update: my employee keeps commenting on my looks

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past.

Remember the letter-writer whose employee kept commenting on her attractiveness? Here’s the update.

Thanks so much to you, Alison, and to your rigorous and diverse community for the advice and guidance on my question.

I think partially due to the context of the “me too” movement, which I hugely support, my question got a lot of “fire him” responses, which I appreciated and laughed at but couldn’t abide by. I wanted to provide some background for everyone that I think might be helpful in brief, and then move on to how things went in this situation.

I am young (30), look younger, am conventionally attractive, and work at a company filled with older dudes who often say inappropriate things to me which I have sometimes gotten blamed for by HR and others. (Think, “you should really be careful around men” kind of comments. FROM HR. including calling me “sweetie” and “dear.” I often joke that I should wear a garbage bag over my entire face/body to prevent men from thinking I’m coming on to them by merely existing.) I have largely ignored this because I like to think of myself as “tough,” for better or worse, and have a huge amount of flexibility, autonomy, and ability to do cool things at this company. Also, this is an A/E firm with a low general level of emotional intelligence, and therefore my basic social skills are seen as highly rare and whimsical, like the rainbow mane of a unicorn, and so I have flourished and created a strong niche for myself, despite all the bullshit. But I totally get why you guys were like, “get out!” Believe me, I’ve thought about it.

Moving on … I dealt with this in three major ways:

1. After my employee made another comment about my physical fitness (and also weirdly my eating habits — he saw me house an entire burrito as I am a slob and eat once a day and said “I don’t know where you put that!”) I shut it down in the moment using Alison’s language, and he was completely mortified. Stuttering, head down, the whole bit. I also had a longer conversation with him during his quarterly review about the comments he makes and how important it is to be aware of how the things we say impact those around us, and he has improved significantly since then. As in, this really doesn’t happen anymore. He is a goofy, quirky, nerdy guy, and I want to see him grow, and I’m so happy that this isn’t a problem anymore. I really wanted to keep him on because I mostly liked the guy despite him sometimes veering into incel/nice guy/fedora-wearing territory.

2. I have one other female staff member under me and as she is awesome and I also want to keep her, I heeded ya’ll’s (ya’ll’s? is that a word?) advice on ensuring more junior female staff feel comfortable with this guy. Although he doesn’t make the same comments towards her, she did feel that he had a tendency to question her judgement in a way she felt was gendered, although she did mention that she likes him as a person and they frequently chat and go to lunch together. We just had that conversation two days ago and I’ve been out of the office in meetings, so I’m planning to catch up with him when I’m back so we can talk through this in person. I’ve also been monitoring how he treats other female staff, and while he is always very silly and quirky, I’ve not noticed anything concerning.

3. Finally, I’ve been the corporate Joan of Arc on pushing for diversity in senior management at my company. I was invited to help on this year’s strategic planning process, and was able to have a really productive conversation with our senior leadership on this issue. There are some great things at my company…and I could just leave … but I kind of want to create the company that I want to work for. From within. I know, I’m nuts! But I’m trying, my efforts seem to make a difference, and I really think more women in senior management (as in, more than the 0 there are now) would make a huge impact on how women are generally treated at the company and what behavior we find acceptable.

THANK YOU again for all your help — all of you.

{ 227 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    “A/E firm”, as in architecture & engineering?

    Well that all makes sense, then. Gender imbalance in schools, and a very attractive discipline to the nerdy, low-emotional IQ, loner types. I know of what I speak, as I’m one of them. Many of us never learned how to interact well with people who are different from us when we were younger – and different can mean everything from gender to age to just interests & aptitudes.

    Good for you for working from the inside!

    Reply
    1. NoviceManagerGuy*

      I work at a very large A&E employer and I truly believe management would be horrified if this were happening here. Not that nothing wrong or bad every happens but from everything I can see (disclaimer: as a straight white guy) this would be treated very seriously.

      Reply
      1. Begin the begine*

        Which is why people will try to laugh it off or excuse the behavior – he’s not a bad guy, hey he didn’t mean it that way… but letting stuff go not only is a failure to make known to the oblivious/hostile that they are either oblivious/hostile, it also sends a message to others that this must be put up with, or brushed off. Return the awkward to sender, let the person who metaphorically coughed on the birthday cake know that you don’t want a piece, and hey cover your mouth next time.

        Reply
        1. Begin the begine*

          Sorry this should have started with ‘People can be afraid to get a coworker in trouble with upper management’

          Reply
      1. I coulda been a lawyer*

        It sounds like you’re doing great OP – and hopefully one of those senior executive spots will be yours some day soon!

