how to handle customer complaints about coworkers, discrimination in hiring, and more

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

1. How should I handle customer complaints about my coworkers?

I work in an office with 10 coworkers and 2 bosses. There have been problems in the past with issues like backbiting and tattling. I really hate this type of behavior and have promised myself I would not participate in this type of behavior. I have never gone to the boss to “tell” on a coworker; I have always worked any issues out with coworkers, because I myself would hate to be “told on” and get in trouble for something I didn’t even realize I did. The bosses have told us to work things out amongst ourselves anyway. Thankfully, I haven’t really had many problems over the 20 years I’ve been at this office.

Today, though, I saw a client from our office in the community. She had scathing complaints about her treatment at the front desk of our office. (Two people work at the front, the rest of us in the back.) She really was treated poorly, and I feel compelled to do something about her complaint, but I don’t want to tattle to the bosses. However if I go just to the front desk women, I feel like nothing will change except they will treat me badly. I can take it if they hate me, but I don’t want our practice to lose any more clients because of this treatment. I know it’s happened before because other former clients have told me. I really care about our clients and want them to stay. Bottom line, I don’t want to tell the bosses, but they would probably care to know that their practice is losing clients. What are the chances of the 2 front desk women changing the way they treat clients if I’m the only one to say something to them? One has been there for 15 years, and the other, 8 years.

Slim to none, I’d guess. If you want to do something about it, you’ve got to talk with someone with authority over them. And that’s not tattling (a concept that doesn’t really apply here anyway); it’s telling your boss pretty important information that was shared with you that affects the business. When they told you to work things out among yourselves, that presumably referred to interpersonal issues, not to major business priorities or customer concerns.

You noted yourself that your bosses would probably want to know that the practice is losing clients and why. And of course — what business owner wouldn’t? Go say something like this: “Several clients have complained to me recently about their treatment by the front desk staff. I don’t think I have the standing to handle this on my own, so I wanted to simply relay their feedback to you.”

2. Discrimination in hiring

My question is about the possible existence of discrimination (likely some of it subconscious) in hiring. I’m an African American male in my late 30’s with Bachelors of Science in MIS coupled with prestigious certifications (PMP, ITIL, Cisco, Microsoft, Apple etc.) and 19 years of IT experience, 15 of which have been at a managerial level. I’ve also been accepted to a decent school’s college of engineering graduate program, although I haven’t begun yet because it’s expensive to get a masters and I’m unsure of the return on that investment. That being said, I’ve been with the same mid-sized company for quite some time and recently begun to dip my toe into the idea of working somewhere else (maybe somewhere with a tuition reimbursement program). I have a outstanding employment history and educational background but I’ve been getting rejection letters stating basically that I’m not qualified to be an IT manager or IT project manager when that’s what I do.

I tend to be on the positive “can do” side of thinking, I’m smart, competent, and have a demeanor that makes my customers and employees feel at ease around me. Lately my confidence has been starting to waver though because of these rejection letters before an interview. I’m not one to typically racialize things but it’s hard not to think something is up when you have a “usually” African American name and on most online applications they ask you what your racial box is. I don’t want to sound like I think I’m owed a job, but I only apply to things that are genuinely in my wheelhouse and I think I would at least make it to the interview pool of candidates. When you read about these blind experiments that African Americans are 50% less likely to be called for an interview and you know you’re employable with a strong and clean background, and it happens over and over again, you really start to wonder. So, my question for you is: is there a conscious or subconscious devaluing that can take place when a African American male applies for a managerial positions – a tax so to speak? I realize this can be a complex or awkward question to ask.

Ugh, yes. You’ve got two tricky factors in play here: First, that racial bias does still existing in hiring, and second, that the job market sucks.

On the first one, research is very clear that racial bias still occurs in hiring. It’s more likely these days to be unconscious than conscious — which actually can make it harder to combat, since people who are convinced they’re unbiased can be resistant to reexamining their own preferences.

But you’ve also got to factor in the second point: Loads of great, well-qualified candidates get tons of those rejection letters, regardless of race or other possible areas of discrimination. It’s a reality of the job market — great people get rejected all the time. And I think you might be taking the wording of the letters too literally — they don’t really mean that you’re not qualified; they mean that they’re talking to other candidates who they’ve decided are more qualified. (And sometimes “more qualified” really means “we had 30 great candidates and only time to talk to five of them.”)

So what do you do with all that? What I’d focus on in your shoes would be first making sure that your application materials are as kick-ass as they can be (since most people’s are lackluster, statistically speaking there’s a good chance that yours could be stronger too) and then networking the hell out of your network. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, and good luck.

3. My colleagues don’t want me rinsing my breast pump in the kitchen

I recently returned from maternity leave to my job at a law firm, and am breastfeeding, so I need to pump twice a day. So far, they have done a fabulous job of accommodating this. I’ve been provided an empty office with a couch right next to my shared office, and have been told it’s mine to use whenever I need, for as long as I need. Until a few days ago, my routine after pumping was to pack up everything is my discreet, purse-like pumping bag; walk two doors down to our kitchen nook to rinse my plastic pump attachments in the sink; wrap said attachments in a towel; and bring them back to my desk.

Well, several days ago, one of my bosses pulled me into her office and said she had received complaints about me rinsing out my attachments in the kitchen sink, and asked me to instead use the sink in the shower room at the opposite end of my floor. She assured me that I shouldn’t feel bad, but “some people are just really freaked out by breastfeeding.”

Now, part of me feels badly that I made anyone uncomfortable, but the other part of me is rolling my eyes and thinking they need to get over it. Admittedly, I’m very desensitized to all things nursing-related. In addition to this being the second baby I’ve breastfed, I have many girlfriends and family members who breastfeed as well, so I’m around it all the time. Therefore, if I saw a coworker rinsing out pump parts in the sink, I wouldn’t bat an eyelash (here is what the attachments look like, in case you’re unfamiliar). However, I can appreciate that nursing has only recently re-emerged as mainstream, and some of the older attorneys and secretaries I work with may not be used to it.

What do you and your readers think? I don’t plan on pushing back on this, since the only real hardship it’s causing is an extra long walk to the other sink. I’d just be interested in your thoughts, and am very open to perspectives that differ from mine.

Lame, lame, lame. Lame of the people who complained, and even more lame of your boss to pass their complaints along to you rather than telling them that the company supports nursing moms and to get over it.

4. Can I ask for relocation assistance if I’ve already relocated?

I recently (one month ago) relocated to a large city in an effort to secure a job. I have an interview scheduled this week, and the job posting for this position indicates that relocation assistance is offered to the right candidate.

Can I/should I still ask for relo assistance even though I have already relocated? I am living temporarily with my brother until I can get a job and find a home. Wondering if I can ask for assistance to move closer to the job site since this is still a long commute from my brother’s house.

Generally no, relocation assistance isn’t retroactive. It’s provided to make it possible for you to move to accept a job. Since you’ve already made your move, it wouldn’t normally come into play.

Asking to use it to shorten an otherwise long commute could be reasonable, depending on how long of a commute we’re talking about. But it sounds like you’re planning to move out of your brother’s house regardless, once you have a job, so I’m not sure there’s an argument for relocation help here that is going to make sense to an employer.

5. Are these bad signs?

Generally, if the hiring manager does not ask for your references or does not give you a business card or does not return your thank-you email, are these all bad signs?

Nope, these are normal things that don’t mean anything either way. Some employers don’t check references at all, or reach out later in the process for them. Some people don’t even have business cards anymore, or don’t use them much. And thank-you’s aren’t typically meant to be replied to. So there’s nothing here to read into — and you will be much happier if you put this job out of your mind and move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they contact you.

{ 590 comments… read them below }

  1. April*

    Op #3 your coworkers are crazy. But there are some options you have that don’t include walking so much. You can buy the wipes for pump parts (this is what I did). Also I just put all of my parts in a paper bag and put them in the fridge. Cold pump parts but didn’t have to worry about sterilizing them until I got home.

    1. StarHopper*

      April has two great suggestions (though those wipes can be expensive!). I wonder if, since the coworkers are so squeamish about the sink (what, are they eating off it or something?), they would feel the same about the fridge. Even so, screw ’em. You are doing nothing wrong!

    2. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I always just wiped down with a paper towel, then put the parts in a Ziploc bag and put the Ziploc bag in a fridge (inside a lunch bag if I was sharing a fridge). Then I would wash the parts and bags at home each night – the Ziploc would last a week or two using them that way, and it saved me a lot of time on the cleanup end.
      I agree that people need to grow up, but if OP wants to keep the peace, I’d recommend at least not washing in the kitchen sink during the times of day when the kitchen is likely to have the most people in it, like noon. And I totally agree that the best way to normalize breastfeeding and pumping is to treat it like its a normal part of life – which OP is doing. But I’m not sure that’s the hill I’d want to die on at work.

    3. Judy*

      I kept mine in the fridge between my sessions during the day, then in a bag to go home and wash. Cold flanges actually feel pretty good. We did have a dorm fridge in the little office we used, though so only the two of us used the fridge.

    4. Zahra*

      I never bothered washing or refrigerating my pump parts at work. I wiped them down between sessions and washed them at home. And I never sterilized them. A good wash with soap and friction removes as much germs (if not more) as sterilizing does. I did refrigerate bottles of pumped milk (and tough luck for anyone squicked out by it, it’s milk, not poison).

      1. TL*

        “A good wash with soap and friction removes as much germs (if not more) as sterilizing does. ”

        Ak! Just wanted to say that’s not true and if sterilization is needed, washing is not a substitute for it (indeed, things should be both washed and sterilized.) But for the purposes of breast pumps, it might be just as sufficient to wash well as it is to sterilize and wash well.

        1. Zahra*

          Thanks! I just searched again and I was thinking of soap vs. antibacterial gels. All discussion of the creation of super-bacteria aside, soap and friction kills 99% of germs and antibacterial gel kills 99.9%. 99% is good enough for me and I did breastfeed whenever possible, so I figured that the remaining 1% was good training for his immune system. ;)

          1. fposte*

            And soap kills in a way that doesn’t make them antibiotic-resistant, so soap’s more of a long-term gain.

          2. CC*

            Soap and friction doesn’t kill anything. It knocks the germs loose from whatever they were on, so they run down the drain with the rinse water. (Hence the whole thing with not creating superbugs.)

      2. Nancypie*

        I also didn’t rinse pump parts; who knows what nasty germs could be in that sink. I would just refrigerate the pump parts in an opaque bag; no one knew what was in it, and washed it all at night.

    5. Meg Murry*

      I’m in moderation (probably for using the word bre*st in bre*stfeeding – Alison can anything be done about that when it is the topic at hand?) but another +1 to refrigerating in a plastic ziploc bag.
      Or if that won’t work for you, perhaps another option my colleagues and I have used: get two plastic containers with lids that hold all the parts. Fill one with soapy water, the other with clean. When you are done with the pump, shake the parts in soapy water container, then in clean water container. At the end of the day, wash out your plastic containers take parts home.
      As I said in my earlier comment that may get out of moderation soon – I’m all for normalizing b-feeding and pumping, but its not the hill I’d want to die on at work.

    6. fluffy*

      My cranky half wants to say “Sure, I’ll stop rinsing my food equipment. When you stop rinsing your dirty dishes.”

      1. Jeanne*

        I think your cranky side is right here. I think this woman should say thank you for the suggestion but it’s just not the best option and go back to using the kitchen sink. What happens to a work place when everyone who is a little disturbed gets to veto someone?

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        O.F.F.S. Are the coworkers in this company *never* rinsing out food containers or coffee mugs that have been left sitting a wee bit too long? Because those containers / mugs might actually have *scary* bacteria in them, as opposed to freshly used bre*st-pump equipment. Good grief.

    7. Vicki*

      “the company supports nursing moms”

      OK. That’s great. But why does that imply that nursing moms get to rinse out the accoutrements in the break room sink?

      Companies support dental health too, but employees are asked to please not brush their teeth over the break room sink or spit in the break room sink or rinse their retainer in the break room sink.

      Companies support physical health and exercise, but please don’t wash your face in the break room sink.

      Whether you like it or not, some of your co-workers are not happy with bodily fluids in the breakroom sink. (Note also that the company has provided you with a private office with a couch, not a couch in your shared office).

      This is no more “lame” than co-workers who would prefer you not floss in the breakroom, spit in the sink, take a sponge bath in the middle of the restroom, clip your nails at your desk…

      1. SouthernBelle*

        Wouldn’t you rinse out any other vessel that prepares or carries food or drink in the break room sink?

      2. Natalie*

        “Whether you like it or not, some of your co-workers are not happy with bodily fluids in the breakroom sink.”

        That’s a neat trick, since the break room sink almost certainly already sees plenty of spit (from dishes) and blood (anytime anyone has a papercut or scrape).

      3. Mephyle*

        People who are ok with breastfeeding don’t equate breast milk with excretory body fluids, and they find it somewhere on a line between quixotic and offensive when other people do (depending on their tolerance). If not excretory body fluids, then what? Food. From that point of view, it’s no more gross than rinsing out a glass from which someone has drunk bovine mammary fluid (i.e. a glass of milk).

      4. CLT*

        So if a baby comes to visit mother at work, and she feeds baby breast milk from a bottle, that bottle can’t be rinsed in the kitchen sink? I don’t think the issue is bodily fluids. I think the issue is that the pump touched a breast, and it makes people squidgy. I don’t agree, but some people are really weird about “private parts.”

  2. PEBCAK*

    #2) Can you put initials or something on your resume? I hate that you’d have to do that, but in a practical sense, it is true that T. Keith Jones gets more calls than Tyrone. This gets complicated because you’d have to change it back to Tyrone for the reference check, though. Ick, this whole situation sucks.

    As far as checking the box, though, you can skip that part, though I’d be surprised if the hiring manager sees that, anyway.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      When an application asks for demographic data, it’s supposed to just be collected in aggregate, so the company can assess whether their hiring practices are fair (or use it in case of a discrimination lawsuit). For example, if only 10% of their Teapot Sculptors are Asian, they can compare that to the percentage of people applying for Teapot Sculpting positions that are Asian. A company also might be interested in attracting diverse applicants and so want to track how they’re doing at that.

      There are probably unscrupulous companies that are using that information unethically, though.

      1. Zillah*

        At the same time, if there’s a company that’s explicitly using that data unscrupulously, do you really want to be working for them?

          1. Eliza Jane*

            Yeah, this is something that’s really easy with people with options to say, and much harder to live up to. I have never worked for an employer that I thought was 100% perfect and moral and ethical. I have met very few people who are 100% free of bias. If your standard for “company I want to work for” is narrowed to “those who are totally free of racial bias,” you’re going to be in for a really hard job search.

            1. Zillah*

              Sure… But that’s a bit of a straw man. I wasn’t talking about 100% perfect or without bias – I was specifically referring to unscrupulous employers who use demographic data in the way Elizabeth the Ginger is talking about. There’s a lot of space between ‘perfect’ and ‘explicitly combing through demographic data to exclude black applicants.’ I understand what you guys are saying about options, but a place that’s so actively hostile toward a group you belong to would be a really tough thing to cope with every day.

      2. Artemesia*

        When I was hiring we always sent people a form they needed to return that was separate from the application materials to meet EEOC requirements on demographics. I would think having it on the materials would be asking for trouble.

        It is perfectly possible that the OP’s materials are not as strong as he thinks, so the first thing I would do is use all of Alison’s advice on creating the best cover letters and resume possible and making sure there are strong references lined up. But we all know racism is alive and well in the US, so the suggestion to go with initials or something if possible at least till the interview stage is also good.

        Hope things turn around.

        1. J*

          Artemsesia, I’ve considered that option but, I only apply to positions that I meet or exceed the requirements for the job. I don’t expect to be handed a job but, to be put on the “unqualified” list time and again is a bit bizarre. My Lady whom happens to be white is also in IT and my credentials quite a bit stronger than hers but she feels much more comfortable than I to threaten to quit and find a new employer than me because of this black tax. It’s one of those things you can’t prove but, there are tells that it exists. The Hannity’s and O’Riley’s of the world tell try to tell me it’s all in my mind and my group simply choose not to get educated. I’d like to stay somewhat anonymous here so you’ll just have to take my word for it that my credentials are in check. Although if you’ve hired mid level and higher IT pros before you know based on my degree and certs that is what you should have to a T. I will take Allison’s advice and I truly appreciate her candor in stating that what is often sensed is true from a HR Analyst point of view but, to accept that my cred and skill are simply weaker that I think that are is simply untrue -i’ve seen that before and if you got a chance to know me you would see that its simply not “me”.

          1. Another Job Seeker*

            I believe you when you say that you only apply only for positions that you are qualified for. Too often, people in positions of authority have racial prejudices (conscious or subconscious). When they allow these prejudices to impact their hiring decisions, people are negatively impacted. That’s one reason I believe strongly in networks. There are Fortune 500 companies that have senior leaders who recognize that racism exists and have decided to actively work to address it in their corporations (hiring, promotional opportunities, job assignments, etc). I think it’s important to note that these leaders come in all races – it’s not only minorities at high levels who strive to address problems associated with race in the workforce. Anyway, these leaders often work with minority professional organizations such as the ones I referenced in an earlier post. Their senior leadership is backing their interest in making positive changes.

            On another note, some of these professional organizations will review your resume, cover letter and other documentation and give you tips that will help you to distinguish yourself on paper. I know it’s tough out there, and proving yourself on a daily basis (on top of doing your actual work) gets frustrating and tiring. Hang in there and stay encouraged!

          2. Polaris*

            Have you considered that you might be overqualified? If you meet or exceed all of the qualifications, there’s a chance you are aiming too low since job postings often include nice-to-haves in addition to need-to-haves. Employers can be suspicious of candidates who appear overqualified. Just a thought.

    2. Jen*

      I was thinking of something around those lines too. Yes it sucks, but it would be interesting to see if a name change or using initials would gain more interest. I have a friend who has a pretty unusual first name. She wasn’t getting hits on her resume so she decided to change it up and use her middle name which was a pretty common, very generic name… and she started getting hits on her resume. That sort of thing most definitely shouldn’t happen, and someone definitely shouldn’t have to change their name on their resume to get hits, but it might be worth a shot.

    3. Mints*

      I agree, if the initials work, it might be a way to get more interviews. There might still be unconscious bias once they meet in person, but at least the pool is smaller at that point, so the odds are better.

      1. Kerr*

        I’ve heard suggestions before re: using initials on a resume, and also about studies that used initials (or no names) on resumes to show hiring manager bias. In fact, I’ve toyed with the idea of sending out experimental resumes with initials, just to see what would happen. (I’m Caucasian, but female.)

        So, I’m curious: how would this actually work, if the OP wanted to use his initials? It sounds great, but how do you sign your cover letter? “J. Doe” seems a little weird, especially for a casual industry or locale, or an entry level job (not the OP’s issue, but it would be mine).

        1. Mints*

          I think if it’s initials that reasonably sound like nicknames (“TJ”) you could try it. Or if your middle name is white/male sounding you could use L. Alex Jones or T. James Smith. Mine don’t work at all (it’s like Lady Girlie Peterson, and “LG” sounds bad too)

    4. J*

      Hey there I’m the guy that wrote this letter to Allison and I thought I may give the initials thing a try. If it works I’ll certainly let you know -J

      1. rkflower*

        I’m curious if this will work…please keep us updated. I just watched a video of a guy whose name was Jose. He submitted resumes using his name and was getting no responses. Then he started using Joe and submitted the same resumes and within a week got calls for interviews.

        I’m hoping that as the millennials start taking more and more management positions that this sort of thing will go away. I’m just barely a millennial and when I review resumes, I look strictly at credentials, work history, neatness of resume, spelling/grammar, etc. When I recently hired someone we had a diverse pool of interviewees. The person we offered the job to happened to be Hispanic, but that didn’t play a part in the hiring decision. He was the most qualified.

  3. Nervous Accountant*

    Re #3: that’s annoying!!!!!! In fact, one of the things that annoys me about this society: it’s OK to shove your breasts in peoples face, but God forbid feeding your child is considered gross. As long as you’re not whipping the boob out whenever you please, people need to leave nursing moms alone.
    (and on the flip side, if some women can’t breastfeed for whatever reason, that’s OK too. No need to make them feel like the “Worst Mom EVER.”

    Back to the topic: Lame of everyone involved here. I’m not sure I would just go along wiht it since they’re clearly being so unreasonable and…just lame.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      The attitude to breast feeding in the UK is dumb as well, when I was at school my teacher told us she was given the choice of feeding her baby in the toilet or leaving a cafe she was in, she told the staff she’d be happy to fee her baby in the toilet if they would eat lunch in there too.

