expensing a hotel because of ghosts, coworker got us sick and ruined our vacation, and more

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

1. Can you expense an extra hotel because of ghosts?

I manage a large team who are constantly working away for our clients and, as a result, stay on-site in hotels up and down the country. We always require our clients to provide accommodation as part of their contract.

Today I received a call from one of the clients that they had booked and paid for a hotel but they subsequently found out the educator hadn’t checked in. I contact the colleague in question and she was very clear that the hotel they had booked was haunted and she refused to stay there. She had booked a separate hotel and was planning to expense it. Our client was, understandably, unhappy they had paid out for a room that was not being used and so charged it back to us. This means we are paying for two rooms for the week.

The colleague in question is a sensible, intelligent woman who doesn’t have a flair for the dramatics at all. When we called her it became clear she was genuinely distressed about the prospect of the staying in the hotel because of her firm belief it was haunted (I have emails that I can share with you but I don’t want this published as I’m not sure that’s fair, she would be instantly recognized) She offered to stay at home and drive to work which would have been 4 hours each way, rather than stay in this hotel.

The hotel in question has good reviews on TripAdvisor and meets our company guidelines but does advertise itself as haunted as a touristy gimmick. She didn’t enter the hotel as she looked it up before and refused to go. We did move her and have swallowed the cost of both hotels but I was wondering what your take would be? Should she be allowed to change hotels at a cost to the company because of ghosts?

Sure, once. Some people are truly rattled by this kind of thing, for religious reasons or otherwise, and you want your employees to be comfortable while they’re traveling (and not, say, get a terrible night’s sleep because they’re freaked out by where they’re staying). But let her know that in the future, she should check out hotels ahead of time and, if she has any objections that cause her to change hotels, she should ensure the original reservation is canceled so no one is left paying for it. It may even make sense for her to book her own hotels and then bill it to the client later; that’s not an uncommon way to do this.

Also, though, it doesn’t make sense that your company is paying for two hotels and the client is paying for none. Paying for accommodations was part of the deal, and they should either pay for the first hotel or the second hotel — not back out of that part of the deal entirely.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Coworker got my boyfriend sick and ruined our vacation

The week before we were to go on vacation, my boyfriend’s coworker was sick, came to work, and was coughing in his face (and they work in food service and his coworker is a manager!) The second day into our long-awaited vacation, my boyfriend comes down with the same illness as his coworker. We had to go home and we were supposed to be there for a week.

Since the coworker/manager is clearly responsible for ruining our vacation, is he or his boss liable for my boyfriend’s illness? We lost a lot of money on this vacation (roughly $2,000) and had to spend $200 extra to treat his illness.

No. People get sick and sometimes it’s at terrible times. You can’t hold coworkers financially liable for spreading illnesses, or your boss for being the manager of someone who came to work sick. I’m sorry your vacation got ruined though!

What you can do is advocate for better sick leave at your company if it’s needed. Food service jobs often have terrible or no sick leave, which means people come in sick and infect others. It’s an inane model.

3. How can I get better at spotting talent in people different than me?

I like to think I’m pretty good at judging technical abilities, but I’m wondering if I’m actually only looking for the cues that people like me (male/western culture) show. If so, I’m wondering how I can get better.

Here’s the situation that makes me wonder: At a recent technical conference, we gave prizes to young engineers for the best contributions. When the prize committee met, all agreed that “Alice” deserved first prize.

However, the funny thing is that when I had visited that group (I work with lots of groups in this field) last year, Alice asked me for advice. I recommended she not work initially on the hard problem she was successful at, but instead start on an easier problem before tackling the hard one. She ignored me, and did a fantastic job. When we announced the prizes, I told the story, and made a joke about it being the “don’t take [OP’s] advice” award.

But what’s bugging me about this is that I clearly didn’t spot how bright Alice was. She listened to my advice, but didn’t ask any of the questions I normally see as markers of really good technical abilities. My question then is how can I improve my “spot bright people” skills.

It’s definitely possible that the talent markers you look for, both consciously and unconsciously, are culturally biased. Most people have that kind of bias unless they make a deliberate effort to fight it, and even then it can be hard.

I’d start by actively interrogating the things you see as proxies for talent. You noted Alice didn’t ask the questions you normally see as markers of strong abilities. Are there any commonalities among the people who do ask those questions — race, age, educational background? What might lead someone to ask or not ask those questions, beyond raw talent? Look for patterns there. And when you think about what did Alice talk to you about, can you see signs in retrospect that you overlooked then? If you can’t, what could you still be missing?

But also! How much meaningful time do you spend with people who are demographically different from you — different races, different genders, different cultural backgrounds, different ages, different socioeconomic groups? Spending time with people who are different from you — and really listening and soaking in their perspectives — is likely to broaden your sense of what talent looks and sounds like. (Doing a lot of reading by authors who are different than you is another way to work on this. How often do you read books by women of color, for example? If rarely or never, that’s something to change too.)

4. How can I help my unhappy coworker?

I’ve gotten really close with a coworker who started at my company about four months ago. She is really unhappy and is thinking about leaving already. I’ve encouraged her to talk to our extremely supportive manager to get more support, but she doesn’t feel comfortable. I want her to be happy whether it’s at our company or somewhere else. How can I encourage her to reach out for help? I’m tempted to hint to our manager that she needs help but that seems like overstepping. I’ve told her she can come to me as a mentor, but is there anything else I can do?

Don’t hint to your manager; that would be overstepping. The exception to that is if you have a sort of unofficial deputy relationship where it would be normal for you to nudge her to check in on a new hire and wouldn’t seem like an obvious “OMG something is up with Jane and you better talk with her.”

You can tell your coworker that you think your manager would want to hear that she’s unhappy (if that’s true) and might be able to help (if that’s true), and generally make sure she doesn’t think your manager is intimidating or off-limits (if that’s true). But from there, this is hers to handle. She will either talk to your manager or decide to leave or something else. She’s an adult, and she will figure it out. You’re being kind, which is great, but ultimately you need to be comfortable letting her work through this on her own.

5. Should I let employers know I’ll be traveling to their city soon?

I know you tend to be against following up on job applications pre-interview, but I’m wondering if it would be reasonable in my situation. I’m applying to jobs in my home city, and currently go to school pretty far away. I’ve been applying to a ton of places over the last few weeks and based on the norms for my industry, I know most of them are already doing first round interviews or will be soon.

I decided to spend a week visiting family in my home city in the hopes that I can interview while I’m there. Would it make sense to follow up and let the companies I applied to know that I’ll be local and convenient to interview on those dates? Does this fall into “annoying, overly-aggressive follow up” behavior or just “making oneself as attractive as a local candidate”?

This is not overly aggressive and can be helpful to do! They may or may not take you up on it, but you absolutely can send an email that says something like, “I realize this might not line up with your timeline, but I wanted to let you know that I’ll be visiting family in City from August 18-25 and would love to meet with you while I’m there if you’re interested in talking further.”

{ 660 comments… read them below }

  1. Christmas*

    Huge respect to LW #3 for their reflection, self-awareness, and the courage to deeply examine their thinking in order to grow.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I wish that more folks reacted as OP#3 did—it would help us make a great deal more progress.

      In addition to Alison’s list, I would also consider the soft bigotry of low expectations. For most of my life, I’ve been advised to start with the “easier” option and “work up to” the harder options. I have noticed that most of my friends of color (especially women of color) have had similar experiences. And every person that has given me that advice fundamentally believed that I was not bright enough, or not experienced enough, to take on a hard problem. Like Alice, I’ve mostly ignored those people. Sometimes I fell short, and oftentimes I didn’t. When I succeeded, I have rarely had someone be as gracious as OP#3—usually I was accused of cheating/ plagiarism, my achievement was minimized, or I was passed over for someone with lower performance (but who fit the dominant “merit” narrative). But it takes a good deal of grit and tenacity to buck those low expectations.

      So OP, consider who you typically advise to take the easier route. Are there commonalities that may be more identity-related than performance related? Are you advising folks who are less like you to take less competitive paths, when they may be capable of much more? Are you pushing folks who share your demographic background to try harder or aim higher?

      1. Engineer Girl*

        You wrote this while I was writing my reply below. I totally agree! On several occasions I’ve been accused of falsifying my resume because people didn’t believe the achievements.
        Or they asked who helped me.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Jinx! :)

          I’m always amazed at the logical leaps and lengths people will go to to establish that I didn’t do a thing than to go with the more obvious answer, which is that I did a thing. Your comment about presumed incompetence is 1000% accurate.

          For example, I have a colleague who’s an amazing econometrician, and she’s also Latinx. The number of times I’ve seen people assume she doesn’t understand basic calculus or stats is astounding to me. When she identifies errors or builds models, people are convinced her husband (who has no quant background) did the work. In what world does that explanation make more sense than her being good at her job??

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I found how to get credit for my work.

            Succeed at a task where a man has completely failed.

            The man’s failure establishes that it’s a hard task. The success proves that you were able to complete a hard task.

            Before that I found that if I succeeded at a task people assumed it was because it was easy. And if I failed it was assumed that I was incompetent. Ironically, I left one project and they had to replace me with six men. They still wouldn’t admit that I had done an amazing job.

            1. Lora*

              I’ve had directors look me dead in the eye and tell me “it wasn’t that hard” even after men had failed, unfortunately. “Oh the XYZ project? That project sucks, glad it’s finally over, moving on.”

              I got a reputation for being good at cleaning up other people’s messes and “bad projects”. Um, it made the company a big pile of money and our peers are really impressed by how it turned out and copycatted it, so… maybe not too bad then?

              The only way I have been able to get my success acknowledged was when a man spoke up for it on my behalf – specifically a straight, preferably white man. It’s depressing as heck.

              1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

                This is very sad, and I admire how you, Princess and Engineer still managed to endure and succeed despite it.
                It’s also the reason why I’m one of those rare beasts who prefer orals to posters at conferences: I had people (men) pass by my poster without even glancing at it, after having stopped at every single one before mine. It does not happen very often, to be fair, so there’s hope that things are changing; but it’s still depressing to see that some people do not even notice you in the poster session, but then after they hear your oral they run to you to talk about it, and are so amazed at how good your work is.

              2. Mimi Me*

                I’ve had directors look me dead in the eye and tell me “it wasn’t that hard” even after men had failed, unfortunately.

                I refer to this as the pickle jar issue – like when the guy can’t get the pickle jar open and then you try it a different way and it opens at which point they tell you that they “loosened it” for you. I see moments like this everywhere – work, home, out in public – SO FRUSTRATING!!!

                1. LQ*

                  I actually think that the pickle jar issue is a really good one here. Someone fights over a pickle jar for a long time and then you come along and wack the lid with the back of a knife and it opens no problem. Then they accuse you of cheating.

                  Beware of accusing someone of cheating just because they solved a problem differently than you did.

                  Did you spent months trying to get this one field to appear just right on this page and someone else went to the BA/business/product owner and asked if it was ok if it was just over here a bit instead and they said yeah, of course that’s fine. That’s not cheating. That’s an open pickle jar.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  So what I’m getting from LCL’s response is, we should bang the heads of condescending, “well I loosened it for you” men against a counter? I’m in.

                3. TinLizi*

                  Or, it’s Steve Rogers (pre-Captain America) pulling the flagpole pin to get to the flag after all the big, tough guys failed to climb it.

              3. A tester, not a developer*

                Ugh! I’m stuck in that situation right now; because I have a reputation of being able to deal with projects that have gone off the rails I never get to work on ‘fun’ stuff (or commit to a project long term). It’s great to have that particular skill set, but I’d like to actually work on something that’s not a train wreck every now and then. :)

                1. AnonEMoose*

                  I understand that feeling. Every time a particular other team where I work needs help, it seems to land mostly on me. Problem is that their work is work I busted my behind to get away from…it’s repetitive and not really what I get paid to do now. But, whenever they need extra hands…guess who gets tapped? And I’m pretty tired of it.

                2. Lora*

                  YES. I never even whisper certain words at work and downplay them on my resume purposefully because I never ever want to do those things again – I’m GOOD at cleaning up particular flavors of trainwrecks but oh my God it is the most boring, frustrating thing to me.

              4. Tammy*

                I’ve noticed this play out in interesting (and depressing) ways for myself too, because as a transgender woman I’ve seen how people treated me and how my resume/experience were perceived before and after my transition. It’s truly maddening. Don’t want to derail us too far down the “trans experience” rabbit hole here, but happy to talk about it in a Friday open thread or something if people are interested.

                1. Microglia*

                  Ben Barres was an FTM scientist with the same kinds of insight, after he transitioned he overheard people at a conference discussing how much better his work was than his “sister’s”.
                  He wrote a lot about his experience and was a loud, supportive voice for women in science, I recommend checking his stuff out.

                2. The Bean*

                  I am always fascinated by trans people’s accounts of different treatment before and after socially/professionally transitioning.

                  My favorite was an essay by a trans man about how people would suddenly ask him for help fixing things.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I would love to hear more about this, if you’re willing. I remember reading Ben Barres’ pieces about his experiences with sexism pre- and post-transition, and it was fascinating (and very depressing).

                4. Autumnheart*

                  Me too. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the best word when the story is frustrating, but when trans people are willing to tell their before/after experiences, it’s really enlightening.

                5. Make a Comment*

                  I worked with a transgender woman who stayed in the same career with the same resume. Her salary quotes as a vendor came down by 20-30% after her transition.

          2. Reality.Bites*

            Many years ago I was in a training class for customer service reps at a cable company – at a time when there were four weeks training for the job. Someone in the class was married to someone already working for the company and was coincidentally scoring perfect scores in the quizzes (as were other people). Someone (without a perfect score) said, well of course A knows everything, she’s married to B.

            A said “Do you really think we have nothing better to do at home than talk about cable TV?”

            If I recall correctly, her husband worked in another area of the company (accounting) and him knowing any of the things she was being taught would have been weird.

            1. Dust Bunny*

              Also, so what? Even if that was the reason she knew, SHE STILL KNEW. Use your resources.

          3. Kerry*

            People are truly ridiculous. When I was in elementary school, my parents were once called to the school administrator’s office because I’d used a word the teacher believed was beyond my “level” and that my parents must’ve been doing my homework for me.

            1. MOAS*

              Lol I had a similar situation in that my college professor thought I had plagiarized my essay….no. I’m a good writer when I can sit down and put my mind to it, but I can’t speak well. I took that as a compliment though, so. Idk.

            2. Amethystmoon*

              I was sternly chastised in elementary school for reading books ahead of the grade level where I was supposed to be. I was 7 or 8. The books at my level were quite boring.

              1. Zephy*

                I was in second grade, about five minutes before cursive handwriting stopped being a thing they taught in school, and when I proudly informed my teacher that I already knew how to write cursive letters, her response was something like “Well, you shouldn’t.” As if I’d done something wrong by learning a thing a few months before the school district had planned for me to do so. What even. I don’t even remember how or why I learned cursive on my own, I just was excited that I knew something and wanted to share.

                1. Asta*

                  I once got sent out of a maths lesson for knowing Pythagoras before we had been taught it.

                  Actually sent out.

              2. ClashRunner*

                My sibling had the same experience in second grade. Infuriating, and also a great way to make sure kids aren’t motivated to be intellectually curious.

            3. lemon*

              Had a similar experience in high school. I wrote a poem for English class, and my teacher didn’t believe I could have written a poem that good, so he asked me to stay after class and asked me detailed questions about why I’d written X or what Y meant to me. He didn’t know that I’d already been studying under professional poets for years and had won national awards.

              1. lemon*

                What was really striking about this situation is that this teacher was the only white, male teacher I’d ever had for English and was also the only teacher to question my abilities. All of my other teachers were POC, and instead of interrogating my writing, they complimented me and asked me about my interest/experiences with writing.

            4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I was accused of plagiarism at least 5 times from K-12 because my reports were “too sophisticated” to be written by a girl of color from a “failing school district.” One year, I received the highest score on the writing portion of the high school exit exam—which entitled me to scholarship funds I desperately needed for college—but my guidance counselor ensured that no one notified me of my score or of the opportunity so that I would miss the deadline. I’ve had two teachers try to fail me because they thought my analysis was too thorough, only to be thankfully overridden by other faculty after interviewing me and reviewing my other writing.

              It’s amazing how dangerous it can be to be a student who does not fit others’ expectations of your identity or demographic background.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  She actually ended up “losing” her job (transferred from senior guidance counselor/department manager to a completely unrelated job at the district’s office) because of the things she put me through, and the scholarship stuff was the last straw for the school board and superintendent. Her level of racism/classism was so unreal that it didn’t even occur to me that that’s what was happening because it was so blatant and over the top.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                My senior year of high school, there was a very tight race for valedictorian. One of the two top students was a girl who didn’t have plans for college. School rumor was that the English teacher had been overheard by other teachers saying she was going to intentionally give the girl a lower score on essays because someone who wasn’t going to college “didn’t deserve to be valedictorian”. And it wasn’t provable because grading essays is so subjective.

              2. OyHiOh*

                A friend of mine, POC, very nearly lost the opportunity to attend college at all because their assigned guidance councilor refused to write the recommendation letters they needed. Thankfully for my friend, a teacher who believed in them agreed to act as their guidance councilor, wrote recommendation letters, took them to tour a few local campuses, etc. And went on to be highly highly successful in their chosen field, known for being an out of the box thinker able to solve the weird problems in their industry because they didn’t approach problems with “conventional” thinking.

                My friend has done well despite all expectations, because they are stubborn, hard headed, and absolutely refuse to take “no” for an answer, but how many other kids of color in their graduating class are still locked in generational cycles of poverty because of guidance councilors like the one my friend ran into?

              3. Engineer Girl*

                My counselor aggressively told me I wasn’t smart enough for engineering even though I was getting all A’s in AP calculus and physics and also National Honor Society.
                It shook me up a bit. But I wanted to be an engineer so badly I ignored her.
                I also note that I had people discouraging me when I struggled through my engineering classes. Instead of getting help or encouragement, I got “you should probably quit”.
                I had one manager send me job ads (at my home) to encourage me to leave the company. Twenty years later we were in the same program and I was the one to review his work.

                My point? This kind of discouragement is continuous and never ending. Even after you think you’ve proven yourself over and over. But it does start to eat at your confidence when you get it for decades.

            5. Anon4Life*

              When I was in high school, my sister was a year ahead of me and she is a very bright person. I ALWAYS got accused of using my sister’s work. It got so bad, I stopped trying and just got bad grades because I was so tired of being (publicly) accused of cheating off my older sister. It was a tough time for me.

              I went to a different college than my sister and did very well :)

            6. TootsNYC*

              I’d used a word the teacher believed was beyond my “level” and that my parents must’ve been doing my homework for me.

              as opposed to just, oh, using a large vocabulary at home?

              (books, people!)

            7. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

              I had a similar experience – my teacher wanted to know what I thought “tedious” meant (I told her it meant “boring,” because that’s what it means). What was silly about it was that I was well known to be reading at an advanced level. At least there she actually told me that she had thought I’d cheated, but was wrong and apologized (and possibly put me in an advanced reading group? I can’t remember if that happened before or after this incident).

            8. Wired Wolf*

              I had two teachers in high school that felt “learning disability” meant “will never do well”. An English teacher failed me after claiming plagiarism on a book report…she was oddly fixating on the Cliff Notes for the book. We had no CN books in the house. AFAICR the grade was never changed and I was forced into an additi0nal year for one class to make it up (that class was actually far below my level, the “main” book was some horrible YA sports novel that I finished in one day).

              My social studies (remember that?) teacher called my mom in for a conference because she was convinced that I cheated on the final exam (got an A). Low-C student with a learning disability…it was somehow unthinkable that I could get my crap together for the final. How does one cheat on an essay exam anyway?

              1. Ariaflame*

                Only if you know what the questions are going to be. But students do try to cheat in exams, sneak in notes in their coats etc. But I really can’t see how you would do that in an essay exam without advance knowledge of the question and that shouldn’t be possible. Unless they’re completely re-using questions over and over. And then having prepared for that as an example isn’t cheating.

        2. geopanda*

          I’m doing my masters now (while working full-time) and one of my professors last semester always asked me, “Did you get your husband to do your homework?” and he kept asking me if I’m married before making suggestions for my project. He also said, “You aren’t going to get your husband to come in here and beat me up, are you?” The funny part is I’m not married and I don’t wear any rings at all, never mind one he could mistake for a wedding ring. I didn’t think anything of it at the time. Now that the class is done and I’ve safely got my A grade, I was thinking of going to some university higher-up about it. I documented everything contemporaneously and they won’t be able to claim I’m bitter over a bad grade, because my grade is good (and, despite his antics, I do think it’s a fair grade).

      2. Some Sort of Management consultant*

        Oh! This is an excellent perspective and not one I had ever thought about myself!

      3. EPLawyer*

        In addition to not expecting the person different from you to not be able to handle the harder task, don’t treat the person who might not succeed any differently than someone just like you. If you would look at the person just like you who didn’t succeed and say “oh well, you win some and you lose some, better luck next time” do the same thing with the different person. Do not see the different person as incapable of every succeeding at the task.

        Remember, really successful people have A LOT of failures to go with their successes. Because they keep striving. Edison found 99 ways to not make a light bulb but remember he found the one way that worked at the time.

        1. Zephy*

          Always a relevant XKCD – in this case, #385, “How It Works.”

          (The comic depicts two identical stick figures standing in front of a chalkboard with some mathematical notation on it. The caption is “Wow, you suck at math.” Next to that are another pair of stick figures, one with long hair to indicate “female,” with the same mathematical notation again. The caption is “Wow, girls suck at math.”)

          People like you are judged as individuals, people different from you are judged as proxies for their entire group. That’s not cool, and recognizing that will go a long way in helping OP overcome his internal biases.

      4. Quinalla*

        Same experience here as another woman in engineering. It is happening less now that I am older (just turned 40), but it still happens especially when I meet with new clients/contractors/owners. Once I’ve proved myself for the 1000000 time in my life to new people, I can almost see them shift me in their brain from “Who they heck does this girl/woman think she is?” to “Oh, she really is an engineer.” It often takes awhile for that shift to happen and there have been a few where they never make the shift AND I know that failure especially newly after the shift will move me right back into the incompetent box. Also, dressing more like a dude engineer makes new people assume I am more competent. It is as comical as it is rage-making to me at this point :( But yeah, the older I get, the more likely people are to assume at least some competence, so you women, it may get easier for you eventually!

        It is no wonder I still have so much impostor syndrome, when your competence is questioned by default by most people, duh what do you expect to happen :) I finally came to this realization 2 years ago and it has really helped me feel more confident and to put impostor syndrome in its place.

        And yes, great to see this reaction by the OP to this as it is unfortunately not the typical reaction. We all have unconscious biases and trying to keep them in check is something you have to do forever, you don’t ever eliminate them, you just get better at catching them tripping you up. I’ve got my own blind spots where I have privilege that I’m working on too, so fist bump of solidarity! Do what you can yourself and try to help others too, especially where your privilege makes it safer/easier for you to speak up. You are going to mess up like we all do, but don’t let that stop you from trying to do better.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I’ve seen past comments here where young, under-40 women said they use dry shampoo to put gray streaks in their hair so people will take them seriously.

          1. Anonymuss*

            Though I’ve never heard of this, I wouldn’t be surprised at all. I’ve had grey hair since childhood, from one strand here & there to visible streaks on the crown of my head at present. I’m also 23, short, thin and an East Asian woman. All these factors combined, I’m incredibly grateful for the grey. Even if it doesn’t fool people completely, it gives them enough pause to not write me off immediately.

            It’s almost like I can see it go through their heads — “wait, Anonymuss has… grey?? hair?? does not compute… rewriting precalculated formulas…”

        2. anonymous for this part*

          The dressing to improve expectations thing – so true! I’m a female physician who is 40. I’ve been going grey since high school. A couple years ago, I gave up coloring my hair (I’m just too lazy). I cannot BELIEVE how much less trouble I have had since letting my hair go — I get so much more immediate trust (probably about 80% more) from both patients and colleagues.

          1. Wired Wolf*

            I’ve noticed that if I let my hair go too long between colorings, I get taken more seriously by my managers–all of whom are younger than I am. Only problem is the way that the gray comes in combined with my natural color looks awful…

            1. Michaela Westen*

              If you know a hairdresser who’s good with color, you could have them put some nice gray streaks in your hair. I had that while I was growing mine out from being colored. It looked wonderful and I got lots of compliments.
              The gray color washed off in about 4 weeks and there was gold underneath… I liked that but if you don’t, you’ll have to have the gray color renewed every month or so.

      5. MOAS*

        PCBH & others — do you feel this attitude typically comes from men?

        I can commiserate. I got promoted and one person immediately said “oh she’s *friendly* with the person who promoted her.” (GROSS GROSS GROSS) Sorry not sorry that I was good at my job.

        1. MtnLaurel*

          Ewwww….reminds me of the time a (male) co-worker said that I must have gotten my doc because I wore short skirts. How about…no? I’m still angry about that one.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Ugh, disgusting and unfortunately not surprising. I’m really sorry that you and MtnLaurel have had these experiences.

          1. DJ*

            Ugh, those comments are always rage-inducing. Plus they make me wonder about the person making them, like would this dude just hand a woman something that would normally take a huge amount of time/money/effort just because she’s got a short skirt on??? Also, if this were true, do they not think more women would take advantage of that? (Speaking as a woman who would absolutely take advantage of that.)

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          It can be from anyone, but the usual pattern is ‘someone with the same or more racial / gender privilege’. So, I (white woman) have gotten it from white men, but never black / latinx men, and I have seen several white women do this with PoC (both genders). Race trumps gender in this particular race to the bottom – white people are more likely to do it to PoC than men to women.

          It definitely has gotten less as I get older – don’t know if it’s my growth, social change, or just a better employer with an emphasis on diversity and inclusion.

          1. Jules the 3rd*

            Caveat: This is from my observations (anecdotes), I can not say it is universally true (data). But my sample’s skewed, since I’m a white woman – I figure if I’m seeing as much racial bias as I see, there’s probably even more that I don’t. I definitely see more race than gender, except for ‘model minorities’ who get it in different ways – ‘of course he’s good at that…’ – gender seems to be more disdained than race with people from Asian backgrounds.

            I guess, the answer is, it’s complicated, but I’ve seen white men do it most, and then white women.

            1. lemon*

              As a woman of color, I’ve experienced this from all sides– white men, men of color, white women. And then you’re dealing with bias against women *and* bias against your race, which manifests in weird ways, like people assuming you’re the cleaning staff or making a joke about how you should be their nanny (because, you know, those are the only jobs they know for Latinx women).

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              It’s true that there can be a model minority issue at play, but in my experience, Asian Americans get hit just as hard on race and gender grounds, especially if we’re from “non-model” backgrounds.

              1. MOAS*

                What are non-model Asian backgrounds? I’ve heard of Asians as “model minority” but not of Asians who are non-model.

                Ok so I grew up in NYC in the late 90s/early 2000s, lived in a primarily black neighborhood, and I went to an all-girls Catholic High school (being Muslim/South Asian, I was already a minority in both respects). I have to give props to my HS, b/c all students were encouraged to excel in science/tech/math, sports, etc and sadly it seems like that was the exception rather than the rule based on peoples accounts above.

                The reason I bring it up, is b/c I never felt like…an outsider due to my gender/race/religion. I always felt like, if I didn’t succeed, there were other things, like my personality, drive, ambition, etc. And while I don’t actively participate in discussions about race/gender, I’ve always tried to keep aware of what’s going on. It’s only now though in the last few years, I’ve started to wonder…. “was this comment/action said/done to me, b/c I’m __ or b/c of my (lack thereof) abilities/perceived competence etc”? It’s..interesting.

                1. kt*

                  In my town there are Asians & Asian-Americans from very, very different backgrounds: roughly, they or their ancestors came as refugees, for business, or for education. My friend in junior high whose parents were both in graduate school in STEM subjects and came here for that purpose from China had a very different experience than my friend in 2nd grade whose parents came here from a refugee camp, were illiterate and hadn’t had much education overall, and literally started with a family of 6 plopped into a small apartment with donated furniture and clothes. Grad students aren’t rich either, but junior-high friend had parents who could help her with calculus and 2nd grade friend was dealing with crime in her neighborhood and working to support her siblings. It’s just different arcs of the immigrant experience; by the third generation in the US basically all immigrant groups have regressed to the norm!

                  In my area this is a real problem because the National Science Foundation, for instance, doesn’t count Asian-Americans in the “diversity” score for STEM programs they are supporting — but if we want to reach low-income, first-generation, or at-risk students where I live, there are going to be a ton of Asian-Americans in that category! It is also interesting to see the clashing stereotypes get all confuzzled in peoples’ minds if they’re trying to be lazy in categorizing people: “should I stereotype this girl as good at math or not?!?! my stereotypes are conflicting!”

                2. EH*

                  IME (white, raised in a super-diverse SF Bay Area suburb), when most white Americans think “Asian American,” they are actually thinking Chinese/Japanese American. Depending on where you are, the more South-East Asian you look the less intelligent/trustworthy people think you are.
                  There’s also plenty of colorism everywhere, so if you’re SE Asian but light-skinned, people will think better of you than a darker-skinned SE Asian person.
                  It’s depressing.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  The “model minority” narrative where I grew up (East Bay Area) had the following assumptions (this is not an exhaustive list):

                  * APIAs are all of East Asian descent (Chinese, Japanese, Korean)
                  * APIAs are children of 1965 “brain drain” immigrants (ignoring the 100+ years of Asian Americans in California)
                  * Their parents are tiger parents
                  * APIA women are demure, quiet, non-confrontational, and submissive
                  * APIAs all excel at STEM, play violin/piano, play sports like tennis but not contact sports, and are poor writers/communicators
                  * APIAs are secretive, insular, sneaky, competitive, studious but disengaged from anything other than academics, lack social skills, and over-emphasize grades and test performance, but they can’t handle rejection and lack grit
                  * They all grew up in very Christian and socially conservative homes
                  * APIAs are perma-immigrants (i.e., they’re never “from” here)
                  * Their parents are highly educated and came from high SES backgrounds where those parents had the same situational privilege as “elite whites” in the U.S., and in many cases achieve high SES in the U.S.

