when a client calls you “baby girl,” avoiding interviews that will waste your time, and more

It’s five short answers to five short questions. Here we go…

1. Client keeps calling me “baby girl”

I know from reading your blog that you are outspoken against referring to adult women as “girls” in the workplace. I was wondering if you had advice on how to handle it when the offender is a client. I manage the account of a male client who regularly calls me ‘baby girl’ instead of my name. I have asked him once before to call me by my name and he did so, but the next time we spoke it was right back to “Hi baby girl…. Thanks baby girl,” etc.

This is seriously grating on me. I am neither a baby nor a girl and I absolutely want this to stop. However, he is a big client and so I am not sure how direct I can be for obvious reasons. I’ve struggled to come up with a way to say something in a direct but non-confrontational way, particularly since a polite correction did not work the first time. Can you please advise as to how I can shut this down? All that said, given the power differential, I know the easiest option would be to just let it go. Am I being unreasonable in letting this bug me to this extent?

No, it’s not unreasonable to be bothered by that! Baby girl? That’s ridiculous.

And yeah, you’re right that you risk souring a relationship with a big client if you take as hard of a line on it as you might take with, say, a coworker who was doing this. As for how to address it, much of it depends on your dynamic with the client. But if he’s calling you “baby girl,” the relationship is probably at least somewhat informal, so personally I’d just say cheerfully, “You know I’m not going to respond when you call me that, right?” and move on with the conversation. Repeat as needed / adapt to fit your style.

I’d also try to balance the understandable frustration of this against how he treats you aside from this — is he otherwise respectful and does he treat you as a competent professional aside from this? If so, I’d be more inclined to write it off as an annoying eccentricity.

2. How can I prevent wasting my time on interviews for jobs that aren’t what I’m looking for?

I was contacted by a search firm for a “senior leader” opportunity. I am a director and interested in jobs in the next level (exec director or VP). The recruiter set up an interview with the next level, who turned out to be a director too. Since all titles are not equal at companies, I agreed to interview. After the interview, I could tell it would be a step down, as it was really a senior manager job with a sign-on bonus that would match my salary but year two would not.

I went to the next interview with the SVP hoping to make an impression for future director-level positions. She said they didn’t have any plans anytime soon for more directors. The external recruiter sent me about 20 text messages trying to convince me it’s a growing company and director jobs would open down the road. I just can’t take that risk 30 years into my career. They made an offer that I declined. The reason I gave was I felt it wasn’t a step up and the timing was wrong since I will be getting a bonus soon.

The recruiter was very annoyed with me after all this and said I should have been more transparent about my bonus. But I was very transparent in at least 5 conversations that a senior manager job is not strategic for me and a step down. I feel it was none of his business about my bonus, and if he would have been more honest about the job level from the start, I would have never interviewed. How can I prevent this waste of time and resources in the future?

You can’t always perfectly screen job opportunities to eliminate the ones that you won’t be interested in. Sometimes you do need to go to the interview and learn more before you can realize it. And actually, that did happen here — you realized at the first interview that it wasn’t the job you were looking for. After that, it sounds like you went to the next interviewing only hoping to build a relationship for the future — but if you look at what you wrote, you’d already realized at that point that this wasn’t the right job for you. So I wouldn’t really blame the employer for wasting your time. The recruiter, maybe — and that bombardment of 20 text messages is a good indication that this recruiter isn’t exactly top-notch, as is his blaming you at the end of the process — but I think the lesson here is really to listen to what you learn at the first interview.

3. Addressing a cover letter when it’s to my current boss

I’m applying for an advanced position at the place I’ve worked at for the last 10 years. What is the most approriate greeting to use on the cover letter without sounding like an overly formal stranger? By this time, my boss knows me well, and I don’t want to sound too casual or too formal. Any ideas?

I’m trying to avoid stuffy and formal and come across as personable and outgoing.

What do you normally call her? Assuming you normally call her by her first name, that’s what you open with here too. You don’t need to pretend like you call someone Ms. Whoever when you’re on a first-name basis with each other … and in fact, it would be weird to do so. (After all, if your’e normally on a first-name basis, wouldn’t you be weirded out if she came by to talk to you about the job and called you Ms. LastName?)

Cover letters aren’t some special extra-formal thing; they’re just like any other business correspondence.

4. My coworker and I aren’t on the same page about our joint responsibilities

I work in content management, and I share identical and equal responsibilities with one other person, “A.” Because of the way we divide up our work (each of us spend equal hours on the necessary tasks every week), I have noticed that A works at a slower pace than I do. This is fine in theory — I would just get whatever I needed to get done in my time frame and A should be able to take over where I leave off.

My problem is that the work A is completing is actually creating additional work for the both of us. Our work relies on an outside vendor who is fairly unreliable, and the product we receive is partly determined by how details our instructions are to them. In an ideal world, they would need minimal instructions at this point, but as it stands they need careful scrutiny and feedback. My partner doesn’t have time for this (we do have other work to handle, separately, other than what we share) and so when we get some bad product back, I have to spend more time fixing it.

A and I have a good relationship, and we know that our vendor is bad, but A insists that they need to improve, rather than the fact that we’re still on the hook for the quality of the output, which is the stance I take and why I spend more time in the upstream part of the process to try to mitigate the errors that come after. So what can I do? It’s frustrating to do repeat work, and I feel like A and I do need to be on the same page on this, because we’re both responsible for the same thing, and there is a time-sensitive component to getting our product delivered (so it reflects equally badly on me when things don’t get done). Do I need to get my manager involved at this point?