        Reply
    2. Brass*

      Thank you! I was just about to ask if anyone knows what A/E is. I never would have guessed architecture & engineering.

      Reply
    3. Adlib*

      Yep, it can be done, and I know someone in my network who effected a lot of change in this area in her previous position. In general, the industry is very stodgy and slow to catch up with pretty much everything – technology, equity & diversity, and more. I’m fortunate that my firm is filled with women – including the CEO! In a smaller market it’s especially surprising. It can be done, OP! Best of luck, and I am glad you are making headway!

      Reply
      1. Adlib*

        Note: it’s not 100% women here, but it is “filled” by comparison. I did a report on this recently, and it’s about 34%.

        Reply
        1. Prof. Kat*

          It’s funny how 30+% counts as “filled,” right? I’m a mechanical engineering professor, and my previous department was 1/3 women, which is basically unheard of. ME is like 10% female at the undergrad level, and it drops off significantly at higher levels, so having even ONE female faculty member a huge deal.

          I recently switched institutions, and I’m the first tenure-line female faculty member they’ve ever had, out of 20ish faculty in the department. Luckily, it’s an awesome department where I’m treated like a peer and equal. (Although one guy does call me “young lady,” while never referring to my same-age colleague as “young man”….sigh.)

          Reply
    4. Ted Mosby*

      Young female architect here (well, working-to-be-an-architect-but-not-done-with-licensure-yet)! While the field is getting waayyy more diverse with the newer graduating classes (mine was probably about 50/50 when it came to the gender ratio), upper management at so many fields is largely white male-dominated. The stats on demographics for registered architects in the US is shocking. That being said, there were stereotypes back in school that the architects never left the architecture building, and they were largely true. All my closest friends from college were other architects, which shows that we’re not exactly… trained to be social creatures.

      And that’s assuming the guy’s an architect instead of an engineer, which might be even worse.

      Reply
      1. Ted Mosby*

        *Upper management at firms, not fields. Clearly we’re not taught how to speak English in those classes, either.

        Reply
      2. AP*

        I interned at 2 A/E firms so far the first was small and specialty with a well known female CEO — she usually spent about 5 minutes in sales pitch meetings and then excused herself. Well we had a real sexist salesman one day who not only didn’t know who she was but directed his whole technical sales pitch to the only man in the room and made comments to the women like “this is shop talk, you wouldn’t care for it”. (Said man was the only one without an Engineering degree!) CEO listened for close to 15 minutes before informing him that he wasn’t welcome in her place of business and then turned to the women (2-3 younger women in the room and 2-3 older women) and told us this was a prime example of sexism that we shouldn’t ever feel compelled to put up with and told us to walk out of meetings like that in the future.

        Second internship one of the senior engineers legit told the intern sitting next to me in an open office that he couldn’t help his comments, that men evolved to prefer “big tits over brains”. The other guys in the office laughed! In 2019!

        Reply
        1. London Lass*

          That CEO sounds amazing. What a great role model to have in your first internship in a male-dominated field!

          Reply
      3. Llellayena*

        My graduating class (master’s level) was a bit of a throw-back: 3 women out of 20. But I got super lucky with my firm! I don’t think I’ve encountered one incident that I could clearly assign to gender based discrimination (though one that could be borderline with a consulting engineer), and that includes dealing with engineering consultants and clients. You can find them!

        Reply
        1. Ted Mosby*

          My undergrad was about 50/50, my masters was actually completely out there in terms of gender balance- only about 6 men out of 25 people total- but I also went to an art school for my master’s! I personally have never really experienced gendered discrimination in the workplace except one internship I had during grad school. Whenever the secretary was out, I was always the one that was put behind the desk to do admin stuff. I was also the only female intern- you can do the math.

          Reply
    5. Secret Identity*

      A little OT but, seriously, architect is one of the coolest careers ever, in my opinion. I don’t have the aptitude for something like that, but I sure do wish I did!
      Back on-topic – OP I hope you are able to effect the change you want to see.

      Reply
      1. designbot*

        unfortunately, the idea that it’s a “cool career” is weaponized against the staff. We’re told we’re lucky to be working in the field, we have a hard time with compensation discussions because of the narrative that design is a calling more than a profession, that ‘real designers’ can’t help themselves and would work for free and/or til they drop dead.

