when your older male coworkers are condescending

This is from a friend of mine, who agreed to let me use it as a question here. She writes:

I work in a male-dominated field, and don’t have the same technical background that many of them do. I was hired for my communications, organizing, and project management skills, but have noticed it takes some uncomfortable and awkward time for some of the new, older male members of my team to “accept me” for my leadership role. In most cases, the relationships have improved over time, but not after I had to uncomfortably speak up for myself and prove myself to them.

A new guy who just started last week reflects a similar situation. He waltzed in and started criticizing existing processes and speaking in a condescending manner about just about everything. He refuses to look me in the eye when I’m talking to him, and has already treated me in a subtley offensive way.

I’m 30 years old and have worked my ass off for the last decade and have the resume to prove it, as well as a boss who specifically recruited me because I worked for him previously and he knows I’m great. Apparently, my face looks like a 23-year-old’s and this may be a factor in older men being uncomfortable with accepting the fact that I’m an equal.

I don’t want to type too much here, but I think there’s enough here for you to get a basic grip of what I’m dealing with. I’m tired of it and it makes me angry, sad, and upset.

Dr. Phil says “You have to teach people how to treat you”, and I’m trying to figure out how to apply that to this situation without causing a stir. Any advice?

I once found myself in a similar situation — in my late 20s, I was working in an office staffed nearly entirely by much older men. I’d been brought in by the head of the organization specifically to make changes, and they Did Not Like It. Frankly, they probably wouldn’t have liked it if I’d been a 55-year-old man either — these were not people who welcomed change, regardless of the face of it — but it really didn’t help matters that they saw me as a little girl.

I decided I didn’t give a crap. I was going to do my job, I was going to do it well, and they could either get on board with it or not, but I was going to do what I was there to do. I ignored the condescension and their assumption that anything I said was rooted in inexperience, and I just went about my work. In time, some of them changed their attitude toward me and began treating me like a peer, and a few didn’t. I decided I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to let my ability to do my job well be held hostage to their attitudes about my age (or my gender, if indeed that was part of their issue), and my work would speak for itself. They could change their minds or not; it wasn’t my problem.

Now, obviously, it becomes your problem if they’re actually getting in the way of you doing your job. And if that happens, you need to speak up — just like you would do if someone were obstructing you for reasons that had nothing to do with your age or gender. You’d call them on it — pleasantly and professionally, but assertively. You’d tell them clearly what you needed, and if talking to them directly didn’t solve the problem, then you’d escalate it appropriately. In other words, go about this just like you would if it wasn’t about your age or gender at all, and instead were just about a coworker being obstructionist or difficult.

But the stuff that isn’t actually getting in the way of your work and is just annoying, like the condescension, the mistrust before you’ve proven yourself, or the not looking you in the eye? That more subtly offensive stuff you ignore, because that’s their problem, not yours, and it only has to bother you if you let it. Instead, you act as if of course they respect you, of course they’re behaving normally, because why the hell wouldn’t be they be? And you act that way until it’s true (or until you’re sick of it and go somewhere else).

Now, is it a pain in the ass that you have to do this? Of course. But it might be helpful to keep in mind that some of this — possibly a lot of it — is really about age and experience level, not about gender. And that can be pretty easy to overcome once you show that what you have to contribute doesn’t line up with their preconceptions about your age and experience level, as long as you’re dealing with at least semi-reasonable people. (And if you’re not, that’s a whole different issue, and raises fundamental questions about the organization where you’re working.)

You have the support of your boss, and you know that you’re awesome at what you do. Ignore the condescension and focus on your job. Eventually they’ll either come around or look ridiculous, or you’ll get sick of it and go somewhere where people look you in the eye.

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I deal with this a lot at my job, too. My coworkers are very nice, but they have been doing the same job, the same way for 20+ years. They like me, but seem hesitant to do things the way I say. Basically, I’m cutting down on the redundancies, unnecessary paperwork, and issues that don’t need to go to the boss. My boss backs me up when they still seem unsure. It’s been almost 6 months and things are running a little more smoothly. I’ve made a ton of cheat sheets and charts for them as well.

  2. Anonymous*

    I agree with mostly everything Allison is saying, but the OP said that the guy is treating her in “subtley offensive way”. I think something like that should be reported to the boss, especially since if left unchecked, it could escalate into behavior that is outright offensive or even harassment of some kind. With everything else though, I think a healthy dose of ignoring it along with thinking you’re awesome will do the trick.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The problem with reporting that kind of thing is that it often backfires. You risk coming across to your manager and/or the coworkers like you can’t handle your own interpersonal relationships or stand your own ground. If your manager is pissed off on your behalf and talks to the offending party/parties, there’s a high risk that the coworkers will then totally lose respect for you, for not being able to deal with it yourself. In general, this is the kind of thing adults are expected to work out themselves.

      Now, obviously, if it does turn into outright offensive behavior or harassment, then that’s totally different and you’d absolutely speak to your boss. But that doesn’t sound like the case here. If it changes to that, she’ll change the way she deals with it.

      1. businesslady*

        “subtly offensive” comments that demand some sort of a response can be a great opportunity to use the Carolyn Hax-approved technique of saying “wow” (or just silently raising an eyebrow, etc.) & then proceeding as though nothing happened. just something to signal “I saw that, it wasn’t okay, but I’m certainly not going to let it bother me.” I agree that it’s absolutely crucial to mention serious offenses to higher-ups, but I also think Alison’s right that your authority will be undermined if you play that card too soon.

        & now that my two cents are submitted, I’m just going to leave this here (because it was the first thing I thought of when I read the OP’s letter): http://www.motherjones.com/media/2012/08/problem-men-explaining-things-rebecca-solnit.

        1. Anonymous*


          Didn’t know this was an official technique, but I’ve used it and its often all you need to say. Works for anti-gender anti-age anti-race comments…almost anything. Draws a clear line and lays the foundation for a more serious chat if the comments continue.

