Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about women managers:
I am an educated woman married to a man in a difficult work position. I know the difficulties of finding “Equality” in the work place. I have always tried to drop the gender shield and just work diligently, and so has my husband. We have both tried to just be “Professional”. My husband now finds himself in a management position with 2 female co-managers and a female general manager. (All less than highly educated) All three of these women at one point in the last three months have made statements resembling “Well, Chris, you’ll just have to get used to working with all woman.”
They use this as an excuse for poor management, emotional outburst, and many other casualties of a general lack of professionalism. He is frustrated and I am furious. I have always been his toughest critic and try to make sure he is looking at each situation from different perspective, but as a woman-this is intolerable! Too many woman have worked too hard to earn their place in Corporate America, now woman are desecrating their work by hiding behind their gender! I am trying to remain open minded and to keep Chris from becoming bitter, but this seems like a major double standard! How should he handle this situation without being considered a male bully?
Signed, Desperate For Support!
Dear Desperate For Support!:
Thank you for sharing your concerns about the work situation in which your husband finds himself. Like you, I have tried to simply focus on doing work well–and I very much dislike having any gender issue brought up over and over and over again. I don’t mind occasionally–that’s part of workplace camaraderie sometimes–but not often and not to make excuses. I don’t know the situation that your husband is dealing with from the viewpoint of organizational size, levels above him and so forth. But, let’s think about it from the other perspective. What if Chris was a woman and her spouse had written saying that the three men she works with–two peers and a manager–have made comments like, “You’ll have to get used to working with men, Chris.” “That’s the way men are Chris, so you’ll have to adjust.” “Hey, we’re men. That’s the way we do things. You’ll have to learn to get used to it.”
What would be the correct advice then? I’ll keep perspective in mind as I share some thoughts that may trigger your own thinking about the subject.
1. What is the overall picture of work? Are there otherwise positive relationships between the managers? If Chris liked these women personally, would he feel differently about their remarks? Or, is there a degree of hostility anyway and the remarks simply add to it? Often we are much more accepting of the foibles of our friends–but if someone we don’t like does or says the same thing, we become offended. That’s something for him to consider. Your message indicates to me that he may not have a great deal of respect for them anyway–so that might color his thinking. If he has reason for animosity or lack of respect generally, then this may be something that makes it worse but is not a major problem on its own.
2. Gender-based remarks are best left out of any conversation at work. But even EEO investigators note that frequency in some cases is a key issue, combined with the actual remark or action of course. The phrase “permeates the workplace” is always a valuable one. Are the references so common that they permeate all of the work? Or, are they infrequent and in passing? Have negative remarks been made about men–or only the differences in genders cited? Have the remarks indicated that the women are one on side of a line and Chris is on the “enemy” side, or are the remarks more general and inclusive, even though gender based? Has Chris been made to feel that no matter how well he does, he will be viewed as not doing as well as the women? Or have the remarks been more self-deprecating in a humorous way by the women towards themselves? I’m not implying that it would be a good thing to hear about gender issues all the time, no matter what–but those kinds of questions are worthwhile for Chris to consider as he thinks about how much negative impact the remarks have on him–and to what lengths he wishes to go to make them stop.