      At least it isn’t such a big problem in the work place here as there’s a legal entitlement to maternity leave so mothers can nurse at home for longer.

      1. WorkingMom*

        Absolutely ridiculous. Hey coworkers, if it bothers you to watch OP rinse out pumps, stop watching. I have a coworker who eats her oatmeal in her mug each morning then sets it in the sink and just fills the mug with water like it’s “soaking” all day. Unless I just clean out her mug myself, I have to see a mug with murky water and floaty oatmeal bits every time I use the sink. It’s gross, it looks like puke. Total side-bar rant to essentially say that this mug of oatmeal grosses me out. But I’m not going to go to my manager and ask that she no longer eat oatmeal at work. I mean come on people, if it offends you THAT much, then maybe you should work from home, permanently.

        1. Sunshine*

          You win. I don’t have a lot of fans in the office because I will (and have) dispose of people’s nasty dirty dishes if they are left around the sink and counter. That’s way grosser than breast milk.

      2. Bea W*

        What’s grosser, feeding your baby discretely in the cafe or feeding in a shared toilet stall. It seems people don’t actually think this one through before suggesting it.

    2. Observer*

      I agree with you. I was just having similar conversation with someone else and she brought up the Victoria’s Secret fiasco. Talk about irony!

      For those of you who missed it, a mother who was nursing her baby in Victoria’s Secret (a lingerie chain known for it’s advertising) was asked to move because she might make people uncomfortable. – This cartoon says it so well!

      1. Mints*

        And the similar joke on SNL:

        “A Victoria’s Secret in Texas banned a woman from breastfeeding her son in the lingerie store. Apparently they don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression of what breasts are for.”

  4. Elizabeth the Ginger*

    Alison, was there meant to be a link to a picture in letter #3?

    I’ve been thinking for a few minutes and trying to see the complainer’s side of this… some people are super germophobic, and I was trying to mentally compare this to toothbrushing at a public sink, or putting in a contact lens, or something like that. But germ-wise it sounds like what the OP’s doing is cleaner than washing off a coffee spoon that you’ve put your mouth all over. So, OP, I’m with Alison, and with you.

    I’d also bet that there was at most one complaint, and that the “some people” your boss referred to is actually just a person.

      1. Jeanne*

        Yes to this. I used to say to my boss that I would love to be able to talk to the complainer, apologize if necessary, try to work it out like adults. The more she got flustered when saying that wouldn’t be possible, the more I knew she was blaming other people rather than being honest.

    1. Christy*

      “But germ-wise it sounds like what the OP’s doing is cleaner than washing off a coffee spoon that you’ve put your mouth all over.”

      Exactly. As a matter of fact, right at this moment I have a nasty teacup I accidentally left sitting over the long weekend, and I’m taking it HOME to wash, because it’s just too gross. But I’m quite sure plenty of co-workers happily wash their moldy cups, cold and flu-bearing silverware, and who knows what in the communal sink. (There’s a communal sponge too. I sure don’t use it!)

      Meanwhile, the CDC has explicitly said that there are no special handling requirements for breast milk – it isn’t like blood or other medical specimens. It’s A-OK to put in the fridge next to food. So I think people are just being ignorant and biased about this. Rinse away!

  5. snuck*

    I’m trying to work out with #2 how they know he’s African American – unless he’s telling them upfront in his application somehow? Is there really that big a divide between mainstream caucasian and African American names? I could understand it if his name was Asian and blatently visible.

    If he does have a name that is predominantly African American (and I assume this bias exists!) then why not use a nickname or shortened/altered version, or just initials (which is admittedly a red flag and a bit weird, but maybe still a good way to get around the issue?). Is there other indicators – address/residence, university clubs, particular employment history etc that is painting this picture too?

    (I know that in Australia if I saw a person had anything Aboriginal on their resume – Aboriginal Legal/Medical Services, Aboriginal Housing Commission etc – then there’d be a good chance they were of Aboriginal descent (and some say it up front in their applications) – there’s often a requirement to hire a small percentage of Aboriginal Australians into large corporates – at a company wide level/measure – but to hire based on that would be unheard of in the sorts of roles the OP is talking about here and I’ve never taken nationality into account – truly multicultural when you hit IT corporate Australia!)

    1. De (Germany)*

      From the OP : “when you have a “usually” African American name and on most online applications they ask you what your racial box is.”

        1. Melissa*

          True, but if your name is Tyrone – which pings African American – you needn’t. Or, like me, you went to an HBCU – so although my name is mainstream American my alma mater gives it away.

          1. Mister Pickle*

            Jeez, when did “Tyrone” become African-American?

            I got dinged over this several years ago: I was building a system for a client, and I added a sample/test user to the database named Tyrone Slothrop. I’d been using Tyrone Slothrop as a test name for years, ever since I read _Gravity’s Rainbow_ in college. My little dumb literature in-joke (TS is the main character in _GR_) plus as names go, it stands out, so it’s unlikely to be inadvertently left in the final, live DB.

            But this one time, about 10 years ago, one of the clients was playing around with the system and saw the name Tyrone Slothrop and thought I was making some kind of racist slur. I’d never been so dumbfounded before (or since) in my entire life.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      There are many names that are popular both among African Americans and the general population, but there definitely are other names that are much more popular among just African Americans. Here’s a list of the most popular baby names in NYC divided by race:

      Admittedly that data is for people who won’t be entering the workforce for a while, but you can see the difference. (Side note: NYC’s large Jewish population seems to be showing in the “white” column there. For example, Moshe is not a very popular boy’s name overall in the US – in 2009 it was ranked 600th most popular.)

      There are also some last names that are more common among African Americans. 90% of Americans named Washington are black, and 75% of Jeffersons. (Source: So if a resume for Jeremiah Washington showed up in a stack, it’d be more likely a black man’s than a white man’s.

      One more link, to an article talking about a study about names: On page 2 of that article are links to the “whitest” and “blackest” names that the researchers turned up – names that were the strongest indicator of race.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Ugh, the links I mentioned in the last article don’t seem to work. Here are the lists:

        That link seems to suggest that the authors just brainstormed what “sounded black” or “sounded white” but I believe they actually used survey data to determine which names were most skewed (e.g. almost all Mollys surveyed were white, almost all Diamonds were black).

    3. Student*

      Yes, America has several different racial or ethnic subcultures with their own naming conventions. Black American names are also distinct from recent African immigrant names, since many black Americans are descended from the slaves of the 1800s.

      There are many other American groups with specific subsets of names. Some are racial, some are ethnic, some are religious, and some are regional. Then there are the celebrity’s children; they really get the short end of the stick on names.

      1. MJH*

        But Apple and Pilot Inspektor are pretty much never going to have to apply to jobs through a traditional route…unless they want to, I suppose.

    4. Lai*

      Just curious, are people with Asian given names less likely to get contacted for an interview, too? I’m using my real first name as my username here. Would a hiring manager look at my name and assume that I might not be fluent in English or need some sort of visa sponsorship, and instead go with someone named John Chang, for instance?

      1. sunny-dee*

        It depends on the field and the company (naturally), but I have never heard of a bias against Asian names. In my field (software), there is such a high percentage of Asian workers, that there is no bias at all.

        The only subgroup with a strong negative bias is black names (though there is a moderate bias against “low class” names like Brandi or “country” names, like Mary Sue or Joe Bob).

        1. Anon*

          I worked in IT recruiting and some of our clients definitely had a bias against Asian names as some of the trendier and more “brogrammer” startup cultures preferred people of American culture. The brunt of the discrimination was to Indian/South Asian candidates, though (literally, one of our account managers was told to stop sending a marketing agency client Indian candidates). East Asian names were not as big of a deal unless your resume indicated that you had also attended college in Asia, though. I’m not sure if that’s because the region had very large populations of 2nd-3rd generation Americans of Chinese/Japanese/Korean descent or if it was a backlash against the Indian majority in many IT related companies or what. As far as black or Latino names, I never heard of any negative comments from our clients, but I can’t speak to the hiring managers’ subconscious reactions.

          (For the record I don’t agree with any of this and was vocal at work about my disapproval of our clients’ racism. I couldn’t change any of it, though, and I’ve chosen to post bluntly here because I don’t think it does anyone any good to be delicate about these topics rather than expose them in their entirety. Please don’t mistake my bluntness for a lack of understanding about how horrible/hurtful/illegal the whole mess was.)

            1. Anon*

              I’m not sure. That would actually have been an interesting question to submit – if you are the staffing agency and are just complying with client instructions, and aren’t the ones actually deciding that certain people won’t get hired, are you still engaging in illegal discrimination? It could have been that it was discrimination for contract positions where the person would technically be on our payroll but not for direct hire positions. In any case, I was too low in the ranks to get in trouble personally and I didn’t have contact with the hiring managers so anything I could have told a court would have been hearsay, so I just found another job and moved on.

      2. Lora*

        I have many Asian colleagues who have Americanized “nicknames” for this very purpose. Hsueih-tze became “Amy,” Channarong became “Ann,” Qing became “Ginny,” etc.

        1. Mints*

          I think this is more common in Asian names, too, because the names are translations, and there aren’t English equivalents. But for Black Amrricans, the names are definitely English, so you can’t just add a white middle name to go by very easily; you have to actually obscure the whole name with initials or nick names.

    5. TheSnarkyB*

      I see this suggestion floating around here a lot on this thread, and I’m probably too late for anyone to see this, but please remember that using initials or a nickname may not be possible for everyone (some names don’t shorten or abbreviate in racially helpful ways, but more importantly – it doesn’t really “get around the issue”. It might get you to the interview stage, but you still show up black. And that’s still a big hurdle to jump at that point. I think people are overestimating the power of “just get to the interview” where racial bias is concerned.

  6. Marquis*

    Nursing may be natural but it’s still a bodily function. I wouldn’t brush my teeth and spit in the kitchen sink at work, and rinsing one’s nursing attachments there seems just as unappetizing and inconsiderate. Isn’t there a bathroom sink?

    1. Betsy Bobbins*

      Hmmm…so by your definition rinsing out a glass of cow’s milk would also not be ok as it is a bodily function of an animal. Or perhaps itwould it be ok if her breast milk was mixed with coffee.

      1. Ignominable*

        Human bodily fluids, including breast milk, can transmit diseases if they come from an infected person.
        Cow’s milk is almost always pasteurized before human consumption, false comparison.

        1. Kelly L.*

          One of the main reasons pasteurization is important for cow’s milk is because it can take a long time to transport it from the cow to the drinker. That gives microorganisms more time to breed in it. It’s less germy and dangerous right after it comes from the cow–and the human milk you encounter will also be quite fresh.

        2. Natalie*

          I don’t think breastmilk transmits any diseases through the air. The only risk would be if you licked the sink.

          1. Mints*


            The kitchen sink is disgusting by default. If I’m washing raw veggies, they’re not touching the actual sink bowl (at work or at home).
            Breastmilk doesn’t contaminate more, and it doesn’t smell, I’m just seeing “ew boobies.”

        3. Observer*

          I think you are far more likely to get something from the dishes with leftover lunch, old coffee or anything with mayonnaise (which can get germy quite quickly unless it’s highly preserved) that got washed in that sink. Which is why you should never use anything straight out of the sink without at least rinsing first.

        4. Melissa*

          You are very, very unlikely to get a disease from someone rinsing their breast pump implements in the sink. Also, the kitchen sink is used to rinse and wash tools that people have put in their mouths.

      2. Wendy*

        I agree in general with the yay breastmilk! nursing is good! thing, but Marquis is right. It is a BODILY FLUID. In the U.S., it’s illegal in many states to buy unpasteurized cow’s milk because of the risk of listeria. Cow milk is heated to 161°F to reduce the number of viable pathogens in the liquid—this makes it safe to drink and put in your coffee.

        Breastmilk is a bodily fluid. It is not the ambrosia of the gods. Unlike tears and sweat and urine and feces, breastmilk can transfer HIV from mother to child. I wouldn’t want that anywhere near my food. Breastmilk isn’t liquid panacea. Stop treating it like something holy.

        Of course, an adult would have to drink like a cup of breastmilk to be at risk for exposure to HIV—if the mother had it—and really, NO ONE is drinking anything directly from the sink’s basin anyway, and that’s the only place that might maybe still carry any breastmilk residue.

        #3 isn’t trying to store her milk in someone’s favorite thermos, she’s just washing a few attachments in the sink. Her being asked to not wash her pump in the kitchen sink has less to do with the actual breastmilk, and more to do with someone’s instinctual EW GROSS, GIRL BOOBS! squick reaction. Lame.

        1. Arbynka*

          Nobody is trating breast milk as something holy, we are treating it as what it is – a food. According to AAP, breast milk doesn not have to be handled in rubber gloves (but some daycares for example require that) and wait for it, breastmilk is not classified as a biohazard. I had two of my children in NICU and guess what, breastmilk was stored in the same fridge as other baby food and medicine. Pumps and bottles were washed in all the sinks in the unit. I would think if NICU was not worried about having “that” near food and medicine, I bet you will be just fine.

        2. Observer*

          In addition to what the others have noted, there is a fair amount of evidence that the issue of contamination in cows milk is highly over-rated. But, in any case, there are plenty of things in the typical shared work refrigerator that are at least as likely, or more likely, to be problematic than fresh breast milk from a woman with reasonable hygiene standards.

          In other words, your last two sentences are the operative issue here. And that’s what’s getting people riled up.

        3. Natalie*

          “In the U.S., it’s illegal in many states to buy unpasteurized cow’s milk because of the risk of listeria.”

          FWIW, listeria contamination is only an issue with cow’s milk because of the proximity of the cow’s udders to their anus. The anatomy of a human essentially precludes accidental listeria contamination of breastmilk. You’re more likely to be exposed to listeria from raw veggies (rinsed in the – gasp! – sink) than from breastmilk.

        4. Ethyl*

          ” Unlike tears and sweat and urine and feces, breastmilk can transfer HIV from mother to child. I wouldn’t want that anywhere near my food. ”

          Breast milks doesn’t, like, spontaneously generate HIV.

        5. Melissa*

          Breastmilk transmits HIV from mother to child through prolonged drinking contact – the child drinks the mother’s breastmilk, repeatedly. Even if OP were HIV-positive, her rinsing her breastfeeding implements in the sink does not raise your risk of getting HIV. And your food has nothing to do with it, because HIV isn’t a foodborne illness. It only is transmitted through an exchange of bodily fluids from person to person.

          1. fposte*

            I don’t think Wendy’s disputing that–I think we’ve got a few different discussions, one of which is “is it a problem to rinse your equipment in the kitchen sink?” and another is “does this particular reason to defend that action stand up under scrutiny?” I think a lot of us are yes on the first but no on a few of the second :-).

      3. Taz*

        So you would support a hospital rising out urine sample holders in the kitchen sink? I’m just trying to understand what you’re saying here.

              1. fposte*

                You can drink urine without any ill effects, too, so that’s probably not what we want to use as a marker.

          1. Jamie*

            Humans are instinctively repelled by smells of waste around where we prepare food…right there in our mental survival kit.

            Besides – you can take classification out of it entirely and say you don’t wash anything that reeks in the kitchen. Some fish oils smell worse than urine – I’d send those people to wash out there dirty fish oil dishes in a remote sink if I could. Breast milk has no odor.

        1. Bea W*

          Urine isn’t a food. It’s a waste product. Even if most people are ignorant of the fact that urine is sterile unless the person has an infection, I would hope they don’t equate breast milk with human waste.

          1. Traveler*

            Sterile urine is a myth – its usually just a different kind of bacteria in a healthy person. Not to mention there are a lot of people out there that present as healthy but are in reality carriers of Staph and other bacteria.

          1. Laurie*

            Hmm, cow’s milk goes through a pretty thorough pasteurization process after milking. By comparison, breast milk doesn’t quite meet the same standards.

              1. fposte*

                The folk wisdom seems to believe this more broadly than researchers, though. It definitely has some antimicrobial properties (though how much varies), but it also passes on maternal microbes, so it’s not like it’s a sterilizing substance.

                1. Us, Too*

                  Yes. And contrary to folk wisdom, people CAN and DO sicken and die from pathogens introduced by breast milk. e.g HIV.

                2. Melissa*

                  “People” as in “babies who drink their HIV-positive, non-ART-taking mother’s breastmilk”, not “co-workers who happen to use the same sink.”

            1. JoAnna*

              What about someone who brings in raw milk and stores it in a mason jar in the break room refrigerator, and then rinses out said jar in the break room sink after drinking the milk? Should that be banned, too?

        2. Calla*

          The leaps people make when it comes to breastfeeding are astounding. Betsy is making an accurate comparison–milk of one mammal to milk of another that’s acceptable–but people always jump to “WELL, IT’S NOT SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE FOR ME TO URINATE/DEFECATE IN THE KITCHEN/AT MY WORK DESK/IN FRONT OF MY SENATOR, SO CHECKMATE.”

        3. JoAnna*

          Would you support a mother putting urine in a bottle and feeding it to her child? I’m just trying to understand what you’re saying here.

      4. anon123*

        We’re not going to change anyone’s opinion in this forum. Can we please stop this breastfeeding debate? It’s exasperating.

        1. Another Job Seeker*

          Actually, I think it’s healthy to have discussions of this nature. It brings about an awareness that may help to address some concerns that breastfeeding moms have. A company follow the letter of the law (they provide a location for women who are breastfeeding to pump because they are required to do so). However, the discussion also reminds us of other aspects of pumping that are not legislated (cleaning equipment, music/magazines in the pumping room, etc). Someone’s comment might inspire a person who has the authority to make some changes to do so. Not because the law makes them, but because they are interested in treating breastfeeding moms at their location and their babies with compassion and respect.

        2. JustKatie*

          I think it will. Attitudes towards breastfeeds are vastly different than they were 50, or even 20 years ago- largely due to it becoming normalized through exposure and education.

      5. Stephen*

        Human milk is not only sterile when it comes out of the body, it has anti-microbial properties. If you put it in a non-sterile container in the fridge the bacterial count is actually lower after six days than when you took that container out of the cupboard. Its about the cleanest thing you could ever have poured down your drain.

        And she’s washing a few drops of it down the sink, not leaving great puddles of it all over the counter. If someone has an aversion to all bodily fluids, thats okay; we all have our hang ups. But they should be the one walking to the back of the floor to use the other sink. A new mom has enough to do without having to humour her coworkers’ phobias.

    2. Jen RO*

      Yeah… I’d be squicked out too. Probably not enough to actually do anything about it, but still. (And I’m not a germaphobe.)

    3. Aussie Teacher*

      Unlike all other fluids produced by the body, breast milk is food, not a waste product, designed specifically to nourish an infant without needing any additional sources of nutrition until at least 6 months. As far as I’m concerned, if people can wash out cups/jugs etc in the kitchen sink that have cow’s milk on them, how is that any different to washing an attachment with human milk on it? It’s still milk and it’s still food, not saliva or worse.

      1. Artemesia*

        Well it isn’t pasteurized and if she is an HIV carrier, Hep B carrier or has other blood based infections (e.g. Ebola, but we think that is a tiny risk here) then she is contaminating the sink with those germs. But since people wash dirty food products in kitchen sinks as well as dirty dishes, it probably makes since to just assume all kitchen sinks are filthy. (they are generally more germ ridden than bathroom sinks.)

        I wouldn’t care, but then I nursed a couple of kids and think the double standard on breasts is silly. But someone very squicked by germs carried in human body fluids will be.

          1. fposte*

            Right, but nobody’s ever contracted HIV from urine in a bathroom, either, and people don’t want that in the sink. I read Artemesia’s point as being about the bodily fluid taboo, not about risk, since she’s pretty clearly saying that the kitchen sink is fine.

              1. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

                I’m sorry, there are so many germs and bacteria you are exposed to on a daily basis through LIVING, the “it’s dirty and spreads germs” argument is completely invalid.

          2. NPF*

            Yes, I think the HIV contracting issue is only relevant for the baby who would be consuming the milk. Even if the coworkers licked the sink, they wouldn’t consume enough breastmilk for the HIV issue to be of concern (and honestly, if they are licking the sink, OP’s rinsing isn’t the problem haha)

        1. Jamie*

          I am definitely in the camp of “very squicked out by human germs” even when intellectually I know better, and this wouldn’t bother me at all. No different than rinsing out anything else in the sink.

          And I have suggested capital punishment for people who sneeze into their hands and touch the copier without washing.

          We’ve discussed here before stats that an alarming percentage of the population doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom – hep A is highly transmitted fecal-oral (why it’s such a huge issue in food service) but we aren’t installing bathroom monitors to make sure people wash. I’d think that risk – which could be anyone and any item – would be far greater than her rinsing something right down the drain. She’s not leaving her residue for people, what is there to contaminate them?