                  All of those assumptions are problematic and racist, but they also invisibilize the socioeconomic and ethnic diversity within Asian American & Pacific Islander populations. There’s a lot of APIAs who come from working class backgrounds, are first-gen college, attended struggling school districts, are from ethnic groups that are based in the other 2/3 of Asia, are sometimes 6th+ generation American, etc.

                  IME, folks who do not fall into the “model minority” narrative get significant racial and gendered backlash, but spectrum of that intersection also depends on things like geographic location and industry. For example, I faced racial and gendered discrimination through K-college, but the discrimination feels much more present and overt for me in law practice.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          In my anecdotal experience, white men have been the most likely to underestimate me or presume that I’m incompetent, but white women have been more likely to accuse me of plagiarism or to try to “punish” me. Of course, I’ve also had white male and female mentors who truly believed in and supported, and who were invaluable to my professional and personal development. But the majority of my strongest mentors have been women and men of color.

        4. AKchic*

          I’ve gotten the accusations of impropriety or favoritism for jobs / promotions from women AND men. Internalized misogyny isn’t so internal when jealousy comes in to play.

      6. RUKiddingMe*

        So much this. Women in general are considered to be not as smart/capable.

        Throw in other demographics such as being a POC, young(er), and especially a WOC and it gets exponentially worse/more patronizing/paternalistic.

      7. Marmaduke*

        Soft bigotry really hits home for me. I have degrees and professional experience in behavior analysis, special education, language education, and biochemistry. I was hired at a school to support their science and special education programs in a variety of ways. However, I also have a speech impediment and some nominal aphasia related to brain damage. No other cognitive impact; I do just fine as long as people will be slightly patient.
        After my manager heard me tripping over my words during a flare, she started pulling me off my normal assignments to make copies or do data entry. It went on for a week or so until the people I was meant to be supporting complained to administration. When asked why she was putting a highly paid, trained employee on tasks normally done by parent volunteers, she explained (in front of me) that she thought I would be happier if I were put on projects that were “more my speed.” The principal replied, “Well, since she’s the only person here today who’s qualified to do x, y, and z, why don’t you let me decide what her speed is from now on.” After that I could finally get back to doing what I was hired for, but the whole experience was pretty demeaning.

      8. TootsNYC*

        I would also consider the soft bigotry of low expectations. For most of my life, I’ve been advised to start with the “easier” option and “work up to” the harder options.

        I think that confident men start with the hard one, and that’s part of why they succeed. It’s kind of like the idea that men tend to apply for a job that they meet 80% of the requirements for, and women often think they have to have all the requirements.

        So, maybe people who give advice should have more confidence in the people they’re advising.

    2. Annon for this*

      Yepp, so heartening to see that there is level of reflection, introspection and willingness to learn . There are two sides to this: 1. The lack of introspection and just ascribing certain positive attributs to just “your type of person” and 2. the more insidious one of misattributing certain traits and attitudes just based the external information you receive. Case in point: My grand-boss is type 1, my direct boss is type 2. Grand-boss ascribes capabilities, potential for success and respectability to his type (white, middle-aged, German male)- I’m a WOC and had already failed in his eyes the minute I walked into his office (I’m fairly certain from things he said to me over the last 3.5 years that he’s not read my CV). On the other hand I have a direct boss who ascribed a certain “temper and character” also based on me being a WOC- but as I tend to be introverted and not a happy-go-lucky “hot headed latina type” he’s disappointed. It hurts, frustrates and demoralises me to be ignored, diminished, talked over or treated as a disappointment. And this from people who, I naively thought, should know better- academics, researchers in the life sciences. It has also hurt my career, I realised this too late as I was caught up in the fall out from private stuff, but now I’m counting the days till this project ends.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        uuuuuggggghhh – sympathy, and I hope it gets better. I will say that my experience is that commercial companies that tout their diversity as a competitive advantage often mean it, and you deserve to be someplace that recognizes your skills and quality. Good luck.

    3. Wakeens Teapots LTD*

      This is the best question to AAM ever.

      Slate or New Yorker piece on the subject please, Alison. <3

      1. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

        Yes, I agree. This is worth circulating! We need more people like this OP.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      That’s exactly what I was coming to the comments thread for too. OP #3, you should be really proud of that instinct, even if you’re not happy with your talent identification right now.

    5. Gemliza*

      Agree lots of courage to ask this question. Being a female in tech is often found I’ve surprised male counterparts with my ‘technical prowess as a female’ and have often been told to start easy because my skills were underestimated because of the natural male/female bias seen in the industry. I’d start exploring this idea if I were number this individual first. Before he ever gendered the individual I knew where his story was going. Men and women ask very different questions because our career paths are extremely Feiffer, especially for us senior techies who have been dealing with the bias illustrated here most of our careers. It’s waning with the younger generation, in the tech industry anyway, but it’s still hard to impress on some older male counterparts that we know what we’re doing simply because our way of expressing or explain our roles are very different then their’s.

      1. Paulina*

        The male mentees that OP3 interacts with are also likely to be reacting to a sense of similarity with him, which can encourage them to ask more questions, be more aggressive for details, etc. The rapport builds more easily when fed from both sides. Meanwhile female mentees not only are far less likely to have that reaction, but also are far more likely to have had a bad experience from asking deeper questions: ignored, misinterpreted, even made fun of.

    6. Mimi Me*

      Was coming here to say just that. It made me so happy to see that there was a male who wrote in asking for advice to change his own thinking instead of for advice on how to change the people around him.

    7. Token Archaeologist*

      LW 3 – If you really want to take this one step further I suggest looking into taking a course in “Cultural Intelligence.” Rather than focus on the basics that most diversity training focuses on Cultural Intelligence focuses on building the skills needed to recognize your own bias, and building the flexibility to work through/around it as appropriate. Basically, it focuses on building the skills and awareness needed to do exactly what Alison has suggested. And as other commenters have said – good for you for your self awareness and drive to learn.

    8. Jules the 3rd*

      Suggestions for good reads by / about WoC: HIDDEN FIGURES – great read, movie was ok.

      Spec fic: Octavia Butler, NK Jemisen, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Hao Jingfang (see: 2016 Hugo winners), Daina Chaviano, Susan Power, Larissa Lai, Nisi Shawl (fic and non-fic, eg _Writing the Other_)

      Literature: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan, Zora Neale Hurston (I’m much more into spec fic, and I’m older, but there’s a lot of great WoC writers now, these are just some timeless classics) (I have left one prominent author out due to significant anti-semitic statements she’s made recently. I read several of her books growing up but I can’t recommend her now.)

      Thriller / Mystery: Rachel Howzell Hall, Kellye Garrett – the action side seems to be mostly men, I don’t read it myself.

      I also recommend James Baldwin. If your media intake is more movie related, then Hidden Figures, If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight, Waiting to Exhale, Beloved, All The Spike Lee, A Raisin in the Sun, Girls Trip. If you can stand horror, I hear Get Out and Us are really good.

      Everyone should see or read Hidden Figures, but especially men in tech. I can not recommend that book enough.

      1. booksbooksbooksmorebooks*

        Yes!! More suggestions from my bookmarks – these lists below have been shaping my reading lists the last few years.

        Everything Well Read Black Girl recommends: https://www.wellreadblackgirl.com/reading-list
        This list by RO Kwon (and any of her books): https://electricliterature.com/34-books-by-women-of-color-to-read-this-year-581eda906a76
        Roxane Gay keeps lists that are great: https://medium.com/@rgay/my-2018-in-reading-and-writing-741dfa0dd374
        If your tastes run to classics, these are a great start and easier to find at a library/used than some of the newer books: https://bookriot.com/2017/06/29/100-must-read-classics-by-people-of-color/

      2. Cactus*

        Other recommendations: Ntozake Shange (novels and plays), Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes), Dael Orlandersmith (Yellowman), Suzan Lori Parks (several plays), Lynn Nottage (Pulitzer-winning playwright), Jesmyn Ward (novels and a memoir), Yiyun Li (everything she has written), Elaine Castillo (America is Not the Heart), Samantha Irby (We Are Never Meeting In Real Life), Mike Croley (short stories), Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You), Claudia Rankine (poetry), Nikky Finney (poetry), Thrity Umrigar (The Space Between Us), Julia Alvarez (How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents), Cristina Henriquez (The Book of Unknown Americans), Thi Bui (The Best We Could Do), Viet Thanh Nguyen (The Sympathizer), Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Helen Oyeyemi (What Is Not Yours is Not Yours), and Tommy Orange (There There).

    9. not enough coffee in the world*

      I’d also say there is a performative/theatrical aspect to questions. I’ve seen this a lot in science/engineering – the questions aren’t honest questions, but they are a way to show how much you know. You might ask “oh how does the doohickey on the widget affect the operations of the laser on the x-ray spectrometer”, when you know full-well the answer – you’re just showing that you know all these things. So, OP, keep in mind that the questions you get may not be “real”, at least all the time; maybe it never was a good proxy for technical competence.

      Full disclosure: *not* asking the questions has really held me back as a female in science.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        This is a great point. My thought was also that Alice may have picked up on a dismissive vibe, or decided not to ask questions LW told her to work on something easier. In other words, if she knew that LW wasn’t taking her seriously, why would she try to engage in a serious discussion and seek his advice?

        (Not a knock on LW, who seems awesome! Just one possible explanation.)

      2. Anonymeece*

        That twigged for me too – I don’t know if it’s socialization or I’m naturally introverted or what, but I have trouble asking questions (or answering them, even when I know I’m right). I have seen this pattern played out with female friends. Most of my female friends will not speak up unless they’re 99% right; with most of my guy friends (not all), it’s more like 60% right.

        OP, it’s great that you’re willing to change and wanting to grow. Like, really great! I second Alison’s suggestions, and I like the way not enough coffee put it above: “maybe it never was a good proxy for technical competence”. Something to think about.

    10. Junior Dev*

      I would encourage OP3 to:

      * do some digging and find articles about “soft” or “professional” skills in tech that goes beyond the very superficial, and beyond using those things as a euphemism for “don’t be an asshole”
      * follow some women in tech on Twitter—off the top of my head, Alice Goldfuss, Erica Joy, Leslie Carhart, Malware Unicorn, Sarah Mei, Anil Dash (who is a man but makes a point to only retweet women). Read some of their more in-depth threads on their own experiences in the workplace. This will give you more candid opinions than a lot of “women in tech” blogs and organizations, who often rely on tech companies for funding and have a vested interest in not offending them by challenging the status quo.

      I will try and dig up some good links on this later. The general point I’m trying to get at is our cultural norms around what makes someone “technical” and “a good coder” are pretty arbitrary and tend to leave out things that women tend to be socialized to do, like teaching and managing social dynamics, that are actually crucial to the success of technical projects—and we do these things while also having to maintain a high level of technical knowledge because we don’t get the benefit of the doubt like (especially white) men do.

    11. Phlox*

      For folks who want to followup on the how in the heck do I manage employees in a way that doesn’t perpetuate structural bias and oppression, The Management Center has a really great seminar on Managing for Racial Equity, Inclusion and Results that is done in a few cities (and is totally worth flying to go do). Make implicit assumptions explicitly stated, don’t mistake preferences for requirements, and keep an eye on patterns of how you behave and what opportunities and feedback you give. They have tracks specifically designed for people of color as well as open to all (which in my experience has been fairly white dominant).

  2. Observer*

    #5 – I think this is one of the few times where reaching out makes sense, as long as you use something like the script Alison suggests. You’re providing a relevant piece of information that might legitimately affect their decision making. That’s different than just trying to make sure that they know that you are really interested or “reminding” them that you exist.

    1. Filosofickle*

      When I was trying to relo, I didn’t get many responses until I scheduled a weeklong trip and could say that in my applications / communications. Then, bam, I got several! My belief is they didn’t take me seriously as a cross-country applicant until I showed up.

      Since then I’ve heard from a number of hiring folks who told me they are sometimes skeptical of applicants making big moves. They worry that the person can’t/won’t follow through, it will take too much time, or they may not be happy with the move and won’t stay. They’ve told me it’s helpful if you can reassure them in some way that you are committed to moving and you know what you’re getting into — moving to be near family works great for that.

      1. Life is Good*

        This seems to be true in my experience. My son applied for job after job in his desired city, which was a state away, for more than a year while he worked until his contract was up. After no bites at all he was pretty discouraged. He finally decided to make the leap and moved to his chosen city and within a few days he had three interviews lined up and a job before the week was over!

        1. jDC*

          Agree. When I moved I put my moms city on the resume. When called and asked I just said I was out of town but would be back (week if planned). I did explain further in the interview that I am 1000% moving but wrapping things up so was back and forth. They didn’t seem to care at all at that point that I wasn’t yet there full time.

      2. Database Developer Dude*

        So basically hiring folks don’t think we’re adults and can’t handle adult responsibilities, I guess.

        1. fposte*

          Not really–it’s perfectly adult to decide you don’t like Cleveland or that you’d prefer to live elsewhere and will move back if a job opens up. But hiring managers understand that if you moved to Cleveland just for a job, you’re likelier to take a new job elsewhere just for the job. That’s an adult choice for a job-seeker but also something a hiring manager doesn’t want.

        2. hbc*

          We don’t know much about the candidates when we’re screening, so it’s not a personal judgment, but in aggregate, out-of-area candidates *are* a higher risk. I’ve had the guy who was willing to fly in to interview didn’t bother asking his wife whether she actually wanted to move until after we’d wasted our time and money. I’ve had the guy who was totally fine with the hour+ commute since it was short term and he was going to be moving soon anyway, who still hadn’t moved 5 years later and was constantly trying to get out of coming into the office.

          So yeah, if I have ten roughly equal candidates and am going to interview five, I’m probably not going to invite the extra risk and the annoyance of coordinating tight timing and/or expense of a flight. It’s just a reality of jobs with a deep candidate pool.

        3. pleaset*

          If you have two candidates who as far as you can tell are the same but one lives in your city and the other would have to move, who would you choose?

          Would you just flip a coin?

        4. TootsNYC*

          one other problem with considering an out-of-towner is that it can be really difficult to arrange interviews. Some of us really want in-person interviews, but we aren’t going to pay to fly people in. And we don’t want the difficulty of trying to get you in to see the Big Boss for a 2nd interview.

          I’ve never not interviewed a good candidate because they were from out of town, but I’m not going to spend my time arranging interviews for a pretty good candidate.

      3. Constance Lloyd*

        In my relocations I was lucky enough to have a local address to use when I applied (each time I was joining my partner, so my name was on the lease, I just want living there yet). I think it helped to have the chance to speak to someone before they knew I wasn’t local just yet.

      4. Elizabeth West*

        I’m doing this now and even 200 miles seems to be too far for them to take me seriously. So I put the damn house up for sale.

        Of course, my ideal location is out west, so after I move, I can say, “I’m staying with family in City currently and am available to relocate immediately,” which will be true because once I sell my house, I can jump in the car and go anywhere. Now this process just needs to hurry the hell up. I am sick of everything taking so damn looooooooonnnnnnggg.

        Of course, actually moving before applying only works if you have enough money to live on for a while or have a place to stay in your chosen city.

      5. TootsNYC*

        also, on the topic of taking you seriously as an out-of-town candidate–

        “visiting family” is good because it will answer any back-of-the-mind worry about “how are they going to find a place to live in time to start this job?”

        They’ll assume that you can sleep on a sofa or in an extra bedroom, and it will remove an obstacle.

        I know that’s not the hiring manager’s business, but it’s always been a bit on my mind when I was considering or hiring an out-of-town candidate.

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Yeah, when I was job hunting long distance, I got one interview, let all the other companies I was talking to know I’d be in town x days, and ended up with 4 interviews in 2 days. I think it actually helped me too. I was alone, in a strange area, without GPS, I was driving all over the huge metro area for interviews with very tight timeframes and I made it all work smoothly.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I wonder also if an interviewer would say, “oh, I’ll make space to interview you, because if I don’t do it know, it might not be as easy later,” so if you’re a “possible” for a first interview, you might move up to a “definite” just because you are actually going to be there, and they feel a bit of pressure from the limited time frame of the opportunity to meet with you.

      1. LGC*

        Basically, nnn is joking that it’s the same hotel as the one in the letter she linked, and isn’t actually saying that it is the same hotel.

        (Nena tossed out a link that says the same thing, but I figured I’d explain it.)

        Alternatively, it could be that we have the same employee in a different job! (Again, joking.)

    1. pleaset*

      The haunting isn’t the core issue – the bigger problem is someone deciding not to use a hotel room that’s been booked and will be paid for for them without alerting the person doing the booking. That’s really bad – at a minimum that person should have given a heads up as soon as they had concerns, and they absolutely should have informed the OP as soon as they booked their own space.

      1. C*

        I have a feeling the employee was embarrassed to tell her employer she was scared of sleeping in a “haunted” hotel and was hoping to be able to just slide it in under the radar, not expecting the client to be notified that she never checked in and would complain to her company.

        Can’t entirely blame her (I’d see her a bit differently if I worked with her), but if it were me, I would eat the cost of the hotel myself because I would recognize this as my own weird thing and not something my company or clients should be expected to accommodate. Especially since I maybe could have avoided it early by saying to the client “Hey, so this is kind of silly, but I’m kind of superstitious, so would it be possible to book at a different hotel?” or whatever.

        1. TootsNYC*

          this is likely.

          She may also have thought that if she just didn’t show up, nobody would get charged.

      2. TootsNYC*

        that’s what struck me. You can decide to not want to sleep at a hotel for ANY reason; maybe you don’t like the neighborhood; maybe you have a thing about hotels across from parking lots; maybe you have an animosity toward that brand.

        But you don’t keep quiet about it–you speak up, so the company who made the reservation can cancel it, and so your company can figure out where to have you stay.

    2. EPLawyer*

      I had the same thought. “hmmm I wonder if this is the hotel from that earlier letter.”

      1. Ghost Slayer*

        I might have, too, but it turns out there are many hotels that claim to be haunted, or guests claim they are haunted.

        I’ve stayed at one that supposedly is, many times, in fact, and never had a frightening experience.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I would be extremely disappointed if I were staying at a haunted hotel and didn’t have an experience. *leaves out milk and cookies for ghosts*

  3. Anne Noise*

    #2 makes a very large stretch by saying the coworker is “clearly responsible” for her partner’s illness. To attribute that to their boss (!) or ask to be financially compensated by a coworker for a “ruined” vacation seems so petty!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I’m not sure that it’s petty, but I do think it’s misplaced. It sounds like this was a big and expensive trip, and OP is incredibly frustrated and disappointed by what happened. I think most of us would be similarly disappointed by what happened, although we may all have different ways of processing our disappointment.

      I suspect that that frustration/anger is looking for a target, and it’s much easier to be upset at the coworker than it is to be upset at a virus or at a society without adequate medical/health-care safety nets. I agree that it’s a stretch, and the chain of causation is attenuated (although I can see how OP got there). It just sounds like a tough situation :(

      1. Tallulah in the Sky*

        Agreed, I read that letter the same way. I think OP is just super frustrated about a ruined trip and lost money and vented out. My max budget for my “big” yearly vacation is about 1.200 dollars, if it all goes through the drain and I didn’t get to enjoy myself, I’d have trouble keeping my cool for a while. It wouldn’t surprise me if OP realized how weird her reasoning was once she wrote it out and send it, once the initial brain melting frustration simmered away.

        1. blackcat*

          I always get travel insurance for anything over 1k expenses, precisely because of things like these coming up!

          1. ElspethGC*

            I got travel insurance for a holiday that cost less than £300 total for the flights and AirB&B – it only costs about £5-10, and means you can recoup your costs if the holiday falls through or if the airline screws up. Travel insurance for every multiple-night trip you plan, folks!

            1. Elizabeth*

              Unless you have info that insurers either don’t have or can’t legally use (like preexisting conditions, now), insurance is only economically rational for catastrophic costs, whatever that means for you. It’s always cheaper to self-insure.

              That’s the foundation of the insurance business model, in fact: travel insurance is profitable for companies because on average it’s a *bad* idea for travelers.

              1. RandomU...*

                This always what I got out of it. There are some vacations that I will insure. But they usually have similar characteristics. Off the beaten path location, expensive airfare, higher risk activities, or an element of uncertainty.

                Otherwise as sucky as it is… Yes, I would normally eat the cost of any ruined vacation.

              2. NothingIsLittle*

                It’s a bad idea for travelers in the sense that 9/10 they won’t use any of it or the company won’t cover the specifics of the situation. However, for anxious travelers, it’s less about actually having a company pay for your helicopter to the nearest hospital (one of the emergencies you can have covered) and more about knowing that if something catastrophic happens you won’t have to choose between getting medical care and paying rent/mortgage. I think in many cases where you’re paying as much as the OP was, as long as the company is reputable and the plan isn’t total nonsense, it makes sense to pay $30 for your peace of mind. (The prices depend on where you’re traveling and what you’re having covered, but $30 was what it would have cost when I was researching my trip to South Africa.)

              3. MsSolo*

                Does it cover less in the US? I suppose it’s also less relevant if you’re staying within the country, which offers a lot more scope for holidays in the US than it does the UK. Of course most holidays you’re never going to use it, which is how insurance companies turn a profit, but even if I added up every travel insurance policy I’ve ever taken out, it’s still far cheaper than the cost of covering any of the holidays I took with it (I mean, I’m a healthy individual with no pre-existing health conditions and no interest in extreme sports, so I’ve got cover for less than £10 on most trips – obviously for a lot of people the cost would be higher). When I broke my arm in Arctic Sweden my £31 insurance covered hospital fees (for to renew my E111! Only time I’d ever have needed it), pharmacy receipts, missed excursions and meals, and a bunch of other things totalling over a grand that would have been horrible to swallow.

              4. Lily Rowan*

                I just heard a story about someone being denied use of the insurance for a flight they wanted to cancel due to being in the middle of cancer treatment.

              5. Lime Lehmer*

                Many employer based health insurance only covers you while you are in the US, and not overseas. So when traveling overseas travel health insurance is an ABSOLUTE necessity.

                From Travel.state.gov: Although some health insurance companies pay “customary and reasonable” hospital costs abroad, very few pay for your medical evacuation back to the United States. Medical evacuation can cost more than $50,000, depending on your location and medical condition.

                Medical evacuations are something most of us can not self insure for.

              6. Curmudgeon in California*

                My wife is a travel agent. Any trip where you have non-refundable tickets, expensive hotels, or other costs that having to come home early or seek medical treatment would put you in a financial bind, get the travel insurance.

                I’ve known people who went on a family cruise, and a member of the family died. Travel insurance covered all of the extra expenses, including the cancellation of the cruise for the rest of the family and getting them all home.

                I know of a person who was on a road trip, the hotel they were supposed to stop at was suddenly overbooked, and travel insurance (and the travel agent) was able to re-book a new hotel before they got there.

                Travel insurance is based on the cost of the trip. If you had to save up for that cost, get the travel insurance.

                1. Former Front Desk*

                  In an overbook situation, the burden should always be on the hotel to reaccomodate, not on the guest.

          2. Another Allison*

            blackcat I came here to say the same thing Travel Insurance is so important. Recently my mom was on a very nice vacation when she got sick three days in and just wanted to go home. She called me and I put in requests with the hotel and airline and was able to get everything taken care of. I know sometimes it seems like a waste of money to insure your trip but it comes in handy when something like this happens

        2. Dust Bunny*

          I get sick almost every time I fly, so every major vacation I’ve been on since forever, I’ve been sick.

          So, a) food service is stupid not to have sick leave, but also b) even if it did, there is no guarantee you won’t spend your vacation sneezing.

    2. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Agreed, Anne Noise. You could also say the OP’s partner is ‘clearly responsible’ for keeping a sick co-worker at arm’s length; to insist that co-workers do not cough in his face, manager or not; and to take other common-sense steps most people do in order to minimize risk of getting sick.

      It sucks that sick leave isn’t readily available for food service jobs, and I’m frustrated for the OP, too. But demanding compensation for a vacation that didn’t go according to plan isn’t reasonable.

    3. JSPA*

      The person who’s most contagious is often not the one who’s coughing–coughs often last far past the contagious stage. If you have a big trip planned, you can proactively wash, glove and mask extra, because frankly, you’re being exposed from all sides. It’s not the job of the universe to create that bubble for you. When one coworker is visibly, audibly sick, it’s more than likely that others are in a prodromal stage, and are the main risk.

      On the other hand, thinking back to dealing with food-service workers and jobs…

      I can see someone being enough of an envious ass-hat that, knowing a coworker has a trip coming up, he’d intentionally hack and cough in their face. (We’ve all known that guy, right? Not enough power to be a bully, but does his best to bully from a position of weakness, uses his brainpower not to get a better job, because nobody would hire him for one, but to work out new and better ways to mess with people?) OP, if he kept sneaking up on your BF, cornering him, and then coughing intentionally in his face, while making comments about having a brand new sore throat, and how he was going to gloat next week, knowing that your BF was suffering on his vacation…then (and only then) do you have something to take to the manager. But that something isn’t, “he needs to pay for our trip.” It’s, “this is outrageous behavior.”

    4. Arjay*

      Yes, unless the “same illness” is something much more rare than cold or flu, you can’t attribute it to the co-worker.

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      Sigh. OK, I agree that you can’t hold them liable.

      But the egregious violation of coming in sick in a food service job and then coughing in your coworker’s face is pretty shocking, definitely seems passive-aggressive, and is an all around asinine thing to do.

      I have a radical hatred for people who come to work sick, even though I’ve been poor enough to have to do it (I try not to contaminate others.) I got pnuemonia in an open plan because of all the other contractors who came in sick and then had abysmal hygeine habits. That cost me three weeks pay, plus doctor costs, just because others wouldn’t stay home for a day or three. No one made me whole for that.

      That’s the problem with coming to work sick: You get the day’s pay, but others can lose weeks when they catch the crud you have. If people got a bill when they infected others, maybe the rate of casual transmission of illness at work would go down.

      1. ZK*

        Or maybe, employers should just actually let people stay home when they’re sick. My former employer has a sick policy that three absences and you’re gone. Got a doctor’s note? Doesn’t matter. If you’re in the hospital having emergency surgery? Better get the leave of absence paperwork filled out before the 3rd day. Maybe, we should just treat people like humans instead of replaceable cogs in a wheel.

        1. Autumn Please*

          Holy cow! That’s TERRIBLE! This one reason is why so many states are enacting mandatory sick time laws, of varying allowances and circumstances.

    6. Linzava*

      I agree partially. I have been in the position where our vacation was ruined exactly the same way. In one case, it was a salaried employee with sick leave who gave us the flu because he couldn’t cover his mouth when he coughed. Another was a retail coworker who was literally coughing in people’s faces.

      When OP said the coworker coughed in his face, I believe they were being literal. I know it’s not reasonable to hold someone financially responsible for being disgusting, but sometimes I wish it was, if only to encourage people to keep their germs to themselves. I’ve successfully worked while sick(only when necessary), and it’s easy to not spread it if you cough into kleenex, don’t touch common machines and handles with germ hands, and wash hands regularly.

      I feel for you OP, there’s no excuse for gross people. Every time I see a person coughing without covering their mouth, I have to resist the urge to yell, TYPHOID MARY!”

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#2, absolutely agreed that the important person to fight (in a broad, systemic sense) is the lack of adequate sick leave and sick leave protections across all industries. As much as your vacation was ruined, it’s not the coworker’s “fault.” He would not be liable in any legal or ethical/moral sense. But I do want to sympathize—it really sucks that your vacation was ruined, and that it came at a high money cost as well as a high experiential cost.

    Fight the power, friend.

    1. Mookie*

      All of this, including the letter itself and Alison’s answer, is great.

      And as a data point in the other direction: from a very early age, I was regarded by intelligent adults and authority figures as a person with great promise and was thus rewarded with trust, special tasks and privileges, and a lot of interest in and attention towards my development. In person, anyway, particularly in public and professional settings, I continue to embody (or, at least, perform) many of the ‘right’ cultural and class markers and personal habits and mannerisms that are believed to signify or correlate with high degrees of competence, intelligence, maturity, thoughtfulness, worldliness. I have none of these qualities and, honestly, have never made much headway in cultivating them. To be fair, I’m not actually practicing a deception, either, I’m just one of those people you meet that may initially impress you as someone formidable and possibly humble but perhaps concealing great and hidden depths, and only later (or not, if you’re my parents) you figure out it’s all diction and fussy manners and a narrow breadth of a tiny slice of knowledge plus bossiness of a gentle sort. Professional life-wise, this is enough for the low paid, semi-skilled work I do, which I enjoy and am pretty good at, and I got great grades and nice degrees and all, my conversation can sometimes be intellectually stimulating if neither novel nor challenging, but I am the actual imposter other people mistakenly believe they are because our culture only knows one or two default humans, who are also very special and unique, and everyone else is an aberration from a monolith that must prove its worth indefinitely.

      There are shitloads of us out there (cf Scalzi’s lowest difficulty settings) being given and often hoarding larger portions of the benefit of the doubt (not to mention power, prestige, and money) than we are due. I know enough about what I lack, just barely, to see how unconscious bigotry and an insular, parochial view of the world can rob us of people with real potential, real ambitions, real leadership, real excellence, which come in many better, more seasoned flavors than Lean In WASP. The only choice available is to advocate for and lift up those people, be guided by and learn from them and join their teams, when I see them and I’m able. It’s mind boggling how blinkered otherwise well-meaning people can be when untapped human resources are staring them in the face, so kudos to you, LW, for taking the blinders off.

      I second the notion, after Alison, that looking out for other ways people manifest competence and intelligence than the ones you know, find familiar, and take inspiration from, is something we should continuously practice. We all learn by watching and then mimicking, so it’s useful to take a step outside your own community to see what other modes of leadership are possible. The prevailing culture has a lot of toxic ideas about what success and brilliance look like, and can get away with. We are in desperate need of escaping this withering, inbred monoculture.

