my office only assigns women to cover the phones, I can’t pronounce a coworker’s name, and more

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

1. My office is only assigning women to cover the phones

I work in a small office of about 12 people, with a fairly balanced mix of men and women. There’s no dedicated receptionist so any incoming calls are answered and handled by the customer service department, which was made up of two women. Well, this week one of the women quit, so the other has been left to handle all incoming calls on her own. Today, the CS manager, a man, sent an email to every woman in the office. He copied my manager and the CEO, both men, as well as the HR rep, a woman (but the CEO’s daughter). He opened with, “Ladies,” and proceeded to explain that we all needed to help assist with the phones.

I think we were picked because we’re women, not because of our particular jobs. There are men in non-managerial roles who weren’t included, and the women who were span seniority levels, including two managers.

Legally, can my employer do this, make this request of only the women in the office? In theory, I don’t mind helping out, assuming it’s temporary until a new customer service rep is hired, but I do mind being singled out simply for being a woman. Regardless of whether it is legal, is there a way to voice my displeasure? If it’s relevant, there is a strong boy’s club mentality among the senior male staff and I have no love for the company (desperately trying to leave).

It is indeed illegal for an employer to make decisions about job assignments based on sex, although I don’t think going straight to “it’s illegal” is where you want to start here (although it’s good to have in your back pocket if you need it).

Precisely who you raise this to and how you say it will depend on the dynamics and relationships in your office, but you should absolutely push back on this. In some offices, the best response would be a direct reply or even a “reply all” saying, “This shouldn’t be assigned to all the women. Can you please add the men into the rotation here too?” In other offices, you’d need to go talk to the sender in person, or speak to your manager, or enlist a female senior manager to handle it (and in some offices, the “reply all” might be wildly inappropriate). So you need to know your own office, but yes, raise it and raise it ASAP.

2. I have trouble pronouncing a coworker’s name

I’m having difficulty pronouncing a colleague’s name, and another colleague is correcting me during group meetings in a confrontational way.

The name in question is a traditional Irish name: “Lorcan,” which is pronounced very much the way it is written. Unfortunately, I am from near Liverpool in the UK and we have a dialect which is known as “Scouse.” One of the features of this accent is the tendency to use u’s instead of o’s, i.e., to say “buk” instead of “book.”

As you have probably guessed, I am pronouncing my colleague’s name as “Lurcan” instead of “Lorcan,” which is apparently causing a great deal of annoyance to his colleague. We have a monthly review with the gentleman in question, and whenever I mention Lorcan’s name, he corrects me every time with “It’s Lorcan, not Lurcan.” What usually follows is me repeating the name in a way that I hope is closer to the correct pronunciation, but usually with minimal success. It is beginning to get very embarrassing for me, and as the person in question is my superior, I am worried that taking it up with him or going to my direct superior may adversely affect my career.

I also now have another concern, which is that Lorcan himself is annoyed by my pronunciation of his name, and that the colleague is voicing Lorcan’s opinion on his behalf. Can you please advise me on what you would recommend I do in order to give the most positive outcome from this unpleasant situation?

Have you explained that you’re doing your best but it’s an accent issue? The next time it happens, I’d say something like, “Yes, I know. I’m trying, but my accent seems to have other ideas.” If the colleague knows that you’re trying and continues to give you a hard time about it, he’s being a jerk and that will be obviously to anyone watching.

3. Can I work my way up by starting as an assistant?

My question is about working your way up in a corporation. Is that even done anymore? I may be in my early 20s, but I’m not a fan of jumping around from place to place just to grow, and am hoping to stay somewhere for 10+ years and grow a career. I have a couple of potential job offers on my plate for executive assistant positions to CEOs and big guys in the field–would you advise taking these kinds of positions if you’re looking to eventually move on to the more technical side of things (e.g. project management, policy analyst)? Or is this a surefire way to get pigeonholed into support positions?

It can be done, but it really depends on the particular organization you’re in (as well as how awesome you are). There are many places (the majority, even) where you’d be pigeonholed into a support position. There are others, though, where you can work your way up from that type of role (although they’re typically smaller organizations). You’d want to really be sure of which type you were entering, and it’s something you should ask about directly during the interview stage.

4. Should I mention to my recruiter that my spouse is applying for a job too?

I met with a (large) company’s top internal recruiter who strongly encouraged me to apply for a position and e-mail them when I sent in the online form. Since then, I have spoken with my spouse about the company, and he is also interested in applying – they have positions in his field, great benefits, and we would have to relocate anyway. I don’t think it would be so unusual at this company for a married couple to come in together and work there. After I apply, should I include a line in my email to the recruiter to say that my spouse also applied for a different position?

Nope. You’re not a package deal, and you don’t want to do anything that implies that you think you’re a unit in a professional context.

5. How much should I remember about jobs 5+ years ago?

How well should we be able to speak about the contents of our resumes? Recently a recruiter was asking me about an internship I had at while I was in law school. I am looking for administrative work now but still at a law firm. I include my law school internships because in the past, interviewers seemed to want to know what I did during my summers even though I am looking at non-lawyer roles. However, the internship was 5 years ago and I found that I couldn’t speak to it very much at all. Should I leave it off my resume? How would you suggest we handle some level of fading as a result of time?

Reasonable interviewers won’t expect you to recall every detail of work experience from five years ago, but it’s not crazy to expect you to be able to talk in general terms about the work you did then — the sorts of projects, what you accomplished, etc. If you’re finding that it’s all a haze, I’d say to spend some time before any interviews thinking through what you did in those roles so that you’re more prepared to talk about them.

That said, if the questions are particularly nit-picky, there’s nothing wrong with saying, “Gosh, it’s been five years, but from what I remember….”

{ 378 comments… read them below }

  1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    #3, this is not a surefire thing, but if you are awesome, working for big shot CEOs can get you fantastic connections to your next job, even if it’s with another company.

    1. AVP*

      This is definitely true as long as it’s done in the right way. If you have an attitude of “I am deigning to be here to make some great connections” – it won’t work. But if you’re awesome at your job, and have a great attitude, people will notice and they will want to work with you in the future – and may be thinking about you for future positions that you never imagined yourself going into (in a good way).

      Not that I think the OP has an attitude problem AT ALL – just wanted to mention that this is how I’ve seen it work!

      1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

        Agreed – you have to take the long view of opportunities to move up/around/or out or people feel like you were just using them to further your own goals.

      2. DBAGirl*

        I’ve seen it work this way too. EA to a CEO is a great title to have on a resume.

        I wouldn’t stick for 10 years unless you are advancing in salary/resume-worthy responsibilty…you’ll fall behind in compensation. Give it 3-5 years and then put a line in the water. You might land a whale.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Good point. My experience: I’m an executive assistant. In two of my jobs, I was promoted very quickly into completely non-administrative roles. Where I work now, it is almost unheard of for an assistant to move out of an admin role. We purposely do not hire admins who want to move into project management – we only hire career admins or ones who have something else going on, like acting. I’ve noticed that it’s easier to move up in more creative fields, like publishing, media, marketing, etc. But in professional services, it’s pretty rare (unless it’s certain deptartments like HR or inhouse marketing).
      Whatever you do, do not pester your boss to get promoted if you start one of these roles. My predecessor was fired for notting letting it go when she was told she was not qualified to move into project management. She complained nonstop and the boss finally got fed up.

  2. KarenT*

    #4 I agree with Alison that it’s inappropriate at the application stage, but you probably disclose at the offer stage, though.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      I don’t see why she should disclose this at all. They are two separate individuals and would be doing two separate jobs. If her husband does decide to apply at this company, it would be up to him to disclose that his wife works there. It’s a question that I’ve seen on most job applications, so the wife would answer “no”.

      1. Chris K*

        I worked at a company where there were lots of married couples employed. Very often they would find a job for the spouse of a person they wanted to hire, especially because it required relocation. They may very well ask you about your spouse, and I would tell them at that point that he has applied.

      2. Artemesia*

        Plenty of companies that really want to hire a specific person will accommodate a spouse. This is particularly true in academia where desirable hires usually include accommodation for the spouse. If you are entry level or low on the food chain, it probably won’t help, but if you are a higher level hire or one they are particularly anxious to hire, it may well help. If it involves a move, the company that wants you may also have some contacts in the area to connect the spouse to.

        It is an enormous stress on a family to yank a spouse out of their career to make a move; anything that can be done to assist the spouse to re-locate as well will be good for the family. 40 years ago I behaved ‘professionally’ and didn’t do anything to help relocate my spouse and then watched those hired after me cut sweet deals for theirs — we had a rough first year that I could have mitigated by looking out for him. You have to know the culture and landscape but I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of bringing this into the hiring process at the offer stage.

        1. Judy*

          As I said below, some recruiting firms will be hired by the company to help place the spouse, if the spouse has skills that don’t mesh with the company. My friend’s company does some of that for us, and we will seriously look at a candidate they give, because we want the other companies to seriously consider our transfer/new hire spouses.

      3. KarenT*

        If the spouse hasn’t applied yet, there’s no need to mention it but I’d say it’s pretty sketchy not to mention it if they are both at or near the offer stage. A lot of companies have strict policies regarding spouses in the workplace, such as they cannot report under the same management structure or work on the same projects. It’s hard to know the impact from the outside.
        As others have pointed out, lots of companies will help spouses find a job or have programs to do so. The fact that some companies are willing to help doesn’t mean the OP shouldn’t disclose.

    2. OP 4*

      Thanks everyone for your comments and AAM for answering my question!

      After thinking about it more, it definitely seems that I should (and I plan to) wait to bring it up at the offer stage (hopefully, assuming I get that far!). It is premature to say anything at the application stage. This isn’t academia but is a company in a field where the goal is to hire people who spend a very long time working there, lots of heavy initial investment, etc

      Jazzy Red, I want to disclose it because I think that I bring certain qualifications/skills that the company is actively seeking, and my thought process is that they may be more willing to consider my spouse for a position if that makes it more certain I will definitely come on board if there is an offer – especially considering the relocation aspect.

      We would not be in the same department or under the same management structure at all so that’s not a problem here.

      Thanks again for your comments!

      1. HR Manager*

        I think it can be brought up but as others have noted it’s not a ‘should’. If you’ve been offered a role, they already trust that you would honor your commitment, so noting a spouse has applied may not change that. However, it wouldn’t be harmful to inquire by saying after you get an offer ‘Since I will be relocating, my spouse will be looking for a job too. What is the company’s policy on hiring relatives? Can I encourage him to look at opportunities here?”

      2. Programmer 01*

        Hey OP4, my partner and I applied to our last job as a sorta-package deal and we’ve had several other married couples do the same — usually one is of a really specialized toolset and the other is absolutely a good fit for somewhere a little more general. I don’t think we’ve ever hired anyone we didn’t already approve of in an interview of their own, but they GOT that interview through their spouse. Relocation and work visas are absolutely a thing, and quite frankly, our company is of the mindset of “We can get two people to relocate for the price of one, bonus!”. Even people hired in at lower-level jobs have since worked their way up, so it’s been a pretty successful thing. To be fair, we’d met people previously at an industry mixer when he’d applied, and they asked me flat-out why I hadn’t applied with him, and secured a promise from me that I’d apply the next day, so. That was nice.

        Unsolicited advice, only to avoid a little potential heartache: I have no idea if you’d be working with or near your spouse but don’t be surprised if it causes a little stress. My partner and I actually worked beside each other for a month before we made HR move us — we were getting a little stressed and both feeling a little smothered! After that we worked on different teams, then different projects, and staggered our arrival/departure times (I do early stuff so I can work with offices in other time zones, he works late because he mentors and code reviews people in-office) and we were much happier. We collaborate on stuff still and will pinch-hit if needed (for instance, they were doing live demos so I pitched in as they needed event staff for 16 hours and I had a blast) but yes, lines. Boundaries. Good.

        1. OP 4*

          Hey Programmer 01, thank you so much for your comment!! It really gives me hope! I am definitely the more specialized person and my spouse has a somewhat more general background. His resume is strong enough to stand on its own, but my thinking was that if I say early on that he also applied it might cause someone to look at it faster or push it near the top of the pile. We would fit into that lower level hires who plan to work our way up, and also the relocation of two for the price of one is another factor I think the company would be pleased about. I completely hear you on the working in close proximity thing, I think we would struggle severely with that too! Luckily I am very certain there is no way that would happen, as our spheres would have no intersection. But really thank you so much for your comment!! Glad to hear things worked out for you and your spouse.

  3. Graciosa*

    #1 is mind boggling. I hope that this is one of those situations where merely pointing this out will result in an immediate (horrified) correction. I’m trying to imagine the reaction if only individuals of African or Hispanic descent were asked to clean up the conference room or serve coffee to visitors.

    Okay, now I’m amazed anyone even has to point it out to get it fixed. Really? In the twenty-first century?

    Moving on before my brain explodes –

    Regarding #3, there are some companies that value development and nurturing talent in ways that can help the company even if it means losing a promising individual from the hiring function. I have personally hired people for my team because I believed they had a great future with our company – despite the expectation that they would not stay with my function for more than two to three years. I absolutely thought they could do the work quite well while they were there (this is business and not charity), but they could be phenomenal in other roles with a bit of development and seasoning and I’m happy to contribute to that.

    That said, I am not convinced that my current employer is the norm, particularly with respect to administrative roles. My VP started as an admin and has obviously done very well, but my experience with other companies does not lead me to believe this is likely or even possible in the majority of cases regardless of individual talent.

    I’m not saying this to be discouraging, but instead to highlight the importance of finding the right employer. The OP must must MUST be confident that both her company and her individual manager will be supportive of her efforts to expand her role and eventually move into another position. Most are likely to be looking for someone who can do the work well and improve the efficiency of the business, which is generally interpreted as avoiding the disruption of changing jobs so that the manager has to find and train a replacement. These employers will be turned off by your lack of interest in making administration a career – which just means the OP will need to keep looking to find a better fit.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Re post #1, here’s anothing thing that will blow your mind, Graciosa. Women are generally the ones given the tasks of cleaning the kitchen, the coffee pots (whether they drink coffee or not), the conference rooms, etc. just because they’re women. The old boy mentality (or lack of mentality) is still going strong in America, and almost everyone with a uterus knows that. 21st century or not, it still happens.

      1. Illini02*

        In my current office its definitely like that, with the women taking care of things like cleaning, but for different reasons. Its a fairly small office with a pretty even mix of men/women. When I started, we had a “chore wheel” for who would do what on what days. For some reason, one of the women decided we should get rid of it and just “be adults and do what needs to be done”. What I told her would happen is exactly what did happen. What I learned from having roommates for years (no more) is that different people have different tolerances of when something needs to be done. So while one person may think the garbage needs to be emptied when its below the rim, someone else may think it needs to be emptied when its overflowing, just as one example. Well as turns out, the 2 people with the lowest tolerance are both women and they end up doing more than their share. Full disclosure, I’m not the biggest neat freak, so my tolerance for that type of thing is pretty high. So while I would have no problem doing it, I don’t think it needs to be done at the same time that is driving a couple of the women crazy, so they end up doing those things. I already suggested we go back to the chore wheel so its more fair, but my office keeps just saying “others need to pitch in” even though that just doesn’t really work with this group.

        1. Another Poster*

          It doesn’t work because you’re choosing not pitch in when people have asked you to. You recognize that two other people are picking up the slack and that you are part of the problem. You admitted that you’re lower tolerance for these things causes you to leave the garbage can until someone else deals with it. Why don’t you just pitch in more and go ahead and empty that garbage can? Do you really need a chore wheel to keep things fair? You see the problem. Don’t wait for someone to implement a juvenile approach to fix it. Be part of the solution.

