I’d be the only woman at a team-building event at my boss’s remote lake house

A reader writes:

I’m new to my current job. I like my manager. He seems like a decent enough guy. My team consists of him and 3 other guys (I’m a woman). He has scheduled our first one-day team-building off-site meeting to be at his “lake house.” I really don’t like the sound of it, as it is a bit of a hike from where I live — 90 minutes vs. the 20 minutes I drive to the office.

Can I mention something to him? I find it strange that the company would allow this. I like my coworkers, but not the idea of being at a lakeside camp in the middle of nowhere with them for the entire day. What are my options?

I wrote back and asked if she feels unsafe at the prospect or just annoyed. She responded:

I don’t feel unsafe. I just find it strange that the manager doesn’t see it as odd where it’s in a remote location that doesn’t have internet access (we are a tech group). He has also mentioned that they sometimes get snowed in there.

I would have thought that HR would say something, like maybe it’s not a great idea to have team-building in a remote cabin when it’s 4 guys and 1 woman. And yes, I am a bit annoyed that it would require a 3 hour round trip to my normal 40 minutes. I just don’t know if I’m over-thinking this. I get along with the guys, I just don’t know why he wouldn’t choose a location that is more convenient for everyone.

The thing I’d be most annoyed about is having to attend a team-building event at all, regardless of location, because they’re usually lame. That said, though, doing this type of thing off-site and even 90 minutes away isn’t that unusual.

However … I’m having trouble figuring out if you’re just basically annoyed, or if it’s something more. You said that you don’t feel unsafe and your annoyance seems focused on the inconvenience, but on the other hand, you’ve mentioned the gender split a couple of times, which makes me wonder. And the answer really comes down to which element is bothering you.

If you felt uneasy about being told to spend a day in a remote location as the only woman with four men you don’t know very well, in an area without much reception, then I think you could reasonably talk to HR and ask them to nudge your boss toward another location (ideally without mentioning that you said something, so that there’s no awkwardness around that). You’d perhaps risk HR thinking that you were being unusually cautious, but it probably wouldn’t be a big deal — as long as they handled it well, which means not giving your boss or coworkers the impression that you think you’re in some sort of danger from them. (And you would want to stress that point with HR, so that they didn’t thoughtlessly give that impression.)

But if you don’t actually feel uneasy/unsafe, and you’re more just annoyed about the drive and the lack of Internet access, then I think you need to just suck it up and go. A lot of teams do this kind of thing in somewhat remote locations, often on the theory that being in a nature-filled setting helps people relax, stimulates creativity, etc. And yeah, many employees find it annoying and a pain in the ass … but that’s something you really just deal with, especially when you’re new and don’t have much standing to push back — as opposed to concerns about safety, where you should indeed speak up.

So I think you need to isolate exactly what it is that’s making you feel uneasy here, and then proceed accordingly.

{ 226 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel*

    I’ve done many of these off-site team meetings in remote locations as the only woman on a staff team of men. And it’s been fun! I think the opportunity to connect outside of the office environment stimulated friendships and more collaboration at work.
    – If the long drive is bothering you, see if 2 or more of your co-workers will carpool together. In fact a team of 5 could very likely ride all together, save gas, and get more “bonding” time if that is the objective.
    – If the male/female dynamic is bothering you, and you feel like you might be flirted with, etc, keep it professional. Mention your husband/partner/boyfriend/cat/hobby and leave it at that. Stay in the large group and you should be as safe as you are at work.

    The only thing in your letter that worried me was the snowed in thing. Check the forecast and if there is a CHANCE of getting snowed in, I would either go straight to the boss with concerns or drive a super-rugged 4×4 so I could get out of there.

    1. Jamie*

      Granted, it’s been a long time since anyone has tried to hit on me, but I remember those days and I don’t seem to recal my cat being much of a deterrent. ;)

      Good point to check the forecast – because none of the guys with whom I work make me uneasy – alone or in groups – so for a day thing I would just be annoyed and drive up.

      But an overnight would feel weird to be the only woman – so I’d make damn sure there was no chance of that happening.

      1. Rachel*

        I was just going to write partner, but then I thought “What if she is single?” So I branched out and added cat. Yeah, not much of a deterrent, but staying in the group should head off any flirting. If it’s happening in the group in front of your boss, you have much bigger problems.

        1. KellyK*

          Hehe…I think if you’re single and don’t want to be flirted with, you tell the person privately that you like to keep work and personal separate and so comments like “X” and “Y” make you uncomfortable.

        1. Jamie*

          Everyone knows cats hate to wear clothes – that’s why God invented Photo Shop – so they don’t have to (but we still get wacky pics of cats in holiday themed outfits).

          And who exactly are you calling crazy? :)

          1. KarenT*

            I’ve added a comment here, not because I have anything valuable to say, but I suspect my avatar sums my thoughts up!

        2. Spreadsheet Monkey*

          Beat me to it. I was going to suggest mentioning several cats, but it never occurred to me to add the hobby angle to it. You are an evil genius.

  2. Trixie*

    I work in a small department of engineers and am the only female engineer in the department. For our Christmas lunch, the location was a Hooters-esque restaurant. Of course, all the guys thought it would be “fun”, but I was very uncomfortable. I decided last-minute not to go, along with one of my male coworkers, and I’m really glad that I made that decision. She shouldn’t have to go anywhere if the location makes her uncomfortable.

    That being said, if she’s just annoyed about the commute, I really don’t think she has much of a choice.

    1. Rachel*

      The Hooters-esque restaurant would bother me too! What a stupid and thoughtless choice by the group. But I think there is a big difference in a lake cabin and sexualized environment.

      Maybe if they were all planning on going swimming at the lake…. then I wouldn’t go. But I am imaging them sitting in a log cabin around a fireplace, drinking hot coffee and talking about the department.

      1. COT*

        I think there’s also a difference between work party and working retreat. A party is easier to skip (what an awful choice of venues!) than a day of real work.

        1. Trixie*

          I agree, there’s definitely a difference in venues, but I can see her being nervous if it really is secluded/no cell service.

          And yes, it was a horrible choice of venues…very thoughtless! It didn’t help that I later heard that my manager badmouthed me for not going and suggested that all “work lunches” like that should be mandatory.

          1. Jamie*

            Thinking of the no cell service – I don’t want to go anywhere there is no cell service…even with my family and there’s no safety concerns there.

            I just want to be able to contact someone in case of emergency – this is a weird location for them to choose for this.

              1. Jamie*

                Oh okay – makes more sense.

                I wonder how long I’d have to go without internet access before I’d start to twitch? I wonder if that’s why they want the tech group retreat there – force people off line.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  I don’t know about you, but my chat room keeps going down and I am DYING. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I can’t chat during the day anymore.

                  When my actual internet goes down, I pitch a fit like I’ve lost a limb. Yes, I’m addicted. I want my Cracked.com and LOLcats!

                2. Elizabeth*

                  I’m going to find out in November. My extended family is going on a 6-day cruise, and we already said we’re not paying $3/minute for the internet access on board.

                3. Jamie*

                  Wow – that’s crazy prohibitive.

                  It would be cheaper to get a data connect card and buy an international plan for the time gone.

                  Actually – the international plans on iPads are pretty reasonable.

                4. FreeThinkerTX*

                  This is more or less directed at Elizabeth, but the thread tree has reached its outer twigs:

                  That’s why I’m so glad I have a smartphone with tethering capabilities. The power can go out (like it did for 5 whole days in a freak snow storm two years ago) and I can still surf like a fiend on my iPad. As long as the cellphone towers and satellites don’t go down, I’m good.

            1. K*

              I don’t know; 10 years ago almost nobody had cell service and we were all fine. I don’t think it’s that egregious.

              1. Jamie*

                We didn’t have car seats for babies or air bags in cars when I was kid – but they are common safety measures now.

                1. Ash*

                  There’s a huge difference between something life-saving like an airbag and something like cell phone certain. The two things are not comparable.

                2. K*

                  Yes, and if for some reason, cars with airbags didn’t function in remote gorgeous wilderness areas (the way cell phones don’t) I still wouldn’t view the risk as high enough for people to totally avoid remote gorgeous wilderness areas. Take proper precautions, sure, but it doesn’t mean activities where modern conveniences will inherently not work are suddenly so dangerous nobody should touch them.

                3. Jamie*

                  Absolutely they are comparable.

                  In the years before cell phones if your car broke down you had to walk to the nearest location with a pay phone and if that was far you took a ride from some (hopefully) good Samaritan.

                  And if I’m injured in an accident I want someone with a phone to call 911 and not have to wait until someone happens upon the scene and then finds a phone.

                  There is no reason in this day and age to go back to relying on the kindness of strangers in case of accident and emergency.

                  If people want to do this in their personal lives – that’s of course fine – but they shouldn’t ask employees to drive 90 miles away from their homes if they won’t have emergency cell service.

                  But they aren’t asking them to do that – so I’m just responding to the argument since that’s not an issue the OP seems to have with this.

                4. FreeThinkerTX*

                  I’d just like to point out that all we know is there isn’t internet access at the lake house. That doesn’t mean there’s not *land-line* phone service! I have lots of friends here in Texas whose families have property out in the hinterlands without cell or internet access… but they still have land-line phones. (And indoor plumbing, too!)

              2. K*

                Yeah, I guess I disagree about the inherent dangers; I’ve been on plenty of business trips where I drive through areas where I don’t get cell phone service, sometimes by myself, sometimes late or night or in bad weather. It’s theoretically possible that my car could break down, but I wouldn’t dream of telling my employer that I’m only going to go places where the service is mapped out or that they should be giving me hardship pay. I guess you can argue that this isn’t a critical job function, but to me, the risk still seems so minor that it’s not worth angsting over. (Car pooling does seem entirely reasonable, though.)

                1. BeenThere*

                  I had a engineering job that required lots of travel to remote client sites with flaky cellphone reception. So our cars were fitted by the company with a high gain antenna so we had better reception. Bonus, anyone got to keep the upgrades to their personal car on redundancy.

              3. EngineerGirl*

                10 years ago other safety nets were in place. Those are gone so it isn’t the same thing at all.

            2. twentymilehike*

              I just want to be able to contact someone in case of emergency

              CB Radio!! I started carrying one in the truck of my car for road trips through the desert, and it just sort of stayed put as part of my first-aid-kit-road-flare-spare-towels in the truck package.

