update: my manager is urging me to drop truth bombs on the CEO

Remember the letter-writer who manager and other colleagues were urging her to tell the CEO how bad a coworker was who he wanted her take an internal job working for? Here’s the update.

First, I wasn’t forced into taking the job, though it was a real possibility that the CEO could have insisted. While we are a distribution subsidiary of a much larger retail company, there are around 300 employees on this site under our CEO, and he has swapped people in and out of jobs before when he was on a reorganization kick. There are about 50 people up front in the offices handling purchasing, sales, accounting, etc. The remaining 250 workers work in the warehouse with order selecting, shipping, and receiving. There is a small office in the warehouse where I sit that serves as the hub as all work flows through there, and my job is to facilitate all that work as “clerk.” I handle all requests from all departments up front, input, process, assign orders from all of our sales reps and retail locations directly, direct inbound and outgoing traffic, etc. 

When I started at the business college two+ years ago, I had a good talk (I thought) with the warehouse manager about my ambitions (I’ve always been clear that I love this company and want to stay with them) and he seemed very encouraging about my being a warehouse supervisor soon. I had been at this location three years by this point, and was outperforming every other clerk in my job because I kept taking on more and more tasks that were traditionally supervisory. (I have received nothing but high praise for all these changes from my supervisors and they continue to encourage me to take on more.) It has gotten so that unlike every other clerk, I can perform all the tasks of an entry level assistant supervisor and often do.

So months later when they posted new assistant supervisor positions, I was confident about my chances. More seniority than all applicants? Yes. Consistently better performance reviews? Yes. A track record of teamwork and innovation pointing towards potential to excel in this specific position? Yes. Related to or drinking buddies with somebody important? Nope, no interview for me. They promoted my current supervisor’s brother, and a warehouse worker who had been with the company six months but “showed potential.” I was professional about it. I did not assume it was because I was a female in a blue collar industry, I just asked what I could do to position myself to be a stronger candidate in the future. The warehouse manager said, “I’ll be honest, you’ll never beat out someone that actually spends time on the warehouse floor and works with the machines.” This was confusing to me because I HAD run many of those same machines for the company before in a different warehouse, and he knew that. Also, the job of the supervisor involves almost none of the actual machinery and order selecting, but knowing the business inside and out so you can delegate and solve problems on the fly. But the conversation ended with us agreeing that I could delegate more of my workload to my assistant clerk (male) so that I could have more freedom to work in the warehouse and “brush up” (his words) on the equipment. Two days later, without informing me, my assistant clerk either volunteered for or was offered a position in the warehouse instead. Since he was theoretically still in the building and I could use him to help me “if it was really necessary,” they did not hire another assistant clerk for six months. This effectively made it impossible for me to step foot outside of the warehouse office and fulfill the training we’d talked about.

So this is where things stood when “Bob” (college roommate of one of the supers) got one of the assistant supervisor spots and recommended me to take his job (which would not have been a promotion, but would have moved me to the up-front white-collar office area.) I really felt at the time that everyone jumped at this chance to give me a shiny new job away from the warehouse to hopefully placate me since I didn’t get an interview for assistant supervisor, even though I didn’t want this job and I wouldn’t work with Dick again voluntarily if he was a firefighter and I was on fire. Ironically, the weird gender politics at play here are probably what saved me from that job, because after reading all the comments and your advice, I decided to take things into my own hands and fight.

It was a Thursday when I had those two fraught conversations with the CEO where he pushed me to take the job and wasn’t accepting my polite refusals and reasons. Friday was inventory, and that was when my supervisors got the idea that I should lay all these problems with Dick out for the CEO. Dick is pretty much untouchable not just because of his close family relationship with the company president, but because of some tragic family circumstances in the last ten years. Dick is going to be with this company forever, and I don’t think there’s anything we could do to change that.