          1. LBK*

            That’s not the sense I got from Illini’s comment at all. I’m the same way with my roommate – I’m fine with leaving a dish or a pot in the sink overnight and cleaning it the next day, but he’s hyper vigilant about scrubbing anything that goes in there right away. So as a result, half the time I go to wash my dishes and he’s already done it. It’s not about me being lazy – I do the chores when I feel it’s appropriate – we just have different levels of when we think “This must be handled now”.

            There’s no opportunity for the higher tolerance people to chip in because the lower tolerance people are beating them to it.

          2. jbean*

            I didn’t get that at all from her comments. I think she made some very valid points. You seem to be one of those who may have lower thresholds that she described.

            At my job, we have custodial staff who do most of this work. If we didn’t, I would think some kind of list would be helpful – I would know that this week or today it is my responsibility to empty the trash or cover the phones or whatever. I would be able to focus exclusively on my work that needs to be done, rather than worry about who is doing what.

          3. krisl*

            Why should Illini02 join in and do extra work because other people aren’t even doing their share?

            1. Another Poster*

              I guess this kind of mentality just bugs me. It’s not fair so why should I do it? Other people are doing more than their share and sometimes it takes a group effort to set an example and get everyone to pitch in, which is what everyone is supposed to be doing based on Illini02’s post. If everyone in my office is supposed to clean up after themselves I’m not going to stop doing it just because other people don’t.

              I agree other people should do their share and a solution should be figure out, whether it’s a chore wheel or something else. But not doing it because other people aren’t and not making an extra effort to do it when you clearly see the problem isn’t right either. I think when you see a problem that can be fixed sometimes its best to pitch in and help fix it, not just wait around for management to tell you how to behave.

              And then typically people complain that they are being treated like children by having things like chore wheels in their office. I’m not saying Illinio did that but this is exactly the sort of thing people complain about and then simultaneously don’t act like an adult and help fix the problem.

          4. Snarkus Ariellius*

            You didn’t address this to me, but I had to weigh in.

            I don’t empty/load the dishwasher.  I don’t clean out the fridge.  I don’t touch a dish.  Maybe I’ll throw trash in a communal trash can but it’s rare.  I don’t clean the microwave.  I don’t rinse out a single thing.  I don’t make coffee either.  Ever.

            You know why?

            I don’t use dishes.  I don’t store anything in the fridge.  I don’t drink coffee.  (Never have.  Never will.)  I don’t use the microwave.  Ever.  (I always go out to lunch.)

            That’s why I don’t feel any obligation to take care of the communal resources.  I ignore all “friendly” emails about it too because I know it doesn’t apply to me.  If it were part of my job, I’d raise a stink because I -intentionally- don’t use those resources so I don’t have to be part of that clean up crew.

            (I always pick up after myself at office events.)

            1. Another Poster*

              But in this case the whole office was asked to pitch in instead of having a chore wheel and Illinio said they should start using the chore wheel again. At that point, the only difference is pitching in when your asked to or being assigned chores on a chore wheel because you won’t do it. We aren’t talking about a situation where people in the office generally aren’t expected to clean up. In this situation everyone is expected to take part.

        2. neverjaunty*

          Yeah, it’s interesting how much one’s tolerance for mess can be affected by 1) knowing somebody else will clean the mess up and 2) knowing somebody else will be thought responsible for dealing with the mess.

      2. Lizzy May*

        The coffee thing brings me back to my worst job. I was the only person who didn’t drink coffee in the entire office yet I was responsible for making the coffee, keeping the area tidy and cleaning the pots at the end of the day. Suddenly on my annual evaluation I was dinged for not collecting and washing mugs from my coworkers. I left shortly thereafter. A man replaced me and suddenly they had a Keurig that everyone could run on their own.

      3. krisl*

        Interesting. I’m female and work with computers (CS major). At my current workplace, I have never been asked to clean the kitchen, coffee pots, or conference rooms. Maybe my company’s more enlightened, or maybe it tends to assign cleaning tasks to people who aren’t being paid to do computer work.

      4. Jeanne*

        I think we’ve actually been going backwards again as far as sexism is concerned. There is a cultural attitude developing that men are being attacked for being men. In return, many men are taking pains to put women in their place. (Yes, this is a generalization and does not apply to every man. I just see it as a trend.)

        1. DBAGirl*

          I giggle when I hear men are mad about being attacked. Questioning male assumptions is not attacking.

          I also don’t think men are taking pains to put women in their place. I think they’re just being men. Mom always cleaned up and she never taught them they should do it. It doesn’t occur to a lot of men to do it.

          Women are socialized to take care of others in EVERY culture. That’s great when it’s about your children, and your partner and your elderly relatives….but it needs to not be an expectation in the workplace when it’s not the job description.

          The email addressed to “Ladies” made me make a fist! That’s wrong. “Ladies and Gentlemen” would at least have shown the sender had a clue….SMH.

      5. Sasha LeTour*

        Absolutely, and I am personally feeling vindicated, and of course quite saddened, too, that we’ve had so many letter writers sharing incidents of workplace sexism lately.

        Vindicated because I’ve found it difficult to convince the men in my life – well-meaning, all, but somewhat clueless – of the pervasiveness of workplace sexism, particularly in fields like mine (stemming from advertising, but evolving into product design, mobile/tablet, touch applications, etc.), despite it being late 2014.

        And saddened because even though it’s sucky to think about, I sometimes find that I *do* wish I were exaggerating or that workplace sexism was so rare that I must’ve just had a particularly rough go of it at all my agency jobs. These letters prove that this is not the case, and that we have a ways to go before we reach equality.

    2. Dani*

      It’s not so different at my job. We do have a backoffice handling incoming calls, but when they are unavailable, the job is always handed over to the ladies in the office. That’s because the male colleagues fight tooth and nail not to have to do it (because they are consultants and answering phones is not in their job description). If they geht stuck with it anyhow, they will make darn sure that everyone including any customers who might call are well aware that they are NOT HAPPY. Whereas the lady consultants usually prefer to be nice to the backoffice ladies and help them out. Plus, we manage to be pleasant even when not happy about the task. So it is now officially the ladies duty to answer the phones, and we brought it on ourselves…my personal takeaway is to stop being polite/nice since raising the issue hasn’t changed a thing, mainly because I am the only woman in our office who is bothered by this. The same goes for any cleaning chores. They are always done by the backoffice ladies and never by the one guy (who is actually the most junior team member). OP, please do push back on this. As long as women don’t want to make a fuss, we’ll never get rid of this.

      1. Jennifer*

        Yeah, but if women consultants pulled the same kind of behavior, they’d probably be fired or at least written up.

        1. Sasha LeTour*

          Not necessarily. At my office, we have a somewhat Luddite female account assistant who is overseeing some of the most tech-heavy accounts/projects at the agency, is in over her head precisely because of said lack of knowledge, and knows it, yet insists on putting the tech-savvy female designers and developers (e.g. me) “in our place” by trying to “assign” us busy work. It’s pretty typical busy work too: taking minutes at meetings, distributing notes, managing basic spreadsheets, and other tasks that no account person with a lick of common sense would bill a senior/managerial tech professional’s time to on the client invoice.

          And it gets worse than that. She’s doing this not just because she feels nervous about her lack of knowledge, but also because she feels it’s not fair that people with technical backgrounds get to make the creative decisions instead of her, and truly believes that if she loads us up with enough secretarial work, she’ll magically get to design the apps and products. Despite this track record and a generally crap attitude, this woman’s behavior is protected and defended at every turn by her boss.

          Guess her boss’s gender. Yep: female. Sometimes, sadly, women are other women’s worst enemies.

      2. DBAGirl*

        Either push back directly or indirectly. Directly = speaking up about the “Ladies” being assigned the task while the Gents don’t have to care.

        Indirectly (you need to be sure you can pull this off) = ignore it. It was addressed to “Ladies”, not you personally. You skimmed it and went on about your actual job (like the guys did.)

        If your boss values what you do enough, you will not hear about it again. If you do hear about it again, re-evaluate your job, your employer and your boss. Do NOT think you were wrong because you didn’t cater to that idiot.

  4. Liz in a library*

    #2…I feel a lot of sympathy here. I don’t have a terribly strong southern drawl (I think), but it causes trouble with shorter vowel sounds and particular letter combos, too. As a result, I’ve had a few times where, try my hardest, a former colleague’s name would come out wrong. It already feels terrible to know you’re messing the name up, and to have someone constantly commenting on it would have me just terribly flustered.

    I have no additional advice, just sympathy. I would think the fact that you’re being so conscientious in thinking about it could be clear to your colleague (and he’d know it’s not intentional). I like to think people can tell when you are trying to use their preferred form of address, even if something doesn’t come out perfectly right.

    1. John*

      Thankyou Liz,

      I appreciate the sympathy. Unfortunately I have already tried telling my colleague it is to do with my accent but he informed me that he “didn’t think it was” and continued to suggest I just wasn’t trying hard enough.

      I have some great advice already from this post so I am confident i will be in a better position going forwards.

      Firstly I will waste no time going to see Lorcan himself to ask if he has any issues with my pronunciation of his name. This is the most important element in this whole situation. I am fairly certain the answer is ‘no’ as Lorcan is more senior than the other colleague and more than capable of sticking up for himself if required but I will be certain before taking any further action.

      Once I know Lorcans feelings I will then privately speak to my colleage and either thank him for bringing Lorcans feelings to my attention or inform him that Lorcan is fine with my pronunciation and ask him not to mention it again – especially not in public.

      Aside from this I am also going to try a little mind game of picturing Lorcan’s name spelt as Loorcan which may encourage me to pronounce it more accurately.

      Hopefully this will all help…

      Thanks again for your kind words.

        1. BRR*

          He’s not allowed to say no.

          If Lorcan is ok with it and your colleague continues to make it an issue you have a couple options. The civil route would be to say a couple of other words that sound the same so he can hear you have an accent. Another route would be in the meeting to just call him out and say, “I’ve already explained it’s because of my accent, do you have a problem with my accent.” That’s kind of my fantasy response though.

          1. SusieQ*

            Wouldn’t someone harassing you about your accent come close enough to being the same as harassing you about your ethnicity or nationality to warrant a warning from HR? Imagine if it he were harassing a collegue from India or Mexico or Africa about their accent.

            If I was in HR, I’d remind everyone that we have rules about respecting diversity in our workplace and that as such, we are required to be understanding that we may not all have the same accent or native language and shut that stuff down immediately.

            1. Serin*

              Right — if you think of a person from another country whose best go at Sarah was Sah-rah, it becomes more obvious that the co-worker is being a jerk, and possibly a bigot.

              1. The Cosmic Avenger*

                Yeah, after talking to Lorcan himself about it, I might try to shame the third-party coworker into silence by asking him to please not “make fun” of my accent. Would he be harassing an Asian coworker about the pronunciation of “fried rice”?

                1. HR Manager*

                  Ouch. I know and agree with the point you are trying to make, but this analogy and generalization itself plays off a terrible stereotype. Can we finally put this to bed (this will go right next to the dog/[put your preferred cute animal here]-eating jokes)?

                2. The Cosmic Avenger*

                  That was exactly the point, HR Manager. The person harassing John about his pronunciation is being exactly that insensitive and bigoted, but it’s not being viewed that way because it’s not picking on a common, well-known stereotype.

              2. Selkie*

                As a Scot called Sarah, it’s hard enough telling people your own name sometimes depending on accents! I get “sayda” a lot unless I attempt English pronunciation. I feel really bad for OP on this one.

              3. Oh and also*

                My given name is Jennifer and I have relatives in Boston who regularly pronounce it JenniFAH. I never try to correct them on pronouncing Jennifer, I just try to get them to call me Jennie like all my friends do. I know they do not pronounce the R the way I pronounce an R and I just don’t sweat it. Their accent is charming and I don’t want them to lose it.

            2. Traveler*

              I think it depends on power dynamics too though, in the office, and historically outside of it.

              1. fposte*

                Agreed. It might also depend on where the co-worker was from and where the rest of the group was from.

                I do think there would be situations where a lighthearted “I’m just a poor Scouser doing my best–you should hear how I say [dramatically differentiated word]” would have its place and help close the issue for the rest of the people in the room. But I also think that co-worker’s got an issue that won’t necessarily be solved by reason, and therefore making sure that Lorcan doesn’t care and the rest of the group doesn’t get hit with splashback might be the best achievable options.

            3. BRR*

              I think it’s totally harassment. I’m feeling feisty this morning and that’s why I would love if in a meeting if he mentioned the pronunciation I would throw back the “Do you have an issue with my accent?”

          2. Mephyle*

            The civil route would be to say a couple of other words that sound the same so he can hear you have an accent. And/or tell the story about Sir Vivian Fuchs.

      1. JenniferT*

        I have an unusual last name so people mispronounce it all the time. I don’t get upset by it at all. When the time is right, I correct them but it’s in a friendly manner. If they still mispronounce it, I let it go because I know my last name can be hard to pronounce. My last name is of tyrolean heritage.

        One of my husband’s coworkers would always mispronounce his last name. They weren’t making fun of him either. His coworker was very nice so the mispronunciation almost became my husband’s nickname. He’s wasn’t offended at all.

        I think your colleague is an insensitive person for suggesting you’re not trying hard enough. I think your other coworker will understand and if you tell him that you’re trying that’s all they will care about. Don’t let this bother you. Our accents and traits are what make us unique and special. As long as you convey that you are trying no one will fault you. Stay positive and don’t let that colleague bother you!

        1. Kat M*

          I have a long Russian surname, and have around six different pronunciations I consider within the range of “yeah, that’s about right.” Ay sound vs. ah sound, first syllable accent vs. second syllable accent, three total syllables vs. four … it honestly doesn’t matter to me. If you’re adding extra letters I’ll mention it to you, but anyone with a difficult name is going to be used to this. (Difficult being relative to location, of course. They don’t have to be long, just out of their linguistic element.)

          1. Ezri*

            My maiden name was something that no one pronounced correctly the first time if they were reading it – it had an ‘ei’ pronounced like ‘ai’. I also have a first name with many possible spellings, and my coworkers tend to mess that up in emails (despite my email address containing the correct spelling, heh). Now I’m lazy about name correction; unless someone is messing it up beyond all recognition, I just don’t care. XD

            1. BadPlanning*

              Yeah, I’ve given up being overly picky about my name unless it’s important (like a document that should have my correct name or if the person will be embarrassed long term that they’re actually calling me by the wrong name. My name is not regionally strange or difficult, but it can be spelled in several ways and has several short and long versions.

          2. Enjay*

            I have a long Polish surname and as soon as someone pronounces the first K followed by a long pause, I just say, that’s me! It’s really rare that I bother to correct anyone but when someone says it right, I get all happy.

            1. NutellaNutterson*

              I confess that I happily took my spouse’s name when we married as I was in the same situation with my name – Huuuh…. “oh, that’s me!” It was difficult enough that I’d assume it was me at the first confused look before any pronunciation attempt at all. People would apologize sometimes, and I’d cheerfully say “Oh, it’s completely phonetic. But only if you speak ___ language.”

              As for the OP’s jerk of a co-worker, I hope that a little pushback goes a long way. I am not familiar with the political implications of their differing regions but this sounds like bullying at the least and moving into harassment. If the OP’s accent was causing mispronunciation of words to the extent that they were not identifiable, it could be worth talking to a voice and dialect teacher. But this sounds like it’s a standard accent, just not the jackass’ own.