              Who knows how comfortable this cabin is, but it wouldn’t hurt to go boy-scount-style …. It could be a “cabin” like the luxurious ones in Mammoth, or it could be a “cabin” like my dad’s high desert get-a-way where you have to connect the toilet to a car battery on the floor to flush it.

          2. the gold digger*

            I had a VP who didn’t understand why women might not want to go to a work lunch at Hooter’s until I asked him if he would like his daughter to work there when she grew up. The blood ran out of his face and he said, “Oh. Yes. I see your point.”

            1. Camellia*

              Excellent analogy, Gold Digger, I’m going to remember this; wish I’d had it years ago when a Hooter’s moved in a few blocks from our company building.

      2. Joe Schmoe*

        I’ve been to Hooters a few times with co-workers and it is not uncomfortable at all (I’m a woman). I think it has to do with how uptight someone is. You take it for what it is – a meal at a restaurant – it’s not a strip club. I’ve even taken my kids to Hooters (age 17 and 7 boys) and I see families in there all the time. They get a bad rap. All you have to do to make you feel comfortable is look at the socks from 1980 that the waitresses have to wear!

        1. Katie*

          One man’s “uptight” is another man’s “uncomfortable.” Just because *you* are comfortable doesn’t mean that everyone else should be and that anyone who isn’t has something wrong with them. It’s a restaurant named after breasts and known for scantily clad waitresses. I don’t care if people do take their kids there, it’s not hard to see how this might be an unprofessional environment for a work lunch or why some people might not be comfortable going there. If you really want crappy fried food and burgers, go to Buffalo Wild Wings. It’s the same thing, minus the short shorts and cleavage.

          1. Joe Schmoe*

            She didn’t say it was a work lunch. It was a Christmas lunch, and probably not work supported, meaning a group of coworkers likely decided to go to lunch at Christmas and she had every right not to go with them. Without knowing all the details, it’s easy to make inferences to support either side.

            I thought Hooters was named after owls? LOL

            1. Anonymous*

              She also said her boss was angry about it later and said that all “work lunches” should be mandatory. :)

              I can’t read tone at all on the internet. Did you really think Hooters was named after owls or was that sarcasm?

    2. Jamie*

      The hooters type restaurant would bother me so that I wouldn’t go…but it would also bother me enough that I’d have issues even after the fact that such a venue was chosen for a work function.

      Was it meant to exclude? Maybe not, but that’s how I’d take it.

      1. Trixie*

        That’s really how I took it as well, and this isn’t the first time I’ve experienced weird sexism or different treatment at this job because of my gender. This engineering company definitely has that “good old boys club” atmosphere, which is a shame. That incident spurred me to finally start looking for another job.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Good for you. I hope you find something with a better atmosphere. I still can’t believe we’re even dealing with this stupid crap attitude. We’re in the 21st century, for God’s sake. I remember hearing about the whole women wearing pantsuits to work thing as a kid in the ’70s. And people are STILL arguing about it!

          1. Long Time Admin*

            I still remember one of my female co-workers being sent home to change her clothes because she wore a pantsuit to work. In the winter. In Wisconsin.

            Now, I don’t even own a skirt or dress and I wear jeans to work 2 or 3 times a week.

            1. Jamie*

              Funny – I’d get sent home for wearing a skirt so I could change into pants.

              It’s a safety policy for us – but we’ve had some women upset at the policy.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          You need to get out. Now. I foolishly stayed on a project like this for far too long. If they are this sexist then they are also minimizing your achievements. Which means lower rankings, lower raises, and not getting good stretch assignments.
          Find a job where women are given equal opportunity. You’ll recognize it because engineering women flock to places like that. Then you’ll start getting good assignments where you can show off your talent.

          1. Trixie*

            Thanks to both of you for the encouragement! I’ve been seriously doubting myself lately and your words are just what I needed. =)

            1. EngineerGirl*

              Look for a place with lots of women, especially in leadership. Look to see if the women are acting like mini-men (bad) or like strong confident women.
              Look for a place where they say “my engineers” Vs “my guys”
              If women are “allowed” to dress nice without comment it is good.
              I have noticed that programs favorable to women usually are anywhere from 30% to 50% female (disproportionate to the number of women engineers) . Smart women realize when they are being given opportunity. What we do with that opportunity is our part.

              1. BeenThere*

                Yes this is great advice. If a place is good the women will stay. This rule of thumb has held true at all organisations and teams I have been in.

                I once worked in engineering (only woman) for a large fortune 100 company. On my second week I discovered strip clubs were appropriate entertainment for staff and clients. I stayed longer than I would have liked as it was my first job out of university and really wanted to hit the two year mark for the CV.

              2. Chinook*

                Question – How would company leadership who want to change this attitude towards women be able to change if no women wanted to work somewhere where they weren’t already there. Isn’t this a catch-22?

                Speaking as a woman who was the first to do something in my community, I could only have done it with the support of the men around me and in power. Someone has to be first and put up with b.s. That comes with challenging the status quo True, it isn’t for the faint hearted and isn’t right, but it is human nature.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  I was the first female ever on a lot of things. There were times when it was extremely unpleasant. Success couldn’t have happened without some friendly men in power helping me out. But that isn’t enough. Men in power also need to be vocal and intolerant of sexism. They need to make the workplace uncomfortable for the sexist employee.

                  If a company changes the culture the women will stay. If not, the company starts to die because they aren’t fully utilizing the talent that they have. And the competition that does utilize that talent will be one up on them.

                  In this day and age there is no exuse for Hooters or strip clubs as part of a company culture. Ever.

    3. Wubbie*

      I’ll probably get flamed for this, but I really don’t think a “Hooters type” restaurant is that big a deal. Now, I’m not saying it is a good choice, either, but it’s not like it’s a strip club.

      And, before anyone asks, I am the only straight man on a team of women and gay men. If they planned some sort of team event at some Hooters-esque venue with hunky guys walking around slightly underdressed with whatever amount of clothing they did wear being inappropriately tight, I would not be bothered by that either.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Ah, but it’s not an equivalent comparison. If men had traditionally been marginalized at work and condescended to/objectified for their appearances, then a venue with underdressed hunky guys might be the equivalent.

        1. Trixie*

          Agreed…and I have no problem with going to that kind of restaurant in my personal life. It just seems like bad form to have a “work lunch” there.

          And I’m sure all the guys I work with would not be happy if I suggested a venue with “underdressed hunky guys”… =)

        2. Katie*

          Also, these venues are incredibly rare and almost universally considered on par with a strip club rather than just a restaurant. It’s easy to say you’d be comfortable with something when, for the most part, it’s not even a realistic possibility.

          Either way, with or without traditional sexism and objectification, a venue with scantily clad male waiters would still not be an appropriate location for a work event.

      2. The IT Manager*

        I, as a woman, am not bothered by Hooters. I’ve been there a few times and I like their wings. I have even gone to one for a lunch with my co-workers. Frankly the 80s attire of the waitresses strikes me as cheesy instead of sexy.

        But it is a very poor choice for a work lunch because some women (and even some men) are bothered that the theme of the restaurant. It’s a bad idea in the same way getting drunk at a work event is a bad idea. Not immoral and perfectly fine on your own time, but not inline with a professional image.

        1. HR Pufnstuf*

          “strikes me as cheesy instead of sexy”
          Exactly! I’m a guy and don’t find it attractive at all and the food is marginal at best.

      3. KarenT*

        I disagree strongly with Wubbie because we are talking about work.
        I’ve been to Hooters before (not that I’m proud to admit it) in a co-ed group of friends. I was not offended at all by the invitation.

        If my boss or co-workers suggested a work lunch at Hooters, I would be terribly and deeply offended (and probably appalled).

      4. Wubbie*

        I guess everyone missed the part where I said “Now, I’m not saying it is a good choice, either”

        Clearly it is unprofessional, but not everything which is a matter of poor taste is automatically sexist.

          1. BCW*

            Uh, I don’t know if I’d agree that its sexist. Doesn’t by definition sexist mean discriminatory? I don’t think a Hooters restaurant is discriminating against anyone. I’m not arguing that it makes it comfortable for everyone, but I don’t think its discriminatory. A straight man may not necessarily be comfortable at a gay bar, but that doesn’t mean the bar is discriminating against heterosexuals.

            1. Jamie*

              It’s not just about discrimination. The second part of the definition of sexism:

              2. Attitudes, conditions, or behaviors that promote stereotyping of social roles based on gender.

              Hooters, by their very theme, is sexist in that women are not just functional employees but must be decorative as well. Not just decorative, but decorative in a way that emphasizes and displays their sexual attractiveness.

              For the millions of women who have struggled to be taken seriously at work in previous decades up until now – regardless of how attractive of sexually appealing any of us happen to be at any given stage in our career – it’s insulting to have a work function in a restaurant built on the premise that a woman has to be hot and dressed to be sexually appealing to waitress.

            2. KellyK*

              Seriously? You don’t see how “Women are pretty objects for men’s entertainment” is discriminatory?

              1. BCW*

                No, its not discriminatory. They are making they choice to work there. Would you say that Abercrombie & Fitch is discriminatory because they have shirtless guys outside their store to get the girls to come in? You’ll probably figure out some way that its different when its guys. Is working an auto show discriminatory because they hire models to talk about these cars? No.

                Once again, no one is saying its a wise choice for a business function. But in no way are women being discriminated against.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s not about discrimination in that sense. It’s about promoting a viewpoint that it’s appropriate to sexualize and objectify women for strangers’ entertainment. It’s totally fine with me if those women want to do that for a living — I have no quarrel with that. But if my workplace holds a function there, they’re saying “we think it’s appropriate to hold a work function in a space where the point is to sexualize and objectify women.” That’s not okay, no more than it would be okay to hold a work lunch at a strip club, or the Playboy Club when it existed (if I understand correctly, there was no nudity there either).

  3. Anonymous*

    I’m getting the vibe that the OP is uncomfortable with the informality of the situation (being at her manager;s house rather than a public place), the distance (both because it’s a pain to get to and because it is an isolated place) – and that both of those are exacerbated by her being the only woman.

