Boss May Promote Male Out Of Worry Over Complaints

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about sexually hostile environment.:

I suspect a supervisor in my workplace was approached by administration that his conduct could be construed as creating a “sexually hostile environment.” It was apparent to many employees that he liked to spend time with one of his female subordinates. This subordinate is attractive but not in a deliberately flirtatious manner. This supervisor seemed to have a “school boy crush” which in my opinion was not reciprocated by the subordinate. Eventually the subordinate was transferred to another unit despite the supervisor’s vocal opposition to the transfer. Now this supervisor appears to insulate himself with male co-workers as a way to shield himself from similar allegations. I am upset as I am eligible for a promotion in this supervisor’s unit and I believe I may be passed over (as I am female) for someone whom this supervisor feels is a safe choice. Kindly note I am very qualified for the next promotion in this unit and this same supervisor promoted me to my current position seven years ago.

Signed, Worried About Promotion

Dear Worried About Promotion:

Right now you only have speculation about many aspects of the situation. Certainly you do not know that the events will have an impact on your promotion. However, I can understand that you are watching the situation closely and are concerned. Consider some of the following:

1. Communicate about your career, your work and your promotion, to your supervisor. Apparently it’s not a secret that a promotion is coming up. Talk with him about what you have done to prepare and ask if there is anything you need to be doing to be better prepared. For example, will there be an interview? Will you be expected to test in some way? Who will have the final approval and should you write that person a letter or send a resume? Are there specific skills you possess that you need to ensure are known by others?At the same time you can reinforce your work history since the last time this supervisor promoted you. While you are doing it you can show that you are business-like, focused on work and able to not only do a good job, but help the team and by reflection the supervisor.You shouldn’t mention the other situation, of course, for a variety of reasons. But it may be that your supervisor would realize that if you are promoted and the situation works well, it would go a long way toward rehabilitating him in the eyes of the company.If you remind him of how very qualified you are–and how positive you are about the organization, he may see that to not promote you would create many questions. He likely wants to avoid those!

2. I’m assuming this supervisor hasn’t behaved inappropriately with other females. I’m also assuming he has a decent heart–perhaps just some bad judgment in one case. He may be hurt, embarrassed, frightened or somewhat resentful. He may need support right now, to feel that he is still liked and respected by both men and women. Treat him appropriately, but in a way that shows you are not avoiding him, that you don’t distrust him and that you feel he is your leader in work issues. That way he won’t wrongly think women employees don’t want to work with him based on one uncollaborated situation.

3. Play a role in helping the team come together. When awkward situations occur and there has been no serious or intentional wrong-doing, everyone tends to be tentative for awhile and communications can become shallow and uneasy. In the case of potential hostile work environment issues–especially if the male employees are grouping together because the supervisor is spending more time exclusively with males–there can easily become a we-and-them mentality. If a female complained about the former situation, that adds to it. If the situation was mishandled in some way at any level, that may stir up contention. All of that can make a difficult situation worse. Perhaps you can be the one to arrange an all-staff lunch, afternoon get-together, all-staff meeting, work project or even just a daily hello to each person, making everyone feel positive about work.

4. I know it’s difficult to not worry about what might or might not happen. However, you really have no reason to think your worst fears will be realized and that you will be unfairly passed over. Have your work history, resume, evaluations and so forth at the ready, in case you feel you are treated unfairly. Then you can go to HR and ask about ulterior motives. You may still not be able to prove anything, unless there are clear violations of guidelines.But before it comes to that point, work to be a positive contributing member of the team, to whom the supervisor can look for high quality work. He is likely going to be watched by those higher in the organization when it comes to such things as promotions, so he may need to justify his actions even more than usual.

Be the candidate who logically is the obvious choice for a variety of reasons, not just based on gender I hope these thoughts will help you as you decide how to approach this. Best wishes with it. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what results.

Tina Lewis Rowe