        Reply
    6. Quinalla*

      Sounds like my company is further along the improvement track than yours, but as someone in an MEP firm, yeah I hear you! I too am working to make things better from the inside of my company and also working to improve the industry wherever I can. I’m getting old enough now and been around enough now that I’m not as often dismissed/disrespected/whatever as I used to be, but its still there and still nearly as bad for younger women as when I started in the industry in general.

      My company and coworkers are fairly good about things, its mostly the little things like saying “Gentlemen” in a meeting where I am or the boys club feel to certain activities, etc and of course the loneliness of being one of few women. Though we had some harassment training last year and everyone (but me and my boss) was like “But, stuff like [examples of blatant sexual harassment we discussed] doesn’t happen anymore, does it?” and the person running the meeting fires right back that every single case study we discussed was from the past year or two, lol! I also had a convo with an older, white dude in my company who didn’t understand that all the campus rape stories when that was a big thing in the news (prior to #metoo) were not a new thing, it was just finally being listened to a bit more than in the past. I’m like, everyone woman that gets to campus has someone that takes her under their wing and explains the “rules” of not getting assaulted on campus. Not that those rules stop it all or should be necessary, but it boggled my mind that he had no clue about this, I’ve been hanging out with my feminist brothers and buddies too much apparently :P

      Reply
    7. Gazebo Slayer*

      Speaking as a (female) nerdy, low-emotional-IQ, loner type – my male counterparts can and immediately should learn to not be sexist asshats. It’s not that hard, and I’m tired of them using all that as an excuse to be pigs.

      Reply
      1. Tiny Scot*

        Yes, thank you so much for your comment! I too am a loner, nerdy low EQ sort and I hate that this is used as an excuse for sexist and offensive behaviour. It isn’t one! (This happens with Asperger’s too, which I also have, and which is also no excuse for bad behaviour)
        (P.S. I love your screen name!)

        Reply
        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Aww, thanks! I always appreciate it when people get the joke. (I could also have gone with Head of Vecna.)

          Reply
      2. Old Biddy*

        This! I’m a female nerd and spent most of my life in nerdy environments (Silicon Valley, MIT, etc). I may also be somewhat neurodiverse but grew up at a time when stuff was rarely diagnosed in girls if they did well in school and weren’t disruptive. I’ve had to learn to modulate my behavior to better fit in. I’m tired of the excuses that guys who are literally rocket scientists or similar can’t possibly learn not to make sexist comments at work.
        Ironically, the biggest thing I had to learn in the workplace was that I couldn’t get away with the same sort of stuff that the guys did and were rewarded for. (for me this stuff like being competitive or making snarky comments rather than sexist behavior, but the principal is the same)

        Reply
      3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Oh, my original comment was in no way meant to be an excuse. Just an explanation/a-ha moment.

        They **should** have been taught how to not be sexist, racist, etc-ist by their parents (and other authority figures in their lives, like teachers & bosses). When hints and modeled behavior didn’t suffice, then blunt talks and repercussions should have come into play.

        It’s not fair that a peer or subordinated has to be the one to make the blunt statement. Any manager who sees this kind of thing going on shouldn’t be afraid to nip it in the bud, right away. Society has given plenty of people a pass on this kind of behavior (including notoriously the other “A & E” industry!).

        Reply
      4. Claire*

        Yeah, as an autistic woman, it drives me insane when men get excused for misogyny/other bad behavior because they’re autistic. That said, it sounds like OP’s employee is receptive to criticism, even if he needs correction on stuff that should be basic, so that’s good, anyway. Again, I’m seeing this through an autistic lens, but sometimes I feel like everyone else got a copy of the social rule book and I have to guess what is and isn’t acceptable, so if OP is able to teach him “rules” and he’s willing to follow them, he might not be unsalvageable. That said, it’s no woman’s responsibility to hold the hands of socially awkward men, even if they are genuinely socially awkward and not just hiding behind that label to get out of criticism.

        Reply
  2. WantonSeedStitch*

    Just remember–Joan of Arc was burned at the stake! I admire your crusade, but I hope you won’t let yourself get burnt out by this stuff. I think it’s really good that you’re looking at how the culture in this place affects other women and aren’t just sucking it up to be perceived as “one of the guys” and “not like those OTHER women.” That’s leadership.

    Reply
    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Based on the update, it sounds like she’s being realistic. I wouldn’t be too concerned about the burn out.

      Reply
    2. Close Bracket*

      Just remember–Joan of Arc was burned at the stake! I admire your crusade,

      loling a little here. The crusades were a war of colonial oppression.