          1. businesslady*

            similarly, a good way to respond to offensive jokes (another technique I’ve picked up from wiser people than myself) is to pretend you don’t understand why it’s funny, thus forcing the teller to either a) explain, thus revealing the true depths of their deplorable beliefs or b) drop it due to embarrassment. either way is a win!

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Playing dumb is GREAT. It works on pushy salesmen too. “Gee, I have no idea who’s in charge of that. Do you have a brochure you could leave?” Accompany it with a vacant expression. They give up and go away!

              Works on bullies too. Answer their pointed inquiries seriously, with a straight face, and you can almost hear the air swoosh out of their balloon.

    2. Jamie*

      I don’t even know what “subtly offensive way” means – and there are many possibilities that wouldn’t rise to this being a reportable offense.

      I have seen some nasty pieces of work be subtle and get digs in…but more often I’ve seen people get ridiculously offended because so and so didn’t smile enough, didn’t enjoy chit chat, or never said good morning first.

      Without specifics we have no idea if what he’s doing is even worth worrying about much less reporting.

  3. Jamie*

    don’t have the same technical background that many of them do. I was hired for my communications, organizing, and project management skills, but have noticed it takes some uncomfortable and awkward time for some of the new, older male members of my team to “accept me” for my leadership role.

    This jumped out at me immediately. There can be a lot of resentment from tech people when non-tech people are assigned to a leadership role. Are you actually their manager, meaning they are your direct reports?

    A man of any age could get the same condescension and resentment as you are getting, if they share the believe that technical people should be managed by people who have technical skills.

    Not all technical people weight communication, organization, or project management skills equally with tech skills.

    Not saying there isn’t sexism out there, but it’s possible this has nothing to do with your age or gender.

    1. Lisa*

      Usually, you can be accepted more easily by addressing yolurself as the go-between to finding a solution. Fro example, most tech people hate explaining the same problem over and over again. If you go to that person, and ask what issue is taking too much of your time that I can help with. If she is in a project management role, she can take away the email portion of dealing with an issue that the tech person has already given a next step on. The tech person hates explaining things and finding out statuses of things that they already addressed, become the go-between so that you are the first line of defense in dealing with coordination issues.

    2. Waerloga*

      And likewise not all technical people have management skills.

      The medical laboratory/ imaging departments (generally speaking in BC, Canada) is more female dominated than male, but what they don’t teach us at all is managerial skills.

      They promote within the field, but as you go up the ladder, the more managerial skills you need. I can see that at a certain “layer” of management, the skill set of “doing Y,X, and Z” is not really necessary.

      In a sense, the OP respects what (and who is doing) the technical aspect, but on the other side, they don’t respect her ability in areas that they are weak in. And they are perceived to be weak in those areas because no one was hired within.

      Seems that the OP has three things to overcome.. Age, gender, and expertise differences. Familiarization will overcome all three, but some might never change their views.

      Likewise be the best leader you are, document the departments successes (so that the gentlemen can see the improvements you and they have done) and I can appreciate the difficulties in working in gender imbalanced environment. I hope things go well.

      1. Jamie*

        Totally agreed that not all technical people have management skills.

        I wasn’t saying it was fair that some tech people undervalue those other skills – just pointing out that it happens. A lot.

    3. books*

      “Not all technical people weight communication, organization, or project management skills equally with tech skills.”

      Aaaand that’s why they need someone with those skills to show up, communicate and organize.

      1. Jamie*

        Maybe – but some tech people have those skills themselves and still don’t weight them as heavily.

        That doesn’t mean they aren’t important and needed – they are critical – but that doesn’t mean possessing them will get the same level of respect among some technical people as tech skills will. That doesn’t mean there should be less respect as a person or a professional – just that the skills aren’t weighted as heavily.

        I do my share of project management, my communication skills are pretty darn good…I don’t weight those nearly as heavily in myself as my tech skills. I haven’t spent one minute of my life deliberately honing my verbal or written skills, or learning how to organize a project and keep people on a time line. That’s innate.

        I worked for my tech skills. Trial and error, failure before success and all that. Logic and an aptitude for math may be innate, but the application through specific technical means needs to be learned. I know how much work goes into being good at that and so I tend to admire that a lot in other people.

        I know this sounds asshatty – and I truly know the value of what a good communicator/coordinator brings to the table. I’m not minimizing that at all – and if that’s what’s needed all the brilliant engineers in the world can’t get the job done.

        I also know some people lack communication skills – but I think that’s the difference. For people like me, and I know others just like me, the default thinking is that being able to communicate well is something everyone should know how to do so it’s a surprise and disappointment when people can’t. Few people have the default that people should be highly technical so it’s not a surprise when they aren’t.

        That doesn’t mean tech people can’t learn the value – show them what it is you bring to the table and why it’s needed…but the truth is people will weight different skill sets differently – but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t treat everyone with professional courtesy and respect.

        1. IT Girl*

          Agree, Jamie! As a techie, I find it very frustrating when new managers use a cookie cutter approach to both project and people management without taking into consideration technical issues which would drastically change how they do both. People are very quick to call sexism in these instances but I suspect that the techie/non-techie issue that you have outlined above is more likely what is happening here. And I agree that techies don’t necessarily have management skills (although many do), but this is why they are techies and not managers! But that does not imply they get no say in how they are managed, if it isn’t working.

            1. IT Girl*

              “Good IT pros are not anti-bureaucracy, as many observers think. They are anti-stupidity.” Hah. Nail on the head!

  4. twentymilehike*

    Holy crap … I could have written the same letter!!! Although some things have changed in the last few years and now I have one female boss, which seems to help. Unfortunately there are still those clients that call and blatently ask to talk to a man because they don’t think I can help them. One even hung up on me when I told him I was the only one here he could talk to! The best part of it, though, is when I have transferred them to my male coworker, and he blatantly tells them that he doesn’t know and that he has to ask me.