      1. Mookie*

        Oh, cripes. This is not where this comment belongs at all. This is in response to PCBH’s response to LW 3, of course.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        ” I was regarded by intelligent adults and authority figures as a person with great promise,” is important. And adults are terrible at identifying gifted children. The type of student who gets flagged for being gifted by teachers is usually quiet, studious, and helpful/a kissup. The type of student who gets flagged by objective tests for being gifted is usually the kind of student the teacher finds obnoxious and disruptive.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          “The type of student who gets flagged by objective tests for being gifted is usually the kind of student the teacher finds obnoxious and disruptive.”

          I.e., my daughter, lol! (In her case, the result of intellectual giftness combined with a severe case of ADHD, which in turn resulted in an academic record/grades that were wildly incongruent with her true abilities. *sigh*)

          1. Wired Wolf*

            Yup, that was me. Not ADHD but Asperger’s, same general reaction from teachers…when I was a young pup my parents encouraged/taught me to question pretty much everything; I was a precocious and weirdly perceptive pain in the butt often reading and doing things above my perceived grade level.

        2. Mookie*

          This, precisely. As a shrinking introvert, there was nothing more inspiring to me than a joyful, loud sort of child who, as you say, was so often disregarded or resented by big humans as inconvenient or disruptive. Those not broken by the system seem to me to have grown up into very admirable, interesting people, the kind I like to be led by in my working life.

      3. smoke tree*

        I think this provides valuable insight that apart from unconscious bias towards certain groups in itself, it’s also wise to guard against too strongly correlating certain behaviours with certain personality traits, talents or skills. It’s telling that the LW identified a reluctance to ask questions as part of the reason he initially overlooked Alice. This tracks with discussions we’ve had on this site about how privileged individuals tend to be more likely to advocate for themselves, because it’s given them good results in the past. I think everyone’s a little vulnerable to being impressed by charm and confidence, but when part of your job involves identifying talent and potential, it’s particularly important to dig a little deeper.

        1. Mookie*

          So, so true. There are loads of very talented people incapable or unwilling to toot their own horns. It’s so important to gauge the skills and potential of people not only by how they socialize or verbalize, particularly around unfamiliar faces, but by how they behind the scenes, how they complement their peers, and what substantive victories they can achieve. Dark horses are just a fact of life. Overlooking them is a detriment to everyone.

          On the rare occasions I’ve been tasked with managing or supervising new colleagues one-on-one and for an extended grace period, my primary initial priority is always to discover what ‘success’ looks like for them, how they wear it, if you will. It’s really eye-opening to discover that highly efficient people often inadvertently ‘disguise’ superlative work; you don’t necessarily recognize that it’s there, but suddenly everything is running more smoothly than usual and otherwise fairly middling team members are pumping out higher than usual quality.

      1. Nonny Maus*

        To be fair, would YOU be reassured by a worker wearing a mask in Food Service? (Personally, I agree–having done my time in Food Service and then some. I also advocate strongly for CHANGING THE SYSTEM so there is sick-leave/coverage.)

        Sometimes appearances matter, and if you don’t ‘look’ sick, that’s better ‘optics’ even if you are. Or such was the thinking I was used to in Food Service.

        1. Victoria, Please*

          How about ALL the food servers wear masks, all the time? And hairnets? And gloves? AND fixing the broke system, of course.

          I’m still wishing, 20+ years later, that I had refused to be served by a cute li’l thang (age, gender, and cuteness is relevant) who, while waiting in line, I had witnessed carefully arranging her long bangs just so to fall fetchingly on either side of her visor and then NOT WASHING HANDS before she served me. She was using utensils but STILL.

  5. KWu*

    One thing I’d like to gently point out to LW3, because the desire for reflection and improvement seems sincere, is that depending on the details, telling the story about how you gave Alice bad advice and that the award is the “don’t take my advice award” turned Alice’s spotlight back towards yourself. She earned the award with a lot of hard work, I’m sure, and I imagine there were greater challenges she overcame than ignoring someone who thought she should set her sights lower. The presentation of the award should have focused on her and her achievement.

    Either way, it’s a good sign that you’re willing to incorporate real world evidence that you were wrong about something and try to do something about that cognitive dissonance on a skill you had prided yourself. Keep up with the intellectual humility.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Agreed. That narrative also plays into the “I didn’t think she was smart enough, but I’m surprised at how bright she is!” theme, which is very demoralizing for an award winner to hear.

      1. Jubilance*

        Yup, it’s the equivalent of “OMG you’re so articulate!” as a compliment…Ummm, did you expect me NOT to be articulate?

        1. The New Wanderer*

          There was a really good episode of “Scandal” where one character is doing an interview and totally calls out the interviewer for using ‘coded’ language like this about the main character (a WOC). Basically, if the unspoken part following the ‘compliment’ is “… for a [insert minority]” it’s not a compliment.

        2. ClashRunner*

          Isn’t that irritating? There are too many people who believe that certain demographics can’t possibly be intelligent and articulate. I was on the speech team in high school–a teammate told me that she was so excited to be in a roomful of non-white students because she always assumed she’d be top-ranked compared to them. She rarely was, but the worst part was that she thought I would sympathize with her. I’m mixed race and part of one of the groups she “knew” couldn’t succeed.

    2. MK*

      Eh, these types pf stories are pretty common in award speeches. If it took up the entirety of the OP’s speech, you may have a point, but I am guessing it was one anecdote among the general praise for Alice. And many people would be gratified by the public admission that the OP was wrong.

      1. EinJungerLudendorff*

        They’re common, but that doesn’t make them good. And since OP wants to improve on this matter, it’s a good thing to point out.

    3. Alice (but not that one!)*

      Yes, I don’t want to pile on but I do feel that this another important point to reflect on. I think it’s fantastic that LW3 has identified that their expectations of Alice were unfairly low. I would encourage you also to ensure that you recognise success in people like Alice in the same way you would people like yourself.

    4. Harper the Other One*

      I suspect it was along the lines of a throwaway joke – “how dumb was I? Because look at how amazing Alice is…” In my experience that kind of humour is pretty common as a lead-in to a longer account of an employee’s best traits – and I suspect given OP’s question they weren’t trying to take the spotlight, but genuinely embarrassed by their choices.

      1. Jamey*

        But intent isn’t the only thing that matters here. I agree that OP wasn’t trying to take the spotlight or be demoralizing, which is exactly why he should be aware that he could be coming off that way.

      2. CM*

        But public recognition shouldn’t be about OP’s embarrassment, it should be about Alice’s awesomeness.
        I agree 100% with KWu — including her gentle phrasing, and reluctance to pile on, but wanting to make OP#3 aware of this. This reminds me of when people make a self-deprecating joke like “I’m just a middle-aged white guy, what do I know?” Which always rubs me the wrong way as a WOC. Don’t make it about your feelings, instead use your power to boost up other people. If your speech had been about how Alice’s work was amazing and not about how you misjudged Alice, it would have been a more powerful statement both to Alice herself and to everyone else in that room.

    5. Christmas*

      When the OP joked about the “don’t take my advice“ award, I read that more as the OP feeling bad and simply wanting to acknowledge their mistake in underestimating the person. I didn’t really feel it was a grab for the spotlight.

      1. Ralph Wiggum*

        I think it’s clear from the OP’s account that there was no intentional grab for the spotlight. KWu’s comment is still true — recounting your personal growth experience in a context of celebrating someone else has the potential to take attention off of the person being celebrated.

      2. Aquawoman*

        That still would mean that he turned the spotlight back on himself, i.e. his feelings. I think he is doing the right thing in trying to make his subconscious biases conscious, and in doing that, he (and we all) need to recognize that impact matters as much as or more than intention. Know better, do better.

        1. TL -*

          Eh, I’ve heard one of the biggest names in my field (probably the biggest name, he wrote the book) tell a very similar story about one of his former mentees-turned-bigwig, both white men, basically anytime they do a speaking event together.
          It’s more poking fun at himself and elevating the former-mentee than it is turning the spotlight on himself, and it’s always done in the context of “Mentee has had a prestigious career and made many important discoveries. *Story where I was wrong* Accomplishment. Since then, he has gone on to do blah de blah blah. We’re lucky to have him in the field.”

          It’s a nice way to break up a long list of praise with a funny story that still makes the recipient look good.

          1. ChimericalOne*

            Indeed. This kind of comment is, IMO, both common & humanizing (as well as, in this case, acknowledging a wrong & encouraging others to not make the same kind of mistake).

    6. Vin Packer*

      I actually really disagree.

      It shows the OP doesn’t have a selective memory when it comes to Alice (like the skeptical person who suddenly is all “like I always said…”/“I always knew…” at the end when things work out).

      It gives her credit not only for doing the work but for not doubting herself and demonstrates a more holistic understanding of all the different types of labor involved in getting this great thing done.

      1. ChimericalOne*

        Yes, I’m with you. I’ve heard people say before that this kind of thing (i.e., any story where you mention yourself at all while talking about a less-privileged person’s achievement or struggles) is “making it all about you,” but IMO, the joke absolutely credits her with both the actual work & the overcoming of other people’s doubts, and does so in a way that involves the speaker humbling himself, not promoting himself, while shining the light back on her. From a rhetorical standpoint, this anecdote is focused on *her* and her achievements, with a side helping of “don’t be so quick to be dismissive of people like I was” — a morality tale that I hope the other attendees took to heart. (And one that doesn’t diminish women, or Alice in particular, but acknowledges them & pushes men more broadly to do better in acknowledging them.)

      2. Constance Lloyd*

        It may also show other managers they can and should place more trust in their employees’ abilities, though I do think it’s worthwhile for OP to reflect on whether Alice seemed to feel appreciated or demoralized by the remark. I would appreciate this comment, but as a white woman the microaggressions I’ve experienced have been fairly limited.

      3. smoke tree*

        Eh, I think the fact that the LW recognized this is a positive thing, but I agree with the original comment that it’s not ideal as part of an award speech, because it does feel subtly undermining–when you’re receiving an award, you don’t really want to be reminded that some people doubted you could succeed, particularly if you’ve heard it many times before, and also particularly if you already stand out in the room. I don’t think it’s the worst faux pas ever, and I’m sure it was meant as a compliment, but probably best to avoid going forward.

    7. Name of Requirement*

      This is a worthy point to consider. I read it as the LW acknowledging himself another hurdle Alice overcame.

    8. Kes*

      Yeah, honestly, as someone who has had people underestimate me, for them to announce to everyone basically that they didn’t think I should aim so high, even if they’re admitting they were wrong, would be kind of awkward and embarrassing for me. I know you didn’t believe in me, you don’t need to tell everyone else as well.

    9. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yeah, I was trying to put my finger on why I felt so uncomfortable reading OP’s speech and I think KWu hit the nail on the head with this comment. While OP’s comment seems to have been made good naturedly, I still think that bringing attention to the fact that since Alice isn’t a white male she shouldn’t have been expected to be so good.

      OP, I applaud your efforts to improve in this area. I think if you try to celebrate other people’s achievements without commenting on how implausible you thought they would be to complete, that will go a long way in helping your cause. Good luck!

    10. robot*

      Thanks for pointing this out KWu. I think it’s really important to note that making a joke about yourself in this situation is really inappropriate. It’s a joke that feels like it’s about handling your own embarrassment about your misjudgment. And those feelings are something you should handle on your own, and not in public and not when you should be talking about Alice.

      If you wanted to acknowledge your mistake, maybe acknowledge it to Alice in person and in private.

  6. Lady Librarian*

    At first I wondered if the haunted hotel refuser was a kook, but who books professional travel (for colleagues you barely know!) at a place ADVERTISED as haunted in the first place? Like…dude. Real or not, that atmosphere is not everyone’s cup of tea and it strikes me as a place you should make a personal decision to be in, not assigned to for work. I don’t blame the person who refused to stay there. I would too.

    1. Approval is optional*

      When I book accommodation for conferences etc, I check the rating of the hotel, facilities (wifi etc), proximity to conference/transport availability to conference and cost. I don’t think I’ve ever looked at the advertising ‘blurb’ the hotel(s) have on their website.

      1. Asta*

        Yeah, most staff who book travel are just going to look for something convenient within budget.

        1. NerdyLibraryClerk*

          I get it happening if someone in the person’s organization booked it. But it sounded like someone in the city they were going to booked it – meaning that they would presumably be aware that the hotel advertises that it’s haunted. But it could be a hotel known for various things, one of which is being haunted. Like the Stanley, or that hotel in Santa Fe, or…

          Now that I think about it, in the west, at least, there’s a good chance that the local nice hotel advertises itself as haunted. Perhaps it’s not so odd that the client booked them into the hotel in question.

          1. Approval is optional*

            I’m not sure it can be assumed that locals will have knowledge of ‘haunted’ hotels, especially in a big city. I have no idea which hotels where I live, or where I have lived in the past, are supposed to be haunted – I have zero interest, or belief , in the paranormal, and it just wouldn’t be something I’d take notice of.

            1. MK*

              Really, a local is much less likely to know about hotels in general. They are the ones least likely to need them.

              1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

                This, people ask me about hotels and other things all the time. (I work near a highway, at a gas station). And I’m just like “IDK, I live on the other side of town.” (so, no I don’t know what the other gas stations near by offer or other store’s hours.) Or where every business or hotel is. (I do break the rules and use my phone. But only because we have free wifi.)

              2. Mookie*

                Unless they also work in hospitality, in which case they network in order to maximize everyone’s profit off of tourists and commercial travelers.

              3. yala*

                I mean, yes and no.

                I couldn’t really tell you any of the hotels around here…except for the haunted B&B, because EVERYONE knows about that one. The haunted ones tend to advertise themselves to locals as well, and lots of people go as a staycation or a semi-romantic getaway (it’s a cute little old house, and until a recent road expansion, was nicely out of the way of traffic).

                I feel like hotels that want themselves to be known as haunted will market themselves like that very obviously.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  There is one here that’s allegedly haunted and will appear in searches about haunted hotels in this city, but the hotel itself does not advertise it. They don’t want to be thought of as a ghost attraction, probably because they’re primarily a conference hotel adjacent to a large expo center.

                2. Ariaflame*

                  The only ones I know about are the ones I stay in because of local SF conventions (because I’d rather not drive home tired). Which is a few because we tend to move about a bit. But I certainly couldn’t tell you chapter and verse on local hotels.

            2. SarahTheEntwife*

              Especially if it’s not a Big Local Landmark. It might be more of a “and here’s a page about our resident ghost to give some spooky flavor” rather than “we are the first stop on every city ghost tour”.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I wouldn’t assume that locals know it claims to be haunted. Unless they happen to have an interest in that type of thing.

            For instance, I know that there are ‘ghost walks’ in the city near me as I have seen posters up – I had no idea at all which buildings / streets they claim are haunted, although I would be prepared to bet that some of them will be hotels or guest houses simply because there are so many of them, bit it is not something which would cross my mind to check before booking or recommending somewhere.

          3. Vicky Austin*

            The house where Lizzie Borden killed her parents is now a B&B! Naturally, there are stories saying that it’s haunted.

          4. Observer*

            There is no reason to assume anything of the sort. A lot of people are not “into” hotels in that way.

      2. Mongrel*

        It may also be pitched differently on different sites.
        The ‘quirky tourist’ aggregator – definitely haunted and that’ll be worth an extra £5 a night.
        The serious business picker – Close to travel links and enough refill coffee to drown a whale.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          If there’s a reasonably priced hotel within walking distance of the job site, next to a public transit hub, with a free&frequent airport shuttle, I wouldn’t think twice.
          Add proximity to a 24-hour convenience store and I’d put up with half the crew of Ghostbusters.

          1. WonderingHowIGotIntoThis*

            I think that latter part would really depend on the sound-proofing quality of the rooms.
            Doesn’t matter if the 24-hour convenience store is a hop, skip and jump from my hotel room if I’m going to be woken during the night by Yvette Fielding style screams at 3am!

          2. Jamey*

            This comment made me laugh because I once spoke at a conference and stayed in the conference hotel, which was the hotel Ghostbusters was filmed in

      3. Overeducated*

        Yup. I have to book through our online travel system, it gives me location, rating and the one line blurb, and I don’t bother researching further. But I’m also not someone who has a lot of hotel deal breakers, including haunting, and we have to book our own travel below senior management level.

        1. UKDancer*

          Likewise. I use the online travel system for booking which shows location, star rating and price. I usually check Tripadvisor quickly to make sure it’s not terrible and has no red flags but I don’t have time to read the detail about the hotel or check their website.

          I would also agree that if you live somewhere you know less about the hotels. I live in London but am the worst person to ask about London hotels because I don’t stay in them. I can tell you which one has the best meeting facilities but nothing else.

        2. Working Mom Having It All*

          If you’re booking on behalf of someone who is not you… you should be researching further.

          I book travel for other people and have definitely been burned before.

          (Not by ghosts.)

          If you’re booking travel for yourself, presumably you’re not going to book yourself into a place that is advertised to feature something you have a deep phobia of. My husband is deeply afraid of spiders and is probably not going to opt to stay in a hotel with an adjoining arachnology research center.

          If the colleague in question booked her own lodgings and didn’t think to check whether it was going to trigger a huge fear that she has, that’s on her and she should have to stay there or eat the cost of the change.

      4. PB*

        But it’s also not uncommon to glance at the hotel’s website to see if there’s, say, a restaurant onsite, free parking, etc. I’ve never consciously sought out the hotel blurb, but I can easily see how someone could read it incidentally.

        1. nonymous*

          there are business portals for travel booking (I think Concur is one of the largest) which are basically a database of things like hotels. You filter by whatever criteria and the listings are usually a thumbnail picture plus a bullet list of amenities. No need to click through to see if there is a onsite restaurant or free parking.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Question for people who have used portals like this, do they include pictures of the rooms?

            I ask because I got burned once on a business trip when my finance department chose a hotel based on star rating and proximity to public transit, and it was a complete and utter craphole. The rooms were so bad that there would be no way to disguise them in a photo, and it was the worst business trip I’ve ever been on. I’ve insisted on looking at pictures of the hotel before booking ever since.

            1. nonymous*

              iirc the companies pay for the privilege of being in the database. What I’ve seen is either there is only one photo or all the photos that are also on the hotel’s website. However, I find that hotel photos in general can be incredibly out of date, and star rating varies regionally. I had a spectacularly awful experience at a conference-recommended site in Gaithersburg MD, but the same star rating in the midwest town my org is located in will get you something updated, clean with breakfast/parking/wifi included for $50 less.

            2. UKDancer*

              Mine doesn’t have photos. So for new locations l I usually identify 3 suitable hotels, check trip advisor then book the one that I think looks best. I very rarely look at the hotels own website though.

              If it’s a familiar place I just book a place I know.

          2. Working Mom Having It All*

            Sure, but if you are booking for yourself, and you know you have particular needs in this regard, it behooves you to click over to Tripadvisor and skim to either read the reviews (there’s a notoriously awful hotel near one of our regional offices that Concur recommends and doesn’t display any red flags about) or get a sense of whether this is an appropriate place to stay. If you don’t, you really can’t complain that the place was awful. You’re the one who chose it.

            If you’re booking for someone else, you HAVE to do this unless you truly don’t care where people stay or whether it works out at all. I’m a career admin who books a lot of travel. I would never, ever just rely on Concur even though I do the bookings through Concur.

    2. NerdyLibraryClerk*

      That does seem odd. Admittedly, I don’t have any experience in the area, but I would have thought that booking for professional travel would steer away from haunted hotels, theme hotels, or other unusual hotels. I could see offering a well established local quirky hotel of some sort (“Would you like to be booked at the Clown Motel?”), but if you aren’t going to or can’t ask, why wouldn’t you stick with an ordinary hotel or motel?

      (I could see places like the Stanley Hotel being a little more complicated, since it’s both a luxury hotel and advertises its paranormal activity. I’m also not sure if it has any competition in the Estes Park area on the luxury end of things. But I wouldn’t think business/professional travel would usually involve luxury hotels, or when it does, it’s at a level where the traveler probably has an executive assistant who knows their exact preferences doing the booking.)

      1. Willis*

        A shiver ran down my spine reading “Clown Motel.” But yeah, I’m picturing something that is otherwise a nice but older hotel, maybe in the downtown of a small city, where all the other choices are chains along the highway. I could see someone thinking that’s an option people would prefer, even if there are haunting rumors.

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Here I was, kinda privately thinking the girl was super touchy for not staying at a ‘haunted hotel’ and you said clown hotel and I had a moment of pure horror and knew that I would rather pay for my own hotel than stay in one. You made me see the world from a different perspective.

      3. Vicky Austin*

        I live in a city that is a major tourist destination with lots of history, and I am a ghost tour guide a few nights a week.
        One of the stops on the tour is a hotel that is one of the most well-known, historic, and finest hotels in the city. It’s well known to the people who live here, because they frequently go to the restaurant and the bar at the hotel.
        It’s also the most haunted place in the city (according to my tour) but that’s not something most locals know about.

        1. MsSolo*

          Having lived for years in a historic city, the odds of finding even a Premier Inn without at least one ghost story attached would be difficult (maaaaybe the newer one by the river, but it is directly opposite the old prison, so…), let alone the kind of hotel that pitches itself a bit more upmarket.

          1. Vicky Austin*

            Ah, in my city, they’re always building new skyscrapers and hotels in addition to the historical buildings. The city is frequently described as “old meets new.” So there are plenty of modern places to stay that aren’t as likely to be the site of ghost stories.

            1. MsSolo*

              But what are they built on? I mean, the city I’m referring to has very specific limits on new builds, because they don’t want to harm the historic look of the place, but it also has a rule that you have to do an archaeological survey before building anything, even a carpark, because it’s not a matter of whether you’ll find bodies, it’s a matter of how old they are. A lot of stories are about the site rather than the building, after all – would the fact that the shiny new hotel is built on a War of the Roses burial ground / plague pit / prison cemetery / deconsecrated churchyard / site of medieval genocide not give a believer pause?

              I’m not a believer myself – never was, and even if I had been I think the number of night shifts I worked at said former prison (built on top of a site of medieval genocide, no less) where I was nothing but bored – but this is making me wonder if the 50% figure that keeps popping up is lower in European countries, where most housing stock is old enough that it’s basically a guarantee someone died in your bedroom, any pub worth going to has at least one ghost story, and any large city has been building on top of graveyards for centuries already. If the narrative of a place makes you expect ghosts, but no one’s ever seen one, are you less likely to believe?

        2. Ama*

          Yes, the nicest hotel in the state I grew up in is also the one that is supposed to be haunted. My parents stayed there once when my dad’s employer was hosting a fancy leadership retreat and paid for the room — they had nothing of interest to report.

          They actually host visiting pro sports teams at that hotel all the time and every so often some sports news site will run a silly story interviewing the athletes about whether they had any spooky experiences there. As you might imagine, experiences vary and usually depend on how much a given person believes in ghosts or not.

      4. BonnieVoyage*

        Travel booker here and while I would always stay away from anything very obviously themed or marketed on some gimmick like haunting, it would also depend a lot on what other options were available, what guidelines I was working with and how obvious a part of their marketing it was. It’s possible that this place was any of the following:

        – within the stated budget range
        – within the preferred star rating range
        – had rooms available at the time of booking
        – was the close to the working location
        – had a room rate arranged with the client company
        – is the local old/fancy hotel
        – only recently introduced the “haunted house” marketing (hotels refresh their marketing stuff all the time)
        – markets themselves differently on different portals
        – is one of a very limited number of hotels in town

        or some combination of the above. If that’s the case, I could see the booker assuming the haunted marketing would just be a funny story or not even thinking about it – sometimes when you’re working with restrictions it can be so hard to find anything that fits the bill that you’d book anything just so the traveller has somewhere to lie down.

        (Example: I recently had to book a colleague into what I can only describe as a dilapidated 1960’s children’s theme resort, purely because it was the only hotel within 50km of the work location. Not great! Would not book under any other circumstances! Still the only hotel in town!)

    3. Dr. Glowcat Twinklepuff*

      I agree with your point, but it’s actually not so straightforward. Even when the hotel itself is advertised as haunted, this is often the kind of advertisement that doesn’t reach out of the paranormal fandom. I can totally see the person in charge of the booking overlook it, if she was not interested in the paranormal herself: if you are a skeptic, it’s really one of the last things you think about!
      Also, sometimes the fame is really not there: I remember a few years ago, some American tourists in Venice wanted to visit a “famously haunted” place they had seen in a documentary. The locals were flabbergasted, as no one ever knew that place was haunted.

        1. valentine*

          if you are a skeptic, it’s really one of the last things you think about
          I’d be concerned the staff would try to create an experience for tourists, or the tourists might all be freaking themselves and each other out, disrupting the employee’s rest.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Yes, this is what I’d be deliberately avoiding, not the infinitesimal chance of an actual ghost.

    4. Stitch*

      Or it’s a smaller town and the “nice” hotel is the old one, so they play up the haunted angle to try to get business. It’s all about marketing and ghost stuff is having its moment (I think it peaked a few years back but I still see the ghost tours around my city).

      1. Patty Mayonnaise*

        I agree with this – I’ve seen many small and older hotels that will market themselves as upscale and fancy, (and they are, with spas/restaurants/whatever) and have one webpage on their site that says “oh by the way, we’re haunted!” – seemingly just to attract the people who would be interested in that. But it’s not the main draw of the hotel by any means.

    5. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I have to say the thing that bothers me most is that she didn’t tell anyone. She found out, at whatever point, that the hotel she was booked in was haunted, decided that she would stay somewhere else and expense it and checked into a totally different hotel and never once told someone about it until someone called to see where she was? I have never worked anywhere where that would fly. You at least have to tell your supervisor what is up before you check into the other hotel. If she had alerted someone she wasn’t staying there before she was overdue they might have been able to get some money back. It’s the just assuming that this is gonna be fine and not even bothering to try to recoup the money that reads as really rude and thoughtless to me.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yeah, THAT is the part the employee needs to be spoken to about. She should’ve called her company immediately to tell them the accommodations wouldn’t suit and that she was going elsewhere. I’m not sure why? Perhaps there WAS a genuine good reason, such as it being late at night, or she thought she’d call/email next day, but the client company beat her to the call.
        OP says this employee isn’t known for this behavior, so I wouldn’t assume she was trying to subvert policy.

        1. Stitch*

          The ghost thing is almost a red herring here. It’s not that she didn’t want to stay there, it’s how she handled it.

      2. Scarlet2*

        Yes, I think the problem is that the employee went about it the wrong way. It looks like she didn’t warn anyone, didn’t even bother cancelling the hotel (which is rude to the client, the employer, but also the establishment) and just decided to make her own booking and expense it later, without bothering to clear it with anyone – or even tell anyone where she was.

        That’s the real issue for me here, not her (silly) supersititions. She didn’t behave professionally.

        1. Another JD*

          I got the impression this was done beforehand, otherwise the employee couldn’t have offered to stay home and drive to the worksite.

          1. Scarlet2*

            “Today I received a call from one of the clients that they had booked and paid for a hotel but they subsequently found out the educator hadn’t checked in. I contact the colleague in question and she was very clear that the hotel they had booked was haunted and she refused to stay there. She had booked a separate hotel and was planning to expense it.”

            That’s not what I get from the letter.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          “or even tell anyone where she was”

          Yeah, I think this part would have bugged me the most in the client’s position. Presumably when OP’s colleague never checked in the hotel contacted them, so at that point they were assuming that she had gone AWOL and were probably worrying that there was some kind of mix-up, a big delay, maybe that something bad had happened to her, who knows. And then they discover that no, she just didn’t like the hotel that they had already paid for. That’s not a great look.

      3. Not Me*

        The only way it makes sense the client paid for an entire week at the ghost hotel without the employee even checking in is if they paid in advance. It’s totally possible she did cancel the reservation without knowing it was already paid for. The LW doesn’t give enough info to make it clear the employee was trying to hide it from anyone.

      4. Kyrielle*

        Yes, this. I had a coworker who refused to stay in one hotel because they used a parking garage, it wasn’t well-lit, and she didn’t feel safe. (I stayed in that hotel. It was…a parking garage, and it was in a fairly safe small city/large town area. I was fine with it. So, differing opinions.)

        And had she done it without talking to anyone, the response would be the same! But instead, she just advised the project manager of that and asked to use a different hotel, similarly priced and not too far away, that had a parking lot and she felt was safer.

        I won’t say the reason doesn’t matter (“the thread count isn’t high enough” for example), but I will say the really important thing is sorting it out as soon as the employee realizes they want an alternate hotel. Sorting it out includes communicating with your company so that reservations can be canceled and any logistical problems identified and solved. (For example, if 2-3 employees are going but expected to share a rental car, having one of them somewhere else can complicate that.)

      5. Ama*

        I do think the OP should focus more on the fact that if her coworker didn’t want to stay at the hotel that was booked (for any reason) she should have said she’d made her own arrangements elsewhere in time for the client to cancel the room.

        That said, I run a lot of events where we book the hotel rooms for our attendees and for certain people, it seems like not booking the hotel themselves makes them completely forget that *someone* did and paid money for it. At least one person at every event asks us for two nights of hotel and then decides they don’t need one of those nights but never tells us to alter the reservation, or they do something like in the OP’s letter, where they decide to stay at a different hotel because it is closer to a relative they want to visit or something and forget to tell us to cancel the room. So though it is rude and thoughtless, it is unfortunately not all that uncommon in my work.

    6. Environmental Compliance*

      To be fair, things aren’t always advertised in a way that if you simply are looking for hotels, you know the weird tourist-y things around it.

      Case in point: we were booking our wedding venue a few years ago. Found a gorgeous outdoor canyon venue on a river. Beautiful, lots of green. All the advertising for this was about Nature and Water and etc. Turns out it was the same company who did the haunted river tours, which partially went into this canyon. Those two websites were in no way obviously connected. We found out when we toured the place….at the end of the tour.

      (We did get a few hilarious wedding pictures by the haunted tour props, so that was fun.)

    7. PVR*

      Unless it’s at say, the Stanley hotel in Estes Park, which was the hotel used to film the Shining… everyone knows this is a “haunted” hotel.