          I just assume everyone I meet is filled with horrible and deadly germs which will one day kill me – that way I won’t be surprised when it happens.

            1. fposte*

              But they’re outnumbered by the helpful germs that give us bread, and chocolate, and wine, and cheese, and improve our lives, and even more by the germs that basically don’t give damn about us either way. The microbiome is much like the human world in that respect :-).

          1. Mints*

            Same. I’m usually in the “gross, germs!” camp (remember the speedo on the door know guy?). I’m usually a germaphobe

            But this is milk. I’m not squicked out by milk. I’ve drank raw milk before, still warm from the cow, with coffee. It’s kind of surprising how okay I am about this

    4. CanadianDot*

      It’s literally just milk. Would you have a problem with someone having a glass of milk and rinsing out the glass in the sink?

        1. Us, Too*

          Not to get too “out there”, but I don’t think the analogy is that far fetched. Both breast milk and saliva are body fluids and can transmit, for example, HIV. Now, having said that….

          The kitchen sink is so full of germs that it’s silly to worry about any germs introduced by breast milk. For the same reason, I don’t worry about the various saliva bits, skin bits, etc that ends up in the kitchen sink as a result of routine usage.

          1. fposte*

            Agreed–I think this is an interesting conversation for revealing how we divvy things up in our minds. We generally don’t like to think of food as bodily substances, though of course it all is either made of it or has some on it, so something that is both clearly a bodily substance and a food messes with our neat divisions.

            1. Us, Too*

              Exactly. It plays with our minds to try to categorize something that is a bodily fluid and a food. I’m not sure why folks get so worked up at the idea of eating bodily fluids being gross because most of us do this with regularity via meat, cheese, eggs, etc. Plus, we do REALLY gross stuff like shake hands. And some of us kiss people. Or, worse, babies.

              My kid actually gave me a “kiss” this morning. He’s still too young to know how to do this properly, though, so his idea of a kiss strongly resembled Hannibal Lechter chewing your face off, but without the teeth. And, let me tell you, although very endearing since I am his mother, I was equally horrified because it was NASTY. Kind of like being kissed by a completely wide-mouthed, toothless shark, but with more food particles, drool and just a HINT of vomit underlying the whole.

              Breast milk in the office sink is the least of my germ worries.

            1. Us, Too*

              Interesting. I was under the impression that saliva can have measurable levels of HIV in it, particularly if there is any blood in the saliva from cuts in the mouth, etc. In any event, breast milk can and does contain the virus, so even if saliva can’t, my point remains the same.

              1. fposte*

                Apparently, saliva can indeed have measurable levels of HIV (measuring ability has improved in recent years, so there’s been more info this), but saliva itself has so many inhibitory components that it doesn’t transmit the virus. However, oral contact may not be limited to saliva (you note blood, for instance), so that’s not the same thing as saying oral involvement isn’t sufficient to transmit the virus.

                1. Natalie*

                  Fun fact, the rapid HIV test uses saliva. You stick a big plastic thing in your mouth, swoosh it around, and 10 minutes later you have results.

                2. fposte*

                  Ah, I didn’t know that–I bet it’s all tied into the advanced ability to pull DNA/RNA out of saliva.

              2. ella*

                Saliva has measurable levels of HIV, but I think there’s literally ONE* case of confirmed transmission of HIV through saliva transmission, and the person infected in that case had something else going on (an infection or bleeding inside their mouth, or a compromised immune system generally) that made them vulnerable.

                *It’s been several years since I read the article that I’m vaguely remembering so my information may not be current.

    5. Monodon monoceros*

      I wouldn’t have a problem with the breast pump attachments being washed out in the sink, but on the other hand I do think there is a difference between cow’s milk versus human breast milk. Human milk potentially carries human communicable diseases, whereas cow’s milk is usually pasteurized. That being said, the chances of “catching” a disease from the OP washing out her attachments in the sink is probably next to nill, even if you licked the sink out afterwards.

      1. snuck*

        The issue with the bathroom sink is that people are washing their hands there after going to the toilet, and it’s usually in an area with cubicles only… there’s massive room for fecal contamination, and these pump parts are to be used again before next sterilisation so while they don’t need a super scrub (because breast milk has properties that are mildy anti-bacteria, and is less likely to go off like cows milk because of it’s composition) they do need to be washed in a hygenic way.

        If the person has such an issue with it then they can avoid the kitchen for the very few minutes every day that it is being used for this purpose (and one assumes that the washer is rinsing the sink down after/leaving it clean and wiped down for the next person as all good office kitchen users do).

        That and if the pumper wants to leave their breast milk in the fridge in little bottles is that totally gross too? Because that’s very normal, and it needs to be refrigerated if it’s not going to be used within a certain timeframe.

        1. Lora*

          Please label them clearly…just thinking of the people who steal lunches, take bites out of sandwiches and put them back, etc. I can absolutely picture a terrible lunch-thief taking a sip and getting their mouth cooties in the breast milk, which would contaminate it for the baby.

          I realize there is a certain amount of schadenfreude involved in that idea, though.

          1. snuck*

            Totally! Mind you – breast milk isn’t something they are going to get confused about – they might pour it into their coffee I guess (hahaha!) but given that it is stored in little bottles (I always just used baby bottles directly with the storage lids instead of teats) and has a completely different texture (all the cream on the top, non-homogenised at all) people would have to be deliberately strange to have a run at it (and you’d be able to tell because the fat/cream layer would have moved and there’d be a line to the top of the bottle – I’d throw that away for sure, swearing).

          2. Another Job Seeker*

            This is exactly why I only put unopened TV dinners or unopened bottles of water in the office fridge. If I bring in leftovers for lunch, I keep them in my office (or in my car during the really cold winter months). If I was breastfeeding and I had an office, I’d get a small fridge (if my company would permit me to do so). If not, I’d have to talk to my doctor about options. Maybe a cooler with blue ice or one of the coolers specifically made for breast milk.

      2. B*

        Nope. More germs in a bathroom.

        I can find the link later if people want it, but if you leave a bottle of breast milk out on the counter it will contain fewer germs an hour later. So if anything rinsing the pump parts in the sink could potentially kill germs that are there already. Breastmilk is ace stuff.

      3. Dan*

        Why just the bathroom? Kitchen or bathroom is fine. I don’t see the issue here…it is not like anyone is eating or drinking out of a common room kitchen or in the bathroom. Geeze….

        1. Amazed*

          Considering this is equipment used in collecting milk for a *baby* and bathroom sink are used by people whose hands may be contaminated with fecal bacteria that could make an infant with an immature immune system sick, the bathroom is the last place to wash this.

          1. fposte*

            The kitchen is likely to be more contaminated, actually. This isn’t really a situation where health makes one better than another either way.

            1. Amazed*

              You got a citation for that? This isn’t a kitchen sink where there will be raw meat juices contaminating it, and while some people don’t wash their hands after using the restroom, most do (at least in my workplace!) so the kitchen sink is less likely contaminated by that route. Cold viruses etc are always a problem but do not cause food poisoning.

              If the kitchen sink is supposedly worse than the bathroom, perhaps her coworkers should start using the bathroom sink exclusively.

              1. fposte*

                Do I have a cite for the OP’s workplace? No, I don’t. But unless nobody eats their lunch there, it’s going to have food traces there whether people are preparing raw chicken or not–the issue with microbial colonies in home kitchens isn’t raw meat, it’s food, period. Some of that, of course, will make its way to the bathroom, just as some of the bathroom will make its way to the kitchen. Co-workers could start using the bathroom sink exclusively, and then it would be just like the kitchen. The difference isn’t the extent of cleanliness, it’s cultural.

                Now, if virtually nobody uses the kitchen sink, it’s probably cleaner. But in that case, there’s even less reason for anybody to care what the OP does there.

                1. fposte*

                  On reflection, I note that kitchen sinks may have better food traps. So moving all the washing to the bathroom might also be tougher on the plumbing.

                2. Amazed*

                  There’s a difference between garden variety bacteria, which everything is covered with, and pathogens. The pathogens of interest are mostly transmitted by the fecal-oral route–salmonella, campylobacter, certain E. coli strains, listeria… These grow naturally in the gut, so for gross contamination raw meat is the best source due to contamination by fecal matter during evisceration and processing. Comparing a kitchen sink not exposed to raw meat and a bathroom sink exposed to human feces, I do not buy the claim that their microbial populations are just the same.

                3. fposte*

                  E. coli, salmonella, campylobacter and listeria are the exact microorganisms in the kitchen that get most focused on in studies, and they’re generally more populous there than in bathrooms, mostly because of use and cleaning patterns. They are great at providing the oral component of the fecal-oral route, and all of them happily appear on things other than raw meat.

                  Sure, individual kitchens and bathrooms may vary in their micro-loads. But the decision to find the kitchen cleaner is mostly an emotional/cultural one, not a scientific one, as long as you’re talking a kitchen that has any food in it. Additionally, with most US day-to-day hygiene, we’re talking bacterial loads that don’t really matter to most of us anyway.

                4. TL*

                  Actually, a lot of those sicknesses just come down to amount. Everyone’s exposed to small amounts of potentially harmful bacteria/viruses pretty frequently and it’s no big deal. It’s only when you get exposed to large amounts (of most pathogens) that you’re at high risk for developing illnesses. And the airborne amounts found in a bathroom are not likely to make you sick, any more than the amounts floating around your kitchen.
                  (But wash your hands. Because the amounts there can matter.)

                5. fposte*

                  Totally–it’s the “keep it down to a dull roar” approach. Which doesn’t sit well with the American (maybe human?) tendency to treat clean and dirty as a binary rather than a continuum.

            2. Observer*

              That’s actually not accurate. The sink itself is one thing, but the problem in a public bathroom is that flushing etc leaves lots of bacteria and other “matter” that isn’t in your typical kitchen airborne. So, there really is a greater risk of contamination in the bathroom than in the kitchen.

              1. fposte*

                It feels like that, but I’m not seeing any study that backs that notion up–if you find one, can you post it?

              2. Not So NewReader*

                The was a study a while ago about bacteria on toothbrushes that were with in a certain range of the toilet. It’s been a while so probably there is a study that refutes that study?

                1. fposte*

                  Right, there are definitely studies that suggest toothbrushes in the bathroom will pick up bacteria from toilet flushing. I’m certainly not disputing the presence of bacteria in the bathroom. But a few people here are stating that kitchen sinks are less germy than bathroom sinks, and both Gene and I are finding studies that say the opposite. So I’m asking the people saying that to show ’em if they’ve got ’em :-).

                2. Observer*

                  @fpost The problem is not really the sink itself, as I wouldn’t put the pieces in either sink. The problem is the overall environment. In the kitchen you don’t have the airborne stuff that causes the problem with toothbrushes in the bathroom, for example.

      4. Cube Ninja*

        Go ask a nursing mother to breastfeed in a bathroom sometime and see how much you pay out in a lawsuit. :)

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Not a mom here. BUT, I cannot see washing dishes or other food processing items in a bathroom sink. A pump is food processing equipment. I would not wash my dishes/silverware/pans in a bathroom sink, nor would I expect any nursing mom to wash pump equipment in a bathroom sink.
      The thought of rinsing out my coffee mug in a bathroom sink makes me cringe. People spit into bathroom sinks and who knows what else. I won’t even start on the faucet handles.
      If people are uncomfortable watching her do this, then they could just look away. I am sure that mom rinses the sink when she is done. I cannot be so sure that everyone else rinses the sink after using.

      1. Anonicorn*

        Absolutely this. Germs are far more likely to be in a bathroom sink, and I wouldn’t risk the potential of contaminating the pump and exposing the baby to them just because someone is grossed out by milk.

    7. Diet Coke Addict*

      Why is it unappetizing? It’s OK to rinse dirty dishes in the sink, full of grease and particles, and dirty silverware that have been in people’s germ-filled mouths. You don’t eat out of a sink of any kind–bathroom or kitchen–they are explicitly for cleaning things.

      1. 400boyz*

        I think some people just cannot handle the fact that the milk came out of an actual woman’s boob. The squick factor is probably tied to puritanical feelings.

        1. Ann*

          Yep. If people are inherently squicked out by breastfeeding, whatever. Lame, but it’s just one of those things. But they should at least be able to understand that they’re being completely irrational.

        2. Kelly L.*

          And I think we forget that pretty much all food is gross if you think about it too hard. Milk comes from a cow’s udder, meat comes from a dead animal, veggies get dug out of the dirt.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, this isn’t about a clean sink vs. a dirty sink, whichever way you’re arguing the thing should be cleaned. They’re both going to be pretty much teeming with biological life before Mom ever gets there.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            And really, seen a certain way, it’s way more gross to drink some other animal’s breast milk than to be around our own species’ milk. People never think about that because we’re so used to the idea that cows’ milk (which is intended for baby calves) is okay to drink, but the idea of drinking, say, rat milk would completely gross them out.

            People are so used to thinking of cow milk as a normal thing to drink that they don’t even think about the fact that cows don’t just give milk all the time. They have to be pregnant and have a baby calf to produce it.

            1. Natalie*

              More specifically, drinking milk is largely a Western (white) phenomenon. Between 60-90% of everyone else in the world becomes lactose intolerant in adulthood, and thus doesn’t drink fresh milk.

              1. fposte*

                Yeah, the patterns of lactose tolerance and intolerance are pretty interesting–it’s great testimony to how an organism can situationally adapt when a new advantage outweighs an older disadvantage.

              2. Traveler*

                I think saying its mostly a white phenomenon is an overstatement if you look at the data. Your highest concentrations of lactose intolerant people are in China and Sub-Saharan Africa, yes, but there are lots of places that would not be considered “White” or “Western” that are largely lactose tolerant/milk dependent cultures. A lot of these maps/data report on an entire country and just pick yay/nay, when its really much more of a continuum.

                1. fposte*

                  Oh, I’ve always heard the Northern European thing too–it makes sense that it’s more granular, though. I found a map that suggests low lactose intolerance in Niger–can you give some other examples? This is really interesting.

                2. Traveler*

                  The Maasai are probably the most famous, but pastoralism (where milk drinking often follows) and nomadic cultures go hand in hand since your food source can travel with you and milk is a pretty calorie dense food, so you’ll see quite a bit of milk drinking in places like North Africa. I believe Mongolians also have pretty low levels of lactose intolerance (though I’d have to look that up again). India as well, depending on the region. The auroch was domesticated in Europe (and also in India)… so it would make sense that you’d have milk-drinking concentrated in those areas, and not in places where aurochs (and eventually cows) didn’t roam (but this doesn’t correlate 1:1 for “white/western”, so while I still see the truth in that point, other people drink milk too!)

                3. fposte*

                  Oh, I should have thought of the Maasai–I was thinking about them in the conversation about the custom of getting milk from cows, given that they also get blood from cattle. (Not sure if it’s from the exact same cows that are being milked or not–I would imagine that has a cost in milk yield, but then that’s my Midwesterner talking.)

                4. Natalie*

                  I’m aware of that, that’s why I said “largely”a white phenomenon (or more accurately, European descent phenomenon), not exclusively. I’m aware there are other areas that developed lactase persistence- parts of the Levant, various groups in Africa, etc- but from what I understand lactose intolerance is fairly uncommon in people of European descent and fairly common in the vast majority of the rest of the world.

                5. Jamie*

                  @Natalie – I’ve heard the same – it’s the LP allele that’s so prevalent in Europeans and those of European descent. It was an evolutionary benefit because those in northern climates had a hard time getting enough Vitamin D from the sun. But “lactose persistence” is seen down to Spain/Italy so there are other factors as well.

                  Interesting article from Nature:

                  “Only 35% of the human population can digest lactose beyond the age of about seven or eight”

                  “Once the LP allele appeared, it offered a major selective advantage. In a 2004 study5, researchers estimated that people with the mutation would have produced up to 19% more fertile offspring than those who lacked it. The researchers called that degree of selection “among the strongest yet seen for any gene in the genome”.

                  Anyway for those interested here’s the whole article – it’s pretty fascinating.


                6. Traveler*

                  What are you defining as largely though? If you’re saying most white people/people of European descent are lactose tolerant – I’d agree with you (it is supposedly around 90%). If you’re saying most people that are lactose tolerant are white/of European descent I’d disagree because:
                  Scientists believe 60% of the world’s population are lactose INtolerant, so that leaves up with 40% that are tolerant – or 2.8 billion people that are lactose tolerant. If you combine the total population of the US, Australia, and Europe (which is not all white, by a long shot, and even amongst whites you’re going to have to subtract the 10% that aren’t lactose tolerant) you only have about 1 billion people. 1/2.8 = 36%ish … which is not “largely”. That’s the part I was getting at.

            2. Us, Too*

              I actually think cow’s milk is less gross because it is typically pasteurized and, therefore, slightly less of a germ cesspool than non-pasteurized bodily secretions would be. But, hey, I’m not standing in line to suck on a rat for milk any time soon, either, so there’s that.

              1. Cat*

                I mean, for all your know, your co-worker could be bringing in non-pasteurized dairy products that they got from their urban farmstead (do you live in Portland? They probably are.) But nobody feels the need to grill them about that.

                1. Mints*

                  If I was in an office passive aggressive battle about this, I might go out of my way to procure raw milk to store in the fridge and eat with office utensils.

            3. sunny-dee*

              It’s a bit of a false comparison. I eat the meat of a cow, but I am willing to state that I think it is disgusting and wrong to eat the meat of a person. ;)

              More seriously, breastmilk isn’t a food for everyone. It is only a food for a nursing infant. We don’t cook with breastmilk, we don’t make breastmilk cheese and butter, we don’t sell it in the dairy aisle, we don’t breed people just to mass-product breastmilk, and we don’t drink it at dinner.

                1. Traveler*

                  It’s calorie/nutrient dense, it moves with you if you are a nomadic people, available throughout the year, and its a source of food that keeps giving (versus slaughtering the animal or being stuck in one place to grow veggies that only grow part of the year and depending on the plant, also die when plucked). Those are some serious advantages for people who drank milk thousands of years ago.

                2. fposte*

                  Yup. We’ve got a bit of a teleological fallacy going on here too, I think, because “is intended” suggests an agent, and we’re not naming the agent. With domestic animals, they and their products pretty much intended for whatever the humans who domesticated the animals found useful, because that’s what’s ruled their use and properties.

              1. A Bug!*

                But that’s the whole point. Cow’s milk is intended to only be food for a nursing infant cow. A cow’s meat is not intended to be eaten by other cows, either, so the human meat comparison doesn’t really fly.

                Western society has chosen to take cow’s milk and consume it as a product in a variety of ways, to the point that the word “milk” without qualifiers always means “cow’s milk,” rather than “human milk” or “goat’s milk” or any other kind of milk. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily normal or natural. It’s kind of weird to me that humans tend to be more grossed out by human lactation, even when conducted discreetly, than by the idea or act of consuming cow’s milk.

                1. fposte*

                  I think I see what sunny-dee is saying, though–it’s about the mental categorization and the custom, not the logic.

                  (BTW, am I correct in remembering that some people have had co-workers who’ve stored urine samples in the office fridge? We might have already blown past that “only food in the kitchen” thing if so.)

            4. Elizabeth West*

              Rat milk… omg I just about spit my taco on the screen.

              I KNEW when I saw that letter and the number of comments exactly what they would say. For the record, 1) I drink a ton of cow’s milk (having some right now, in fact) and 2) it would not bother me if the OP washed her pump stuff in the kitchen sink. It’s food. It’s no threat to you. The end.

              1. Poohbear McGriddles*

                Re: Rat’s Milk

                Pasteurize it, make it into ice cream and put some chocolate sauce on it. I’m in.

      2. Bea W*

        Really, a breast pump is probably one of the least gross things that gets washed out in the sink, and unlike other containers, it never comes in contact with the germiest of all places, the human mouth.

        1. Us, Too*

          Having seen my own anypump in action, I can tell you that immediately after use it’s no cleaner than my skin and given that a baby was probably sucking on that skin about 20 times a day and I shower once or twice a day… Yeah, do the math. So I’d say that washing a breast pump in the sink is pretty equivalent germ-wise to washing my breast in the sink, but with the addition of any pathogens from my milk.

          The bottom line here is that there really isn’t a hygiene reason to argue not to do this any more than any number of other things we do routinely in sinks and think nothing of (e.g. washing our hands). It’s gross because we think it’s gross, not because we have some sort of germ-o-meter that is accurately tallying germ risk in our heads.

