Not a Date

A snippet from my upcoming book about Women in Tech

And so I found myself outside of Boston on my first work trip when I was 22. I was working at a now defunct start-up, and I was the account manager for a flower company using our website technology. I arrived earlier than a colleague, and one of the client leads picked me up at the airport. This wasn’t a romance movie; this wasn’t love at first sight. This was work.

The client suggested Italian at a local restaurant. He was being very nice. I assumed this was standard protocol, so we went and engaged in awkward conversation while enormous servings of food plopped down in front of us. The conversation sometimes felt dangerous like it was veering into territory I didn’t want to explore, the “did I have a boyfriend” territory. Post meal, I was tired from travel and happy to get to my hotel.
I sat down at my laptop to catch up on work, and then the phone rang. He was downstairs. He asked if I wanted him to come up. I stuttered. I was as polite as I could be, but as firm as I could be. No. 

I pinged my boss and relayed what had happened. I was just hit on! He was shocked. I recapped my lack of interest, with the need to somehow defend it. I think I was, even then, intuitively covering my ass. Who knew what story the client would tell? I wasn’t angry; I was amused and annoyed. I didn’t expect this, but I was also not surprised.

The next day the client was mean and brittle. He belittled my work in front of others. He sneered and criticized me. There was clearly a price for saying no.

When I got back to California, I was taken off of the client’s account. I welcomed this change. Why keep working with someone who hates you? The CFO, the resident adult, called me into his office and made sure I was okay. I thought everyone was fussing. Didn’t this happen all the time? I didn’t once consider if the incident cost me anything since I was so relieved to be out of the situation. In fact, I thought it was very nice the company was recognizing the situation and addressing it.

This was 2000, and I was 23 years old. I didn’t think of anything regarding my career and being taken off a highly visible project. I didn’t think of myself as someone representing women in Tech. I didn’t think I was standing up for anyone else. I was just glad I was never going to have to work with that man again.

We all have stories like this, those that normalized behaviors that we’re now questioning but also taught us important lessons in our career. I want to shed light on those stories. This snippet is from a chapter towards the middle of the book, and I will continue on with more of my stories and those of other women. Feedback welcome.

2 thoughts on “Not a Date

  1. Thanks Alana.. there are so many stories like this… where we now look back and think it was so wrong but at the time felt perfectly normal. And as a result we developed thick skins but also accepted what should have been unacceptable “norms”; just to cope, to survive, to thrive. I’d argue these are not just stories from tech; but from a multitude of companies with deep-rooted gender disparity.


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