      Reply
        1. Crusading Lady*

          I would love to start a discussion about whether the crusades were a war of colonial oppression! I think there are interesting contextual issues which muddy that interpretation, and fun raging arguments to be had by all about it. I’m a medieval history grad and was super excited to see this in an architecture/engineering thread :D

          Anyway I will restrain myself as this is super OT

          Reply
    3. Avasarala*

      Yes, tread cautiously Baru Cormorant… what must you do to change a machine from within, and will you still be yourself when you’re done…

      Reply
  3. Rainbow Roses*

    Ugh. The old “You shouldn’t have worn that. You were asking for it” defense. And from HR!

    And people wonder why victims of “me too” kept quiet for so long.

    Reply
    1. Massmatt*

      I nearly cracked a molar gritting my teeth at that part. Grrr!

      Thanks for the update, and additional context, that really helped me see where you were coming from. Congratulations on a great outcome!

      Reply
    2. Sleve McDichael*

      Sadly, I learned not to wear anything more feminine than jeans and baggy hoodies for the first half of first semester every year of my engineering degree because of all the looks and comments from the first year students who didn’t know me. Once they got to know me it was usually fine. It sucked though because it was hot in summer and I wanted to wear loose things.

      Reply
  4. Eplawyer*

    Wait HR calls you sweetie????? I really hope this is something you addressed in the strategic planning. Without a robust HR who takes this seriously nothing is going to change.

    Reply
  5. LQ*

    I really appreciate this update. Leaving is always an option, but if you have the ability to make a change from the inside without it destroying you it’s a really powerful thing. Change happens through multiple venues and one of them is always going to be change from within. Thank you for the update and for really pushing and driving this!

    Reply
  6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’m happy to hear that you speaking to him actually seemingly fixed the problem.

    You will always know your surroundings better being involved directly with them. The outsiders just getting a glimpse will always have that tendency to just say “run gurl run!”. If you have the chance to try to initiate change, then it’s wonderful to try for it and push forward. It’s up to you what’s worth your efforts!

    Yes, sadly sometimes people who are just out of touch and entrenched in a “boys world” need to come face to face with a woman that turns their head around. I’ve dealt with both sides, the unfixable who double down when approached about it and the ones like yours, who are generally decent humans inside, they just need to be educated by someone who’s interested in taking the time to do so.

    Reply
    1. Kat J*

      I agree. Particularly that change is more effective when it’s started from within. I’m a woman who has worked in construction/engineering for around 20 years, and the one caveat to this is that it is exhausting, sometimes thankless, and you need to take care of yourself to avoid becoming a martyr to the cause.

      Reply
  7. Eillah*

    While I get it, OP, I really do… it’s not on us women to be tough. It’s on men to f*ckin behave themselves.

    Reply
    1. Dummmm*

      Seriously?! Her power comes from herself rather than how other people *should* behave. The later is banks on hope, the former is the realized work of a lady badass.

      Reply
      1. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

        You don’t need to simply “hope” that people behave well; you can institute consequences for bad behavior, and employ them diligently. If your focus is on the ability of victims to endure the behavior, but don’t actually, you know, do anything to stop it, then you are an active part of the problem. Sure, perseverance is a virtue, and a certain amount of emotional toughness is needed in any situation where humans are working together, and sometimes there are issues too big to solve alone. But it’s always important to realize that assholeish behavior is a choice by the actor, not an uncontrollable phenomenon like bad weather, and so solutions should focus on how to stop people from choosing to do those things, or removing them as a problem if they are unwilling or unable to change themselves.

        Reply
    2. Aspie AF*

      Gender norms aren’t that simple, though. People sometimes do discriminatory things (like treating women as fragile) in the full belief that they ARE behaving appropriately. My partner is the most supportive person in my (female, neurodiverse) world, and even he mansplains sometimes!

      Expecting people to understand behavioural expectations without fully explaining them can be ableist – and therefore discriminatory – in itself.

      Reply
      1. Eillah*

        It’s an explanation, not an excuse, and frankly I wouldn’t agree with the “ableist” designation used here.

        Reply
        1. Aspire AF*

          I’m honestly not sure what “it’s an explanation, not an excuse” refers to in this context. Do you have any experience with autism?