    OP, can you think about how you would feel about it if your manager was a woman and all the other attendees were women? Would it bother you as much? Or if it was the same group, same travel time, but meeting at an offsite public meeting facility? I think you need to do some thinking on exactly what is giving you a bad feeling and then take it from there.

    1. EJ*


      And as part of that thinking, the OP needs to consider what she risks missing out on my NOT going.

      Overnight, it would be really creepy – as a day trip to get people away from the office and thinking like a team, it could be worse. If this is a 4-man 1-woman office, and the OP is the only woman, this might be a great opportunity for the OP to get an ‘in’ with what might otherwise become sort of a ‘boys club’.

      OP, think very carefully before you choose not to go, if the concern is really just about the commute for a 1-day event. It might be worth playing along here.

  4. Joey*

    Maybe its just me but the op sounds like she’s using the gender dynamic as an excuse for just thinking the whole idea sucks.

    1. twentymilehike*

      On the other hand, I was thinking that she might feel unsafe about the situation (maybe just in the back of her mind), but is trying to convince herself that she has no reason to feel that way.

      1. Liz T*

        Yeah, from what we’re given, I could see it being EITHER of those.

        She probably feels not literally unSAFE, but, as Alison put it, uneasy. She doesn’t think this is a plan to gang up and attack her, but she doesn’t know the men well, and thus feels…uneasy. I sympathize.

        1. bearing*

          OP didn’t mention it but there is also the possibility that the venue and gender balance is a triggering sort of event for her.

        2. Katie*

          I wouldn’t feel comfortable being in a remote location without cell phone service with 4 men I don’t know very well. Even if I didn’t necessarily feel unsafe, I wouldn’t be comfortable, either.

      2. Jamie*

        There’s the element of feeling unsafe even when you know there is no valid reason – I think it’s the conditioning to be ever vigilant.

        Yesterday I was at work alone as I needed to let a tech in to do some work on something. Being alone at work is fine – never bothered me – but even though the tech was totally professional and nice and didn’t do one creepy thing in any way…I was acutely aware that I was alone with a stranger in a deserted industrial part and empty building and I got the shivers.

        It wasn’t personal – but it’s just a sense of “I’m only safe because you’re not crazy, I really hope I’m right about you.” That’s different than feeling safe because there are other people around.

        It’s hard to let go of the self-protection to not trust people we don’t know well – even when we have no reason to think they would hurt us. And you know what? I wouldn’t want to get rid of it.

        I don’t want my daughter to lose her sense of wariness…because there is evil out there. And truth be told – I do think it’s inappropriate to hold it there since she is the only woman only because it feels weird.

        If it were me – eh – I trust my own instincts. If this were my daughter? I’d be terrified if her boss suggested anything like this – because they should just be erring on the side of propriety and not making people suck up an uncomfortable situation.

          1. jennie*

            I’m a woman and I don’t get it. I refuse to live my life believing every man or stranger is out to do me harm given the opportunity. Frankly, if I was the boss in this situation I’d be deeply insulted if an employee was afraid to attend a work function with coworkers just because they’re men.

            1. Jamie*

              I don’t think anyone was saying that they think every man or stranger is out to harm us – far from it.

              I assume most men, even strangers, are the normal non-violent type – like my father was and my husband and sons are – the vast majority of men would never dream of hurting anyone, much less a stranger.

              However, that does not mean I raised my kids to think everyone out there is harmless. And I sure as heck don’t want my beautiful trusting daughter to give men she doesn’t know the benefit of the doubt.

              Because the 999 men who won’t hurt her don’t matter when she runs across the one who will.

              When I was a child a close relative was the victim of a sexual assault by a stranger. I learned very young that very bad things can happen to you when you’re just minding your own business and walking to your car in a parking lot.

              The gentleman that happened upon the scene after the rapist had fled was a kind man. He summoned the police – who were kind men. There are millions of kind people in this world – most of us…but there are also predators out there and we do ourselves a huge disservice by not being alert to that possibility.

              1. Anonymous*

                In my experience, good guys aren’t threatened by women being cautious. Since it hasn’t been said in awhile, “the Gift of Fear” is a fantastic resource on this topic.

                1. BCW*

                  I think thats true to a point. If I asked a girl out on a date and asked her to meet me at my house before, yeah I wouldn’t be upset if she said she didn’t feel safe. However if its a co-worker, I think thats different. Now I’m not saying this is the OPs thought process or anything. But if so, she’s literally saying I know you, but I don’t trust you away from the office. I would find that completely offensive.

                2. Rana*

                  The thing is, though, BCW, is that the vast majority of sexual assaults on women come at the hands of people they do know. Knowing how someone behaves in the controlled environment of a workspace says little about how that same person would behave in the privacy and isolation of their own home.

                3. Anonymous*

                  BCW, your answer doesn’t reflect the reality of what rape is – you give an example that you understand why a woman would be uneasy in a dating situation, but if it’s not in a dating situation, she “shouldn’t” be. That would imply that rape only happens in a dating context and that’s not accurate.

                4. KellyK*

                  Both anonymous and Rana make really good points, both that “knowing” someone doesn’t mean you’re safe and that it being a work context doesn’t automatically make a situation safe.

                  A woman who doesn’t want to be alone with you at your house can’t read your mind and tell that you have perfectly good intentions. People whose intentions *aren’t* good are perfectly capable of behaving like normal, decent, trustworthy people right up *until* they take advantage of that trust.

                  Yes, it hurts to not be trusted, but I think it’s much less that she *specifically* distrusts *you* and much more that she has a high bar for how much trust to extend to anyone.

                5. Editor*

                  For BCW and other people who don’t want to feel a woman is suspicious of them, read Jamie’s post. It isn’t about you personally, it’s about situational risk assessment.

                  There’s another common explanation of the problem women have evaluating the risk of males they’re meeting. The dilemma is called Schrodinger’s Rapist (based on Schrodinger’s Cat), and here’s a post explaining it:


              2. jennie*

                But in this situation she’d honestly be doing herself much more of a disservice by not going. The chances of these men who she works with attacking or harming her is so remote it seems absurd to me to even consider it.

                Years ago I was the victim of an armed robbery when working alone late at night so it’s not like I don’t get that there are dangerous people out there. I just feel like this is being needlessly paranoid and rejecting something that could be a good way to get to know the team as well as a safe way to get over these irrational fears.

                Sure, some emergency could befall the whole group and it would be tough to be without cell service, but sometimes you have to look at probabilities and take a calculated “risk”.

                1. EngineerGirl*

                  The problem is that you have assessed the risk incorrectly by ignoring several key items:
                  * She doesn’t really know any of the men involved
                  * She doesn’t know the roads
                  * Shell be coming back in the dark
                  * It could snow
                  * there is no cell service if she gets into touble
                  * A proper office wouldn’t do something this bizarre (which shows a lack of judgement on managements part).
                  All of these factors multiple (not add up) to really increase the risk. You’ve only assessed one risk of many.

                  Another problem I’m seeing is this all-or-nothing thinking. that is, she only gets to bond with her co-workers if she ignore her gut. Hello world! There are other choices out there that are available. Why should she put up with a bosses bad judgement? There are a lot of other venues that are lower risk. Why should she be forced into the high risk one?

                2. EngineerGirl*

                  Typo. Risk multiplies not adds when there is more than one risk item. So risk goes up quickly.

                3. Long Time Admin*

                  Thank you Engineer Girl for pointing out that there are several points that, added together, can make someone feel uneasy. Singly, each one isn’t much of a much, but where there are several things like that, one’s radar should start blipping.

                  If this were a slasher movie, we’d all be yelling “don’t go in there!” and asking ourselves how someone could ignore so many red flags.

                4. Camellia*

                  Long Time Admin, you said it perfectly, “If this were a slasher movie, we’d all be yelling “don’t go in there!” and asking ourselves how someone could ignore so many red flags.”

                  This is humorous but also serious -and it actually makes sense and ties back to EngineerGirl’s multiplicative risk assessment.

            2. Laura L*

              I’d love to be able to stop worrying about being the victim of violence because I’m a woman.

              Too bad the rest of the world won’t let me.

            3. Katie*

              We grow up in a world where women are told things like don’t walk alone at night, never leave your drink unattended, carry mace/a rape whistle with you just in case, etc. With that sort of broad social context, why would it be unreasonable that a woman wouldn’t want to strand herself in the middle of nowhere with no way to communicate with the outside world with 4 men?

              It’s not necessarily that you are afraid a specific person is a sociopath and wants to hurt you. It’s more the general coaching that you have no way of knowing who might hurt you so it’s always best to protect yourself.

            4. twentymilehike*

              I’m a woman and I don’t get it. I refuse to live my life believing every man or stranger is out to do me harm given the opportunity.

              True … but once you’ve been assaulted, your instincts change. If you’ve never had the misfortune to be in that situation, it is difficult to understand how it feels. You lose a lot of trust and a lot of confidence, and even if you gain them back, your situational awareness changes.

              Everyone’s sense of security is based on their prior experiences and it is not really fair to judge each other’s reasoning for being uncomfortable when it’s a gut instinct based on your personal life experiences.

              1. FreeThinkerTX*

                I was sexually assaulted once, as a teen, by friends-of-friends who were giving me a ride home from the skating rink. I was (still am) a bit of tomboy, and have always had guys for best friends. The assault didn’t change that one whit. I didn’t lose any trust or confidence. I put the blame where it belonged, on that one small group of idiots.

                I guess it was my upbringing, but I didn’t feel any personal shame or guilt for the incident; I was just mad as hell and told all of my friends about it. My guy friends beat the s**t out of those idiots the next time they showed up at a party. Maybe having guy friends who would stick up for me like that helped me not to internalize the assault.

                So I guess I’m just saying that everyone’s experience with danger – real or imagined – is vastly different.

                I would have no problem going to a remote location with 4 male colleagues, even if I was new to the company, and even if it was overnight. [Conversely, though, I have balked at a team lunch at Hooters, and gave my (older male) manager a sibling-esque earful for even considering it.]

                1. Anonymous*


                  Thanks for saying this. Some of the comments here were leaning so far to the “women are delicate flowers” side of things that I was starting to wonder if I was the one one who felt like you.

                2. jennie*

                  I feel the same about things I’ve been through in the past. It wasn’t my fault or any group or gender’s fault. It was one or two jerks and bad luck. I can’t control that. 99% of the men I’ve met in my life did not assault me so I’m going assume most men are not planning to unless there’s a reason to suspect otherwise.

