Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about discrimination:
I have recently been shown an email in which my boss/manager called me a “typical alpha female” amongst other things. Is this considered discrimination, considering its meaning?
Signed, Hurt and Upset
Dear Hurt and Upset:
We are not attorneys and can’t provide legal advice. You may want to talk to someone to whom you can explain the complete situation. However, we can provide some thoughts about the matter that might help you decide what to do. There have been several books written about the topic of “alpha females” (in keeping with the same concept for males).
Your manager may have done what many people do, which is to hear a term or skim a few paragraphs of a book about a concept, and toss the words around without thinking about how they could be taken or whether they were appropriate or accurate.It’s almost never effective or good practice to use the gender terms, especially when discussing someone of the opposite gender, because it so often sounds negative. In this case, your manager could probably have used many other phrases to describe what he apparently didn’t like about your behavior.
Although the term Alpha Female can be used in a positive way (usually by those who are describing themselves!) when it’s said like that, “typical Alpha Female” it usually means being territorial, inappropriately aggressive, rude to other women, trying to boss others or resisting supervision, especially supervision by another woman. Your manager should have said that, rather than putting a negative label on it.
The tone and context of the rest of the message would show you why he made that comment. As one message, it doesn’t necessarily indicate sexism (it’s not referring to all women, just your personality or work style). Also, unless your manager did something that showed he is treating all women much differently than men or treating you much differently than men in the same job, it wouldn’t likely be considered discriminatory. It’s not obscene and to many it is not offensive.However, you may want to go to HR or to the level above that manager to let them know what about the email and to ask that it be investigated.
If it is a one-time thing and he has never used those kind of terms before that you know of, you may want to let it go and focus on the actual situation. But, if he is noted for saying rude things or making foolish remarks, or negative remarks about women, this should be brought to the attention of those who would be most likely to take action.The best person to take action is the one who received the email. If he or she found it offensive enough to show you, that person should report it. If the person showing you the email didn’t think of it as offensive, that will let you know how others will probably take a complaint from you about it.
Also, keep in mind that reporting this will also disclose who showed you an internal email from a manager.It sounds as though the manager doesn’t view you as a cooperative person, at least in the situation he is writing about. That situation is the thing for you to be most concerned about. You know your reputation and how you generally get along. I always advise people to consider their reputation from the viewpoint of the people who like them the least.
Thinking about how your friends see you doesn’t do much good.You may not mean to come across as bossy or having problems with women who are in charge, but if you know some people think you do those things, you can work on stopping or moderating the behavior that causes problems. If you never do those things, you will want to make sure you manager knows the real you. How you do that will vary according to your work situation, but it can be done if you want to make it happen.You may never have a great relationship with your manager and you may not know the things he or she writes about you in emails. But, you can behave in a way that is viewed as cooperative, friendly, supportive of others, compliant with instructions and easy to get along with. If you’re doing that, there will be no ammunition for someone to truthfully use against you.Best wishes as you work through this situation.
Tina Lewis Rowe