          Reply
      2. Malarkey01*

        This is a great point and I think there’s a lot of subconscious bias just in how we’re socialized. Take the very low stakes issue of holding doors open for people. I work with mostly men, am middle aged, and feel respected in the workplace. However it never fails when we get to a door (and it happens often as we move through the building to different meeting rooms) that this bizarre dance occurs. They think they are doing the “right” thing but if I reach the door first and hold it open (as the polite thing to do), every man will stop dead in their tracks and pile up like dominos to avoid walking through a door that a woman is holding open. It’s become a running joke that I yell “no seriously go, EQUALITY”. It’s so low stakes but it shows that they think of being differently than the other 12 guys that were in the meeting. That bleeds over subconsciously in how they evaluate work, comments, and decisions.

        Reply
        1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

          This dance happens to me too, and it both drives me nuts and amuses the heck out of me simultaneously.

          Reply
        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          Oh man, do I have Thoughts and Feelings about the doorway dance! It happens a lot here at my finance firm, and as a trans dude it can be a hell of a thing to navigate when someone gets it in their head (almost always his head) to be stubborn about it.

          Reply
        3. SimplyTheBest*

          For me, it’s men who won’t sit down on a crowded bus. They will leave seats open when we’re all squished in like sardines because it’s unmanly to sit down when there are women without seats, but it’s not like any of those women are going to climb over ten people to get to it. Just sit the f down and give the rest of us that much more space.

          Reply
          1. Scarlet2*

            +1000000

            This drives me bonkers. Not taking the free seats when there’s hardly any standing space left isn’t helping *anyone*.

            Reply
        4. Auntie Social*

          Dominos! At a city planning office in the south I held a door open for a much older man with his arms full of plans, and he looked so distressed. I even said “come on, it’s okay”, almost like I was talking to a pup. Finally a young guy came along and got the other door, and then the man’s brain told him it was okay to walk through the doors. Poor guy, he looked like I was doing something to him instead of for him.

          Reply
        5. LeviOsaNotLeviosA*

          It’s elevators in my office building; even if they’re standing two deep in front of the doors inside a crowded elevator, dudes will play a weird hybrid of Twister and Tetris with each other to avoid getting out before the women, while we’re just wishing they would get off the elevator and out of our way in an efficient fashion.

          Reply
        6. Yorick*

          One day I couldn’t remember if I’d reloaded my bus pass or if I’d need to find cash/buy a ticket on the app. Not wanting to hold things up, I got in the back of the line to get on the bus last. Then I pretty much had to scream at the man in front of me so he’d get on first.

          Reply
        7. Paulina*

          Our outer doors are usually a sequence of two, so if someone else holds the first one open for me, I’ll usually hold the second one open for them. Usually they don’t object.

          The ones that annoy me are the men who insist on holding the door open for me to go first, even if it’s a door that opens away from us. There are some who will scurry around me to get to the door first, push it open and keep it open, while I apparently am expected to squeeze past them (since in order to keep an outward-opening door open, they have to be in my way). One colleague was ridiculously obsequious about it, and I knew him well enough to be sure that he was neither mocking the custom nor trying to get jollies out of me squeezing by. I find it maddeningly impractical.

          Reply
      3. Gazebo Slayer*

        Speaking as an Aspie woman: the people who are often harmed most by Aspie men being sexist is Aspie women. And while I understand that social norms can be hard to intuit – as an Aspie, do I ever understand that – Aspie men get given MILES more leeway for sexist crap than we Aspie women are given for practically any faux pas.

        Reply
        1. embertine*

          Agreed, not to mention the “he probably has Aspergers” so many people jump in with the second a dude does something creepy or awkward. I always think that is terribly unfair to Aspie folks.

          Reply
      4. Avasarala*

        “Expecting people to understand behavioural expectations without fully explaining them can be ableist”–what? They’re explained to everybody. It’s called growing up. You don’t get to opt out of social norms because no one gave you a written manual.

        Reply
        1. Aspie AF*

          On the contrary, when social norms no longer suit us we frequently opt out, to the point that they de-normatize. Do you have any experience with autism?

          Reply
          1. Gazebo Slayer*

            …so it’s OK to opt out of “don’t make gross sexist comments” because teh autism? So we shouldn’t bother explaining social norms at all, and should “de-normatize” trying to be a decent person, because Aspie dudes are such magical special unicorns? (A get-out-of-jail-free card not generally handed to us Aspie women.)

            No.

            Reply
            1. Aspie AF*

              No, that’s the opposite of what I mean. My comment on social norms was merely a response to the notion that we don’t get to pick and choose which to follow. This gets to the issue, which is that someone with socialization issues isn’t going to understand the nuance in how norms are applied (not saying I’m much better but I’ve learned a lot).