3. Does he think the women are purposely being demeaning or insulting? Does he think they are trying to get him to quit? Are they trying to push him out in some way? Or is there some other, less negative motive? What might be their underlying motive for making such remarks? *It may be their attempt at wry humor–acknowledging that there ARE sometimes gender issues involved with how both professional and personal relationships are approached. Emotions are one of those issues. Showing emotions–especially crying— is an issue that is completely set apart from competency. Women are more likely to cry at work than men. Men are more likely to raise their voices in an aggressive way. That doesn’t mean that all women cry and that all men raise their voices–it simply is an observation about how emotions are expressed that anyone who has observed the work world would have to say is the case in most settings. The emotions that are felt are likely the same–it’s how they are expressed that is different. That observation doesn’t make either gender flawed. It’s just the way a variety of factors affect either gender in the showing of emotions. As a result, both genders need to develop skills for handling those factors and the results. *It may be that they are well aware of the competencies that Chris possesses and when they make mistakes or sense that he is disapproving or aware of their failings, they are looking for something to say in defense. The gender issue is always handy! A supervisor who was also a friend, and subordinate to me, figured a work schedule wrong and that fact became obvious as the other supervisor–a man–and I looked at it. She said, “I had really messed it up because of that. You tell him Tina. It’s just a girl thing, right?” I said, “Of course it isn’t! It’s a HUMAN thing. Go ahead and redo it and we’ll get it distributed.” I asked her to stay behind after the meeting and told her not to use that phrase again, because she certainly wouldn’t like it if the male supervisor had accused her of making a mistake because it was a girl thing. She got tears in her eyes (!) and said she was sorry, but she could tell he thought she was dumb to make the mistake and it was the first thing that came to her mind. That was a human thing too! We’re complicated human units, aren’t we? I mention that to say that the tone, the comments and the setting, may indicate why the remarks are being made. That may help as Chris tries to re-direct some things.
4. Has Chris ever indicated to the women that he finds such remarks uncomfortable for him? Has he responded in a joking manner as well? I ask that to gauge whether or not there is a realization by the women that he even cares about such comments. Below I will list some suggestions for how he might want to handle his responses, but if he doesn’t like what he is hearing, he needs to express that thought. 5. How far is Chris willing to go to change the situation? If everything else is going fine, he may decide to simply tolerate the current situation and only react more strongly if things get worse. If things are intolerable now he may decide that he needs to say or do something immediately. He’s dealing with his manager as well as peers, so that will mean he’d have to go above his manager if he can’t make the changes by talking to the women directly. Those are decision he will need to make based on the severity of the conduct and the results. If he wants to try to make some changes where he is, let me suggest some options: *Chris may want to consider simply saying something to the next woman who makes such a remark, in a gracious but pointed way. Perhaps he could use the reply I mentioned earlier. When they say, “Well, Chris, you’ll just have to get used to working with all women” he could reply, “I’d rather think that we’re all just people working together.” Or, “I never think about the woman or man issue, I just think about trying to get the work done.” Or, “No, I don’t want to think about that way. I just want to think about us as a team trying to get work done.” Or, “I don’t think you made that mistake because you’re a woman and I know you don’t think that either. Let’s just say it was a mistake and move on.”If he wants to move it up a notch he might say, with a pleasant approach, “Now, Jane! If I were to make a remark about gender, I’d be wrong to do it. So, let’s leave the male-female issue out of it, OK?” Or, “Oh no, you’re not going to get me into a conversation about gender issues. That would be a no-no and we both know it! So, don’t do that again.”
If he feels he has to be even more direct, he could say, “Jane, please don’t make a remark like that! I don’t think gender should have anything to do with how we work together and I don’t even like to hear about it.” Or, “Jane, it’s as much against company policy for women to keep bringing up male-female issues as it is for men to do it. So, just stop.” If it is a peer who makes the remark, that is one thing. If it is his manager, that is something else! He may wish to talk to her about it when he is finished with some other issue, or he might want to ask for a specific interview about it. One thing that is important is for him to know and to share how the remarks make him feel and how they impact his work. It may be that he wants to simply let her know that it frustrates him to keep having such issues brought up over and over, when he knows it’s not appropriate. Or, he may want to be even more blunt and say that he thinks there are some work problems that need to be fixed and that remarks like that are just used to cover up those problems. And if after everything has been tried and all else fails, “Carla, I’ve said before that I don’t like having remarks made about gender–especially pointing out that I’m the only man among three women in our team. But, you still keep saying those things and you allow those things to be said by others. I don’t have any other options now but to go to HR and ask them to step in about it.” Or, if he wants written documentation he may want to put something in email or memo form. Then, he should go to HR and give the times and dates of the remarks and how the remarks affected his ability to do his work effectively. *According to the size of the company and the way it works, he may find that he wants to consult with HR right now about the issue, to find out his options. However, if they believe there has been a violation they will be obligated to take action.