        1. tekgrl*

          Thank you. I appreciate all of the comments, but yours really seems like you get where I’m coming from. Unlike a previous ignorant comment from a guy who said I was using my gender as an excuse (which I’m not) I felt that you “got” what I was concerned about.

          -The area does not have cell phone or internet access.
          -The roads are not major, I’d be driving on back country roads that my manager has already described as “dicey”.
          -I have only worked with them a short time and don’t really “know” any of them.

          I’ve done team building before and it did not require being in a creepy, remote cabin. Also, there are enough stories in the news and I certainly don’t want to become one of them. What if something were to happen on this remote stretch of road? I would not be able to call for help, etc.

          Also, despite what others have described as a comfy cabin with a fireplace, it is not the case here. It actually sounds more like the crummy cabins we used when I was a kid in girl scouts. I was told the cabin is sparse with a few lawn chairs and one rest room. It just sounds like a nightmare across the board. The idea of a shared rest room with male co-workers also does not work for me. It just seems like the manager didn’t think this through. We also have to work the next day, so the idea of driving in the dark from this remote area also doesn’t sit well with me.

          I’m talking with my manager today. If he can’t see my point of view over this and I lose my job, so be it. I had a terrible migraine stressing over this last week. No job is worth that.

          I appreciate all of the comments everyone has provided.

          Thank you.

          1. ExcelNinja*

            Best of luck. Please let us know how your conversation goes (or went).

            I feel as though you should be able to bow out if necessary – maybe just say you have a family commitment, or even call in sick on the day of.

          2. BCW*

            Some of this sounds pretty crappy to me. I get the not wanting to drive on the remote roads, but like someone said before, would you still bring this up if it was a retreat with all women? And the shared bathroom thing? Come on. I’m sorry, but that may be the most ridiculous reason to feel uncomfortable that I’ve ever heard.

            1. Esra*

              A lot of women, I think understandably so, would feel uncomfortable in this situation. I certainly would. I don’t think it’s fair at all to judge and especially not to pull out the “What if it were all women?” card. Would I feel equally threatened by a group of women I don’t know well vs a group of men I don’t know well? Of course not. A friend of mine sent me a really good article recently, he said it helped him see the issue from another point of view: http://www.rolereboot.org/culture-and-politics/details/2012-12-a-letter-to-the-guy-who-harrassed-me-outside-the-bar

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Maybe so, but regardless, preferring not to share a bathroom with men isn’t really a legitimate reason to ask for a retreat venue to be changed. (I’m not saying that’s the OP’s only reason — it’s not — but I really wouldn’t recommend that she use that in her argument to her employer.)

                I went to a college with all coed bathrooms. It really wasn’t a disaster.

                1. Katie*

                  I was speaking more to just the general discomfort with being alone in the middle of nowhere with 4 men you don’t know super well. A lot of women would be uncomfortable with that situation.

                  I’ve actually had the misfortune of sharing a bathroom with 5 men before. For one day, probably not that bad, but if it were going to be for a week or something, I could definitely understand the OP’s dismay, although it shouldn’t be brought up with HR. Of course, as we’ve covered here a lot recently, toilet troubles are just as likely to strike in the office as at a remote cabin. ;)

          3. Long Time Admin*

            I wouldn’t like these accommodations if they were in my own backyard.

            Teambuilding and working lunches should always be held at expensive restaurants with the boss picking up the tab.

            1. Katie*

              I’d be just as happy with a teambuilding activity in a meeting room in my office. You don’t have to be fancy. You just need to be professional.

            2. Laura L*

              Seriously. A “rustic” cabin? No, thank you.
              Unless I’m camping with friends. 10 years ago.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Seriously, y’all. It’s one day. It’s not an overnight. It’s one day. You really wouldn’t do that for one day? I’m probably the most hostile opponent of team-building exercises out there, but come on. It’s a single day. It’s a cabin. It’s not a big deal.

                Now, if there’s a chance of getting snowed in and having it turn into an overnight, that’s absolutely BS and it’s worth raising that and saying “I’m not comfortable with a risk of getting stuck there. I have commitments at home and am not willing to spend the night in a rustic cabin with coworkers.”

                But if you take that issue of out of and it’s just a single day, jeez. We do lots of stuff that wouldn’t be our first choice at work because that’s part of the deal. This is not torture.

                1. Laura L*

                  Oh, right, I actually forgot that it was just a day thing! Ha!

                  If it was for work, of course I’d do it for one day.

                  I’d still prefer the expensive dinner though. And I’d still complain about the rusticness.

                2. anon..*

                  OP clarified concerns:
                  “-The area does not have cell phone or internet access.
                  -The roads are not major, I’d be driving on back country roads that my manager has already described as “dicey”.
                  -I have only worked with them a short time and don’t really “know” any of them.”

                  Y’all aren’t hearing the concerns.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think we’re hearing the concerns perfectly well, but aren’t entirely clear on exactly what it is that she’s worried might happen. Is she worried that she’ll get snowed in and not be able to get home, or worried about driving on dicey roads? Totally legitimate, and she should say that. But I’m not clear on precisely what she’s worried about with the others on your list.

        2. Job seeker*

          I would not feel comfortable going somewhere remote being the only woman. I don’t think I would even go. There are too many things wrong here.

        3. Rana*

          Agreed. From this side of the screen the situation seems okay to me – I am fine in the company of men, and I love mountain cabins and remote settings – but that’s not the same as being there, knowing those particular men, and having one’s gut either relaxed or quietly anxious.

          The trick isn’t to listen to one’s gut; it’s justifying to other people why you’ve chosen to heed its warning.

      3. Anonymous*

        Yeah, I saw it as being fundamentally uneasy or feeling unsafe in a subconscious way, but grasping at other reasons why it’s a bad idea anyway.
        Like Jamie says, women are conditioned to be more vigilant and hyperaware than men.
        It’s completely fine to be uneasy about the situation, and I like AAMs suggestion about HR. It’s fine to prefer a more public place (and better cell service)

  5. AG*

    As a woman this would bother me if it were an overnight trip, but for a day trip I would just count it as a minor work annoyance. Hey, maybe it will be fun!

  6. EngineerGirl*

    I love how AAM framed it:
    felt uneasy about being told to spend a day in a remote location as the only woman with four men you don’t know very well, in an area without much reception
    I would use this phrase when going to the manager and mention how his selection might have adverse impact on a woman. Then I would suggest another location that would be more acceptable but just as good for achieving goals.

  7. Legal Eagle*

    I would put this under “minor work annoyance.” I would also try to carpool with everyone and/or get the mileage covered by the company.

    I live less of a gender-segregated life than most people, so travelling all day with men that I already know would not make me uneasy. This is useful for me, because I am entering a male-dominated field and will need to travel with male co-workers often.

    The OP also sounds uneasy being out in the boondocks. Maybe OP is uncomfortable being the only woman in an unfamiliar, lake setting? Understandable, but don’t let that stop you!

  8. Katie the Fed*

    As a woman who works in a male-dominated industry, and is often the only female in the room, I would encourage the OP to be glad that she’s been included and not overthink it. Unless of course I’m missing something.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        No, she should be glad.

        It’s VERY easy in male-dominated offices for boys night-types of activities to crop up, and I generally think it’s pretty unintentional but it still happens. Golf outings, steak nights, etc – these can all turn into unintentional activities that exclude women and put them at a professional disadvantage. So I would try to see the positive of this – they’re making an effort to include her.

        1. The IT Manager*

          Hey! I’m a woman who likes golf and steak (although, I am usually pretty terrible at golf).

          1. XX Engineer*

            1) Some people will assume you don’t.
            2) You shouldn’t have to be into guy things for your coworkers to include you.

            1. The IT Manager*

              “guy things” is kind of sexist

              Honestly we’ve moved beyond work when we’re talking golf and steak nights. Any kind of social activity like that has potential to exclude people who don’t like that activity or eat that kind of food. I mean steak nights exclude vegetarians.

              1. K*

                Yeah, and if I had vegetarians on my team, I wouldn’t plan a team meal for a steakhouse. (But if I had other women I knew liked steak, I would.)

    1. Me*


      THANK YOU. I too work in a male dominated environment and would feel like I am being treated equally if I were invited. If she was not invited, would the question of gender discrimination be greater?
      I have been on a couple of outdoors type of trips with male co-workers and a manager and was the only woman. I had no issue with it because I was invited, it was a day trip, we carpooled, it was fun, and now I feel more comforable with them at work. Of course I was vigilant the whole time, as a woman, this is a natural reaction, but at the same time, networking and relationship building that happens on these kinds of trips really help in the long run when you need to get noticed for a promotion. It’s always important to be in the back of someone’s head, always for good reasons of course, nonetheless, good work+memories=higher chance of being looked at with respect.

      1. Joey*

        Wow, I never realized so many women would prefer not to go. I thought most would share your view. So for the ladies who say don’t go would you be insulted if you weren’t invited at all?

        1. JamieG*

          OP shouldn’t have to choose between missing out on the team-building activity and putting herself in a situation that for her (and for a lot of people reading this) sounds/feels unsafe. The location was chosen simply because the boss hadn’t thought of it from her perspective; I can’t imagine a reason why the remote cabin with no cell reception an hour and a half from home is the -only- place this could be done.

        2. EngineerGirl*

          I expect the venues to be gender neutral so it doesn’t become Hobson’s choice.

          Why does the venue have to be a hockey game or a Male-slanted activity? Can you imagine what many men would say if the venue was the local mall?

          The real issue is choosing a WORK venue that is neutral.

            1. VintageLydia*

              A tea room! An afternoon tea is perfect for discussion and brainstorming since its so relaxing and finger sandwiches are DELICIOUS! And most men would balk at that invitation (though I don’t understand why. There is no downside to afternoon tea.)

          1. Joey*

            Because the boss gets to decide. Look, I see ladies all the time whine because the boss wants to play golf or something. But do they learn to play? Some do and others continue to whine. Yes, women do stuff that men like to do and actually like it. The whole work social thing is a game and you either choose to play or you don’t. But you don’t choose not to play then whine about not being included. When the boss is a women men have the same choices. Just like when one of my old bosses loved to do potluck bake offs.