              It’s a much more complex issue than “tell people this is bad”, to be clear, but at some point people do often need to be told that, and some people need a more robust explanation. This shouldn’t have to be victims, either, and I do see signs that we’re getting better but we’re not there yet.

              Reply
        2. Claire*

          A lot of autistic people do need to have behavioral expectations explicitly told to us because we genuinely don’t pick up on social cues. That doesn’t mean we get to “opt out” of social norms, but if you’re unwilling to tell us that something we’re doing is wrong, we might continue to do it. (Though I do wonder whether you’re talking about social norms that have a purpose, like “don’t be misogynistic”, or social norms that are just the way things are done, like making eye contact when you’re speaking to someone, and if you’re talking about the latter, then tbh, everyone should get to opt out of those.)

          Reply
          1. Aspie AF*

            Thank you… I comment not as someone who wants to defend misogynistic behaviour, but as someone who would also needs explicit instructions.

            Reply
        1. Aspie AF*

          I bring up ableism in response to the comment that men should just behave themselves. If people don’t understand what that entails, how are they going to behave without being told? I’m not making any excuses for autistic male behaviour, it’s just not as simple as the comment I responded to would imply.

          Reply
    3. Some Lady*

      +1 I think it’s totally understandable to develop ‘thick skin’ around this stuff as a coping mechanism, and wouldn’t judge anyone for adopting this in their situation. But to change for the better we have to recognize that ‘being tough’ around receiving harassment doesn’t solve harassment, and that it’s those making, excusing, and minimizing those comments and behavior that need to ‘toughen up’ and show better professionalism and respect for other human beings.

      Reply
  8. DarthVelma*

    As a Texan, I can confirm that y’all’s is indeed a word. :-)

    And I’m glad things are going well for you.

    Reply
        1. Quill*

          As I learned from a southern choir teacher,

          Y’all = the group you’re talking to
          All Y’all = that group plus other people, especially if they’re not their.
          Y’all’s = either a batch of things owned by different people in the group (Y’all’s grades) or one thing owned by the entire group collectively (Y’all’s class party.)
          Y’all’ll = this group will
          The sense god gave a goose = the power of thinking through your actions that no middle schooler actually has

          Reply
            1. Carlie*

              To always be followed by “better”, as in “Y’all’d’ve better put everything away like I told you to.”

              Reply
              1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

                Sorry to be negative, but in a global discussion forum I was in the 90s, there was a long thread called “f*ck all yall”

                Reply
                1. JeanB in NC*

                  I think I’ve lost all my Texas speech habits except for “fixin’ to do something”. It’s so handy!

          1. Southern Gentleman*

            “All y’all” is especially effective when you’re mad at everybody; for instance, “I am sick and tired of all y’all.” Sends a clear message. Have fun, y’all!

            Reply
          2. Farrah Sahara*

            As a non-American, this is both fascinating and confusing. Thank you for clearing this up.

            I now have a sort of better idea of what y’all are talking about!

            Reply
      1. DarthVelma*

        That can be the plural too. It’s all down to you being both the singular and plural second person.

        Either “y’all’s” or “all y’all’s” would have been acceptable for the OP I think. (It’s been forever since I heard someone use “all y’all” – I’m still in the South, but it isn’t really used so much where I’m living now. Made me happy to just see it in writing.)

        And I never expected to talk about colloquial Southern grammar “rules” today. Yay! :-)

        Reply
        1. Leslie Knope*

          Sometimes when I get to talking too fast I say “y’all are…” and it comes out more like YAWLLER

          “Awwll yawller gonna git in yer trucks and go down to the wawterin hole tonight? Yeeeehaw!”

          I embarrass myself pretty often.

          Reply
      2. ellex42*

        I will counter with “yinz” (alternately spelled “yunz”), which mysteriously, and like “you”, is both singular and plural.

        Although you will occasionally hear some poor, misguided person use “all’a yinz”.

        Reply
        1. AKchic*

          Definitely a regional thing, if I remember correctly!
          Personally, when I think if yinz outside of specific regions, I assume people are speaking of young y’alls.

          Like, adults are y’alls, youth are yinz.

          Reply
        2. Close Bracket*

          “Y’all” is also both singular and plural. “All y’all” is always plural, and it is used more for emphasis, either emphasis of the point you are making or emphasis that it applies to everybody in a group.

          Reply
          1. Clisby*

            Y’all is never singular – at least not in any parts of the South I’ve lived. The only people I’ve heard use “y’all” as singular were non-Southerners making a failed try at speaking Southern.