Yes, I think so. Part of your manager’s job is to help resolve things like this, and you don’t really have the authority to solve it on your own. I’d approach your manager and lay out what you laid out there. Approach it collaboratively, as if you’re searching for a solution to any other business problem you might bring to her.

5. Having to work when everyone else is being paid to be on vacation

I’m a salaried, non-exempt employee, and my employer is closed down for two weeks over the holidays. If I’m expected to work a day or two during that time, am I entitled to either receive comp time or additional pay for the hours I work? These two weeks are paid staff holidays for all full-time employees.

Legally, there’s no requirement for that. However, you could certainly approach your manager and say, “I’m missing out on two days of holiday pay that everyone else is getting since I’ll be working those days. Is it possible for me to take those two days in January (or later) instead?”

{ 145 comments… read them below }

      1. Graciosa*

        I wonder, though, if that example is part of the cause – maybe the client thinks that calling someone “Baby Girl” is charming, debonair, and collegial. It isn’t in this case, of course, but the client may have latched on to this without thinking it through.

        The good news would be that it gives the OP another cheerful response – a joking reminder that she assumes the client is calling for Penelope and not her – and that the client better change his form of address if he wants the OP to respond.

        1. SevenSixOne*

          I think it may be cultural, too– I work with several older Black men who call any younger woman “baby girl”, even when the younger woman is his boss.

    1. Karyn*

      This is IMMEDIATELY where my mind went. If Shemar Moore (or Tom Hiddleston) is my client, he can call me whatever he pleases. Otherwise, hell no.

        1. Karyn*

          I feel like Hiddles is much more of a “darling” kind of person. As in, “Thank you, darling, now would you like some tea and cake?”

          …and now I have Eddie Izzard saying “tea and cake or death” in my head…

      1. Malissa*

        Ha ha! That’s exactly where my mind went as well. And yes, Shemar Moore can call me what ever he wants, as long as he calls me.

        1. Anonie*

          Glad I am not the only one who thought of Shemar Moore! My first thought was is her client Shermar Moore….

  1. Is.This.Legal*


    This. Recruiters don’t really care much about your time so you have to be assertive of what to accept or not accept for interview. It’s like throwing sparghetti at the wall hoping some will stick. I had to ask someone in HR is they pay outside recruiters by the amount of applicants who come in and he told me only when they place someone.

    This recruiter I was working with will change my resume without permission, misrepresent my qualifications and all that. Choose careful and say no if you don’t feel good about the position.

  2. Ann Furthermore*

    #1: Weird. Creepy. Completely inappropriate. I really don’t have any any insight to add here. The idea of someone calling me “baby girl” in any context just makes my skin crawl.

    1. badger_doc*

      I think sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. For example, I work at a company with a lot of guys who have been there 25+ years. I am a 30 year old female. This one guy in particular calls me “kiddo” and I just put it in context–he’s a sweet older man who could be my uncle, and to him, I’m probably just like a kid. I could let it offend me or let it make my skin crawl, but it’s not a hill I am willing to die on. I know my value to the company and know I will succeed no mater what nickname I am called. Just get over the “baby girl” name for the sake of the client relationship. Some older guys are just like that and it is very hard for them to change. Eventually they will all retire and our work force will even out so that doesn’t happen. Just be patient and try not to let the little things get to you. Not worth it.

      1. Anonymous*

        I agree with this. I started a new job two years ago at 25 and the woman I replaced retired at 70. I’m the youngest in my entire department by a good 25 years. I get called missy/baby/youngin/kiddo/girl. I’m actually in a more senior role than half of everyone else but I’m still younger than their kids so I get to be the office baby. It doesn’t interfere with my job so I just let it go. They also think I’m a genius when I do something on excel or use a windows shortcut, so that’s cool

        1. Jubilance*

          I’ve been the youngest in my department by 25 years as well, but no one was unprofessional enough to call me kiddo/missy/baby/etc. And had they done so, I would have called them out about it.

          Just because you didn’t take offense to it, doesn’t mean others can’t or shouldn’t. Lots of other people are bothered by that sort of thing, including the OP, and its their right to do so and to say something about it.

          1. Anonymous*

            It’s just not the hill I want to die on. It’s just easier for me (in my office/job/life) to realize that a 60 year old lady saying “Hey, Missy, come show me that excel thing again!” or “The baby’s here!” when I get to work late during a snow storm is not worth it.

            If someone else wants to take that battle on. Go them.

            1. Jubilance*

              But it doesn’t have to be a battle. I think you’re assuming that I’m spending 15 mins explaining why I think its disrespectful and making a big fit about it. It’s very easy to assert yourself, correct someone, and move on.

              You choose to let people call/refer to you as missy or baby or whatever. I don’t. Simple. :-)

              1. LadyTL*

                True but if you have to do it every day, multiple times a day with people who have no intention of changing their behavior, it can easily turn into a battle.

                1. Anonymous*

                  If you’ve asked them multiple times nicely to stop and they don’t, they shouldn’t be surprised when they get a battle.

              2. Ruffingit*

                I’m with you on this. A simple correction is appropriate and should be done. You’re not a kid, baby, or whatever. It’s more than acceptable to ask that people treat you with the professionalism and respect you deserve.

                1. Ruffingit*


                  If something doesn’t bother someone, then clearly they would have no reason to correct it since they aren’t taking issue with it in the first place. I was replying to Jubilance and saying that I agree with her and would correct this.

        2. TL*

          “Girl” and “youngun” I might let slide, depending on context, but “missy” I’ve only heard in the context of chiding girls and it and “baby” wouldn’t fly at all in the workplace. I am not your child nor your baby and you should not refer to me as such.