On Monday the CEO sent an email stating that we’d talk on Tuesday. Thank you for publishing the response so fast. Your advice and the commentators input was invaluable. By Tuesday morning, I knew what I had to do. I stopped by the HR office and told him that I was submitting my name for consideration for warehouse generalist on third shift. He was shocked and asked me about the other job — “I thought you were going to do that?!? CEO really wants you and you’d be great at it.” I closed the door and said to him, “Thank you, I agree that I would be a good fit for the work…” and he cut me off and said, “You’re so smart, why go back to a warehouse job?” and I said a little heatedly, “I am smart — I’m smart enough to know that life is short, and I’m not going to volunteer to work for Dick. I’ve done it before, and he’s a bully. I would wake up every morning not wanting to come to work, and I love this company too much to do that to myself on purpose.” He was pretty stunned but said that was entirely fair, and put my name down for third shift instead.

I was taking a calculated risk by telling him this, but as our HR rep I think he has the standing to explain to the CEO (if he really feels it’s necessary) why they couldn’t get anyone from the warehouse to apply for this position. He also takes discretion and confidentiality very seriously, and doesn’t gossip. I did not trust my supervisors to deliver this message, but I also knew by then that I didn’t want to be the one to deliver it either.

The CEO tracked me down on the warehouse floor a couple hours later for our “talk.” I led with, “CEO, I love the warehouse, I love my coworkers, and I do not want to leave it for the offices up front.” What I was banking at this point was that since I was one of the only women in the warehouse, and since rather than expressing interest in more “white collar work” I was instead firmly stating my preference for “blue collar work,” the CEO might realize that this could look very bad and back off. He read between the lines, and immediately said, “Oh I don’t want you to get the idea that we want you in the offices because you’re a woman, we aren’t sexist here. HR guy tells me that you put in for third shift generalist? If that’s the work you want to do, I’ll support you in that.” I said thank you, that WAS the work I enjoyed and wanted to do.

He kind of shrugged and said he wasn’t sure what he could do, so I left it at that and started getting ready to go to third shift (it was a pretty sure thing; they wanted me because I knew so much of the system). On Thursday, both my assistant clerk and I were sick and coughing hard.  I spent the next two days dozing curled up with a bottle of Robitussin and fielding frantic text messages with questions from work as I felt able.

Upon returning to work Monday, the CEO stopped me in the hall. “Hey, Tim tells me that you put in for third shift because you wanted those specific job duties, not the hours. If we opened up a generalist spot on this shift, would you take it and help us train the new office staff and get through the holidays?”

“Of course, I’d be happy to,” I said with a smile. And that’s how I accepted the job I wanted with the hours I wanted, although knowing this place it’ll be a few months before I manage to push through the official paperwork. But the CEO is a man of his word, at least.

{ 34 comments… read them below }

  1. Jenbug*

    Yay! This is a wonderful update. I’m so glad things worked out for you, OP.

    The only way this could be better is if HR passed along the issues about Dick to CEO and CEO decided enough was enough, but nepotism is strong.

    1. JM in England*

      Nepotism will always win over skills and/or experience imho. This is something we should tell young people just entering the workforce………….

      1. JessaB*

        Yes but sometimes good management will push the nepotism-supported-worker into something that pays as well and doesn’t impact as many downline employees that hate them.

      2. catsAreCool*

        Nepotism doesn’t always win. It depends on management and the willingness of higher ranked people to let consequences teach their relatives that they need to pull their own weight.

    2. Barista*

      Indeed, very happy with this update.

      From the LW’s update, the culture of nepotism and “who-knows-whom” seems quite strong at this company. I don’t think CEO would be so keen on getting rid of the guy if he’s the owner’s nephew. Unless this CEO hears it from a consultant-du-jour (seems like he’s susceptible to this, what with his re-org kicks) he’s not going to do anything about it. Even then, he’d have to approach the owner with this and who knows how that would go :/

  2. Sue Wilson*

    OP, it sounds like you have a great read of all the personalities in this company, and I’m rooting for you to get that supervisor position (and I’m hoping that since the CEO mentioned that they weren’t one of the ~those sexist companies, someone alerted him to the fact that pushing you into a certain job looked bad, and he will take a good hard look at who gets those supervisor positions, although I wouldn’t hold my breath).