            1. Louis*

              I agree with this 100%

              I work in IT, about 85% of the staff is male. However 65% of all IT managers are female.

              I could spend all my time bitching about how the game is rigged against me for promotion… wouldn’t change a thing.

              So I have to adapt, learn to bake stuff for my team and talk about the Twilight novels (I had a boss who was really into this).

              When I’m high enough in the company, my team building exercise will be weekend gaming session on the WiiU and they better learn to like it ! :)

              1. Katie*

                In other words, “My managers kind of sucked and instead of aspiring to be better, I plan to do the same thing to the people I will someday manage”? Mature.

                1. Louis*

                  Well the smilly didn’t seems to be a big enough sign that it was a joke.

                  I already manage a team and I I don’t do team building sessions because I think the majority of employed dislike them. I am VERY protective of my team personnal time.

    2. Katie*

      I think it’s sort of ridiculous, though, that in 2013 women are expected to sacrifice feeling *safe* in order to be included in an otherwise all-male professional activity.

  9. Jubilance*

    I’m probably in the minority on this, but I think if you’re gut is giving you an uneasy feeling about this, you shouldn’t ignore it. How many times have you heard stories about incidents, and 1 person says they felt uneasy or unsure but went with it anyway? For whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable with the situation, and I can’t say I blame you. Is it possible to have a talk with your boss about any of this without it getting weird or him taking offense? If not, I like the angle of talking to HR & seeing if they can nudge him into having the team-building at a more public area with cell phone access.

  10. Construction HR*

    Several things going on, no need to repeat, but trust your gut. I might have asked what kind of clothes to bring or what kind of activities might be involved. WoCHR is not ‘outdoorsie’ in any way shape or form, rustic for her is a two page room service menu. She would be uncomfortable in such a setting as the OP described.

  11. Anonymous*

    I work in a male dominanted business. I am usually the only woman in a group of professional men traveling to overseas locations for an installation. After the work is done, there is usually a “celebration” dinner where we eat a nice meal and many of the men get very drunk. I am not afraid for my safety (middle aged woman but if I was younger I would probably be more concerned) but I am always extremely, extremely uncomfortable. I never drink more than a glass of wine because I would never, ever consider even getting tipsy in this situation. Sometimes they end up saying and doing things which I think that, later, they are very embaressed they did in front of me but maybe wouldn’t care if they did in front of other men. (Farting, burping, really bad language, and flirting with waitresses). I don’t know how to decline the invitation without coming off as a prude and not “one of the team”. They know I have no where else to go. Usually, I really like these guys. It is rough enough to be included as one of the boys. BTW, my boss is usually there.

    1. Sandrine*

      As a FYI, I’m a woman and I do the “farting, burping, really bad language” no matter the gender of the people I am with.

      Of course I don’t do it on purpose, but there are bodily functions for which you apologize or that you try to minimize as a polite person :)

  12. Hannah*

    I read the OPs update, and so I think I have a more balanced view now of where she is coming from, and I think I would feel the same way.

    What I was going to mention prior to reading her comment is that, in a situation like this, I think it is valid to feel — not *unsafe* per se — but uncomfortable.

    I used to work in a company where I had to work often with the PM of one of our regular clients. I never felt like I was afraid of him, or that he would sexually assault me or anything like that, but he did make me uncomfortable.

    We once went out to dinner in a group setting with other co-workers and after he had a few beers, he started making me feel that uncomfortable feeling by starting to lean in really close to me and talk about subjects I didn’t think were quite appropriate.

    I found my manager and told her I was feeling a bit uncomfortable and left. A few months later, one of my co-workers (also female) was asked to go on a 4-day business trip with him where they would be the only travelers. She went, but if it had been me, I really think I would have had to have a discussion with my manager about the situation because I truly don’t think I would have felt comfortable going on this trip with him.

    That being said, I’ve obviously had other male co-workers that in the same situation, wouldn’t faze me.

  13. Anonymous*

    It’s remote but the boss is taking her to his house. I’m sure others in the office will be aware of this trip.

  14. Maris*

    How big is this company? Maybe I’m a little weirded out by this because it crosses the work/personal boundary that I associate with a (large) professional organization.

    Business = meeting at an office or at another place of business (hotel, retreats etc are places of business) – and therefore carry insurance, there’s people around etc. Meeting at someone’s privately owned property for a BUSINESS meeting strikes me as just not professional. Not to mention all the liability issues it raises.

    OP: if you aren’t comfortable raising it as a 4 men/1 woman dynamic, you may want to approach HR from the liability standpoint.

    1. K*

      Is it that unusual? I’ve never worked at a huge organization, granted, but I’ve never worked somewhere where a manager inviting her staff over to her house for a semi-social/semi-work event would raise eyebrows.

      1. Maris*

        Its been a while since I worked for smaller companies (been with my current Fortune-50 for 14 years now), but for a large corporation… yes its unusual. Dinner/cocktail party – OK, but even then, its usually at a a restaurant, not somebody’s home. Probably (honestly) because large corporations are seen as having deep pockets, so they are very sensitive about liability/risk issues. What happens if (for example) you have 25 other employees over to your home and something expensive gets smashed/stolen? Your homeowners won’t cover that. Do you look to the company to make you whole? Too many potential risks when you can solve most of them by keeping business at businesses, personal stuff at home. (I have to say as I type this I’m struck by a huge irony, because I – and my two teams of employees – all work from our own homes. But we never socialize at home, we meet and celebrate out at restaurants).

        Small companies are a little different (and vary by country – in Australia for example there’s ready socialization at managers/other employees homes… backyard BBQs especially), but the key here is “social”.

        This is not social. Its “on the clock” – with the whole team, for a whole day.

  15. Liz*

    OP, have you asked your boss what the backup plan is if the roads get worse or the power goes out? Does he have a sort of schedule for the day, or is this a “hang out in the woods” kind of retreat?

  16. Sunday's Child*

    OP’s update says, no cell service. What about regular telephone service?
    And the mention of bad weather would make me more nervous than lack of cell or internet. Suddenly we all feel unsafe because we know about the rare instances where something bad happened. Not to make those instances less scary, but they really are pretty rare.
    I’ve been the only female in a group of males on quite a few occasions, off-sites, travel, etc. I always felt comfortable. (I also apparently give the vibe that I am “lady-like” and don’t appreciate off-color or “unsavory” topics. Perhaps because I will say directly and irritatedly or even angrily, “I beg your pardon!” or “Hey, I don’t appreciate that kind of talk or behavior.” So, most people apologize and we go on to engage in appropriate workplace discussions. )
    I might be a little nervous in the OPs situation because of the “new” employee factor more than the gender factor. I’d think I was being paranoid if I was afraid to take a day out of the office at a place that is 90 minutes away with the males in the office. It’s understandable to be a little concerned, but there are several men going. How likely is it that all of them would be creepy and inappropriate? OP could bring it up to HR and they might say something, but it’s not likely going to be anonymous. HR won’t have to say that anyone mentioned it. Boss will know. When has HR ever intervened in the boss having an offsite at his cabin? It’s free. Boss likes it. People have to focus on the meeting instead of checking email and phones every two minutes. And it’s probably beautiful, unless the weather is “bad.”
    OP, I hope my comments don’t come across as insensitive. If you’re getting some real vibes that this is due to the people involved, then pay attention and talk to your boss about your concerns about the “weather”. Otherwise it’s a good idea to go and get acquainted with your coworkers and become a part of the team. Carpool and get to know one another. You drive so you have control of transportation. And you’ll no longer be the “new girl.”
    I’d love to hear an update when this situation/off-site is done (or moved).

  17. BCW*

    I know I will probably get skewered by the ladies for this, but lets switch up another minority group here and see if people would say the same. Lets say its a white guy working with a bunch of black and latino people. He was new. They were having an offsite meeting at the bosses house, which was in an area that wasn’t necessarily the type of place they were used to going and a few hours away. If the white guy were to say he felt uneasy about this, I feel like more than one person would (probably rightfully) say he is being borderline racist. I don’t think this is any different. You are taking a group of people and basically saying you don’t trust being alone with them mainly because of the group they belong to. Pretty shady.

    1. K*

      Oh, good lord, didn’t we have this conversation already today? For the record, I don’t think that this particular situation sounds shady from the outside (though I think the poster should trust her instincts). However, there is not a long history of black and latino people raping and otherwise assaulting white men.

      1. GeekChic*

        I’ve come to realize that certain commentors on certain subjects should just be ignored – particularly when they admit they are going to get flamed.

        1. Anonymous*

          +1 K
          Being part of one oppressed group does not give you the right to tell other groups how to feel/react. Meaning, if you’re black or latino or gay, but still a man, you don’t get to tell women about sexism (and feeling uneasy about a situation tied to rape)

      2. BCW*

        Ok, you don’t need to jump right to the rape thing (even though some women seem to enjoy that being their go to). What I’m saying is just being uncomfortable around a group of people who is different than you without any real reason to feel that way is not a good way to go through life. The white guy could feel uneasy because the media shows many crimes being perpetrated by minorities. And to GeekChick who thinks people should be ignored, I don’t think my point is any less valid than anyone else’s just because I don’t take the same stance.

        1. VintageLydia*

          Part of this is how a woman is taught and treated when it comes to these sort of situations. If a man is beaten and robbed, he’s rarely blamed for his crime. Even if he willingly walks off with known violent gang members, he will not be blamed and that fact won’t be used to reduce the prison sentences of the perpetrators.

          The same cannot be said for female victims of sexual assault. We are taught indirectly that if something awful happens, it’s our fault and we should’ve known better. If she goes on this trip (isolated, far from home, little to no contact with the outside world, real possibility of being stranded) and the unthinkable happens, I guarantee you she will shoulder some of the blame and “should’ve known better.” Assaulters have gotten reduced sentences and even acquitted because their victims were wearing certain clothes or wore make up or danced with that person or getting a ride home with them.

          Is she likely to be assaulted? Probably not. But it’s been drilled into women’s heads that this is exactly the type of situation to avoid if we want to be good little girls and it’s not easy to override a lifetime of social conditioning.

          1. Anonymous*

            And when women keep saying the situation makes them uneasy/uncomfortable, even if they’re not specifically using the words rape/attack/violate, this is what all the women know it to mean.