    8. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree, as a hard skeptic I was prepared to roll my eyes at the employee but if the hotel specifically advertises itself as being haunted then I think this is 100% the fault of the client for booking there in the first place.

      If it’s a client they want to keep then I guess I wouldn’t make a big deal of it although I agree with Alison that they should keep up their end of paying for one hotel. Definitely let them know though that the hotel bills itself as haunted which made your employee uncomfortable, in case they honestly didn’t know that about the hotel they picked so they know not to use it again in the future.

    9. Database Developer Dude*

      Some swingers clubs will operate by way of taking over an entire floor of a hotel (they’ll station security at entrances to the floor)….with the hotel’s cooperation. That could also be a deal-breaker, but there’s no way to know until you get there…it’s not going to be advertised. If the person was uncomfortable with that, does that make a difference?

      1. doreen*

        I’m trying to figure out how I could possibly be uncomfortable with it , because I’m trying to figure out 1) how I would know that there’s security at the entrances to the fourth floor if I’m staying on another floor and 2) how I would know that the security was due to a swinger’s club rather than some other group that doesn’t want outsiders on their floor. I assume hotels don’t list these groups on a directory of events.

        In any event, I think people who are uncomfortable with haunted hotels believe on some level that the haunting might affect them- like a ghost will appear in their room. Discomfort with a swinger’s club stems from something other that a fear of being affected.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Right? If I was in a hotel where one of the floors was blocked off with security guards, I would assume celebrities or government officials, not swingers.

    10. Mrs_helm*

      If you’re visiting San Diego, and are booked a luxurious stay on Coronado Island… You might be surprised to learn of Hotel Del ghost tours. It just depends on if paranormal stuff is on your radar or not.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I would be ecstatic to stay there not because ghosts, but because it’s GORGEOUS.

    11. Estes Gal*

      Makes me wonder what hotel it was. If the staff member was travelling to Estes Park, for instance, the nicest hotel there (where many weddings and conferences are held) is the Stanely. Famously gorgeous, famously haunted.

    12. Librarian of SHIELD*

      Yeah, I plant that one entirely at the feet of the person who booked the hotel. Even when I book through something like hotels dot com, I still check the actual hotel’s website before I hit the pay button. Are there pictures of the room? Is this “affordable” room I’m choosing for my employee actually a terrifying Bates Motel style nightmare? No? Okay. Room booked. It’s not that hard, and it takes about three extra minutes.

      And the client company should absolutely be paying for one or the other of those hotel rooms. If your deal with them is that they pay for your employees’ accommodation during travel, they have to do that. They don’t have to pay for both, but if they agreed to pay for a room they need to pay for a room.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        My take is there were a lot of little errors that led up to this being a BIGGER DEAL than it should have been.

        1. Client didn’t really consider ‘Hotel California’ as being haunted or bothering someone.
        2. Employee did not look at hotel website ahead of trip and request something else.
        3. Employee changed accommodations without notifying her own company that there was a situation where she felt unsafe or uncomfortable with the hotel. (maybe good reason for that, maybe not)
        4. Somehow client found out that Employee had not checked in and called Employee’s company first.
        5. Situation led to double-booking of accommodations someone must pay for. Now it’s big deal.

        Sounds like good time to create and/or revise and review travel policies!

        I’m taking OP’s word that Employee is usually responsible and reliable with travel, so while Employee could have definitely handled this better, there may be other reasonable factors as to why she didn’t call about the change and/or wasn’t clear about what to do in this situation. I’d focus on that and write the cost of the client’s hotel off as unfortunate cost of doing business.

        I’d also review why clients book and pay for the hotels and not the employees? That’s not typical. Usually the Employee or employee’s company books travel and expenses it in the invoice if the client is paying.

    13. HelenB*

      There’s a hotel in Boulder CO that is reputed to be haunted, and people will specifically ask to be booked into it when we travel out there for business. Or at least, someone high up in management who will be on the trip asks to be booked there, and everyone else has to go along.

      It’s a nice enough hotel, and it’s convenient to be able to walk to multiple restaurants, but if I were in charge of booking we’d have been at the lower priced hotel that was closer to the factory and had free parking.

    14. Lehigh*

      I agree! I think it’s highly inappropriate to book any kind of “novelty” hotel for a work contact you don’t even know. Yes, it may have been accidental, and yes it would have been nice if she had given her manager a call ahead of time to flag that she would not be staying there. But the hotel choice is not okay to begin with.

      And you don’t have to be a Believer to want to avoid sleeping somewhere that has a commercial interest in making its guests believe it is haunted.

  7. CastIrony*

    Re: Food Service OP (Vacation)
    A few things that makes this a rant, but it hopefully helps somewhat:
    I’m a part-time cafeteria worker, and only non-student part-time cafeteria workers and full-time workers get sick and annual (vacation) time.

    According to ServSafe rules, you only have to be sent home if you are having diarrhea, are vomiting, or have a sore throat with a fever, if I recall correctly.

    However, I know a cook who has worked through a shift, even though he was vomiting.

    In other words, if the sick co-worker had been sick with no fever at all, he’d be expected to work his shift. I’ve done the “cold and cough everywhere” thing once, and it stunk.

    1. valentine*

      I think it’s the “coughing in his face” that has OP2 so rightly riled. Without that, I think they’d be understanding, especially since BF has probably infected colleagues as well, and not seeking recompense.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        I was wondering about that part honestly. I feel like it’s 90% likely that was just dramatic venting language from the perspective of someone who knows after the fact that her husband caught the cold. But on the 10% chance that this person was one of those jerks who actually goes around being like “haha, I’m sick and I’m going to get you sick too *cough* *couch*” which I have seen on a few rare occasions, then I actually would agree he was *morally* liable for ruining your vacation and I would hold a grudge that burns with the heat of 1,000 suns for the rest of my life. However I don’t think you could ever successfully hold him to be liable in any meaningful way.

      2. Samwise*

        I know we are supposed to take OPs at their word, but I wondered about that phrase — did the manager really cough right in the boyfriend’s face? Or were they standing or sitting next to each other and the manager coughed a lot? maybe unable to cover it quickly enough? That’s happened to me, for sure.

        1. DJ*

          This is what I’m picturing. Or maybe they’re working with food and the manager has to cough, turns his head, and the boyfriend was standing right there?

      3. Autumn Please*

        While I do feel bad about OP losing money on their vacation, am I the only one here thinking about choices made? Going off of what OP wrote, it doesn’t sound like this boss was trying to get the boyfriend sick (the boss is a total jerk if that was the case), and I’m not quite sure why the boyfriend wouldn’t have said “hey, please don’t cough in my face” and attempt to separate himself/wear a mask. Getting sick in this case was unavoidable it sounds, but it’s unfair to be really angry with another person over that.

        Additionally, it was their choice to leave their vacation. Granted, I don’t know what kind of vacation it was, but I’m guessing it was not an insanely difficult endeavor to return home, as plane travel is NOT fun when you have a cold or flu (at which point OP’s boyfriend would then be risking doing exactly what his boss was doing), and it’s slightly more desirable to stay put. Again, I don’t know what type of vacation this was, but you can’t request compensation when you made that decision.

        The whole expectation of compensation for a personal vacation that has zero relation to work itself is extremely odd to me, other things mentioned above aside.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      Yeeep. When I worked in food service, our rule was that if you were sick, you had to find a replacement or you had to come in – no exceptions. We had someone come in with strep because he couldn’t get anyone to cover his shift. To serve food to the public. :)

      I understand that the OP is frustrated and they are entitled to be! Having to lose money on your vacation is hard, and I’m sure they were really looking forward to it too. But this is something where the blame is in the wrong place. I’m sure the manager had no choice but to come in sick. In my experience, every place I worked had more staff then they had hours, so I’m not sure why this is so rigid and common.

  8. Engineer Girl*

    #3 – one huge problem that female engineers face is a lack of respect.

    Women are assumed to be incompetent until proven otherwise, where men are assumed to be competent until proven otherwise. This happens even when the woman is introduced as the Subject Matter Expert!

    The result of this is that women are encouraged to take easier and low profile assignments. They receive less credit on group projects. They have to prove themselves twice over for a promotion where a man is promoted because of potential. All because they don’t get the benefit of the doubt.

    OP, ask yourself what your default assessment was for Alice. It sounds like it wasn’t neutral.

    I clearly didn’t spot how bright Alice was.

    You are right to question the markers. Women tend to be quieter to “get along” and to also read the room to sense any hostility.

    But first, ask yourself if you are giving her the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Jen S. 2.0*

      So much this. I do credit LW 3 for noting this himself, but he didn’t identify how capable and smart Alice was in large part because he started out with at least a partial assumption that she … wasn’t. I wish I had better suggestions for him as to how to fix it, but the first step is acknowledging that there’s a problem.

    2. Violet Fox*

      Ask yourself why you expect a certain set of questions to be markers of smarts. This is something that is often a fairly gendered idea of competence, since men are typically socialised to be socially more aggressive then women are, and are often praised for “showing off” their smarts by asking tons of questions where women are typically trained to not only be more complaint but that they are being the insufferable Hermoine Granger type if they show off how smart they actually are.

      Things that seem objective at first, like looking for a set of questions asked, really really deeply are not. They intersect a lot with expectations of various groups and that the white male way of doing things ends up being the default, proper, and correct one.

      Not everyone also gets to the same conclusion through the same thought process, and this is, generally speaking a good thing since it is where innovation comes from.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Women are penalized heavily for being “know it alls”. They are also seen as aggressive if they ask “too many” questions.
        In short, women are penalized for the very behaviors that men are praised for.
        Is it any wonder they stay quiet?

        1. Marthooh*

          Men who ask questions are demonstrating interest, willing to learn, fully engaged in the process, etc. Women who ask questions are ignorant of basic concepts, lacking in confidence, unable to think the problem through. I’m sure something similar applies to people of color.

          Being a woman in engineering is already a marker of intelligence, all by itself.

        2. MCMonkeyBean*

          Yes exactly! I think this is part of a general lack of confidence that society cultivates in many young girls and women–not necessarily confidence in their abilities, but confidence in their right to take up space in the world. A lot of young girls would not dream of asking specific technical questions as they would not necessarily think they have the right to take up that kind of time from you. It does not at all surprise me to hear she went with a vague “what advice do you have for me?” question which is sort of like “tell me whatever you want to talk about and then I’ll leave you alone and won’t bother you any more.”

          I don’t want to project all of this onto Alice who may be super confident in her space in the world and that was genuinely the question she most wanted to ask. But if we’re talking cultural markers to keep in mind I think it’s definitely important to keep in mind that many young girls may just not feel like they are allowed to ask you the types of questions you are looking for.

          1. Plush Penguin*

            I’m thinking about this from my own experience. As a younger woman, I’ve asked questions, and have been given flippant answers, non-answers, RTFM, and so forth in response. After a while, I learned not to ask people questions because they’re just going to treat me as stupid or a waste of time (this is something that has changed over time). So I’m not surprised Alice asked something vague, because she may be expecting something useless in response.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            I’ve seen the flip side more than once. White men who ask the right questions and say the right things to appear they’re smart and know what they’re doing, and they don’t at all. That’s how we get incompetent, chauvinist managers. And elected officials.
            Which leads me to a point… if OP wants to know if someone is smart and knows what they’re doing, he needs to get them talking about details that will show this.

        3. Aquawoman*

          Yes, I noticed that about the “asking questions” thing, too, I would think women in a male-dominated field have to be very cautious about asking questions because men might interpret that as ignorance or incompetence. I think he could consider that the fact that she wanted to work on the hard problem shows intelligence (and I think this is actually gendered because women are more likely to underestimate themselves or at least not overestimate themselves).

      2. Gerta*

        My thoughts precisely. I am naturally the ‘know it all’ type, but have learned to tone it down over the years. I usually only ask a question if the answer would make a genuine difference to my thought process – and often, the questions I ask are very basic procedural ones, because I have seen how badly wrong things go when people make assumptions about something they think is obvious. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if someone judging me based on that concluded I was less advanced than someone showing off by asking higher-level but possibly superfluous questions.

        1. HailRobonia*

          Which makes me think of all the times I have heard people, typically men, ask questions that they knew the answer to as a way of showing off. “Isn’t it true that….” etc.

          1. lemon*

            Ugh, yes. I noticed this at academic conferences, in particular. Where a man asks the presenter a “question,” which is really just a long-winded point about his own work/area of expertise.

        2. Dagny*

          That was my thought. She was more than capable of doing the work and thus didn’t need to ask intermediate-level questions about it.

    3. Seeking Second Childhood*

      On a side note to any of you who do outreach with high school students: If you are talking to a student with solid grades in calculus & advanced science classes, DO NOT get distracted by her gender.
      Boys in my high school who had Bs with the occasional C were encouraged to apply to engineering programs. This female had As with the occasional B — and I was talked out of it. I’m 53 and I’m still bitter about that.

      1. LQ*

        Not 53, totally the same. Told “girls can’t do math so you do something else” when I was clearly the best in my class. Often asked to tutor and jump in for others. But “girls can’t do math” so no, I can’t take the advanced class next year. Which was literally just dudes. (I’m not THAT old, someone should have looked at that and said something is wrong here, ideally one of the men in charge.)

        Which is to say to the OP, don’t hesitate to give people hard problems. And don’t take a single failure as “Ally is bad at this.” (I assume you’re not consciously thinking “women/poc/etc are bad at this.”) Because chances are good that you had moments you failed and you had to get up and dust off and try again but that is actually what made you as good as you are. So finding a way to grant the same grace to people not like you as you do to people who are is going to be a big deal. And don’t jump in immediately when they start to struggle. Encourage the struggle. You don’t want the “I want to help this person” to get in the way of actually helping them.

        1. Sollux*

          I’m 28 and was told “girls can’t do math” when I was in middle school, and I took that to heart and didn’t try. I slacked off and only got up to high school geometry. Now I’m a junior struggling through higher level math courses for a CS degree without a solid understanding of the basics that I probably could’ve gotten if I hadn’t listened to that teacher who told me not to bother with math.

          (still bitter)

          1. Dagny*

            The Khan Academy can help with this.

            I can, too – if you post a burner email, I’m more than happy to tutor via the Internet.

          2. Michaela Westen*

            Can you file a complaint or something against that teacher? Let everyone know what he did and is probably still doing. Stop him. That might make you feel better.

      2. 2 years until retirement*

        in the late 70s my high school offered drafting courses as well as a “statics and dynamics” course. I told my guidance counselor in grade 10 I was going into engineering (obviously an odd choice for a young women in the 70s) and she nodded and that was the end. Never did she ever suggest I should take drafting and statics for a head start at university. Two boys in my class also ended up at the same engineering school as me. They were told to take the courses. And I’m still bitter about that one :)

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          The stories get worse the farther back we go — in the 1930s, my mother enrolled in senior year chemistry class as required for the nursing program she wanted to attend. Her teacher lit a bunsen burner at the table immediately behind her and **SET HER HAIR ON FIRE**. And then said “Well you shouldn’t be in this class anyway.” She had to drop the class and her nursing plans, and her mother made her go to teaching school.
          It’s the world’s loss — she was a natural kick-ass nurse.

            1. Victoria, Please*

              Because…she was in physical danger…?? And it was 1930-40, so probly no Title IX office.

        2. I'm 61*

          When I was a high school junior, everybody in Algebra II had to take a state standardized math test. I set a new school record for the highest score ever. When it was time to sign up for senior year classes, I was taken quietly aside and told there might not be room for me in Senior Math (pre-Calculus) because “There will be a limited number of seats, and a lot of boys are going to sign up this year, so there might not be room for any girls” Yes, I went on to engineering school, but I’m still bitter too.

        3. Jules the 3rd*

          Like I said above, Hidden Figures is a great book. Ok movie, but I liked the book better, it made the systemic structure clearer. I think it reinforces the stories here.

        4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          When I was 13, my dad came home from parent-teacher conferences with a weird expression on his face. The next day, my earth science teacher came up to me. “So your dad is Wakeen, huh?”

          Turns out that Dad, who had been a high school physics teacher in a former life (and left teaching when I was like four), had a single solitary female student in his class the first year the school administration let girls sign up for the physics and higher math courses, and she had gone on to become a junior high school earth science teacher.

      3. nonymous*

        this. In H.S. I was multiple grades ahead in math by my own choice and advocacy. Presumably my parents were proud, but when it got time for college, Dad started warning me against being too career minded because it would scare off desirable mates. Dad passed over a decade ago and this is one of my strongest memories of him, even though in other ways he was a fine parent.

        1. pcake*

          Yeah. I’m 62, and my parents always told me I’d go to at least 4 years of college and then get married. It never crossed their minds that I might want to do something, and they were actually pretty progressive for the times…

        2. Loves Libraries*

          In about 1972 as a 7 year old girl I remember my dad asking me if I wanted to be a teacher,nurse, or secretary. I knew this was wrong but didn’t know how to voice it. What is surprising is my mother said nothing and she had been a magazine editor before her 1960 marriage.

      4. Another worker bee*

        Ugh, I’m 33 and it still hasn’t changed much. I actually managed to avoid all of this stuff until I got to college, at least. Started taking math classes at the college as a HS junior because I RAN OUT OF math to take, even the AP classes. I did a math major because I clearly liked and excelled at it, but when I went to talk to my advisor about applying to grad school, they talked me out of it because I “wasn’t smart enough to get in, so it would be a waste to apply” and “Even if you get in, you’ll have to work so hard to keep up you will be miserable”. Once I finally realized that those were not accurate evaluations of my potential, I started grad school five years later. My, also male, grad school advisor flipped out the day he found out I was engaged and warned me to “be careful with your birth control because having a kid would be the end of your career here”. Unbelievable.

    4. Samwise*

      OP, one thing you could do to level the field for the folks you mentor/train is to list out your expectations for the meeting — and be sure to include unspoken and unexamined expectations, like, asks lots of questions or asks questions of X type or whatever. Then send that list out before you meet with them. You could couch it as, To make our meeting productive.

      That’s in addition to the other suggestions that have already been offered.

      1. boo bot*

        I would actually start by making this list for yourself, and considering each expectation: what quality does [asking this question] demonstrate? Why is [quality] important? Are there other ways in which I can test for [quality]?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah – I would seriously focus on whether my expectations were helpful rather than on trying to mold people with diverse backgrounds to meet my expectations.

        2. Michaela Westen*

          As I mentioned above, answers are more important than questions. Get people talking about what they know in enough detail to make sure they’re not faking it. This applies to all genders, of course.

    5. AnotherAlison*

      Men also don’t KNOW the women. Men play on the company kickball team together, go out to happy hour, etc., when they are entry level, and then they have this sweet network when they’re higher level. The guys 3-5 years ahead pull along the younger ones and so it goes. Meanwhile, I’m part of a cohort of like 5 female engineers in the lower 40s age range in my 1,000 person company. There were two women ahead of us (of course, 15-20 years ago this division of the company was also 1/5th its size). One of those women left the company ~5 years ago, so that leaves one female engineer in her 50s. We did a lot recently to implement a ERG for women, and I honestly think we’re making a difference, but it is difficult not to be a little resentful of how things are and were. Was just telling someone yesterday the story about a guy I sat next to in 2001 who would yap his loud mouth on the phone with vendors and tell them that he would get “his little girl to send that over.” (Not me, his admin, but FFS “little girl”?)

      1. Beatrice*

        This. The informal networking hotspots at my company are a golf league and racquetball league that are primarily attended by men. One of my wonderful mentors set up and hosts a regular game night that’s mixed pretty evenly by gender and is a good networking outlet for me. If you want to help a more diverse group of people succeed at work, organizing a regular outside activity that is more appealing to a broader range of people is a great way to do that.

      2. Michaela Westen*

        I’ve never seen “little girl” in that context before. It’s in a few Springsteen songs, but otherwise I’ve only seen/heard it referring to actual children.

    6. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      It is not just engineers that have this problem. I’ve had it constantly in my job, too. If I say, “The law is that we can only have two llamas per barn stall, and we currently have 5 empty stalls, so if we merge with Anytown Llamas who has 30 llamas, we’ll need to build 10 more stalls,” I get “Why aren’t you being a team player, why don’t you want our merger to work out? Why do you always make up these impediments? You need to show me this law!”

      But if I give the job to a less competent man, he can say, “OK, I put $100K on my company card to build a state of the art bespoke barn for triple the capacity we’re ever going to need,” and he gets lauded as a revolutionary.

      1. Legal Beagle*

        I’m a lawyer and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been gotten responses like: Are you sure? / That can’t be right / I’ll look up the law myself / I’m going to ask another lawyer / My (non-attorney) friend told me xyz so you must be wrong, etc etc. I tell people (after multiple rounds of “yes, i’m sure” and further explanation of the specifics of the law) that if they want my help they’ll have to trust that I know what I’m talking about, otherwise they are free to go elsewhere!

    7. Name of Requirement*

      I don’t know the types of questions OP3

      is looking for to indicate intelligence, but consider how some “questions” are posed simply to illustrate the questioner’s knowledge and insight, while other types of questions can show a willingness to be wrong or have assumptions corrected or confirmed. Often, the first type reads as confidence rather than arrogance, and the second as a lack rather than healthy curiousity and mental flexibility.

    8. Amykins*

      As another woman in tech – I think impostor syndrome can play a big role in this. There’s often a culture in tech of “if you don’t know everything I know, you’re obviously stupid” and it’s worse for women in that regard (in that a woman will be judged more harshly than men for similar lack-of-know-how), so it’s very easy as a woman to doubt your own skillset even if you are demonstrably very capable. It’s harder to speak up or ask questions if you are yourself worried about outing your own ignorance.

      So while this may not be a more direct answer to LW3’s question in how do you spot intelligence, one thing we could all do to help level the playing field in tech is to work to foster a culture of friendly cooperation rather than gatekeeping. If you’re creating space for curiosity, conversation, and learning where everyone is open about their LACK of knowledge rather than trying to demonstrate their own intelligence (because let’s be real, the world of tech is so humongous that no one even comes close to being an expert in every corner of it), it’ll be better for the industry and it’ll be better for the people in it, and it’ll be easier for women to stop doubting themselves all the time.

  9. Maria Lopez*

    First of all, it is a big, positive step that you have recognized what is indeed a big problem in work places of all kinds. I worked for decades in a profession dominated by men, and while I recognized the “otherness” dynamic while I was in it, it was only after I retired that I realized how pervasive it still is.
    I have the feeling that Alice listened to what you had to say and was perhaps a little insulted that you recommended a kindergarten problem when she was already working on a master’s thesis. She probably listened to your advice and realized that you had NO idea of her competence and capabilities, so rather than engage you with questions she just went ahead with her project. It would not have been the first time that something like this has happened to her.

    1. Maria Lopez*

      I realized I didn’t actually answer your question, which was how to not do what you have been doing. One thing would be to imagine all of the people you are working with as being generic white males, no matter who they are, and then judge them from that starting point. Another would be to look at what you need done and then, if it is possible, look at the work product without looking at who did it to see who is the best.
      The best one, of course, is to really, really train yourself to believe that when it comes to work, people are people.
      If you have ever taken the implicit bias test like this one, https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/selectatest.html
      you may find your biases to be alarming. But what I did the first time I took the tests years ago was see if I could change the results by consciously NOT choosing what I had the first time. It works, and it is humbling.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I think you’ve got to go further than your first paragraph though. One of the problems with just attempting to be colorblind (or imagining everyone as a generic white male) is that then you don’t get at what biases you have about what “good work” or “talent” or “smarts” look like. If your idea of talent is based around markers from white dominant culture (for example, a particular educational background or a particular type of communication style), then you’re going to miss out on talented people who present differently than the profile you have in your head.

        1. Asta*

          Or what biases you have about different groups when you encounter them.

          The problem with going anything-blind is that it implies everyone is equal and needs the same things. I highly recommend looking up the article “You’re a white therapist, have you noticed?” by Colin Lago if you can access it. It’s about how saying we’re all equal or trying to treat everyone the same can be problematic.

        2. Violet Fox*

          The big issue with the whole colourblind thing for me is that it denies peoples backgrounds and their own unique experiences. These are things that lead to their own thought processes and communication styles which can be very different from the default, not bad or wrong just different.

          I see this in my own field (I’m a sysamin. – unix, infrastructure, scientific and research support, and a woman), and I’ve seen organisations really suffer due to the idea of the white male default. They don’t grow and innovate in ways they should because of the group-think that comes with hiring essentially the same guy over and over again. Having talked to these people, they tend to consider their own background and their version of smarts is the only smarts to look for, denying the expertise of people who aren’t like them.

          I’ve also gotten the thing where random guys want to essentially interrogate me to make sure I can answer questions they think are important to see if they think I’m qualified for my own job, because somehow that they have the right to do that.

          1. Harper the Other One*

            Your point about diversity of thought/approach in a business is really important. I’m white but female and in my first sales job that made me VERY different from my good ol’ boy, “this is TOTALLY the widget for you, bro” coworkers. But that meant that there were whole pools of customers who felt more comfortable dealing with me. They knew the others would get exasperated when they had questions but that I would answer and make sure they got pointed to what they actually needed.

            Diversity of people leads to diversity of approaches and that is a very under appreciated benefit.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              It’s starting to change – just read an article about Silicon Valley’s getting into bidding wars for some employees. I am more impressed with Google’s partnership with Howard U (aka Howard West), IBM and Cisco’s work on internships, ‘new collar’ jobs, and apprenticeships, though I’d be even more impressed if someone would do a Howard West type partnership with Spelman.

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                (By ‘change’ I mean ‘diversity is becoming more valued’, not that we’re anywhere near where we should be…)

        3. Maria Lopez*

          It seems that everyone missed the point when I said imagine all your workers as generic white males. That is not even remotely the same as saying you are colorblind, which I think is a bunch of nonsense.
          My point was to imagine them that way so he could better see if he was judging a person just on merits or because of something else.

          1. Amykins*

            Sure – but that ignores that women have been socialized differently than men (to be nicer, quieter, ask less questions, more humble, etc), so even if you successfully imagine a woman to be a white man to evaluate her that way, you may still be missing out on cues. If you expect a good candidate to be confident, ask questions, etc to demonstrate their intelligence, and women don’t often display their intelligence that way but white men often do, it doesn’t matter if you imagine her to be a white man or not, she’s not going to be evaluated on her real merits. So the point is that it’s not just about the obvious differences, but about going to the core of what you judge as a merit to begin with.

      2. Mookie*

        Also, generic white men are not the apex of human civilization. We don’t actually know what humans are capable of achieving at any given moment because there is a bottleneck at the top dominated by a single kind of human who is not representative of the whole. We’ve yet to see what we’re capable of achieving because we’ve never had the true parity to allow actual merit to shine through. We’re working at a reduced capacity.

      3. writelhd*

        I am going to second the implicit bias test link that Maria Lopez linked above. I consider myself a pretty open minded person who strives to recognize and remove bias from my perceptions about people and the tests were somewhat eye opening about how well I might actually be doing that, and where my blind spots were. For example I am (like many commenters here) a technical woman in a male dominated field with a degree in a science that is hugely male dominated, and I took the bias test about women and science and…it turn’s out I’m biased. Possibly because I’ve internalized a lot of stuff I’ve experienced, and I honestly even think I’ve had really good experiences that haven’t contained the hugely blatant sexism that others have. So for the kind of question you’re asking…how can I continue to try to think about judging talent in a less biased way…the tests at that length are hugely beneficial for self-awareness.

    2. Dan*

      I work in a field where what we really need is some functional background in both X and Y. Those skills are hard to find, so if you have them both, it doesn’t matter what’s on the top portion of your resume, you’re highly likely to get a phone call to see if you’re interested.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        I think you missed the discussion above where we women are accused of falsifying our skills.

        The only times I’ve had my resume accepted “as is” is when a man recommended (vouched for) me.

        1. Lora*

          Or what happens is, sure you’ll get a call, but then in the interview your technical skills get the Spanish Inquisition. Meanwhile the guys who interview spend more time talking about whether the company would be a good fit and bonding with the interviewers over their shared experiences. And then guess who gets hired…

      2. Rustybelle*

        As a woman with a gender-neutral name, I can tell you I’d get positive responses to e-mails but the second we spoke on a phone call suddenly something changes and my expertise is suddenly less valid. I can’t think why.

      3. Mookie*

        I mean, no. Humans are emotional, social beings and we live in a bigoted culture. It’s not possible to be ‘blind’ or achieve a Vulcan-like detachment when evaluating, working with, mentoring, managing, promoting, socializing, and finding favor with other humans. Two candidates with precisely the same skills, background, education, but disimilar in all other ways, will never be viewed as entirely interchangeable, especially in such emotive contexts as work.

      4. Aquawoman*

        There have been studies where identical resumes were sent in response to job ads, except for the names. One name was a very white-bread name and the other was a name that would be more common for people of color than for white people. The white-people names got way more phone calls.

  10. Asta*

    Re 4: you say “I want her to be happy whether it’s at our company or somewhere else”.

    We all want our fellow humans to be happy, but you can’t be responsible for this and it’s an unrealistic goal.

    It might be helpful if you try to be ok with the idea that maybe she’s not happy, and that all you’re responsible for is your own behaviour – not hers.

    1. valentine*

      or somewhere else
      This is a reason not to intercede, OP4. Let your colleague fly and be free.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, I just left a company after 9 months. It was a place where the culture was supportive and every few weeks my manager would ask if I was happy and if there was anything she could do to make my work better. On the surface, it would seem like I would say something if I was unhappy, but there were systematic problems that I found unsettling. Being put on a more interesting project or having flexible hours wouldn’t change the fact that the entire department was failing. Saying I was unhappy would just put the spotlight on me and there was no way I could bring up the blatant issues in the department and org because, well, they should have been obvious to my manager and her managers.
      So I kept my thoughts to myself and found a new job. If someone would have told my manager I was unhappy, it would have been a nightmare!

    3. blackcatlady*

      I hate to say this but there are also people that are just chronically unhappy, it’s their emotional makeup. They are a glass half empty kind of person. Is she only unhappy about work or does she complain about all parts of life? You can be supportive but in the end it is her problem to fix.

