It’s hard for me to advise you without knowing (1) how accurate your portrayal is, (2) how effective your HR system is and (3) how hard you want to fight for this job.
There’s a lot of x factor in this tale of XX chromosomes, so read on with your hackles down. Why do you think this is all about your being successful, outgoing and female? Is it possible that your “minutiae” are crucial details when managing a high-profile project? Is defensiveness deafening you to constructive criticism?
More important, have you tried talking with your boss before making an end run to HR? “I was surprised and disappointed at being taken off the Hudsucker project because my last review was so positive. What do you need to see from me to show you I’m ready for more challenging projects?” That’s a heaping helping of humble pie, but it might go down better if you keep your ears and mind open to her response.
Let’s say the nightmare continues despite your best efforts, and it’s clearly personality-driven — maybe even discriminatory. Start gathering covert intel inside and outside the company, as follows:
•Privately contact the woman who left your company before. Find out her story, whether she talked to HR and what response she got, if any. See how it jibes with your experience.
•Study your co-workers. Are other women complaining of similar treatment from this boss? Is she equally hard on men?
Finally, see if HR is willing to confidentially discuss ways to improve your interactions with the boss. But bear in mind that if you say, “I’m being targeted because I’m female,” a good HR team will take it seriously — so before you play that card, you’ll want to have had at least one in-depth consult with an employment lawyer. (You can find one through www.findlegalhelp.org, the American Bar Association’s listing of state and local legal referral services.)
You may decide that keeping the job is not worth all this effort. No shame in that. But at least you won’t have tucked tail and run without exploring your options. And if you (and your lawyer) are convinced there’s a pattern of discriminatory behavior but you choose not to take it to court, you might still want to report your concerns in your exit interview. It probably won’t help you, but a good HR team will take notice when enough outgoing, successful women lodge the same complaints about a manager on their way out the door.
Thanks to Sharon Snyder of Ober | Kaler for helping me map out the legal landmines. Any explosive missteps are mine.
Next week: The flip side.