            2. Jamie*

              Me too! If they get the first letter and the ski on the end I answer to it. My married name people get right maybe 20% of the time on the first try and my maiden name (also Polish) never. Not once. I don’t think everyone in my family pronounces it the same way, come to think of it.

              My theory is when they see a lot of letters and a ski on the end they don’t even try and just hit the first letter and suffix and guess their way through the middle. My married name has even been Americanized by losing a couple of consonants and is pronounced exactly as it’s spelled and still few people get it right.

              As long as I’m not being yelled at for not using the traditional polish pronunciation I’m good. That happens more than you’d think.

        2. NoPantsFridays*

          I have an unusual last name too and people mispronounce it all the time. Technically, I also mispronounce it because I don’t speak the language from which it originates. So I’m really not bothered when someone else mispronounces it. I’ve met a lot of people who just don’t try at all, which still isn’t offensive.

          Offensive is when people intentionally mispronounce my last name — even adding words synonymous with fecal matter, or injecting swear words. Yes, there are adults who do this! I swear too but I don’t insert swearing into other people’s names! Also, please do not try to correct me on the pronunciation of my own name, especially if you (like me) don’t speak the language. “Don’t Americanize it, say it right!” they say. And what is “right”? I am saying it the way I know how; to me, that is “right”. I’m not catering to your “American” sensibilities, but to my own.

          1. manybellsdown*

            My maiden name was very close to the name of someone who was caught up in a huge criminal scandal in the 80’s, when I was a teen. I had a teacher who thought it was HI-larious to call me by that guy’s name. So I totally believe you about adults doing that.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        Or you could refer to him as “Mr. LastName”.

        When I moved from the North to the South, I had trouble understanding some of the things people said. My department was heading for a meeting, and the secretary said it was in the “Retire” room. I said, “retire? as in, ending work?” and she said, “no, it’s the ‘r-e-a-c-h h-i-g-h-e-r’ (Reach Higher) room”. My first year here was tough!

        Full disclosure: After 10 years, sometimes I find myself talking like them…

        1. Jennifer*

          Yeah, I would do my best to NOT call him by his first name if it is at all avoidable. If he becomes “Mr. Prig,” so much the better.

        2. Pennalynn Lott*

          I’m from the South but once overheard two coworkers talking about taking a “beached whale” at lunch. WTH? I wasn’t part of the conversation, but I still had to ask what they were talking about. Turns out one of the women was referring to her daily dose of the vitamin B-12.

      3. Artemesia*

        I would expect that if Lorcan is senior and you have this talk with him (which I would have had the second time this scene repeated), then he would step up and shut down the jerky manager.

          1. John*

            I didn’t actually tell Lorcan the whole story, I just said that a colleague pointed out that I was mispronouncing his name. (Lorcan has not been present in either of the two meetings where the colleague has pulled me up for the pronunciation).

      4. RubyJackson*

        Talking with Lorcan is what I was going to suggest. If he’s okay with how you pronounce it, and jerk face co-worker continues to make rude comments, then maybe ask Lorcan to speak to jerk face himself so it comes to an end.

        I definitely think making fun of someone’s accent is ethnic discrimination.

        And by the way, I have a friend with a Geordie accent and although I can only understand about 1/2 of what he says, I can’t imagine asking him to change the way he speaks. To me, it’s charming and gives him character.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          I Googled it, so I now know that a “Geordie accent” is one from northeast England, but I momentarily imagined your friend as speaking like LeVar Burton on Star Trek. Maybe calling people “Captain” and frequently announcing that there’s no power in Engineering…

              1. C. Also*

                Me too. I have *never* heard that before, and I was on STREK-L in the days when TNG was new. But I totally believe it. It’s like “Morn” is “Norm” with the N and the M reversed, in a shout-out to Cheers.

        2. B*

          I think I fell in love with my Geordie husband because of his accent. I used to just listen to him and his best friend chatting. Didn’t understand a word but love the sound :)

      5. Ludo*

        John, you should be so grateful that you get to work with the world’s foremost expert on accents and how they do and do not change the sound of the words you say! Lucky, you!

        Real talk: you work with a jerk. As long as Lorcan doesn’t have an issue (and who could really, when you are clearly trying and are being impeded by an accent!) then this bully’s opinion should be of no consequence.

      6. Cube Ninja*

        I think I’m honestly more surprised about the fact that anyone is questioning a regional dialect in the UK. Scouse isn’t exactly uncommon or so unusual that people aren’t familiar with it. Hell, *I* know what it sounds like and I’ve never even been to the UK.

        Your coworker is a bit of a twit, unfortunately. No sane person is going to continually correct someone whose accent interferes with pronunciation, especially after it’s been explained in that context.

      7. Brittany*

        Lorcan sounds like a petty jerk. You’re going out of your way to accommodate to this guy. I can totally understand someone being irked over it, but enough is enough. You clearly are not doing it to be spiteful and are trying really hard to correct it and at some point, you’d think he would laugh it off instead of fuming like a baby.

        I would honestly just continue to make the effort you’re making and apologize when you get it wrong, otherwise don’t waste as much time as this guy is getting hung up on his name pronunciation. Not all coworkers would be as nice as you are being!

        1. Brittany*

          Ah, just re-read this (need another cup of coffee) and the coworker is a jerk, not Lorcan. Definitely talk to Lorcan and see if this is as big an issue as the coworker is making it – I honestly don’t even get why this guy is sticking his nose in.

        2. Judy*

          No, Lorcan is not being a jerk. The other coworker who is pointing out the OP is pronouncing Lorcan’s name incorrectly is being a jerk.

      8. Elizabeth West*

        The colleague is a jerk. You have an accent–I very much doubt anyone who speaks to you is unaware of that. If it bothers Lorcan, he’ll let you know, presumably. The coworker is not Lorcan and it is none of his damn business. I can’t stand people who do crap like that.

        People mispronounce my name all the time, and it doesn’t bother me, really. (My surname; West is a shortened version of it, and it’s not hard to say, but they mess it up anyway.) If someone were picking on another person for not being able to say it, I would tell them to stop being so rude. Perhaps privately, perhaps not!

      9. Rose*

        UGH this is idiotic. I have a strong accent too. I just try to explain to people “this is how it IS said in my part of the country.” There’s a huge difference between saying Lurcan instead of Lorcan, and the fact that you say Lorcan differently than he does.

      10. KimmieSue*

        Not sure if it will help, but when I have difficulty pronouncing a name, I write it down phonetically ten or so times. For example, it was difficult for me to pronounce a co-workers name “Kasius”. So, I wrote it down repeatedly “CA-C-US” and I now I have no trouble. Hope that helps to trick your brain and your tongue! Good luck.

      11. MommaTRex*

        My name is Colleen, and I pronounce it like “kawl-een”. Sometimes, I run into people who pronounce it “koh-leen”, but it seems to bother the people around me way more than it bothers me. I hardly even notice. My boss used to pronounce it wrong for years, but he finally came around.

        As long as someone doesn’t call me something like “Hey you, b*tch”, I’m happy.

        1. AnonForThis*

          I’m a Colleen, too, and it always cracks me up when I introduce myself to someone (“Hi, I’m KAWL-een”), and they respond by asking me “ok now, is it KOH-leen or KAWL-een??”

          I….just said my name aloud to you; follow my lead and pronounce it the way *I just said it.* ;)

            1. AnonForThis*

              Yes!! That’s the pronunciation tip I give, too. I’ve also had more than one person sing Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to me, replacing each Jolene with “KOH-leen.”

      12. Francie*

        Provided Lorcan doesn’t have any issues with how you pronounce his name, the next time NotLorcan chimes in with “It’s LOOOOOAAAARCAN,” I’d be tempted to reply “Yes, that’s what I said,” and just move on to the actual topic. You’re saying his name the best you can with your natural accent, and this guy has some kind of vested interest in drawing attention to your accent itself or your ostensible shortcomings.

        1. Woodward*

          Oh, this!! “Yes, that’s what I said. Thank you.” and just move on!

          Politely shutting down the moment and establishing your own professionalism.

        2. ella*

          That makes me think of the old Simpsons scene:

          Marge: Look at all this beautiful foilage!
          Lisa: It’s not foilage, Mom. It’s foliage.
          Marge: That’s what I said! Foilage!

      13. Vicki*

        #2 – The colleague is being a “superior jerk”. End of story.
        It is not appropriate to take the you to task over and over again for a mispronunciation, it is not appropriate to do this in front of other people, and it is especially inappropriate to do this in front of the person whose name you are saying. (That belittles the other person, making it appear that he cannot say anything himself).

        If Lorcan cares, he can say something.

        You say “Firstly I will waste no time going to see Lorcan himself to ask if he has any issues with my pronunciation of his name. ” — I suggest this is a great idea.

        And after that? You ignore the superior pronunciation corrector. You don;t go back to him. You don;t say anything to him. You don’t excuse yourself. You don’t repeat yourself. If he tries to correct you, you wait a beat and then continue as if nothing happened.

        Ignore him!

    2. Alter_ego*

      Yeah, I have a girls name that is similar to, but not the same as a boys name. There is a pronunciation difference, but, depending on the accent, the distinction gets completely lost. I’m used to it, and since I’ve never have to work with anyone with the boys version, it’s never caused confusion or anything. I’m frankly totally baffled as to why this unrelated person cares so so much.

      1. NoTurnover*

        Is this by any chance “Dawn” and “Don”? In my accent (upper Midwest), they sound the same, and I didn’t even realize they were supposed to be pronounced differently until recently (argh, sorry, all past Dawns!). I still feel like I’m impersonating a New Yorker when I try to pronounce “Dawn” correctly.

        1. Alter_ego*

          Nah, it’s Erin and Aaron. The distinction is very obvious to my ears, but in some accents, the A and E sounds are so similar that people don’t realize they aren’t really saying my name. I’ve never made an issue of it.

          1. jhhj*

            That’s because in some dialects of English, Erin/Aaron (merry/marry) DO have the same vowel sound. In others they don’t. It’s called the merry-marry-Mary merger, if you want to look it up. (I have merry and Mary the same, but marry different; I also have Erin and Aaron different.)

            The merger is sort of scattered across English speakers.

            1. AVP*

              I’m so fascinated by those “where do you come from” dialect quizzes. I never think I have an accent but they peg me to exactly where I grew up and where I live now every time.

              1. jhhj*

                They usually get me wrong because I’m in a part of Canada where there are different dialects for different cultural backgrounds (Italians, Greeks, Brits, Jews, Jews who now live in the suburbs, etc, though I am bang-on standard for my group of Jews who don’t live in the suburbs) — it’s very weird.

                The grouping that somehow continues to puzzle me is the pen/pin merger. How can you have those the same? I know people do, and it’s no more unusual than any other language change.

                1. Serin*

                  I’m from North Carolina, and when I moved to the Midwest I had to learn to pronounce ‘-em’ and ‘-en’ — we just don’t have those sounds. Which is why, growing up, you’d ask someone if they had “an ink pen” or “a straight pin” — the sound was the same.

                  Of course, if you’re a proper Southerner, the word ‘pin’ comes pretty close to having two syllables anyway.

                2. AB*

                  Hahaha, my husband is a dyed-in-the-wool Southerner. Although his accent isn’t pronounced, he can’t hear or pronounce the difference between pin and pen. He had a coworker who I thought was named Ginny (like in Harry Potter), but I found out years later that her name was Jenny when I saw it spelled out. She never corrected me.
                  I used to work with a boss from Korea who couldn’t pronounce my name properly, amoung other things. The only time I ever corrected his pronunciation was when he was practicing a speech and introduced the guest speaker as a ‘very impotent guest’ we ended up changing the word from important to special.

                3. Simonthegrey*

                  @Serin – my mother is Southern, and when she says “pin/pen” I swear there is a y-u in the middle of it: Do you have a piyun?

                4. KAZ2Y5*

                  I have lived in either Texas or Oklahoma my entire life and I was amazed the first time I read that pin and pen should be pronounced differently!

                5. Oh and also*

                  I’m in Texas and I used to have to try to pronounce the word ‘dime’ very c a r e f u l l y when I was giving someone their change. My Texas accent made it sound like I was giving them their dam* change.

                1. Natalie*

                  I found it amusing that so many people I know, myself included, showed a strong SoCal influence despite never having lived there. It’s from TV & movies.

              2. Sasha LeTour*

                Yep. I always get “New York Accent.” Always. But I don’t hear it in my own speech. It’s just how I talk, you know?

            2. Clover*

              This was one of the first examples I came across when I moved to the UK of names being pronounced differently in different accents. Those two names are pronounced very differently in the UK but almost identically in the US.

          2. Meg Murry*

            I had a friend in college that was so frustrated with Midwestern me that I said (and heard) Erin and Aaron as the same name. She was from New England, and if she super exaggerated the differences, I could just barely hear it – but I couldn’t make my voice do it. I also pronounce Merry, Mary and Marry the same way (and Barry and bury) – which also drove her nuts, but such is my accent. I think I learned in a linguistics class that if you haven’t learned to hear the distinction between certain sounds by age 2, chances are you will never really hear the distinction them the way a native speaker does.

            1. Alter_ego*

              It’s funny that you say that. I grew up in New Jersey, but I went to school in Boston, and my roommate was from Chicago. I wasn’t correcting her or anything, I just mentioned in passing that it annoyed me when people asked whether my name was spelled with an A-A, or and E, since I had said Erin, not Aaron, so of course it’s an E.

              She couldn’t tell the difference at all. I wasn’t annoyed with her, and I hadn’t really realized that people couldn’t hear the difference, in addition to not being able to say them differently. She had me repeat both names over and over again, but she could never pick up on the difference between the two. So now I get less annoyed when people clarify whether my name is with an A or an E, though I’m still side-eyeing the lady at Starbucks who handed me a cup with my name spelled Aryan.

              1. jhhj*

                Aryan is pretty funny, though.

                But why would they need to clarify in person? I mean, they see you, right, so they know you’re either Erin (f) or Aaron (m)?

                Unless they’re like me, who heard the name pronounced Erin used for guys (by people who have the merger) and, not knowing about the accent thing at the time, figured that Aaron was always pronounced one way and was only for guys but Erin was pronounced a different way and could be for a girl or a guy.

                1. Alter_ego*

                  I have no clue why being a woman doesn’t immediately get me put in the Erin column. My voice and face are both very feminine, but maybe the names are common enough that people have heard them, but uncommon enough to not realized that they’re gendered?

                2. Natalie*

                  Everyone I know pronounces Aaron and Erin the same, but I have met a few people who somehow don’t know that Aaron is generally a male name and Erin generally a female name.

                3. Traveler*

                  I’ve seen a number of girls spelling it Aerin now, so that may be why the E or A question. Though I’ve seen them ask men the same question, and I haven’t come across a male that’s spelled it with an E. Though, I have a name that’s very simply spelled and people still ask me about it. So, go figure, I suppose.

                4. Simonthegrey*

                  Well, my friend’s middle name is Erin, pronounced the usual way, and he’s a dude. It can be a male name, though my understanding is that it’s a very Irish thing?

                5. Rose*

                  Erin can be a male’s name, esp down south. I’ve never heard of a female Aaron though, so that’s weird.

                6. Headachey*

                  My parents named my brother Erin. Lots of fun for him when he joined the Marines! He’s since changed his name to something completely different.