    4. TardyTardis*

      Plus, a manager who is supportive to you might not be supportive to the other worker. Please read all the comments about how women engineers, especially those of color, are treated by the system.

  11. Willis*

    I definitely fall in the “women tend to be quieter…” part of this. I don’t know what questions the OP was expecting but I can say that throughout my math and science background, if he were judging my ability to tackle a problem solely based on the questions I asked about it in a conversation at the outset, he would be way off. I’m much more inclined to work on a problem on my own (and am often able to work through issues while doing so) than to seek help or discussion about potential questions at the outset. If the OP is assuming someone who’s more reserved/quieter/less gregarious in a conversation is less capable, that does seem like a blindspot that could possibly breakdown on some demographic lines.

    1. Me*

      Damned if you do damned if you don’t. I’m not “quiet” and so people say I have a “strong personality”.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Oh yes…. the dreaded “you come on too strong”
        (I got that two days after pointing out an erroneous assumption that had life-safety implications and the staff engineer thanked me profusely…and yet apparently I “caused a delay”. Backwards — people who find problems at last minute should be brought into project review earlier on the next project.)

      2. Amykins*

        I can be quiet or confident, depending on context. And both have gotten me into trouble at various times (not speaking up means I’m ignorant, speaking up with any semblance of confidence or authority means I’m arrogant).

    2. Amethystmoon*

      I’m quieter because if I’m not, someone will inevitably complain or chastise me for tone, so I just say silent. That is the price of being a woman in the workplace these days. They say they want us to be leaders, but when we get chastised or complained about any time we dare speak up about something, the signal is clear: women, be silent, we don’t actually want to hear your voice, and we tell you we want you to be a leader just because it’s politically correct.

    3. Kes*

      Yes. Also, it’s men are socialized more to speak out and ask questions and are less likely to be judged as ignorant or wrong for doing so.

      Beyond the gender bias though, I’ve seen this in general in terms of the assumption that people who speak up more are smarter/better leaders/etc.

  12. Asta*

    I kind of think #3 should have been its own post as I’m not sure the other letters are going to get a look-in!

    To the LW: I think it’s interesting that you based your assumptions on what questions she did or didn’t ask. Some groups are less likely to ask questions for a number of reasons. So I think one thing you might consider is asking THEM questions and being interested in their ability and potential, rather than waiting for them to demonstrate it – and thus to fail a test that they didn’t know was happening, for reasons that aren’t to do with ability.

    We live in a world where people mansplain physics to NASA astronauts because they happen to be female. There have been some really interesting threads on a certain discussion site beginning with R along the lines of:
    – what have you been told you should have to do because you are a woman
    – what have you been told a man should do for you

    There is also actual training out there on unconscious bias. Some of it is good. And I would recommend you look up Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk on ‘the danger of a single story’.

    1. Asta*

      Additionally, some links for you:

      Rebecca Solnit: https://www.guernicamag.com/rebecca-solnit-men-explain-things-to-me/
      “It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare”

      “She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity“

      Laura Bates in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/womens-blog/2016/sep/13/mansplaining-how-not-talk-female-nasa-astronauts
      “These interactions are the visible manifestation of societal assumptions about women’s inferiority in intellectual and professional situations. They represent the same ingrained stereotypes that lead to women being less frequently promoted or hired for certain jobs.”

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        I would also recommend Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming.” She talks about being the only WOC at her law firm, and the specific ways she worked to disrupt the hiring culture there.

    2. Dan*

      The questions people ask are telling. I’ve been doing my thing long enough to be able to judge a lot about what someone knows about the subject matter (not necessarily during interviews, just in general) based on the questions they ask.

      During an interview, in general, it’s accepted that people who don’t ask questions aren’t interested in the job. People who ask poor questions are generally considered not fit for the job. This isn’t me, this is typical interview convention. TBH, I think it would be pretty hard to hire someone who ask no or poor questions.

      1. German Girl*

        But if you are already coming across as “I don’t think you’re competent, you have to prove that you are.” then people (especially women) will tend to not ask questions because they’ll assume that you’ll take any questions as further evidence that there is something they don’t know.

        So the problem is that the “women have to prove themselves before they are seen as competent” mindset already prevents a good back-and-forth conversation with questions from both sides.

        So the group that is already at a disadvantage because they are not assumed to be competent until proven otherwise is further disadvantaged if you judge them by the questions they ask.

      2. Green great dragon*

        Have you considered that some people may not be familiar with ‘interview convention’? Would this unfamiliarty necessarily mean they are bad at the job?

        1. Harper the Other One*

          Yes, exactly! Or even that you have answered all of their questions already. Or they don’t want to probe more deeply until the offer stage. Or as German Girl said, you’re unconsciously radiating skepticism and the interviewees are thinking “well, I’m not getting this one” – why ask questions about a position you’re pretty sure won’t be offered?

        1. Mookie*

          Embodying it, too, and I don’t mean that as a slight, Dan, but your personal preferences are not the only, nor even the best, to evaluate someone, and believing you have achieved Peak Optimized Investigative skills, with little reflection when similarly competent people chime in to disagree and provide reasons for doing so, is why we’re here.

      3. TL -*

        Honestly, asking good questions is a skillset that’s pretty transferable. It’s necessary for some fields, sure, but I ask really good questions in almost any situation, including ones where I know almost nothing about the topic at hand. People will sometimes assume I know a lot more than I do because I ask good questions!

        Reality is I ask a lot of good questions because I was willing to ask a lot of bad ones to learn from. It’s not a reflection of my knowledge in any subject, it’s a reflection of the time I’ve put in developing this skillset.

        1. lemon*

          The problem, though, is that there isn’t always an objective sense of what a “good” question is. It’s easy to tell what a bad question is, but not always easy/straightforward to determine a “good” question.

          I’ve tended to notice that a lot of men tend to demonstrate their interest/proficiency in a topic by asking lots of questions about technical details, or demonstrating a lot of detailed, technical knowledge. And that *is* one kind of proficiency.

          But there’s another kind of proficiency that’s more about concepts, analysis, and synthesis. And I’ve tended to notice that when intelligent women ask more conceptual or analytical questions, their questions get read as being “stupid” or “basic,” instead of being “good.” And of course, this is because of implicit bias against women. But also because they’re not the detailed, technical questions that a lot of men, who think that knowledge == technical details, recognize as “good.”

          1. Michaela Westen*

            Technical details are just the beginning of knowledge. Questions about next steps, analysis, and the big picture come after a person has learned the basic structure and the way the technical details fit into it.

            1. TL -*

              I’ve seen entire presentations basically fall apart because of the right technical question, while all the conceptual/analytical questions missed the underlying flaw (and sometimes jumped right on board.)

              I’ve also seen conceptual questions that have completely revolutionized a project. It’s not about the type of question and a person who understands the technical details is just as valuable as the person who can do the big picture planning.

              I also know the type of person who asks questions just to show off their grasp of jargon/content knowledge. They’re not adding anything to the conversation.

          2. TL -*

            For the record, I am a(n intelligent) woman. I ask a lot of analytical/conceptual questions, as well as technical ones. A lot of asking good questions is knowing which ones to ask when.

            I have gotten a lot of pushback on speaking up and asking questions, including constant social and academic punishment. Lots of women don’t want to endure that and it’s totally reasonable – I had a professor that humiliated me in front of the entire class because I was consistently the only student willing to speak up – after at least a minute of awkward silence to any prompt, I’d speak up – and he was tired of hearing my voice. (Strangely, the same exact class was incredibly chatty when our other professor was leading discussions.)

            For me, it was a trade-off I was willing to make and now I am genuinely good at asking questions – I get positive feedback all the time, I get people’s faces lighting up when I ask a question, I usually can get the information I need to get fairly easily and accurately. And I promise, I only ask questions to show off my intelligence when I am particularly irritated with someone and want them to stop talking at me like I’m an idiot.

            But it honestly has very little to do with my background knowledge or intelligence level – it’s just that I really like talking to people about their science and the best way to be able to do that is to learn how to ask good questions, which is a pretty translatable skill. Judging people primarily by the questions they ask is more judging them on their question-asking skill than on their knowledge/intelligence.

          1. TL -*

            I’m a science communicator. It’s a very necessary part of my job to ask good questions.
            I’ve put a lot of work into being able to do it, including a lot of somewhat embarrassing moments and a couple of really awful ones because I was willing to practice until I got pretty good at it, with both social and academic consequences. And I still work hard on it because I always need to be better.
            It’s neither a measure of intelligence or of knowledge to be able to ask good questions consistently. It’s a skillset. Which was my point.

            1. lemon*

              I think the point some here are trying to make here is that: there are people who also worked very hard to develop the skill of asking good questions, but that skill goes unrecognized because of implicit bias against women/poc/other marginalized groups.

              1. TL -*

                Sure, implicit bias affects everything. I’m not really sure how that connects to my original point that, as a person who asks good questions, I can say that asking good questions isn’t necessarily a reflection of either knowledge or intelligence?

              2. TL -*

                Oh I see what you’re saying. In general, most people ask decent to okay questions with occasional good ones and men get a lot more credit for their decent to okay with occasionally good ones than women do, absolutely. Men also get a lot more tolerance for “look how smart I am questions” which tends to translate into a positive overall impression, even if most people roll their eyes a little when such a person starts asking a question. Not usually the case for women. Men are also encouraged to talk more and respected more for asking decent to okay with occasionally good questions. In neither case would I argue questions as a good sole or primary measure of knowledge or intelligence and in all cases I encourage people to ask genuinely intentioned questions regardless of quality.

                1. Paulina*

                  Additionally, the experience from asking bad questions can, for women and PoC, be rather more than getting embarrassed; they can be judged very harshly, and dismissed because it feeds into the preconceived ideas of their competence level. Not everyone is granted the latitude to be able to learn from failure.

                2. TL -*

                  @Paulina – yup. I got at least a full letter grade lower than everyone else on that prof’s assignments – response papers to every class, I had a lot of data – and I had several people tell me that “Oh, it’s so easy to get an A in that section! Just write about whatever we talked about in class that day.”

                  Basically, everyone was getting As by rewriting whatever point I brought up in class (if there was discussion, it almost always was on whatever topic I talked about after a painful topic) and I was getting Bs or worse, no matter what I did. I talked about the class discussion, I got points knocked off for discussing something that had already been discussed in class. I talked about something new, I got points knocked off for not having a fully developed idea.

                  With the other professor and in other writing/literature classes, my essay grades were generally in line with or higher than the rest of the students’. This was the only professor who consistently graded me lower. It wasn’t the end of the world – he only failed one assignment and a B in a class is still a good grade.

                  I also worked in a lab in a field notorious for sexism and other -isms and there was tons of punishments for existing as a female, including significant professional punishment for failing to manage the emotions of the men I worked for and being assumed I was less intelligent in fields I had years of experience in while they had none, and, yes, people assuming asking questions being from a lack of intelligence on my part (This was actually only from a woman; the men didn’t fall into this trap.)

                  I’m a woman in a STEM field. I’ve experienced a lot of sexism. I’ve seen it be worse for WOC and racism play into all POC. I don’t think that changes my point.

      4. Marthooh*

        Dan, this isn’t a job interview question. OP #3 is saying that he now knows for a fact that his original assumption about Alice was wrong. He wants to know why he was wrong and how to fix it. Telling him that no, he was actually right to begin with doesn’t help.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        Firstly, this wasn’t in the context of a job interview.

        Secondly, when you think about it in the abstract I’m sure many people think that asking a lot of questions is a positive thing. But when confronted with an actual real-life woman asking questions, their reactions are often different – they’re thinking “god, she’s really aggro” or “ugh, why doesn’t she know this already?” or “is she going to let anyone else talk?”. (There was a study a while back that concluded that when women talk even a little, men perceive them as talking a lot and dominating the conversation.) It’s easy to say that people should ask a lot of questions in the abstract, but the reactions that actual women get to those questions are often not very positive.

      6. Aquawoman*

        My parents are blue and pink collar; I went to law school. I had NO idea how to interview and was lucky I got the one offer I did. I was highly valued in that job. I later learned HOW to interview and got offered almost every job I interviewed for. I was highly valued in those jobs also. This wasn’t a test of my ability so much as a test of my class affiliation.

      7. QueenintheNorf*

        Didn’t you admit below that the interview practices in your industry are complete failures, though?

      8. sb51*

        Yes, but they’re not necessarily telling you what you think they are.

        Maybe they’re telling you that the woman you’re talking to has been shut down aggressively by men in the past for asking questions, and doesn’t trust you enough to not do the same, yet, and what you should take away from that meeting is that you need to help build her trust in you so she can ask the right questions.

        More anecdotes are not data: in college, I was one of only two women in a section of a math class. Because of a quirk of scheduling, this section was mostly a bunch of Economics students — the science/engineering students taking this same course were mostly in a different section. (Same class, same material, IIRC same prof in both sections — this wasn’t a case of us taking the “non-technical” session, just a scheduling fluke.) The other woman was a math major, I was an engineering major. The class was not especially difficult material for either of us, but it wasn’t completely review. If either of us *dared* to ask a technical question in class (i.e. one that actually meant we were following along), we were literally shouted down by the Econ boys yelling out more basic questions (that made it clear they were struggling with the material).

        The (male) professor did not catch onto this at all; the other woman and I ended up, as the semester went on, only going to lectures if we were both going to be there, saying nothing, and actively avoiding getting called on because we’d get yelled at by our classmates.

        If that had been most of my classes, rather than a standout bad experience, I wouldn’t ask questions any more. I’d just do what I did in that class — track down the answers quietly on my own by researching them or asking trusted peers (NOT the professor).

  13. GimmeGimmeGimmeGimme*

    #2 Blaming one person for causing an illness smells of germophobia. Where is the scientific evidence that one specific person’s cough is solely responsible for causing illness in another? Unless the boyfriend lives a life in isolation (which he doesn’t since he clearly has a girlfriend, the LW), he could have picked up the illness from public transport, shared cars, the grocery store, the bar, a shared bathroom, and he could have picked it up before said boss coughed. While workers in the industry should indeed be extra cautious, it is worth noting that people often are contagious before any symptoms show. A cough or a sneeze may well manifest past the illness’ contagious stage. It may feel gross to some to be in the presence of a sneeze or a cough, but calling it illness-spreading is likely a miss and in any case uneducated.

    1. Foreign Octopus*

      This is a strange response.

      I think it’s clear that OP is simply upset that her (expensive) holiday was ruined by their boyfriend’s illness and they’re looking for ways to recoup the financial loss so they can take it again. There’s no need to go down this route of germophobia and, bizarrely, suggesting that OP is uneducated. Her upset is a perfectly normal reaction to a frustrating situation; what wouldn’t be normal is chasing after the money from the coworker/manager.

      1. Dan*

        No it’s not a strange response. People have all sorts of misconceptions about how germs are spread and when people are contagious, and TBH, yon never really know who “got” you sick. The irony is, the bigger the bubble you build around yourself, the weaker your immune system and the easier it is to actually get sick.

        Nonetheless, if this was someone just “venting” a little, AAM still chose to run the question, opening it up to comments. She’s pretty good about not throwing people to the wolves, so if it was a “just venting, no response required” type of thing, she shouldn’t have run the question with open comments.

      2. MK*

        I agree that the above comment is unwarranted, but the main point, that you can’t really know who infected a person is valid.

      3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        I wouldn’t go straight to being a germophobe, but OP’s frustration is pointing to the wrong person. If we’re talking a common cold here, you’re generally most contagious before you even have symptoms. Sure the BF could have gotten sick from being around their manager, but there’s no guarantee that the manager passed along the germs. And where is the BF’s responsibility in this? If I was around a sick co-worker, I’d take every precaution to avoid getting sick knowing I was about to go on a trip. It’s understandable to be upset that you lost out on this trip, but my bigger concern is the fact that OP even contemplated the question they presented, because it’s way out of the realm of being reasonable.

    2. Scarlet2*

      Well, it’s pretty “uneducated” to imply that someone who coughs or sneezes couldn’t be contagious. Sure, the boyfriend could have caught an illness elsewhere, but it’s certainly not a leap or “germophobia” to think he caught it from the sick coworker.
      Now, LW obviously doesn’t have any recourse (even though I certainly feel sorry for them). But being annoyed is a natural reaction.

      1. GimmeGimmeGimmeGimme*

        My post does not address the LW’s annoyance or disappointment, which is understandable. It is also human to look for someone to blame when one feels that a loss, financial or otherwise, could have been prevented. The LW gets irrational (and I dare say uneducated although it is very common) in not realising it is impossible to forensically establish exactly who passed on the illness, if anyone in specific at all. In writing to AAM, the LW based her question on cost compensation on the assumption that the co-worker was solely to blame for the boyfriend’s illness.

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It’s also equally possible that coworker and boyfriend both picked up the illness from the same source, i.e. a customer in the restaurant.

    3. fposte*

      I think “uneducated” is unnecessarily personal, since this is a pretty common cultural take right now, but I agree with the overall point–when there’s an ambient virus in your community, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to blame one person, even if it *was* the person you got it from (which you’ll never know), since it would make just as much sense to blame the person *he* got it from, and so on.

    4. Meh*

      It’s uneducated to think that coughing and sneezing, especially in close proximity, doesn’t spread viruses and illness. Those two things alone are the vectors for killing tens of thousands of people each year with the flu. And to use germaphobia as a directed insult is petty & unnecessary. It’s a recognized OCD disorder and for those that have it (not saying this person does), it’s a huge life challenge. Why put someone down for it?

  14. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP1 – I’d tend towards no…. in the main because she didn’t say anything and was going to cost you/clients double until she got caught by clients’ objecting.

    If she had said in advance – even on the day – something might have been done. And yeah, I’d roll my eyes hard at refusing to go somewhere because they advertise a “haunted” gimmick…. but when you say nothing and just try to sneak it through as expenses afterwards?

    At the very least there would be a strong conversation on professional ethics and expenses.

    1. Akcipitrokulo*

      I think my second thoughts is she’d asked would be “OK, she is very distressed so has some kind of phobia about haunted houses…. fair enough, it’s reasonable to deal with that and get it changed.”

      But doesn’t change the bit about ehat is basically fraud. That would be the same if she changed for any reason – like “it has a really bad hygiene report” or “I saw that a stag do had booked up all the other rooms and wanted a chance of some sleep…” – fine, but knowing about issue in advance and trying to sneak through expenses is a problem.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        Yeah, I thought the biggest issue here is that employee switched hotels without permission. You can’t just do what you want on a business trip – there are rules and limitations. I just got back from a business trip, and one of of my co-workers had emailed my manager late last week saying he had other accommodations and he wouldn’t need the hotel room that was booked. He was told if it could be cancelled that was fine, but if it was too late, co-worker was responsible for the expense.

    2. Employee #24601*

      I wouldn’t necessarily call it fraud. I have worked in plenty of organisations that repeatedly say that expenses should “follow common sense” (yes, they still have policies, but they literally say the common sense thing in every expense conversation). I could easily see that she worked in an organisation like that and concluded “it’s common sense to not stay in a haunted hotel so my boss won’t mind later when I expense this normally”.

      I’ve also worked in an organisation with an admittedly terrible boss who basically yelled at me for wasting his time when I tried to clarify an expense issue in advance. So I never asked for clarification again.

      Without knowing the history of the employee and expenses and the general mood of the organisation, I absolutely wouldn’t condemn the employee. Sure, there’s a chat that needs to be had, but the language you used was a bit too strong methinks.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Yeah, possibly.

        I think the combination of not saying anything and only talking about it when getting caught by clients made me highly suspicious… accidental dishonesty? Still needs a chat.

        But yeah, could have been a bit too harsh with initial reaction.

        1. Aquawoman*

          Maybe she expected that people would “roll their eyes hard” at her if she said she didn’t want to stay there because it was haunted.

        2. Librarian of SHIELD*

          I agree that a conversation is warranted about what to do if there’s a reason you can’t stay at the hotel that’s been booked for you, but some people are seriously rattled by paranormal based stuff and I’d try to be a little more compassionate about the fact that this normally very reasonable employee forgot about protocol in this instance.

      2. Stitch*

        The fact that she double billed them without talking to employer first is a HUGE no no. Like potentially fireable no no. That is a lot of money and by putting it on the client first she hurt her employer and created a bad situation with a client.

        Not wanting to stay in the hotel, okay whatever. How she handled it is where you get the big problems.

        1. valentine*

          The fact that she double billed them
          I thought she was going to expense the place she stayed to the employer, who didn’t plan to charge it to the client.

          1. Stitch*

            I read at as the client got upset and LW had to call the employee to find out what happened.

        2. Willis*

          But she didn’t put it on the client. It sounds like she paid for the second room herself and was then planning to expense it to her company.

          If she knew ahead of time that this was an issue and didn’t say anything about swapping the reservation, that would be one thing. But if she realized it day of or when she was checking in, her decision seems reasonable to me. (Not one I’d personally make as the haunting marketing wouldn’t bug me, but I get that people have different levels of belief on that.)

          If you’re a company that’s regularly deploying people to travel throughout the country, you have to accept that sometimes they’ll be unexpected travel costs. People miss flights, take taxis cause it’s too late to catch the train, etc. etc. Switching hotels due to a haunting is a new one to me, but if you have a good employee who is performing well for the company and typically travels without incident or extra expense, it’s ridiculous to nickel and dime them or accuse them of fraud when legitimate unexpected expenses occasionally crop up. By all means, ask her to look up her hotels ahead of time from now on if she may potentially want to swap them, but I would pay the extra hotel cost (which is small in the grand scheme of things) without issue.

          1. Stitch*

            The fact that a company may regularly deploy to travel doesn’t mean an employee gets to be cavalier about hundreds of dollars in expenses. The client was upset enough to forward the bill to the employer.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              And the employer needs to politely remind the client of their agreement to pay for an employee’s accommodations. If they agreed to pay for a hotel, they need to pay for a hotel. They can choose to pay for the one that they booked or the one the employee stayed in, but they should still be paying for one of them if that was what they agreed to do.

          2. EvilQueenRegina*

            But if she realised there was an issue on the day, she still had the option of contacting the company and explaining before it got as far as booking another hotel and expensing that. It sounds like she didn’t say anything until after the event and OP only knew about it from the client, not from the employee direct. The employee still mishandled it.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I was under the impression the employee moved to the other hotel and then emailed her company about the situation the next day.

      1. Scarlet2*

        “Today I received a call from one of the clients that they had booked and paid for a hotel but they subsequently found out the educator hadn’t checked in. I contact the colleague in question and she was very clear that the hotel they had booked was haunted and she refused to stay there. She had booked a separate hotel and was planning to expense it.”

        The employee didn’t warn or consult anyone, that’s precisely the problem. I don’t know what she was expecting, really. I wouldn’t go so far as calling it fraud, but it’s definitely unprofessional.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          It’s not the most professional choice, but it’s also not necessarily a deal breaker in an otherwise good employee.

        2. Hamburke*

          Is it possible that she did contact her company but the message did not get to the point of contact, our letterwriter?

    4. Jex*

      Would it make a difference if there was a roach on her ceiling? If the person in the next room had large aggressive barking dogs? Really, the reason is almost beside the point (almost). (I can easily imagine certain employers thinking both are petty reasons to choose another hotel.) Really, here the point is how the employee should handle it.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I bailed on a hotel because I found bedbugs when I was inspecting the room (yay for past life as an environmental health inspector!). My employer thought I was being ridiculous. I disagreed and ate the cost of the room.

      2. EvilQueenRegina*

        Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. If, say, she’d chosen to stay somewhere else because she found out the original hotel had 108 bad reviews on TripAdvisor, would the advice really be any different? She really should still have to follow the same protocol in that situation.

  15. Dan*


    Nothing is 100% foolproof. You can have the best hiring/screening practices in the world and still miss a few good ones… even great ones. So in that sense, don’t beat yourself up too much. Hell, I’d even say it’s normal to tell people to smart small and work big. I’ve found a lot of success in my career, and a large part of it is because I walk into meetings and am like, “um no. We’re not boiling the ocean. We’re going to start with this tiny little thing that I’m 95% sure that we’re going to do what needs to get done, and then we’re going to build on it.” These days, I get sought out for my ability to get shit done. And that’s in part because I start small, even if my bosses secretly hate it because they want to solve world hunger in one broad stroke.

    That said… the way you build diversity in a team is by looking at *skill sets* that you need and getting a cross section. I work in a field/industry/domain that is so White Guy dominated it’s not even funny. “Diversity” to us isn’t about gender and skin color, it’s about skill set. Period. I’m good at what I do, but I don’t build teams that are copy cats of me or my skills. I build teams based on complementary skill sets. If I’m building a team, it’s often a mix of stats people, data science people, domain knowledge people, and software developers.

    Along those lines… one way to build a diverse team is to stop having the same interview questions for everybody. Seriously. Do you need 5 software developers who know how to do the same thing? Really? Why? If you interview everybody the same way, you’ll get multiple “copies” of what you interview for. TBH, you probably don’t even want that.

    1. Fdesigner*

      We are talking here about how women’s skills are perceveid by man – they man have the skills that you are talking about but man dismiss them. There are a lot of women talking about their experiences here and you keep writting about “not all men” and being dismissive of women’s opinions. It could be a good exercise if you read and understand what women are talking about instead of being eager to reply.

    2. Colette*

      Does looking at diversity in skill sets result in a group of people of different genders, races, sexual orientations, etc.? It sounds like it doesn’t, based on your description of your field as “White Guy dominated” – which means that you do not have diverse teams in any meaningful way, and that you probably don’t know what perspectives and abilities you are missing that would make your team stronger.

    3. S*

      You say that “I work in a field/industry/domain that is so White Guy dominated it’s not even funny. “Diversity” to us isn’t about gender and skin color, it’s about skill set. Period.”

      I guarantee you that there are people who aren’t white guys who have those diverse skill sets. Having a white male team with a wide range of skills isn’t having a diverse team.

    4. Anononon*

      If your field is so “white guy dominated” (ugh), then no, (general) you do not know how to build diversity. You’re just trying to justify the echo chamber your field has created by only employing a minority of the population.

      1. Violet Fox*

        This so much this. I’ve heard this before, including some “we don’t get many women applying”, mostly because the criteria is so specific or so strange or written such away that of course you don’t. If you’re looking for essentially the same guy over and over again it’s possible to write job postings, and make a work environment that encourages that sort of hiring. More diverse people are out there if you actually look for them and make a place that they actually want to work.

    5. Me*

      If it’s that white guy dominated you do indeed have a diversity problem. White guys don’t have the market on any set of skill. So either your industry is not attracting diversity or doesn’t know how to recognize skills in non-white guys. I’m a female in public safety – I know exactly what this looks like.

      Also I challenge your take on diversity. True diversity is about attracting people with different experiences and backgrounds in addition to the skill sets you need because they bring unique perspectives to challenges.

    6. FD*

      It might be helpful to think through your premises here, because if you do I think you’ll spot the issues in them.

      Premise 1: Your field is dominated by white men.

      Premise 2: You believe that you and others in your business solely for skill set, without considering any other factor.

      For Premise 1 and Premise 2 to be true, one of two things must be true, correct?

      1. There are very few women or POC people with the skill sets you need. If that were true, that would imply there is some kind of very serious issue with the organizations that teach those skills, right? There isn’t any being male or white makes you better at learning those skills, so if it were really true that only white men are getting the opportunities to learn those skills, that would be a problem, right?


      2. People in your field are, in general, not very good at recognizing the skills of people who aren’t white men. Frankly, this is pretty likely. Our culture tends to encourage us to assume that ‘competence’ and ‘potential’ and ‘ talent’ look a certain way. This goes way below the gut, and often isn’t really even conscious. It’s not just some jerk who openly hates women blocking their promotion. It’s people who think they’re doing their best but coincidentally just keep finding that white male candidates are the best ones.

      I really hope you’ll consider this carefully, because whether you think Reason 1 or Reason 2 is the explanation, either is bad news.

      1. FD*

        There isn’t any *REASON* being male or white makes you better at learning those skills.

        Missing word there, sorry.

      2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

        Or 3. Your field is an uncomfortable or potentially hostile environment for anyone who isn’t white and male which means any female and/or POC self selects out of the candidate pool.

        1. FD*

          Also true–I was more thinking in terms of that being both a cause and an outcome of #1 and #2. (E.g. one potential problem with organizations that teach certain skills may be hostility to certain people)

        2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

          Good point, I was thinking the systemic general policies and office culture where the lack of diversity becomes self perpetuating. The company doesn’t realize that it is set up for those who are white and male to succeed so women or POC self select out.

          The workaholic or happy hour cultures where the important socializing occurs when parents typically need to pick up children from daycare are an example. That type of culture is not conducive for women shouldering more of the child rearing activities since they won’t get the extra face time necessary to stand out and drop out or never bother to apply in the first place.

          Or hiring advertisements that tends to attract white male candidates since things like gendered wording makes them less attractive to women to apply.

          There’s also the more overt which ties in closer, like when the young female manager was approving equipment orders and found an order for a Barbie Doll that her all male team placed as a joke.

        3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

          Remember, people talk to each other. Especially to people like themselves. If you have an environment where (s0me members of) underrepresented groups are uncomfortable, other members of those groups who don’t work there will find out what your work environment is like. And if we think we won’t like working there, when we see your job posting go up, we just won’t apply.

        4. Lora*

          Yes. See the “leaky pipeline” phenomenon, where women and men start to achieve parity in academic qualifications (e.g. number of women vs men graduating from engineering programs) but women leave the field in droves once they find out that working surrounded by sexist pigs is really not a fun way to spend your life when you are bright enough to switch fields and go somewhere more welcoming.

          I know an awful lot of women who are now in health care (nursing, doctors, lab techs, public health, all levels), teaching or writing because the harassment in STEM was intolerable. It’s very high, up to 50% of women are harassed in some fields. Disciplines with a heavy fieldwork component are notorious for sexual assault running rampant both from fellow grad students and postdocs and professors.

          1. FD*

            I’ve never heard it described that way, but a leaky pipeline is a perfect way to describe it!