    Anyhow, I don’t know the details of your work environment, OP, but I can talk from a similar experience. Personally, I’ve taken a lot of time to learn the more technical aspects of my industry (it also really helps that my hubby is in the same industry and I can pick his brain at home), and prove that I’m just as capable as they are. If you are in a position to get more technical knowledge, maybe pick their brains, show some admiration for their background and technical knowledge, I’ve found a lot of men respond really well to that (not to generalize ALL men, but just speaking from my experience in a male-dominated, traditional, technical industry).

    And Alison, I love the statement “Eventually they’ll either come around or look ridiculous” … there’s a lot of truth to that!

    1. Mints*

      Someone actually asked to talk to a man??!! Oh man, I hope I would have been ballsy enough to say something mean and witty

      1. LJL*

        I’ve seriously had people say “no thanks, I need to talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about.” I smile sweetly, say “good luck,” and giggle later when I find that, indeed, the man couldn’t help them any more than I did. You learn to deal with it.

        1. Jamie*

          I was privileged to be there when a sales guy told the woman behind the front desk she didn’t need to worry about what his name was – he was there to talk to a decision maker so could she tell him who he needed to talk to, honey.

          Boy was he surprised that she was a decision maker, because she owns the company…she was just behind the front desk looking for a pen. Guess which company we will never, ever get our business?

          Never assume…

          1. Liz in a Library*

            My sister gets this all the time. Her small office doesn’t have a receptionist at the moment, and she sits at the front desk from time to time so that she can keep an eye out for a client with an appointment. She gets a huge kick when someone insists on speaking with the “real” agent, is sent to another agent’s office, then routed back to her since she’s the only one who knows that particular piece of information/make that decision.

            People make really uncool assumptions about reception staff. Ours are awesome and hold so much more weight with us than some random traveling vendor or even a rude customer would.

        2. Sasha*

          I’ve had this happen plenty of times at the university I used to work at – lots of old, cantankerous professors. I had one tell me he’d call back when some men were back in the office.

          1. twentymilehike*

            I had one tell me he’d call back when some men were back in the office.

            This happened to me also! I work with a lot of clients that don’t use computers, don’t have cell phones (and if they do they are the standard flip phone), guys who are technical geniouses, but didn’t graduate from high school. They are very, very traditional, usually older, and set in their ways.

            This reminds me a lot of the guy who had a Phd but was working a “blue collar” job in the interim and being treated poorly by his coworkers. He eventually found something in common with them (welding) and became more accepted in the group. Anyone remember what that post was called?

              1. Chinook*

                I was once told of a navy guy who was spotted by a newly minted captain while he was fixing the engine. The captain was making a point about how the navy would take anyone and that he bet that that guy was no rocket scientist. The person whom he was talking too knew better and asked the seaman what he did before joining up. His reply? He had a PhD in Astrophysics but decided he wanted to work with his hands. He then went back to fixing the engine.

          2. Waerloga*

            I can never figure out that attitude. What makes a male the default “go to person”?

            The same attitude that makes me a Doctor ( and no I’m not) and the Nuclear Medicine specialist a “Nurse”. I just don’t know why the general public upgrade my skills, and downgrades the ladies…

            Ahh well

            Take care

              1. Anonymous*


                But I’d say it’s sexism and percentages. If you had to bet money on the sex of the head of a fortune 500 company, with even odds given to you, you’d make money by guessing “male.” So we assume things.

                Of course there is a huge risk in that assumption, and as our world gets better the assumption is wrong more and more. Which is good. But we make decisions in a vacuum sometime, and the reality of men having more power influences our perception. Not saying that’s right.

                It’s the same as speculating about the money someone has as it relates to race if I had to guess who had more money among two Americans, one black and one white, without any other info about them, I’d guess the white guy has more money. That tends to be true. It’s certainly possible I’d be wrong with that guess, so not only ethically should I treat people the same but for my own good I should hide that bias. But the biases are there and they come, to a small extent, from reality.

                Being aware of the biases and either ignoring them or at least hiding them is the least we can do.

                I’m black and a man BTW.

                1. Anon in the UK*

                  Asking for a man is something I can understand if perhaps you were at the doctor’s office. Not otherwise.

                2. twentymilehike*

                  Asking for a man is something I can understand if perhaps you were at the doctor’s office.

                  Sorry, I had to giggle at this … I’m assuming because you are a man, right? I, on the contrary, always ask for a woman doctor.

                3. Laura L*

                  Yes, it’s a holdover from the days when women were pretty much relegated lower level jobs. Because of sexism.

                  And the money thing? A result of racism.

                  The reason those percentages exist is because of past sexism and racism.

      2. businesslady*

        I used to work at Borders, & we once had a caller request to speak to “the nice white boy who answered the phone” after the (black) guy in charge of inventory wasn’t able to find the book she wanted. she followed that with “maybe he’ll be able to help me.” (the book wasn’t in the store, & the employee helping her was a paragon of professionalism–not that his being rude would’ve excused the racism, but that detail made it all the more egregious.)

        said “white boy” was the store manager, & when he learned why the call was being transferred back to him, he called her out & then hung up. but yeah, never be surprised at the things people will Actually Say!

        1. Jamie*

          I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m sure it does, and we all have our own experiences… but I can honestly say I have never experienced sexism from anyone in IT.

          IME people in the technical realm tend to size each other up with criteria based on whether or not you know your stuff or if you get in the way. It’s just a harsh eval of skills. Maybe because in my industry IT people run lean – we’re never overstaffed – so if you’re working with someone who makes your job easier you’re grateful and whether they are sporting a Y chromosome or not doesn’t matter.

          I absolutely have experienced sexism in my career from people in other departments – the percentage of women in upper management in manufacturing is pretty low…but never from the technical people, IT or engineering. Fortunately the people with the sexist attitudes never had the power to affect my job so it was easier to ignore and just go about my business.

          Just my experience which I wanted to share in case there are some new grads or career changers out there wondering what the water is like in IT for women. I’d definitely encourage jumping into the pool.

          1. Anonymous*

            I’m not saying it doesn’t happen, I’m sure it does, and we all have our own experiences… but I can honestly say I have never experienced sexism from anyone in IT.