If nothing else, he might want to refresh in his mind what the employee manual has to say about courtesy, relationships, bias or sexist remarks and so forth. As a manager, he wants to set the right example for others–and certainly ensuring that such remarks don’t become part of the office conversation is important. If he chooses to make it an organizational issue, he should be prepared for the fallout. I say that to women as well. That doesn’t make the case less valid, I just like for them to be prepared. That is particularly the case if the actions complained about are relatively minor and the view is that the complaint is being used more as a weapon to get back at someone than as a tool to make the workplace better. So, his motives should be expressed in those positive terms. If he has a reputation for effectiveness, good communications and being generally an easy person to deal with, that will certainly help him. 6. My final thought is one that is based solely on general situations and perhaps may not fit your situation specifically. You wondered about how to keep Chris from becoming bitter. One way is to help him see the situation from a perspective that produces the least bitterness. If there is clearly an EEO violation he should certainly take action about it. But if there are only less-than-effective communications on occasion, those may not be worth drawing a line in the dirt over right now. Does he like his job? Are his evaluations appropriate? Will he be with the company no matter how this results? Does he have a good relationship with those higher in the company? Does the people he supervises support him? How about the women involved? Are they likely going to still be employed there? What are their professional reputations like at this time?
All of those things bring this picture into sharper focus and allow a realistic view of what is the best course of action. You aren’t actually in your husband’s work environment–you hear about it second-hand. That doesn’t mean you’re not hearing about it correctly, just that you might only hear the frustrations, not all of the good parts! One thing that we all can do for spouses and friends is to let them talk for a reasonable amount of time about their concerns, then help them relax and focus on things that don’t have to do with work. Sometimes when there is conflict at work and a spouse who cares at home, the only thing that takes up the mind and heart are work issues—not healthy for either of them! Sometimes the spouse hearing about it becomes more upset than the person reporting it! To the person talking about it, it’s frustrating–but just ten minutes out of a forty-hour week. To the person hearing it, it’s the whole evening’s conversation. Those are things that all close spouses deal with Chris is lucky to have you beside him, I think! And, you sound like a very strong person, successful in your own right–so you are doubtless very well balanced in all of these areas.Again, thank you for sharing your concerns. I hope these thoughts will be helpful to you as you provide support for your husband.
Follow-Up Dear Tina: I am sure you can tell that I was upset and confused by these accusations. And while reading your first letter to me, it appeared like an old friend was writing and offering solid advice. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your insight on this situation, and offering your solutions. You were right on each point. Today – I met with the Director of Supply Chain (my supervisor), and explained the situation, and stated that I did not do the things the receptionist said – and he said this type of thing happens in workplaces- but did not say that he believed me (which is probably what I needed). I did get out of his office and into mine before the tears fell – as people walked in to my office to ask questions etc. – I just blamed the red eyes on allergies. Later on today HR (who is not really our HR person – he is just filling in due to our HR person found other employment) – said that after a completed investigation – he does not find any of the accusations factual. He also said that this does not go into my personnel file.The receptionist (who is a temp) was asked not to return to work, so the issue of seeing her is resolved. (She was not at work yesterday or today)However – for the people who know about this, and have any of them think, even remotely that this accusation could be founded – makes me feel tainted. I am sure that in time, this feeling will pass.I did keep to myself and had a productive day.
I heart fully thank you -your words, advice, and quick response – you don’t know how much I needed to find some answers and guidance in this situation. With much respect, Double Standard More Advice: One thing more I can suggest: Try to focus as much as possible on your work. Avoid talking about this to others–since the gossip mill can make such things even worse. I would also avoid any unnecessary contact with the woman who accused you—in as subtle a way as possible. If you have to interact with her, be pleasant and don’t refer to this situation. If she brings it up, say, “HR is looking into it and they would rather I not talk about it to anyone.” Just stick with that and don’t say anything about it to her. Let HR know that she has tried to discuss it and what your response was. Now, if you have the time, would you please let me know if you received the first response from me? Thank you very much! Best wishes today!WEGO is earned by honest candid communication
Tina Lewis Rowe