      2. Zillah*

        I disagree. It’s great that you’re willing to deal with that sort of thing, but it’s not wrong for other women to be significantly less okay with putting up with it. It’s demeaning, and there’s nothing wrong with “letting” something demeaning bother you, in a similar way of there being nothing wrong with “letting” a racial slur bother you.

        It’s completely reasonable to not be okay with people treating you unprofessionally in a professional context, especially since that tends to be one of the reasons women don’t advance in their careers – they’re not seen as serious workers.

        And, regardless, I would argue that there is an enormous difference between being called “kiddo” and being called “baby girl.” I would not be okay with either one, but the first is at least theoretically gender neutral and is based around your age.

        “Baby girl” has very different connotations: it’s not just based around age and a “you have a lot to learn” mentality, it’s a term that explicitly references your gender in an overfamiliar way. I almost exclusively hear “baby girl” as a term of endearment in relationships; this isn’t that.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I agree. “Baby girl” carries a very definite romantic/sexual context distinctly different from “kiddo” or whatever.

          And it is 100% understandable, reasonable, acceptable, and professional, to request that someone not address you in a professional work context by what is essentially a term of endearment. It is demeaning. It is okay to not accept it.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I have a coworker who calls people that; she speaks in a very Southern manner and mostly uses it when we’re goofing around, as in “Oh no no no, I don’t think so, baby girl!” It doesn’t bother me too much because I know she isn’t using it to denigrate anyone.

        2. LSG*

          Amen Amen Amen.

          This client is taking advantage of the fact that you feel like you have to put up with nonsense to be gross. Further evidence: when has “baby girl” ever been a common nickname that it’s hard to change? A couple of times older men have called me “sweetheart” in an office context and it didn’t bother me too much because it seemed like it was a deeply ingrained habit for them. I didn’t love it, but didn’t think it was a battle worth fighting. Not only is “baby girl” even more infantalizing and sexualized, I’ve never never never heard of someone using it as a standard endearment that just comes out like a reflex.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I’m not arguing it’s okay, but I don’t think it’s always sexualized. I’ve heard older southern women use it as an affectionate term to other (usually younger) women.

            1. LSG*

              That’s totally true — I know several young southern women who use it with all their female friends. From the (limited context) we were given — male client to female worker, in the office, after she’s asked him not to without any kind of apology or explanation — it seemed sexualized to me.

              However, I think the approach you suggested is absolutely the right one not only because you don’t want to have a knock-down drag-out fight with a client, but because it does allow for the possibility that the client is coming from a different personal or cultural perspective. At the very least, it allows them to save face.

            2. Judy*

              The last memory I have of knowing my Grandmother knew who I was was about 6 weeks before she died. Her nickname for me (first granddaughter) was Baby Girl. I walked in and she just beamed and said “Baby Girl”. I remember that vividly 30 years later. She had not always known who people were for the previous year or so.

      3. Graciosa*

        I do think it is important to have a sense of perspective – however you really do have to pay attention to the level of respect shown to you in the office. If you’re comfortable with “kiddo” around the water cooler, that’s fine, but it’s a completely different story when you finish a presentation in front of a major client and someone calls out “Good job, kiddo!” The latter can diminish your stature in the eyes of key stakeholders, and that’s something you need to address. Waiting for the offenders to retire is not addressing it.

        I once – and I wince to recall it – had to tell an older co-worker he was hurting my feelings in order to get him to change a behavior. My skin still crawls to think about talking like this at work – even in a private conversation – as it sounds dangerously close to whining and playing the “girl” card in a way I have never done.

        Still, there was nothing remotely girlish in my delivery – it was a very straightforward statement “When you do X, it hurts my feelings” delivered with a serious (but not sad) expression, so I think of it as communicating in a way that allowed the recipient to understand my message and back down on his stance without losing face. However it was – after other attempts – the only way to get him to recognize the impact he was having (not actually on my feelings) and it did result in an immediate (and permanent) behavioral change.

        My message is that while I agree with choosing your battles, don’t underestimate the importance of any that involve your personal stature in the office, and don’t let people completely off the hook on grounds of age. If you think about it, it’s kind of insulting to them (that generation really doesn’t matter any more, and you can’t expect them to learn to behave professionally in the office anyway, so I’ll just wait it out) and you’re not taking the opportunity to learn to communicate effectively and address these issues. That’s an important skill to have, and you’re missing opportunities to develop it.

        All that being said, I do understand not starting public fights with people who mean well – but there are often opportunities to address the issues privately in a relationship-preserving way if you look for them.

      4. Colette*

        I think there’s a pretty significant difference between “kiddo” and “baby girl”.

        Since he’s responded once to a request to address her by her name, I think she could try saying “It’s , actually” – in a neutral tone – without souring the relationship.

      5. Jenny Lee*

        In the South, “kiddo” is a generic affectionate nickname for just about anyone on the same social level. I’d never call my boss kiddo, but he might call me that, and neither of us would think twice about it.

      6. Meg*

        It might not be worth it for you, but it doesn’t mean it’s not for the OP. Using infantilizing phrases specifically toward woman is not a “little thing”, it’s an example of widespread gender bias that persists in the workplace. And the idea that all the older people will retire and take their outdated phrases with them is false as well. Younger employees learn from their examples, and if they see that the older employees are getting away with using these phrases and treating women a certain way with impunity, they’re more likely to do the same.

        1. fposte*

          I would actually disagree with the attrition point. A lot of these uses really are generational, not simply permissive, just as cultural values tend to be; it’s not like the 22-year-olds in the office are dying to call me “honeychile” if only they saw somebody else do it.

