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2019-12-03 20:06:48

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee kept commenting on her attractiveness? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much to you, Alison, and to your rigorous and diverse community for the advice and guidance on my question.

I think partially due to the context of the “me too” movement, which I hugely support, my question got a lot of “fire him” responses, which I appreciated and laughed at but couldn’t abide by. I wanted to provide some background for everyone that I think might be helpful in brief, and then move on to how things went in this situation.

I am young (30), look younger, am conventionally attractive, and work at a company filled with older dudes who often say inappropriate things to me which I have sometimes gotten blamed for by HR and others. (Think, “you should really be careful around men” kind of comments. FROM HR. including calling me “sweetie” and “dear.” I often joke that I should wear a garbage bag over my entire face/body to prevent men from thinking I’m coming on to them by merely existing.) I have largely ignored this because I like to think of myself as “tough,” for better or worse, and have a huge amount of flexibility, autonomy, and ability to do cool things at this company. Also, this is an A/E firm with a low general level of emotional intelligence, and therefore my basic social skills are seen as highly rare and whimsical, like the rainbow mane of a unicorn, and so I have flourished and created a strong niche for myself, despite all the bullshit. But I totally get why you guys were like, “get out!” Believe me, I’ve thought about it.

Moving on … I dealt with this in three major ways:

1. After my employee made another comment about my physical fitness (and also weirdly my eating habits — he saw me house an entire burrito as I am a slob and eat once a day and said “I don’t know where you put that!”) I shut it down in the moment using Alison’s language, and he was completely mortified. Stuttering, head down, the whole bit. I also had a longer conversation with him during his quarterly review about the comments he makes and how important it is to be aware of how the things we say impact those around us, and he has improved significantly since then. As in, this really doesn’t happen anymore. He is a goofy, quirky, nerdy guy, and I want to see him grow, and I’m so happy that this isn’t a problem anymore. I really wanted to keep him on because I mostly liked the guy despite him sometimes veering into incel/nice guy/fedora-wearing territory.

2. I have one other female staff member under me and as she is awesome and I also want to keep her, I heeded ya’ll’s (ya’ll’s? is that a word?) advice on ensuring more junior female staff feel comfortable with this guy. Although he doesn’t make the same comments towards her, she did feel that he had a tendency to question her judgement in a way she felt was gendered, although she did mention that she likes him as a person and they frequently chat and go to lunch together. We just had that conversation two days ago and I’ve been out of the office in meetings, so I’m planning to catch up with him when I’m back so we can talk through this in person. I’ve also been monitoring how he treats other female staff, and while he is always very silly and quirky, I’ve not noticed anything concerning.

3. Finally, I’ve been the corporate Joan of Arc on pushing for diversity in senior management at my company. I was invited to help on this year’s strategic planning process, and was able to have a really productive conversation with our senior leadership on this issue. There are some great things at my company…and I could just leave … but I kind of want to create the company that I want to work for. From within. I know, I’m nuts! But I’m trying, my efforts seem to make a difference, and I really think more women in senior management (as in, more than the 0 there are now) would make a huge impact on how women are generally treated at the company and what behavior we find acceptable.

THANK YOU again for all your help — all of you.


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