                7. AnotherAlison*

                  This is completely ridiculous. Everyone knows Aaron is pronounced Ay Ay Ron.

                  (Look up the Key & Peele skit if you haven’t seen it. Every person we know with one of the names mispronounced in the skit has now been renamed. . .Blake = Buh lock ay, etc.)

                8. HR Gorilla*

                  AnotherAlison: that Key & Peele skit is fantastic. I’ve watched it a crazy number of times.

                  “Insubordinate! …and churlish.”

              2. Episkey*

                So funny! I lived outside of Boston for several years as a child and then moved to the Midwest in high school. A couple of my friends introduced me to a guy named Aaron, but they pronounced it more like Erin and I didn’t realize it was Aaron until I saw it spelled out. I remember saying, “OMG, I’ve been calling him the wrong name, it’s Aaron not Erin,” and they could not hear the difference at all.

                My mom had a similar experience in Kansas with a woman whose name was Merry. She thought it was Mary for the longest time until she saw it written. She was apologetic immediately, but Merry herself couldn’t hear the difference when my mom tried to explain heh.

                1. chewbecca*

                  This is interesting to me as a native Kansan. When I read Merry/Mary or pronounce it in my head there’s a definite difference, but when I try to say it, it comes out the same.

              3. Jamie*

                This is fascinating – I’ve known plenty of Aarons and Erins and this is the first time in my life I’ve heard they are pronounced differently. Also Chicago area here and I totally thought they were homophones.

                I’ve accepted that I’ll never hear the difference between marry, Mary, and merry…how many more of these things are out there that I don’t know about?

                1. Marcy*

                  I’m in Florida and I had no idea they were pronounced differently either. I worked with an Aaron- I hope I wasn’t pronouncing it wrong the whole time.
                  I did know about Ginny and Jennie. I had a friend from Minnesota named Jennie and it drove her crazy that we all called her Ginny. She kept correcting us and we kept saying “That’s what we said!”.

            2. Helka*

              I’m from Providence originally, and yeah, it drove me nuts when I left New England and suddenly merry/marry/Mary were all the same word. “What? What are you saying? Marry Christmas? How am I supposed to do that???”

              1. afiendishthingy*

                I am a Midwestern transplant to Rhode Island and after four years here have started pronouncing all of those differently to fit in. I’m very suggestible, accent-wise. My mom’s parents are New Yorkers and she makes the distinction as well but apparently hearing her all my life wasn’t enough. I did find it totally weird when I moved here that if I pronounced Aaron and Erin the same way people would act like they had NO IDEA who I was talking about.

            3. CTO*

              Yeah, I’m from the Midwest and didn’t realize until right now that some people pronounce “Erin” and “Aaron” differently. I’ve always heard and said them identically.

            4. NoPantsFridays*

              I live in the Midwest now, but didn’t grow up here, and I think people can tell from my accent that I am not “from here”. I pronounce Mary, merry, and marry quite differently (especially merry and marry, which are very different). There is also some kind of difference in words like “about” (the ou sound) and “mile” (the i). I lived in Ontario (Canada) for a decade and when I went back to visit, I could hear an accent in my friends that was invisible to me before! It’s interesting.

            1. Windchime*

              I’m born and raised in the pacific northwest (Washington). Mary, merry, and marry are all pronounced (and sound) the same, as are Erin and Aaron. I’m trying to imagine how one would even pronounce “Erin” and “Aaron” differently!

              I used to know a pair of siblings named “Don” and “Dawn”. It was confusing to me why someone would name two of their kids the same thing, but the family was from New York and they definitely pronounced the names differently. “Dawn” was like “Duwahn”.

                1. Ludo*

                  Sans, I’m trying to “hear” this in my Pacific NW brain. Do you mean that there are people that pronounce Aaron was an “a” that sounds like ahhh (think the Dr saying “Say ahhhh”)?

                  I have literally never heard this in my life! I’m learning new things today.

                2. Rachel*

                  Ludo, I think it’s the “aa” as in “apple”. I have the distinction between the e and a sounds, but where I’m from “Aaron” is just pronounced with the “e” sound! (ie. I pronounce both Erin and Aaron with the “air” vowel, rather than the “apple” vowel.)

              1. MommaTRex*

                I’m also a pacific northwest (Washington) native. “Don” and “Dawn” are the same to me too! It’s been known to get some of us dirty looks for pronouncing “Dawn” as “Don”, but I just can’t make them different. If I try too hard, it just sounds even worse.

              2. bearing*

                That’s the cot-caught merger! It’s my favorite.

                I grew up in a place where they were NOT pronounced identically and have moved to a place where they are both pronounced the way that I would pronounce “cot.” I always think it sounds funny when people around here talk about going to Lah School.

                1. Sasha LeTour*

                  …As best illustrated by the old Mike Meyers SNL skit: “Cawfee Tawk with Linda Richman”!!

                  : )

          3. NoPantsFridays*

            I knew twins named Erin and Aaron back in middle school. I thought it was both cruel and funny…like a good experiment in theory, but very mean when practiced on actual children. I can’t imagine the confusion in that household! Thankfully we were in a place were the dialect/accent had them quite different. Even so, Erin went by just “E” sometimes.

            1. Alter_ego*

              That is mean! Even in my house growing up, my nickname was Er, and my mom’s nickname was Mar (Marilyn), and it can be really hard to distinguish those shortened forms.

            2. Kelly L.*

              I went to high school with twins Tanya and Tonya. I figure they must have meant them to be pronounced TAN-yuh and TON-yuh, but most Tanyas I’ve known have also pronounced it TON-yuh, and I think it was just a bad idea all around.

          4. Erin*

            I can hear the difference between Mary/merry/marry but not replicate it myself. I don’t care how people pronounce the first part of my name, but rarely someone will really emphasize the second syllable as “on” and that does bug me a bit. It’s ErIN and should rhyme with fin, not Ron! Though it really only bothers me when they really stress the second sound.

          5. ella*

            I once had a New York person call me out for my “Colorado accent” because I apparently say Erin and Aaron the same. I was so baffled on multiple levels by that exchange.

        2. Chinook*

          Speaking as someone with the middle name of Dawn who pronounces just like Don (and spent 2 years wiith people who would say “Connolly” and then ask if I was related to Sean Connery), I think anyone who takes offense at middle pronunciation differences (after the person has made an attempt and shows they can’t hear/speak the difference) is a jerk. I like the idea of asking someone straight out if they have a problem with my accent (especially since the question implies they have issue with my heritage), but I like stirring the pot.

      2. Ezri*

        My name has alternate spellings, and it’s funny because the different spellings can actually contain a different number of syllables. Mine uses three, but 90% of people pronounce it like is has two, and it gets misspelled quite a bit. I’ve spent quite a bit of time amusing myself trying to figure out who pronounces my name correctly.

    3. Biff*

      I do too. My name is difficult to pronounce for certain accents. I’m Biff, but I politely respond to Biffers, Biffie, Biss, and Birff. I mean, so long as I know that they are talking to me and doing their best and not deliberately being a jerk, I just can’t see any reason to make a big deal out of it. Likewise, I have a bad time with some of my Eastern European coworkers names and some of the sounds I just can’t make, yet they kindly respond to my best efforts and don’t write me off as a jerk.

  5. Bend & Snap*

    #1–in my current company it’s completely fine to reply all and say “adding bob, ed and Jim as they also hold xyZ roles and should be able to help.” That’s outrageous.

    #3–I think you’d have better luck in a smaller company. My company is large and in it and companies like it, being an assistant is a career of its own.

    1. LBK*

      #1 – Oooh, I like that. A more subtle way to call out the sexism without outright saying “You only sent this to women”. Maybe more appropriate for some office cultures where a blatant call out would not be well-received.

      1. Anonsie*

        “Woops! Looks like you missed Bob, Ed, and Jim on this one.” Since it’s not possible that you left them out on purpose, right? Right?

        1. Dulcinea*

          The OP sAys the email was addressed “dear ladies,” so this was an overt decision on someone’s part. So I think OP has to a address it directly or not at all.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Right, but playing dumb like this is a great way to make Jerky McPiggerson look bad while making the OP loo good. It’s a little hard for him to try to save face by saying OP is oversensitive or he just forgot to include Wakeen. Also, it makes him look bad in front of the dudes he left off the email.

            1. krisl*

              I agree that playing dumb on this and just expecting the guys with similar roles to do similar work sounds like a good way to go.

          2. Chinook*

            “The OP sAys the email was addressed “dear ladies,” so this was an overt decision on someone’s part.”

            While I doubt it was an accident due to the content of this email, I once got an email that started “Gentlemen” despite there being two women in the “to” section and the writier being the next office over. Both of us women poked our heads out of our office to tease him about it. He said it started out being all men in the email and then realized he needed to add us right before he sent it.

          3. Anonsie*

            It means he knew everyone he was addressing were ladies, it doesn’t mean he’s acknowledging that he picked them because of that.

    1. John*

      Nice to hear a voice from home :D

      I am actually from Burscough but parents are from Liverpool and Birkenhead so my accent is a little stronger than most Lancashire’ians.

      1. Chinook*

        Is it wrong to be tickled pink at knowing I was just there, in Hoylake ( but visiting everywhere) with my Aunt (who still has the remnants of her Belfast accent after 60 years)?

        1. John*

          I have to admit I have always avoided the “Lancastrian” term as I thought it referred to people from Lancaster… Every day’s a school-day as they say!

          I’d probably just refer to myself as a “wolly-back” if I thought anyone more than 30 miles from where I live would understand it :D

  6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*


    Promote from within is what we do, almost to fault. I started out as an assistant 27 years ago. Our head of IT started out as a part time cord plugger inner job that he split with working the floor at Best Buy. My art director who supervises 15 artists, all of our marketing and all of our production art, started out doing clipping paths at barely above min wage. Our head of customer care who supervises 30, started out as a 1 day temp as her literal first job out of college. (I’d bore ya’ll with the list of all examples because it is really, really long)

    It’s our culture and it’s pretty easy to explain in an interview when the question is asked, so ask it. I definitely get asked this exact question.

    We’re a smaller company, round-ish 200 employees, and I’m sure our size and the part where we grew from a very tiny company into a smaller company has a lot to do with that. This is one of the reasons that good people rarely leave us.

    * almost to a fault: we struggle with being inclined to and being good at hiring from the outside for positions above entry level. We need to mix it up more and we’re working on this.

    1. AVP*

      I’m earlier in my career than you but in the same position! I started out here as a receptionist eight years ago and now have a mid-level role. I would love to stay here as long as the business holds up – it has its ups and downs but it’s a great job.

      But we do struggle with the same issues. The CEO is very anxious about “outside” people and will often promote someone from within even if they’re not right for the job, just to have a familiar body in place and assuage his nervousness (at the expense of actually getting the job done right, and obviously adding much more anxiety in the long run). We’re working on it, but it’s definitely a long-term change and not going to be solved immediately.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Yup. It’s a different AAM column but yup.

        The institutional skill set to hire entry level-ish positions well, to match to company culture well, to integrate well is entirely different from the institutional skill set to hire higher level positions well + all that jazz.

        I think it’s okay for awhile but there’s a tipping point (aways back down the road for us) where you need to be able to integrate higher level knowledge/past experience from outside the company into your organization smoothly. So, we’re working on it.

    2. KarenT*

      We promote from with in as well. I started as an admin and am now a manager. My manager (a director) started as an intern and worked her way up.

  7. AGH*

    #3, it’s possible, but increasingly rare. I had every intention of “working my way up” at my first full-tine job as an admin at a well-respected publisher. However, to my dismay, I found they rarely promoted from within even though I received glowing reviews and proved to be able to handle more sophisticated projects. Since then, the only way I’ve been able to move up or get any kind of significant raise, I’ve had to switch companies. Exhausting? Yes, but unfortunately it’s a new reality. I know very few ppl that have been able to work their way up at the same company over the years. Loyalty simply isn’t valued any more. I’m not sure why.

    1. jag*

      I don’t mean to just jump on you, but how do you know it is “increasingly rare”?
      Did you see it or were more aware of it in the past?

      1. Mike C.*

        This is pretty common knowledge, especially when many of the functions requiring less experience are outsourced, thus locking those folks out from the opportunity of being promoted up in the first place.

        1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Growing up inside the company/industry is the norm in my industry but teapots are just weird. It’s a weird pocket.

          True story: last week I’m talking to a supplier friend of mine about changes in her company and some issues we were having. She says well, we’re getting customer service back in shape. We just hired somebody new as head and (pause, voice lowered), she’s from outside the industry so it’s taking awhile.

          Really, I say, outside the industry! (shocked)

          Teapots are weird. But if you want a career progression for life, go into teapots.

          *friend started out as the receptionist at 19 and has been VP of Sales for a good chunk of her 25 years with the company.

        2. jag*

          Lots of people say things are common knowledge. So, to be explicit, have you (or particularly AGH) seen this more in the past than now?

          1. Judy*

            I can certainly say that based on where I’ve worked, there’s a cohort of people in their 50s or 60s that started on the line, moved into maintenance, moved to a lab to do testing and maybe even ended up in a designer job or even an engineer job. I’m pretty sure the lab tech jobs these days requires a bachelors in Engineering Technology.

    2. themmases*

      This was my experience being in a supportive role in medicine. I coordinated research and had a lot of friends who were various levels of admin assistant, and it seemed like people simply couldn’t wrap their minds around us going above and beyond: if we did it, it must have been assistant work even if we took it over from a doctor or tech who was struggling. Some people might want to promote you, but there would always be a doctor, middle manger, or HR person who didn’t value the role enough to reward anyone holding it. Particularly if the industry is hierarchical or formal, I would counsel the OP to assume they won’t be able to move out of support without changing companies.

      The two things that really helped me stay happy in my role and eventually move on were owning some processes I enjoyed and having a few good relationships. Early in my job I found a software tool my hospital was offering that no one in my department knew about, and from then on anyone who wanted to use it would come to me. Anyone could have learned it, but people identified me really strongly with this software so I got to spend a lot of time using it above the level of responsibility I would have had otherwise and I know people can confirm that when I need a reference. Support people can also develop really close working relationships with individual department members, and over time your work can evolve so you end up spending a lot of time with them. Even if they don’t have the power to promote you in your current job, they make good mentors, friends, and references as well as good people to actually spend the work day with.

    3. Another comment on the situation*

      I work in a library and it is pretty common to have someone work as a student assistant/part timer/secretary/office manager while getting their masters in library science and then move up in the ranks. There are a lot of applicants who try to get a job in our library system who have their MLIS and no library work experience who just cannot compete with people who already know our system, our people, etc. and also have a fresh degree to boot. We do try to hire from outside the system for fresh blood and new ideas for the higher up positions but the entry level positions are usually given to people we know.

  8. eemmzz*

    #2 – Honestly I’m not sure why this is so big of a deal to your coworker as it isn’t even his name you’re mispronouncing!

    Most coworkers in the same role as me are contractors from India and they have some pretty thick accents, which does result in my name almost always being pronounced incorrectly (pronouncing “Emma” as “Eee-mah”) and I’ve never even bothered correcting them as I don’t mind it.

    I’d be almost tempted to go to Lorcan himself and ask “Hey, I know I am always pronouncing your name slightly wrong, I’m sorry about that. Does it bother you?” and see what he says. I may have mis read the article (not put my glasses on yet) but it sounds like you aren’t aware of Lorcan’s view on this

    1. Jennifer M.*

      I second the idea of finding out how Lorcan actually feels about the situation. If you get a clear “no worries” from him, it might make it easier to let your other colleague’s criticism role off your back. Unless he is specifically trying to smooth over offense that Lorcan is actually feeling, it seems a bit lacking in class to publicly draw attention to a mistake that someone else is making.