            Reply
            1. LilySparrow*

              Where I’m from, y’all can be used for any unspecified number, including one.

              “All y’all” is never singular, since it refers intentionally to a large group with subgroups.

              Reply
        1. ENFP in Texas*

          In proper English, that’s the case. But in the South in the United States, “y’all” is a colloquialism that can be either singular or plural, and “all y’all” is plural.

          I know Alison has readers from across the globe, so figured some clarification would help. :)

          Reply
          1. lawyer*

            5 generation southerner (GA, VA, TX) and I’ve never heard “y’all” used as a plural except by people who weren’t from the south and didn’t understand it.

            Reply
    1. MillersSpring*

      Also a Texan…y’all’s is definitely in my vernacular. The first apostrophe goes after the y, because it’s a contraction of you all.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        THANK YOU!! It’s a contraction of “you” and “all”, y’all, not “ya” and “all”.

        And I use y’all and y’all’s so often, my autocorrect gets it right.

        Reply
    2. Eeyore's Missing Tail*

      Seeing y’all and y’all’s in a letter made my little Georgia heart just go all a’flutter. :)

      Reply
  9. SometimesALurker*

    I don’t think it’s ridiculous to try to create the company you want to work at from within … IF some of your attempts to make change have gotten some traction, and it sounds like they have!
    I think we’re all really used to “your work culture sucks and isn’t going to change” and “this sexist guy sucks and isn’t going to change” happening far more than is okay. So used to it that it can be hard to recognize that change does happen, just not nearly often enough.

    Reply
    1. MK*

      I think “this isn’t going to change, either get used to it or leave” is good advice when someone has tried to change things, it’s not working, and they are driving themselves crazy with frustration; I haven’t seen it here, either from Alison or most of the commenters, as a first resort. Just as “find another job” is good advice when someone is in a truly awful work situation, but is not realistic when the problem is an annoyance or only one negative issue in an otherwise good job. Or when it’s a problem with the field in general and one is very likely to find it in most workplaces.

      Reply
      1. SometimesALurker*

        I agree, I don’t think that this site (Alison or commenters) use that line of thinking as a first resort. I just think that the phenomenon itself — things that aren’t going to change — happens far too often.

        Reply
  10. Enough*

    I didn’t find this stereotype to be all that accurate. Me, my husband and son are all engineers and my son works for an A/E firm. The issue is individual people and their history just like at any other type of company.

    Reply
    1. Anon for this*

      Funny. As a woman in engineering in the A/E industry with 30 years of experience, I have experienced and lived through everything the OP has.

      I agree that every company is different as is every company’s culture. Some companies are way more with it than others. I have experienced both the good and the bad.

      Reply
      1. Quill*

        In my experience, sexism in any given group is like a bag of m&m’s. You rip it open and then you figure out what percentage of your bag is, say, green, and judge the bag accordingly, because the green ones are unpleasant to you. They taste like day old cat vomit smells. Some bags have none. Some bags are mostly green. Most bags have at least one green but it could be a minor thing that you honestly just muscle through, because that one only vaguely smelled like “something in this refrigerator is thinking of retiring from the realm of edible food.”

        And most men are red/green colorblind in this scenario and think the green m&m’s are red. An even smaller percentage of them double down on how DELICIOUS the green cat vomit m&ms are, and how delusional you are that you think they taste different than the red ones.

        Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m in manufacturing and have ran into very little sexism myself personally.

      But I don’t bury my head in the sand and assume that others who are vocalizing their experiences are not “at all accurate”.

      We have a lot of women engineers on this form who have shared their stories of gross firms that they’ve had the displeasure of working for and with over the years. Stop discounting their experiences to make yourself feel safer.

      Reply
      1. Old Biddy*

        Amen! It can vary widely, even from department to department in the same company, and these differences may not be obvious to people outside the department. I once worked in a department with a very toxic group dynamic. They were all good people and I still consider most of them friends, but as a department it was just a toxic den of nepotism and mansplaining. I then switched to a different department. Outwardly this department skewed older, less cool and less “woke”, but in reality it was a much less sexist place to work.

        Reply
    3. J.B.*

      I am an engineer and there was quite a bit of stuff (even under a female boss), and the difference now than I am elsewhere is UNBELIEVABLE. To where I really don’t want to go back to such an environment and am done dealing with even the most minor of crapola they dished out.