          1. Bea W*

            True. If people were comfortable with the way babies eat, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. “Hygeine” and “germs” are red herrings.

        2. Windchime*

          Yeah, I had to hide my tea mug from view this morning when I washed it out because apparently I had left some tea (with sugar) in it over my 10 days of vacation and it was moldy and disgusting. I was embarrassed for anyone to see it. So it’s really confusing to me why some people might think it’s OK for me to wash my disgustingly moldy cup out in the sink, but not for the LW to discreetly rinse the plastic piece of her breastpump out. Maybe it’s because my mug didn’t touch someone’s booby.

          1. Monodon monoceros*

            For the record, I would rather the OP wash her breast pump out than you wash your moldy tea mug in the communal kitchen sink :)

    8. Brittany*

      and rinsing one’s nursing attachments there seems just as unappetizing and inconsiderate

      Dude, really? It’s just breast milk. It’s food. It’s like any other liquid that a person would consume and then wash the container out. The bathroom is a quick-fix cleaning option for breast feeding mom’s but certainly isn’t optimal. People do far worse in bathrooms than they ever would a kitchen. I find it unappetizing and inconsiderate when my coworker heats up leftover fish and brussel sprouts in the communal microwave but I can’t very well ask them to please do that in the bathroom.

    9. KellyK*

      Nursing is a bodily function, but breastmilk is also *food.* Would you ask someone to rinse their coffee cup in the bathroom sink?

    10. Eliza Jane*

      I totally agree that people shouldn’t be washing bodily fluids off in the kitchen sink, which is why I am advocating that all washing of glasses and forks should be done in the bathroom, since they have saliva on them, and all washing of hands, since they have sweat.

    11. neverjaunty*

      Saliva is a bodily fluid. I guess I shouldn’t wash my coffee cup in the sink at work then because ot touched my mouth?

      1. LBK*

        Seriously! Surprised it took someone this long to say that. All these concerns about communicable diseases and bodily fluids – where are you people washing your cups and silverware when you eat in the office? I’m guessing not in the bathroom.

    12. Gene*

      I knew this comment was going to blow up when I read it last evening. I didn’t have this reference at home, and didn’t feel like looking for it.

      The overall most germ-ridden place in your home is your kitchen sponge, both total bacterial colonies and fecal coliform (indicative of pathogenic bacteria) colonies. Second overall, but a distant third for fecal is the bathroom sink drain. Third overall, but a massive second by over two orders of magnitude for fecal – the kitchen sink drain.

      Keep in mind that this graph’s Y-axis is a logarythmic scale:

      1. Melissa*

        When I came and saw how many comments this post had, I was like…it’s the breastfeeding question for sure!

        1. snippet*

          I thought the same thing! Breastfeeding always sparks a lively debate :) And I am on the pro-breastfeeding side for sure. It’s just food! No grosser than rinsing out dishes that you just slurped your lunch out of.

      2. Traveler*

        This makes me happy. I harp on microwaving or frequently replacing the kitchen sponge and get a lot of side-eye for it.

        1. Anx*

          I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to watch someone use their multi-purpose kitchen sponges to wipe down the counters for food prep and service.

  7. Seal*

    #3 – I’ve worked in libraries since I was in high school. Given some of the things I’ve seen people rinse out in sinks in restrooms and break room kitchens over the years I can safely say that reasonable people don’t bat an eye breast pump parts, if they even know what they are when they see them. Trust me – there are far, FAR more inappropriate things that get rinsed out in public sinks than that!

    1. Liane*

      Totally facetious here!! HR needs to get involved and investigate whether the boss’s No Stuff That Bugs Someone Gets Washed policy is being enforced in a non-discriminatory fashion–
      Specifically, is Boss also having discussions with employees whom she has witnessed–or received complaints about–flossing/tooth-brushing in the restroom sinks or stalls? Or in the kitchen sink, which I have seen several times in my working career.
      End totally facetious!

      AAM got it in one word–a talent I envy.

      1. wendy*

        I think there was a recent AAM post about flossing–OP’s manager refused to allow her to floss, and actually followed her into the bathroom to see if she was flossing. . .

  8. Gene*

    For #1, could you ask the person who talked to you if it would be OK to have the boss call her as you lack the authority to do anything about her complaint? Then you could go to the boss with a name and contact info.

    1. Aussie Teacher*

      Agree. Or encourage clients with a complaint to report it (give them an email address or number to call that will get their complaint to the correct ears). Explain to them that you don’t have the power to address their complaint but X does – here’s his email!

    2. Not So NewReader*

      That is what I would do, encourage people to write or call the boss. It’s not OP’s battle.

      I had a boss who received complaints regarding another department. She listened for a while. It got to the point where people were just dumping their frustrations on her. Then she decided that there was nothing she could do and the person needed to direct the complaint to someone who could do something. She started putting her foot down, “There is nothing I can do about that. You need to go to Bob and tell Bob.”

      On the personal experience side of the story, I think that OP is correct in assuming this will not play out well for her if she goes forward with the comments. Compounding matters this seems to have been going on for a while. I think the bosses are aware of it and not dealing. It could be they chose not to or it could be that they do not know how to deal with the problems.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. These things are generally not a secret from the boss. And jumping in to correct all the wrongs of the business when they are not under your authority often causes you harm without fixing anything. Learned this the hard way. If you want to be effective, you need to be more manipulative e.g. get the complaining person to complain directly to the boss is a start.

        1. Cassie*

          I’ve learned this the hard way too. People frequently come to me with complaints and while I feel bad and have tried to speak up on their behalf before, it really goes nowhere. I think I’m starting to develop a reputation for complaining about everything when in reality, 99% of these complaints are other people’s complaints!

          So my outlook has changed now – if TPTB don’t care about the poor customer service that our clients (in our case, students, faculty and other staff) get, why should I? I just need to do my job well and everyone else who has issues can learn to speak up.

  9. D*

    #3 Personally, that would freak me out, but I probably wouldn’t complain about it.

    But since you asked about perspectives…
    For context: I’m a female in my mid/late 20s. I’ve never interacted with babies, and everything baby-related sort of grosses me out. Not everyone is used to being around them, or even knows what the day-to-day of having one looks like. Maybe they don’t understand why you need to pump, for example. I didn’t grow up around babies, and none of my friends have babies. I don’t live in the same province as any family, so I haven’t met any of my baby cousins, nieces, etc. I avoid children in public places, on public transit, etc. They make me uncomfortable.

    I’m curious if the complainers have an aversion to female bodily functions (would have complained if they saw a tampon in the garbage) or to the fact that it’s baby-related, think it’s unprofessional, etc. Even though the baby stuff squicks me out, being a woman I get that there are many things that the female body just DOES and it’s part of life, so you deal. I wonder if the complainers are male or female, too.

    But on the other hand, if you didn’t rinse it out and started to smell by the end of the day, people would complain about that too. You’re doing what you need to do.

    1. Apollo Warbucks*

      Erm a tampon in the trash in the office kitchen constitutes a health hazard in a way that milk doesn’t.

      1. Student*

        Pretty much any disease that can be communicated by a tampon can also be communicated by breast milk. Additionally, the only diseases I have ever heard of that are communicated by either are only going to be communicated through actually eating the material in question. So, as long as you don’t eat out of the lunch-room trash at work, you’re fine.

        What did you think we do with tampons at home? Put them in some special hazmat container? No, they just go into whatever trash is handy.

        It would be weird to put a tampon in the lunchroom trash mainly because you’d generally have to walk past a bunch of other trash bins between removal and disposal. I’d put a tampon in the lunch trash (wrapped discreetly in some paper towel or tissue or something) if there were no other trash available, I suppose.

      2. fposte*

        It violates a taboo, but a tampon in the garbage doesn’t constitute a health hazard in the kitchen any more than it does in the bathroom. This isn’t just about logic, it’s about cultural customs.

        Breast milk is both a food and bodily fluid, and it’s understandable that some people, at least initially, associate it with the bodily fluid rules. But there’s no particular logical reason not to cut a nursing mom a break on this one (and I guarantee you somebody has puked in that sink too).

      3. Apollo Warbucks*

        Thanks for your thoughts student and fposte, maybe my thinking is flawed but I view blood as more potentially harmful than milk, but after what you say I’m not sure there’s any objective basis for that opinion.

        Either way id still feel more uncomfortable with blood waste near my food than milk.

        1. Jamie*

          I do, too – although I love learning the science here since I do find it calming when I run across something that horrifies me.

          A lot of us have knee jerk reactions to things like this that we haven’t fact checked – and even once we do it’s hard to override a lifetime of feeling a certain way.

          I know it’s the same water comes out of my bathroom tap as comes out of the kitchen. I’ll brush my teeth with the bathroom water no problem, won’t drink a glass of it. All the logic in the world won’t make it taste like kitchen water. And I know that’s crazy.

          So I do understand some people having a squick reaction to breast milk, some things are just gross to some people. Just like no matter how logical it is that tampons are no greater hazard than breast milk I’m always going to see one as baby food and the other as “holy crap what kind of monster puts this in a kitchen garbage can unwrapped and visible!”

    2. Wendy*

      I would think that anyone in the position to see a tampon in the garbage would have to be IN the women’s restroom, pawing through the trash. I have no sympathy for that ridiculous self-inflicted trauma.

      But if I saw a used tampon in the office’s KITCHEN garbage can, then I’d be more befuddled. Who takes out her tampon in the kitchen? And why would someone do that? Is there not a trash can in the women’s bathroom? I’d be even more confused if the kitchen tampons became a regular thing…

      Anyway. Washing pump parts out in the kitchen sink is perfectly fine. Washing things… is what sinks are for, right? I would understand the squickiness if she were trying to store her milk in a shared container that everyone uses, but it’s not like anyone needs too fill up the sink and then drink out of the basin. Lame.

      1. Chloe*

        This made me laugh out loud, the idea of anyone needing the inside of a kitchen sink to be pristine clean is so funny. What are you going to do, lick it?

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          And I am laughing out loud imagining the AAM letter about the woman who removed her tampons in the kitchen and flings them into the bin.

        2. HeyNonnyNonny*

          Giggling at the thought of coworkers licking the sink. I think much grosser things than milk end up in our office kitchen sink.

          1. fposte*

            And both those things are okay. That doesn’t mean being grossed out by them sets office policy, but it’s not a moral failing, either.

              1. fposte*

                Do you think? I think old people is a lot more varied a category, for one thing, whereas children who are born potty trained are few and far between.

                1. 400boyz*

                  I guess you’ve never met advanced age people who are incontinent, or even younger people who are incontinent. It’s not dehumanizing at all to be grossed out by them. I got it.

                2. fposte*

                  I’ve met a lot of old people, most of whom are continent, and I’m not grossed out by them or by kids, so I’m not sure where you’re headed here.

                  My point is that small children do indeed have hygiene issues that are unique to them, and I don’t think it’s dehumanizing them to react to that.

                3. 400boyz*

                  Again, it’s one thing to react to something, and it’s another thing to categorically declare a whole swath of people “gross”.

              2. Us, Too*

                Please. I have an 11 month old. Babies ARE gross. They just are. I love my kid, but he’s objectively disgusting. I won’t go into details on why I think he’s gross (because, well, GROSS) but I can describe him as such without dehumanizing him.

                I also think babies can be super cute and awesome for other reasons, but even when they are these things you know what they also still are? GROSS.

                1. Jen RO*

                  If you insist – yes, incontinent people are gross. They can be many other things, like nice or obnoxious or funny, but also gross. Feel free to crucify me now.

                2. 400boyz*

                  So, rather than the product of the bodily function being gross, you think the human being, who cannot control it, is innately gross because they cannot control something that grosses you out.

                  I’m grossed out by people who spew hateful crap, but I don’t crucify them, so don’t worry.

                3. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Well, come on. I really don’t think anyone here is saying babies are inherently gross — just that they do things that are gross, which most people would agree with.

                4. Jamie*

                  I think you’re taking the wording literally and no one uses it that way.

                  If my son lets out a disgusting burp and laughs because that’s funny at any age and say, “you are so gross!” I’m not making a judgement about him as a human being…it’s a statement on the gross thing he just did.

                  People don’t parse out every phrase that if taken literally would mean they were horrible when the common understanding is so clear.

                  My husband put ice down my back Sunday because he thinks he’s funny and said I was going to kill him…but I didn’t. And he wasn’t afraid that I would – or he wouldn’t have done that while I was in the kitchen so close to the knives.

                5. 400boyz*

                  I was responding to: “Yes, incontinent people *are* gross”. Emphasis mine. How else is one suppose to interpret that?

                  Similarly, when someone says *everything* baby-related grosses them out, it’s only logical to conclude that they think babies are inherently gross in some way.

                6. 400boyz*


                  “If my son lets out a disgusting burp and laughs because that’s funny at any age and say, “you are so gross!”

                  It’s a different context. Jokingly saying someone is gross is different than saying a whole category of people, like incontinent people, are gross. I don’t know how many other ways I can explain it.

              3. snapple*

                Could you please just stop this crusade of yours? I understand you have strong feelings about this subject but you’re not going to change anyone’s mind this in this forum. This is a workplace blog and I really don’t wan to read your combative comments about feeding.

                1. 400boyz*

                  If you don’t like my opinion, you have three options:

                  1. Ignore my posts.
                  2. Buy this blog so you can order me to stop.
                  3. Complain to AAM and have her ask me to stop.

              4. Jamie*

                Dehumanizing to be grossed out? I don’t think so – they aren’t advocating for their elimination…just some people are more squeamish around the icker parts of life than others.

                I have 3 kids and when they were babies and prone to grossness I found it fascinating that I could grab a tissue and clean their runny noses without batting an eye – but then (as now) other people’s kids dripping so their face looks like a glazed donut grosses me out.

                And even when they were mine the whole diaper changing thing…once they were no longer exclusively on breast milk there is no material instinct that makes that not gross. It’s something you deal with, because the alternative is unthinkable, but yeah I’ll admit there are parts of raising kids that are pretty gross.

                And I love kids – babies/toddlers make me smile like the human puppies that they are. And I personally think the ickiness is made up for by how snuggly they are after a bath, in footie jammies, and smelling like baby shampoo and happiness. But I get that it doesn’t balance out for everyone.

                You can be uncomfortable around a segment of the population and even kind of repulsed by certain things and still have all the respect in the world for their humanity.

                1. 400boyz*

                  Again, it’s one thing to be grossed out by poopie, or snot, or whatever, it’s quite another to say and think of babies as gross things in a categorical fashion.

                2. Us, Too*

                  Ooooh, post bath footie pj’s. squeeeeeeeeeeee. But, that is about 2 minutes of a 24 hour day. The remaining 23 hours, 58 minutes? Gross.

            1. ExceptionToTheRule*

              I’m sorry, individual people are entitled to their own individual feelings of “gross” regarding children, old people, people who chew with their mouths open, eat at their desks, microwave fish, stand too close or whatever else.

              1. Us, Too*

                I think it’s pretty safe to say that all people are disgusting cesspools of microbial filth and, sometimes, smells. I try not to think about it.

              2. 400boyz*

                Yup they’re entitled to label whole swaths of people “gross” even when it’s something that is beyond those people’s control. Not dehumanizing, and actually very a decent way of looking at people.

              3. Ilf*

                I am with 400boyz. I think the bulk characterization of large categories of people as gross suggests a gross lack of empathy. Attaching the label to people rather than acts or habits absolutely is dehumanizing.

                1. Us, Too*

                  I can buy that. The whole love the sinner, hate the sin thing.. Focus on behaviors, not people. So, let me amend my statement. 99.9995% of things that babies do are disgusting and gross. Babies are fine, it’s the vast majority of their behaviors that are beyond repulsive.

                2. 400boyz*

                  I don’t know what babies you’ve had around you. Except for the very young newborns who poopie upwards of 8 times a day, most of the time they’re either sleeping, or playing with toys. Feeding time is not even 1/3 of the day.

    3. Sourire*

      I am also one of those people who hates babies/children, but the breast pump thing doesn’t gross me out at all. It’s very interesting to hear a different perspective on it though.

      Personally, I have seen my coworkers wash out things that gross me out way more (long gone bad food that was forgotten about in the fridge for example) in our communal sink, but as someone else said, that is what a sink is for – to wash things.

    4. MPL*

      Haha, D, you’re reacting to “babies” like they’re some alien species. They’re little humans, and they need to eat!

      1. Jen RO*

        I’m sure I would find baby-me just as obnoxious as any other baby (probably worse, judging by my mom’s stories). This analogy is crap.

        1. 400boyz*

          1. It wasn’t an analogy. It was sarcasm.
          2. That you would find yourself obnoxious is irrelevant. Categorizing whole sections of human beings as inherently ‘gross’ over stuff they can’t control is a crappy thing to do.

  10. M-C*

    #1 of course I agree with AaM :-). But I’d also suggest that next time a client tries to tell you about a complaint, as soon as you figure out it’s not about your part of the office you should immediately tell them that, and suggest they call the management (providing a business card/someone’s name in the process if at all possible). And while you’re talking to management about the current problems, you might want to suggest that they place a suggestion box in the reception area, a form on their website, a regular survey sent to clients, some avenues that allows clients to send feedback (preferably anonymously) without having to buttonhole innocent parties in public places..

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I’m not sure a customer would be receptive to that, but could be, depending on their relationship with the OP. If you are a customer, and you are so pissed off that you want to give a scathing review, you are only going to be more angry if faced with someone who says, “I’m sorry you are having trouble, but I’m not to blame. Tell your story to someone else”. Internal office politics are not the customer’s problem but you would be making it their problem by telling them to complain to someone else.

      OP, I think the notion of “tattling” is not appropriate here. The letter about the breast pump is tattling. This would be you doing your job. A customer gave you feedback and it is your boss’s job to handle it.

      1. neverjaunty*

        +1 to all of this.

        And an office where reporting poor treatment of customers to the appropriate manager is “tattling” is extremely dysfunctional.

        1. OP-Michelle*

          *sigh* yes. The bosses said in an all-office staff meeting that we are to work our problems out amongst ourselves. Because the client complaint was about specific people I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to go directly to them, like the bosses said, or if this is more serious and needs to be addressed by the bosses.

          1. fposte*

            But this isn’t an intra-office problem. This is a problem a client is having. There’s a big difference.

          2. Observer*

            Sure – problems BETWEEN YOURSELVES. But this is not a problem between you and the front office staff. This is a customer service problem, in which the customer does not have the ability to “work it out” – other than leaving the practice. Oh, and also bad mouthing the practice. And, negative reviews travel.

      2. OP-Michelle*

        ^^ Yes. She told me that was why she was telling me. She felt uncomfortable complaining to the front desk, that she thought I could talk to the boss.

          1. KarenT*

            So much this. And you’ve got an easy intro now. “Hey boss, I’m not one to complain but Sally the Customer asked me to inform you about the following situation…”

        1. Observer*

          So why are you hesitating? If a customer handed you a paper with the the complaint written down and asked you to pass it to the boss, would you chuck it in the garbage, because it’s “tattling”? This goes beyond passing along an important piece of information, to misleading a customer (who thinks her complaint is going to be submitted to someone in authority) and failing to pass along messages.

      3. Elsajeni*

        I think there’s a distinction between “I’m not to blame for that; tell someone else” and “I don’t have the power to fix that; here’s my manager’s contact information,” though. Maybe it’s different in this context — my only experience with disgruntled customers has been in a retail setting, where I feel like customers generally understood that “I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like to speak to a manager?” was the limit of my power to address their complaints. In a more professional customer-service setting, would something like “I’m sorry to hear that, and I’ll pass it along to our manager. If you’d like to speak to her yourself, here’s her contact information” be appropriate?

  11. Apollo Warbucks*

    #3 your co workers need to grow up and get over it, feeding your baby isn’t gross or unhygienic and there’s no reason what you are doing should cause a problem.

    I’m unsure from your letter but it seems like you’re being asked to wash the pump out in the bathroom, which I would expect is less hygienic for you, maybe those that don’t wan to share a sink with you can go wash their food dishes and utensils out in the bathroom.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      Couldn’t agree more and I’m a self proclaimed child hater. I hate being exposed to anything that has to do with parenthood. But I fail to see what the issue is here, unless OP is leaving the sink a mess after she is done.

      If even my grumpy self isn’t annoyed by this, you have some petty and immature coworkers.

  12. abankyteller*

    #3: you don’t have to rinse your attachments if you store them in the fridge between sessions. Store them in a clear bag in the fridge. When someone inevitably complains about that, start rinsing them in the sink again. They’ll just be glad they don’t have to see the attachments in the fridge and won’t bother with where you rinse them.