          I don’t think that means merely waiting for the honeychile generation to die will work or satisfy as a solution, but I don’t think shrugging off a client’s honeychile is necessarily opening the floodgates, either.

      7. Bee*

        re: ‘kiddo’ – the head of our org, whom I often have to work closely with, calls me ‘kiddo’ on occasion (I’m a mid-20’s female). He’s older than my father and I am younger than his daughter, and honestly he probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it. He never does it in front of others and I’ve never gotten an inappropriate vibe from it, so I just take it as affectionate and move on. True, he probably wouldn’t do it if I was male, but it doesn’t really feel sexist to me (which ‘baby girl’ def. does.)

    2. Sydney Bristow*

      It feels so wrong! I’m completely upset for the OP.

      I used to be the only woman in a construction-related workplace of all men. On top of that, I was the youngest of the group. I dealt with my fair share of comments (virtually all of which were from customers) ranging from slightly inappropriate to a few that were significantly more inappropriate. I never had anyone call me “baby girl” or something like that. I did have one customer call me by a celebrity’s nickname because our names are similar. Perhaps if the OP has a nickname that she is comfortable using (or already uses) at work she could say “if you really need to use a nickname for me, people tend to call me X.” Not a perfect solution.

      Another not so perfect solution could work if the OP sees the customer in person when other male coworkers are around. If she has a trusted male coworker she could mention it to him and ask him to say something if he hears it happen. Sometimes people like this need to hear from another guy “dude you’ve got to stop calling her that” said in a good natured way. I’d use this more as a last resort. I know that most of my male coworkers felt somewhat protective of me, which I have mixed thoughts about because it was annoying but also came in helpful a couple of times, but knew that I could handle myself.

    3. Gene*

      If the client here is from an earlier generaation, and from the South (with a capital ‘S’), I don’t see it as either creepy or completely inappropriate in his plane of reference. If either he has relocated to somewhere else, or the OP has moved there from somewhere else, I can see it as grating.

      First, get your manger on board, then call him on it every time, without rancor, and move on. Eventually, especially if he’s a Southern Gentleman, he will start calling you by your name.

  3. Jen in RO*

    As I said before, I do refer to myself and other women as “girl” from time to time and I don’t have a problem with that… but “baby girl” from a client?! No way in hell is that OK! Good luck with this OP…

    1. en pointe*

      Agreed, I also use “girl” – probably more than I should. But “baby girl”, as a term of address, is a whole ‘nother level of inappropriate in my opinion.

    2. Jamie*

      Yep, baby girl is in the category of “pretty lady” and “sweet thing”…skin crawly in the workplace.

      I’ve even seen this done to men “handsome devil” that kind of thing.

      So weird.

  4. Chocolate Teapot*

    I was watching a repeat of Cagney and Lacey recently and noticed that their boss always addresses them as “Girls”.

    In this case though, I wonder if the client keeps forgetting the OP’s name?

    1. tcookson*

      If my client was forgetting my name, there are a whole lot of other things I’d way rather be called instead of “baby girl” (miss, ma’am, hey you . . . ).

      1. Chocolate Teapot*

        In such circumstances, I would be sorely tempted to buy one of those necklaces with my name on it!

  5. en pointe*

    #5 – I would ask to take the holiday days at a later date but definitely not for additional pay.

    Fact of the matter is you are already getting paid for those days so I don’t really see why you would be entitled to extra compensation for working – what you’re really missing out on is the paid holiday time.

    1. Jamie*

      We’re closed twice a year where I work and I have a small team to assist with cost accounting in with me – I would never ask them to give up time everyone else got unless they were being comped time hour for hour – I make sure it hits their vacay accrual and they can take it when they like during the year.

      It’s just rude to offer basically free time off to everyone except a few…if they can’t take it later it can make one feel like Cinderella – and not in the good way.

      1. Cat*

        I think that’s a great analogy! Any number of office problems can be avoided by managers asking themselves “am I treating this employee like Cindarella pre-fairy godmother?”

    2. AnonK*

      A good manager will be offering some comp time to make things a little bit more equitable in the eyes of this employee.

      Just don’t get entitled and think that every hour you work in a situation like this should equal one hour off. You are salaried, afterall.

  6. AdAgencyChick*

    #1 — ugh. Are you the owner of the business, or are you part of the rank and file? If the latter, I’d talk to your manager about it. In my experience, companies don’t want to rock the boat with clients, but they may make an exception if an employee is being sexually harassed. (Especially if, as Alison mentioned, “baby girl” is part of a larger pattern of obnoxious behavior — or if this guy’s boss is a woman.)

    #3 — I’m confused. Why do you have to write a cover letter to your current boss? Couldn’t you just talk to her about the fact that you’re interested in the position? At this point she knows you and your work (and if she doesn’t, it’s too soon to be applying for a new position), so there’s no need to introduce yourself to her. If she already knows you’re interested and the cover letter is a formality that has to be gone through, then yes, first name for sure.

    1. Tina*

      At some places, it’s required that you formally apply for higher positions, regardless of whether most people would consider it a promotion. That happens at our university, our manager doesn’t have discretion over that.

    2. Julie*

      Hi there, I know its already been suggested by Tina, but I work for a government entity and unlike a small business where the boss is the final say, we do need to formally apply for any positions within the county and those are then turned in to the larger HR department which manages all of the hiring departments within the county.

      BTW, I did just go with “Dear Steve,”. I’ll find out in 2 weeks what happens! Wish me luck!

    3. Malissa*

      The cover letter can be a useful tool to remind your boss that you rocked X project or that you had Y experience in your life before this job. I’ve seen cover letters from current employees that made the very strong candidates for a position they may otherwise have never been considered.
      Also it puts things in black and white in case your boss isn’t the only person involved in the hiring decision.