            Same here. I always assumed it was because I came in as the only woman in a training class at my first tech job, and we all learned together. After that, I was already in place, and as you say, IT tends to judge on tech skills.

            I did have a Xerox repair guy make the mistake of calling me “honey” once, though. After I finished reaming him out, I reported him to our building maintenance guy. We never saw him again. There was a suspicious mound of earth out back though… :)

        2. Elizabeth*

          Years ago, my husband & I were just leaving a theater production when I got paged for a problem at work. I called in, and it was a printer problem. Since work was on our way home, we stopped, and my husband followed me to the nursing unit that was having the problem.

          The nurse there refused to talk to me, speaking to my husband repeatedly, even though I was the one with the screwdriver & ID badge. He kept saying “I’m just along for the ride”, “Talk to her, she’s the one who can help you” and other, similar things. He finally said “I’m going to go to the waiting room” and disappeared. The nurse looked confused, and I asked “So, are you ready to talk to the actual hospital employee now?”

          It has only been in the last 3 years or so, now that I’m not actually on call anymore, that I can be assured that the nurses will assume that I’m the one who can help them, rather than my husband. Other than a few lifer’s, most of the nursing staff has been here less than 10 years, so they don’t have a lifetime of ingrained expectations that I have to fight.

        3. JT*

          I’m a guy and when I started out in my profession I had a female boss who was very experienced. She was from Latin America and fluent in Spanish and English (and OK in Portuguese). I only spoke English and an Asian language. But I had to set up a discussion from our office in New York with a very senior government official in a Spanish-speaking country in Latin America. I don’t speak Spanish, so something was lost in phone messages and faxes I sent – they got my name and my boss’s name, but since I’m a guy, I was clearly the decision-maker. So the call started off kind of strangely.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Ugh! Terrible.

      My old boss at Exjob had an interview scheduled one time and when she introduced herself and the guy saw the interviewer was a woman, he ROLLED HIS EYES. Needless to say, his resume went right in the trash after that.

  5. Not So NewReader*

    “Dr. Phil says “You have to teach people how to treat you”, and I’m trying to figure out how to apply that to this situation without causing a stir. Any advice?”

    Role model it. Do it yourself. Slowly you will create a fresher work environment/group attitude. For example: Fifty five year old Joe does not answer your emails. 1) Always answer his emails promptly. 2) Be seen answering other people’s emails promptly. 3) State to all that emails need to be answered in a reasonable time frame. 4) If Joe is still not answering emails consider dragging your boss into this. (This is just an example- it might be a silly example for your setting.)

    Which brings me to my next point. Bosses get some of their authority from their own bosses. Since your boss sounds like a good boss, he might be able to help reinforce your authority with your group. If these problems go on and on- it might be time to go to your boss and ask for suggestions/help.

    I have had subordinates tell me point blank “I do not have to do what you are telling me!” I mentioned it to my boss. He said that 1) I waited to long to tell him I was having a problem and 2) that statement was grounds for dismissal.
    I definitely felt I had the back up I needed from my boss. That problem ended that day. The individual was reprimanded (given a second chance) and the story went right through the whole group.

    After about a year at the job- I had very few problems. My subordinates would fill the new hires in on what was expected. It did take time though. (Yes, I was 30 something and supervising 50 somethings.)

  6. Jubilance*

    I faced this in my first position, being the first woman and first new hire in 20 years. In my case, I had a coworker outright demeaning me to our manager, & lying about my activities & there was no ignoring that. I chose to confront it head-on, in a sit-down with the coworker & our manager. I let them know that I understood they had some issues with some decisions made by the company, but those weren’t my decisions & that we had to learn to work together. We don’t have to be best friends & braid each other hair, but we DO have to respect each other in the workplace & I WILL NOT be disrespected by anyone.

    Letting him know that I wasn’t some pushover that was going to let him treat me bad actually worked, and we were able to have a less contentious working relationship until he retired. Sometimes you have to confront these things head-on & let folks know that they can’t treat you any old kind of way.

  7. KarenT*

    Obviously I have no idea what your co-workers are actually thinking, but your age and gender may have nothing to do with how your co-workers feel about you. It’s really easy to be sensitive about your age, gender or whatever else, and then when people don’t treat you the way you want, you assume it’s because of those things when really it could be for any reason. It could be your lack of experience, your lack of technical knowledge, a chilly culture towards new hires, or just a socially awkward team. Or, maybe it really is about your age or gender. In any case, all you can do is do your job to the best of your ability and handle yourself with grace and professionalism.

    1. Jamie*

      This. If someone doesn’t like me I don’t assume it’s because I’m a woman – there could be a million reason for not liking me.

      Also – I hope the OP only referenced Dr. Phil here and not at work because that won’t do a whole lot for credibility in highly technical environments.

    2. BCW*

      Thank you. My immediate response when I read this was “how do you know its because of your age and gender”. I think many people who are in a minority tend to jump to that conclusion. I’m a black guy. I have tons of black friends who, whenever they perceive aren’t being treated right, assume its a racial thing. Now of course, that doesn’t mean it can’t be, but to assume that first is ridiculous, as I have told them. I’ve seen the same thing with women. Maybe they think you are a jerk. Maybe they are just mean to anyone outside of their circle. Maybe they are having a bad day.

        1. JT*

          I don’t.

          It’s not accurate to jump on every slight are related to gender or race, but in an office, observing people over time, I think it’s not hard to draw an accurate conclusion.

          1. OP #7*

            Well I guess we’d need more info. If they treat every young female employee in a condescending way, then maybe there is something too it. If its something thats only done to her (even if she is the only young female) it could be that they just don’t like her as a person. Going back to myself. I’m the only black guy (or person in general) in my office. If people were jerks to me, I can’t just assume its because I’m black. They just might think I’m an a-hole.

    3. Mike C.*

      Way to brush off what is actually a very common and serious issue.

      I see this happen to my female coworkers all the time. When someone “doesn’t treat them the way they want”, it’s pretty clear it has to do with gender because they’re tired of people staring at their chests, repeatedly being asked out by creepy older guys and being treated as if they have no technical qualifications at all.