  13. Smilingswan*

    #1, You could always tell your boss that you were asked by a client to pass on the information, and ask to remain anonymous when the boss addresses the complaint with the front desk staff.

  14. RJ*

    While this is equally ridiculous, I wonder if the objection to the pump rinsing is more related to the “breast” part of breast milk. Because it touches a breast, people see it as an intimate device? And react the same way they would if someone were, say, washing their bra in the kitchen sink? Still lame, and they need a big serving of “get the hell over it”, but a slightly different perspective.

    1. CaliCali*

      I agree with this assessment. It’s less about the actual milk itself, and more about that the equipment is touching GASP a female body part. That being said, I always quickly and discreetly rinsed my items in the kitchen sink and no one said anything, and people need to get over it. Washing your bra in the sink is entirely optional; rinsing your equipment is pretty important if you’re pumping 2x/day.

    2. Adam*

      It’s possible. Knowing what the device is and the fact that she uses it pretty much triggers an automatic thought that on some level you’re thinking about her boobs which many would consider inappropriate.

      But really I don’t see what the big deal is. I’m middle of the road when it comes to feeding in public, but as far as washing a device goes I don’t see it as being any different than any other medical related device a person might need to carry with them.

  15. Anon*

    OP # 2 – I got made redundant from my job 2 months ago, I applied to loads of jobs that I was more than qualified and two 2/3rds of the time I didn’t hear back, not even a rejection letter. So think how that makes me feel? I’ve no criminal record, a solid work background, solid glowing references etc

    But I kept applying, networking with my recruiter contacts, signing up to agencies and working on my cover letter and CV and I got employed at basically a dream company.
    A lot of people just apply via websites and don’t hear anything, so maybe try using agencies. They go to bat for you and can generally be very helpful (providing they’re not overly pushy etc with potential employers) So maybe try that also?

    And thinking my 2 cents in for OP # 3.. I am a women, I fully intend to breast feed when I have a child but if a lady in the office washed her breast pump out in the sink which everyone uses, I’d generally be grossed out. I know, I know, it’s natural and nothing to be freaked out about but it’s a sink where people regularly clean their mugs and stuff. It’s like someone, say, cleaning a wound in it. That sort of stuff is just more bathroom only really. In my opinion any way
    I’m sure others will disagree with me. But some bodily fluid things need to not be rinsed in a kitchen sink…

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      But that’s the thing. It’s not comparable to cleaning a wound, it’s comparable to cleaning other eating devices, and it’s not a terrific idea to ask her to clean it in a bathroom where chances of fecal contamination are much, much higher.

      1. Natalie*

        Also, I guarantee you people have cleaned a wound (at least a papercut) once or twice in pretty much every office sink.

            1. fposte*

              As a short person, I forget about that, and I bet you’re not only right but highly conservative with your estimate.

        1. Adam*

          I’m probably going to do this today (cut myself pretty good yesterday in the kitchen like you do), but was probably going to do it in the private bathroom to avoid questions. I’ll just wait for the manly scar to show off later.

    2. TL*

      I would not be grossed out by someone cleaning a wound in a kitchen sink. I mean, maybe if they had some really fantastic infection going on and they had to abrade and rinse and expunge – but for most day-to-day wounds, I would just shrug and clean up/rinse very well, like for any other location.

      Sinks come with water and generally soap; you rinse everything down and if you’re really concerned, use a bleach solution to clean and then rinse. Sinks are for dirty things and they are generally dirty (and the drainage pipes connected to the sinks? Incredibly gross!). Unless you’re planning to eat out of your sink without ever having washed or rinsed it, it’s not a matter of hygiene, it’s a matter of social and cultural preferences.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Once upon a time, some one got grossed out over them as babies.

        I understand not having the stomach for something. Just look the other way.

        I have to chuckle. It’s fine to talk about what went on in bed last night but it’s not fine to talk over health issues or ‘as in this case’ wash a breast pump. Collectively speaking, we (society) are so backwards.
        I think it’s gross to listen to someone talk about their sex life. But if someone is bent over double because of a kidney stone, just say so- let’s get some help on this problem.

  16. Sue*

    #2 I am wondering how LinkedIn factors into this. If an employer searches for you on LinkedIn, they can “see” what race you are. I myself am a minority, and it doesn’t completely sit well with me that potential employers can find me on LinkedIn, possibly prompting a bias before they’ve even met me.

    1. Traveler*

      I don’t put my picture up, not as much because I worry about biases (though this is a great point!) but that I don’t like the idea of anyone out there being able to know my name/what I look like/where I work. Too many experiences with crazy people out there when I was public facing. I think its a bit strange in the US, where pictures in the hiring process are generally frowned upon, that LinkedIn has that feature.

        1. Traveler*

          It originated in the US, though. It seems it would follow the custom of the country it originated in, and then branch out as it moved to other markets/where it was culturally appropriate. Though this has me thinking back to the discussion weeks ago about realtors/photos. By a bit strange – I mostly meant that it had me wondering.
          I see your point though!

  17. AnotherTeacher*

    #3: Especially since you are rinsing and wrapping up, what is the bother? It’s not like someone rinsing her/his coffee mug is looking at the attachments drying next to the sink. Unless you’re leaving a mess – I’m sure you aren’t – then I don’t see how this affects the complainer(s).

  18. Anonymous*

    #2 sounds a lot like the person who wrote in a while ago that wanted to argue that because they were older, it was ‘age discrimination’ when they didn’t get hired. Apparently managers have nothing better to do than piece together clues about applicants’ age/sex/race instead of actually looking at qualifications.

    1. Calla*

      “Apparently managers have nothing better to do than piece together clues about applicants’ age/sex/race instead of actually looking at qualifications.”

      Well obviously some don’t, since Alison and others link to articles that show exactly that. Yes, OP is making a guess (very few people are going to come out and say “We’re not interviewing you because we like to keep the company white” but discrimination is still observable, again, see the links provided by Alison and other commenters; give someone a choice between equally qualified John Smith and LaToya Jackson and take a wild guess who they’ll probably pick), but it’s not like they are a mediocre candidate who’s getting an interview or two but no offers so far.

      1. Colette*

        There are managers who discriminate, consciously and unconsciously. The problem is that you can’t tell from the outside whether you didn’t get the interview/job because of discrimination. If you assume it is discrimination, that will affect your attitude, and that will hurt you when you apply somewhere that doesn’t discriminate.

        1. Cat*

          I think this is really fallacious. The fact of the matter is that some people discriminate and you can’t live in the world your entire life as a minority and not be aware of that. Blaming people for their “attitude” is just another way of putting the onus for that discrimination back on the victim and thus further perpetuating the cycle.

          1. TotesMaGoats*

            I don’t think Colette was blaming the OP for his attitude. It’s the same advice AAM has given on many occasions. When you don’t know the reason you keep getting rejections, try not to let it impact your attitude because it does come across. It’s standard advice. And while it’s entirely possible that the OP keeps getting rejected because of his race, we and the OP don’t know that for sure for every single instance.

            1. Cat*

              My issue is with saying “if you assume it’s discrimination, that will affect your attitude.” Plenty of people face the reality of discrimination on a regular basis; their realization of that fact does not mean that it affects the attitude they present in interviews.

              1. Colette*

                It’s a very rare person who can believe that X (which is out of their control) was the reason they did not succeed the last 10 times they tried something and not let fear of X affect the way they approach attempt 11.

                1. fposte*

                  I don’t know that I agree, or at least agree with the implications. In the U.S., racial discrimination isn’t going to be something that’s silent through most of a person’s life and then crop up as a possibility during a job hunt–it’s part of the everyday landscape, and it’s sensible to factor it into your decisions the same way women factor physical safety into their decisions about interactions with men.

                  I think a defensive (in the psychological way, not int the driving way) approach would hurt people, because it leads them to overfocus on a single point, and I think that may be the kind of response you’re talking about. But there are factors out of people’s control that make it harder for them to succeed, and it’s simply pragmatism to be aware of that.

                2. neverjaunty*

                  And when X is a reality, isn’t it foolish to pretend X does not exist so as to try and work around it?

                3. Mike C.*

                  How about instead of judging someone for being defensive over being treated like garbage the rest of us work to stop treating them like garbage in the first place?

                4. fposte*

                  @ Mike–I don’t think Colette was judging, I think (now that we’ve back-and-forthed it) she was saying much the same as Illini02 was–that if that becomes the only obstacle you focus on, that’s going to be limiting.

                5. Cat*

                  I’m not arguing with Colette’s intentions but I think part of the reason we felt the need to push back on it is that there’s a really common and harmful framing on this stuff that goes: “Well, I was going to take your claims of discrimination seriously, but you’re so angry about it that clearly this is your fault.” That’s not what anyone was trying to say here, but I think it’s important to keep the fact that that’s a really commonly used racist tactic in mind – talking about people’s attitudes towards discrimination isn’t neutral and often furthers a lot of really bad narratives that perpetuate discrimination.

                6. Colette*

                  @neverjaunty – Does racism exist in general? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean that it exists in every specific situation. It’s easy to say “I didn’t get the job because of racism”, but that doesn’t get you a job, and it doesn’t mean that’s the real reason (although it could be). If you instead look at what you do control (resume, interviewing technique, networking), it will be more productive than focusing on what you don’t control.

          2. illini02*

            Eh, I think there is something to it though. The more down you get about getting lots of rejections, the more it can affect your attitude. If you do think that its because of something you can’t control, like your race, it can get even more frustrating. That frustration makes it a lot harder to put the same effort into cover letter #20 as you did in cover letter #2 if you think its going no where. I’m black. I have some family members, like my brother, who assumes he isn’t getting jobs because of his race. I know him, and while I love him, knowing how carries himself makes me think that its really not about him being black, but acting the way he does (this is a whole other conversation). However, because thats his mindset, I know he takes that into his applications and interviews. I’m not saying the OP is doing that, but you have to be mindful of how it can be.

    2. Cat*

      Given that every study that has ever been done on the subject shows that yes, managers are less likely to interview people they perceive as not white or not male based on their resume, apparently they don’t.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Having to bribe people to hire and retain minorities rather suggests they wouldn’t do so otherwise, no?

        2. Cat*

          Not every place has those; and even if they did, not everyone is either willing or able to overcome their prejudices for them (and sometimes they may not even be aware they have those prejudices).

    3. MousyNon*

      I don’t think anybody here is thinking that managers are poring over resumes looking for any semblance of race, gender or age to discriminate against (whilst twirling their mustache and cackling an evil laugh). These are subconscious biases, which is why it’s so hard to prevent, minimize, or mitigate, as study after study has proven. As a POC myself, I don’t even blame them for it–it’s natural to want to surround yourself with people like you, so when so many well-paying industries are overwhelmingly white and male, it’s not surprising to see that’s also who they tend to hire. But my understanding that doesn’t mean I should accept it, and it certainly doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, and do what we can to prevent it going forward.

    4. Artemesia*

      Age, gender and racial discrimination are extremely common. Hiring managers use clues about this all the time to exclude otherwise well qualified applicants. It isn’t wasting their time trying to figure this out; they see this as their job.

    5. Observer*

      Unfortunately – for both applicants and the companies doing the hiring- that actually seems to be true way too often. The numbers are sobering and compelling.

      When you do study where you send out x number of resumes for people of one age and the SAME SET of resumes for people of a different age bracket and get substantially different response rates it’s hard to argue that age isn’t playing a role. The same thing is true with the names – the call back rate for the SAME resumes using “white sounding” names vs “black sounding” names in studies is shocking.

      1. Natalie*

        Hopefully I can find this study when I’m home later, but IIRC one recently showed white men with felony convictions are more likely to get an interview than black men with no record, all other education and whatnot being equal.

        1. Jamie*

          I read that exact study – it’s really eye opening.

          Not the article I read but this is from the author of the same study:

          I had some questions about the concept of privilege a long time ago, when I first learned about the concept – this shows it in all it’s ugly candor:

          Among those with no criminal record, white applicants were more than twice as likely to receive a callback relative to equally qualified black applicants. Even more troubling, whites with a felony conviction fared just as well, if not better, than a black applicant with a clean background.

          Racial disparities have been documented in many contexts, but here, comparing the two job applicants side by side, we are confronted with a troubling reality: Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job.

          The test was done on entry level jobs: “waiters, sales assistants, laborers, warehouse workers, couriers, and customer service representatives.”

  19. Illini02*

    #2 Is a very interesting one. I’m an African-American male as well, so I know the feeling. Even if you do have great qualifications, you always have that question in the back of your mind whether it WAS race related when you get a rejection, even if you don’t want to think that. Unlike you, I don’t have a traditionally African American name, so I can really see how you may feel like that solely based on your application materials. My advice (which is easier to say than do since I’m happy in my new job now) is to just keep looking. If they are even subconsciously discriminating, or if you just get that feeling, you don’t want to work there anyway. But also, as Alison said, the job market just is bad right now.

    #3 I”m all for supporting working mom’s, but is this question really all that different than offices that don’t let you cook certain meals in the public areas? Its easy to jump to the conclusion that the other people are being petty, which they are. However I find it just as petty for offices to say you can’t bring certain leftovers or make microwave popcorn because it bothers people. When there are things that bother people, whether rationally or irrationally, either you are ok to ban them or not. Personally I wouldn’t care, but if it is bothering multiple people, than I think the office is within their right to ask you to do it someplace else.

    1. KellyK*

      I don’t think that’s quite a fair comparison. If an office bans cooking fish and microwave popcorn, there are still lots of things you can eat. If an office bans cleaning nursing equipment in the kitchen, then you either need to clean it in the bathroom (not sanitary), not clean it until you get home (less sanitary, possibly gross-smelling and likely to cause other complaints), or stop pumping. An individual being grossed out shouldn’t trump a woman’s right to work and to breastfeed.

    2. Zahra*

      The difference is that you can eat something else. A nursing mom doesn’t have a lot of options. Also, since pump parts bother people, it targets women and could be construed as discrimination against women.

      1. illini02*

        Yeah, but to say that being grossed out by that is discrimination against women is like saying that heating up leftover ethnic food is discriminatory against that group. I see how you can say that, but that doesn’t make the smell any less bothersome to those who are bothered by it. Again, it really wouldn’t offend me either way, however I feel people like to be selective about what is and isn’t acceptable if it bothers someone. I mean, I don’t clip my fingernails at my desk, but realistically why should it bother anyone else if I did? If I’m the only one sitting here, and I clean it up, it shouldn’t be anyone else’s concern, however many people don’t see it that way.

        1. Calla*

          I think it’s a question of if it unfairly targets a specific (protected) group. Nursing moms are going to be the only ones who are pumping. Banning “smelly” foods does not (but, for example, banning only curry, or any other specific cultural food, and not any other “smelly” foods would be, and I think I recall that being discussed in previous posts here). I’m not saying that legally qualifies as discrimination, but that’s why it’s a little different IMO.

          Plus as Lydia points out, there are lingering smells associated with that, or grating noises. There’s really no tangible issue with the pump, it’s the idea that bothers people.

        2. Judy*

          There are also laws in many states (looks like 46) that say that companies must support pumping at work, including providing spaces that are not bathrooms for pumping and unpaid breaks.

          It also looks like with a quick google search that the FLSA act has been amended to say the same thing, so if a person is non-exempt they fall under that.

          I’m pretty sure there’s not a law about the right to heat up fish.

        3. Artemesia*

          All I need to do to not be ‘bothered’ by someone rinsing out the breast pump in the sink is not look. To have strong smells — fish, popcorn, very spicy ethnic food inflicted on me all afternoon by someone heating smelly things in the office is not something I can avoid.

      2. fposte*

        I think “discrimination against women” would be a real stretch here, unless they’re letting men rinse something personal in the kitchen sink that they’re not letting women. The bathroom isn’t supposed to be the only location women are offered for *pumping* (for those eligible for breastfeeding protection), but that isn’t likely to be extended to washing stuff out.

        I think she should be able to wash stuff in the kitchen, because it’s silly, but I don’t think there’s a legal issue here.

    3. D.*

      IL person here, too.

      #2…I’d also go to networking events and professional org meetings (that give you opportunities to network). Recruiters often show up to those events. I hate going to them myself, but they are a good way to get out there and get some traction in the job market. Come armed with business cards that, ideally, link to a website where you can tout your skills. You can also pass them along to peers who may know of openings in the near future, etc. Unfortunately, in this market, race aside, you have to go the extra mile if you want to move on to greener pastures.

    4. VintageLydia USA*

      The difference with popcorn or fish or whatever is usually the smell which lingers for hours. This woman is rinsing out her pump attachments for a minute or two at most, and it’s important those stay hygienic. Rinsing them out in the bathroom sink, frankly, grosses me way out. Neither are particularly clean places, but there is a reason people don’t like rinsing out their food dishes in the bathroom sink beyond the squick factor.

    5. Observer*

      What the others have pointed out is true.

      It’s also worth pointing out that some of these cooking bans really ARE overdone.

      More importantly and to the point is that in some cases the smells are actively harmful to people, as in the case of allergies. And, in the case of smells that spread through office, people are being subjected to something that they can’t get away from from, while they also have less control over their reactions. If someone is cooking something smelly and gets into my office, I can’t really do anything about the bothersomeness of the smell. But, if I happen to see that smelly food in the office fridge, I would be totally out of line complaining about that. The fact that I can’t stand the sight or thought of that food is irrelevant – All I need to do is shut the refrigerator door and get on with my work.

  20. MPL*

    #3, I pumped AND rinsed my pump in my office’s kitchenette. Everyone was supportive (I was working on a floor that only had women; plus I work in a city that defends a woman’s right to pump at work). Although I have heard of places of business where women were only given a bathroom to pump in (gross!) Maybe you could make the argument that you’re pumping your baby’s food, and that your pump needs to be rinsed in a kitchen, where there is other food. Make the argument that you wouldn’t wash your dishes in a shower, why would you rinse your baby’s food implements in a shower? To me, this is totally, totally ridiculous. Breastfeeding is made unnecessarily controversial – it’s feeding a baby, nothing more nothing less. People need to get over it!

    1. MPL*

      Oops, I just reread my comment. It looks like I pumped in the kitchenette – HA! No, I pumped in an empty office, like you. But I DID rinse my pump in the kitchenette. Pumps must be rinsed and kept in good working order, also. If not, your baby could get sick and your pump could break. Another argument you can make.

      1. fposte*

        Since those are problems cured by washing in the bathroom sink as well as the kitchen sink, it’s not that effective an argument, though.

        1. Helka*

          Flushing toilets spread fecal matter like crazy, and faucet handles are constantly touched by not-yet-washed hands. I would not expect someone to handle any food processing equipment (which this is) in that kind of environment. Gross! And considering that it’s for an infant, who has not much in the way of an immune system yet… no, the bathroom is really, really inappropriate.

  21. Neeta*

    #3: Have you considered that maybe it’s not necessarily the breast milk itself that they are objecting to, rather than the fact that they are now somehow aware of you pumping milk?
    I mean, they could have been in general OK with “oh Jane’s going to need the room to pump milk”, the same way if they had been told “Jane would need the room to make private phone calls”. But actually seeing the pump attachments make things more… real, I guess?

    Not that this necessarily makes things better…

  22. Kat M*

    OP #2: I’m really sorry about your situation. It stinks. Would it be possible to use your initials on a resume? If J. Johnson starts getting interviews where Jamal Johnson didn’t … then you know what the issue was. If not, maybe it’s something in the quality of the resume itself. Of course, if you have an African surname, this won’t work either, but it’s worth a shot.

    OP #3: It constantly blows my mind that people are totally cool with breastmilk from another species around the office, but not human milk. I work in a great place with private nursing/pumping rooms with rocking chairs, parenting magazines, and pleasant music, but I know that’s definitely not the norm. Someday! :)

    1. Cassy*

      Your office sounds great.

      I just returned to work a few weeks ago and am a breastfeeding mom. I have it good too in that my employer put a lock on my office door, allowed me to bring in a mini-fridge to keep my milk in (because I wanted to keep it out of the public fridge – not because they asked me to) and also told me to block off my pumping times on my work calendar so nobody would inadvertently schedule over them.

      Everyone has been very supportive here and it kills me that not every woman that wants to be able to pump at work can easily and without retribution.

  23. Caucasian And Searching too*

    Op #2, The flipside of your query is that I’m caucasian, in engineering with over 20 years experience, four degrees under my belt, finishing a PhD and I have lots of industry accolades including speaking at and chairing industry conferences. I also can’t get interviews and when I do I don’t get the job and for internal positions I see who does get them and it’s not people with my color of skin. So discrimination works both ways.

