trying to be a good supervisor
larrabee at cse.ucsc.edu
Wed Jun 2 23:40:12 EST 1999
In article <199905271143.HAA01317 at alumni.Princeton.EDU>,
ravena <ravena at alumni.Princeton.EDU> wrote:
I am going to spout off here, even though I am not a woman-in-bio. I am
a woman, but my field is Computer Engineering (I'm an associate prof at
UCSC, but I've worked in small and large Silly-valley companies). Please
forgive me if this intrusion is unwelcome, but some of the issues seem
to transcend the subject topic.
>about 9 months ago I took a job with a small biotech company, and 3
>months ago hired an associate to work with me. This has been more
>challenging than I've expected, and I think that some of the issues are
>related to things that women-in-bio has discussed over the years.
Your description of your firm and how you handle employees is very
different than the normal behavior at the computer-tech firms I am
familiar with, and just in case you don't know, I thought I would
describe some of the assumptions from my world:
1. It is very hard to find good employees. One good and creative employee
can do the work of ten plodders, and so when you find a good one, you had
best treat her well and assume she's an adult. No time cards, and no asking
permission before leaving the building, although everyone should be
responsible for making sure they keep their calendar commitments and
let all concerned know if they will unavoidably miss a meeting. Good
tech employees usually work more than 40 hour weeks, and they usually
want to: they are usually doing something in which they are intellectually
2. Even though the creative ones are the most highly desired, the
plodders are needed too, and they should also be treated like
responsible adults until proven otherwise. Some of the places I have
worked have operated on the assumption that plodders can bloom, and
have gone out of their way to give plodders the opportunity to grow (I
probably owe my PhD to this attitude). If you give plodders a bit of
autonomy and accountability, their commitment to their work will
escalate, and they will be more likely to up their work intensity.
For this to work, they must be recognized for their accomplishments
and treated as if any minute they might say something very valuable.
>[...] so I really felt I
>needed to hire someone quickly.
3. It is very hard to get rid of an employee who is not valued. It is
far more common to try to keep one out of the way than it is to fire one.
Transfers, or making the job so unpleasant that it is torture are also
more common than firing someone. Lawsuits are common and scary, and
if the employee is in an underrepresented group, they are even more
>Her tenure at our company has been rocky. Some of the problem is caused
>by health problems she's had. She hasn't been faking, but her illnesses
>and doctor's appointments have interfered with her work. Duke was
>annoyed when he went looking for her one day and couldn't find her; it
>turned out she was sick in bed again.
4. There should be some way that everyone knows how to find everyone
else, and some clear idea whose responsibility it is to keep the data
current. Sometimes everyone just sends email to the entire group, and
sometimes an admin is the centerpoint for this info. Sometimes people
keep group calendar software and update it independently. This means
it should be easy to tell if someone was out all day, but not
necessarily to micro-manage someone's presence within a day. People take
breaks, or think in different places, or brainstorm, or run off to
get a part. Of course, this isn't true of all job classifications, and
the people who have front line jobs tend to be much more in evidence
than others, but they make much use of the scheduling procedures.
>There was also a tempest in a teapot at one of our group meetings, where
>I had decided to have her give a presentation.
Sounds like a great way to engage her further in her work.
>I think this was meant to be a joke, but it didn't come across as very
>funny. This too did not go over well with Duke.
This sounds immensely frustrating for her. It is clear her job is not
valued, and it is clear that her preparation was wasted effort. She may
not have behaved well, but I hope she got some sympathy for a nasty
>Gertrude has a non-mainstream personality for the company.
5. Good technical people are sometimes quirky. These quirks are sometimes
highly celebrated by some companies--as long as it is not hostile or
smelly or disruptive.
>At this point I am trying to give her a chance and get her to improve.
>We had conversations a couple of weeks ago, and I've been advised to
>document them in writing. So I wrote up an interim performance report,
>with my expectations for the position, her strengths as I perceive them,
>and my suggestions for improvement. An HR person has okayed it.
>Gertrude and I will both sign it and it will become part of her file. I
>may have softpedaled the suggestions, and I didn't know what to do with
>the health issues, so I ignored them, although I've told the HR person
>about them verbally in some detail.
If I were you, I would look into what you are allowed to say about her
health. You could be opening your company up to a nasty lawsuit if you
refer to her health problems in certain ways. Which brings me to
6. Management is hard, and good technical people need training to be
good managers. Sometimes people fail because their managers do not
help them to succeed. Good managers need to learn about laws, about
people-managing techniques, and about economics. Managing one person
almost certainly takes up more time than doing the work yourself, and
the payoff probably doesn't come until around three people. If there
is one person managing two people who are each managing another person,
there is something wrong with the organizational tree.
>I'm starting to get stressed out, with the pressure on one hand to
>replace her, and my own conscience telling me that that wouldn't be at
>all fair. If I replace her, I want it to be for a good reason, one that
>I could look myself in the mirror the next morning and respect.
This is all immensely tough, and I don't pretend to know the answers
or to even be able to apply my experiences to yours, but it sure
sounds like you need help from above you. It sounds like Gertrude is
being allowed to flounder, as are you. So far, I see little evidence
that any of this is a problem with "women-in-biotech" but more with
This is just a perspective.
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