Where in the hell am I?

April 27, 2011

Making a Public Impression, part 2

Last time, I talked a bit about some of my challenges with making a public impression as a (for want of a better word) “punk” archaeologist, especially in a state like Texas steeped in cowboy mythology (I remember a Disney version of Pecos Bill as a kid) and culture.

Essentially, while my fashion choices in the field (which actually usually cover my tattoos, especially my Texas ones) are motivated by practical considerations, such as comfort and safety, I also have chosen to some extent to restrict my self-expression. My encounters with the public in rural and even mid-size urban Texas, particularly the ranchers, necessitate this. First, many of these encounters are potentially hostile, such as when a landowner isn’t aware that we’re on their land or is mad at the project. I really don’t want to give them a reason to be more agitated, and I would prefer that they see me as someone they can relate to. Tangentially, I often wear a safety vest on survey just to make it clear that I’m not trying to hide or be sneaky. Second, I am representing my company and our client, serving as a “public face” by default, and looking at least somewhat professional is an important part of that. Third, I want to be respected, to be acknowledged as a professional scientist doing scientific work. Of course, most people have an image as scientists as a little bit “different”, so that does allow for a little leeway.

The first and third are especially important to me, because I feel like my size and my personality are often detrimental in my interactions with the public, particularly in Texas. I’m actually completely average physically, 5’9″ and on the light side of average build, graying brown hair, no obvious physical defects. I’m also a bit of a people-pleaser, non-aggressive, some might say sensitive. None of these are bad things, of course! Still, I can see the difference in the way that many landowners, some contractors, and even some client representatives treat me (especially in person) from how they treat some of my bigger, taller co-workers. Honestly, it’s demeaning and humiliating to interact with someone in a professional capacity who decides to ignore you, or push you around, only to watch them change faces and be completely conciliatory to a co-worker with the same job title and responsibilities. It’s even worse when your future promotion depends on your ability to deal with clients, contractors, and crews.

I don’t know if there was much of a point to this, except to find a way to vent my frustration at feeling diminished, despite my attempts to mitigate prejudicial appearances. I’ve certainly compromised along the way to advance my professional career as an archaeologist, but I like who I am as a person, and I have leadership qualities and strengths which are just as valuable. And I’m certainly not going to get any taller.

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10 Comments »

  1. One of my constant professional frustrations is, when dealing with certain types of male colleagues, feeling like I have to “speak jock”. I can do this: I played college baseball. I’ve spent enough time in locker rooms to know the language. But I always feel like I’m cheating myself, so I usually try to find a balance. It’s not always fun.

    Comment by Terry Brock — April 28, 2011 @ 8:29 am

    • I actually have no problem talking jock, and being in the office fantasy football league helped me get more accepted, I think. But I also am able to talk a great deal about hunting and fishing for a guy who has only fired a gun once in his life and never cleaned a fish.

      Comment by John — April 29, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

  2. It’s hard when people are not being professional to you, while acting professional to your co-workers. One can only hope that your bosses notice the care and attention you put forth when working in these situtations. It also happens a lot as a woman working in this profession(it shouldn’t but it does). Anyways, keep your head up… while looking at the ground. 🙂

    Comment by molly — April 28, 2011 @ 12:46 pm

    • I actually was texting with a non-digger friend about this and I mentioned that women (especially younger attractive ones) have to deal with their own challenges as far as impressions and reactions, that are as if not more demeaning and humiliating. I didn’t mention it in the blog because I was already rambling and don’t really feel qualified to talk about it.
      Thanks for reading and the comment!

      Comment by John — April 29, 2011 @ 5:01 pm

  3. It’s not necessarily about being tall.It’s about having the confidence to look someone in the eye, smile, expect their attention. And giving them the same attention in return without compromising your personality. I’m 5’4 and a girl and I make sure my presence is known verbally and physically via a “Hello, how you doing? My name is” with an extended hand for handshake. And if they like me less because of it? Hell, I kill them with kindness. It is the ‘southern way’. 😉

    Comment by Acuna — May 4, 2011 @ 6:44 pm

  4. I agree with Acuna. Physical appearance, be it height or looks has nothing to do with the projection of professionalism. Be confident in your work ethic, knowledge, composure in the midst of hostility, ability to listen and empathize. When you’re able to strengthen those qualities, your body language will reflect your confidence. As an Nurse, I can tell you that I too have been questioned about my abilities given 23 years of experience,by both Physicians and Patients. It’s part of the culture, but with professionalism and confidence they both understand I mean business. As one Nursing Professor once told us, “you will be nervous and unsure of many things in your career. But, when you enter that patient’s room, walk in like you know what you’re doing and you own the damn room. Never ever let them see you sweat.”