      As an American living in an Arab country, there are just certain sounds that I have difficulty making. I have one guy who says that I do pronounce his name correctly and he really appreciates it because most Americans pronounce it wrong so I at least count that as a win. But there is another guy whose name I pronounce like most Americans do. When he says it to me, I can mimic it back correctly , but when I have to say it spontaneously – “when is X going to be back from that meeting” for example – I can’t get that sound in the back of my throat (according to my colleagues, when I parrot stuff back to them, my accent is actually pretty darn good, unfortunately when I’m in the wild, it’s all American, all the time).

    2. John*

      Thankyou for the advice eemmzz.

      I think you are right. I will ask Lorcan if my pronunciation is bothering him.

      If he says “Yes” I will apologize but explain that it is not an intentional slur and ask him to bear with me while I try to refine my accent.

      If he says “No” I will tell my other colleague that the matter is between me and Lorcan and ask him never to mention it again.

      1. Monodon monoceros*

        I think this is a good approach. I’m working overseas and I know I butcher a lot of my colleagues names. When it is appropriate, I usually just say something like “I’m sorry I’m butchering your name, I’m working on my Å, Ø and Æ and other Norwegian pronunciation!” I haven’t had anyone really seem too concerned. Mostly I think they think it’s funny to watch the American try to pronounce their name (the IT guy Yngve certainly is entertained by my attempts at his name).

        And sometimes they butcher my name too. I think normal people don’t have a problem with it as long as you point out that you know you aren’t saying it quite right, and you are trying.

        1. eemmzz*

          I’m not even sure how I would try and pronounce “Yngve”. I’d probably try and say “Yurgve” or “Youngve” which I bet is nowhere near.

          I agree with the idea that the person in question knowing that you understand you’re pronouncing it wrong and that you’re trying is important. I think that recognition of the issue (if it even is one) will help.

            1. Monodon monoceros*

              My closest approximation has been sort of like “Ung-vay” but the first syllable seems to be more like a cross between Ung and Ing, a sound that I can’t even come up with an American English word to describe.

              And that probably isn’t even correct!

              1. teclatwig*

                When I lived in Sweden, I dearly wanted to ask someone to let me out my hands on their throat and/or look inside their mouth as they pronounced some of those vowel sounds, in particular. I have a great ear and am a good mimic, but some sounds just stumped me.

                1. Monodon monoceros*

                  Yes! It’s maddening sometimes. They say the word, I repeat the word, they say the word again, I repeat it, ad nauseum. I am obviously saying things incorrectly, but I feel like I am doing whatever I can to say it correctly and my larynx/throat/tongue just will not cooperate!

                  I’ve always been good at mimicking accents and people, but apparently not Scandinavian.

                  But as tough as Norwegian is proving to be, I’m glad I didn’t move to Denmark…Danish? Yikes.

                2. Jillociraptor*

                  This was honestly my favorite part of taking voice lessons: singing the same vowel over and over and over again to perfect the resonance. It’s amazing how much control you can have over all the weird different parts of the vocal instrument and how much of a difference a tiny change can make in the sound!

                3. manybellsdown*

                  I was a linguistics major, and one of my classmates was a woman from Mexico named “Xhiwin”. I still can’t say it properly. I can’t even wrap my brain or my tongue around it, no matter how many times she’s told me how it’s pronounced. Fortunately, she goes by “Juana” since she says pretty much everyone who doesn’t speak her original dialect can’t say it right.

                4. Another comment on the situation*

                  One of my best days at work -ever- was when a student from Singapore had me listen and correct him for about fifteen minutes straight while he tried to pronounce the words “Thank you” to me. He would ask me to help him with a different phrase each week and that weeks phrase came at just the right time. Not a lot of people thank a librarian after they have helped them and it was such a joyful moment for me. I actually teared up a bit when he got it as much right as his accent would allow him to do.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Yes, I’ve never had anyone get mad at me for mispronouncing a name or place in the UK or here when I was speaking to them about it. They just correct me, sometimes we laugh about it, and I say, “Oh, thank you,” and we move on. Like I said above, people mess up my name all the time, and it’s actually quite easy to pronounce–just like it’s spelled!

        3. Iain Clarke*

          I instantly thought “Ing-vee”, as in Malmsteen!

          Then I remembered I lived in the next door viking land, and know better. The Sv Y sound is tough. Somewhere between Ooo and Uh to my ear. The ve bit is easier, Like “vuh”, but chopped off a bit.

          So, Ou-ng-veh.

          And that’s without switching from SV to NO accents!

          I still have trouble with a couple I know – Mickaela and Mikael – or Micka and Micke for short. Bad romance planning!

    3. Anonanom*

      Approximately 20% of people say my name correctly upon seeing it, and that percentage drops significantly among native american english speakers. It doesn’t bother me, most of the time unless I know I’m going to have further interactions with you I don’t even bother to correct it. My friends and close colleagues on the other hand? I dare you to say my name wrong around them. They get so much more upset than I do! No matter how many times I explain that I’ve dealt with this my entire life, it really doesn’t bother me.

      Now, if you want to argue with me and tell me I’m spelling my own name wrong, then we have a problem :)

    4. Elkay*

      I was coming on to say something similar, my name gets butchered all the time, sometimes I even get referred to by my last name which is male, I’m female. I know they’re talking to me.

      I bet there’s no way in hell he’d be correcting an Indian contractor, or someone who wasn’t from the UK.

    5. CTO*

      My name has a few different pronunciations, but they’re subtle enough (different inflections on the O, basically) that I didn’t even notice until college that there were differences. I really, truly don’t care which pronunciation people use. I kind of like the variety–it almost feels like a nickname because people pronounce it their unique way.

      That said, I’ve realized that some people get really self-conscious about using my name because they’re concerned about mispronouncing it. I always have to reassure them that I couldn’t care less.

  9. Sawcebox*


    Everyone’s brain is wired differently, so this may or may not work for you, but could you try to imagine Lorcan’s name spelt differently so that the resulting Scouse pronunciation would be closer to his real name? Like maybe imagine it’s spelt “Laurcan” or “Lohrcan” or something (not familiar enough with Scouse to say which spelling would work). Then get used to saying it that way, imagining your version of the spelling every time.

    Some people’s brains tie spelling and pronunciation so closely that, even if they know the correct pronunciation and can pronounce the word if they think about it carefully or repeat after another person, they automatically go back to their own “wrong” pronunciation when they speak naturally. I’m an EFL teacher and some students simply cannot pronounce words like “vegetable” or “comfortable” unless I tell them to imagine them spelt “vegtable” or “comftable”.

    1. Sawcebox*

      How did my picture show up there? I only filled in the email field! I’m sorry, Alison, I don’t comment much on blogs and I didn’t know that would happen — I’m really not comfortable with my real face being there. Could you please delete my comments? (Or just the picture if you have that power?) Or could someone give me a clue why that showed up? Thanks and sorry for the trouble!

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        You have a gravtar tied to your email address. (google “gravatar” if you’re not sure what I mean by that). At some point you signed up for one.

        Alison’s probably not going to be around for some hours. What you can do is upload anything else on the gravatar site, even just a blank white space, and choose that as your main image.

        Then wait five minutes before you panic. Then clear your cache with a good control f5 and your picture should disappear here .

        Wait five minutes :) It takes awhile to change over.

        1. Sawcebox*

          Done! Thanks Wakeen, I knew one of the clever commentors on this blog would be able to help. Alison, I take back my request for deletion.

        2. Jean*

          Wakeen’s Teapots Ltd:
          I don’t have a gravator, but if I did, and if I changed it (as per your advice above) so that it looked different on AAM…and then I changed it back to the original image at a later date, on another site (say, Ask A Cookie Baker)…would my original image suddenly appear next to my AAM comments?
          I’m asking because back in the day when my Gmail account was in my real name I was horrified to find _my real name_ appear when I commented on a blog. (I rectified this immediately by renaming the Gmail account with an alias. Now the alias is inconvenient but if I re-rename the gmail account…will my name show up in the comment? It wasn’t anything super-embarassing, just a site about housekeeping, but I’m very selective about sharing my name online.) Thanks in advance.
          P.S. Feel free to tell me to go Google-search this. :-)

          Alison: I won’t object if you ask me to take this to the Friday or the Sunday forum.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If you put your email in the comment box, it will associate your comment with your Gravatar (the account that you set up at for having a picture display with your comments on sites that use the software).

        I’ve removed your email address from both comments, so it’s removed the Gravatar from each.

        1. Elkay*

          As a side note it’s nice you don’t force commenters to use their email address. I tried to comment on another site and was annoyed to find an email address was mandatory so my avatar showed up.

          1. Kyrielle*

            Gmail is handy for this! If your gmail address is “x” then “x+y” will also reach you, because of the +. This is handy for filtering. What’s also handy is that gravatar perceives them as separate.

            So you can be “” for comments where you want the gravatar and “” for comments where you don’t. (I’ve never tried to set a gravatar for an email with a + in it; I don’t know if their system can do that. Maybe you could have “x+flower” and “x+teapot” and so on. Hee.)

            And I believe you’ll still get notifications if you ticked the box to get follow-up comments. (Unless the site doesn’t like the +, as some don’t. I’ve never tried to get follow-up comments when ducking my head, as it were.)

        2. Sawcebox*

          Much appreciated Alison! I hadn’t realised how gravatars work and originally the picture was of my face, which was why I was a little alarmed/surprised. I managed to change it thanks to Wakeen.

      1. Sawcebox*

        Good luck John! I should add that, like a lot of the other people commenting here, I think your other colleague (not Lorcan, the other guy) is being a bit of a dick. My name is pronounced in a way that sounds “wrong” to me in the country in which I now live. It’s purely an accent issue and I don’t let it bother me. (With the exception of the time a boss corrected me on the pronunciation of my own name. But that’s another story.) If, like your colleague, someone else took it upon themselves to correct people’s pronunciation of my name, especially in such a dickish way, I wouldn’t appreciate the “help”.

  10. John*

    Thanks for posting my question Alison.

    It has been extremely helpful so far and I look forward to any further advice you or your readers feel appropriate.

    I now have a clear path forward so I will let you know how I get on.



    1. John*

      The good news is I have now spoken to Lorcan and he does not have an issue with how I pronounce his name – he said he hadn’t actually noticed!

      My other colleague is away on business at the moment but on his return I will have a private meeting with him.
      First, I will tell him that I have spoken to Lorcan and he has no problem with my pronunciation of his name.
      Next I will explain the discomfort I felt at having him point out my error in public especially when he is my superior who I have always respected and looked up to.
      Finally I will respectfully ask him to keep his opinion to himself in future regarding the matter.

      How does this sound everyone?
      If he does not heed this advice my next step would be to make a formal complaint to my line manager but I am hoping it does not come to that. Should I warn him that that would be my next course of action or would that be confrontational?

      1. misspiggy*

        No, don’t do that last bit. Also, maybe wait until it comes up again and then address it firmly but informally, rather than scheduling a meeting. If he is trying to jerk you around there’s no point in letting him know he’s got to you.

        1. John*

          Okay, thanks Miss Piggy,
          last bit scrubbed…

          As to the private meeting, I thought that was preferable to the group environment. I was not going to schedule a formal meeting, more just tap him on the shoulder and ask for a word in one of the offices…
          Until now he always criticizes me during a specific meeting so the idea of the private meeting (with just the two of us) was to ensure he was aware of the situation and hopefully prevent the the confrontation at the next meeting.

          1. Kerry*

            If it were me, I’d wait for it to happen again in the meeting before responding. That way you can address it right away – “Thanks, I’ve spoken to Lorcan about it and he says he doesn’t mind. Anyway, about our teapot production goals this quarter…” – and in front of other people so it’s clear your colleague is being the unreasonable one, not you.

            1. Helka*

              Agreed, this is what I’d do. Scheduling a meeting about it seems like it might be overkill or come across as more confrontational than the issue really deserves.

            2. Jazzy Red*


              He’s deliberately trying to embarrass you in front of other people, therefore he deserves no special consideration and should be corrected himself in front of the whole group. Making it a small part of your comment, and immediately getting on with business is the nice way to do it.

            3. Headachey*

              You know, in this kind of situation I’d be really inclined to try a Carolyn Hax/Captain Awkward combo approach: deadpan, non-emotional response + turning the discomfort/awkwardness back on the person who’s causing it. Jon refers to Lorcan, pronouncing it Lurcan, colleague pissily points out – in a meeting! – that’s it’s pronounced Lohrcan, and respond, “Yes, that’s what I said.” And leave it there.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I really like this approach. It puts the jerk co-worker in the position of either shutting up or saying “No you didn’t!” which will just make him look (more) like an idiot in front of everyone.

          2. anon attorney*

            I wonder if your colleague is embarrassed by your attempt at pronunciation/your accent in general and feels he has to compensate or excuse it? Quite unnecessary but some insecure people do feel that things like this reflect badly on them and have to be corrected. If so, I imagine pointing out that Lorcan himself doesn’t care should sort it. I’d just do it in the meeting next time it happens. Not only does that make it less of a big deal than having a separate discussion, it’s a cue for Lorcan himself to pipe up and reinforce the message.

          3. JB*

            I agree with the others about not scheduling a meeting, but I’m not sure I agree with them about saying something in the middle of a meeting. If he’s the type of person who would find it embarrassing to be publicly called out on something, if he’s the type of person who cares a lot about losing face, that wouldn’t necessarily go over well. And it might be better to mention it in passing if you saw him in the hall or something rather than right in the moment, when he’s presumably annoyed and therefore less likely to hear what you say without getting angry.

            But if he’s not like that, then I totally agree with the others that mentioning it in passing and then quickly changing the subject is a good way to handle it. Something along the lines of what Kerry suggested. That way you address it but don’t dwell on it. Either way, I think the key is to avoid making it into a huge deal where he might feel like he needs to take a stand, or where you’ve embarrassed him. You know, like he does to you. :)

            [And I agree with the others that he kinda sounds like a jerk]

            1. Meg Murry*

              Instead of scheduling a separate meeting, can you just bring it up before your next meeting with Lorcan? Say something to the boss like “I’m working on pronouncing Lorcan’s name correctly and I’ve apologized to him for mispronouncing it – will you please not bring it up or correct me about it in the middle of the meeting today, and I’ll promise to keep working on it?”

              1. Natalie*

                “will you please not bring it up or correct me about it in the middle of the meeting today, and I’ll promise to keep working on it?”

                This seems overly obsequious to me, particularly consider OP is addressing a colleague, not their superior. A simple “please stop bringing it up” should suffice.

                1. ella*

                  I sort of feel like that OP doesn’t have to keep working on it. Lorcan has said he doesn’t mind, and besides, the OP is pronouncing it correctly within the bounds of his accent. There’s a difference between accented and incorrect.

            2. Natalie*

              “If he’s the type of person who would find it embarrassing to be publicly called out on something, if he’s the type of person who cares a lot about losing face, that wouldn’t necessarily go over well.”

              This would, of course, be exceptionally hypocritical of him.

              1. JB*

                Yes, it would! But doesn’t mean it isn’t the case, as we all know. John doesn’t have an obligation to show his colleague that kind of consideration, but it might be more productive for him to do so.