        2. K*

          We’re jumping right to “the rape thing” because 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted in their lifetimes and so it’s something that’s pretty consistently on our minds. It’s not a “go to” because it’s fun. (Incidentally, being afraid for your safety is also not something people do for fun or to beat down poor, innocent men who are just trying to enjoy themselves or whatever. Everyone would prefer to be comfortable in whatever situations life puts them in. Trust me.)

          1. Katie*

            Someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes, and the overwhelming majority of those victims are women who are assaulted by people they know. (2/3 of sexual assaults are perpetrated by someone the victim knows.) I’d love it if I lived in a world where this is not something I had to think about, but I don’t. Maybe BCW should try redirecting his anger at a society where sexual assault is so prevalent, women are encouraged from childhood to be vigilant and proactive about their safety.

            This is like being mad at kids because they don’t want to approach strangers in vans offering them candy.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Hmmm. That’s really different than the odds of being attacked by four coworkers all acting together. It’s really, really unlikely (see my comment on that below).

              I hate to see comments that encourage women to be more fearful than a given situation warrants. I think this has spun a bit out of control, and has lost sight of what we’re actually talking about here.

              1. Katie*

                I don’t think anyone here is arguing that it is likely she’ll be attacked in the woods by her coworkers. I think we’re just trying to contextualize why women might feel uncomfortable in this situation. Even if an attack is extremely unlikely, and I think most of us agree that it is, when you add to this the remoteness, the weather, the lack of means to communicate to the outside world, the potential to get lost in bad weather, the OP’s sense that this situation isn’t safe is valid.

              2. K*

                I agree that the chances of this in particular being anything dangerous are extraordinarily low (unless there’s information we haven’t heard), but I do think it’s worth pointing out that women have very good reason to be more uneasy than men, and it’s not surprising that carries over to situations where there might not be an actual risk.

    2. Malissa*

      The issue at debate here is not sexism. It’s about feeling uneasy around people who could easily overpower a person. In you case, think Deliverance. Would a scenario like that make you uncomfortable?
      Lots of things can influence how a person feels in that situation. One of the biggest one is whether or not a person thinks they can defend themselves against an attack. I personally know 3 ways to break a guys nose. Why? because I have been in situations where that might actually be useful information. The fact of the matter is that many more women are victims of sexual crimes than men. Until you’ve had your hand on a can of pepper spray in your purse because the guy coming at you on the sidewalk is making rude gestures, it’s not something that could be understood.
      Imagine walking alone in a big city at night and having 4 guys in leather with copious amounts of tattoos walking down the street coming straight at you. Are you going to feel uneasy?

      1. BCW*

        As a guy, I can feel the exact same way, and thats my point. It may not be a sexual assault, but I could get beaten and robbed by a group. Yes, I could be walking down the street and see a bunch of people and not feel as safe because I can get overpowered by them. I get that. But in a work situation I think you need to give the situation a little more leeway than you would walking in a dark alley.

        And the fact that because you feel uneasy because guys have leather coats and tattoos is pretty judgmental all by itself.

        1. Malissa*

          Oh the tattooed guys wouldn’t make me feel uneasy, I was just trying to think of an example. Honestly this situation wouldn’t creep me out unless I got a creep vibe from the guys. But given that we don’t know if the OP feels this way or not I was using your premise to try to show how a similar situation could make a person uncomfortable, with out having to play a race or sexism card.

        2. anon for today*

          But in a work situation I think you need to give the situation a little more leeway than you would walking in a dark alley.

          FWIW, I have been assaulted at work, but I’ve never even been approached by a stranger in an alley unless they were a bum asking for change. Being alone with a person like this particular boss of mine is a lot more uncomfortable than walking in a public place, IMO, especially because in public at night, my senses are hightened. I did not feel comfortable with him, but what choice did I have? I was at work, and I needed to be there to earn my paycheck. THAT is a crappy situation to be in.

    3. Laura L*

      Replacing “woman” with “white man” and “men” with “black and latino people” doesn’t work because you have the power differential backwards.

      This situation is more akin to a group with a bunch of white people and one black person having a work retreat at a “whites only” country club.

      1. Chinook*

        And in that situation I would think that he was glad (not grateful as someone else pointed out) to be invited to something in a way that shows the team looking at him/her as “one of them”.

        That being said, I have done a team building event at a boss’s home over an hour away. Unlike the OP, though, we were an all female group. I still uncomfortable, though, because it felt so “weird” but it did allow us all to get to know each other better because we spent the time cooking together and chatting. But I wouldn’t want to do it again.

      2. BCW*

        Well, here is the thing. I am a black guy, and I can definitely relate to being the only black person in a particular situation. In fact, I have been to off site retreats in somewhat rural areas with a bunch of my all white male co-workers. So yeah, if they were so inclined, they could have easily overpowered me and beat me up and done whatever to me. So while its not the same exact thing since it seems women are more concerned about the sexual assaults, the minority thing, and the power differential is still there. I think its a pretty comparable thing. At no time though was I “uneasy” about it.

        I’m not trying to get into the “who has had it worse” debate, because there doesn’t need to be one. But I do think sometimes women like to look at themselves as the only group that has to worry about safety or who has been systemically discriminated against. However when I use my experiences, its always that “its not the same” for whatever reasons.

        1. Laura L*

          Except you didn’t give the example I gave. You gave the example of a White guy with a bunch of Black and Latino people.

          1. BCW*

            You are right, my example wasn’t the same as my experience that I just gave. However, seeing the fictitious example and my real experience shows a pretty similar setting, so I still think they are all valid comparisons. Anyone can always find a reason to feel not comfortable in a group where they are the only “outsider”. However I think it comes to stepping outside of your comfort zone

            1. KellyK*

              When you define it as “finding a reason to be uncomfortable,” you’re treating “being uncomfortable” as a conscious and deliberate choice. The OP is not being uncomfortable *at you.* She just *is* uncomfortable.

              1. BCW*

                Well, sometimes you need to just get over it. Yes, yell at me all you want for that statement, but its true. If I didn’t get over being uncomfortable being the only person of color on my dorm floor freshman year in college, I wouldn’t have any of my best friends now. If I didn’t get over the uncomfortableness of talking to an attractive girl, I’d be perpetually single. So no, being uncomfortable isn’t a conscious choice, but letting that affect your actions is.

                1. KellyK*

                  Sure, but you get over it by thinking through what the actual risks are, what the pros and cons are, and making a decision. You don’t “get over it” by having a people tell you that it’s a stupid worry and you’re just making it up so you don’t have to do something. And you may not actually get over the feeling itself. You might spend the whole time worrying or being anxious. Such is life.

                  And for women, one of the consequences of “getting over it” that we have to accept is that if something bad *does* happen, no matter how unlikely it actually was, the same people who told us “you’re being silly, just get over it,” will ask “Why did you do that? What were you thinking?” (To me, that’s a consequence worth accepting, because those same people will say the same thing no matter *what* precautions I take regarding my personal safety.)

  18. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I hope I am not too late throwing this into the mix.

    The first warning is that this goes against everything we are taught since we were in grammar school:

    “-The area does not have cell phone or internet access.
    -The roads are not major, I’d be driving on back country roads that my manager has already described as “dicey”.
    -I have only worked with them a short time and don’t really “know” any of them.”

    Okay- it’s the modern version of what we were taught.

    Second thing- there is legal precedence here. Of course, I cannot find the case. I think it was about two years ago. The court ruled in favor of the woman in a sexual harassment case. The woman complained that she had to travel with a male coworker that harassed her and the company did nothing. The court said “Yes, in some instances when female and male coworkers must travel together that CAN be construed as sexual harassment.”

    I found that jawdropping – the courts “get it”. Sometimes a woman can be required to travel with a man that the company KNEW or SHOULD have known would lead to problems.

    Other than dropping this big one (a court ruling) in HRs lap, OP, the only other thing I know of to do is to ask a million questions.

    Absolutely wear the boss down. “What route will we take? Do the plows keep it in good shape? What will we have in place of cell phones? Have you tested the radio equipment to make sure it is in working order? Do we have enough batteries for it? Are there any diabetics in the group? Do we have extra food for them and us if we get snowed in?”

    You get the idea- a million questions. I have done this and found it works also. The trip did not happen. What I like is that it does not involve HR.

    I see the concern about HR spilling the beans. Like you are saying, I would reach a point where I do not care if I lose the job. It’s just not worth it. So this would lead me to approach the boss myself. And tell him I am extremely uncomfortable and here is why. Borrowing from another poster: “Would you be okay if your daughter was going to a remote cabin with four guys she barely knows?”

    Personally, I think the situation is ridiculous. This cabin thing will accomplish something close to nothing and is a huge waste of time.
    And for this, the boss is on the verge of losing one of his employees.
    Great plan, Boss Man. (NOT)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. I wouldn’t do the million questions / wear-the-boss-down thing. It’s too likely that the OP will come across as neurotic and difficult, and perhaps as someone who would be too much of a pain to send on a business trip in a different context. If she’s uncomfortable going, she’s better off identifying exactly why and saying that instead.

      I don’t know about the court case you mentioned, but it doesn’t sound like the issue was business travel — it was sending someone to travel with someone who had already harassed her. It doesn’t sound like something that would be applicable here…?

    2. Anonymous*

      Hey “Not So New”, wasn’t that the case of the male-female truck driving teams who were essentially required to either share the sleeper cab or share a motel room?

      1. twentymilehike*

        wasn’t that the case of the male-female truck driving teams who were essentially required to either share the sleeper cab or share a motel room?

        Oh that’s interesting … that really happened? It was my assumption that you picked your own team if you team drove. My MIL and her hubby are truck drivers and they are a team, but of course are married, so sleeping together is not an issue (although they rarely sleep at the same time and they each have their own bunk …).

  19. Lulu*

    I’ve gotten used to working in pretty informal, male-dominated environments, so have to admit that I *personally* wouldn’t have much of an issue with this in general, although that might also depend on the personalities involved! I also understand the idea of removing the temptation of technology to get people to switch gears/focus on the task at hand. Whether or not the location is posh… well, for a day offsite for work, I deal with what I’m asked to, generally. I’m also pretty low maintenance in that regard.