    7. Aquawoman*

      You’re in an industry that “so White Guy dominated it’s not even funny. “Diversity” to us isn’t about gender and skin color, it’s about skill set.” And you don’t see how those two things cannot possibly both be true at the same time? There’s a reason there are few women and people of color in your industry. Industries do not become white male dominated without bias that makes them so at some level.

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Industries do not become white male dominated without bias that makes them so.

        Repeated for emphasis.

      2. nonymous*

        I went to a session at a nationally recognized conference targeting women programmers and this was the narrative that many women employed as management in FANG and locally reputable companies used. It’s like the next level of getting along and not making waves is to announce they were willing to sidestep the issue of gender inequality (i.e. “I am a diverse employee because of Skill which has nothing to do with the fact that I am a woman.” Describes experiences of social conditioning that are common to women.) And then they followed up with strategies to balance work with childcare obligations.

    8. QueenintheNorf*

      So it just so happens that only white guys have the skill sets needed in your industry?


    9. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Dude, no matter what field you are in and what skills you need, there are women and POCs who have those skills and who are very good.

      That means that no, you don’t hire on skill set alone. I mean, I am sure that is what you are trying to do, but you failed. You recognize the skillset and the competence when it comes wrapped in a particular package, and you *miss* it when the outer wrapping looks and sounds different.

      I mean, unless you actually want to insist that only white men have the skills.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        Or women / PoC who can learn the skills quickly…

        Without people in ‘white male dominated’ industries doing the work to share their opportunities, requirements and experience and challenge their biases, the industries will remain ‘white male dominated’.

        Dan, it sounds like your company could really benefit from partnering with a Historical Black College or Prestigious College’s ‘Black / Latinx Interest Club’ (eg, ‘Georgia Tech Society of Black Engineers’) to develop a program where their students learn the skills your industry needs. It’s a new source of talent, one that will help your company find or grow the best talent out there. The bigger the talent pool, the better people you can find. Check out Google’s Howard West program, for example.

        1. Michaela Westen*

          I don’t like the concept of working with a club that’s only for people of a specific ethnicity. As a white woman who has seen plenty of chauvinism, that would leave me out. Again.
          OTOH, a club that wasn’t for a specific ethnicity would probably be white-male dominated.
          To make it fair, Dan’s company would have to seek out both non-white groups and women groups.

          1. Asta*

            “I don’t like the concept of working with a club that’s only for people of a specific ethnicity. As a white woman“

            Do you really not understand why these societies exist? Wow.

            1. Michaela Westen*

              Did you read the rest of my post?
              WOMEN of all colors, including me, face constant, pervasive chauvinism. This is not the first time I’ve seen people forming groups around their non-white ethnicity – and even though I ALSO need support and help with chauvinism, I can’t join because I’m white.
              This is NOT fun.
              That’s why I said “To make it fair, Dan’s company would have to seek out BOTH non-white groups and women groups.” To include ALL of us women, because we ALL need support dealing with chauvinism. Please DON’T try to tell me otherwise!

              1. Niktike*

                There are lots of groups specifically for women. I’m a member of a few of them. You could just as easily, as a POC man, say

                “POCs of all genders, including me, face constant, pervasive racism. This is not the first time I’ve seen people forming groups around their gender – and even though I ALSO need support and help with racism, I can’t join because I’m a man. This is NOT fun.”

                Those groups are not invalid because you can’t join them, and women’s groups are not invalid because POC men can’t join them.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  White women have access to many groups for women. It would be really inappropriate and gross to have them specifically for white women since “white” is not a traditionally marginalized identity.

              2. 2019 isn't magic*

                Women face sexism.
                Women of color face sexism and racism. Some of the racism that women of color face is from white women. (Anyone who wants to learn more about this, google Robin DiAngelo).

                Just as women sometimes need a space where they can talk exclusively to other women, women of color sometimes need a space where they can talk exclusively to other women of color.

                It’s not fun for you to be excluded from those groups and it isn’t fun for men to be excluded from groups that are for women only. But the goal isn’t fun; the goal is to provide a space for marginalized people to form community, discuss common experiences, and learn about resources.

                Engaging with multiple groups, as you suggested, is a good idea. But I would tread carefully in how you make the request because at least from your posts above, it sounded like you don’t see the value/validity in the ethnicity-specific groups in the first place. If I misinterpreted, please let me know.

    10. Tinker*

      So, the way for LW3 to improve their ability to recognize diverse talent is to redefine “diversity” to mean “we don’t just have white guys who code in Python, we ALSO have got white guys who code in R”?

    11. Lucette Kensack*

      An important flag: Your last paragraph is dead wrong, and goes against best practices. To reduce bias in hiring, best practice is to use standardized interview questions.

      1. Green great dragon*

        You can ask different questions for different posts of course! If your team is currently short of, I dunno, people who are good at testing, then by all means come up with a set of questions to identify good testers. But then ask them all the same questions and hire the person who answers them best, rather than using some secret test you don’t tell them about…

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          Oh, of course. Different questions for different jobs. Same questions for candidates interviewing for the same job.

    12. Jaydee*

      Lack of diversity of human experience (gender, race, disability, socioeconomic status, etc.) can lead groups to not even recognize a skill set they are missing because it is either non-existent or unappreciated among the members of the in-group.

  16. Akcipitrokulo*

    I am impressed with OP3’s self awareness and their willingness to address possible blind spots. Having internal biases is common – when it’s noticed, taking a step back and figuring out how to do better isn’t.

  17. Elsa*

    Another comment for OP#3 – as regarding the following:

    “I clearly didn’t spot how bright Alice was. She listened to my advice, but didn’t ask any of the questions I normally see as markers of really good technical abilities.”

    OP didn’t mention if Alice was an international hire, an immigrant, or perhaps was raised within a tighknot immigrant community. The idea of “asking questions to show intelligence” is really limited to maybe the U.S. and a handful of other countries. In many cultures, asking questions of one’s boss (or one’s professor, etc.) may demonstrate the opposite—or worse. It can show a lack of respect for authority (those in senior roles, those who are older, etc.) to ask questions. It’s your job, as an employee, to pay close attention, be a good listener, and follow instructions. Period. Questioning implies a kind of disregard for that senior person, and also makes the asker seem, well… lacking in some level of intelligence or competence (unable to listen to, understand, and follow instructions.)

    Of course, if the asker is now working in the U.S., it’s important to their success that they understand what the professional norms are here. That said it can be a challenge to acclimate, as this is the kind of thing that seems completely “common sense” to whichever context one originates from—i.e. “Obviously I’m not going to make myself look dumb or show disrespect to my boss by asking them questions, after they’ve taken time to explain something to me.” Just like, in OP#3’s context, it wouldn’t occur that someone “bright” would NOT ask such questions. It’s a case of both sides “not knowing what they don’t know.” The good news is that this is something that can be addressed and resolved, with patience and clear communication of expectations for YOUR workplace culture. You can just say, “In this office, I place a high value in team members demonstrating engagement and interest by asking followup questions, which will show to me that you’re on the right track and thinking ahead (or whatever.

    1. Myrin*

      This comment has been somewhat illuminating to me – both as someone from a certain culture and with a certain personality.
      I’d say culturally, we’re somewhat in the middle – it’s not that you’re coming across as dumb or disrespectful if you ask questions and if they’re really good questions (by whatever parametres), it’ll indeed look good, but I’ve personally found that most of the time, asking questions is viewed as annoying because it’s viewed as someone trying to show off how smart they are (a strange 180° thing from the American view, apparently).
      And on a personal level, I’m just not someone who can think of questions on the spot – while listening to a speech or having a conversation – unless I’m not understanding something. I might think of something afterwards when I’ve reflected some, but most of the time, if the thing as presented is clear to me, I’m simply not going to ask any further.

      That being said: I was also about to say that I was very confused as to why apparently the only reason OP thought Alice wasn’t as bright/competent as she turned out to be was the fact that she didn’t ask any questions, but then I re-read more carefully: “[Alice] didn’t ask any of the questions I normally see as markers of really good technical abilities”. That suggests to me that Alice did indeed ask questions, they were just not the questions OP expected. So I’m not really sure that this is an issue of “Alice is from a culture/background were you don’t ask questions to show engagement and interest.” so much as it’s about “I need to broaden my horizon on how markers of really good technical abilities can be expressed”.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If OP wants to see XYZ discussed, he could next time ask someone about it. “Have you considered how XYZ would affect this project?”

    2. CM*

      Even if it’s not a US versus non-US culture, the type and amount of questions someone asks may be highly dependent on that person. For instance, if you’re a woman engineer and your competence is questioned on a daily basis, you may be reluctant to ask questions at all. Not that this is necessarily Alice’s situation — just pointing out that if you are judging someone on their communication style, you’re likely to favor someone similar to you.

      OP#3, it’s great that you’re asking this question. As a former engineer, I always found it incredibly discouraging to be repeatedly told “this isn’t for everybody,” “maybe this is too hard for you,” “you should try something else instead,” and all the variations. Eventually I listened to them and left the industry, in part because I was done with constantly having to prove myself. I would say in general, assume that everybody is competent unless they show you they’re not, and don’t try to judge whether certain people are more or less capable than others without seeing their actual work product.

    3. LCL*

      Or, speaking from my perspective as a white woman in a traditionally male field, we often aren’t accustomed to asking too many questions when meeting new people in tech. Because we don’t have to. If a man starts talking to us re technical things, it’s usually more of a monologue and if you just listen you will find out what you need to know. Sometimes the monologue comes from a good place-the man wants to share his knowledge and see more women in the field. Sometimes it comes from a bad place-he is demonstrating how smart he thinks he is. It doesn’t matter the motive.

      Obviously once we start working the job we ask questions. But when meeting unknown males? We don’t question because we haven’t had to, most of them will do all the talking. Obvious disclaimer-not all people, everyone needs to communicate better and etc.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes! OP, please be aware of the common pitfalls that white men in technical fields fall into – monologuing or dominating the conversation, assuming the other party doesn’t know as much, including technical details in a conversation to show they’re smart even when they don’t add much to the substance of the conversation, being more interested in the technical details than “soft” issues like policy implications, etc.

        Not all white men do all these things, of course. Far from it. But these are very common behavior patterns that white men are socialized into. As you think about how you assess talent in others based on conversations, it’s worth some reflection on your own communication style and how that plays into things.

      2. FD*

        Or, unfortunately, that it’ll be interpreted as flirting.

        I’ve had that happen a lot, annoyingly. Some people do not distinguish between “I am asking questions because I know something about this and am curious how you approached X” and “I am asking questions because I am romantically interested in you.”

    4. JSPA*

      Speaking up / asking questions with minimal prompting is far more culturally-biased than answering questions. Ask open ended questions–

      “you’ve asked me how I’d control for A; how are you designing your controls for X and Y and Z, and why?”

      “What are some other possible confounding factors not directly dealt with in your controls, and how / where would you expect to see them, and what are you doing to mitigate their effects?

      “So-and-so were interested in this question a decade ago; if you’re familiar with their work, what limited their success, and how do you see your strategy (/ materials / tools) circumventing those limits?

      Finally, they may not ask questions because you’re not the person they’d automatically trust to give the best feedback, or they may want to digest what you’ve said, and triangulate, and integrate it into the rest of their plans before responding. So:
      “do you have the connections and feedback you need, if you hit a roadblock?
      “is there anyone you’re not in contact with, who might be a particularly good resource for some aspect of this problem?”

      Basically, it could be that, as well as being bright, they’ve learned to get all of those ducks in a row. It sort of goes with the territory, if you’re not in an advantaged group. By the time they’re talking to you, they’re not given to spouting good ideas, semi-formed, into the void.

      As a result, when you’re giving them feedback, there’s a higher-than-average-likelihood that it’s something they’ve already heard, already considered, and already have a plan for dealing with. They’re still going to be polite, and nod when you say that there are issues they need to consider. But what’s landing with you as, “they don’t understand the scope of what they’re planning” actually means, “he’s covering the same issues I’ve dealt with, I feel even more comfortable in my planning, nice talking to him, I’ll nod and smile.”

      Or they could be from a background where popping up with a smart counter-answer just isn’t rewarded much, compared to working through a problem exhaustively until you have not only a smart answer in theory, but a fully-formed, feasible plan.

      1. Asta*

        “They’re still going to be polite, and nod when you say that there are issues they need to consider.”

        Not least because, even if they’re addressing them, men will insist on explaining them anyway.

  18. BRR*

    #4 something I’ve done is subtly point out to my manager if my work is contributing to my colleague’s unhappiness. For example, I had a lot of work that I needed to request from a new coworker who was unhappy because of how much work they had (it was an astronomical amount). I asked my manager “I have a lot of requests for Jane and I’m worried about the extremely large volume. How would you like me to handle it?” Usually I would go to Jane with this, but since Jane was new and the requests were part of a bigger planning process I was working on with our shared manager I felt like it was ok in this instance.

  19. Less Bread More Taxes*

    OP #4 – even if she talked to her manager, you can’t be sure that will change things. Maybe the things she’s unhappy about can’t be changed. I’m in kind of a similar situation in which I’m pretty unhappy in a position I’ve been in for nearly six months. I opened up to a coworker about it, and he encouraged me to speak up about things more. I have – I’ve had about five different meetings about things that are making me unhappy, and management has made it clear things won’t change. It’s annoying for me, I’m sure it’s annoying for my coworker when he asks me how my work is going and he gets an honest answer, but nothing can be done about it.

  20. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    #5: Don’t just contact potential employers where you have applications in … make sure you’re networking with folks in town you can provide insight into other employers. If your entire hometown network isn’t lit up and lining up for coffee dates, get on LinkedIn… or even Facebook… and let people know you’re available in this window of time and looking for this type of work. See what happens.

  21. LGC*

    First of all – I’m really sorry, LW2! That sucks horribly!

    I…would definitely not approach it as it being his coworker’s fault for getting him sick, because that’s actually pretty difficult to prove. (Unless you have lab tests that show your boyfriend had your coworker’s disease, which I don’t know if you do.) Also, given that it’s food service, the benefits even for salaried positions might not be great.

    Also, I’m not sure whether your boyfriend is also upset or you’re just upset on his behalf. At any rate, this is his war to fight if he so chooses.

  22. Employee #24601*

    I wouldn’t necessarily call it fraud. I have worked in plenty of organisations that repeatedly say that expenses should “follow common sense” (yes, they still have policies, but they literally say the common sense thing in every expense conversation). I could easily see that she worked in an organisation like that and concluded “it’s common sense to not stay in a haunted hotel so my boss won’t mind later when I expense this normally”.

    I’ve also worked in an organisation with an admittedly terrible boss who basically yelled at me for wasting his time when I tried to clarify an expense issue in advance. So I never asked for clarification again.

    Without knowing the history of the employee and expenses and the general mood of the organisation, I absolutely wouldn’t condemn the employee. Sure, there’s a chat that needs to be had, but the language you used was a bit too strong methinks.

    1. Employee #24601*

      Oops meant to leave that as a reply to the person accusing LW#1 of committing fraud…

  23. Newington*

    #3: She listened to my advice, but didn’t ask any of the questions I normally see as markers of really good technical abilities

    Maybe because she already knew the answers! Try asking her the questions next time.

    1. Whatever*

      Or maybe since she figured out that you thought she was just a “dumb woman” you couldn’t have much to offer that would be of any use anyway.

    2. Lepidoptera*

      Or maybe she’s neuroatypical and needs to plan out the questions she asks so that she can follow the conversation well enough to “pass”.
      There’s all kinds of reasons.

    3. CM*

      I have so many questions about how this conversation went. Based on how it’s described, it sounds like Alice asked for advice about her project, the OP told her not to do it, and then Alice didn’t have any questions about that because she wasn’t looking for advice about whether or not to do it.

      What I find interesting is that the OP doesn’t say he thought there was a problem with the project Alice had in mind or that it was a bad idea — which I think are totally fine things to tell someone if you’re advising them. His entire objection seemed to be that he decided Alice wasn’t capable of doing it. It’s not clear exactly what his role was in that situation, but it might be worth considering that the solution isn’t to get better at judging who’s smart and who’s not and instead STOP judging who’s smart and who’s not, and instead focus on giving people advice about how to go about doing what they’re trying to do. Let them succeed or fail on their own instead of pre-judging that they can’t do it.

  24. Jack V*

    Re: Not staying in a ‘haunted’ hotel

    I’d mentally translate this into “this is a bit weird, but for personal reasons I really, really can’t stay at hotel X. Can I make alternative arrangements?”

    Which is something I’d usually give a pass to occasionally, because people will have occasional unusual restrictions, for personal reasons, emotional reasons, religious reasons, mental health reasons, physical health reasons, and it’s good to have a default of being accepting.

    Whereas if it happened all the time, you’d need to have a talk in advance about what hotels were ok and what weren’t, and when you could accommodate someone’s needs and when you couldn’t.

    Re: Changing the hotel

    The employee screwed up by booking somewhere else and expecting the employer to pay for it, without even checking to see if the existing hotel could be cancelled. It sounds like she was genuinely stressed out, so it’s somewhat understandable (regardless of WHY she was stressed). But it’s still a mistake, and she probably needs to be told to avoid doing that in future.

    1. Stitch*

      Making a choice that costs your employer hundreds, though, is not something you can get away with more than once. She may have been stressed but this was not a case where asking forgiveness is better than asking permission.

        1. Rustybelle*

          While I wouldn’t revert to name-calling, I certainly wouldn’t be reimbursing someone for the second hotel. Ghosts and the paranormal are not real and should not be considered a legitimate reason for not staying somewhere.

          1. Colette*

            There are lots of beliefs out there that you don’t believe in that others do – and whether ghosts are empirically real or not, she’s not going to be available for work if she’s unable to sleep in a hotel that she believes is haunted. The placebo effect works for a reason.

            Having said that, I’d be having a very serious conversation with her about speaking up in time to cancel the first hotel and book another one, but the reason why she won’t stay in the first hotel doesn’t really matter.

          2. Snowball*

            I have a co-worker who changed hotels because hers was haunted and when she told me which hotel it was I could see why (old jail that was converted). Some cultures (like hers) have are more superstitious than others and if you aren’t going to sleep because of ghosts in the room, you should be able to stay somewhere else.

            I am not saying that the person in the OP handled it correctly but I get it. I don’t believe in ghosts btw but my coworker has told me about some of her other experiences with them

          3. Dahlia*

            Once again people are being incredibly rude about people having different belief systems than them. Do you act this way to Christian or Jewish people for believing in God?

          4. Librarian of SHIELD*

            You can not believe in ghosts and still not be able to stay in a haunted hotel. I personally don’t believe in ghosts, but I do have a tendency toward nightmares. Depending on how heavily this particular hotel plays up the spookiness, I might not have been able to stay there either. How effective is the employee going to be at work the next day if she wasn’t able to sleep in the hotel room that was provided to her?

      1. Shad*

        People believe in different things. To claim a belief is automatically “absolutely wackadoodle nuts” is unkind and unhelpful, whether that belief is in ghosts or in a deity.
        The employee should absolutely pay the costs of one hotel, since it’s her failure to alert anyone to the change ahead of time that has doubled the charge, but your blaming it on her beliefs is out of line.

        1. Newington*

          She’s entitled to her beliefs, but she’s not entitled to her own facts. The hotel isn’t haunted. If it had been haunted and she’d been in danger of being eaten by a grue if she slept there, it would have been the right thing to do. But it wasn’t.

          Facts. Matter.

          If my cow-orkers want to believe in ghosts, fine. If they want to fix a broken computer by hiring an exorcist, not fine.

          1. Shad*

            If she’d said something beforehand so that the hotel could be changed without double cost, I don’t think it matters a bit why she requested a change. It could be fear of ghosts, it could be religious beliefs around respecting the dead (gawking at or profiting off the supposed ghost could certainly be seen as disrespectful to whoever it’s supposed to be), it could be that she can’t sleep with the noise from traffic.
            The issue is not that the hotel doesn’t work or why. The issue is that rather than saying something about it not working so that the hotel could be properly canceled and changed, incurring only one hotel cost which could be kept on the client’s tab, she said nothing and went elsewhere on her own, forcing someone to pay for a hotel that went unused and then asking for a second room to also be paid after the fact.

            1. Scarlet2*

              “The issue is that rather than saying something about it not working so that the hotel could be properly canceled and changed, incurring only one hotel cost which could be kept on the client’s tab, she said nothing and went elsewhere on her own, forcing someone to pay for a hotel that went unused and then asking for a second room to also be paid after the fact.”

              It’s also pretty rude for the hotel to just not show up without bothering to cancel

              1. Stitch*

                Exactly. If she had raised this properly, this would not have been an issue. Instead she cost the company large amounts of money without any prior notice and managed to upset a client. Bad all around.

                1. Newington*

                  But if it had been because she couldn’t sleep in Hotel A because of traffic noise, or she had a dodgy leg and they didn’t have an elevator, that would at least mitigate it.

                  It’s bizarre to me that so many people seem to think it’s irrelevant that the reason she gave was a complete fantasy.

            2. UKDancer*

              Agreed. When I visit Bree on business, for example, I can stay at the Prancing Pony or the Dancing Hobbit for approximately the same cost. I prefer the Prancing Pony because it has a better breakfast buffet and is marginally closer to the metro stop. If a colleague booked me in the Dancing Hobbit, I would be happy to say “could we change the booking to the Pony, I prefer staying there.” I don’t need to go into detail about why.

              What I don’t do is keep the booking at the Hobbit and then stay at the Pony so we’re paying for 2 different hotels. I think it comes down to a need to use ones’ words. The colleague in question could have given any number of reasons for not staying there other than supernatural activity and unless it’s the only hotel in town, most of them would be more credible.

            3. MissDisplaced*

              I have to assume she didn’t know it was haunted before? If the client booked it, it could’ve happened later in the travel plans, or who knows, maybe she just didn’t look into where she was staying.

              I agree, Employee could’ve/should’ve handled this situation better, but IDK, OP says she’s normally not this way, so perhaps there is a reasonable explanation why she didn’t call sooner.

          2. fposte*

            I’m a hard-core skeptic who snorted at the letter title, and I think this is a bad hill to die on here.

            The goal of an employer isn’t to ensure perfect rationality of their employees in all things; it’s to get the work done. If you have a normally reasonable employee who can’t deliver if they’re staying at an easily changeable hotel, there’s no benefit to the employee in insisting they stay at the first hotel because it’s silly. It’s an argument that takes more effort and leaves more damage than just changing hotels would. IOW, it’s an irrational battle to pick :-).

            It could be a problem if there’s no equivalent or lesser-priced hotel to change to, but that wasn’t the case here. The problem was the way the employee went about it, but it sounds like she’s otherwise a good employee and this is a one-off, so I’d eat the extra booking and, as Alison suggests, say that she’s got to be proactive next time because the employer won’t absorb the duplicated cost a second time.

            1. fposte*

              Ugh. In the 2nd paragraph 2nd line, it’s “no benefit to the employ*er*.” Those words are just too similar!

            2. Vicky Austin*

              “The goal of an employer isn’t to ensure perfect rationality of their employees in all things; it’s to get the work done.”


            3. Newington*

              Not wanting your workers to piss off clients and needlessly expense hundreds of dollars for made-up reasons is hardly trying to “ensure perfect rationality in all things”, is it?

              1. Vicky Austin*

                For the sake of the argument, let’s just say that you are correct and ghosts are made up and not real. That doesn’t change the fact that a significant number of intelligent, highly educated, and mentally well people believe in their existence, including the LW’s coworker. She is afraid of them enough that she will experience anxiety and not be able to sleep in a building that she believes is haunted.
                It’s not her manager’s job to convince her that ghosts are not real. He is not her therapist or her spiritual leader.
                That being said, she should have told her workplace ahead of time that she wouldn’t be staying at the supposedly haunted hotel, so that her company could get reimbursed for the room.

            4. smoke tree*

              I think it might be helpful to think of the ghosts as a kind of phobia in this case. It doesn’t necessarily have to be rational to make someone uncomfortable. For the same reason that many people wouldn’t want to stay in a spider-themed room, some people wouldn’t be comfortable in a ghost-themed hotel.

          3. Vicky Austin*

            You don’t KNOW that it’s not haunted. Just because you don’t believe in ghosts doesn’t automatically mean that they don’t exist.

            1. Newington*

              In that case, I can only stay at the Waldorf because all the other hotels are filled with invisible bees that nobody but me can see or be stung by. You don’t KNOW that’s not the case, do you?

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Let’s leave this here. Close to half of all American adults believe in the paranormal (and that’s not including mainstream religious beliefs that can have some overlap with this kind of thing). There’s no point in arguing about it here. Let’s stick to advice for the letter-writer, please.

          4. Glasses Lover*

            Okay, but some ‘haunted’ places *make* it real (I disagree that there are no haunted houses but that’s my belief system.) My ex used to work at this sketch place in New Orleans that claimed to be buried on top of a voodoo gravesite (spoiler alert: it wasn’t) and had all sorts of devices and tricks to make footsteps, power shorts, doors and windows moving, ect. So it is possible that this was one of those places and she could not bear to sleep there.

      2. SarahTheEntwife*

        A belief in the supernatural is extremely common and not a sign of mental illness.

      3. Lexi Kate*

        *absolutely whackadoodle nuts* is very harsh and your going off the deep end, everyone has a phobia or something they can’t do/handle this is hers. For right now no she is no longer sensible or not dramatic, she will have to earn that back. Also the room cost shouldn’t come out of her pocket, though I feel like I would have offered to cover the room before I expensed it, since it was her issues that caused the extra expense. The OP should have a sit down with the employee and explain that this can’t happen again.

      4. Newington*

        Hi D’Arcy. I’m whackadoodle nuts. I scream when a door closes too loudly and sometimes can’t get out of bed, let alone to the office. My company (and, I guess, my country) have been excellent at helping with this.

        But I’ve never expensed an extra hotel room because I thought the first one was haunted. If I did, I’d be paying it back out of my salary. Armchair diagnoses help nobody, especially when you’re diagnosing based on beliefs that, for whatever reason, manifestly a lot of mentally healthy people hold.

      5. agnes*

        That’s pretty harsh. There are lots of religious and cultural communities who have sincerely held beliefs about ghosts, dead ancestors, etc. The employee’s beliefs are not up for hostile judgment in my opinion. Where the employee missed it was not contacting the employer before making other arrangements.

        (I worked in real estate for many years and I had a lot of clients who would not purchase a home near a cemetery for much the same reason–no one ridiculed them for their beliefs!)

  25. Creamsiclecati*

    LW 1: is there a way to include language in the contract your clients sign to prevent this kind of thing from happening again in the future? Maybe you could say something like “our company reserves the right to select a comparable room at a different hotel if there are legitimate safety/cleanliness concerns for our employees at the hotel client chooses, at no cost to our company”, or something like that. This might encourage clients to put more thought into the hotels they choose. And then of course you would make it clear to your employees that they are not to change hotels for anything other than a MAJOR concern, like “I saw a roach in my bathroom” or “the pipe that carries chlorine gas to the pool burst and they had to evacuate the hotel” (happened to me once). The reason for the change can’t just be something that is a personal preference, like “I didn’t enjoy any of the continental breakfast options”.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This former New Yorker has to laugh at the idea of a roach being a major concern. Bedbugs now…bedbugs would have me running for the hills screaming like a horror movie extra.

      1. Creamsiclecati*

        Haha I’m also a New Yorker and a roach actually wouldn’t bother me TOO much… I wouldn’t be happy but for me personally it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I was looking for an example of ick factor- your bed bug example was better.

  26. Reality Check*

    #3 It may simply be that Alice is very high-IQ, and people like that tend to think and solve problems differently than others. They are often thought to be dumb at first, merely because they are so different.

    1. lemon*


      Yes! Or the questions they are asking seem “basic,” but really, they’re asking because they’re making conceptual connections that may not be immediately obvious to others in the moment.

  27. Stitch*

    Thing thing about colds and other illnesses (my spouse got pneumonia on a trip recently) is that you are often contagious, sometimes most contagious, before you ever show symptoms. That’s how they spread so quickly.

    Be frustrated, sure. But the idea of someone being on the hook for thousands is just not happening.

    1. Dana B.S.*

      Yes – this is exactly what I was going to post. Or even if I am showing symptoms – I go through a day or 2 of denial of my symptoms or wondering if it’s allergies.

  28. TL -*

    #3 – What helped me (in a diverse science field full of English as a second language speakers) was actively listening. Instead of letting in my own thoughts and evaluations while someone was speaking, I focus on listening, then I summarize a little bit in my head what they said and what outcome/question they’re asking. Then, I answer that and specifically that.

    It sounds like you listened to Alice, but instead of listening to what she was asking for (advice on the hard problem), what you were really listening was for ‘proof’ that she was smart enough to work on the hard problem. And when you didn’t find it, you addressed that, instead of addressing the question she asked.

    If you had legitimately engaged with her on the question at hand, asked your own questions about her approach – not about her worthiness, but about what she was actually trying to discuss with you – and listened to her answers with active intent to engage with her process, you probably would have come away with a very different impression.

    This also is a much better way of finding out if someone doesn’t know something they should or are saying that they do. Engage with people on the level and topic they’re asking to engage on, ask the questions you need to clarify what they’re saying, and then discuss what they are trying to discuss in good faith. Making listening an intentional process with a specific goal.

    1. Reba*

      I love this analysis/advice. I’ve been in a few situations lately where more than one level of conversation was going on, and it can be tough to know how to respond. Of course, in an interview setting, that kind of evaluating as you go along is part of it. But it sounds like the situation OP 3 was in wasn’t an interview, although it obviously had some similar qualities. But thinking about how you’d talk to a colleague, rather than a candidate, could help along with all the other considerations under discussion here.

      I also want to just flag that not only gendered and cultural, but also just personality and thinking style are at play here.

    2. Seeking Second Childhood*

      This is what I was trying to get at….now I wish I could delete my up-thread comment. Because this is so much better.

    3. boo bot*

      This is great advice. I think it’s particularly relevant because, when he met with Alice, it wasn’t in a job interview or other context where he might have had some reason to be judging her competence.