            3. Colette*

              I’d wait until he does it again and then pull him aside after the meeting.

              And then after that, I wouldn’t respond when he brings it up in a meeting – just a blank look and back to whatever I was saying.

              1. Sans*

                I think Kerry’s idea is perfect – just an offhand “Yes, I’ve spoken to Lorcan and he doesn’t mind” and then go on with what you were talking about. Don’t make it a big deal by scheduling a meeting or pulling him aside, just treat it like the small, inconsequential thing it is. Just because he is trying to make it a big deal, doesn’t mean you have to buy into his viewpoint. It’s trivial. Treat it as such.

                1. Colette*

                  I’m firmly of the belief that things of this nature (i.e. correcting someone else) should happen in private, not in public. It’s actually not part of whatever the meeting is about, and it wouldn’t be appropriate to bring it up in the meeting, even though the coworker is the one starting the off-topic conversation.

            4. Pennalynn Lott*

              I see nothing wrong with the following scenario:

              John: “Blah, blah, Lurcan. . .”
              Jerk: “It’s pronounced LORcan.”
              John: “Yep. I talked to Lurcan about it and he said I’m pronouncing his name correctly as far as his ears are concerned.”

      2. Aunt Vixen*

        Your colleague the dialect policeman is a jerk. I imagine Lorcan himself pronounces the ‘r’ in his name–that is, most Irish dialects are, like most North American dialects, rhotic=post-vocalic ‘r’s are pronounced just about the same as word-initial ones. This is also true of a small number of English accents; I’m rusty on the distribution, but my sense is that the further away from London/the Southeast/in general, think about “prestige” you go, the rrr-ier you get? In any event, suppose someone who went to public school and has a posh plummy accent said “Lawwwwwcan”; would your in-defense-of-Lorcan colleague say “it’s actually pronounced “Lorrrcan”? I doubt it.

        As an American, I don’t pronounce “Donna” and “doner” the same. I don’t actually have the same vowel, either, but I pronounce the ‘r’ in the second word and I am not going to order a “Donna kebab” at a chip van. Anyone who insisted that I should would be wrong.

        None of this is advice-y, but urgh, correcting people who aren’t mistaken is so annoying to me I can’t actually really stand it. The situation here is that your realization of the vowel sounds different than your colleague’s realization of the same vowel–not, repeat, not that you are calling someone by a name that does not belong to him. In slightly-adapted-from-Linguistics-101 terminology, /Lorcan/ is realized in your dialect as [Lurcan]. (Possibly as something like [Lucan] depending on rhoticity, see above.) It’s not like you’re calling him Alfred.

        All that said, the suggestion to think of his name as being “L*can” where * is a vowel that sounds like “o” to you isn’t a bad one, if you and he think that would be helpful. I wouldn’t bother with this if the only person who’s bugged by the issue is this guy whose business it is none of, though.

        1. JB*

          Right? And +1 for linguistics terminology.

          I have a coworker who has an unusual name for this part of the country, and he doesn’t mind at all if people pronounce it differently based on just a different way of pronouncing sounds. What does annoy him is people who have worked with him for years but can’t seem to bother figuring out how it’s supposed to be pronounced. Like if his name were “Johann” (it’s not), but people say “joe” instead of “yo” and add an s, so that they say “Joehanns.” That is creating a whole new name. And it’s always people higher up the food chain who basically don’t *have* to get it right because there are no consequences if they don’t. It sends a message that they can’t bother to try. But if people try and just can’t pronounce it right? He doesn’t care at all.

          My name is super common, so nobody who is a native to my country would ever mispronounce it. But it involves sounds that are hard for people from some other places to pronounce, particularly people who speak the language I’m studying. So they mispronounce my name all the time. It never ever bothers me. They are doing the best they can. And even people from this country might pronounce it slightly differently than I do (it involves the pin/pen difference in sound), but so what? That’s just how they pronounce that sound.

          1. neverjaunty*

            So much this. Mispronouncing a name is very different than having an accent. It’s disrespectful because it’s saying in effect “I don’t care to put in the minimal effort to get your name right.”

            OP’s coworker is a jerk because he’s pretending that OP is being careless when it’s obvious OP has an accent. And yes, it sure does seem like it’s the coworker having an issue about where OP is from.

    2. ArtsNerd*

      Gah! Conflating accents with mispronunciation is a HUGE pet peeve of mine. I had to sit through an entire conversation where my American cousin (Tim) explained to me that he called his French girlfriend A DIFFERENT NAME simply because he couldn’t “correctly” pronounce her actual name with a native French accent! No duh, of course you can’t – but you can say the right name with your own accent. She then said “It’s okay, I can’t even say ‘Tim’ correctly. Teem, Teem, Teem, see?”

      I’m getting frustrated just remembering it all again.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        I did know a young woman who generally asked English speakers to call her by an alternative name because they were generally not able to pronounce her name exactly as she did in her native language–and the most common English-language mispronunciation sounded like an unpleasant word in her language. In that case, calling her by another name was the polite thing to do. (But she got to choose it, obviously. It wasn’t like we all got to pick whatever name we wanted to call her. :-P)

        1. ArtsNerd*

          Yeah, that’s pretty common and totally fine! Many Korean students in my grad school have American names they go by for English speakers’ sake.

          This was the equivalent of him declaring, “I have trouble pronouncing ‘Héloïse’ EXACTLY the way you do, so I’m going to call you Ellen instead.” Instead of just calling her “Eloise” the way Americans usually say it.

  11. Monodon monoceros*

    #4 This may not apply to this particular situation, but one exception to Alison’s advice here would be academia. I think it’s pretty normal for spouses to be considered more like a package deal. It’s also fairly common (as far as I know) for Universities to create positions for a spouse if they want the other one bad enough.

    1. Shanna*

      Thank you, I was going to post this. In academia this is absolutely appropriate (particularly if you are a tenured or tenure-track professor). Good hiring committees will even proactively ask about a trailing spouse, since these jobs typically require a major relocation and they understand that applicants have families.
      I do agree that #4 may be bringing it up prematurely, but particularly since the recruiter knows that the job requires them too relocate, name dropping the spouse during the interview process seems appropriate to me. Depending on the industry, and the personal situation, waiting until the offer stage might either be okay or too late.

      1. Judy*

        There certainly is a point in the process when it can be appropriate. A friend is a recruiter locally, and one of her company’s tasks is finding jobs for trailing spouses for local companies. I’ll get informal calls to see if we could use someone with X skills, and if we can, I get an email with “Free no cost referral from X recruiter” with a resume, since the spouse’s company is paying the recruiter for their effort. I am pretty sure that this process happens after the spouse has accepted the job (or transfer) or the relocation has happened.

    2. OP 4*

      Thank you, I saw the comment up top, not academia but shares some similarities in that relocation is expected and intended to be a long-term career. They do have job search assistance for trailing spouses too so that’s probably another good reason to bring it up at the offer stage at least, to help get that ball rolling

  12. Prague*

    I have a coworker with a heavy accent who can’t always pronounce names. He gave up and addresses people as Mr or Ms first-initial-of-last-name (first name basis organization) in those cases. No one takes it as a respect issue (undue elevation) once they’ve heard him try.

  13. Prague*

    To clarify, the coworker only does that in certain cases. And he’s from the American south, where it’s common to do that.

  14. GrumpyBoss*

    I’ve seen a variation of #1 when it comes to capturing minutes at a meeting. Apparently, ovaries make you more suited for this menial task *eye roll*

    I never got up the nerve to call them out on it, but I did flat out refuse the request. Hope OP has more gumption than I did.

    1. straws*

      I never get asked this anymore, because it always went like this:

      Them: “straws, can you take down the minutes?”
      Me: “my handwriting is pretty bad…”
      Them: “oh it’s can’t be that bad!” (strong vocal-tone implication of women having neat handwriting…)
      Me: “if you say so!”

      They would then have completely useless notes that even I can barely decipher.

        1. the gold digger*

          Which is why my typing speed has never been on my resume.

          And which is why women are advised not to take a pen and a notebook to a meeting.

          “Can you take the minutes?”

          “Nope. No paper. No pen.”

        2. Raptor*

          Take all notes in either elvish or Klingon. You will earn your nerd certificate and they will never ask for notes again.

          1. LBK*

            In college my notes were usually a mashup of English, French, textspeak and my own shorthand, and ergo completely useless to anyone else.

            1. Finny*

              Mine were written in HTML, which I’d then spend the evening turning into pretty webpages. I was a creative writing major.

          2. Pennalynn Lott*

            After catching my older brother reading my diary one too many times, I invented my own code for the English alphabet when I was 10 or 11. I still use it today. And I’ve used it when taking notes in meetings, just so that anyone who sees it will know not to ask me to take notes for the group (in an environment where it seemed that only women were being asked to take notes).

        3. themmases*

          I trained my replacement with the Shel Silverstein poem, “If you have to dry the dishes/And you drop one on the floor/Maybe they won’t let you/Dry the dishes anymore”.

          1. Chinook*

            “Along with “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” — The Joker”

            We are always in need of someone to fill the Secretary position at my women’s group to take minutes (as per Robert’s Rules) . When the President heard that I took minutes for a meeting I was attending for work, her eyebrows shot up in expectation. I just smiled at her and said, “my going rate is $40/hr.” Strangely, no one has asked me to take minutes after that.

            1. Elizabeth West*

              Ha ha ha, I always say something similar!

              Me: “I just cleaned my house.”
              Person: “Come clean mine!”
              Me: “I get $100 an hour and refrigerator privileges.”
              Person: :\

      1. Jazzy Red*

        I have arthritis in my hands and fingers, so all I ever had to do was say, “sorry, I can’t hold a pen today”. (It’s a big PIA, and the reason I can’t make Rice Krispie Treats anymore.)

      2. Traveler*

        I legitimately have terrible handwriting. I would laugh if I was made to do this and then they couldn’t read my notes.

    2. Kathryn*

      I pretty much only take minutes as a hostile act – when I can’t trust the other people there to stick to what they say in the meeting, I take and publish notes. Otherwise, I take my own personal notes for what I’ve committed to (“email teapot report to Wakeen”) and expect my colleagues to handle their business.

      There are other times for shared notes, but usually for those I open a shared note taking space and make it clear that everyone should take notes on what they see as important to document for the meeting.

  15. Kelly O*

    What I’ll add about #3 is that it’s really difficult when you do administrative support and you have to compete against people who are just using the role to get a foot in the door. I’ve been in interviews having to answer questions about why they should hire me, with fifteen years of administrative support experience, versus a 25 year old just out of college with the Bachelor’s degree I didn’t get, because they’re trying to get their foot in the door with the company. (I do have an Associate’s in Business Administration, in addition to those years of experience.)

    It’s just frustrating to have to explain that I’m not necessarily looking to move over to the sales department, or be a teapot handle specialist, or whatever.

    And to be clear, companies are different in how they handle this. I’m just presenting an alternate viewpoint on the issue. It’s tough being a mid-level admin these days.

      1. some1*

        Typically an executive assistant is higher level, but it all depends on the company. I’ve had administrative assistant positions where I was doing Office Manager level tasks, and I have interviewed for executive assistant positions at extremely small companies where I would have been doing entry level receptionist tasks (answering phones, sorting incoming mail).

        1. jag*

          My question was really to Kelly, who seems to be talking about administrative assistants whereas the OP was talking about executive assistants. Certainly there is some overlap, but as far as I know they are often different (as you suggest), and would presume the possibility for changing to a different role is also different.

          1. AndersonDarling*

            Executive assistants generally report to an executive and work with more sensitive information. I see these roles merging with personal assistant roles (pick up dry cleaning, sending Christmas cards). An administrative assistant may report to an entire department or a manager.

      2. Kelly O*

        It’s all related to the company and how they do titles. Some executives have people who support them with an administrative assistant title. It’s been my experience that an executive assistant has spent time as an administrative assistant and worked up into that, but that’s just my experience, albeit across several types of companies.

        I personally would be bummed to know I lost an executive assistant position to someone who wanted to use that as a stepping stone to another job, when I might want to make that part of my career assistant track.

        Again, it’s just my experience and observation through the course of my administrative career. Individual situations will certainly vary, but executive admin/admin really depends on the company, how they define job titles, and how they view the position. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am actively looking for administrative/executive assistant roles right now, although I have never worked in NYC or LA.

        1. CA Admin*

          I work in San Francisco and most companies I’ve come across would never hire an Executive Assistant straight out of college–you need at least 5 years of experience to be considered competitive and even that’s on the low side. They might hire someone with no experience for Receptionist-type roles, but they definitely wouldn’t for anything higher level.

          It’s considered a professional track here, so there isn’t a whole lot of hiring someone to be an admin, then promoting them to a different track. Also every admin I’ve met here has at least a B.A. or a B.S.–I know more than a few with their Master’s degrees. Cities that are big financial and tech centers tend to see administrative staff in a different light, I think. It’s a lot more competitive, at least in my experience.

  16. BRR*

    #1 If there’s no one you can talk to to lobby for it I think this one of the times it’s ok to go to HR. I would probably not reply all. Although I would give you a round of applause if you replied all and added all the men. I’m living in fantasy world today.

    #3 As Alison said it’s very organization dependent. At my last job all of the admins were young and called associates (myself included). At my new job they tend to be older and have been in those positions awhile. Part of the problem at my new job is there really isn’t a step between admin and things a lot higher up. If they wanted a higher up position they would have to leave to get the experience and then come back .There are a couple positions but those jobs tend to have few openings.

  17. Cheesecake*

    Sorry to disappoint, but i have never heard a success story. My friend desperately wanted to be in a particular company and got a PA job. He had his masters degree in economics but not a lot of work experience. So he thought he could work his way up. Now, when he was accepted as a PA, departmental heads were changing and they didn’t really interview him. And once he got a new boss, he fired my friend because “he needed a PA, not a graduate who wants to become a CEO”.
    So in big companies you can be head of PA or do admin work of different complexity. But chances you move to project mgmt or technical field while starting as a PA are minimal.

    1. jag*

      “Sorry to disappoint, but i have never heard a success story.”


      We can argue over how common it is, but “never” is pretty extreme and probably reflects as much on your own experiences/relationships as much as reality. Or are you just extrapolating from your friend’s experience?

      I went from “program assistant” in a nonprofit organization (roughly analogous to executive assistant – helping the head of the department) to director of communications in the same organization. Took some time. I can’t say how common or easy this sort of move is. It’s obviously not impossible.

      1. Cheesecake*

        I worked and am still working in corporations. I am currently dealing with big HR transformation project. We actually had a comment from assistants that their job seems like a “dead end job”. Unfortunately it is true: it is a very well paid pigeonhole job. Plan is to involve them in more activities, but none of them are specialistic OP was referring to.

        I am happy you had such a positive experience. I am not surprised it happened in a non profit. And i didn’t say “this never happens”, i said “I have never heard a success story”. I heard a couple, none to cheer OP up. Again, I, me, personally. Speaking from my experience (see above). Not sure why it seems so drastic for you.

        1. AVP*

          Yeah, I think it’s much easier at smaller companies. Corporations seem to be structured so that certain jobs are dead ends, or they get into the mindset of “well we’ve never had an admin who became a designer before so why would we now?” At small companies you have more interaction with the decision-makers, so if they see that you’re talented you might have a shot with them.

          It does seem pretty extreme to have never seen it work out well (look at the examples in the comments above, there are plenty of successes), but I can see how you would get there if you’ve only worked for that type of company and never a smaller one.