      And to say that they should just “handle it with grace and professionalism” adds a huge burden that men like me never have to face. No one doubts my technical knowledge, people make eye contact with me when speaking to me and creepy old people aren’t asking me out.

      Here’s a thought: instead of telling women that what they’re seeing is imaginary and on the off chance that it’s not to just suck it, why don’t we instead tell the others to knock it off? I don’t recall staring at a coworker’s chest as “grace[ful] or professional” behavior.

      1. KarenT*

        You are reading things into my post and the OPs letter that just aren’t there. The OP didn’t say anything about being asked out, people staring at her chest, and people are doubting her technical qualifications because she has a nontechnical background. All of those things are wildly different then what the OP described. Again, in my post I said it is possible it is gender discrimination but there could be any number of reasons. Just because someone is condescending doesn’t mean it’s because of your gender, race, age or anything else. If I thought every person who was rude to me was rude because I’m young and female (and I am both) I would drive myself insane. As others have said here, people don’t like change. Reacting poorly to a new manager with a lesser technical background seems like par for the course.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree. If the OP had mentioned any of those things the comments here would be very different.

          Sexism is out there, but just because it’s a common problem doesn’t mean it ps the root cause of every problem.

      1. twentymilehike*

        Boss? Is that you? And don’t say it’s because you can’t figure out the coffee maker … I KNOW you make coffee at home!!

        1. Waerloga*

          True story abet a long time ago… At the border coming back into Canada from a Nuclear Medicine Society Meeting in Seattle. A group of us were car-pooling and when we got up to the border (so its the Canadian side), the Customs Agent ask the usual questions (Why did you go, how long, etc…) and then when she asked.. Do you have anything to declare?… the driver (one of my classmates) said “Nothing Sweetie”…

          At that stage I said that I had purchased some computer programs… She directed me to go into the main building so I could pay the duties… when I came back, the car was in lock-down secondary inspection. I was not allowed to go near the rest of my companions.

          I really don’t understand why, even today, this “thinking” exists. It has no place, does no service to anyone. Its the ability that matters, not your gender, race, religion, or anything else….

          If you’re doing a job, no matter what it is, you deserve to be treated with polite respect (as you would like to be treated yourself) because you just never know.

          This sexism crap should have been discarded centuries ago (if not sooner).

          1. books*

            Fact: Never ever ever ever call a woman who you aren’t dated or related to sweetie.
            It doesn’t end well.

            1. Jamie*

              I finally broke my husband of the sweetie thing, but we’re still working on ‘hon.’

              Makes my teeth clench and he won’t stop – he called every woman ‘hon.’ I swear it’s a cop thing, a lot of them do it, and they all need to stop immediately.

              1. Katniss*

                It can also be regional. I’m from the south and had to train myself not to call everyone I’m at least vaguely familiar with by pet names. Then I lived in Baltimore for 5 years and am still trying to break myself of calling everyone “hon”.

                Now, if a southern person says “well bless your heart”, they ARE being deliberately rude ;)

                1. Anonymouse*

                  This. Ha.

                  I do believe that there is a generation for whom “honey, dear, and sweetheart” are meant in an entirely kind fashion.

                  I have an employee who calls me “Miss Anonymouse.” I have told her that she really need not do that, but to her it’s ingrained and makes her feel like she’s being polite and professional. So I don’t harp on it.

                  Sometimes, things slip, like when you absentmindedly tell the librarian on the other end of the phone “Bye, love you too.” D’oh!

                2. Job seeker*

                  Katniss, I don’t think saying” bless you heart is being rude.” I am from the South and it has always meant a term of caring. At least from the southern people I know. It means that is a shame, I feel bad for them or you. I am sorry you are having a hard time, things like this. I still call people honey at times. I do not mean disrespect, it is usually someone my children’s age or maybe a child or teen. I have occasionally said it to another woman to mean kindness. I had a doctor call me” daring” once in his office. This was my gynecologist. I had been his patient for a few years and I did not know what to think. I lately found out he was going through a divorce so that made it harder to understand.

                3. FreeThinkerTX*

                  Yep, I’m from the South and have to be careful not to let “hon” slip out when speaking to non-natives.

                  Tho I’m usually put-off when a man uses that term of address with me. (Unless they’re over 70 and there’s no “ick” factor delivered with it.)

                4. Jamie*

                  Sometimes, things slip, like when you absentmindedly tell the librarian on the other end of the phone “Bye, love you too.” D’oh!

                  Oh this! One of the my vendors with whom I work the most closely has the same name and a very similar voice to my husband. I’ve dropped the “bye, I love you” at least twice.

                  Grateful he’s a good sport.

                5. Job seeker*

                  I meant darling not daring. Typo error on my part. I had never had a doctor call me darling before. Still feels strange.

                6. Anonymous*

                  Instead of “they ARE being deliberately rude” it should say “they MIGHT BE being deliberately rude”.

                  I don’t do this myself, but I’m also from the South and Southerners say it because they sound like they’re being polite even if they’re not – it’s called a back-handed compliment and depends entirely on the context.

                  Another one is “Well aren’t you precious!” – could mean you’re being cute, could mean you’re being stupid.

                7. Job seeker*

                  This has been so interesting how different people take different terms and expressions to mean different things. I grew up in the South, the expressions mentioned here did not mean anything ugly toward anyone. Maybe, it is just different types of people use the expressions differently. I have always been with upper-class people and people I went to church with. We used these expressions to mean caring. I grew up this way. We never used these expressions to mean what I have heard some people thinks this means. Some expressions are used differently in different regions of the country. If someone calls me honey or young lady or something like this I am not offended. I did feel very uncomfortable and puzzled when my doctor called me darling.
                  I had a hard time understanding this one since he and I are very close in age.

          2. Anonymous*

            OK so ‘sweetie’ and ‘hun’ are out. ‘Ma’am’ is no good because it makes women feel old. ‘Miss’ can sound rude. Guess I’ll just stick to “Hey You!” :)

            1. Waerloga*

              If they have name tags, call them by that (Excuse me James / Jamie…) otherwise I found a polite “Pardon me I’m , Could you…” works well as a lead in to any question you have.