  7. OliviaNOPE*

    I’m curious if the offender in #1 is a black male. Very common in the black community to call young ladies “baby girl.” I’m wondering if this is a cultural misunderstanding.

    1. Bea W*

      I’ve never heard that in professional conversation from African American or other black males. I was wondering along similar cultural lines though, if this person was not from the US (or Canada or Europe). If this is the case, someone really needs to explain to him that calling any women “baby girl” is considered offensive in American culture, unless that woman is personally close to you. It is never appropriate in a business setting.

      OP – keep correcting him when he says it. Eventually he’ll either get it or just get tired of being corrected and stop.

      1. Xay*

        I’m a lifelong Southerner and i’ve worked with lots of black males and I have never been called baby girl in the workplace. In casual conversation, yes, since I have a young face and I seem to remind every older black man of their daughter, but not at work.

      2. Anonymous*

        Yeah, this was my question as well. Awhile back I worked at a company where I worked with clients from all over the world and a few of them (non-North America or Europe-based) used several terms like, and including, “baby girl” when communicating with us. We, including our manager, actually ended up having a conversation about whether we should address it but based on our other communications decided not to since their English wasn’t great and we didn’t feel like it was intended to be offensive. I’m not sure if I’d make the same decision now, but I can’t imagine I’d let it go if it was someone in the U.S. using it.

    2. Brandon*

      I wondered the same thing. I’m in the South where some ghosts of old-style Southern Manners float around, and it’s not rare to hear terms like that floating around, just things like “Sweetie, could you hand me that?” or “Honey, my hands are full, can you open the door?” It was said by everybody regardless of position or gender and it was so ingrained I never even really thought of it as being offensive, it was just the sound people made when they talked. You could try being subtle, just saying something like, “I’m sorry, that term just hits my ear wrong, could be work on finding something else,” then steering him toward something easier to stomach.

      1. Anonymous*

        I lived in the South for a long time and was called a host of “terms of endearment,” but I never heard “baby girl” in a business context!

      2. TL*

        Yup – I live in Texas and it’s much the same thing.

        But a generalized “honey” or “sweetie” to everyone in the office is much different than “baby girl” to woman much younger than you, though I can understand not wanting to be called either. (Seriously, can you imagine him calling an older gentleman that?!)

        I’m not familiar at all with African American culture, but to second others, the only time I’ve ever heard baby girl has been as a romantic endearment.

      3. Headachey*

        This sounds like a perfect opportunity for another Southernism: “Oh, bless your heart, you know you can’t call me that at work, right?”

      4. VintageLydia*

        Southerner here and I have no problem calling/being called everyone on earth “hun” and similar terms. But those are so generalized, used by everyone FOR everyone, that they sound WAY different to me than things like “baby girl.” Baby girl sounds infantilizing AND sexualized which is doubly creepy in the workplace.

    3. TL*

      Cultural difference or not, it’s not appropriate for the workplace. The older ladies where I grew up often affectionately referred to kids/young adults as mija or mijo (from me hijo/a) but it still wouldn’t be appropriate for the workplace and wasn’t used professionally. And while my tango instructor calls me nina (tilde should be there!) in class, my Argentine coworker certainly does no such thing.

    4. A Reader*

      I have been called this while working in the south by African American superiors and coworkers. As a feminist I wasn’t pleased, but I can’t say I’m comfortable subverting another culture’s rights for my rights as a woman. If the intention isn’t bad, why hurt one minority for the sake of another minority (women)’s rights? It all seems to come out evenly in the end.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit*

        Because it doesn’t do any violence to Black culture (or Black people) to object to being called an infantalizing name… whereas it does do violence to women (or an individual woman) to allow it.

        1. VintageLydia*

          Yup. Intersectionality is really hard to navigate and can start to feel like the Oppression Olympics, but I think in this context, being preferred to be addressed professionally in a professional environment/relationship is hardly abusing your privilege as a white person. I’m not exactly an expert on the African American experience, so if I’m wrong feel free to let me know.

          1. A Reader*

            Thanks. This is what I mean. I also think it’s way more important that as one minority I appreciate the differences in culture for another minority (if it’s even the case that this is an African American man using a cultural term). Audrey Lourde (sp?), the famous black gay feminist would totally agree with me that we should just work together rather than pit our minority rights against eachother. We accomplish so much more together!

            1. Anonymous*

              The same Audre Lorde who called out racism among white feminism may want to have an additional conversation with you if your main concern is sexism from African American men.

              1. A Reader*

                Good point. There’s plenty to say about her politics that is probably beyond the scope of the question. It’s silly of me to so absolutely rely on her to make my point.

                I guess I would just like to cite her idea that feminists don’t get ahead by subverting another minority’s rights. And then expand that– no minory gets ahead by subverting any other minority’s rights.

                1. Calla*

                  You’re not subverting anyone’s rights, you’re asking someone not to call you something that you don’t like, and you have every right to do so.

      2. annie*

        Just because something is part of someone’s culture, does not mean you personally need to go along with it in the workplace… or anywhere else for that matter. There are a myriad of practices from cultures and religions around the globe that I am happy to respect the right of others to engage in, but would not want to participate in myself, particularly since so many traditions subjugate women and girls.

        Also, I daresay that the term “baby girl” is not a crucial part of African-American culture, so you can feel just fine telling this guy to knock it off. I cannot imagine any African-Americans I know using that in a professional context, particularly when there is the power dynamic of client/vendor and man/woman. This guy knows he’s trying to get away with something.