          1. Cheesecake*

            I am not sure it is also “cultural”. I work in Europe. In a country where even a PA needs a PA certificate that one really studies to get, not just a paper. So yes, this plus “we never had an admin who became a designer” thing. People jump from this job to that job to another job, but that is for professionals, not for admins.

        2. jag*

          “this never happens”, i said “I have never heard a success story”.


          AVP says it better than I could in her/his second paragraph below.

      2. AdAgencyChick*

        Agree, there are companies that don’t want to deal with replacing admins once a year when they get promoted into another role, and there are companies that are perfectly okay with the admin position being a jumping-off point. I don’t have any data on this, but my theory is that companies that pay admins at the high end of market rate are looking for ones that will stay, whereas those who pay less recognize that although they save on salaries, they will get more recent grads (or, in NYC, people who are trying to make it as actors) who need more training and eventually want to move on to a different career track.

        My company is one of the latter type — I have plenty of colleagues who started out as admins and moved into another department. I’ve also heard that there’s a salary cap on admin positions so it doesn’t surprise me that people tend to move in and out of those positions after about a year to a year and a half.

      3. Miss Betty*

        I’ve never heard a success story either (except on line). When I read about people who graduate from college and accept admin jobs to get their feet in the door, I want to scream “No! Run! Don’t do it!” When I read about people who successfully pull this off, I always wonder where they live and work because I’m pretty sure it’s not around here. This is true in ever field in which I’ve worked. I think in every law firm where I’ve worked, someone’s gone on to earn their paralegal certificate or degree (it varies from program to program) and ended up having to leave the firm because the current firm refused to promote them from secretary to paralegal, even when something opened up.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Well, here’s a success story – me. I started as a receptionist, was promoted to EA, then was promoted into a management role. All within 3 years. Another job, was a dept. admin and was promoted to a production management job after one year. The other admin in that dept. was promoted to become a photo editor (very tough job to get). I’ve seen it time and time again, so OP, please take heart that it’s definitely possible.

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I eventually made it out of an admin asst role, but it took 4 admin jobs at 4 companies to find one that really would promote. And the companies I worked for before all said that they promote from within, but it really wasn’t true for admins. Yeah, an Assistant Teapot Maker may be promoted into a Manager Teapot Maker, but that was it. They really had low opinions of administrative roles.
        It really, really depends on the culture. (And if your coworkers are willing to have their “grunt monkey” promoted into a colleague.) So it really isn’t about what HR says when you are interviewing, it is more about how support staff is viewed. Some places treat secretaries and admins like garbage… I know, I’ve been there.

      2. abby*

        Another success story here. Started out as a department admin at a small non-profit. After two years with the organization, became a department manager – moved up multiple steps and changed departments all at once.

        My situation may be a little unusual, however, as my career prior to joining this organization included many years of management experience. I was able to draw on this experience to be awesome as an assistant and more and to show how I could do the department manager job. (My line of work vanished in 2011 and I had to find something new. Took a gamble with the non-profit and so far it’s working out.)

      3. Pennalynn Lott*

        I made it out of admin roles, but I had to switch companies. I was an admin for a tech consulting firm in San Francisco, then an EA to the president of a software company in Dallas. I used my proximity to tech resources to learn all I could about IT*, then parlayed that into an entry-level UNIX support position at a third company (which eventually led to a career in B2B software sales). The first two companies definitely saw admins as an end unto themselves, even though they certainly recognized that I had gained skills far outside the traditional admin role (which were also skills they needed, but they just couldn’t wrap their heads around an *admin* doing those things).

        * I did things like pester the on-call networking guy at Job One about what he was doing when he was “fixing the network”. He eventually said, “What? Do you want my Novell manuals???” Heck, yes, I do. So I made my way through a huge stack of tech manuals and started “fixing the network” on my own. Ditto with Job Two and UNIX sys admin stuff.

    3. Graciosa*

      My employer is not exactly small (Fortune 100) and it happens here as I noted above.

      I think the determining factor is not size, but culture.

    4. Molly*

      This seems like an appropriate place to add a success story! Actually, two success stories…

      I was hired as an administrative assistant and promoted to account coordinator, then account executive, at a fairly small communications/consulting firm. It took 3 years to get the first promotion, but the second two happened pretty close together.

      At the job after that, I accepted a position an executive assistant at a larger firm (500+ employees), and then a year and a half later when a mid-level job came open in marketing/communications, I applied for it and got it. About two years after that I applied for a management-level position in another department at the same firm, and got it.

      Allison is right – some firms don’t like to promote from assistant level, and in those that do, it can be hard to wash off the aroma of “assistant”. For the first six months or so after promotion from assistant, in both jobs, I wrote a lot of “I’m sorry, I’m in a different role now; X should know who can help you” emails. And when people would come up to me and ask for help with things, I had to steel myself and say, “I’m sorry, I’m on a deadline right now” or “I’m about to head into a meeting, but X should know who can help you.” It was hard, because as an assistant I was conditioned to say “yes” — it’s a transition for the person who was promoted as well as that person’s coworkers. But it’s definitely possible.

      I would advise you to ask about available paths upward in the organization during the interview. Any company that would shut you out for that would be one you wouldn’t want to join anyway.

    5. Kat*

      Never?? That’s a bit strong. Here’s one for you:

      My mum started as a part-time, minimum-wage homecare worker for a Council (i.e. cleaned old people’s houses). After a few years, she applied for (and got) the receptionist job. They recognised her skills in people management and coordination, and within 10 years she was managing several satellite offices and the entire customer services team.

      Promotions and sideways movements do happen!

  18. Kat M*

    #3, it can happen, but the companies that do typically have a well-known reputation for it. My husband started out as a call center temp at his (large) company. Then was promoted within the call center, then got hired on in a salaried position on another team, and is doing more technical work now, which he loves. Moving up is the norm, for people with the skills and interest. He’s really happy, and plans to stick around for a good while.

    But here’s the thing: this isn’t a secret. People who do their research can easily find out this information from the outside. If it’s not on the internet, you can ask in an interview. What percentage of people in X position were internal promotions? What programs do you have in place to retain talent and help people further their careers at Acme? Do you provide mentors? Provide or subsidize training? Allow shadowing? What else?

  19. kas*

    1. This would frustrate/upset me. It’s definitely unfair to have only the women answer the phone and I would certainly bring it up. I have no other words.

    2. What a jerk. People mispronounce my name all the time and I often correct them but if they have an accent I understand it may be a bit difficult. I’d be annoyed if I found out people were correcting others every time, especially like that, that’s just mean. I’ve corrected others when they have mispronounced someones name but only once and just so they wouldn’t feel embarrassed and never in front of others. Definitely speak to him and put an end to this, I feel like this is bully-like behaviour.

    3. It is possible. I work for a very large company and they always try to promote from within. There have been many people who have started in customer service/admin positions that have worked their way up to marketing/IT/operations/etc positions. We also have many offices that handle different areas of our business so it’s common for people to jump from office to office.

  20. TeaBQ*

    #1 – My sympathies. I had something similar happen when my two female direct reports, neither of whom are admins, were effectively conscripted into answering the phone lines. When I tried pushing back and pointed out how they would not have been asked to do this if they were male, the head of HR dismissed it, saying it was just because they were both new hires and low on the totem pole. Funny how newer, male hires at the same level my reports are haven’t been asked to help out with the phones.

    One of many reasons why I’m looking for a new job.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, I would try talking to the highest woman included in the email chain that you have good rapport with. Especially if there are other men who have the same title as you but less seniority than the senior women. At least propose it that all the “Assistant Teapot Designers” take a rotation of phone answering, not just the women.

      Alternately, are any of the lower level men NOT part of the old boys mentality/club? Could you ask them to talk WITH you to volunteer to take phone answering shifts, or to volunteer all of the “Assistant Teapot Designers”?

  21. Simplytea*

    Hey all!

    OP #3 here–thanks for all the great advice flying in already!

    To clarify, I’m totally fine with doing administrative work as long as EVENTUALLY I can take on more substantive work. I just don’t want to get stuck like where I am now, where it was sold to me as a great career move but where everyone has been in my same position for 20+ years.

    I’m worried that if I take another job as executive assistant (though technically a “higher up” position than where I am now, that 5-10 years down the line I’ll be unable to find something more technical (management, analytics, or research) if I end up having to look for a job.

    I hear back from the job late this week (supposedly). I was maybe too honest in the interview, asking a lot of questions because honestly I want to stay in this next step for awhile, and in a company for a career vs. job hopping. But I think they liked me :)

    You guys are fabulous :) just wanted to add a little bit of background

    1. Simplytea*

      Oh and the company hasn’t had an executive assistant for years, so they don’t have set standards (president recently stepped down and I’d be supporting new president and VP)

      1. Graciosa*

        If there is limited precedent for your role, you may (with your bosses’ support) be able to shape it a bit yourself. Some EAs – especially for a President – are actually more of a Chief of Staff than a clerical assistant. It just requires the right combination of environment, trust, and talent.

        I’m so glad that you are worrying about being “too honest” in the interview. It means that you’ll know that if you get an offer, they wanted *you* and knew who that was. Being able to really be yourself at work is a gift.

        Good luck.

        1. LBK*

          Agreed with this – not having much precedent is a fantastic opportunity to define the role as you see fit. I’ve done that with my current role.

    2. Alien vs Predator*

      I’ve got a more substantial comment for you waiting in moderation downthread (I think because I linked to an article that I think you should read), but I would just say here that you will probably get much better results if you have a better idea of what it is you want to do above and beyond administrative work. Start acquiring the skills for those positions. Figure out what “more substantive work” means for you, exactly, and pursue that wherever it may be. Never, ever wait on an employer to “give” you an opportunity. Best of luck to you.

    3. Natalie*

      I’m not sure how relevant this will be for you given the interests you listed, but this is fairly common in property management. The admin/receptionist role (often called a tenant coordinator or tenant services coordinator) is a natural training ground for a future property manager, and then you can branch off from there if you have a good idea of what you might want to do, some educational background in business or the willingness to acquire it, and network like crazy. One of my former co-workers started as a tenant coordinator out of college and is now in acquisitions sixish years later, doing research and analysis.

  22. kdizzle*

    #1- Sorry that you’re dealing with this. This also happened to me during my first professional job out of grad school. I was a operations researcher who was asked to cover the telephones while the receptionist ate lunch.

    Granted, the poor receptionist should be permitted to step away from her desk for a while each day (and she shouldn’t be made to feel like no one wants to do her job because it’s ‘beneath them’), but it was obvious to me that several younger, newer, male employees were not asked to pitch-in.

    I raised the issue with my boss who apologized profusely, and said that it wasn’t his intention to single me out because I was female. He said he just didn’t trust the young men not to be “incompetent a**holes” to people on the phone. And…knowing those guys…that made sense.

    I still got the sense that I was only being asked because I was female, but sucked it up because I knew the receptionist truly appreciated my help, and my boss would owe me big time when I needed a favor (I was repaid with many excellent job references over the 8 years since). So please raise the issue. But…if you’re forced to pitch-in, do it with a smile…at the very least, your colleague in customer service will appreciate the assistance while they fill the gap.

    1. some1*

      “He said he just didn’t trust the young men not to be “incompetent a**holes” to people on the phone. And…knowing those guys…that made sense.”

      It doesn’t really make sense. Your boss was saying men can’t or shouldn’t be held accountable for being competent and accommodating to customers but you can and should.

      1. kdizzle*

        It wasn’t generalized to men….just those particular guys in question. They didn’t have what we call “the social skills.” Fortunately for them, they didn’t really need those skills to be proficient in their jobs.

        1. Raptor*

          Because they have learned that being like that, gets them out of jobs like this… Unless they are so far off base from any social decorum (and seriously, how would they ever get a job if that’s the case?), then they should be expected to hold a phone conversation and not yell at people on the other end of the line and use curse words.

          If they can’t complete a 2 minute conversation on the phone with a stranger, how do they ever expect to do phone interviews or report to a boss or anything that involves a conversation? It just boggles my mind when ‘he doesn’t have social skills’ is used as blanket response to excuse people (mostly men) from being a-holes to everyone else.

          Frankly, if they want to use that as an excuse, then they just volunteered for phone duty. Because they have expressed a piece of job-ness they are lacking on and clearly need more practice.

          1. kdizzle*

            I can understand why you’d feel that way, but sometimes you do indeed end up hiring the young, male, socially inept programmer because he needs the experience and you need someone who can write code at a cheap price in a fairly uncommon language. In my particular scenario, I would’ve made the same decision as my boss, regardless of gender. As a manager, it just would’t be worth it to force these guys into a role that may have made us all look bad.

            1. ThursdaysGeek*

              And what the young, male, socially inept programmers (and their boss!) didn’t realize is their lack of social skills will hold them back in most programming jobs too. It’s a common stereotype, but the best programmers are those who can talk to customers, understand their needs, and then use those uncommon languages to solve their problems. Working those phones a bit would probably have helped them in their jobs.

              -signed, an old, female, socially-ept programmer.

              1. krisl*

                In the long run, the socially ept programmers are going to do better at their jobs and get along with people better.

              2. Judy*

                I’ve not had a job description that didn’t list something like “Effectively communicate project progress, roadbocks and expectations to managers, peers and subordinates”. (Sometimes the words “all stakeholders” is in that sentence…)

                -signed, middle aged, female, socially-ept programmer

              3. kdizzle*

                I hear what you’re saying…I’m sure that more skills are strictly preferred to fewer skills in most fields.

                When making management decisions, I suppose you need to ask yourself if the cost of investing time to develop those skills will generate an offsetting benefit. In this case, where the programmers are contract workers on a year long project, I don’t know if the obvious answer is to invest time into developing them into better people persons. And I think I can respect that management decision.

                1. neverjaunty*

                  The correct management decision is 1) don’t hire jerkholes, and 2) don’t retain jerkholes.

                  I do not buy for a minute that these dudes lack fhe social skills for a two-minute conversation, they got through a job interview, after all. Management ismjust enabling them because sexism.

                2. kdizzle*

                  Neverjaunty –

                  One of those young men was later fired for calling a coworker a racial slur in a meeting (yelling it, actually). If he had just done that in the interview, we would’ve saved ourselves some trouble. Unfortunately, people in interviews can sometimes successfully mask the icky people they really are.

        2. Natalie*

          Ah, but in my experience at least, women are generally assumed to have these skills whether or not it’s required to be proficient in their jobs, while men are generally let off the hook.

          1. TL -*

            Yup. That is a huge issue I’m having at my job – most of the men I work with lack in social skills and decency and it’s my job to “sideways manage” them into good moods and good behavior. Because I’m female and an adult.

        3. some1*

          They didn’t need to have those skills because your boss decided they didn’t. He could have said that he was adding occasional phone duty and he expected them to treat customers with professionalism and respect or find another job.

          1. kdizzle*

            That’s an awfully hard line to draw. Sometimes you take a peek at your available resources and honestly assess them for their strengths and weaknesses. If we’re consultants / contractors at the client site, I’m not going to put someone in a public-facing position who has the potential to embarrass me or possibly cost me future business.

        4. Student*

          This is exactly why “phones are women’s work” will continue. A man gave you a nice pat on the head to do some menial crap, and you ate it up. What do you think he would say if he had done it out of bias? Do you think he would’ve fessed up and given the job to a junior guy? Or do you think he’d come up with a BS line to convince you to do it anyway, and avoid owning up to his own bias?