    However, I think the key here is for the OP not to disregard legitimate discomfort with the scenario – if she’s significantly worried about the safety of the drive, or the propriety, it’s a legitimate concern that management/HR should take seriously. Not similar to Hooters in a (potentially) sexist way, but similar in that leadership should make sure not to put employees in situations where they feel compromised like this. Not sure if I’m articulating my thoughts very well today, but I do think the OP is certainly within her rights to ask that the location be changed or, if the drive/remoteness is the main problem, a bus (with radio service) be hired to bring everyone as a group, or that they otherwise remedy the issue. While we all have to compromise on certain preferences sometimes in the name of team building, safety or feeling extra-marginalized shouldn’t be part of that. This manager may genuinely not have considered his plan would be a problem, and thought it would be fun (I’ve seen this happen frequently!), so speaking up is also the only way he’ll realize that not everyone has the same definition on that front…

    OP I hope your manager is understanding of your concerns, and let us know how the conversation goes!

  20. The IT Manager*

    I disagree with the LW on a number of points. I do agree, though, if you feel unsafe in the company of your 4 male co-workers don’t go (trust your gut). However if you feel unsafe in their company, you have bigger problems to address. Or if you think your boss may be engineering it so that you end up alone with him, do not go, but again bigger problems.

    I agree that the longer than normal commute is annoying. And it is silly to do such a thing if there’s a danger of being snowed in. It should be definitely delayed if there’s questionable roads and a chance of snow. And driving back in the dark on unfamiliar dicey roads could be a problem too.

    OTOH maybe part of the point of the location is the lack of technical distractions. I do not understand your problem with using the same bathroom as the men. (I assume that they won’t be in the bathroom with you at the same time.) And while it doesn’t sound comfortable, they’ll be in the same rustic and crummy surroundings as you. These complaints sound to me like “I’m a girl, a princess. I don’t like the woods, dusty cabins, and sharing bathrooms with dirty boys.” I’m not saying that’s who you are, but that’s the impression these complaints leave me with.* I’d recommend not using them as reasons why you do not want to go.

    You bring up a variety of concerns so it’s hard to tell what’s most troubling you. Some of them are good enough reasons to object. Others, however, really seem silly to me (the shared bathroom and rustic accommodations).

    * I admit a bias. I was in a male dominated profession where roughing it was required, and woman who whined about things like the lack of showers and laundry facilities, shared port-a-potties and nasty slit latrines made it harder for the rest of us to be treated as equals. So I am not very receptive to complaints about those sorts of things.

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Let me put this out there as a non-emotional assessment:

      There are too many variables (new colleagues with unknown personalities, unknown roads, unknown state of facilities). That makes it difficult to assess risk.
      On top of that, several risk mitigation methods (cell phone reception, being in a public location) are not available to manage the risk.
      Given these issues, a good risk manager would assign a high level of risk to the situation. While the OP was not able to verbalize it, she felt it.

        1. EngineerGirl*

          The potential consequences are very high. Anyone with risk training knows that high consequence items must always be managed and mitigated. Them’s the rules.

          1. K*

            The potential consequences of getting on the Interstate or an airplane are high too, but the ultimate risk is low. Similarly, spending the day by a lakeside cabin with four of your co-workers is also pretty low-risk despite the fact that you could all technically end up deader than a doornail by the end of the day. (Unless there’s something we don’t know about these co-workers.)

    2. Katie*

      1) I don’t think the issue is that she feels specifically unsafe, but that she doesn’t know these people very well–or where she’s going–and doesn’t know if she has a reason to feel unsafe. If she knew the people and the place better, it would probably be different.

      2) If your job requires you to rough it, that’s one thing. If you’re an IT professional where your job normally requires you to sit at a computer in a climate-controlled office, expecting someone to go without a shower or proper toilets is quite another.

      1. Jamie*

        2) If your job requires you to rough it, that’s one thing. If you’re an IT professional where your job normally requires you to sit at a computer in a climate-controlled office, expecting someone to go without a shower or proper toilets is quite another.

        This. Agreed if the specifics of the job required this then there shouldn’t be complaining. But if not liking the woods or dusty cabins makes one a princess…then order my tiara.

        Thankfully my job would never require me going without a shower or using anything called a latrine – but if that ever changed to become a new condition of employment I’d refuse.

        1. Katie*

          I vetoed a camping trip to a friend’s rustic cabin in the woods once because it was going to require me to use a single incinerator toilet shared with a dozen people. You can file that under never going to happen, I don’t care who judges me.

        2. Anonymous*

          I worked for someone once who wanted to take us on an Outward Bound team-building thing. The guys on the team were all for it, but I gave her a squinty-eyed look and said “You cannot be serious. You do not pay me enough for that.”. She said “But you have to go!” I pointed out to her that I sat at a desk all day and was out of shape and that while I was willing to go on a team-building trip, it would have to be one with creature comforts and that did not involve climbing around on ropes around a cliff face.

          We ended up at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville.

          Now she was a personal friend of mine, so we had a closer relationship than many managers I’ve worked for. But I would have said the same thing no matter who was doing the asking.

          1. KellyK*

            Can we trade? I’d take that trip in a heartbeat. That sounds like a lot of fun. I would, however, like six months to prepare, because I am also out of shape, particularly where upper body strength is concerned.

  21. Lynn*

    What might be making the OP uncomfortable (and I’m purely speculating) is the perception of the retreat by others outside her group. I often work from my boss’ home with him. I know that some folks raise their eyebrows at it because it does sound funny that a man and a woman are working together at a private house “on special projects.” Never mind that my boss is old enough to be my dad and I’m no hot young thing. I make sure to make comments that if someone wants to have a quiet place to focus, they know where they can drop in…just so I make it clear that they won’t find anything untoward.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If her coworkers assume that she’s up to something untoward with a group of four male coworkers, there’s a very different issue to address. That seems … unlikely.

      1. Lynn*

        People like to gossip, and most people (including myself) don’t like to be the topic. I explained a long (true) story for a short point.

        1. Katie*

          She listed a lot of other valid concerns, though, both in her post and in the comments. If this were a factor, you’d think she would have mentioned it.

  22. Neeta*

    Actually, I can sort of understand the OP’s reticence for such a team building. In my view it’s not really the remote location; all team building’s I’ve participated in were held in such places.

    I had something similar (well ok, much tamer) happen to me this summer. We had a client visiting from abroad, and we were asked to go out drinking/eating with him after work.

    At first I was totally fine with this, but when both my female coworkers declined coming, I really started feeling awkward. I enjoy working and bantering with the guys, but I don’t really go out drinking with them during my free time. So going to a pub with 10 other guys really seemed kind of awkward.

    In the end, I did go; mostly because my manager acted all hurt and asked me if I felt unsafe, or anything like that. I didn’t regret it, and ended up having a really nice industry-related chat (though not exactly work related). Still, I’m not sure I wouldn’t feel awkward next time something like this came up again.

    That said, I’m fairly sure I’d decline an overnight team building with just guys. Whole day, fine, just not overnight.

  23. mel*

    The gender discomfort is probably subconscious. Marie Forleo has an interesting video about reprogramming your subconscious to get what you want out of life that could probably help there.

    It’s not an unreasonable fear… we’ve been trained specifically to avoid situations just like this as children. I still dutifully avoid wearing ponytails because of endless childhood warnings that men will grab them. I still refuse to wear headphones outside at night. Paranoid? Sure, but that’s what we’re trained to do.

    Doesn’t help that if anything ever DOES go wrong, guess who gets blamed for it? We do. For wearing ponytails and headphones at night.

    1. Anonymous*

      FWIW, I don’t think it’s bad advice for men or women to avoid wearing headphones if they are out running/walking late at night. Being able to hear what’s going on around you is a pretty basic way to maintain a minimum level of safety, regardless of gender.

      1. VintageLydia*

        Something I notice is, while women are often taught to be too vigilant about personal safety, men aren’t concious about this stuff enough.

        1. fposte*

          Absolutely–they’re actually more likely to be victims than women, in fact.

          FWIW, I wouldn’t give a damn whether it was all male or all female or all Martian–being stuck with vague acquaintances, no connection to the outside world, and miles of bad roads away from anybody I really know sounds pretty hellish. (And we haven’t even gotten into what they’d have to eat. Something I’d have to be a good sport about, I’m sure. Ucch.)

  24. Anonymous*

    This just all sounds like an insanely bad idea and I can’t believe anyone would not recognize that. What is the manager thinking????? I guess some people just lack common sense, but one would hope that a lack of common sense would not lead to a manager’s position within a company….

  25. jennie*

    It’s really disheartening to me that so many women feel so unsafe in daily life. I do understand some of the concerns about roads and cell phone access, but if you can’t be alone with men you work with simply because they’re men, what opportunities are you missing out on at work and in life? It would be great if all work situations were optimized for everyone’s comfort level but being open minded and expanding your comfort level isn’t a bad thing sometimes.

    I feel like the fact that there are four men in this scenario makes it 4 times safer than if it was one on one, because even if one man turned out to be a creep or psychopath, the others would be there to help shut it down. The chances of four professional men orchestrating this retreat to torment or attack a coworker are so remote… and it would be idiotic for them to do anything untoward when this is a documented work function.

    But I’m curious to hear from the OP how it went when she told her boss she wouldn’t go. I hope she focused on the unsuitability and inconvenience of the location, not on the idea that women being alone with men is inherently unsafe.

    1. Jamie*

      I think you may be missing the point of some of the comments. I’ve read that people (myself included) think it’s normal to have an uneasy reaction to it – because of how we were conditioned…not that anyone is saying this in particular is a dangerous situation.

      Personally – I totally get the knee jerk reaction of unease…that said if it were me with my co-workers (who I’ve known longer and none of whom give me any cause for concern) I’d go.

      I’d be royally pissed at having to drive crappy remote roads in the woods, and I’d need to make sure there was a plan B in case we got snowed in (local hotel whatever) because of my own comfort (not safety – comfort – I’m not sleeping in a cabin in the woods with anyone), and quite frankly I’d be irritated about the fact that I was inconvenienced for anything “team building” which I generally think is superfluous at best, and the location would seem to indicate there would be a lot of “outside” involved and I’m not a huge fan of outside – I prefer my nature contained to well groomed yards.