              Almost universal for any use.

              Take care

            2. JamieG*

              Call younger-looking women “ma’am” and older-looking women “miss” for best effect. I’m 23 and look about 16, so being called “miss” makes me grate my teeth. However, I know a lot of women older than me who would love to be called “miss”, and cringe at “ma’am”.

              I default to “ma’am” and “sir” for everyone though, including young children. I talk to too many strangers to waste the mental effort thinking up more appropriate terms of address.

                1. Anonymous*

                  Yes, that was my point, albeit poorly stated. “Sir” seems to work for pretty much any man, but for women, when you don’t know her name, sometimes it’s hard to come up with the appropriate form of address.

          3. Laura L*

            So, she did that in response to him calling her sweetie?
            How did you and anyone else in your car respond when he said that?

            1. Waerloga*

              As I said… I had purchased a few programs and needed to pay duty on them, and the rest of the lads and lasses didn’t think as fast. Sometimes it pays to listen to your gut…

              And it was a random search… They do have a criteria, One in every ten or so cars… Just bad luck I’m sure…

    1. Dan*

      I had a job after college where I worked with a slightly younger female co-op. (Think early 20’s.) Our manager was a young guy (late 20’s.) The girl was pretty sharp — double major electrical engineering and computer science.

      First day on the job, she says, “I know I’m an intern, but I don’t want to do stupid stuff like file papers and make coffee.” I don’t the boss ever had any intention of having her do any of that, so it was kinda funny, but he did manage an “ok fine, if that’s what you want.”

      A month later she turns around to me and says, “Boy this crap is hard.” The first thing I said to her was “if you can’t handle it, you can always make coffee instead.”

    2. Rana*

      My first office job in high school – which consisted of handling receptionist duty and whatever clerical/admin tasks needed doing – also required me to open the office and make the coffee. I didn’t mind – I like the smell of freshly ground beans – but it was sort of hilarious in that even today I rarely drink coffee and at the time I neither drank it nor had any experience making it.

      So it tended to be STRONG. (Not that anyone complained.)

      That was a good job. And to this day I can still recite the phrase I used to answer the phone…

  8. Xay*

    I agree with Allison’s advice. Keep your head up and focus on doing your job. Your boss hired you and is supporting you for a reason. As a petite, baby faced woman in my early 30s, I’ve had to cultivate a strong workplace demeanor but the most important part of that is getting the work done.

    I’m a little curious why some are so quick to discredit the possibility of age and gender being a factor here, along with the different background and experience. The approach remains the same whether age and gender are a factor or not.

  9. Answeringbeforecoffee*

    Sometimes it’s not so easy to just remain above it. I’ve dealt with this in previous jobs, and in my current just had it happen again; the disrespect took the form of pretending not to hear anything I had to say on a technical subject, literally acting as though I hadn’t spoken. I’m the only woman in my department in a technical/male-oriented field, and while my company has been amazing at treating me like any other employee we just had a new guy from the same government organization I used to contract for start. The attitude in the old place, particularly among older males, tends to be that women are secretaries and decoration and this guy seemed to have brought it with him. I got past it in this case because I happen to belong to an organization that he hero-worships (and whipped out my membership card to prove it after he dismissed my familiarity with it), but I really resent that it was necessary to even have my input acknowledged and stop the patronization if I talked about anything but the coffee supplies.

  10. AnotherAlison*

    Gotta say this whole discussion kind of floors me. I cut my teeth in mechanical engineering and really experienced respect and good working relationships with almost all the people I worked with — who were mostly older men. The few that I had problems with were jerks who had problems with everyone.

    I have thought about this before, and my conclusions were that there were so few women doing what I did that they didn’t even know what to do with me. Does that make sense? When I was super-young, I sat next to the document production department in our engineering company, which was mostly older ladies, and they did get that condescending sort of treatment. It was easy to lump them all together — you might work with one mediocre employee in that department and assume they were all the same, but for me. . . I was an island, so you had to assess me on my own merit. (The one woman who had been in my department previously was good, too, so it was fine to be lumped in with her and her reputation.)

    I’m sorry the OP is having to deal with this. My only advice is to keep doing your great work. Reputation counts for a lot and people will respond to it eventually.

    1. twentymilehike*

      I cut my teeth in mechanical engineering and really experienced respect and good working relationships with almost all the people I worked with — who were mostly older men.

      This brings up a very good point. How men view and treat women could very well be influenced by the specific industry. Most of the women in my industry are half naked and have had extensive cosmetic surgery. I couldn’t tell you how often I used to get, “oh is that YOU on the poster?” … “Um, no, but if you want to meet her she works at XYZ Strip Club and her stage name is Bunny.” Most apologized. The others thought they were paying me a compliment.

  11. fposte*

    In general, people don’t accept a new leader right away regardless of the situation. It’s not because they’re evil, it’s because they don’t know you. (For that matter, that’s true of other animals as well–it’s not just human.) I’m not dismissing the possibility of other more offensive stuff going on, but you sound as if you feel like it was wrong of them to be wary of you until you proved yourself, when new leaders pretty much always have to prove themselves. That might help to keep in mind when you’re identifying behaviors that really are management-reporting worthy as opposed to just people who don’t yet know what you can do for them.

    And for new guy, you don’t say whether it’s just you he does this to or not–it might be worth watching to see if he’s a jackass to everybody. That doesn’t mean you’re required to tolerate it if he’s interfering with getting work done (you’re certainly within your rights to redirect the bitching about processes if he’s your report), failing to provide what you need, or doing something else untenable, but if it’s not about you, then you don’t need to address it as if it is.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Some people are just treat everyone poorly.

      A family member (FM), a middle aged male, started a new job. The whole department was male. The department recognized my FM’s good work. A man in the next department over decided that he had a bone to pick with my FM. This man would NOT stop. Finally, my FM’s boss jumped in. Boss told Mr. Picker the one thing that would make him stop picking. The boss said that my FM graduated from Ivy League School.

