Hello All,

Background - I am a manager in a hierarchically structured engineering department, broken down by engineering discipline (process, electrical, environmental, etc). In larger projects we work more like a matrix organization, but for small projects led within a disciple, we work in a more traditional format. I have 3 direct reports within 1 of the discipline. My manager is the discipline manager and he has 4 reports in addition to me, all senior level individual contributors. My manager reports to the director of engineering for the whole company. There are total of ~60 people under the director, with another ~100 with dotted line reporting. My 3 directs are less experienced engineers, ranging from 2-6 years out of college. I have been managing the group for ~2 years using the manager tools model as closely as I can.

Problem - The least experienced of my directs has twice now skipped me and my manager and scheduled meetings with the director. In both instances, she has not given myself nor my manager ANY notice that she wanted to or planned to talk to the director. In the first meeting, she asked for a promotion based on being offered a position in engineering in one of our plants. After the first instance, I talked to her about coming to me first (or at least not surprising me), how promotions work, some background on politics, and the need to consistently demonstrate results. In subsequent O3's, we discussed developmental areas and made a plan for executing the items we came up with. In the second meeting (about 3 months after the 1st, and happened last week), she reiterated her desire for recognition and reminded him about her contributions. The director reiterated the same talking points as above. She is a high D with achiever pattern. She performs well. We have weekly O3's and a good relationship. (As a side note, we have been working on a raise for her since before the 1st instance, but it has taken forever due to challenges with our HR department. In the normal course of business, she would be up for promotion this summer/early fall).

Since my first explanation of how the world works clearly did not work - any advice on what to do next?

Thanks in advance!

ses's picture

Have you asked her why she's choosing this strategy?  I ask because it may be that someone in her past coached her that this is the correct thing to do, and she believes you are trying to shut her down, or that you are testing her commitment to advancement and she has to go over your head to prove it.

I haven't enough context to be sure, but this sounds like a behavior that is advocated for in many of the toxic "women in STEM" communities.  One of their prevailing narratives is that female engineers do not succeed because male engineers are extremely aggressive in promoting their own advancement at all times, and we are not.  They often advocate "guerilla tactics" for gaining advancement, calling it "empowering" and insisting that it is what any man would do.

I was lucky enough not to fall prey to this because as a preteen I fell in with a very experienced, predominantly male, cohort in my field and had some amazing mentors.  Hitting me years later with a warped picture of how "every man in the field" behaves just wasn't going to fly.  I've been pretty good at disarming the problem behaviors (not always, but more often than not) when I run into them in a colleague or report, but I have it easy being a female engineer myself.  I'm in a position to explain how I got where I am today, and where the line is between setting expectations/self-advocacy and just being an unprofessional nuisance.

I'm honestly not sure how I'd go about disarming it if I were a male supervisor.  Part of the "women in STEM / women in tech" narrative is that anyone who doesn't share the narrative is The Enemy, someone actively trying to keep women down.  Here are some things that come to mind:

  • Ask her, in the most open-ended possible way, why she chose this strategy to pursue a promotion, and whether she thinks it has been effective.
  • Be ready to give her active steps she can take toward advancement, rather than "just sit and wait".
  • Look for ways that you can expose her to what others are doing in terms of career advancement, without putting undue pressure/scrutiny on your other reports.  For example, my supervisor shares his Career Management Plan (CMP)* with all of his reports, and I share mine with my reports.  While in our organization this is normally confidential to its owner and their supervisor, we've found that sharing downward as well helps build trust and aids our reports in better understanding how we use the CMP process.
  • Consider whether there is a more experinced female engineer in your organization who might make a good mentor.

I may be way off base...what you said just smacked of some bad advice I have heard multiple times.  In any case, good luck!



*CMPs are something we do here to plan professional development over periods of 6 months to a year.  It's written annually, reviewed quarterly, and usually revised/updated mid-year.  It is NOT used in performance reviews.  The CMP is a very high-level goal and development tracking tool, rather than a project or to-do list.  It often looks a few years out at how the employee with build up to the kinds of work he/she would like to be doing down the road.

clambert's picture

Thanks Susan!

Your reply actually makes a ton of sense! I'm a female engineer, so should make the conversation easier. Overall, I think she's driven by monetary and title recognition and is impatient to get it - and I think that you are right that she probably got some bad advice on how people go about getting advancement. 

We have spent a much greater amount of time and effort planning active steps for her advancement than any of my previous managers had ever spent with me.  We do have her mentoring with a 1 higher level engineer and 1 supply chain manager. I think that all of those development opportunities/etc have been in line or better than the norm for most companies/situations. 

Thanks again for your advice!

justakim's picture

Are there any consequences to her going directly to the director and ignoring the two of you? If there are any consequences, have you shared them with her?

Is your director ok with her behavior?

Are you putting in the same amount of effort to support your other directs, assuming they are of at least comparable performance?