      But all of those reasons are because I’m a prissy curmudgeon – and I would have the identical response whether it was with four men, four other women, or four Christmas geese.

      (If I ever need another screen name I’m totally using Prissy Curmudeon)

      But some of us, myself included, were making broader points that while this may be totally fine and safe – and most likely is – that it’s an odd enough location and request to legitimately throw up red flags or unease in many women. So it would be more professional, in my opinion, to go with the more common custom of doing these types of things in more public locations.

      Your post seems to indicate that you think those of us who find it reasonable to be uneasy over this are responding to this particular situation and I wanted to clarify that for me, and the way I’m reading others, that’s not the case. It’s just a matter of this being in the realm of things some women (I assume most) have been warned against from the cradle and it would be a heck of a lot more courteous if they had it in a location where someone didn’t have to consciously override decades of conditioning. Why even raise the creep factor unintentionally when it’s so very easily avoided?

      I don’t think the boss is being creepy by wanting to have it there – I think he’s being thoughtless.

      And quite frankly – if you have personal experience with a past assault (and as quoted above – common thought is that it’s 1 in 4 women who do) logic doesn’t always over ride triggers. We all have our issues which isn’t our employers problem to deal with – but if you’re talking about a 25% chance of someone having personal triggers…and then add the additional people without personal experience but seeing it happen to someone close to them…

      Those odds are big enough that someone somewhere will be upset or nervous about the situation eventually so why not just move it to a normal location?

    2. VintageLydia*

      I agree the chances of her being attacked are so low as to be non-existent in this situation, and there are more than enough other reasons to suggest another more professional and accessible location that the gender reason should be given wide berth. But for a lot of women, the social conditioning to always watch our back because it’s our fault if something bad happens to us is really hard to let ago.

    3. Katie*

      I can think of a lot of men I work with (or know from elsewhere) that I’d be totally comfortable going on a remote retreat with. It’s not just that they’re men. It’s that they’re men she doesn’t know very well in a place that presents safety concerns (like being snowed in or getting lost on a remote road in bad conditions.)

      I don’t think that anyone is agreeing that it’s LIKELY she’s going to be attacked, but…it’s not like having a retreat out in the woods is the easiest or only way to have a teambuilding activity. Just move your event someplace else or wait to have it until everyone knows each other better and the weather is more likely to be pleasant. The end. Having a TEAM BUILDING activity when one person on your team is deeply uncomfortable is not really thinking very much about the entire team.

  26. Anonymous*

    We did something just like this where I used to work…. we went up to someone’s lakehouse for the day as a “team-building day”…. 3 HR girls and about 12 IT guys. The HR Director was friends with a few IT guys, so she combined our team building day with their department, a department with whom we never actually worked with. We had a cookout and people went swimming and water-skied. It was honestly bizarre, just not the type of place/situation I want to be in with coworkers. My female coworker was in the same boat as me, we thought it was ridiculous and would have honestly rather stayed in the office for the day (driving 2 hours each way to sit in an awkward situation for a few hours… no thank you)! Didn’t help that we were both in our early 20s, everyone else in late 30s +…. so I wasn’t about to put on my bikini to enjoy a day at the lake. It wasn’t a situation where I didn’t feel safe, it just obviously was not an actual team building activity, and I was not comfortable wearing a bathing suit around my coworkers, especially with the vast majority of them being older males. So my coworker and I just sat at a picnic table for 3 hours until we felt it was acceptable to bail… at least it was a nice day out.

  27. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Hmmm. Some of these comments seem to be losing sight of what’s realistic here.

    Yes, it’s true that women need to think about their safety in ways that men don’t need to, and yes, it’s true that men — coming from a different set of experiences — really shouldn’t presume to tell women what they should and shouldn’t feel safe about. And I wouldn’t feel right telling a woman I don’t know that she has no cause to feel uneasy about any situation.

    But that said …. some of this is getting overblown for the context. It’s incredibly unlikely that four people are going to conspire to attack a coworker. I’m not saying it’s never happened (a couple of horror stories about female military contractors come to mind), but it’s incredibly unlikely. It’s true that unlikely scenarios do sometimes befall people, and just because something is unlikely is no guarantee it will never happen. But I think we’re doing the OP — and women in general — a disservice by acting as if it’s a reasonable fear in this situation. Unless she feels uneasy around these particular men (and maybe she does, but it hasn’t been mentioned yet), it’s just not reasonable to be scared to be alone in a lake house with your coworkers for a day.

    If she can’t get over the uneasiness, she should speak up and ask for the event to be changed to a different location, as I said originally. But I really think that in a rush to assert that women need to be more careful than men, some of these comments are losing sight of what’s reasonable for this particular context.

    1. KellyK*

      Yeah, I think there’s a huge difference between *feelings* of unsafeness and an actual evaluation of risk (which is very much related to the idea that women are taught that if we aren’t good girls, bad things will happen and it will be OUR FAULT). So I think there’s a fine line between saying, “Yes, of course your feelings of vulnerability and iffiness are valid, and lots of people would feel the same way,” and implying that it really is a major risk.

      You’re right that four coworkers are really unlikely to conspire to assault a female coworker, and even if there is one rapist in the group, he’s not likely to be able to isolate the LW during a day of meetings. (One out of any given group of four men having ever committed rape is actually fairly unlikely all by itself. If I recall correctly, the odds of any given stranger being a rapist are something like 1 in 20. Though, the study I’m thinking of was conducted among college-age men, so I’m guessing it’s a bit lower in the general population. Not exactly comforting, but not a terrible risk either.)

      1. Editor*

        Is the crux of the problem the fact that that she hasn’t worked with these co-workers long? That’s what I keep coming back to.

        So, maybe going to the cabin next year during a season when there won’t be snow would be ok, but going to the cabin this year just seems like too much risk.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But too much risk of what, exactly? Because it really doesn’t seem reasonable to think that you can’t spend a day with coworkers because they might assault you, unless there’s something specific to these particular coworkers that she’s concerned about.

          1. Editor*

            From my perspective, she doesn’t know what she’s risking because there are too many variables. It isn’t necessarily rational to fear her co-workers. She might fear being unable to leave if she does become uncomfortable, for instance.

            That’s what’s so hard about her question and that may be why she asked it. Going to Hooters for lunch has a more limited number of variables. (Engineer Girl talked about the number of variables.)

            Should she ask if there’s a working land-line phone that could be used in case of emergency and get the number? Yes. Should she ask if the team-building will be moved to a conference room if there’s a chance of snow? Yes. Should she worry about using a bathroom guys use? No — get over it. Should she otherwise suck it up and go? Pretty much.

            Should she leave a bunch of contact information with a friend as though she was going on a blind date and promise to check in with the friend by midnight? Maybe, particularly if that would make her feel more secure. Should she drive herself and pack a sleeping bag, a few snacks and her overnight gear in the trunk out of sight? Yes. Should she get good directions in and out but also arrange to drive there by following someone who knows the way rather than car-pooling? Yes. Should she get a detailed map of the area where the cabin is? Maybe.

            1. KellyK*


              Those are a lot of really good suggestions for helping her mitigate the risks that are worrying her, and feel more comfortable.

              It’s also a good reminder for me that I need an emergency kit in my car. Both for true “I’m stranded in a snow storm and I’d like to not freeze or starve” emergencies and minor crappy “I’m out of gas and the Exxon’s card reader is broken” and “I’m stuck in traffic at dinner time and starting to feel ill” ones.

              1. Camellia*

                But my goodness, if she has to do all these things to mitigate possible risk, I go back to a comment above – if this was a horror movie everyone would be telling her not to go and wondering how she could have ignored so many red flags!

          2. jennie*

            AAM has expressed my views perfectly. I understand that women are often conditioned to be more cautious of unknown situations but that doesn’t mean it’s rational and it doesn’t mean we have to give in to that caution every time.

            Listening to your gut is a good idea, but you should listen to your brain too and decide which is the most rational and preferable choice.

            This risk in this situation is so low that the risk of not going, not being a team player and potentially offending the other participants becomes very great.

            I’ve been in this exact situation before with the genders reversed. We were invited to my boss’s lake house for a team building day – 5 women and one man. I don’t like team building exercises and don’t really like socializing with my coworkers, but the boss thought it would be a nice treat for us and it was nice to get out of the office. No harm done.

    2. bearing*

      Yes, TBH I would feel more uneasy about the “work lunch at Hooters” mentioned earlier in the comments…

  28. BA*

    My gut reaction is how annoyed I am by team building exercises in general, especially traveling a great distance for them. To me, having it at his lake house is more about how many people that have vacation homes think everyone universally gets pleasure from the same things. For example, my aunt owns a house on the ocean and is shocked I don’t want to go there but I’m not a fan of the ocean and it’s in an inconvenient location to me. I would rather come into the office for a team building day on a Saturday than drive 1.5 hours to a lake house.

    My second thought is, as much as I hate this kind of crap, telling my boss his idea is bad never goes over well. And being the one person to not participate in a “team” event always makes a bad impression even if it doesn’t impact on your career. I will give my honest opinion (politely worded, of course) if asked, but I just suck it up and do it.

    I don’t really have a comment on the gender issue because how you feel is all that really matters. I would personally never have a secluded work event with all men and one woman but that’s a personal thing for me.

  29. Lulu*

    I’ve been thinking about this more, as a friend pointed out to me that the environments I’ve worked in have been “unusual” – of course, I don’t see it that way, since it’s what I know! To me, it’s odd that anyone would feel weird going out for drinks or otherwise spending non-work time with their coworkers or clients, as that was part of the fun of my last job ;) But I totally respect and understand that not only is that not everyone’s cup of tea (or pool of coworkers), it’s not every company’s culture – just as some people here are bemused at questions re: wearing suits, as they’ve never done anything else. So I’m wondering whether this might also not be a red (well, maybe amber) flag about cultural fit for the OP if her manager sees nothing unusual about the event? Where I worked, if you found it inappropriate to have an event featuring hanging out in a bar-restaurant by the water in shorts with your coworkers set up as a reward event, you probably wouldn’t have been happy with other things about the company or office climate either. Not that either side is “wrong”, just comes back to the ever-popular fit issue. It’s not clear that’s what’s happening here, as this is the only issue she’s mentioned (and honestly most things actually labelled “team building” are uncomfortable for all parties), but I thought I’d put it out there…

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