          1. Kdizzle*

            It’s eerie that you know more about my life than I do! Really uncanny. Has the possibility crossed your mind that sometimes people don’t have nefarious sexist intentions when assigning work? No? I couldn’t live my life being that cynical, but I’m glad that you’re able to do so.

            *pats student on head*

        5. Jen RO*

          Lots of people reading too much into this… I definitely have coworkers (male and female!) who I wouldn’t trust to talk to a client. They are good or at least decent at their jobs (writing), but they have a tendency to ramble/put feet in mouth/etc. On an internal level, it’s not much of a negative impact, but you bet I would keep them away from anyone external!

    2. alma*

      I used to be the receptionist who needed people to cover my lunch… the female colleagues always stepped up without fuss, but there was a male executive assistant I had to train to cover me as well. He pretty much blew it off and at the end point-blank said, “I am NOT answering phones.” In a tone of voice like it was equivalent to expecting him to shovel animal feces.

      The job of executive assistant is a tough one, and male or female they would not be my first person to ask, but years later the tone of contempt in his voice still stands out to me. Question #1 made me really angry.

      1. Biff*

        Wow, just reading that makes me really angry. What a dirtbag — I bet he calls his secretary his girl. Ick.

    3. Vladimir*

      I am not sure I agree with the last sentence, of course it is one of the ways to go, but if the bosses persist only women should do it it means the workplace is sexist. In that case women there should seriously reconsider whether they want to work there.

      Basicaly what you write shows that beeing good at something unpleasant many times only means beeing stuck with it(becasue others do not want to do it) and many times without reward – such as answering calls or cleaning places.

      1. Kdizzle*

        If you deem it to be motivated by sexism, of course you should assess if you are willing to continue working in that environment. But in the meantime, I think it’s valid to say you should be a good sport about it and protect your potential good reference.

  23. Clover*

    We had an Owain, a Dawid and a Ffion in our (London based) office. None of them seemed to mind that they frequently got referred to as Owen, David, and Fiona. On the other hand I have worked with a Lea who got very upset when people pronounced her name “Leah” instead to “Lee”. Some people are touchier about these things than others, but I think Lorcan would have brought it up himself if he cared.

  24. Jake*

    I’m from the Midwest and my boss is from the deep south. I can’t tell the difference between when he says Dawn and Don, and he can’t tell the difference when I say it too. It causes confusion, but not anger.

        1. Felicia*

          A lot of people don’t pronounce on and awning sounding differently. In my accent (which would be a similar accent to Liz T probably ) on and awning start witht eh same sound and Don and Dawn are pronounced the same.

          1. Joline*

            I didn’t realize that people do say “awning” as anything different than “on-ing.” So put me in the Don/Dawn being the same category.

            My mother can’t tell the difference between Jen and Jan sometimes. Or jeep, cheap, and sheep.

            1. ella*

              I have an Aunt Jenny and an Aunt Ginny (and two cousins Jennifer). They’re on opposite sides of the family so there isn’t as much confusion as you’d think, but we’re Southern so they come out pretty similar.

    1. Jazzy Red*

      So, do you say “pe-ony” or “pe-o-ny” for the flower?

      SE Wisconson: “pe-ony” (my former home)
      NW Arkansas: “pe-o-ny” (my current home) (I thought it was something completely different when I first heard that.)

      1. fposte*

        Now try “clematis.” I swear no two people say that the same.

        Overall, the co-worker is making me head-scratchy–a dialectical pronunciation isn’t a mispronunciation, and I think most of us get that and don’t correct people who, say, roll their Rs on our names–and I think he’s probably got another issue that’s coming out in this way.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          Kluh-matis :)

          And I pronounce it both pee-oh-nee, and pee-anee, depending. But it’s Li’-lck, not Li-lack! Yes, there is almost no vowel in the second syllable, but the almost vowel would make it ‘luck.’

          1. chewbecca*

            I have a friend from Iowa who pronounces lilac as Li-lock. It never occurred to me it could be a regional dialect thing, because we’re both from the Midwest. To me, she’s just pronouncing it wrong.

            I admit that I pronounce it li-lack. It’s what I grew up hearing.

          1. Joline*

            I think this is about where I fall in. British Columbia (Canada).

            But admittedly my accent is apparently sometimes off because I mostly used my English at a school and military base in another country. So we had a wide variety of Canadian dialect variations, I’d assume.

    2. jhhj*

      I can hear the difference, can’t prounounce it. But most problematically, I don’t know which one is which! If you pronounce Dawn or Don (caught or cot), I know it’s different than how I pronounce it, but which word is it?

    3. LBK*

      I was just having this issue with my boyfriend the other day – he can’t hear Don vs. Dawn whereas I think they sound completely different, so we had a very confusing conversation where I was asking about our friend Dawn and he was giving me responses about our friend Don.

  25. Jubilance*

    Kinda unrelated but I had no idea that Dawn isn’t pronounced the same as Don. Or pen and pin should be different either. This is fascinating.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I say pen and pin differently, but to me, Dawn and Don sound the same. As do Erin and Aaron (though I am aware that one is typically female and the other male).

      K wait, I was just saying the latter two to myself, and they DON’T sound the same. Unless I’ve been influenced by this thread!

      1. Felicia*

        My parents pronounce Aaron and Erin very differently (they are Montreal anglophones), but I pronounce them exactly the same (I am from Toronto).

        Also I have the accent where cot and caught are pronounced exactly the same – the first time I heard someone pronounce them different i was confused.

    2. Jillociraptor*

      The best and worst thing about going to a small liberal arts college with kids from around the country is that the ONLY thing to talk about in your first couple of weeks is “Do you say pop or soda? What do you call the part of your car where you store things? What’s the thing on top of your house?” over and over again. I have a funny accent (I grew up in Minnesota–think Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, and tone it down a little unless I’m talking to other Minnesotans) and I can’t tell you how many times I had to pronounce words with long Os just ’cause it was funny. Dialects and regionalisms are fascinating (but irritating if it’s all you can talk about).

      1. Alicia*

        That’s like the game my friends have when I leave Nova Scotia. Anyone West of Quebec thinks it’s hilarious how I pronounce my “ar” combination. (Think pirate, minus the “matey”). There were many nights spent playing a drinking game with my high school boyfriend (from Ontario) where I’d try to avoid any word with an “ar” combination.

      2. Biff*

        Coke. Or whatever it actually is. But if I must use the generic, it’s soda.
        I don’t know if you mean the glove compartment/jockey box or the trunk, or the doorwell!
        Roof. (Roo, as in Kangaroo, f, as in flower. Not rough, or roove, our rouve.)

        I love the Minnesotan accent for both the sound and cadence.

  26. Alien vs Predator*


    I’d say that it is possible in a larger, private sector organization, just increasingly unlikely. If working your way up through the system is the kind of scenario you are looking for, I’d really suggest finding work in either a small company that needs employees to grow with the company, as others have suggested, or in a state university or state agency that has structured career progressions in place.

    In my experience, in larger private sector organizations, there may be some room for upward mobility (depending on the work culture), but in general, the cultivation of employees is kind of a dying art. I am growing increasingly convinced that loyalty doesn’t pay in these types of organizations.

    But, look at changing jobs as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to bargain for more of what you want, and less of what you don’t, every time you switch. As people often say, “You have to move out if you want to move up.” Plus, I’d like to direct you to this article that recently came out in Forbes that suggests some pretty strong financial incentives for changing jobs. (

    As with anything, your mileage may vary. I’m certainly not willing to say that what you are trying to do is impossible, I just think it is unlikely. So, don’t sell yourself short. Move around a bit in your industry. Learn how different organizations do things and learn your industry from multiple perspectives. Do a great job at your current company, and if it is really a great place to work, you can always come back at a later date with a lot more experience under your belt and a lot more bargaining power for salary, benefits, assignments, etc.

  27. Swarley*

    I think this could easily call for a more direct response if the offended coworker isn’t getting the message. I’d try something like: “As I’ve already said, I’m having trouble pronouncing the name exactly right because of my accent. I apologize to Lorcan if it bothers him, but I’m unsure why you’re continuing to bring this up to me when I’ve made myself clear. What’s going on?”

  28. soitgoes*

    #2 sounds like the coworker is mocking a “working class” (or equivalent) accent. I don’t think the name is even the issue. In America, these issues usually have racial undertones (mocking a phrasing pattern or an urban accent) so it’s easier to call the offender (in this case, the coworker) out for what he’s really doing. I doubt Lorcan cares.

  29. Lisa*

    #1 – The HR rep is a woman and the CEO’s daughter. Why not go to her? She could tell her dad that women have been coming to her about this. I would present it as ‘I hadn’t thought that my gender would define my tasks like this, but the way the new tasks were only assigned to only women is making me question how other tasks are assigned and / or not assigned based on gender. how do I know that I am not assigned work that I am qualified to do based on my gender now? Should I be concerned about this? Should I consider options outside of the company?’

    Then let her talk.

  30. Marilyn*

    Re: #1
    I have worked in small offices (law firms) for the past 8 years and experienced the same thing from older male attorneys. In my experience, they mean well and aren’t aware of their internalized sexism. Workplace culture has changed dramatically since they first started practicing law in the 60s and 70s, and old habits die hard. That being said, I personally have zero tolerance for that kind of thing. When I was a younger attorney, I would let it slide, but now I feel compelled to say something when stuff like that happens. I try to treat it with a sense of humor, while at the same time letting the guy know that his Draperesque behavior won’t fly in the 21st century. And they respect me a heck of a lot more than some of my coworkers, who giggle and bat their eyelashes and answer to “Honey.”

    If I received an email like that (given my job title and specific office culture), I would reply-all and copy all of the male colleagues. The body of my email would say, “Fixed that for you. See below.” Then I would insert the term “and Gentlemen” (in red type) after “Ladies” in the text of the original email, leaving everything else the same. Everyone would have a good laugh, except maybe the person who sent it. But chances are he’s probably insensitive and self-absorbed, and will forget about it by the end of the day. However, he might remember it the next time he decides to write an email to the “Ladies” of the office announcing that someone needs to clean out the coffee maker and take care of the dishes in the sink.

    1. Lisa*

      I am that fixer too. Nice to know you are too. Unfortunately, it bites you in the end with some bosses. So your immediate satisfaction and silent hallelujahs from all women in your office (and anyone who believes in equality) becomes long-term issues with your boss perceiving you as a nag or something.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Respectfully, you are cutting these guys way too much slack. They were not frozen in time capsules in 1971 and are just now emerging. They are practicing law in a world where they are regularly dealing with women who are lawyers and judges (I seriously doubt you are the very first female attorney they’ve ever met). And I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know by pointing out that bar associations regularly push diversity in the profession, to the point that some states make it a CLE requirement. If the lawyers you work with are fossils, it’s because they want to be, not because they just don’t know any better.

      1. Marilyn*

        I don’t cut them any slack, as I do not tolerate that behavior and I don’t hesitate to say something when I hear sexist comments. My comment about their ingrained habits was based on the observation that older adults are generally more set in their ways.

        Our state does not have a diversity CLE requirement but if they did, I know for sure those men would treat it like a joke. Although larger law firms have policies in place to promote equality and diversity and prevent harassment, small firms do not. When dirty old men are running the show, anything goes–they are virtually 100% in charge of the culture, and without an organizational system of checks and balances (not even an HR department), nothing changes. This behavior is prolific in my area of law…the men in my office look like Gloria Steinem compared to some of the attorneys I meet in court.

        I deal with it the best I can, because developing positive professional relationships with them is necessary for me to do my job, whether I like it or not. On the bright side, they will all retire soon (hopefully) and future female attorneys will never have the experience of being goosed in open court.

  31. AP*

    #1 – I’m late to the reply party on this. If this is strictly a gender-based role assignment, that’s inappropriate to be sure. Is it possible that the people asked have more in common than their gender? Are those who were not included, though at the same structural level, just not as qualified for this? Grating speaking voices? Sarcastic speaking tones, whether intended or not? I trust that you know your office environment better than I do, so don’t think I’m suggesting that this must be the case. It is, however, something to consider beyond the exclusion of a gender group from the assignment. Instead of asking that the others be included, an option is to start by asking what led to the choice of this particular group — without doing a reply-to-all. That way, if there’s some actual consideration of qualifications or qualities in play, your manager isn’t put on the spot of having to tip-toe around a delicate explanation, ie. “Frank sounds like Urkel gargling gravel, and his voice doesn’t represent our company well.”

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Even if this were true, it’s not ok to end up with a system that treats men and women differently. If it were true that all the people that the manager thought would be good on the phone were women, then the onus is on the manager to reflect on that and make adjustments (e.g. coach some of the men to improve their phone manner, etc.).

      1. AP*

        In such a circumstance, the gender is irrelevant to the business need. If an individual’s job does not include customer-facing phone interaction, then no matter the gender they do not require the training and their is no onus on the manager to provide this except as part of a business need.

        1. alma*

          Yes, but the e-mail:

          – Began with the greeting “Ladies”
          – Sent the e-mail to every woman in the office
          – Assigned a traditionally female job

          I don’t buy for a second that this happened on pure coincidence. Occam’s razor.

          But even if it did happen by pure unwitting coincidence (that every male in the office apparently is incapable of answering and transferring a telephone call??) , it is still crappy and demoralizing to even give the appearance of gender discrimination.

          1. Jillociraptor*

            Right. It’s also not an accident if it just so happens that the only people in more entry-level roles are women.

        2. Student*

          If it is the job of junior internal-facing positions to sometimes handle the phones, but only the women junior internal-facing employees are proficient in that role, then it is time to train the male junior internal-facing employees how to answer a phone.

          My gosh. This isn’t a request to train someone as a brain surgeon or an expert tea-spout developer; it’s just a phone. I was answering phones reasonably in a job at the age of 16. It takes about 5-10 minutes of training to do reasonably, and then a bit of practice to do well. We’re talking about it derisively because it is a menial and unpleasant job, like taking out the trash. It’s not difficult to do.

  32. Andrea*

    I just skimmed these replies, so apologies if I missed this, but it’s pretty clear to me that the women who work in OP #1’s office should just suddenly develop very thick, nearly-impossible-to-understand accents. Surely no one will want them answering phones for long then.

  33. MommaTRex*

    I’ve witnessed many, many women who could not get away from the “assistant” label, even with a 4-year college degree, project management certification, etc. I personally would avoid any admin assistant job unless that’s what you really want to do and develop a career in.

  34. CAndy*

    The Scouse accent is one of the most grating in the English-speaking world, perhaps it’s the accent itself the guy can’t stand.

    However, being unable to pronounce something differently belies a bit of a lack of intelligence… why not just pretend it’s spelled differently than it is?

    1. John*

      You think intelligence is linked to pronunciation? An interesting if illogical theory.

      I would correlate intelligence more closely with someone’s ability to get their message across without offending people but each to their own.

      Thanks for contributing anyway…

    2. Jules*

      Hmm… not sure if I agree. I’ve met many people from different walks of life and different parts of the world. People enunciate according to what they are used to. I am lucky to be exposed to many languages so I can make by but I’ve even seen new anchors flub pronunciation.

  35. Jules*

    Funny thing about dialect… I had to do a WebEx presentation for people in deep South and I am from Michigan. As I talk through my slide at the end of it, I paused and someone on the phone asked, “Could you repreat that? You went too fast.”
    “Oh, where did I lost you?”
    “From the beginning?”
    Now I know better, do point checkes to make sure my audience are not left in the blur. Plus side, they called me ma’am… I felt so respectable… LOL.

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