    1. JustMe*

      Here we go. Are you saying the ‘other people’ aren’t as qualified, if not more qualified than you? Just something to think about too.

      1. Caucasian And Searching too*

        Dear Collete and JustMe,

        The way I absolutley know this, limited to my particular circumstances in my partucular company, is that my company has an official policy that if two equally qualified candidates are identified, post interview, then the person who is either a non-caucasion or a female will be awarded the position. This is part of a US Federal Afirmative Action Plan because these groups were historically under-represented in Engineering in my company in my location. The company has chosen to over-represent these groups so as to not again fall afoul of the law. While this is noble and in a theoretical way I support this, when it comes to feeding my family it is very frustrating.

        1. JustMe*

          The way you expressed your position previously made it seem as if you have more to offer in terms of experience, degrees, etc. than anyone of color, and the only reason minorities are selected is because of discrimination toward you. In your previous note, you also said you don’t get interviews. Now you are saying the candidates are equally as qualified. Perhaps you are not getting to the interview phase because of other issues, especially if this is internal.

          1. Anonymous*

            Internally, yes. The pool of potential interview candidates is intentionally solicited to under-represented groups. Again this is not my personal bias, but an official plan submitted to the US government.

        2. Observer*

          The internal issue stinks for you. But, two things – One is that you are not being passed over for LESS QUALIFIED candidates, but EQUALLY QUALIFIED candidates. That’s not really discrimination. And, it’s only the case because your company needs to correct an imbalance that it already has. Could it be that you (or some other guy in your company) only got onto the first rung of the ladder over a better qualified candidate because you are a white male? We’ll never know, of course. But what your company is doing is hardly making you pay for the “sins of the fathers” but rather trying to correct an imbalance that probably still has reverberations till today.

          Secondly, what you describe is the policy in your company, not the your industry as a whole. (You don’t identify your industry, but I’m quite confident in saying this, since even in most female dominated industries this is not common practice.) So claiming widespread discrimination against white males based on what your company is doing to correct a problem isn’t really convincing. But it does tend to raise the question of whether your attitude might be playing a role in your difficulty in getting a better job. Of course, given the lousy economy and concerns about hiring an “overqualified” candidate etc. it could be that you are just having bad luck, possibly accompanied by less than stellar resume and cover letter / interviewing skills. You wouldn’t be the first (and won’t be the last) to be bitten by this.

      1. De (Germany)*

        Or being considered much too expensive, what with having four degrees, almost having a PhD and 20 years of experience.

    2. MousyNon*

      Oh for goodness sake. Yes, clearly your experiences as a white male (presumably, on the latter) in an overwhelmingly white male industry are precisely the same as those of historically oppressed and underrepresented people of color. No really–my heart. It bleeds for you.

    3. JB*

      Wait, so if a non-white gets the job it must be affirmative action because there’s no other reason a person of color would be chosen over you? Right. Ok then.

    4. Dan*

      Eh….it is not always race here. Could be your personality or “fit” that the team decided that you would not be the best candidate (esp. if it is internal), or they see you as being costing too much due to your numerous degrees/Ph.D and experience. There is unfortunately, a lot against people with the academic/professional knowledge, degrees and experience. Why hire you when they can go to someone cheaper?

      Of course, I assume you are also applying to upper-level positions. Could be the same here or word of mouth. What I am saying here that is it NOT always race or “reverse discrimination”.

      1. Kelly L.*

        And since people are discussing attitude above, I think it’s fair to ask Caucasian and Searching Too whether his anger and frustration might be seeping out during interviews.

    5. De (Germany)*

      Interesting how the OP states there could “possibly” be discrimination “likely some of it subconscious” and “wonders” about “conscious or subconscious devaluing that can take place”, while you just jump right to being discriminated against.

    6. A.*

      I was going to reply, but I see Colette, JustMe, De (Germany), MousyNon, etc. said everything I was going to say. AAM has the best commenters.

    7. Eliza Jane*

      I totally agree with all of the comments above me, and I wanted to add a few more:

      1. There is probably a degree of confirmation bias here. When someone who is Caucasian gets the job you applied for, you don’t really notice it, because that’s the “norm.” We notice what seem to be outliers to us at a much higher rate than the norm.

      2. I was part of interview panels for software engineering positions at my last job. Probably 60% of the applications we received were Asian of some variety. Primarily, these were Indian, but there was a healthy mix. The fact that half of our hires were Asian didn’t mean that we were biased towards Asians. It probably meant we were skewing slightly the other way.

      3. I am not in any way trying to discredit or undermine your achievements, but if you had more accolades than your non-caucasian competitors, that may have been in part because their race made it harder for them to compete in those spaces.

    8. Raptor*

      It could be that you’re not being hired because you’re raciest and aren’t afraid to spell it out to people.

        1. Jamie*

          Wait, what? Seriously? Let’s not go painting an entire field with a fallacy.

          There are racists in IT, as in every single field, but nor more than others and racism is certainly seen as a negative to most of us.

    9. Jen RO*

      I’m assuming that all these comments were posted before Caucasian posted his clarification… because this might not be a popular opinion, but positive discrimination is still discrimination and I don’t see why this particular white guy should pay for the ‘sins of his ancestors’. I am sure as hell that I wouldn’t want a job if having a vagina was my most important qualification!

      1. GeekChic*

        “sins of his ancestors” Wow… I’m so glad I don’t work with you. Your comment isn’t “not popular” it’s just ignorant.

        1. fposte*

          Remember that Jen is not in North America, though, and that North Americans are probably not really up on burning Romanian cultural issues either.

          1. Calla*

            OP and Caucasian both mention being in the U.S. though; Jen RO’s comment knowingly takes place in the specific context of American racism. So if not being “up” on our race issues is true maybe people should refrain from making ~unpopular opinions~ on something they’re not knowledgeable about?

  24. Cautionary tail*

    #5, Even though my company allows me to have business cards I have declined for over a decade because they always wind up in the hands of cold-calling salespeople who never cease calling/emailing me. When those salespeople move to new jobs they call again for their new company/line/product. I had to abandon my office phone due to the volume of these calls and use my mobile to take outside business calls. At industry events I now take people’s cards and say I’ll email you my information when I get back to my hotel. Once I get to my room I choose who I send my contact details to. So when I don’t hand you a business card in an interview, it doesn’t mean anything about you so please don’t read anything into it.

    1. Artemesia*

      Just be sure to get some if you will be doing any work internationally. There are cultures where you really must have cards.

  25. Another Job Seeker*

    OP #2, it’s sad that we have to consider these issues in 2014. Unfortunately, racism in in the workforce is still alive and well. I am not saying that every person in the workforce is racist, and I think it’s important to remember that.

    I think that, in some cases, people are discriminating against you based on your name. In other cases, you are not receiving the positions that you seek because the job market is poor. In still other cases, it’s probably a combination of both.

    I have always been taught to answer all questions – including the demographic ones – on an application. The idea is that choosing not to do so may lead some employers to believe you are attempting to hide something. Ideally, it would be great to be in a position to decide not to work for an employer that would reject your application based on your race. However, if you take that course of action, you remove yourself from potentially excellent opportunities. It may be that the person who reviews your application is racist. However, the person who is ultimately selected for that position may have limited interaction with that particular individual. His/her co-workers may have no biases at all. On the other hand, they may have biases that they recognize and do not like – and they may make a conscious effort to ensure that those biases do not interfere with decisions that they make at work. Of course, it is possible that you will be required to interact with people who are prejudiced. When my job requires that I work with people who judge me based on the color of my skin, I do so with wisdom, grace and understanding.

    I have a few ideas about networking. Does a university near you have a career fair coming up? Many colleges and universities have career fairs during the early to mid-September timeframe. You do not necessarily have to be a student or a graduate of the university to attend. (You may want to conduct a Google search and check it out). Does your alma mater or the university that you want to attend have a career fair? Does your alma mater have a career services office that support alumni? Some do. I received my last position through my alma mater’s career services office after I had graduated. You also may want to check out NSBE (the National Society of Black Engineers) and BDPA (Black Data Processing Associates). They have networks with corporations who are hiring. They also can teach you how to deal with racism in the work environment (including the hiring process). I can vouch for NSBE because I am a member and I have seen what they can do. I have not yet joined BDPA, but I plan to do so. I do know members of BDPA who have done quite well in their careers. You also may wish to check out the National Black MBA Association. Again, I’m not a member, but people I respect recommend the organization. These organizations also have people who can help you make decisions about your graduate engineering degree. Please, please, please get that degree. It will open so many doors for you. Mine has. My master’s in computer science was funded by GEM (the National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science). GEM paid my tuition and fees. I also received a stipend each month. It was not enough to pay for room and board, but that was not a problem because I lived with my parents while I was in school. I was also able to obtain a paid summer internship through GEM.

    Best wishes to you in your job search. For context, I am a black woman working in the IT field.

    1. neverjaunty*

      OP #2, this is amazing advice. In a bad job market (and yes, IT is rotten woth discrimination, sorry, “culture fit”) networking is the only real way to get around this. Networking means people looking out for each other, not just in career education or job application tips, but pointing you to job openings or speaking up for you when you do apply.

      1. Windchime*

        I take issue with this comment. Perhaps your IT department with discrimination, but I’ve been in IT for 15 years and I just haven’t seen it that way. We’ve got a mixture of men and women, of races, and of cultures. If anything, IT seems to be less discriminatory than some other industries because IT is based strongly on skills.

        I am speaking from the position of privilege of being a Caucasian, middle-class woman so it’s quite possible that I’m just not capable of seeing it like others are.

        1. Another Job Seeker*

          It is possible that you are in an environment where your leadership team has decided that ignorance and racism will not be tolerated. It also may be that your co-workers are experiencing racism that they do not really discuss openly at work.

          At OldJob, I was the only person of color and the only female in my department. One day, my department went out to eat for lunch. My supervisor asked me if I wanted to ride to the lunch with him in his redneckmobile. (Yes, he called his pickup truck a redneckmobile and invited a black woman to ride in it with him). During the lunch, I ran into a friend of mine from school (she is also black). I went up to her to say hello. When I returned to my seat, one of my co-workers said that she was probably wondering what I was doing with the rest of them. The clear implication was that I did not belong with them. A few months later, my team was asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire. The questionnaire contained a list of skills. For each skill, we were asked to document our level of proficiency. A few weeks after we completed the assessment, my supervisor told me that on future assessments, I should be careful about rating myself too high because my assignments might be made based on what I said I could do. The implication was that I did not have the skills I said I had. Unfortunately, this kind of disrespectful behavior occurs all the time. I have found that it’s just best to recognize it for what it is, do my very best, and prove that I have the skills I need (or that I am willing and able to acquire them). I have also learned to forgive (not always easy, but necessary and healthy) those who make these kind of judgements. Having a good support system helps. So does separating (in my mind) people from their behavior and focusing on my job.

    2. Jean*

      I hope that your approach rubs off on some of those “people who judge [you] based on the color of [your] skin.” It would be a much better world if all of us could be as wise and gracious in difficult, aggravating, or downright horrendous situations. Trying to turn lemons into lemonade will not magically solve all of our problems, but the act of expecting and projecting something other than 100% negative outcomes somehow improves our self-presentation and the outcomes of our interactions with others.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Oh, THAT b word! It took a while for the light to dawn. Was trying in vain to figure out how the female-dog B word was related to the post! :D

  26. TotesMaGoats*

    OP#3. Part of me says, just go wash it out in another sink. Heave a sigh. Roll your eyes and walk down the hall to another room. The other part of me says, your coworkers can just get over it. I’m on month 9 of nursing/pumping and a colleague just came back to work and pumps as well. Our little black bags sit in the fridge (labeled, of course). You’ll see me walking down the hall holding a flange and bottle or some other piece. Everyone who works in our office seems to be over the…novelty…of it.

    I do try to be discreet about it. We have students and faculty in our building along with outside clients. I do feel a little weird washing out my flanges in the bathroom when someone else is in there. I wouldn’t use our kitchen sink because it’s super gross. But I don’t wash them out at all unless I really feel the need to. It’s just not necessary.

    So, I guess my advice would be to pick your battles. While you shouldn’t have to, it might not be worth it to fight it.

    Funny pumping story. I was at a conference and had borrowed an extension cord to pump in the multi-stall bathroom. So, already this is awkward. I’m perched on the toilet, pumping, with a cord trailing under the door and around the corner. I’m thinking “just ignore me” thoughts when the woman in the stall next to me starts talking to me. It started with “Good for you.” Thanks, now leave me alone. Then SHE KEPT TALKING. I appreciate the support but really, it’s hard enough balancing on the toilet and doing this. I really don’t want to talk about it.

  27. Anonicorn*

    Did anyone else read #2 and think that parts of it could be re-worked into a really good cover letter?

    […]Bachelors of Science in MIS coupled with prestigious certifications (PMP, ITIL, Cisco, Microsoft, Apple etc.) and 19 years of IT experience, 15 of which have been at a managerial level. […] I have a outstanding employment history and educational background […] I tend to be on the positive “can do” side of thinking, I’m smart, competent, and have a demeanor that makes my customers and employees feel at ease around me.

    I would totally want to work with someone like OP.

    1. Polaris*

      I’m with you on that one. If it were a cover letter though, I would like to see some examples of his can-do attitude.

      OP, I hear you. Racism and age discrimination are real and they suck; you are probably facing one or both. Others have given much better advice than I could on networking and things to try, but, for what it’s worth, you sound like a great colleague to have. I am sorry you are dealing with this and I hope you find something amazing soon.

  28. TubbyTheHut*

    #3 You’re coworkers need to get over it and remember that they are adults. It’s no different than washing a dish.

    1. Nikki T*

      It’s not like they have to stand there and watch…somebody is paying way too much attention to even know all this is happening and further to complain.
      Move on with your day people…

  29. Laurie*

    On #3, I’m probably in the minority judging by the comments here, but I feel like rinsing out breast pumps falls in the category of brushing, flossing, washing off a bruise/cut etc and should be done in a bathroom sink.

    I gather that this isn’t always followed in kitchen sinks at other workplaces, but I personally haven’t seen anything beyond mugs and plates washed in my common kitchen/break room sink so it would gross me out if a breast pump were being washed in the kitchen sink.

    1. Observer*

      What exactly moves pump flanges from the category of blender parts (think of those single serve smothie makers) or coffee filters to brushing or flossing? “Feeling” doesn’t quite cut it.

  30. Holly*

    I rinse my food containers out in the sink all the time so I don’t see a problem. 34, female, no kids, don’t want ’em.

  31. JoAnna*

    #3 – I’m a pumping mom too, and I wash my parts out in the sink in the break room if I need to. I’ve never had a negative comment. In fact, some of my women co-workers have made positive comments (“oh, it’s great that you’re still breastfeeding!” — my son is a year old in October).

    That being said, what I do to save time (since I’m hourly, and I have to fit my pumping time into my breaks) is put my pump parts in a cold bag in the refrigerator, along with the milk I’ve pumped. That way I don’t have to wash them at all while I’m at work.

    But really, if I were you I’d keep on keeping on. If people are “freaked out by breastfeeding,” that’s a hangup they have to deal with — it’s not your problem.

  32. JoAnna*

    Also, OP #3, there are wipes you can use as well — Google “Quick Clean Breastpump Accessory Wipes.”

  33. Allison*

    I’ll be totally honest here, breast milk squicks me out a little (I don’t like milk in general, so that may be part of it). But I also understand the need to let nursing moms do their thing, and I’d tell myself there’s nothing wrong with it; in other words, I’d build a bridge and get over it because my squeamishness in this case does not trump her need to feed her baby.

    Honestly, doing it in the bathroom sink has a bigger “ick” factor when you think about all the germs that hang out in bathrooms. And I don’t know how many of you remember washing dishes in a college dorm’s communal bathroom, but I do, and it wasn’t fun.

    There are some gross things people do at work that can (and should) be quelled, but this isn’t one of them.

  34. Us, Too*

    #3: Milk is a bodilhy fluid and it can be contaminated wit pathogens. So I get why some would consider it “gross” to introduce it into a kitchen sink.

    BUT… The human body is a cesspool. If we’re going to entertain the pathogen argument, nobody can wash hands in the kitchen sink. Or dishes because they’ve been in contact with saliva. etc. And that is clearly ridiculous because at that point we’re all going to be walking around in plastic bubbles.

    OP’s colleagues need to let it go.

    1. Eliza Jane*

      I agree with this comment. I would not want someone rubbing their expressed milk on me, any more than I would want saliva on me or sweat on me. But the sink is for washing that stuff away. The next thing you wash isn’t going to be contaminated because someone used the sink for something you don’t like.

  35. MT*

    #2. I had coffee this morning with a family member, who works for one of the larger consulting companies who does IT work. They told me this morning how many mid-to-high level IT/programmers and IT project managers, they have cut in the last 6 months. About 20% of the work force at that level. There just happens to be a glut of IT/programmers right now on the market.

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I have also hired a lot of IT. My experience shows that a lot of IT knowledge isn’t transferable. For instance, if you had lots of experience at a small business, you probably wore a lot of hats. You may have been “the IT guy” or one of very few. You are a jack of all trades. Where in a larger company, you are going to be very niched, and may be over a team of 20 who do nothing but manage the company’s email servers. I’ve worked in both, and hired in both. The profile of who is a good fit will vary dramatically by company size.

      I have no idea where the OP spent his time, but I’ve found as a hiring manager (and as a seeker myself) that IT experience does not always translate from one company to another.

      1. MT*

        We also discussed the number of people who get hired in off the streets for these higher level positions. From my experiences, if these spots do open up, and there is someone in house ready to be promoted, usually whats happens in the larger companies, then that person will normally move up into the roll and entry level positions are what they hire for off the street. I have always given preference to in house promotions vs off the street hires.

        I always had questions about people who have two or three positions higher experience who are putting in for entry level jobs. Experience has shown me, that the entry level candidate takes longer to get up to speed than the experienced, but in the long run they tend to be a better/longer fit for those positions.

      2. Jamie*

        This is absolutely true – which is why it’s important to find a good fit not just with the position but with the type of company.

        Every so often someone will tell me I should look at big companies for the money or whatever – they do not get it. I am FAR more valuable with my particular skill set in an SMB where I’m wearing all my hats. I worked a long time to get very good at wearing these particular hats. I’d pay me a whole lot less for the one part of my skill set any huge company would need.

        I am really glad that I do love the variety and autonomy that come from my position in an SMB – because making a change would cost me way too much. I’d never do it.

  36. Sigrid*

    #2 — remembering a study I read recently that found that a lack of networking was a significant factor in the different employment rates between white and African American men, and knowing that my husband’s engineering firm has essentially NEVER hired an engineer through means other than networking, I’d really emphasize Alison’s advice to work your network as hard as you can. Good luck!

    1. Natalie*

      It’s not so much a lack of networking as a lack of an effective network, IIRC. Due to the history of institutionalized racism, black Americans are far, far less likely to know people in high places, for lack of a better time. Simultaneously, white Americans are far, far more likely to have such people in their networks.

        1. fposte*

          I remember back in the Carter administration a comparison of the number of women serving under female cabinet members vs. under male cabinet members. Staff under female cabinet members was about 50% women; under male, about 20% women.

      1. Sigrid*

        I know! It’s one of those pernicious problems. But in this case, given #2’s work history, I’m hoping he does have a network he can utilize.

  37. anon-2*

    #2 – many of us in the Boomer generation experienced reverse discrimination. I did not survive a final cut — in fact, I was an 11th hour replacement on a layoff list — owing to affirmative action.

    Most of this column’s readers are women – so there will be a backlash (shields are up here) and it’s worth noting – women were often promoted over men – to achieve a quota. If not specified, at least on appearances.

    But having an ethnic last name, there is subtle discrimination even for those who are not classified as protected minorities.

    There will ALWAYS be discrimination. It’s built into many people’s psyches – and all you can do is – shrug your shoulders, be aware of it, spit on it, and move on and do the best you can.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You know that all the data on this contradicts what you’re saying, right? There’s clear evidence of significant systemic discrimination against black people and women in hiring. I’d strongly recommend you google the stats.

      Blaming “affirmative action” and “quotas” is extremely undermining to people who most likely got their positions despite their race/gender rather than because of it.

        1. anon-2*

          Not denying that it is, folks.

          Just saying, that it can hit in the OTHER direction from time to time. Been there. Been hit by it.

            1. anon-2*

              Look – affirmative action was a necessary tool – to remedy problems of the past. I do not disagree with that.

              And in hiring decisions – and layoff decisions – and promotional decisions – sometimes some non-minority males were affected. Collateral damage, to repair “sins of the past”.