  8. Chocolate Teapot*

    For some reason, that song “Baby Boy” by Beyonce and Sean Paul has just put in an appearance as an earworm.

  9. Bea W*

    #5 – Ask if you can take other days as comp time for the time you work over the shutdown. You’re not legally entitled to it, but a smart manager will be flexible, and understand you’re losing out on paid days off that everyone else is getting.

  10. Jake*

    My boss calls one of my female colleagues “girlie” all the time. I know he doesn’t mean anything negative by it, but it still sounds so off.

  11. Sue*

    Thank you for the feedback on my headhunter bait and switch experience. I have not obtained employment or many interviews through this channel so the input is great! I have had a few interviews recently from this source but this guy was over the top with his text and manipulation of the facts. As an update, he even texted several days after I declined to ask if they changed the start date would it change my decision since I could then collect my bonus. Wow, really I only told him at least 5 times the position level didn’t line up with my higher level of experience. I didn’t respond to the text but rather sent a polite email outlining reason again I declined.

    1. AnonK*

      The recruiter sounds like a pain and you are right not to have taken the job.

      However, just to pay devil’s advocate: he doesn’t get paid unless you were hired for the position he recruited you for. You decided it wasn’t for you and tried to network for other jobs in the future, that he most likely wouldn’t have been paid for, depending on his contract with the hiring firm. So in essence, his time was being wasted after the first interview and you weren’t transparent. I don’t feel sorry for him at wrong, but hopefully you can see why he was miffed. He spent time finding you and presenting you behind the scenes to the employer and your continued interviews was interpreted as interest by him. He now has no compensation for his effort and is concerned that you saying no hurts his relationship with the hiring company.

      Again, I don’t feel bad for him and you handled it right, but I completely understand why he is agitated right now.

      1. Sue*

        Just to be clear I was completely transparent, telling him that it seemed like a step down and I needed a director or above job at all phases of the interview

  12. Jubilance*

    Sort of related to #1 – I detest the “well X happened to me and I wasn’t offended” type responses that come with questions of offensive behavior. Great, you weren’t offended but what does that have to do with the LW? It’s basically invalidating the person’s feelings & insinuating they are wrong for being offended, because you were the in the exact same situation & you weren’t offended. People are allowed to feel with they feel and they don’t need you to agree with them in order for the feelings to be validated. I wish these types of letters didn’t turn into a whole bunch of “well I wasn’t offended by that so what’s the big deal?” type comments.

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      +1 to all of this. Sure, maybe one person wasn’t offended when something similar happened to them, and maybe their manager or this manager or whomever didn’t “mean it” in an offensive way, but to just say “Well, you shouldn’t be offended/take it easy/don’t get hysterical/just go with it” is avoiding the problem, perpetuating harmful ideas, and setting the stage for a host of other problems.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree, mostly. But often people are writing in to say “is it reasonable for me to be bothered by this?” and in that case, I don’t think it’s invalidating for someone to say, “I don’t let this bother me and the best course of action is to just ignore it” or whatever.

      Also, while I don’t want to invalidate anyone’s feelings, it can in some contexts be helpful to hear, “Hey, this really isn’t a big deal, and you’re letting it bother you more than is warranted, which will make you less happy / less effective / etc.” (For example, when someone is taking personally a job rejection, or angry that they were invited to interview when there was already a frontrunner candidate.)

      So I think there’s a balance in there somewhere, and it’s probably all in how people say it.

      1. Anonymous*

        Agree! People often write in to this blog to get an educated but neutral perspective, and often the context is “is this crazy/weird/awful/insulting or am I taking it too seriously?”

    3. Elkay*

      I think those people are trying to relate by offering up a similar situation with context. There is a lot of information missing from the OP that makes it difficult to say if this is an over-reaction.

      Having written to AAM with a similar query it was really helpful to me when one of the commenters said “I’ve been in a similar situation and here’s some context that you might not have realised”. It didn’t make me feel any less creeped out by what happened to me but I realised that the behaviour wasn’t necessarily aimed at me in particular and could have easily happened to anyone which did make me feel better.

    4. Broke Philosopher*

      Yep! Also, the problem in my mind isn’t really whether someone was offended or not. Yeah, we shouldn’t say offensive things cause it’s mean to hurt other people, but in my mind the more severe problem is that there are real gender imbalances at play in the work world, and certain terms exacerbate those imbalances. So if someone calls me “baby girl,” he might mean it innocently and I might not feel offended, but he’s still playing into stereotypes about young women and subtly reminding me of my place–and that is problematic regardless of whether my feelings get hurt.

    5. Mints*

      Agreed. I think there’s also a different context or tone when someone says to be mindful of the relationship, and to let it go if it’ll endanger your job, versus, saying that they don’t mind that behavior and being dismissive of someone feeling irritated or put down

    1. Mishsmom*

      it maybe Southernism, but if he were in court and the judge was a woman, would he call her that? no. if he was talking to Michelle Obama, would he call her that? (hopefully) no. if he were talking to the president of his company who was a female, would he call her that? no. so it seems to me he’s doing that in this case because he can get away with it. now, is he an evil villain? no. i’m sure he has no idea the effect of his words.

      1. Darcy Pennell*

        I’ve heard an elderly Southern woman call a male judge “shug” (as in “sugar)” in court. She didn’t hear his question and said “What was that, shug?” The judge looked mad, but he didn’t correct her.

        I don’t know if I have a point, except maybe that elderly ladies can get away with saying things that the rest of us can’t.

      2. Jake*

        Actually, there are a lot of people that would.