      And that was the end of the picking. How sad is that. This is a case that did not relate to age, gender, race, etc. It was all about where he got his education.

      Some people don’t discriminate along traditional lines, they offer an equal opportunity for everyone to be miserable. Fortunately, in this story, my FM did not let the picking bother him. It was more disturbing to his boss and coworkers than it was to him.

  12. Anonymous*

    This paragraph: “I decided I didn’t give a crap. I was going to do my job, I was going to do it well, and they could either get on board with it or not, but I was going to do what I was there to do. I ignored the condescension and their assumption that anything I said was rooted in inexperience, and I just went about my work. In time, some of them changed their attitude toward me and began treating me like a peer, and a few didn’t. I decided I didn’t care; I wasn’t going to let my ability to do my job well be held hostage to their attitudes about my age (or my gender, if indeed that was part of their issue), and my work would speak for itself. They could change their minds or not; it wasn’t my problem.”

    Is pure gold! When it comes down to it, that’s the attitude to take. Works for me most of the time!

  13. Yup*

    Lots of good advice here. My thought: be sure that you continue to *expect* professionalism from your colleagues. When you’re in a situation where people are talking down to you or behaving like nitwits, it’s easy to slip into trying to “nice” them into treating you better. You might find yourself saying things like, “I’d like to get that report by Friday, if that’s OK?” instead of just stating “I’ll need the report from you by Friday so we can meet the project deadline.” Which obviously worsens the problem of being seen as competent and authoritative. (To clarify — I’m not saying that you’re in any way inviting bad behavior from colleagues, just noting that being accommodating can be a common reaction that ends up subtly undermining the goal.)

    Also, there are plenty of books about female authority in the workplace: stuff like speech patterns, body language, and meeting communication styles that can help/hinder. I haven’t necessarily changed my style based on this kind of reading, but the ideas are interesting to consider.

  14. Katie the Fed*

    I would add that you should be careful not to do any kind of extra things that would traditionally be associated with a woman’s role. Don’t bake cookies or baked good and bring them in, don’t make the pot of coffee every day, don’t be the office notetaker in meetings.

    I also work in a very male field and I find that men sometimes will expect me to do things like make the coffee and take notes. Earlier in my career I would assigned the role of note taker in meetings or I would notice that everyone would wait until I got in to make coffee. Don’t do it. Don’t give them any subtle hints that you’re anything less than a full colleague.

  15. Tricia*

    Is this the construction industry by any chance? I’ve just started – and there’s a HUGE divide in the office between the 50+ year old ‘company men’ who started their careers on the job site and worked their way up to management and the under 35-40 crowd who came in directly from college into the office.

  16. Dan*

    Re: the numbers game mentioned above.

    I spent 7 years after college working on aviation ground crews, most of the time on the corporate jet side of things. 90% of pilots are male. (Maybe higher. It’s a lot.) 90% of corporate pilots wear a uniform. Corporate flight attendants don’t.

    One day, I’m working on the ramp, and a drop-dead gorgeous woman in a red sleeveless top hands me a list of items that she needed — a routine event for every single flight attendant I have ever seen.

    When I returned to the airplane, I had a question. I was a bit surprised to see a guy standing in the galley. The conversation went something like this:

    Me: “Can I speak to your flight attendant?”
    Him: “I am.”
    Me: “Can I speak to your other flight attendant?”
    Him: “I am the only one.”
    Me: “Do you mean to tell me that the woman in the red top I spoke to is a pilot?”
    Him: “Yes.”

    I was mortified when the captain leaned out of the cockpit, smiled, and waved at me.

    1. Kit M.*

      I have been flying sort of frequently for my whole life, and a couple of years ago I suddenly realized that I had never heard a woman’s voice say, “This is the captain speaking.”

      Apparently (I looked up the statistics once) female pilots are more common on domestic flights than international, which is part of my problem. But I will keep waiting, and hoping.

      1. fposte*

        I fly a lot of commuter/feeder routes, where the number of women pilots seem to be higher still; I wouldn’t say it’s anything approaching 50%, but it’s pleasingly common.

  17. Dan*

    There’s a lot going on the in the OP’s story — too much to say if this is strictly a gender thing.

    But one thing I will say about change… I’m 33, and TBH, not one of the tech whiz kids. I do what I do.

    If someone wants to come in and “shake things up” or otherwise get me to do my job differently, they really need to show me the *value* in the new approach. If this is a manager-type who doesn’t know how to do my job, it gets real tough. Lots of things look good on paper but don’t work in the real world.

    Don’t tell me what to do — make me a partner in your success.

  18. Bonnie*

    To this day I joke with my younger staff members that I used to be “the girl with” the boss. My male boss was my mentor and took me to most of his meetings and included me his presentation to our clients. Because the field we consult in was (and somewhat still is) male dominated I often didn’t get any recognition from the clients. But when they called the office and my boss wasn’t there they would asked for the girl that came out with my boss. Twenty years later some of these same men are my best clients.

    In a related situation, there was a client of ours years ago that I was told was sexist. I went and worked with the man and had no problems. When I followed up with our staff about it, they said that he seemed dismissive of some of his female staff member. It wasn’t sexism; it was a chain of command issue. The man was former Air Force and preferred all employees use the chain of command. When he had expanded staff he added quite a few women but he hired them two or more rungs below him on the org. chart. He was dismissive because they were women he was dismissive because they were skipping over his established chain of command. He was exactly the same way with men who did the same thing but no one ever seemed to be bothered by that.

  19. Not So NewReader*

    Decades ago I worked in a retail field dominated by men. I observed similar comments here….. FROM women! I was told point blank by one woman that it was biologically impossible for me to learn this subject. Because of being female, my brain could not develop enough to grasp all the knowledge necessary to give proper advice. I looked at her, on her face was an expression of sincerity. She actually believed this.

    There was nothing I could do in that situation. But I did realize, I can do something in my own life. I vowed to be more aware of women and young people in business. I know I would not make a huge mistake like hers, but I could possibly make more subtle mistakes. She made me sharper.