              I was once laid off from a job — an 11th hour switcheroo – because they needed a healthy white male under 40 to make the list. This was quite some time ago – 20+ years ago — but it happened, Natalie, since you ask.

              And if you ask “boomers” – I don’t think there are too many of us in here, based on the scores of breast milk postings today — some will attest to it.

              That era is over. But – AAM states –

              “Blaming “affirmative action” and “quotas” is extremely undermining to people who most likely got their positions despite their race/gender rather than because of it.”

              I might add – it’s also undermining to those whose careers are adversely affected – when you are told – “yes we told you that you were safe but HR intervened and…”

              I don’t know if that’s undermining, but it’s painful. And the only response is “oh what the hell, it’s not so bad…”

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It’s not sins of the past. It’s sins of the present. The data is very, very clear that racial bias still impacts hiring, promoting, feedback, and development opportunities in significant ways. The data is also very clear that as white people you and I both benefit enormously from racial bias overall.

              2. Helka*

                You are aware that there is an absolute mountain of recent data that shows that the era of racial discrimination in hiring, even with affirmative action practices in place, is far from over, right?

              3. fposte*

                @anon-2, you’re also not acknowledging the strong possibility that the category you’re in played a role in your getting the initial job. It wasn’t like it was a level playing field at your hiring and then became otherwise just at the layoff time.

                1. anon-2*

                  Well, I didn’t mention that the minority person who was kept was from a higher socio-economic background than I was. So, no, it wasn’t a level playing field, but you’re assuming the playing field was tilted in my favor.

                  It wasn’t.

                2. fposte*

                  You’re still talking about at the layoff time–I’m talking about your initial hiring by that organization. In most situations, you would have gotten a boost from being white and male that goes beyond your credentials–the playing field was slanted in your favor at the hiring stage.

                  Sure, disadvantages aren’t simply race and gender-based (and in fact there are class elements in a lot of racial discrimination, as you may be alluding to). But you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to have benefited from being white in a way that wasn’t available to people who aren’t.

                3. fposte*

                  And to make it more than implicit, I’m not limiting this to you. I’ve definitely had a life path that’s been eased by my being either majority or unproblematic to the majority. It doesn’t mean I’m not good at stuff, but I’d be kidding myself if I claimed that that would have been enough for everybody and that being white didn’t make my life easier.

              4. Natalie*

                “I was once laid off from a job — an 11th hour switcheroo – because they needed a healthy white male under 40 to make the list. This was quite some time ago – 20+ years ago — but it happened, Natalie, since you ask.”

                OK, that’s one fact. And I’m genuinely curious how you know it’s a fact. Did someone tell you? Did you see a list with the categories laid out?

                I don’t mean for this to feel like an interrogation, but it happens all the time here – someone pops up and says “I know X happened because of Y” when they are going on their gut feeling and ignoring a hundred other reasons X could have happened. So I’m a little skeptical, frankly.

                1. fposte*

                  And I’m also thinking about the fact that until the last minute, that layoff list was apparently limited entirely to minorities, women, and people over 40. In most companies, that would be a sign of a pretty big and problematic disparity right there, and it may suggest not that anon-2 was laid off because he was a young white man, but because he was top of the list to go when they realized they couldn’t keep protecting their young white men.

              5. Observer*

                Some of the folks responding to the pumping post are boomers. They just happen to care about the issue (maybe because of their history, or because they have daughters / DIL’s that they care about.)

                As I said downstream, you will get a lot farther if you acknowledge reality. The reality is that discrimination against minorities and women is still a major, major issue while discrimination against white men is still an anomaly. Yes, it does happen (the whole Infosys example is a good example.) But the reality is that it is VERY MUCH the exception. The numbers don’t lie, unfortunately. Study after study shows that people react drastically differently to the EXACT same circumstances (case study, resume, medical diagnosis, etc.) depending on the perception of the main character’s race and / or gender.

            1. anon-2*

              Actually the layoff list in that group –

              2 white men
              2 white women
              1 person of color (not being specific, but replaced with me at the 11th hour)
              So yeah – the majority were white men. And a few days later ANOTHER white male was let go with us.

              And YES it was explained to me. Informally. But YES.
              Since you asked.

                1. Kathryn T.*

                  Ah, I see that changing out the person of color with you made it 3/5, and so barely a majority. Carry on.

      1. Majorly Anonymous*

        What is interesting though is what happens when efforts to address this are too aggressive. Officers in my company are measured on diversity of their teams, which you would think could be a good thing, right? Obviously the noble intent is there.

        As a hiring manager, I recently selected the best candidate for a position and sent that person to my manager for a courtesy interview (standard practice in my company). This candidate happened to be in one of the two categories you mention above – but not the one where the metric was low. I was asked to try to find a candidate in the other of the two categories.

        What blows my mind about this is that it is, by definition, discrimination – we can’t hire a person in X category because we need someone in Y category.

        I don’t hire categories. I hire candidates who will be the best possible fit for the job. I don’t care if that individual is a purple hermaphrodite – I care about the job being done well.

        I was able to push back on this successfully, and I am pleased that there was internal recognition of how fundamentally wrong the request was. It should never have happened – but it did, and it was out of a misguided effort to “improve” our diversity. It is ironic that the individual it would have impacted was also from a historically disadvantaged group.

        1. Majorly Anonymous*

          It occurs to me that someone will jump in and assume that being “low” on the other metric means that there is a specific problem with our group that needs to be addressed. I will add that the majority of the team I supervise is in the other category (the one I was supposed to seek more of, not the category of the individual I wanted to hire).

          I can’t tell you how much I hate discussing people in terms of categories this way.

        2. Natalie*

          If you’re in the US, I’m fairly sure what you’ve described is already illegal. You’re not allowed to hire people because they’re, say, black anymore than you’re allowed to *not* hire them because they’re black.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, it’s illegal. If your company cares about increasing diversity, it should be putting more energy into building a diverse pool of candidates and creating an environment where non-white candidates will feel comfortable working — not making hiring choices based on race.

            1. Majorly Anonymous*

              Completely understand and agree – and as I said, I was able to get this corrected.

              But I did want to share that yes, this does actually happen, even with people who mean well and need to be educated that they are trying to accomplish a good thing by doing something very, very wrong.

        3. Observer*

          I totally agree with Alison’s response to this.

          From what you describe, the problem wasn’t “too aggressive” but the use of the wrong metrics. The real question everyone should have been asking was not “how many people of category x, y and z do we have in each department” but “What measures are we taking to improve the diversity of our pool of applicants?” or even “What steps are we taking to insure that qualified people of category x, y and z are more likely to apply to us for job types A,B, and C? Are those steps reasonable?” Where jobs A, B and C are jobs where those groups have been traditionally under-represented. eg Where are you posting job openings? Are you reaching out to WITI for women candidates in IT? Association of Black Psychologists for openings in a mental health clinic (especially if you are in a highly minority area? Have you worked with local High schools or community colleges? etc. These kinds of things don’t have to be major investments, but in the aggregate can make a real difference in what your applicant pool looks like.

          As for the environment issue, the question about rinsing the pump is a great example of how this kind of thing plays out. There must be dozens of other examples of the kinds of things that can trip a place up just on this blog in the last year.

    2. Calla*

      I mean, what are we considering “promoted”? Women comprise 47-58% of the workforce (over 70% in some fields) but under 20% of leadership positions across the board. So unless you think that NO women are actually qualified to be promoted to leadership positions, they aren’t “often” promoted over men just because they’re women and the organization needs to fill a quota.

    3. JustMe*

      anon-2, in my opinion there is no such thing as reverse discrimination. It is simply discrimination. I do believe, as you’ve mentioned here that there are quotas companies try to meet by diversifying their workforce. The issue I have though, is when others allude to employees being there simply because of affirmative action, and not also on merit. I’m not sure what all companies are doing, but if I want the best people to work for me, and I want to diversify my workplace, I will look for the best minority among the candidate group. So, they are as qualified – if not more. Affirmative action forced employers to give others a chance.

      I’m sure they promoted women who were qualified to do the job, and not just any woman to meet some quota. IMO, that wouldn’t be a value add.

      1. anon-2*

        Agree to disagree. You can call using racial and gender quotas in hiring and promotions and layoff an exercise in “diversity”, I can call it “reverse discrimination”.

        Yes, AA “forced employers to give others a chance” — at the expense of others. And as I said – those days are over. But a lot of careers were disrupted – promotional chances denied — and people put out of jobs and the only explanations to those affected were “oh it is what it is! ha hah!”

        1. JustMe*

          Interesting you say this. How do you think it felt to those who couldn’t get to higher paying jobs, proper educational resources, and opened access to a plethora of things simply because they didn’t look like you? Having a diverse workforce allows a company to have a variety of viewpoints and experiences to provide service to people on a global basis. We are now competing on a global level. You still have more opportunities, and if you think you don’t I encourage you to do your research.

        2. Judy*

          Can you define “a lot”? Because based on your comments I would expect minorities and women to be over-represented in management and the workforce today. That doesn’t seem to be the norm around here.

    4. anon-2*

      One more thing – just because someone was an unsuccessful candidate for a position or promotion does not mean racial / ethnic / religious / gender discrimination was a factor. Politics? Maybe. Was there a better candidate? Not in the unsuccessful candidate’s view – but perhaps in management’s.

      This is not to say that discrimination doesn’t play a role at any time — but ….

    5. YogiJosephina*

      Also, can we get rid of this idea of “reverse discrimination?” It really honestly does not exist, and I’m sick and tired of people trying to make it sound like it does.

      When you cry “reverse discrimination,” what you’re ACTUALLY saying is, “there is no way in hell that a (insert minority of choice here) could have possibly been better qualified for (job) than I, a white person, was, so clearly they were given an unfair advantage, because POC just aren’t as smart/capable/qualified as whites.”

      And you know what? Say, for the sake of argument, that you were right (you’re really not, but let’s pretend for a moment you were). You were up against a POC, and both of you were great, and they decided to hire him/her for diversity purposes (again, statistically speaking that’s VERY LIKELY not what happened, but let’s just say for a moment that it’s true).

      …cry me a river. Oh no, this underrepresented person who faces constant indignity in almost every other area of their life was awarded a privilege this time around that you get to enjoy EVERY SINGLE DAY. How terribly unfair. “Oh no, my white privilege didn’t get me the job that it ‘entitled’ me to this time around?” How about, “oh no, I can’t get a cab on a daily basis,” or “I have to constantly get nervous every time a cop is driving behind me?”

      Think about it.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Exactly. If you want to cry reverse racism, you need to factor in all the times in your life that you as a white person have benefitted from racial privilege. If you make that calculation, I think you’ll see you’ve come out ahead.

        1. YogiJosephina*

          Precisely. It always amazes me how few people seem to realize that “reverse racism” is really just code for “I don’t like losing my racial privilege.” All that’s really happened is that for one split second, you’ve gotten to see the world the way that almost every POC does, every moment of every day. Funny how it’s only grossly unfair when it happens to you.

          1. anon-2*

            Now you’re saying I’m racist. FAR FROM IT. OK? You do not know about my personal life or family circumstances.

              1. anon-2*

                OK, I guess you’re on the bandwagon as well. It wasn’t “privilege”. It was a DAMN JOB that I was doing well, and my replacement COULDN’T do the job, at all.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think you’re feeling defensive, which is certainly a common response to this type of tough issue, but it’s preventing you from hearing what people are explaining.

            1. jag*

              Nor personally racist. I don’t know what’s in your mind.

              Taking a position that is racist (that reverse discrimination is some sort of significant problem in society) ….. yeah.

          2. Observer*

            That’s actually not true. Reverse racism DOES happen. Of course, nowhere near as often as “regular” racism. And it doesn’t change the reality of other types of racism that may be happening AT THE SAME TIME as the “reverse” racism is happening. And, the irony is that this kind of thing actually makes it harder for people of the victimized group, overall.

            That is not surprising, of course, although it is completely unfair. Essentially what happens is that people see someone who is less than competent or not behaving appropriately, and is being given leeway others would not get. Then a new person from that group comes in after the problem person and lots of person just assume that they are the same as the last person.

            Two examples (of several) that I have seen:

            A contract manager shows up and start messing with the women staff. He managed to offend EVERY SINGLE female that he had any contact with. And, if any woman he dealt with didn’t respond to his demands (eg wear the colors he expected, or thank him for his help in improving her – I’m not kidding!) he tried to penalize the organization. He was clumsy, blatant and stupid about it but his bosses openly said that they can’t do anything about it, because that would be “discrimination”, since he’d claimed that they weren’t respecting his culture. It took YEARS and dozens of written complaints before they finally acted. Yes, this was a few years ago, when the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace wasn’t taken quite as seriously, but I can say from watching how similar scenarios played out that a white guy would have been dealt with long before this guy was – and the bosses admitted it.

            Does it make up for the fact that he would have been far more likely to get pulled over for something he didn’t do that a white man in the same circumstances. But it still was a racist – and supremely stupid – thing to do.

            A new contract manager shows up. Drives us all nuts, spends a really, really long time scrutinizing everything with TWO magnifying glasses etc. You would have thought she was doing a forensic investigation rather than a routine monitoring visit. Next visit, she shows up, and everyone who has been dreading her visit because of how time consuming and annoying it was last time is shocked at how efficient and pleasant she was. We actually managed to get some work done, and she didn’t even stay extra time. Someone actually asked her what had happened, and she told us that when she first started, some of her predecessors of the same ethnic group were less than competent (which we knew) and that many of the organizations she dealt with just assumed that because she was of the same group, she was more of the same and they could either push her around or pull a fast one (or more than one) on her. So, she developed this routine of coming and making it clear that this wasn’t going to happen. It wasn’t all the easy for her, but it worked. Again, it was an open secret that some of these guys coasted because of their ethnicity. And, she really had to fight the stereotype because of it.

            Was if fair that she was judged for her predecessors’ mistakes? Of course not. Again, that’s both unfair and stupid.

            I think we would get a lot further if we stopped denying reality. This stuff DOES happen, and it IS a problem. Denying just impugns the credibility of the whole issue. Far more honest and credible to acknowledge the problem. Because then you can and SHOULD make the point that the existence of this problem doesn’t begin to compare to the prevalence of job related discrimination against blacks, and other minorities, nor does it begin to compare to the other types of discrimination that minorities, and especially blacks, have to deal with.

            The fact is that some people won’t see or hear reason no matter what you do. But, for a lot of people, they would be open to hearing, but shut down when you (generic you) deny their reality.You have a much better chance of moving forward when you acknowledge the other’s reality for what it is then making the necessary point. This is true, not just about racism but a whole host of other issues where people need to be able to see things from a different perspective.

      2. anon-2*

        I have.

        There was “reverse discrimination” during the 80s and 90s.

        And again, you’re making the argument (weak) that “oh you’re a white male, a person of privilege.” You might not like losing your home, depriving your family – because, you have been chosen as collateral damage to effect social change.

        And you are also making the assumption that “it’s ok, for the better good of society.”


        1. MousyNon*

          You call it “reverse discrimination” I call it “market correction.” You were over represented in the workplace, then you were slightly less over represented in the workplace.

          And yes, that market correction IS DEMONSTRABLY better for society (diverse companies produce more and produce better, hiring people of color to better paying jobs leads to an overall reduction in poverty, and when poverty goes down so does crime, etc etc etc). It just didn’t happen to be better for YOU. That’s too bad, but your personal displeasure is not something I’m going to build public policy around, thanks.

            1. YogiJosephina*

              Especially when you consider that since pretty much forever, public policy has been shaped around what WAS best for Straight White Men. And then, the one time it’s not, it’s “unfair” and “reverse discrimination.” This is an attempt to hang on to that privilege; nothing more, nothing less.

              Anon-2, we’re not saying you’re a bad guy or that you’re even egregiously racist. What we’re saying is that based on your responses here, you, like the majority of privileged people (you are definitely not alone in this, and I myself struggled with this when I was younger), seem to have not yet learned how to check your privilege and simply listen to what underrepresented people and their communities have to say about the issues that directly affect them. This is VERY normal and it takes a LOT of practice to get it right, but if you can learn to fight the urge to get defensive or prove them wrong about their own lived experiences, you can really learn so, so much, the first of which being how societal systems created to fight against oppression and racism, or “market correction” that may for once not benefit whites, as MousyNon says above, simply are not the same thing as institutionalized discrimination backed by centuries of power. Having your privilege held up to a mirror is an INSANELY uncomfortable feeling but it’s also an incredible learning experience. It takes time to master the emotions it brings up.

              You’re not an overt racist, but what you’re saying here IS problematic, and many, many folks seem to think so. That is worth listening to. The feeling of “it’s not fair” that you’re experiencing is EXACTLY what POC have faced every day since the beginning of, well, forever. It’s of course awful that you can lose your home or can’t provide for your family, but these are things that URM have had to deal with, WITH NO INSTITUTIONAL SUPPORT (as a matter of fact, I’d say the institution not only didn’t support their struggles but actively tried to contribute to them) since forever and a day. Whatever struggles you’re living through, you still have the world on your side on an institutional and systematic level. That’s just the truth.

              Therefore, starting to shift the paradigm so that not everything benefits white men just IS NOT reverse racism. It just isn’t. You simply do not have the history of oppression and the context of systematic power used against you to justify calling it that. It may feel unfair to you, and I understand why it does feel unfair to you, but in reality it’s really, really not. It’s leveling a playing field that never should’ve had to have been leveled. No more, no less.

          1. anon-2*

            The person who took my slot was a person of color – and economically better off than I was. Yes, the person could continue the country-club dues, and pay for the Cadillac, while I was about to lose my house.

            Yes, you have been saying all along — I was just collateral damage, my family suffered, but public policy should dictate that instead of accommodating EVERYONE — skin color is the key here – and too bad!

            “Market correction.” That’s ripe. Really.

            1. YogiJosephina*

              “Yes, you have been saying all along — I was just collateral damage, my family suffered, but public policy should dictate that instead of accommodating EVERYONE — skin color is the key here – and too bad!”

              Welcome to the world that every non-white person has always lived in. Where was your outrage against this unfairness then?

              My guess is that there wasn’t any. You only got up in arms and cried foul when the tables turned and a white male was (this one isolated time) negatively affected by it.

              Ok, I really mean it this time, I’m done responding to these. I’ve said everything I can say, and it will fall on death ears anyway.

              1. anon-2*

                How about on the lines of demonstrations to get racial equality?

                Read your history. I grew up in the sixties. And my outrageousness was expressed on the streets of America and in the media, and in the voting booth, and in my support for candidates.

                You’re carrying this too far. Just too far. Your guesses are wrong, and insulting.

                1. anon-2*

                  I agree. AND boy is it rare that I fully agree with AAM.

                  Today’s thread can revert back to that ever hot topic, breast pump washing in the sink. Carry on, folks!

              2. Illini02*

                I’m going to jump in to kind of side with anon-02 here. As a black man, I completely understand what you are saying, and agree with it. However, its not really fair to essentially disregard his experience either. This is something he had to go through, which I’m sure you can admit sucks. Yes, maybe its expanding his understanding of what people of color go through, but that doesn’t make it any less of a bad experience for him. That would be like telling someone who lives in a nice neighborhood and then gets robbed that “Well, now you know what its like for people in poor neighborhoods all the time, so I don’t feel bad for your misfortune”. Just because its been happening to one group for a long time doesn’t mean you can’t have compassion when it happens to someone else. If I was in a situation where I was laid off because they wanted to keep the balance of women, but I was clearly a better candidate, I’d still be mad, even though I understand what it feels like to not get things for being a black man. Those things aren’t mutually exclusive

      3. anon-2*

        I would prepare a long response — but long story short – the person who was kept – over my management’s objection – was ONLY kept because of her minority status.

        I received three-four calls a week after I was let go to “assist over the phone.” It was obvious.
        It wasn’t the fact that I resented a minority person took my job over prejudice.
        It was the fact that an UNqualified person took my job, and all agreed IT WAS WRONG.

        So – it’s a nice spin, but not what I was saying. Be careful when you put words into others’ mouths based on incorrect assumptions.

        1. YogiJosephina*

          I understand that must’ve been very frustrating, and perhaps in your individual case you might’ve been correct, but that doesn’t really negate what we’re saying about the entire concept of “reverse racism.” This may have been unfair and bad judgment on the part of management, but you were not systematically oppressed, which is pretty much a requirement to really label something as racist. There really is a difference.

        2. YogiJosephina*

          “It was the fact that an UNqualified person took my job.”

          Please remember that for centuries, literally centuries, POC have had this exact same story.

          1. anon-2*

            And please remember that I was getting several phone calls a week for months after I was terminated, begging for technical help (but they couldn’t hire me back).