        My boss is one of those guys that talks to you the same whether you are the President or the intern. He calls elderly women “Grandma” (if they have grandchildren) and other women “girlie” even if they are several levels above him.

        It is inappropriate, but I’ve never seen anybody tell him to knock it off. If they did, I’d guarantee that he would. It is tough to actually find it inappropriate when nobody has asked him to stop.

    2. TL*

      Unfortunately a lot of those “harmless Southernisms” actually perpetrate a whole ton of sexism.

      Pick your battles, of course, but words matter.

  13. Mishsmom*

    Alison, is it in any way possible she could say something more serious – like listen, this is just not ok with me and you need to stop this right now – nicely and all that – where there is no room to misinterpret. or maybe someone else can speak with him – seriously – so he gets the message? “kiddo” or “youngun” can be used with both male and female… i mean, he would never call a guy “baby boy”. even if he’s doing this to every woman he meets, it is so inappropriate in this context. i’m sure if he were in court and the judge was a woman he would not say it, so he knows that this term is not appropriate and uses it anyway because he can. it bugs me that she has to even be nice about it because he’s a client. i know it’s the way the world works, but it bugs.

    1. Joey*

      That sounds a little over the top especially considering its a client. Is causing awkwardness and uncomfortableness for a big client worth assuaging a personal irritation?

      1. Mishsmom*

        it depends on her level of irritation. i could not put up with that at all. if she’s ok with it and it is just a small irritation to her, that’s her call.

        1. Joey*

          Others might feel differently, but to me this is a pretty mild irritation. And I’ve always progressively cut more slack the bigger the client. Obviously there’s a line that you can’t cross regardless of how important you are to the company, but this isn’t close to it.

      2. fposte*

        That’s the thing for me. I would respond differently to a client than a co-worker or supervisor, and probably differently again with a donor. I’d also factor in the rest of their treatment of me to what I did.

        I feel like there’s an unaddressed “then what” here, too. If you ask him to stop again and he doesn’t, then what? Is it worth asking not to deal with him over, or losing the client over? Those aren’t rhetorical questions–there are certainly situations where those could be reasonable responses. But at this point we’ve got somebody who’s been asked to change once and who hasn’t, and even in the best of situations we really can’t just make other people do what we want them to do. So while I support the effort to shut him down, I think that the OP is wise to consider what her response will be if he doesn’t shut down and how important this is to her.

      3. gkanon*

        I’m genuinely curious if your opinion would be the same if the client was using a racial slur. Other people here have said it a lot better than I, but the bottom line is that infantilising women in the workplace is not OK, and the LW should have the right to speak out against it if it offends her. Client or no.

        1. Joey*

          That’s different.

          I get that it might be infantilizing, but so are a lot of other terms that aren’t intended that way and are acceptable terms to a lot of people.

          Of course she has the right to say something, but she’d better be prepared to deal with the consequences fair or not. It’s not about fair, it’s about is it worth it.

        2. fposte*

          But it’s not a simple “okay/not okay” binary; there are things that are not okay but still aren’t deeply offensive. Of course the OP has has the right to speak out, and she already has done so. But not everything not okay rises to the level of being worth losing your job or a revenue stream that supports it.

        3. Anonymous*

          Oh, come on. I’m as soapboxy liberal progressive as they come, but even I think comparing a (admittedly sexist) term like “baby girl” to the n-word or similar. If he was calling her “bitch” the comparison may be apt, but trying to make what this client is saying to be on par is not only very dismissive/insulting to racial issues, it also contributes to the image of feminists as overly reactive, oblivious and needlessly aggressive. “Baby girl” is insulting in a microaggression sort of way – it’s not okay and she has the right to say it’s not okay. But it’s decidedly not a slur.

          1. Anonymous*

            *even I think comparing a (admittedly sexist) term like “baby girl” to the n-word or similar is overreaching and ridiculous.

  14. Elise*

    #1 – I would try reminding him a few more times. Then, if it is just something he can’t/won’t change I would start calling him Old Man. If you two become Baby Girl and Old Man to each other, that takes away the sexualized use of the BG term and just makes it an age and gender thing.

    And being called Old Man may help encourage him to rethink his terms for people.

      1. Cath@VWXYNot?*

        I had an older male colleague call me “young lady” once (“What can I do for you today, young lady?” when I walked into his office for a scheduled meeting), and thought about adding “old man” to the end of my response, but I wasn’t brave enough. I still wish I’d said it!

        1. MaryMary*

          I have an older male coworker who calls every woman under the age of 45 young woman…and every man under the age of 45 young man. I find it completely adorable.

          1. MaryMary*

            It’s one of those tone things. With the wrong tone, it can sound condescending (even creepy) or scolding. My parents only called me young lady when I was in trouble.

          2. jennie*

            It’s funny, it might sound benign but to me it is more offensive than “baby girl” because “young lady” has the implication of scolding someone for being too big for their britches. So not only infantilizing, but also implying they don’t deserve to be where they are/say what they’ve said.

              1. VintageLydia*

                I can’t speak for them but a large part of it is the phrase itself is pretty loaded. The only times I’ve ever been called “young lady” was either for a scolding, or maternal/paternal pride by people who watched me grow up–and I was still in adolescence. I’m in my late 20’s now and I’d be a bit weirded out by someone someone calling me that today (other than my grandma) and I think most grown women would agree with me.

  15. Diane*

    #1, Your client did show you he’s trainable. You found a way to ask him to call you by your name once, and he did it for a short time. Why not remind him, thank him sincerely when he uses your name, and remind him gently when he slips up? You’re asking him to change a habit, which becomes more ingrained every time he lets “Baby Girl” take the place of your name. Fair or not, if you want him to change, you need to be patient.

