a sense of confidence in my ideas. It made such a difference.   

Of course, even after this breakthrough, there were still people who would shut me down in meetings. Despite this, I just kept at it. I had a team with other female engineers who were looking up to me. If I came across as too meek or subdued in meetings, what kind of example would I be setting for them?

Eventually, the men that I was working alongside realized that I had a lot of good ideas to share. They knew that I would not just sit there and agree; they invited me into the conversation. That’s how I started to work my way up.

When I did eventually break into management, I was overseeing a team that I was previously a part of. This opened the door to a lot of male pushback, especially with one colleague who was also vying for the position. Some people consider the notion of following orders from a female peer to be a non-option. This person did not even show up to the offsite celebrating my promotion.

Some people will make it very clear how unhappy they are in an inclusive working environment; this person would even shout at us during meetings, and we would just have to be calm. Those first six months were really terrible for me. I would find myself crying thinking what wrong have I done to this individual for this kind of behavior.

Even now, I try to take the rest of the other person’s life and personality into consideration when I feel them pushing back at me unnecessarily. People who behave in this way need guidance to help them. It takes a lot of energy to reach a peer in need through prejudice, but making that connection is the only way forward.   

Lessons learned

  • As I gained more confidence, I realized that I needed to move into management so that I would be able to influence and to spread this sense of confidence to the other women throughout the organization. 
  • So many women have these sorts of experiences. The problem is that nobody thinks to ask them about these feelings, so they end up just getting bottled up. When I made this realization, that’s when I started to conduct mentoring sessions with the women within the company who were junior to me. Reaching out to them periodically and asking them how they’re doing helps to alleviate some of the discomforts that they feel in the workplace. I give them specific examples of issues that I’ve dealt with personally. 
  • When I feel resistance while reaching out to a coworker who is treating me poorly, I try to make our alliance very clear. You are my partner. I wish to collaborate with you honestly. I want to help you through this process. Above all else, I stay very calm at all times.

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