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The Question

I work in a small IT company and have since it started. I do not have a university education, I learned everything by being hands on. I can fill almost any position in the department, except for coding. However, my lack of education and technical skill is an issue for some developers. I have tried in vain to management's assistance to take courses to improve my skills and help me gel with my team. This has led to countless arguments with my manager. I am constantly defending my position and I have made it clear that I love working here.

My co-workers do not see me as an equal, and I am the only female in a team of male developers. Our run-ins have escalated and I feel isolated and as if they're plotting to get me to leave.

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Should I just leave or should I stay and continue the fight?

The First Answer

Heather MacKenzie

The Integrity Group, Vancouver

You say you love working there, so to simply leave doesn't seem to be the right choice. However, if you are going to stay, you can't view this as a "fight" because that leads to a fortress mentality and, ultimately, an unhappy workplace. You need to separate speculation from fact – you say that you feel your co-workers are "plotting" against you, but don't provide a basis for that conclusion. This could be a byproduct of you feeling ostracized, or due to the friction with your manager. (There is not much you can do about the lopsided male-to-female ratio which is not uncommon in the IT world.)

It's not clear why your manager is resisting your efforts to improve your skills – Budget restrictions? Fear of showing favouritism? Whatever the reason, you have to convince your manager of the value of this extra training since it seems a key way for you to gain respect and acceptance from your colleagues.

Write down a plan you can present to your manager that outlines the courses you need to take, how it will benefit the company (not just you personally), how it will improve productivity and relations between you and your team, and also outlines a shared payment structure whereby you pick up part of the costs.

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The Second Answer

Rachel Weinstein

Executive coach, Toronto

The picture you paint is of a success story. Congratulations on establishing a career in IT despite your non-traditional path. It shows a real commitment to the company and your craft.

Even without formal credentials, you were hired, retained, developed a versatile skill set, and seem to be performing well. If you weren't, management would insist you upgrade your skills.

What you're reacting to is being singled out as different, which is emotionally draining and can feel threatening. No wonder you've posed a "fight or flight?" question.

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There's a third option to consider: Stay, but don't fight. Outwardly, that means sincerely thanking colleagues for feedback , rather than being defensive, and applying your tenacity to continuous improvement. This will contribute to a more positive dynamic with your co-workers.

Inwardly, your challenge is to not take it personally. It can hurt to have a performance limitation pointed out, but practice framing it as an issue with the work, not with who you are as a person. If someone crosses the line, call them on it.

What do you really love about your work? Identify what you enjoy most and do more of it. Upgrade your skills on your own dime to master something that's genuinely interesting to you. Ultimately, you may leave. But it will be more gratifying to have spent your time developing your career than aiming for others to like you.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com. Your confidentiality is ensured.

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