    1. Mimi*

      Hmmm….kinda like training a puppy: ignore the bad, praise the good.

      Sorry. I just got a puppy, so my head’s there. :-)

  16. Vaughns*

    #1: That would drive me nuts. I also get the diminutives from time to time, though happily not from any clients, which of course makes it more difficult to navigate.

    So, this is tricky, but if you can hit the right delivery/tone, it may work: remind him one more time, then respond to any comment with Baby Girl with a contrasting or a similar term.
    “Thanks, baby girl!” “No problem, aged grandfather!”
    “Please, baby girl?” “Can do, infant boy!”
    You have to deliver it with a laugh, so it’s “just a joke, but here’s a reminder!”. And you have to have a strong feeling that it will land well–the aim is to remind the person but let the joke aspect mean that the conversation doesn’t have to go further and it isn’t face-threatening. That wouldn’t work for everyone.

    Or, the thing that inadvertently worked for me: Coworker addressed me by a nickname.
    Me: Long pause, then…”Oh wow. That just…reminded me of my second-grade school-bus driver. That’s the only person who ever called me that, and I hadn’t thought of it since. What a weird flashback!”

    It was totally sincere (though I did hate the nickname–I did when I was seven, too). The coworker basically said, “Wow. Well, I’m never calling you that again.” I’m not sure why it was such a big deal, but since it worked, I went with it.

    So…tell the the person they remind you of your second-grade bus driver? Or someone else you don’t think they’d like to be compared to?

    1. fposte*

      Given comments upthread, “Aww, that’s just like my grandma!” If he is doing it to feel sexy rather than paternal, that’ll be the end of that.

      1. Del*

        And maybe even if he isn’t, because even if he’s the right age, I’ve found a lot of people don’t like to be reminded “You’re the same age as my grandparents!” So I think that’s a great recommendation.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I love this. Sometimes a bit of humor or an odd connection is just enough to squelch a sloppy habit.

      I am a firm believer in drawing the line with people. Since this is important enough for OP to write about then probably drawing the line is appropriate.

      I had an uncle call me baby girl. It felt odd, especially since we were not close but we were talking about some sad events in the family. Context is everything… Had it been a different setting I would have said something.

      Perhaps OP can redirect somehow. Maybe after calling him grandpa a couple times he might break down and say he realizes that he needs to stop saying “baby girl”.
      Humor can provide a path for both sides to rise above an issue. OP gets her point across and “grandpa” finally gets the message. I have seen this go the opposite way too where both people keep calling each other these names and somehow there is a leveling factor there. The sting of the words lessens.

  17. Katie the Fed*

    I had a female subordinate who called me “girl.” Like “hey girl, I sent you that thing for you to review!”

    First I told her “my name is Katie.” She did it again. I told her that she really undercuts her own professionalism when she refers to people that way in the workplace, and I didn’t want her calling me that. She did actually stop with me.

    She was just way over familiar with people in general. Ugh.

  18. Synonymous*

    #1: When it comes to clients, you really do have to have a higher tolerance for dumb things. I had a client call me Beloved. As in, “Hello and good morning, my beloved Synonymous!” He was from a different country, and also referred to a male coworker of mine as beloved as well, so I took two seconds to roll my eyes (fortunately all of this was over the phone) and moved on with life.

  19. MaryMary*

    #1 – Can you do a little asking around and see if your client is pet name type of person? Not that it makes it more appropriate, but I think it makes a difference in how you address it if he calls every woman he works with baby girl. If it is just you, I’d definitely correct him. If he doesn’t call anyone by their proper name, I’d spend more time thinking about if it’s a battle I want to fight. Or join forces with some other young ladies, and figure out which one of you should talk to him.

    I had a client who referred to me That Girl (as in, “Tell That Girl to call me!” or “Well, ask That Girl and get back to me.”). I thought it was slightly funny but friends were annoyed on my behalf. Also, a) I think he genuinely couldn’t remember my name, and b) I think if I were male he’d call me That Guy or That Kid.

    1. Prickly Pear*

      I had a coworker once that called me ‘beautiful’ all the time. I never minded (I have a high tolerance, I admit) and I learned later that he had an injury that led to memory loss and the inability to call names. He compensated by calling all women ‘beautiful’ and all men ‘brother’.
      At my job now, I get called a manner of nicknames. I’ve always been touchy about way too many things, but as long as what you’re calling me doesn’t involve swears, we’re good.

  20. Ramona*

    #4 – AAM – I am curious how to address to the manager this issue “collaboratively, as if you’re searching for a solution to any other business problem you might bring to her.” I don’t know how the OP can present the issue in such a way that doesn’t make her co-worker look bad. (I’m having a similar issue at work, hence my interest).

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s all in the tone! Don’t sound frustrated or like it’s personal or like you feel awkward about it, keep it really calm and factual — use the same tone you’d use to talk about any other word matter you’d take to her.

  21. Grey*

    #1: As a 5′ 6″ and 130 lb. man, I get highly irritated at being called “big guy”. It’s an obvious reference to my size and I interpret the tone to imply the name should somehow boost my self esteem about the issue. But, the fact you noticed and brought it to my attention achieves just the opposite. It’s no different than greeting an overweight woman with, “hey, skinny girl”!

    I politely reply with, “Please don’t call me ‘big guy’, then forget about it. I’ve never had anyone do it more than once.

    1. Grey*

      Just to add: It might be worth mentioning to a supervisor. I’d want to know if one of my employees had to deal with that, and would definitely speak up on behalf of an employee who was not shown any respect.

      Maybe they’d say something so you don’t have to again.

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