    1. Waerloga*

      This made me laugh… That as a woman, you were biologically impossible to be able to learn X.

      What was that Einstein quote… Something about knowledge having limits, but not so ignorance…

      As an aside… There’s long been a feeling in physics circles that Einsteins wife was the driving force behind his Noble prize… She got the prize money, not him (my own opinion is that they collaborated with her doing the majority of the research but he got the credit).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Nice catch on that one. Yes, the irony was not lost on me that this was a woman speaking. Unwittingly, she told me a lot about herself and how she perceives herself. She presumed because she could not learn about X then no other woman could either. Personally, I was quite comfortable in that arena.
        We do look at life through our own lens/filters.
        People seem oblivious to what the secondary message is that they are giving. I had a boss who worried about my weight constantly.
        Since I was in a program to deal with my weight and I was doing my best each day with it, I felt my weight was a non-issue. Yet, the boss continued on and on… Finally, I realized we weren’t talking about my weight. We were talking about HERS. Once I opened that subject up- the constant conversation about my weight ended. Permanently.

        Einstein. This points to how powerful a marriage can be- it can be a work alliance for some couples. They realize that they dovetail nicely and they go forward together. Some presidents have been very influenced by their wives. And some first ladies believe in participating in their husband’s activities. To me, it is important that my spouse take an interest in my work. I think it makes a difference.

        1. twentymilehike*

          Oooh, NotSoNewReader … Is it weird or rude of me to have throught you were a man this whole time? I have no idea why I thought that … maybe the same reason Jamie thought I was Canadian? :)

  20. Girasol*

    I worked with a condescending guy once. I was 20 and fresh from school and he was a worldly 40 exuding confidence and correcting everyone around him. Think J Jonah Jamison from Spiderman. He was rather intimidating until the day his wife called asking for a divorce. The next day the boss said he had left the company suddenly to move back in with his mama. Condescending isn’t always what it appears to be.

  21. Some European*

    I’m wondering why looking away instead of into the eyes is associated here with being disrespectful. Is this a US thing?
    I was sure this is mostly a sign of fear and even an unconcious one.

    1. Jamie*

      I had a real problem with this as a kid – I looked up and not directly at people when they were speaking and it was drilled into me relentlessly that it was disrespectful. I sometimes still have to consciously force myself to make eye contact – it’s not a fear thing it’s just that I’m uncomfortable and I still resent having to do it when I don’t want to. I found that looking at the eyebrows, low forehead works for the casual stuff.

      Oddly enough if I’m angry about something I have zero problem with it – I’ll look anyone dead in the eye if I’m pissed. It’s times where I’m being complimented or thanked…or thanking someone else that it’s very uncomfortable for me.

      I have no idea why that is. If I’m annoyed about something I can look my boss right in the eyes and have a discussion. If he’s coming in to thank me for my work all year and tell me the amount of my bonus I have to force my head even or I’ll start counting ceiling tiles.

      Maybe I should start seeing a therapist to explain all my weird little quirks to me.

      1. FreeThinkerTX*

        FWIW, my therapist told me I do this because in my “family of origin” criticism and insults were more common than compliments. Basically, I learned early in life how to handle / be comfortable with negative interactions, but not positive.

        Not sure if this is the same for you, just throwing it out there. :-)

        1. Waerloga*

          I think that a lot of introverts are …compliment shy. We (I) do our jobs to the best of our abilities, and to be singled out for praise (or censure) is uncomfortable.

          Looking into the eyes thing… I’m not sure about. Might be a challenge reflex thing… Don’t know. I do know I do what Jaime does… Look near the eyes, but not right into them.

          Take care

  22. Miriam*

    Late to the party, but some experiences, all long ago [I am a older woman lawyer]:

    First, I love the discussions of this issue.

    In the reception room for medical visit, a man was called and asked if he minded being examined by a female doctor. I asked them, “How often do you ask a woman if she minds being examined by a male doctor?”

    My responsibility on one job was to interview and find a secretary for one of the law firm partners. After seeing at least 10 people [we’re talking 40+ years ago], I recommended one as best qualified. They refused to make the offer because it was a man who “had to support a family”. Many of the women in the office were the sole support of their families.

    I have been guilty of assuming that a woman who answered the phone was not the professional, and of asking to speak to the x.

    My first week as a lawyer at a new law firm, my assigned secretary stood in the main hallway and yelled, “I will NOT work for a woman!”

    These examples happened from 30 -45 years ago. Since then, I rarely notice the offenses, because I don’t think I have to respond to them. When they do get in the way of my work, I’ll stop the proceedings, whether it’s a phone call, meeting, whatever, and point out why we’re there, and that irrelevant issues should not be brought in.

    1. Miriam*

      I gritted my teeth. The lawyer with whom I was sharing her took great pains to tell her that work I had already given her was a priority, and generally supported letting her know, pardon the expression, her place.

      Obviously she was gritting her teeth too: I would find my work folders with the dictation tapes had “slipped from the pile”, behind her desk and to the floor. Since her desk was against a wall, I had to crawl under it to find my work. I just made a practice of doing that daily – after she’d left, of course.

      Also, other secretaries with better attitudes would come to me to volunteer some of my “overflow”.

      I wasn’t the only one with secretary problems. One of the partners in my department, a man more senior than I in experience, would go down to the wordprocessing department room and do his own drafting or editing. Remember, this was before personal computers. Wordprocessors were big ole things, and working on them was specialized. most of the secretaries only knew how to use typewriters.

  23. Becca*

    What is odd is I am in my late 50’s. I have lots of education, special certifications and experience in my field. I have always gotten great performance reviews from male managers.

    My last two jobs, I have worked for Black women basically my same age. Both were extremely sexist referring to me as one of their “girls workers” not like “girlfriend” but sexist, as in “let me get my girl to work on that”. Both were very condescending. Talking down to me, treating me like a child.

    Sexism exists, it is unfortunate that women are mostly perpetuating it in the workplace these days.

Comments are closed.