Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about stereotype remarks about hair:
What should I do about my boss always telling me that I’m blonde?
Signed, Tired of Hearing It
Dear Tired of Hearing It:
I assume you mean that your boss says your mistakes or misunderstandings at work are because you are a blonde, or that you may not be a blonde, but you act like one—meaning that blondes aren’t very intelligent. “Blonde jokes” are out-of-date and never were funny. They are a movie stereotype from decades ago: Silly, self-absorbed, focused more on shallow conversation than on work–and not being skillful about their work when it requires intelligence and good judgment. What a stereotype to assign to a hair color, based on movies! Sometimes, such remarks are meant in an affectionate and friendly way and are not meant to imply the person is lacking in intelligence. However, sometimes such remarks are meant in an insulting way. Rather than saying, “That was a stupid thing for you to do!” the person says, “There you go, doing your blonde thing again!”
I’ve heard women use that concept about themselves, when describing something they’ve done. “I don’t know how I could have forgotten that appointment. I guess I was having a blonde moment.” Whatever the situation, there is too much chance for a remark like that to be misunderstood, so it is not appropriate for work.
It certainly is not appropriate for a boss to say it to an employee on a regular basis. You don’t provide any details about the situations, but here are some general ideas that may be helpful.
1. Never joke about being a blonde or use that as an excuse for making mistakes, being late or anything else. If you make such remarks, even a few times, others will think you consider that kind of comment to be funny. Or, they will consider that they can make those remarks too, since you do.
2. Think about the times when your boss has made the remarks and consider what usually leads to it as well as how you think it is meant. Has she sounded angry, mocking, scornful and hurtful, or has she been happy, smiling or teasing in a friendly way? The reason that is important is that if she respects you and would never want to offend you, it will be easy for her to stop saying it. If she doesn’t much like you or respect you and is saying such things to insult you, she probably won’t stop until she knows she will get into trouble.
3. How often does she say it? You use the term “always”, but that is obviously not the case. If you are going to talk to your boss or others about it, you’ll need to be accurate. Does she say it every time she sees you–dozens of times a day? (That would be “always”) Or, does she say it when you are in a meeting with others or when you ask a question or only when you make a mistake–or when? If, several times a day for years, she has made remarks about you thinking like a blonde, that would be terrible. If she has said it a dozen times in a few years, that at least shows that most of the time she talks to you appropriately.
4. Have you ever asked her to stop making those kind of comments? If you have asked her to stop on one or more occasions but she has continued, the situation is more serious and you may need to go to her boss about it. If you have never let on that you don’t like it, now is the time to do so.
5. Make the next time she says it as though it is the first time. That way you don’t have to talk to her about all the many times she has said it in the past. Just tackle the comments one at a time. When you do say something, make it brief and as friendly as the situation allows. (This is assuming that you have never seriously told her you don’t like it.) Here are some statements you could have ready, for the “next time”. You probably can anticipate when it will happen, based on when she has said it in the past.
*”Pat, being a blonde doesn’t have anything to do with this.” (That doesn’t come right out and say to stop, but it conveys the feeling that the remark had no value for the conversation.)
*”Would you please not make comments about me being a blonde? If you’re upset with me, let’s just talk about that, OK?” *”Pat, I’m sorry I was late, but that doesn’t have anything to do with me being a blonde. Let me tell you why I was late.” If you want to be a bit more forceful, you could say, without sounding angry, just courteously honest: “Pat, I know I’ve laughed about them in the past, but the blonde jokes really aren’t funny to me. Could you please stop making those remarks?”
*When she makes a remark you could probably catch her off guard a bit by forcing her to explain herself. “You say that a lot. How do you mean it?” No matter what her explanation you could then say, “Well, I’d rather you’d just say that than making it about me being blonde.” You could also consider asking to talk to her in private, the next time she makes such a comment. When you do, you could be even more open with her. “Pat, you keep making jokes about me being a blonde, which I guess means you think I’m not intelligent or not able to do my job. If you think that, I wish you would talk to me about it rather than joking that way.” You may have better ideas than those, based on your relationship with your boss and how comfortable you feel saying something about it. The idea is that you can hint about it slightly, once or twice. After that you will need to be honest and definite.
If you have asked her to stop and she continues and it bothers you a lot, you may need to tell her strongly, in private: “Pat, I’ve asked you to stop making those comments about me being a blonde. I’m asking you one more time to please stop saying those kind of things.” Then, just stop talking to let that soak in. No argument is needed. You have the right to not have personal jokes made about you and your work. If your boss feels you are not doing your work well, she should talk to you about that seriously. If she thinks she is making a friendly joke, you will have let her know you don’t like it. I have an idea your relationship with your boss is not a very positive one. That is something to work on as well.
When people have mutual respect for each other, they rarely joke or talk in a way that is hurtful. If they do, inadvertently, the other person realizes it isn’t like them and life just moves on. When there isn’t mutual respect, small things become big things and people become so aware and sensitized to everything the boss or coworkers do that work becomes a miserable place to be. Your goal is to be able to come to work, do an excellent job, enjoy it and help others enjoy it too. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.
Tina Lewis Rowe