      It sounds like she was asking his advice about something that pretty much only pertained to her, so she was probably only asking the questions that she actually needed the answers to, rather than trying to present a package of Alice, The Intelligent. Actually engaging with her in that scenario would probably have yielded a lot of information.

  29. MissDisplaced*

    Haunted hotel: I think if this employee has a good history otherwise and a fear of haunting hasn’t ever been an issue before give it a pass. I am not a believer in this stuff personally, but you know, who knows? Maybe there WAS something fearful (perhaps not even paranormal). I think you could apply this situation to other hotel issues such as lack of security, fumes, or other reasons why people want to “get out now!”

    Interviewing: Yes it’s fine to contact them and see if you could arrange an interview while you’re in that city for the week. I got a job just that way many years ago as I was able to get an interview with HR while I was vacationing in a city I wanted to move to—and they didn’t even have an opening yet. I’m not sure how well it will work today when it’s so much harder to reach people, but it’s worth trying to set something up. As you’ve applied it makes sense for them to fir you in then if they’re interested. Good luck!

  30. MC*

    #4 I have had that colleague. Let her go. Complaining to everyone but the person who might be able to fix your problem is a huge red flag to me (unless the boss was not open to discussion, which doesn’t sound like the issue). They end up being negative leaders who bring people down with them.

    1. valentine*

      Complaining to everyone but the person who might be able to fix your problem is a huge red flag to me
      She’s not necessarily doing that. Maybe OP4 insisted she share and the employee doesn’t know she can say no to that, especially if she doesn’t share OP4’s feeling of closeness. Maybe the employee knows the manager isn’t supportive of her and saying anything would be useless at best. We only know that OP4 is really invested in the employee’s feelings and super-duper wants them to stay.

    2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

      Yes, this. I’d be concerned about a colleague who feels comfortable enough to be constantly complaining that early in their time with the company.

      1. SoloLikeHan*

        It might just also be a bad fit. The job may not be what this person thought, but she can’t leave for financial reasons – yet. It happens! I wouldn’t judge the employee based on this information. I would say that if OP4 wants to continue being friends with this person, it might be a good idea to move the friendship outside the workplace, since the person is not likely to stick around for much longer.

  31. MommyMD*

    Your boyfriend could have gotten sick anywhere by anyone. Cough and colds are ubiquitous, easily spread, and can be picked up in any public place. Your boyfriend could have spread it to others just by walking through any common area. Is he financially responsible for everyone who inhaled a respiratory droplet?

    1. BelleMorte*

      Yup, this. If your co-worker is financially liable for ruining your vacation, by that logic your boyfriend is financially liable for ruining the vacation (in progress) of everyone whom he interacted with during his trip if those people became sick. What about all the people on the airplane to and from? The airport? It could go on for an infinite time.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Seriously. A lot of things in life simply fall under the heading of “Shit happens.” This is one of those things.

  32. MommyMD*

    Step back from investing yourself with trying to facilitate new coworker’s happiness. Job advice is fine but you are too personally involved. Let the chips fall where they may.

  33. Phoenix*

    #3 – One thing to keep in mind, as you’re doing this work of minimizing your biases, is that individuals from marginalized groups who are performing well in their fields have to deal with a lot of tokenization. Don’t add to that – make sure you’re keeping in mind that one woman’s perspective isn’t the monolithic perspective of all women, for any demographic. You’ll have better results if you keep this in mind.

  34. Me*

    #3 I can suggest to look at if you are listening to what people are actually saying and not what you think they are saying. My, biased in many different way, supervisor is horrible at this. As he considers himself an expert above everyone else, he never really listens to people who he perceives as not on his level. Which is more or less everyone who is not a white male near his age with a similar career background.

    I can also say that if I asked you about project x and your answer was no no do this much lesser project y first to see if you’re up to it, without knowing anything about me or my background, I would probably dismiss you as someone I wanted to interact with as little as possible. Perhaps that’s harsh but if you dismiss me then I’m not going to continue to waste my time. And you don’t sound like someone who really deserves that so I don’t want you to come across that way. I think my point is, have good cause for suggestions such as tackle a lower project rather than just your spidey senses for if the person is skilled or not.

  35. Marny*

    The employee in letter #1 really should have voiced her objections about the hotel instead of just booking her own room and not checking in to the one the client booked. It seems like she didn’t tell anyone and just let the client find out from the hotel. They probably could have canceled the first reservation and prevented the unnecessary expense for an unused hotel. If I were her manager, that’s what my focus would be on– that the expense wasn’t reasonable when speaking up could have prevented paying for 2 hotel reservations unnecessarily. Whether her objections to the first hotel were rational wouldn’t be the issue for me.

    1. Kate R*

      Completely agree. I wondered if the reason she didn’t speak up initially was that she realized a lot of people would find the idea of being scared by ghosts silly, and maybe she thought they would deny her request to move to a different one. But by expensing the second hotel, it was obviously going to come up with her employer, and doing it after the fact just complicated matters. If I were her manager, I would also focus on that, but be sure to reiterate that employees are free to express their objections to lodging choices, but it should be done beforehand so that adjustments can be made rather than paying for two hotels.

      1. UKDancer*

        Agreed, but she needn’t have given the ghosts as the reason. It would have been fine to say “I’d prefer hotel X as it’s nearer the metro station” or “I have status with chain Y so always get a free upgrade” or something similar, especially if she proposed an alternative in the same price bracket. In my experience if you give reasons that people perceive as conventional for wanting something, you’re much more likely to get it without anybody noticing. Whereas the approach she took has drawn it to everyone’s attention and caused difficulties.

    2. Bunny Girl*

      I also agree. There are plenty of reasons you might not want to stay in a certain hotel. Maybe it’s in a bad area, maybe the front desk staff made you really uncomfortable, maybe there’s the National Noisemaker Conference going on; they’re all valid. But the way that it was handled was just inconvenient for everyone.

      I probably wouldn’t even mention the haunting to my employee, but I would sit down with her and say Hey regardless of why you needed to change hotels, going forward, I need you to let me and the client know so they can cancel their reservation and get their money back. If things are handled this way again, I’m afraid I won’t be able to reimburse you for the hotel costs, as we can realistically only pay for each employee to have one hotel room while they’re traveling.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      “The employee in letter #1 really should have voiced her objections about the hotel instead of just booking her own room and not checking in to the one the client booked. It seems like she didn’t tell anyone and just let the client find out from the hotel. ”

      This is correct, she really should have. I’m not clear on the why of that and/or how much later it was that client informed the company. OP stated this employee is not known for problems or issues previously. Either there is a reasonable reason, such as it being late at night, or embarrassment, or both. It also seems there wasn’t a clearly defined procedure established for this kind of situation? Could’ve been handled better, but you have to take the employee’s history into account.

    4. JSPA*

      If employee sees it as a religious objection–that is, if it bothers her to stay with people who would treat ghosts as a plus, then she should feel comfortable objecting for that reason.

      If the employee is uncomfortable with the idea that there might be ghosts (setting aside whether anyone else thinks this is likely), then she should bring it up as she would any other sort of, “this does not meet my needs based on reviews.”

      In fact, she does not need to believe in ghosts herself to not want to stay in a place that prides itself and promotes itself on having unexplained nighttime noises or things moving around or appearing / disappearing stains on the walls or whatever other form the haunting is supposed to take). Nor one that caters to people who would enjoy that sort of thing. If she’s a light sleeper, or the idea of bad maintenance or subterfuge by employees masquerading as ghosts gives her the willies, that’s also a fine reason to say, “this does not fit my needs.”

      But it’s on her to say, “this does not fit my needs” or “I noticed that the strong reviews are largely based on specialty interests–which I do not share–rather than this being a broadly work-appropriate hotel” or whatever else.

      I’d at minimum make her eat any fee that could have been avoided between the time she booked place #2, and the time the clients found out that she was not staying in place #1.

  36. Former Help Desk Peon*

    #3 – what kind of questions DID she ask, if any? I work in software development; if I were talking over a project, I wouldn’t be asking technical questions like what programming language, database, server infrastructure, etc. *I* want to know what problem it is that we’re *really* trying to solve (ie NOT just what the customer has asked for, but why they’re asking for it), and the basic skill set of my end users, because I know that those 2 things can drive a lot of the rest. Basically, I see a lot of my (male) coworkers take off asking questions about how you want that hammer built, and I’m over here saying “Yeah, but is that actually a nail? Because it looks like a screw to me. And the client isn’t going to be able to lift that hammer ya’ll are talking about.” I’m sure their questions show more technical competence than mine, but it’s not showing up the difference in skill set, just the difference in focus.

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      For my field this is hugely important. I work in a field where for a very long time the white men in charge have dominated with a technocratic approach to a public policy issue. There are a lot of people in the field now doing really excellent work that doesn’t look much like what a white guy who got his degree in the field in 1987 would recognize. Many of those people are women and people of color and they’re often using totally different skill sets than the establishment – more community organizing, fewer complicated mathematical models, for example – and that leads to all kinds of situations where people who aren’t middle aged white men aren’t taken seriously or are dismissed as not being technically qualified.

    2. sb51*

      Yeah, and then we (women in tech) get steered into project management or similar just because we asked those questions, when what we really wanted was still to do the hands-on design, we just were trained since birth to ask people-focused questions because, sigh, society.

      1. Former Help Desk Peon*

        YES. I want to write the code, dammit, I just want to make sure I’m writing the RIGHT code, the first time.

        Also, over and over I’ve seen my org spend $$ delivering a product the client thinks they want but doesn’t actually FIX their problem, and it just hurts my efficient soul.

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I did something similar this week. For context, I’m a mid-level software developer, but I’m the more junior dev on a potentially high-profile project we’re kicking off. At the kickoff meeting (product owner, designers, developers, testers), I asked questions about data structure. Do we want to limit the number of results we’re returning? What do we do if there are no results? What is the source of truth for these results?

      I also had technical questions that I did not ask. I mentioned that I had questions for the lead dev that I would ask outside the meeting. These were questions about the details of of the infrastructure and how to handle various security concerns. Very important for me to get my work done, but most of the group only needed to know the end result would exist and be appropriately secured, not the implementation details.

  37. FD*

    #3: This is just my experience as a white woman working in a very male, very white field.

    When I meet someone new, especially if that person is male, I have to immediately prove that I know what I’m doing. My body language, what I say, how I say it, the questions I ask? I have to balance what I need to know and what I need done with how my gender will be perceived. If I get that wrong, my job becomes massively harder because people think they can walk all over me or not do what needs doing.

    On the flip side, I have to stop just short of being perceived negatively. In order to get anything done, I have to accept that people aren’t going to like me that much–but I can’t make them really HATE me, or they’ll again make my job massively harder than it has to be. The optimal mix is basically “A bit of a bitch, but she knows what she’s doing.”

    It’s also not ever enough to be just as good as a man in my job. I have to be noticeably better, enough that I can’t be ignored.

    Now, I’m not saying this because I want pity. I’m good at my job, and I knew what I was getting into. But these are some of the factors that go into the majority of my professional interactions on a day-to-day basis. (And this is with me being white–I am pretty sure most WOC would get a LOT more pushback against the the level of aggressiveness I get away with.)

    But knowing that might be helpful when interacting with people in the future. In my experience, women working in a male-dominated field are hyper-aware of their need to prove themselves, but without shooting themselves in the foot by not being ‘likeable’ enough.

    1. Jamie*

      So beautifully said. As a woman in a male dominated field and industry I co-sign every word of this.

      Even after all these years just yesterday I took forever to write an email because I keep second guessing how my tone would be perceived.

  38. Parenthetically*

    Mad props to LW3. That’s all. Teach all your male friends everything you learn. You’re a goodun.

  39. Maisie*

    I honestly don’t understand questions like #1. Grown adults do realize ghosts aren’t real, right? I would have that employee disciplined for pulling a stunt like that if I were in charge of them.

    1. The Francher Kid*

      It’s real to her. There are a lot of religious and cultural beliefs that people sincerely hold that other people do not, whether it concerns ancestors, the dead, or even deities. Not to mention phobias, which have come up on this site before. Certainly the employee should have contacted the employer before booking another room and a discussion could definitely be centered around that. But to discipline (and quite possibly lose) a good employee because you hold their beliefs in contempt is not a good business decision.

      1. fposte*

        Yup. And also a lot of medical beliefs, but employers still grant paid time for treatment. Because that makes more sense than getting into the business of arbiting whose beliefs are Right and True.

    2. Jamie*

      Some people have religious beliefs that leave them extremely uncomfortable with any contact with the paranormal even if they don’t believe it’s real…even if it’s presented in a kitschy-joking manner.

      If you tried to discipline someone for avoiding the paranormal when there was no business reason for their exposure to it you’d be the one in trouble with HR in any place I’ve worked.

    3. HollyTree*

      Grown adults also realise that people have different spiritual and religious beliefs and that just because one differs from yours doesn’t make it bad or wrong.

      1. fposte*

        I’ll even pragmatically say there are plenty of beliefs that I think are wrong that nonetheless should be treated respectfully in the workplace, because workplaces are about getting work done, not about ideological might.

    4. MissDisplaced*

      That is a terrible attitude to take Maisie, it can be for ANYTHING (whether you believe in ghosts or not). Point is, It made the employee feel UNSAFE to stay there. It could’ve easily been hotel location, fumes, construction, cleanliness, creepy desk clerk, or any number of things that tell you “GET OUT NOW-DON’T STAY HERE.”

      I would do the same if I felt unsafe at a hotel while on business for any reason, and yes once I did so because the hotel was in a terrible part of town and I was by myself.

      Now, YES the employee should have called immediately to explain the situation and get permission to make other arrangements. Why she did not do so is unclear? Perhaps it was late in the evening, or the client beat her to the first initial call when she didn’t check in at the Hotel California, but it does seem there was some email back and forth, though a bit after the fact. Now that you can have a discussion w/them about following proper procedures. Though it seems there really were no procedures for this situation clearly stated.

      1. Anonymous because embarrassed*

        Exactly this.

        I have a weird animal phobia (and no, loyal AAM readers, I’ve never pushed anyone into an oncoming car because of it, but I’m familiar with that panic level). Intellectually I know that Harmless Animal is no actual danger to me, that lots of people have no reaction to finding they’re sharing space with Harmless Animal, etc. If my job decided to send me to the Harmless Animal Sanctuary Marriott for work, I’d be extremely reluctant to bring it up early, too—given some of the comments here, perhaps OP’s coworker was embarrassed?—but I also absolutely wouldn’t stay there.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Nice way to open yourself up for lawsuits when this comes back as a religious issue.

      This is so tacky and rude to put it as nicely as possible. I hope you own a business and get sued for your discrimination issues.

      1. Parenthetically*

        I had the same thoughts about religious beliefs. It’s REALLY NOT SMART to start litigating what other adults are allowed to believe.

    6. Vicky Austin*

      No, some adults really do believe in ghosts. Their beliefs should be respected like any other.
      If you’re an atheist, and your employee is Christian and she requests a certain Monday in the spring off because she will be flying home after celebrating Easter Sunday with her family, you don’t discipline her just because you don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead. You recognize that she has a belief that you don’t, and you respect her and give her the day off.

      1. Petunia*

        A holiday is different. If my employee refused to stay in a hotel room because they were scared of Jesus rising up from behind the wallpaper, I’d find that pretty hard to accommodate too.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          But logical, educated, and mentally stable adults know that Jesus doesn’t rise up from the wallpaper, so the situation you describe is not likely to happen. If I had an employee who genuinely believed what you describe,I would be concerned for their mental health. There are, however, many logical, educated, and mentally stable adults who genuinely believe in ghosts. There are enough pretty who believe in ghosts that you can’t treat a ghost belief as an anomaly caused by a mental illness.
          Does that necessarily mean that ghost exist? Of course not, but it does mean that ghost believers, especially ghost phobics, are not going to be reassured by their boss telling them ghosts don’t exist. Like I said in a reply to another poster, it’s not the bosses job to convince you (I mean “you” in general, not you personally) that ghosts don’t exist. Your boss is your boss, not your therapist or your spiritual director.

    7. Parenthetically*

      “I would have that employee disciplined”

      Then you wouldn’t be a very smart employer, because disciplining an employee for acting out her deeply-held, possibly religiously-based beliefs is a great way to land yourself in hot water. I do not believe in ghosts, but I recognize that I live in a pluralistic society where people are allowed to hold all manner of beliefs I do not share, and that using my work authority to attempt to punish someone out of their deeply-held beliefs is bigoted and goes against the principles of a free society.

  40. Phony Genius*

    For #1, I’m a little unfamiliar with vendor/client relationships, but it seems to me that the double-billed hotel upset the client. Assuming that the vendor wants to keep the client, eating the cost of both hotels instead of charging the client for one might be a necessary good-faith gesture. I could never ask a client to pay for a hotel somebody did not stay in, nor for a hotel that should never have been needed. (Consider the possibility that the client had a contract with this one hotel, so using another hotel was not a good option.)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Good point. OP’s company may have to eat this one, as it was on their employee making the change.
      Employee should have tried to cancel and that may have at least mitigated the fee somewhat. But only IF that was possible.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, unless you’re on a razors edge of profit margins on your dealings, this is the best course of action. It’s always better to do “too much” in return so that people remember you as the person who fixed something, than just kind of smoothed out the wrinkles a little.

  41. A Simple Narwhal*

    I really feel for #2. There isn’t any way to recoup your losses, but your frustrations are totally valid and I totally sympathize with you.

    Years ago my coworker came into the office extremely sick. He looked and sounded like death, and he fully admitted to feeling that way. Everyone told him to go home but he refused, claiming he didn’t want to “waste” a sick day. I ended up catching what he had and then some to the point that I had to receive emergency IV fluids and be in wheel chair because I couldn’t even stand or sit up to receive medical attention. On top of being horrifically sick, I had to burn through all of my (extremely limited) vacation time which meant not only would I not be able to take the first vacation in years I had been planning, I wouldn’t be able to take Thanksgiving or Christmas off (on top of limited PTO we didn’t receive any paid holidays).

    When I was back in the office the dude jokingly said oh whoops guess I got you sick, my bad lol, I’ll buy you lunch to make up for it. (And then never even bought me lunch! I’m still salty.)

    Sure, the bigger issue was that the company offered a horrifically low amount of PTO, but it’s really hard to shake your fist at capitalism when you’re barfing yourself unconscious.

    1. Narise*

      My mom had this happen to her once and the person who came to work sick acted like it wasn’t a big deal and mom ended up extremely sick. She went to her manager and made it clear that if the assistant manager came to work sick again she was going home and expected to be paid for it otherwise company would be paying for her medical bills. Luckily my mom was somewhat specialized and at that time was the only person doing her job. The manager agreed and while the assistant was a bit cool to mom for a bit when he came to work sick again a few months later he took one look at her and realized he needed to go home.

    2. EvilQueenRegina*

      When I worked at The Real Office my one coworker got signed off sick by her GP with flu/bronchitis, but made the decision to come into work anyway. Within two weeks, out of an office of 21, 17 of us caught it. This was Christmas time, so our relatives were also catching it. Coworker was not popular.

      The kicker was that she had no trouble calling out for when she was…not quite so contagious (her hangover excuses would be an AAM post all to themselves).

      1. MommyMD*

        Those illnesses are vastly common during the winter. You could have picked it up literally anywhere. It may have had nothing to do with coworker.

  42. hbc*

    OP3: “Alice asked me for advice. I recommended she not work initially on the hard problem….She listened to my advice, but didn’t ask any of the questions I normally see as markers of really good technical abilities.”

    The order of events seemed like she asked for advice, you said to work on something easier, and then she didn’t ask a lot of questions. If that’s true, why did you start out with the assumption that she couldn’t tackle the hard problem? Do you really think you would have given that same advice to her male colleague Alex? There’s an interesting study that showed that parents of infant boys, on average, accurately estimate the steepness of a slope their kids can crawl up, but parents of girls underestimate what they can do (or under-challenge in an attempt to protect, I support.) Does that feel like it might fit with your assessments of young engineers you’ve met over the years?

    And if this was the order, it also explains why she didn’t ask a lot of follow up questions. Once someone has essentially told you, “I don’t think you’re capable of doing X,” you’re not really expecting they’ll give you good advice on how to X. They’ll save their questions for someone who is starting with the premise that X is possible.

    1. MommyMD*

      Yeah. Why doesn’t he think her capable of the hard project if that is what she had planned? It’s insulting. Then he’s surprised she did well. His own bias may be at play here more that ability to sniff out a good candidate.

  43. Michaela Westen*

    OP#3, I was just thinking the other day, if I was a cave person, how would I be using my talents?
    I’m an analyst. Instead of making spreadsheets, I’d be looking around to see where the best cave or best hunting and gathering prospects are.
    I’d be looking at the sky and feeling the wind instead of checking the weather online.
    I’d have a body of knowledge about hunting, gathering, weather, and the people in my tribe instead of a body of knowledge about corporations and data.
    Maybe it would help you to try this. If you and the people around you were cave people, or say, mermaids, what would be the signs of intelligence and talent in those environments? That might help you spot it in people with different backgrounds.
    One day a few years ago I heard a teenager on a train tell her friend she was staying at this shelter now, and before that was in another shelter, and then she talked about her schoolwork. She seemed to take her situation in stride. It’s amazing how different people’s lives can be.

  44. Rockin Takin*

    I have been reading a book that discusses this topic, and you might find it interesting.
    It’s called “Mindwise- Why we misunderstand what others think, believe, feel, and want”, by Nicholas Epley.
    It discusses how we make mistakes reading other people and generally over estimate our ability to understand others. It’s really eye opening and uses scientific studies to discuss how our minds work and sometimes trick us.

  45. Existentialista*

    #3, I have two suggestions. One, stop looking for “markers” of technical ability and instead measure the technical ability directly.

    Two, never say to anyone, “That’s too hard for you, why don’t you try this easier thing.” I still have a deep scar in my psyche from a professor of mine, who taught me let’s say Teapot Glaze Theory in grad school. I got a job teaching Teapot Glaze Theory myself, and went to some trouble to arrange for my old professor to come to my university to give a presentation. Near the end of his visit, we took a walk around campus, and during that walk he said to me, “Why are you working on Teapot Glaze Theory? Why don’t you focus on something easier, that you’re actually good at?” I still shudder with rage when I think of this, more than 25 years later.

    In contrast, more recently I took up guitar as a hobby. For my first recital, my teacher let me pick the songs I performed. I now realize that one of them, a “surf guitar” classic, was actually way too hard for a beginner, and even too hard for an expert player, but he never mentioned it. I just dove in, and learned it, and performed it the best I could at the recital, and got a great response. I’m so glad that he was supportive and let me attempt something “too hard”, and I think I was successful because I didn’t realize I wasn’t supposed to be. Be like my guitar teacher, and not like my old professor.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Oh! OUCH! That professor was a jerk. If you got a job in Teapot Glaze Theory, I would assume you’d be quite good at it in order to be hired.

      But then again, I had to finally accept the fact that in spite of my loving horses and loving horseback riding, I’ve been told that I am a terrible rider by at least 3 separate people at separate places and times. This is even after 2 years of riding lessons. I’ve given it up, though it kind of crushes me, I will never be proficient at it enough to own or lease a horse of my own.

      1. Me*

        Anything worth doing is worth doing badly*. There is absolute value in not being good at something you enjoy and doing it anyway. You don’t have to be elite or even proficient at everything you love.

        If you love horseback riding, and by bad you don’t mean in a manner that hurts you or the horse, than you are a horseback rider by the fact that you sit on a horse and go.

        *Clearly not always but definitely for the fun stuff as long as you aren’t hurting anyone/thing including yourself.

        1. MissDisplaced*

          Well, one experienced person on a tour told me I was hurting the horse because apparently I wasn’t sitting right and bouncing around too much when we were galloping on the beach. I felt horrible. It’s the last thing I’d want to do, and I tried so hard to not bounce and sit better in the saddle, but apparently not enough.

          On a different occasion/time/place and horse, I was told by a very experienced rider that I wasn’t sitting properly, and I could fall or be unstable. They tried to help me adjust, and I tried hard to learn what I was doing wrong. It’s not intentional, but for some reason I don’t seem to get riding and suck at it, even though I love it.

          As I’ve gotten older, I have back pain issues, and so I’ve kind of given up trying to ride even though my friend has horses I could ride for free (and she’s always trying to get me to go). But I’m just too crushed to try riding again. I am usually a persistent person (hence the expensive riding lessons), but I have no wish to hurt an animal, and stopped attempting. Plus, you really do not want to be ‘fearful’ on top of a horse! They’ll sense it in a heartbeat! I will have to enjoy horses by visiting or grooming them I suppose, but it makes me sad too because the good times I’ve had riding and the horses I’ve known were wonderful.

    2. MOAS*

      Wow, that’s so interesting.

      Before I got my current job, I had a string of temp/low paying jobs that weren’t leading anywhere. I was struggling. I can’t tell you how many people said “why don’t you teach? or work at a daycare? so much easier!”

      Here’s the tricky thing–I felt insulted by this but it was way more insulting to teachers/daycare workers. I couldn’t place WHY it was insulting to me w/o somehow insulting those in that field but now it kind of makes sense.

      FWIW I have NEVER thought that that job was easy at all. But I was never interested in working with children (doesn’t make me a bad person!) And also, none of the people who made these suggestions were teachers/daycare workers. It’s just an icky suggestion all around.

      1. Lepidoptera*

        Attempting to solve your dilemma MOAS:
        It’s insulting to you because these people are stating that not only do they want you out of the running for jobs you’re interested in, they also think you should do – in their wrong opinion – an easier job instead.
        So not only do they view you as incompetent to do the jobs you want because they are pitching an ‘easier’ option, they also don’t care that you don’t want to work with children and therefore don’t care about your wants.
        It’s not insulting to child care workers or teachers to not want to do their jobs, because you clearly value you them regardless.

        1. MOAS*

          Thanks! I had a hard time articulating why it was insulting. The response was usually “do you think you’re too good to do this? Teaching is beneath you?” This was 6-7 years ago, so thankfully no more of that nonsense.

  46. Lucette Kensack*

    For LW #1, an important addition: Just exposing yourself to other points of view isn’t going to move you forward. You need to intentionally engage with cultures other than your own and people who don’t share your identities and then consciously reflect on the experience afterwards, through journaling or conversation with a trusted friend or colleague, etc. Think through questions like: Why did she handle that problem in that way? How is it different from how I would have tackled it? Why did you take that approach? What upsides and downsides did it have, compared to what I would have done? etc.

  47. Argh!*

    Re: #3

    There is evidence that women and men really are different at work, and that men and women who are equal in competence will be evaluated differently.

    Check out the gender articles at Harvard Business Review’s blog. They summarize studies and link to the originals in most cases. The two things I remember most vividly from their articles is that 1) women are evaluated more on their communication style than their actual work outputs compared to men, and that 2) men tend to portray themselves with more confidence, which convinces people that they are more competent than they actually are. (And a woman who is confident will be downgraded for that!)

    1. What does a Newt sit on?*

      Ugh, this has been my experience. I’m currently arguing with management that I’m seriously underpaid compared to my make colleagues. I actually had a female manager say “I don’t know where you are in relation to expected skills and to advocate for you I’d need to see that you can perform X, Y and z independently if male coworker was to fall off the face of the earth for 6 months”
      At the time I was seeing red so didn’t respond (another difference in people, it tends to take me some time to think things through and come up with an answer). Now I want to go back and say “did you miss the fact that I ran the show for 3 months while male coworker was on SpecialProject this spring? What about 3 weeks ago when male coworker’s dad was in the hospital and I took over everything with no hand off? Or right now when I can see that male coworker should be taking some time off to cope with his dad’s (sudden unexpected) death and I’m on top of everything making sure both our work gets done? After that you don’t have enough evidence that I can handle it if he falls off the planet?”

      And yes I’m already looking.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      Yes to the differences in portrayal of confidence!

      I have a very clear memory of seeing problem sets and exams being passed back to one of my college math classes and realizing that I was doing better than most of the boys/men in my class. (I’m female, despite the user name). They were just so confident in how they asked and answered questions in class that I assumed they were all smarter than I was and doing better. Turns out that nope, they were just cockier.

      Another lesson from college math: the girls were not only less confident despite being equally good at the classes overall, they approached the work differently than many of the boys. They were much more likely to form partnerships and groups to work on problem sets together, bounce ideas off each other, and come to a solution that was the product of multiple people’s ideas. That affected how they assessed their own abilities and talked about their work, too. The boys were much more likely to work on things solo and therefore attribute all success to their own intelligence, instead of sharing credit among several people.

      1. AK*

        Ugh yes. All too familiar. People don’t realise that showing that you’re smart is learned behaviour. And it’s behaviour that’s often discouraged in women and people of color. I’ve heard plenty of stories of black or Latina women being punished for showing ability – being accused of plagiarism, showing off, thinking too highly of themselves etc. while the boys/men got praised as being so bright! As a young girl whenever I was interested in something not coded as female everyone parsed it as ‘being interested in the boys who are actually interested in these things”. Wanted to go to the library? I clearly wanted to meet boys. There was a really cool astronaut that I wanted to be like and read everything about? No, I had a crush on him. So frustrating, especially when as a young girl I didn’t really have the ability to explain why this was bullshit.

        Referencing that you’re smart/competent is definitely something certain people learn, and some people have definitely learned to be careful about doing it even if they know how. And it can be harder to do if people don’t expect to hear it. There’s an art, as a woman, to referencing something so that the guys know I know it. If the reference is too overt then I’m brash and only have a basic knowledge of something. If it’s not overt enough, the dude in question assumes I don’t know what I was clearly referencing and then explains to me that there actually is such a thing (Example: Hans snarkily shuts down some nonesense preemtively. Woman: Han(s) shot first! (clear Star Wars reference) Dudes: There were actually these movies where that became a meme! Woman: ….)

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          Yes to all this.

          To me, it’s not even about “showing you’re smart.” In math class, it was that the guys felt empowered to raise their hands to answer a questions from the professor if they were 80% sure of the answer, and I only felt comfortable doing so if I was 95% sure. Same with asking questions – I had a higher threshold for thinking that my question was worth spending class time on, rather than being something I should figure out on my own later on.