            1. YogiJosephina*

              This still does not change anything we’ve tried to explain to you.

              It’s clear however at this point that you are not interested in actually listening or even considering the idea that maybe, just maybe, you MIGHT be wrong here, so I no longer wish to engage with you on this topic.

              Best of luck.

        1. fposte*

          True, but it’s hard to note that when you’ve not chosen a username other than anonymous, and Alison does ask that people do that. Why not pick one now?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I second this! Anon-2, would you pick a regular user name to use going forward, which is something I strongly encourage people to do? It makes conversation a lot easier!

            1. anon-2*

              Up to now, I have been the only anon-2.

              For years.

              I’ll think of something. Even used-to-be-anon-2 is more distinctive.

            2. jag*

              This seems to me to be piling on. anon-2 is a clear name, and as far as we can tell, unique name here. If she/he is using it consistently it seems to me the same as other user name.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Totally not intended as piling on. I’ve been slowly asking everyone who uses variations on Anonymous to change it (in large part because not everyone recognizes that it’s been a regular name and so it still comes across as similar to just “anonymous” and partly because it encourages new readers to pick similar names, which I want to get away from).

  38. Oryx*

    Rinsing pumps out in the kitchen sink isn’t all that different than rinsing, say, a blender in the sink. Both are food processing items and the fact that that food in question squicks some people out doesn’t change the fact that the kitchen is the proper place to do that.

  39. Sally*

    To the IT manager: I would recommend you consider applying to public universities. Most have a very diverse work force and many rules in place to help increase diversity. The pay might be a bit lower but the benefits are great, including full tuition, generous vacation time and a 40 hour work week. I work on staff at a university and most of our employees have chosen to work here because it offers a much better quality of life.

    This is not to say that discrimination doesn’t still happen, especially the sub-conscious kind, but I think universities are much more aware of the problem and working to eliminate it.

    Good luck.

  40. Grey*

    #3: As long as you find something socially acceptable, who cares what anyone anyone else thinks. It’s all about you. It’s like blowing your nose at the restaurant table. As long as your ok with it, who cares if you’re ruining someone else’s dining experience? They just need to get over it.

    The point of my sarcasm is that accommodation should go both ways. They’ve given you a private room and a couch to pump breast milk. Why not be equally accommodating toward those who might be a bit grossed out by rinsing bodily fluids in the kitchen sink. Is the restroom too much an inconvenience? Why not a situation where everybody wins, instead of just you?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, they’ve given her a private room because the law requires it. Her coworkers aren’t being accommodating of her there; they’re following the law.

      1. Grey*

        True, but that private room could have been a supply closet with a stool – not a private office with a couch. They went all out to be sure she was comfortable.

        1. Cat*

          You’re acting like this is some huge favor instead of the bare minimum they should do to be decent human beings (I understand some workplaces can’t make nice spaces, but if they can and don’t, that’s a huge problem.)

      1. Grey*

        It’s another part of the “it’s all about me” society that we’re becoming. Nobody cares how the other person feels anymore.

        1. Tinker*

          Indeed. Kids these days, how dare they think “it’s all about me” when it is actually all about ME, amirite?

        2. Kelly L.*

          Can we stuff the “decline of civilization” thing?

          Also, if you were to drink a glass of cow’s milk, where would you wash your glass after? Would you do it in the bathroom with all its airborne poop germs? I’m icked out by the drinking of cow’s milk–no joke–so what if I think you should have to wash your cup in the bathroom so I don’t even have to think about it? Would you be OK with that?

          1. Grey*

            How ’bout I start drinking my milk from disposable cartons? Or maybe I could just rinse the cup when you’re not around?

            I don’t care why you’re icked about about it. The solution isn’t that big a deal, so why not? As an added bonus, I get some respect from my coworker in return for my own. Everybody wins.

            1. Kelly L.*

              So you’d be OK, then, with the LW rinsing her pump parts if you weren’t watching at that moment? I didn’t get that idea from your initial post.

              1. Grey*

                I personally wouldn’t care either way. This isn’t something that would bother me. I was just speaking from the perspective of her coworkers. If she knew who complained, maybe she could speak to them and find an reasonable solution that doesn’t involve “just getting over it”.

          2. Tinker*

            Being a little less flippant, that “decline of civilization” stuff often comes off to me as being… actually terribly self-centered, humorously enough. It seems to get into matters that are legitimately another person’s business or neutral ground, condemn people for pursuing their own interests in those areas, and to implicitly demand that those other people cater to their own desires instead. On top of that, it also tends to create a “one-up, one-down” situation where the person making the assertion is establishing themselves (and possibly a group associated with them) as fundamentally superior to most people or to a particular scapegoat group.

            1. Diet Coke Addict*

              This is a great point, and complaints about “the good old days” and “Decline of civilization” and “Kids used to…” almost always come with a heaping helping of rose-coloured glasses, classism, and a whole bunch of other “isms” usually found in sociology classes. Great observation, though, I’m going to use that point in the future!

      2. De (Germany)*

        I had no idea that was considered impolite. I have chronic rhinitis, what am I supposed to do, eat in the bathroom?

    2. Diet Coke Addict*

      Can you point out how rinsing some equipment is “ruining” someone else’s lunch, in a way that could not be avoided by the affected person averting their eyes? Assuming that OP is not making a mess, of course.

      1. Grey*

        Probably not. But if I’m offending another person with my behavior, I don’t ask them for proof. I just look for a solution.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think something that makes this different is that it’s breast-feeding, which is something that many people believe is important to make as easy as possible in the workplace, because traditionally it’s one of the many reasons why women had trouble returning to work after having kids. So it’s attached to pretty significant social issues; it’s not like, say, annoying your cubicle mate by clipping your nails at work (which we’ll get to later this week).

          1. Jean*

            Forgive me for a late-in-the-day diatribe, but what is there to discuss about clipping one’s nails at work? It’s a private activity–like shaving one’s armpits or cleaning one’s ears–and thus it should be done AT HOME without an audience instead of in an office where others will be offended by unwanted viewing of your private behavior in their public or semi-public workplace. Period. End of discussion. (Oh, all right, one exception: If you have a nail emergency, go to the bathroom and clip the one broken nail.) Not mad at you, AAM, but plenty steamed up at the mere idea of people who inflict their personal grooming activities on unwilling witnesses.

            1. Illini02*

              Is brushing your hair or putting on make up at your desk “inflicting your personal grooming activities on unwilling witnesses”. They are all personal grooming, but I have seen plenty of my female co-workers do those things, and it doesn’t bother me. I don’t really care if they clip their nails at their desk either, assuming that they clean it up. I get that its a huge deal for some people, but to me it does fall into the same category as the breast pump thing. I know clipping my nails would bother a significant number of people, so I don’t do it. Thats it.

      2. fposte*

        I think you’re drawing on the “it’s food” theory for that assumption, though; if it’s reading to you as bodily fluid, we do consider it culturally to be tainting a space even if you don’t see it happen.

  41. Eliza Jane*

    I have a feeling that #3 is just caught in a slowly shifting cultural malfunction. More and more, women are getting the right to be nursing mothers in public. States are passing laws that say it’s legal to breastfeed anywhere you’re legally allowed to be. More women are taking advantage of this to nurse publicly. The more we see this, as a culture, the less we will be shocked and horrified by it, and the less it will become a gross thing that has to be done behind closed doors and hidden from the world.

    Unfortunately, there’s no way to get people adjusted to the new normal other than by treating it as normal and dealing with the crap associated with it. 9 years ago, when my son was born, I sat in a bathroom stall with my medically-prescribed pump and burned batteries, because there was no outlet I could use. The world is already more tolerant and understanding.

    I don’t fault you for choosing your battles and just walking to the other sink, and I think that eventually, when they see enough evidence that nursing mothers are all around them, people will come to see it as normal. We’ve come a long way in not a lot of time, and we’ll get there eventually.

  42. Observer*

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so I’m sure that some (at least) of my post is a repeat.

    #1 -Tattling? Really? I appreciate your desire to avoid office drama and a replay of high school. Avoiding High School terminology and thinking would be a good start.

    This is not about the kinds of things that are inconsequential or that you should be expected to work out on your own. This is a hugely important piece of customer service information that you are in no position to correct on your own. The non-HS, adult way to handle this is to pass the information on to the person / people who CAN deal with it.

    #2 – Unfortunately, I think Alison is right. It’s probably not entirely racism, but racism almost certainly does play a role. It stinks. (I do think she’s right about possibly over-interpreting some of these rejections, but it still stinks.)

    #3 – Washing your nursing stuff. You think you are right to not push back. But, beyond lame. Nursing has re-emerged into the mainstream more than a few weeks ago – even more than a few years ago. Think about it – pumping is so standard that both WIC and any insurance that covers childbirth cover the cost of a decent pump. They don’t do that for the fringe – this is a totally mainstream thing. It’s time for your co-workers to get with the program. It’s just incredbile to me that so many supposedly well educated people take such an ignorant stance on this issue. I mean, really, what harm could you be doing?!

    1. Diet Coke Addict*

      It’s somewhat eye-opening to me to see the number of commenters here who agree that this is something that should be done in the bathroom–when it’s not even the act of nursing itself!

    2. Observer*

      Oops – I just realized a I made a silly typo. I wrote “You thing you are right” when I meant “I think you are right.”

      It’s a ridiculous request, but I agree it’s not the hill I would choose to die on if the shower room is clean.

  43. UpByTheRiverside*

    I’m looking for work and I have been declining to answer those race/disability/veteran status questions on applications. They always say it’s for statistical purposes (to see if they’re attracting a diverse applicant pool), and that answering is voluntary and will not affect the status of one’s application. I’ve been taking them at their word and not providing the information, because it’s illegal to discriminate on those grounds, and therefore none of their business. But some of the comments here have me wondering if my refusal *is* affecting my chances. What do you think?

    1. NPF*

      When I was looking, I assumed that at least some companies were using them for discrimination purposes.
      I acknowledged that I’m not a veteran but didn’t say anything about race. I didn’t outright lie and put a race I’m not, though.

  44. OP #3*

    Wow, lots of great feedback here. Thanks so much for including my question, Alison!

    A few clarifying points:
    – I’m not being asked to rinse the attachments in the bathroom, but in a separate shower room that has a sink, but no bathroom stalls. I don’t think it’s used that often, so it’s probably cleaner than both the kitchen and bathroom sinks! The extra hike is still annoying, though.
    – Don’t think my boss is the one freaked out and trying to hide it, since she works on a different floor and (presumably) uses a different kitchen. Actually, I’ve only run into a few people while using the sink, so there’s a pretty short list of possible culprits. Don’t think there is any use in figuring out the exact identity, though.
    – As some other commenters have suggested, I have a feeling this is less about hygiene and more about the “ick” factor of the attachment having recently touched my “private parts.” To quote Alison, lame.

    I must say, I was prepared for a lot more comments of the “You use the communal kitchen sink?!? That thing touched your boob, Grossy Grosserton!” variety. Though I’m encouraged by the (mostly) positive responses, the flip side is that now I’m kind of kicking myself for being so agreeable to my boss’s request. Ah well, it’s still probably best to heave a sigh and go with it. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a great place to work, and the benefits are phenomenal (three months paid maternity leave, and I’m only part-time!), so I’m thinking this just isn’t a hill I want to die on. Again, thanks so much for all the feedback. I look forward to following this post over the next few days!

    1. JoAnna*

      I hope you actually reconsider (and wow, amazing benefits for part-time!!). In a way, pumping moms in the workplace are trailblazers, and we’re never going to get “mainstreamed” unless we politely but firmly stand up for ourselves. Also, people really need to get over this unfounded notion that breastmilk is somehow akin to urine or toxic waste, and the only way that’s going to happen is if they realize that regular exposure to a pumping mom (who washes her pump parts in the sink!) hasn’t caused an office-wide epidemic of AIDS or Ebola.

      Regardless, best of luck to you!

      1. Gene*

        I’m an inherently evil little troll (I admit it and fight it every day). Were I in your shoes, since I have a good idea who the complainers may be, I’d come out of the pumping room every time sipping from a bottle of (cow/soy/almond – your choice; maybe with a tiny drop of food coloring to give it the correct blue tint) milk as I walked past her cube. Then rinse the bottle out in the kitchen sink after the hike back from rinsing the equipment out.

        I highly recommend that no one here take any of my suggestions to heart

          1. ?*

            “- As some other commenters have suggested, I have a feeling this is less about hygiene and more about the “ick” factor of the attachment having recently touched my “private parts.” To quote Alison, lame.”

            By this logic, it would be OK with you if I washed my underwear in your company sink?

  45. Kate*

    #2 – My reply is for Ask a Manager, in particular – I hate to say it, but your final sentence is a cop out: “I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, and good luck.”

    This is a teachable moment for of us who work professionally in the US that we can do better. We are ALL dealing with the realities of hiring discrimination – including those of us who are white and are in positions to influence hiring / hire others. Ask yourself: “Does my organization have a blind screening process for resumes?” and “Do we ask applicants to check their race when applying? And if they don’t, do we discard their application?” “How much of my own professional network is racially and ethnically diverse?” In other words, would someone like the writer of #2 in our own field even be connected to us to network the heck out of their network and get to us? We must start with taking a look at ourselves and our role in (passively) propping up continued hiring discrimination in 2014 America.

    1. Kettle o' Fish*

      So in other words, you’re suggesting that in her answer to a black person trying to be hired, Alison should be speaking to the white people doing the hiring?

      1. Eliza Jane*

        Yeah, I think I would be pretty annoyed if I wrote in with a question about dealing with sexism, and instead of talking to me, Alison talked to other people. She’s giving the best answer she can to the question asked, and addressing the person asking it.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not clear on why it’s a cop out. I absolutely agree that we all need to do a better job in the ways you’re talking about and far more, and have talked about that here before, but that’s far broader than the scope of helping the letter-writer with his immediate question.

  46. Tanzeen*

    I hate to say this because it makes me feel like a race traitor (and it would break my parents’ heart), but when job-searching, I swapped out my Indian name for a similar anglo name, Tansy, and the difference in call backs was like night and day.

    If they asked, I simply mentioned in the interview that Tansy is my preferred nickname (which is true – in my family, it’s spelled Tanzi).

    It is a tough job market for everyone out there, but racial bias is pretty easy to see everywhere from the astonished “But you don’t even have an accent!” from interviewers to front desk receptionists assuming I’m there to deliver food, even when I’m wearing a suit and carrying a leather portfolio.

    This is so awful that you cannot even use your own name, but this worked for me as someone with a clearly ethnic/racialized name, and I’m so sorry that this is all the advice I have for you.

    1. Jean*

      Good grief, this is discouraging! I hope you rock at your job so much that all of those people doing double takes or the “hello, delivery person” routine are rocked back on their heels and forced to reconsider their assumptions.

    2. Illini02*

      Why do you feel bad about this? Its a cut throat economy out here, and you need to do what you can to get your foot in the door. If using a nick name or initial does it, then so be it. As I mentioned earlier, I don’t have a very traditionally black name, so its not something I dealt with. However, I know from job searching, I was willing to do whatever (ethically of course) it took to get me to the next stage. I figured if I got to talk to someone, I had a much better chance of landing the job. Sometimes that was focusing on things that were realistically more minor parts of a previous job. Sometimes it was name dropping. I didn’t feel bad at all. You shouldn’t either.

      1. Tanzeen*

        I feel bad because I think it communicates to the outside world that I am ashamed of my given name because it is ethnic. I’m not – I love my name and its meaning. I am doing what it takes to work and try to move up in my field, but I feel the pain of the sacrifice of hiding, or at least camouflaging my race and heritage. I wish I had the courage to be more of a trailblazer and set an example to other Indian girls.

      2. NPF*

        Exactly, other people are willing to do everything short of literally cutting throats, so why shouldn’t I do the same?

  47. Nervous Accountant*

    99.9% of the time I find this community really awesome and I always will because this group is still so much better than what you find on typical news sites……

    but the day I have to read that breast milk = urine and feces……… just….no. smh, epic facepalm and various other memes and whathave you.

    1. Jean* just informed me that that smh = “shake my head” (there are other, more profane variations) as in “I can’t believe this.” The things we learn on AAM! Thanks for keeping my lingo current.

  48. This is me*


    I really disagree with the advice given here. I don’t see how this is any different than a coworker brushing his/her teeth at the office. I wouldn’t want someone spitting at the sink, just like I wouldn’t want someone washing out their breast pump devices. I fail to see how it’s offensive to use a bathroom sink for this instead of the sink in the office kitchen?

    1. Calla*

      Here’s a summary of all the reasons given here:

      1. It’s food. You wash food dishes and food processors in the kitchen.
      2. It’s milk. You (most likely) wouldn’t care if someone was rinsing out a glass of milk from any other mammal.
      3. Brushing your teeth is a normal bathroom activity. People are going to do it in the bathroom no matter if they’re at work or home or in a hotel. Rinsing out a pump is, I assume, not normally a bathroom activity, it’s a kitchen one, OP just has a coworker or two who is weird about it. It’s no different than if I said I found cow milk disgusting and asked for people to be required to rinse that out in the bathroom kitchen. Why? No, it wouldn’t kill them, but it’s an unreasonable request on my part.

  49. Peg Anderson*

    RE: Discrimination in hiring. Yes it does exist. I am 65, white, look good for my age. I have been out of work looking for work for over 1 yr. I have worked in the Tech industry for over 8 yrs.
    My Expeience includes:
    Training Coordination/Staffing Coordination/Facility Move/Setup Coordination and in providing Administrative Support.

    Recently I had an agency contact me by phone about an opportunity that we both thought would be an excellent fit. She said that she had wanted to Skype with me the next day as she had some more questions to ask me. I agreed to do so.

    That day I had prepared ahead of the Skype, had a nice business top on and my makeup and hair were perfect. The time came and we finally connected through Skype’s video/audio. Her first question while she stared at me was, “what is your middle name”? I began to answer her question when she all of a sudden she said. “I’ve seen enough” and then clicked herself off of our video Skype.

    I have many more incidents that have occured and yes age discrimination is very Real!!!

    Anyone else have stories to share?

  50. Roz*

    #2 I too am sorry that you have to deal with this type of behavior. I work in HR and have found this to be true in the last year especially, but for me location is key in this regard and it should not be. A people hire A people and so on. If your credentials are stellar and I believe it is, like many you may run into hiring managers who are intimidated by you on paper first and God help you should you get an interview. I have seen this happen to more candidates in the past year because of insecure and other adjectives I will not use managers.
    Be encouraged this site is quite informative and HELPFUL!

  51. jen*

    I face the same problems as the man with a typically black-sounding name, except the root cause is different. I get enthusiastic invitations on the phone to interview, then when I arrive onsite, I can sense people acting strangely. They think they are keeping a lid on it and hiding it, but they can’t hide it from me. I recently got an invite to interview for a position based on transferrable skills, but when I arrived, the switch turned on. The first interviewer who was the final decision maker said that my skillset was ideal for the job and she thought I would do well, then a second interviewer was pulled in for a “2nd opinion” where I was grilled on why I would be interested in an a/p position when I had so much a/r experience. The first interviewer was so unnerved that she kept rubbing her arm to the point that it made me uncomfortable. I have also faced interviewers who have treated me like I somehow misled or deceived them, I see the thinly veiled hostility. My problem is that I have a name that would be regarded as anglo and have been told that my race cannot be detected on the phone. I also choose not to self identify on online apps. So everytime I get an interview I have to face the awful reality that few people can comprehend and few will ever experience. I have had interviewers even try the talking negatively about the job or refusing to discuss details of the job in the interview. Also, in the jobs I have had, I have faced constant opposition because of my “myth-busting” skills. That old adage that blacks have to work twice as hard to get ahead. This is a fallacy. Being as good is problematic enough, being better sets me up to be put in my place.
    Lastly, I do not believe these biases are unconscious. That is a much often cited claim. I believe that researchers assert this to tone down their reported so that they are not written off as having an agenda or bias, or to make their findings more open to acceptance. People do not like to be accussed or racism. If I am biased in even the most subtle way I am fully conscious of it – else, I would likely suffer from anosognosia.

  52. Maggie*

    Newsflash: breast milk is a bodily fluid and capable of transmitting many of the same diseases as other bodily fluids. If you would object to walking into the kitchen to find a coworker urinating, defecating, or emitting another potentially infectious bodily fluid into the communal sink, then you should understand their concern for your breast milk splashing all over the sink. Before you dismiss this as naysaying, know that this is coming from someone who also thinks that breastfeeding is the optimal source of nutrition for infants and is wholly supportive of it.

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