    1. Artemesia*

      Yes. I am in awe. This is one I could never have played this well — tough and you did such a great job with it. Hope it plays out as you hope.

      1. Chaordic One*

        Yes, indeed. Very well done!

        Although you haven’t yet won the war, you’ve certainly won some important battles and are well positioned for a victory in the future.

  3. Tabby Baltimore*

    Maybe I totally misread this, but I do have one frisson of concern, and that is that your Warehouse Manager’s (WM) does, in fact, have an accurate take on the kind of experience you will need to get to be considered for any future Assistant Supervisor openings. If you trust his/her judgment, then obviously, you made the right choice to apply for the Warehouse Generalist (WG) position; I hope you will be able to use the more-recent warehouse floor experience the WG job will provide you, to strengthen your profile the next time you apply for an Assistant Supervisor position. If your WM is correct, this move should make you a more-competitive candidate. However, if your workplace is suffering from thinly-disguised-but-entrenched sexism, I’m concerned that your company leadership is going to “move the goalposts” on you again. This year, your WM thought the reason you didn’t get the super job was because you lacked recent “time on the warehouse floor and [recent] work with the machines.” If you’re in this job for a year, apply for another Ass’t Super job but *don’t* get it, what reason will you be given then, I wonder?

    1. designbot*

      I wonder about that too. I do think they’re certainly having her jump through 3x the hoops that the men do, but at this point they’ll be out of excuses and have to put up or shut up.

    2. Jeanne*

      I think at this point she just wants a job she can do, earn her pay, and not have to deal with the other garbage.

    3. Barista*

      The difference between what LW does now vs the WG position vs the AS position is lost on me, so I’m not entirely sure how to feel about it.

      LW seems quite happy with the WG position, though :) I hope for another update

    4. Chaordic One*

      It’s kind of sad that the OP has to jump through more hoops than the men do, but I do think that there’s a good chance that things will be a bit easier for the the next female employee because of the OP’s hard work and success.

  4. Venus Supreme*

    I get the warm fuzzies reading all these grrl power positive updates. Congrats, OP! So happy to hear you love the work you do- best of luck with your new position!

  5. Suzy Q*

    Yet AGAIN, a woman has to jump through hoops no man has to in order to get what she wants and deserves. Congrats on navigating this successfully!

      1. CoveredInBees*

        Of course. Men are hired for their potential whereas women are hired for already being able to do the job.

  6. KP84*

    Glad things worked out but its sucks you have to deal with the “boys club” mentality. It sounds like a lot of the supervisors at your company are kind of jerks.

  7. HardwoodFloors*

    I am happy LW is happy however there are three issues here: one, LW doesn’t want to work with dick because he is a bully; two, someone with 6 months at the company gets a supervisor’s job because they are connected; three, the CEO is micromanaging ‘ I want you in office job.’

    I can’t for the life of me figure out why LW *loves* this company.

    1. Less anonymous than before*

      I wondered the same things, but if LW really loves this company then I am sure she has a bunch of other reasons why she does and I will appreciate that.

  8. Less anonymous than before*

    Great update! Good job. I wish you nothing but future growth in the direction you would like to go.

    This also cracked me up a good deal: I didn’t want this job and I wouldn’t work with Dick again voluntarily if he was a firefighter and I was on fire.

  9. StartupLifeLisa*

    Super proud of you, OP – not just for fighting for the job you wanted, but for owning that you prefer the “blue collar” work & not letting any of society’s stigmas convince you that you should feel otherwise. I think many people who sit behind desks (cough, me, cough) can remember being happier when we worked with our hands once upon a time.

  10. Zip Silver*

    This was one of the most detailed stories we’ve gotten in a while. Thanks for writing in with the update, op.

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