    Comment by Drienne Tamayo @SW_NM_Arch — October 24, 2013 @ 9:28 am

  5. & Respect. Respect the other parties decisions & their views, even though you differ. & be aware of the tone of voices, but keep yours in check. People may not always be pleased with appearances or decisions, but you will get their attention by displaying professionalism, respect, empathy, confidence. I’ve cared for prisoners, VIPs, homeless, even the most difficult patients, Respect, empathy, caring….goes a long ways.

    Comment by Drienne Tamayo @SW_NM_Arch — October 24, 2013 @ 9:42 am

  6. Life is compromise, but if you’re a person of sensitivity, leadership, & strength, then keep doing what you’re doing. You’re on the right track.

    Comment by Drienne Tamayo @SW_NM_Arch — October 24, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    • Drienne,
      This was written 2 and a half years ago, when I was having a really hard time at my old job. Other contractors were being difficult. I was also having major issues with one co-worker.
      I think it’s fair to say that “mansplaining” isn’t necessarily limited to women. It’s also a fact that I had a number of experiences where other sub-contractors and landowners overlooked me, despite my efforts to make it clear that i was in charge, to talk to someone bigger. This was not just my perception, but was pointed out to me several times by my field crews. And frankly, it’s hard to be confident when you’re actively being ignored and overlooked.
      I’ve never been anything but respectful and professional, which was one of the points I was making in these posts. My frustration was that it wasn’t always enough.
      In respect to the current situation, things like this are why I always included “M.A.” and my job title on my emails with clients and other sub-contractors, to make it immediately clear that I was a professional and in a supervisory position. There are many different cultures within the US, and in one rooted in hardscrabble cowboy and military culture such as Texas, there are struggles that may not exist in places with a greater history of cooperation. And I’ve made it clear in my posts that I love this state and many of its people, even when we differ. Doesn’t mean it’s not sometimes tough working here.

      Comment by John — October 24, 2013 @ 10:07 am

  7. It is frustrating when you’re making every effort to be in charge, every effort to work in an environment where co-workers are not always in agreement or there is a dislike. Unfortunately respect and professionalism will never be enough. I’ve had to work in an environment where I was in charge of a 4 person crew in the cardiac cath lab, yet the Cardiologist would ignore me and give orders to the Technicians, even when the patient was going downhill. I had a good crew that many times stood up for me and supported me. To make matters worse, nursing colleagues were just as bad to say the least. A caring profession which couldn’t care for their own.

    The culture of Physicians & Nurses are as difficult as the “hardscrabble cowboy & military.” Fortunately not all are that way. But, it still exists. It’s odd, but even after 23 yrs in this business, I have to prove myself each and every day to each and every person. You won’t be able to change the mentality of people you come in contact with. Continue to do your job, with respect and professionalism. As hard as this, don’t succumb to the pressure of the frustration. This will burn you out. I speak from experience.

    I had to make the conscious effort, that #1, I would never be able to change people, #2, if they choose to ignore me or overlook me, I will continue to do my job above and beyond, #3, if they disrespect me with verbal abuse, I will be direct & professional, in explaining my disapproval of their actions, and report it to my supervisor, #4 Even when it burns me and I am about to lose my cool over actions of being ignored, I don’t. The minute you lose it, you lose credibility.

    Listen, I have has many titles (BSN,CCRN, etc.) behind my name too, and that never made a difference to anyone. I still got the brunt of the problem. I worked harder, I came in early, I stayed late, I grew 8 arms and 8 legs to do various tasks, I did the work no one wanted, I sacrificed a lot, I wasn’t getting anywhere with people…still ignored, still overlooked. You and I know, as historians, that there have people with worse circumstances that ourselves. They experienced these same and even more difficult biases.

    I thought I would never acquire the respect in a profession I loved, one that I was leaving for archaeology. But, I did. When I entered Orthopaedics, I met a Surgeon who took me under his wing, mentored me, gave me the respect I had sought. When he spoke to his patients, he introduced me as his colleague, explained I would be representing him. I worked in a division within the same organization which had made my life miserable, but this was different. I came to find out, that I was hired due to the fact he had observed my work ethic, knowledge, composure. All along someone was watching and not ignoring.

    I hope it doesn’t take 23 yrs. for you to acquire that respect. Trust me, someone or some people are watching. It is hard to separate life from job, but do so. It will keep you sane. I know you will succeed despite the cultures of the environment. You’re not alone in this. Listen, I have the same problems in archaeology, I’m a little older and worse for wear, but I still get the ignoring, oddly from the young people out in the field. As I have gotten older, the old establishment of archaeology and I have many experiences, knowledge, research in common. It goes both ways.

    Comment by Drienne Tamayo @SW_NM_Arch — October 24, 2013 @ 11:08 am


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