          I’m sure these attitudes were cultivated through years and years of gendered reactions to how we acted in class and elsewhere, starting from when we were all little kids – I rarely had a conscious sense of “oh, if I ask that I’ll get accused of showing off” or other negative things. I just operated differently in the classroom than the boys did (and not necessarily in a bad way! Female behavior patterns are not worse than male ones, just different!). I’ve gotten more conscious of it as an adult, but it’s still just baked in to my thought processes and behavior.

          To bring this back to the OP, trying to raise your awareness of these dynamics and actively thinking about them in your interactions with people is a good start. Asking questions, answering questions, showing enthusiasm, talking with confidence about one’s own abilities, etc. are all things that vary across gender, race, nationality, culture, etc.

          1. AK*

            Agreed! So much of it is learned so early that we’re often not even aware of what we’re doing differently or why. And agreed again that “showing that you’re smart” is maybe the wrong way to put it. It’s a weird feedback loop where certain people, for reasons unrelated to their actual intelligence, are encouraged to interact with ideas, be proud of their accomplishments, convey confidence and ask questions without the assumption that they’re dumb questions (all good, in moderation!). Other groups of people get the opposite and often end up with different levels of confidence because they assume this reflects reality (self doubt is also great in moderation! It’s what brought OP to ask this excellent question!). Then other people continue to confuse this socialization with the actual fact of being intelligent. And even if you’re aware of it, as one of the outsider groups, you often can’t try to counteract it without giving other negative impressions.

            OP continuing to question his assumptions and ask questions will do a lot of good. Honestly, listening to other people, being someone that people can bring issues to without being dismissed and doing what you can to support others does a lot of the work of being a good ally.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          It’s not limited to POC or Latina. I pass for white (am genetically mostly Northern European) and would still face social penalties for being smart. I’ve literally had people screaming (screaming!) at me that I was just trying to “show off” my smarts.
          I also got the ribbing that I was going into engineering to get my Mrs degree. It didn’t matter that I had a real toolbox at age five and already asking for an Erector Set.
          I was also told on several occasions that I must be lesbian because I went into a male dominated field.
          And as mentioned above, I’ve been accused of falsifying my resume because of the achievements on it.
          In short, women pay huge social penalties for being smart in front of others.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            Side note:
            When I put “erector set” into Amazon search it autofills “for boys”

            Sexist jerks.

          2. AK*

            Oh absolutely! I’m a white woman as well and have definitely had similar things happen to me. As with all general horribleness though, WOC tend to get extra awfulness – the people who (subconsciously or otherwise) react poorly to women who seem smart/interested in traditionally masculine fields also tend to react poorly to POC “not knowing their place” (from said asshole’s bullshit perspective, to be clear) and tend to double down/be extra aggressive about it with WOC. Regardless the mental hoops that some people will go through to avoid believing women, minorities etc. are capable and competent are just absurd. It’s great that people like OP are trying to improve, but one of the ways they can improve is knowing that any given woman, POC etc. isn’t going to know in advance if he’s one of the one’s who will react poorly to showing any sort of excellence or ambition.

  48. Dasein9*

    #3, Check out the Wikipedia article on Ben Barres. He was a brilliant neurobiologist who also happened to be trans. A colleague famously commented at a conference that Ben’s work was much better than his sister’s. There was no sister; but there was the very same scientist, pre-transition, using a more feminine name.

    Guaranteed: you do have gender biases. We all do. You’re making a good start at fixing that. I really love Alison’s suggestion that you read books by women of color. Do that for a while and you will find your perspective has shifted. There is some exciting work being done in the field of SF right now. The reason I think this is valuable is because SF is about highlighting some aspect of the human condition and speculating on how things play out with different circumstances. Doing that kind of mental exercise in a manner that does not center cis/het white males is quite effective in helping identify biases.

    Not sure where to start? N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor are the first two who come to my mind. There are a lot more out there, though, and I bet other commenters will chime in.

    1. Me*

      There was a recent experience floating around the interwebs where a male manager didn’t understand why his female employee had so many problems getting the work done. While she was out for something he was responding to her emails, that had her signature. Some clients were absurdly difficult. When he revealed it wasn’t the female employee, but rather him filling in for her, the same clients suddenly had a personality transplant and the problems weren’t problems at all. He had quite the eye opening. But it sure would be nice if men just believed our experiences without having to have explicit proof for themselves.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      Suggestions for good reads by / about WoC: HIDDEN FIGURES – great read, movie was ok.

      Spec fic: Octavia Butler, NK Jemisen, Nalo Hopkinson, Nnedi Okorafor, Hao Jingfang (see: 2016 Hugo winners), Daina Chaviano, Susan Power, Larissa Lai, Nisi Shawl (fic and non-fic, eg _Writing the Other_)

      Literature: Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Terry McMillan, Zora Neale Hurston (I’m much more into spec fic, and I’m older, but there’s a lot of great WoC writers now, these are just some timeless classics) (I have left one prominent author out due to significant anti-semitic statements she’s made recently. I read several of her books growing up but I can’t recommend her now.)

      Thriller / Mystery: Rachel Howzell Hall, Kellye Garrett – the action side seems to be mostly men, I don’t read it myself.

      I also recommend James Baldwin. If your media intake is more movie related, then Hidden Figures, If Beale Street Could Talk, Moonlight, Waiting to Exhale, Beloved, All The Spike Lee, A Raisin in the Sun, Girls Trip. If you can stand horror, I hear Get Out and Us are really good.

      Everyone should see or read Hidden Figures, but especially men in tech. I can not recommend that book enough.

      Violet Fox added bell hooks – looks like non-fiction. If we’re going into non-fiction, I enjoyed Ta-Nahisi Coats, Michelle Obama, WEB DuBois. Frederick Douglass was a hard read that explores the roots of black trauma in the US, but Ta-Nahisi Coats shows what it’s like now.

  49. Antilles*

    Also, though, it doesn’t make sense that your company is paying for two hotels and the client is paying for none. Paying for accommodations was part of the deal, and they should either pay for the first hotel or the second hotel — not back out of that part of the deal entirely.
    I don’t agree with this advice. OP said the client is already upset over the whole situation. Presumably this is only partly because of the wasted money, but probably much more about the poor communication since they only found out about this from the hotel after-the-fact.
    If you want to emphasize “well the contract says hotel bills…”, you’re technically correct. But you’re also going to further irritate an already upset client and very possibly end with an answer like: “You know what? Here’s your freakin’ hotel bill check. Don’t bother submitting a proposal to renew the contract.”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, you’d just handle it like a miscommunication. “You’re right — she didn’t end up staying there and forgot to cancel it. We’ll of course cover the missed stay. She stayed at X Hotel, which actually came in a little lower, at $80/night. I’m attaching the correct invoice here.”

      Or if it didn’t come in lower: “She stayed at X Hotel, which came in a little higher, at $80/night. I’m attaching the correct invoice here, but we’ll of cover the difference between the two, so the cost is the same to you as it was initially.”

      This is pretty routine stuff, not likely to infuriate a client.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        If a client is going to lose it over having to pay the same or lower amount for a different hotel than the one they selected, something more is going on there. Either they’re frustrated with the company or the employee about something more consequential and it’s dribbling out over this extremely minor hotel thing, or they’re generally difficult in ways that may be less easy to solve. If it’s the latter, the answer is not necessarily “bend over backwards to keep the difficult client,” unless they’re massively important to the business.

        1. fposte*

          I think the client initially thought they were getting charged for a hotel room when the employee didn’t use a hotel room, and that’s what they were unhappy about. That’s a reasonable thing for them to be unhappy about, but it should be pretty straightforward to say “Yeah, she ended up changing hotels, so we’ll cover that bill; here’s the hotel she did stay at.”

          And that’s also the point you make to the employee–since she didn’t notify the employer, there’s a ding to the relationship with the client when they got billed for a service their vendor didn’t actually use.

          1. Lucette Kensack*

            Yep, my comment was less about what actually happened, and more about Antilles’ hand-wringing about the client’s unhappiness.

            1. fposte*

              Yeah, I think all the client needs is information that their payment is going toward a hotel room, even if it’s not the one they thought.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As someone who’s handled this kind of thing [not this exactly thing of course because LOL haunted house wtf wtf wtf] but I’ve absolutely had an already aggravated client flip even further over the edge. It’s always better to just swallow the expense because it shows good-faith that “yeah we messed up, we’ll make it better and go above and beyond.”

        This is the kind of thing that sticks in their memories too and if they’ve had any other difficulties before, an incorrect billing or a more reserved representative that didn’t act the way they prefer, etc it will be an extra big black mark.

        Customer service wise, we always do something above and beyond so that it leaves the lasting impression of “Wow, that wasn’t just fixed it was done with an emphasis on showing true regret.”

        Sweeping it up as just a “oh our bad, it’s a miscommunication on our part, sorry but it’s still basically business as usual” sticks in the craw of even usually reasonably people.

        This is one of those classic business expenses that comes with the cost of doing business and customer retention.

  50. drpuma*

    OP3, lots of great advice from Alison as well as the other commenters. My hat is off to you for looking to grow and learn. I do have a suggestion for how you can get better at identifying talent in folks with different backgrounds from yours – volunteer! If you’re in tech there is a huge movement to teach people how to code. Alternately there may be opportunities for you to serve as a mentor or advisor through your local professional or licensing organization. Depending on where you live you could consider tutoring or even teaching at a community college. Sharing your expertise will bring other people up and likely show you different ways of approaching and applying it that never would have occurred to you.

    1. lemon*

      This is a great suggestion and what I came here to say. You can learn to recognize talent in people who are different than you by helping develop talent in those people. Actually developing relationships with folks from underrepresented backgrounds can help overcome the unconscious biases we all have.

  51. Former Retail Manager*

    OP#2….so sorry your vacation was ruined. I spent over a decade in retail, which has absolutely awful leave policies as well (both sick and vacation). Because coverage is often so limited and labor budgets so tight (not to mention the less than stellar pay) it all encourages people to come into work sick. I had an old manager long ago that addressed this issue by using “on call” shifts. Every day, at least one person was “on call” and was required to call in at a designated time to see if they’d be needed or not. Then if someone was sick, on call person came in, coverage and customer service were not impacted, and sick employee could go to the doctor or otherwise recover.

    To be clear, this wasn’t a company policy. It was something the manager instituted, but after the initial “I HAVE TO BE ON CALL” shock, everyone really didn’t mind because they knew that if they ever needed to be out, someone had their back. Also, we really didn’t use the on-call folks very frequently, except during cold and flu season. Also, it worked because the entire staff, except for managers were part-time, so if an on-call had to come in, it wouldn’t be forcing them to work 6 days or hit overtime. If your BF’s workplace is in a similar situation, I think it may be worth discussing with management.

    And P.S…..while I know you’re fuming at the manager, I was that manager who worked sick 99% of the time because there was no one to cover and I was told to either come to work or be written up. I HATED it and didn’t want to be there any more than my co-workers wanted me there, but that was the reality of retail mgmt. at the company I worked for. I suspect the manager in your situation is in a similar boat.

    1. Dana B.S.*

      I once worked through a holiday season in an under-staffed store. Employees would be excusing themselves to vomit everyone once in a while. I just refused to drink anything all 9 hours at work to avoid using the restrooms. I didn’t catch anything thankfully, but it was miserable to watch.

      I worked in a different place that required “on call” shifts and it was awful, but I think it was the way they managed it. I could only call 1 hour in advance of the time. However, it would take me longer than 1 hour to get ready and drive to work, so I would try calling at about 2 hours and they would tell me to call back. It was quite frustrating.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Oh no! We never had anyone throwing up. That was not acceptable, but it was a lot of working with colds and upper respiratory infections while taking antibiotics, cough medicine, etc. The on call solution wasn’t the greatest, but it was better than having someone call in and have to scramble at the last minute and 90% of the time the rest of the staff refused to come in when there wasn’t on call. At least with on call, they knew they needed to be flexible with their plans. Happy to have left the world of retail behind. I’ve toyed with working part-time during the holidays for extra cash or a discount at places I like, but then I walk in when they’re busy and think nope, never again.

  52. atalanta0jess*

    #3 – what a great question, I love this. In addition to Allison’s advice about reading, podcasts are a great way to get accustomed to voices and cultural styles that are different from your own. Diversifying my podcast feed has been really helpful and enjoyable.

    #5 – this is probably field dependent, but when I was trying to move back home, I went out and did informational interviews while I was home visiting. I ended up getting a job with one of the managers I talked to, and she told me she would have never hired me by phone interview only.

  53. HarvestKaleSlaw*

    Thanks, AAM. My first thought was, “Well, I’m not afraid of a ghost.” And now I have to live with the Ghostbusters theme stuck in my head all day…

  54. ChallengeYourself*

    OP#3, I’ve seen this mentioned but I wanted to highlight it–one way to become better at this is to question your own base assumption when meeting someone. With all respect, you’re approaching Alice with the thought that she’s not talented and she has to prove you wrong. What if you approached her and others with the base assumption that she is talented and intelligent and continue that approach until proven otherwise? Rather than waiting for someone new to prove themselves “smart”, start from the assumption that everyone is smart in their own way and you’ll encompass a much broader definition of “smart”.

    Kudos for noticing this problem! I used to work in a very white male heavy industry and most would not even acknowledge that there is a problem, much less try to solve it.

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Another challenge for you: You say you consider asking certain questions as markers of really good technical abilities. Does everyone who asks those questions actually display those technical abilities once they actually start working? I’ve met a number of people who could ask insightful questions that touched on important technical considerations, but couldn’t actually do anything with the answers to the questions. Or, they produced a brilliant technical masterpiece that didn’t actually solve the problem.

  55. WantonSeedStitch*

    OP #3, you are taking a big step in the right direction. We need more like you!

    I have to wonder if maybe Alice has had bad experiences asking questions–maybe other people, especially other men, have been dismissive and patronizing of her when she asked questions, so she stopped doing it because she thought people saw her as incompetent when she asked them.

    Try talking to female colleagues about what noteworthy things they saw in the young engineers in the contest before they began working on the problems that were part of the contest. Maybe one of them will point out something Alice did or said that you missed. Maybe Alice was more willing to really let her intelligence shine out around women because she felt safer doing so. Sometimes, some intelligent men encountering a woman whose intelligence is equal to or greater than their own will react with resentment and vitriol. If she’s experienced that, she might have wanted to hide her light under a bushel around men.

  56. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    #1, your client is kind of a dbag for putting someone in something that’s publicly advertised as haunted. If this was just a weird moment where it was just folklore that she heard about when she got into town and someone said “Oh man that hotel, did you know it’s haunted?!” that’s a different ball of wax in my opinion.

    I would have also swallowed both prices though because they’re already irked and you don’t want to make it worse by pushing for them to pay for it. That’s a way to lose a client, despite them being seriously rude for doing this to someone.

    I don’t do haunted. If it’s “known” around town as haunted, whatever but if it’s billed as haunted, they really crank up the “spook” factor most likely. I wouldn’t be able to sleep. However yes, she really has to tell people ahead of times. I always check out where I’m staying immediately and would have flagged it upon receipt of the details.

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think ghostliness is on the radar of most people doing business booking, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that it would be without advance notice. If somebody has a special accommodation request, be it pet-free or ghost-free, they need to notify whoever’s doing the booking in advance.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As someone who has always done business booking of hotels,you look at the ratings and description at a glance because you don’t want to put someone up in a slum or with known fresh bedbug reports, etc. It’s common decency and also safety concerns, ghosts would pop out pretty much immediately if this place is a tourist attraction.

        1. fposte*

          Maybe, though that’s not how our booking works. But what I’m saying is that it’s not “common decency”–you don’t forego a hotel that claims to have ghosts if it’s the logical hotel unless you’ve been told in advance that that’s an issue.

        2. banzo_bean*

          It also seems weird the client is booking the hotels. If I were lw #1’s company I would have our company book the hotels and bill the company for the cost so my employees don’t end up in a slum/bed bug haven/ haunted house.
          Hopefully the client would look at reviews and NOT put up your employees in slum, but assuming clients will do that leaves your employees a little exposed.

          1. Jamie*

            We book for our external auditors when they come to town, but we tell them the hotel ahead of time to make sure it’s something acceptable to them.

            (Auditors we want to be well rested and in a good mood, and the Chicago area has no shortage of decent hotels.)

            Oddly enough I had one request to stay at one in particular because of it’s haunted reputation, he saw it on a ghost hunter show and thought it would be a hoot. He did enjoy it, although sadly no otherworldly visitors.

            1. banzo_bean*

              Sadly for him, I feel like it might be a good thing for your business that your auditor didn’t receive a visitor from the other side.

      2. Working Mom Having It All*

        I mean, it is and it isn’t.

        I book a lot of travel. There being local rumors about an otherwise nondescript place, yeah, I’m not going to know that, and if you have a severe ghost phobia, it’s really on you to read a few online reviews after the place is booked and speak up.

        On the other hand, it’s usually pretty easy when booking a hotel to tell what kind of place it is. And the more I book corporate travel, the more I realize that, while I would not enjoy a vacation at a dull business hotel, there’s a reason they are they way they are. And in this case, yeah, your standard Marriott is going to be vastly preferable to Spooky Jim’s Haunted B&B, as charming as it might be for local tourists to the area.

  57. Decoy44*

    In reference to #2, I absolutely despise the work martyr that comes into the office sick and infects other people. Nobody is impressed by your dedication and no one person is so important that they can’t miss a day of work. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think anyone should need more than a couple sick days a year but if you’re truly sick just stay home!

    1. The Francher Kid*

      Some workplaces don’t give paid sick days and people who are living on or close to the edge can’t afford to take unpaid time off, not a case of “I’m so dedicated.” I’ve come in sick just for that reason. I’ve also come in sick because a big project was due and because of procrastination on other people’s part, it couldn’t wait until I was well. I also wonder whether you’ve ever been really ill or had a sick child or cared for a sick spouse or parent since you think nobody needs more than a couple of sick days per year.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Totally agree. What Decoy44 is saying is true in most office environments. Retail and food service are another animal. If one has not ever worked it, one can’t fully understand the crap that you will endure. And yes, most of my own sick time in my current professional position is not utilized for myself….it’s for my elderly mother or my husband’s health issues that require driving him to and from the doctor due to procedures. Retail and food service employees have these issues too, but are afforded much less flexibility/time off to deal with them. And a gnarly stomach virus can easily take down an adult for 3-5 days.

    2. Meh*

      On the same level of despising, is the coworker who immediately uses their earned sick day each month for non-sick reasons (usually as extra vacation days), then when they are really sick they are forced to come into the office and infect everyone else, because they wasted all their sick days.

  58. Spek*

    OP#1 had a responsibility to get ahead of this whole thing and contact her supervisor and explain the situation. Maybe the room could have been refunded if it was before the check-in deadline. Just waiting for the client to figure it out was unprofessional.

  59. AK*

    LW#3, your instincts do you credit and I wish more people were willing to consider this. One thing to keep in mind: talking about your talent, your projects, your ideas etc. is often learned behaviour. Some people come from cultures where questioning someone in authority just isn’t done, is seen as challenging one’s superiors etc. and a lot of minorities have learned from previous bad experiences not to ask questions when certain people are talking. You’re probably never going to have a 100% effective method of sorting all this out, but knowing these issues might be there is helpful. A similar example: I was taught by my dad from an early age to shake hands with any of his business partners that I met. By the time I entered the workplace this was fairly ingrained behaviour and I thought of others who didn’t do this as a bit unprofessional until I heard someone mention how awkward it was coming from a working class background to know when to offer out your hand. If you haven’t been doing it all your life it’s weird, awkward behaviour that’s not at all instinctual. Knowing how to present your ideas and skills and feeling like you can do so without backlash aren’t things that everyone naturally has.

    Also, if you’re still in touch with Alice, it might be worth checking in and asking. There’s nothing wrong with saying ‘hey, I’m kinda embarrassed that I encouraged you to work on the easier problem when the harder one was obviously within your abilities. I want to get better at encouraging and helping others in this field, and I was wondering if, while we were having that discussion you felt you could talk about X, that I was listening to you on Y etc. Did you feel like I was dismissing you out of hand or that I was giving stock advice without really understanding your goals?” And this is key: listen, and try not to get defensive if the answer isn’t what you hoped for. That you’re wondering about this to begin with makes me think you’re probably able to listen to critiques without getting overly defensive, but I wanted to mention it anyways, because becoming defensive about outsider’s opinions on your behaviour (especially about sensitive issues like gender, race, economic status etc.) is the easiest way to shut things down and not learn anything.

  60. RZ*

    LW #3, since you talked about being in a STEM field, I recommend Reshma Saujani’s book, “Women who don’t wait in Line”. It’s targeted at women, but it addresses a lot of the different tone that we set while raising boys/girls in our society, and how that can manifest in the way that women compete in STEM fields. There were men in my workplace who also found it really helpful for understanding how to approach/encourage younger girls to stay in computer science.

    1. Asta*

      I found the blurb offputting when I looked this up as it says: there has never been a better time to be a woman.

      I mean, maybe it’s one of the least worst times, but that’s hardly the same thing. I hope the book is better than that, but I found it discouraging.

  61. stelms_elms*

    Regarding LW #5
    We conducted a search to fill two entry-level admin positions at our university. We didn’t find out until after we had gone through the first round of phone interviews that we were not going to be allowed to spend any money on travel for out-of-state candidates, but instead could only interview localish candidates. There was a rock star candidate in the pool who lived out of state who was overqualified for this position (and we knew if we could get her she would move up very quickly). She mentioned she was going to be in our area on a couple of dates that fit in the timeline of the in person interviews. (We found out during her interview she was relocating to our area.) We definitely jumped on it, brought her in, hired her and within just three months, she was moved into a much higher level position that matched her skills and abilities.

  62. Working Mom Having It All*

    Re #1, I’m conflicted here because on the one hand GHOSTS ARENT REAL, and this is an adult who should freaking know better.

    On the other hand, from time to time someone in my organization will travel for business, and the hotel will be completely unworkable for some reason (usually related to quality). And they will change hotels, and often there is a cancellation fee or we have to eat the cost of part of the stay. It’s not a good look to always be doing that, but sure, it happens. And since sometimes the unworkable reasons are subjective or down to personal preference, OK, the ghost thing is maybe in the same ballpark?

    That said, the remedy for this is not to put business travelers up in hotels with a well-known local reputation for being haunted. Because surely the ghost idea was put into this woman’s head when she showed up to find signs everywhere talking about how haunted this hotel is. If she has a personal idiosyncrasy where she is freaked out by the idea of ghosts (even if she knows they’re not actually real), that’s going to get triggered by the huge advertising copy everywhere mentioning this hotel is chock full of paranormal activity. Find a nice Hampton Inn or Doubletree or whatever and give your coworkers some peace.

    (Also, this is a great reason why that nonprofit with offices in an old building should NOT advertise their supposed ghost. It will mess with people like OP’s colleague who really dislike this stuff but might actually need to visit their offices.)

    1. Former Retail Manager*

      I personally like to believe that ghosts are real, but then the haunted hotel would have been a selling point for me. :)

      1. Working Mom Having It All*

        Sure, for some people, ghosts and hauntings and paranormal stuff are fun. That’s fine. Go stay at all the haunted hotels you want.

        But also “I’m sorry, I can’t stay at the Radisson on the Upper East Side because what if there’s a ghost” is not reasonable workplace behavior.

        1. fposte*

          I confess my first reaction wouldn’t be charitable. But ultimately I’d treat it like a phobia–even if what you’re phobic about wouldn’t bother most people, if an employer can accommodate it without trouble I think that’s a good way to go.

          1. Working Mom Having It All*

            Yeah, that’s why I’d compare it to the occasional “I arrived after my international flight and had to wait hours after check-in time for my room”/”they were renovating and there were loud noises late into the night”/”they stuck me in a smoking room that reeked and didn’t have any alternatives” type situation, where for somewhat subjective reasons, the business traveler arrives and just can’t bring themselves to stay in this particular hotel for a week. And, hey, that happens, and you eat the cost within reason.

            But yeah, you really don’t want to make this a regular thing.

          2. Isabel Kunkle*

            Yeah. Would I roll my eyes? Sure. (I don’t *not* believe in some survival of personality, but, like, even if the hotel is haunted, plenty of people stay there without incident, so you’re not going to get Room 1408, lady, chill.) Would I probably refer to this person, when talking to non-co-worker friends, as “Scooby Doo?” Yes. But as an employer, eh, just tell her to give advance notice next time and allow the Best Western or whatever: Ghosts: Threat or Menace is not a hill to die on.

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      I don’t see that a belief in ghosts is any less rational than a belief in any other paranormal or supernatural phenomenon. Society tends to be ok with it if we label it “religion”, but not if we label it “ESP” or “ghosts”. It’s just as reasonable to not want to stay in a haunted hotel as it does to not want the team lunch to be at Joe’s House of Pig if you keep kosher.

  63. matcha123*

    I am very interested in the responses to question 3. I am also interested in what kinds of questions the letter writer was expecting to hear.
    For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume that both the writer and the winner are Americans. Even within the US there are different styles of communication. The book Quiet highlights how even people from within the US have biases regarding communication styles. It is great that the writer was able to see that they have some bias. I agree that exposing yourself to people from different backgrounds and reading about different styles of communication can be eye opening. I hope the writer can eventually help others like themselves to open their minds and to challenge their biases.

  64. RRGA*

    OP #4. I just want to say I was much like your co-worker because I had come from a series of jobs with incompetent managers and had been trained that saying anything usually made the situation worse, or was pointless at best. It took A LOT of persuasion from someone I had known for years, and trusted, for me to say anything. (I would not have that kind of trust in a co-worker I had only known 4 months.) Even then I was secretly prepared to quit when I finally brought it up, figuring I had nothing to lose at that point, and was totally floored that there was a positive response instead. I still spent months waiting for the other shoe to drop. That toxic programming sticks.

  65. Haunted Law Book*

    #1 reminded me of this: Stambovsky v. Ackley, 169 A.D.2d 254 (N.Y. App. Div. 1991)

    Google it, it’s hella funny.

  66. KH*

    LW #5, absolutely do this! I was relocating from one major city another major city 1000 miles away. I had a phone interview that went great on a Monday. I had plans to fly to my new city that Friday to house hunt. I didn’t tell them that, because I was worried it was too quick of a turnaround. One of my colleagues at the time who knew about my job search told me I should let them know ASAP I was going to be there in person later that week. When I wrote my thank you email for the phone interview, I put in there that I was going to be in town on Friday and used similar language to Alison’s response. They were thrilled and set me up with an interview with the department VP and the hiring manager. I ultimately got the position, and I think the fact that they were able to meet with me quickly in person made a huge difference.

  67. NotThatAmy*

    Replying to LW#3:

    LW notes that “Alice” didn’t ask him the questions he thinks a competent person would. There might be several reasons for this, but the one that is most obvious to me is that, as a woman, I have to be careful about who I ask questions about a technical problems.

    A white man I just met who will be judging my work is not someone I’m going to ask, because generally speaking, he’s going to see any question I ask (regardless of how nuanced or sophisticated or technical), as proof that I don’t have full mastery of the topic. It’s a classic double standard. Where a male classmate or coworker would get “That’s a good question, Todd…[clarifying answer]” I’m much more like to get, “[heavy sigh] It’s really quite simple…[bare minimum response]”

    Something LW#3 might consider is preparing a list of questions to ask candidates to assess their expertise instead of expecting them to volunteer the “gaps” in their knowledge. And then he’d best really listen to those answers.

  68. Meg G.*

    One thing that might help #3 is to read up on the limitations of fixed mindset. I notice he wants to know how to spot technical ability, but instead is looking for “bright” people. Lots of people with verbal fluency and strong working memories don’t know how to code, and as of now we haven’t found anything that is actually predictive of technical accomplishment. Instead of looking for signs of genius, consider looking for signs of accomplishment.

  69. Formerly Known As*

    I’m late to the party regarding OP #1, but why in the world would the client book a room at a “haunted” hotel instead of a Hilton/Marriott/Holiday Inn/fill-in-the-blank with whatever mainstream hotel chain?

    1. Anonymeece*

      Eh. We have a gorgeous historical hotel recently that a conference was held at. It’s rumored to be very haunted, and most people found it fun rather than scary. Maybe the hotel offered more amenities or it was just a famous place that they thought people would enjoy.

    2. Swampy*

      Yeah, this is a good point. The idea of this lady making her company pay twice because she believes in ghosts makes me want to headdesk (especially as she just did it without clearing it – Ive had to book travel in admin jobs before and this would have made steam come out of my ears) but it could have easily been avoided by booking just a normal hotel. Some people really aren’t going to feel safe there, as much as I personally think the idea of ghosts being real is ridiculous I might not be super comfortable either.

      1. Swampy*

        I stayed in the hotel that AHS:Hotel was based on in and it had a weird creepy vibe and I wasn’t super comfortable there – that’s kinda of what I mean by that. Sometimes hotels have a rep for being haunted because they have a weird vibe.

    3. Blue Horizon*

      Our office is haunted by the ghost of the last manager to decline a reimbursement request for rebooking haunted accommodation.

  70. Asta*

    Hey LW #3, I really hope you read all the comments and look up some of the things people have mentioned.

    I wondered if you’d noticed a phenomenon that occurred in these comments. They’ve sort of become a microcosm of some of these issues.

    Lots of women have posted very thoughtful comments backed up with evidence in the form of either examples or references to studies. The women’s comments tend not to simply say ‘x happens’ as we know we won’t be believed without evidence.

    Here and there are comments by a man who is paying zero attention to anything the women are saying and who is making strident comments about diversity in hiring despite being in an industry that’s “so white male dominated it’s not even funny”. His suggestions are not a response to the original question, and it’s clear he is commenting on areas in which he is not competent, but he feels confident to do so anyway – without needing to back it up.

    Anecdotal, but not unrepresentative of what happens out there.

    This is why Alice didn’t ask questions, and why the absence of questions didn’t mean what you thought it meant.

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