      Reply
    4. CheeryO*

      If you’re talking about the “low emotional intelligence” thing, I agree. I’m a young-ish female engineer, and I’ve worked with plenty of socially awkward guys who manage to respect me and treat me the same as anyone else. The worst offenders, at least in my experience, are guys who either (1) are well aware of what they’re doing and get off on it, or (2) are completely oblivious and 100 percent self-assured, but not awkward or lacking social skills or emotional IQ – they’ve just never been forced to examine their behavior.

      Reply
    5. Malarkey01*

      I think the diversity, or lack there of, in certain fields does color the culture though. Not that every engineer is sexist, but the industry as a whole is very male and that does influence the environment- whether it’s subconscious, just general processes, or an overt locker room attitude.

      I work with several big A/E firms in our region, and am often the only woman in a meeting of 20. Those meetings are just different from my other ones that are more mixed in gender.

      Reply
    6. MOAS*

      I mean, that’s wonderful you’ve not had to deal with this but that doesnt’ mean that someone else’s experiences are invalid. Please don’t dismiss someone’s experience just because you’ haven’t had the same one.

      I’m a manager at an accounting firm. Accounting/taxes could be considered a field rampant with sexism.

      I can’t say that I’ve been on the end of it but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t happen.

      Reply
  11. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

    What a great update! Thanks for being awesome and promoting diversity and enforcing appropriate boundaries!

    Reply
  12. AllSmiles*

    Hell yes!!! I admire this so, so much. Your approach is refreshing and indicative of true leadership. I want another update in 10 years when you run the world.

    Reply
  13. LawBee*

    Great update! I’m glad you went for remediation versus firing. Sometimes people are awful and sometimes they’re just clueless. Why fire if you can fix?

    (And it’s “y’all’s” – it’s a contraction of you all, not ya all.)

    Reply
  14. Holy Carp*

    As the parental unit of someone with low level of emotional intelligence, I appreciate your method of dealing with the issue. Better to retrain than fire.

    Reply
    1. Washi*

      I would say that it’s better to catch issues early before they become gigantic problems, attempt to retrain, then be willing to fire if necessary.

      Low emotional intelligence does not excuse being sexist to your coworkers, and I think if someone cannot be coached out of regular sexist interactions in a relatively brief time, they should just be fired.

      Reply
        1. Perpal*

          Yes, -but- for stuff like this* I think it’s worth at least one attempt to address directly; in this case it sounds like they responded appropriately (embarrassment, stopped behavior). So this specific case is not unable to learn.
          *also pretty much anything that isn’t overt fraud/theft/violent/dangerously neglectful

          Reply
      1. wittyrepartee*

        Even if the person was fired because of this behavior- having this conversation with them is really good for them, despite being unpleasant.

        Reply
  15. OrigCassandra*

    I admire your change efforts, OP, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you or what you’re doing.

    I just want to suggest that you keep an eye on how much you want to do this work over time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with deciding it’s become more of a Sisyphean rock than you want to deal with…

    … not least because every once in a while (speaking from direct experience), a good woman doing a massive mic drop as she walks out the effing door creates more change impetus than years of working-from-within.

    Reply
    1. Daffy Duck*

      I think there is a BUNCH right with what she is doing.
      If the group is *willing* to be educated/interested in making a better environment staying and being a force for change will cause it to happen (faster). Picking up your ball and going home just gets a shrug and they go along as they were in most cases.
      It sounds as if your experience is different, but in mine very few of these folks “wake up” and decide to change their behaviour patterns because someone left.

      Reply
  16. Lils*

    Fantastic update, thank you OP. I know exactly how hard what you did is. So proud of you! Can you come work for my organization?! :)

    Reply
    1. Jamie*

      Some of the most sexist and reportable things that have been said to me in my career has been said by HR. It’s just bizarre when it happens.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think that their shrugging off of the harassment and behavioral issues reports are worse than tacking on sweetie and dear, that’s just the cherry on the top of the “Get the ef outta here, we don’t care.” sundae.

      Reply
    3. MOAS*

      me: “I wrote this but was advised to fluff it up.”
      HR: “Oh so you fluffed it up. You’re a fluffer? You’re a FLUFFER?! ha ha!”

      Reply
    4. Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves*

      The HR professional at a very large hospital that I reported sexual harassment to recommended a “diversity potluck” to deal with the issue because we all came from different places. Then outed us to the offender so we could get harassed in new and fun ways! Sometimes I don’t understand how people are in their jobs.

      Reply
  17. OG Kimmy Schmidt*

    Man, I love update season.

    Best of luck to you OP, and I want another update in a few years when you have rocked these changes!

    Reply
  18. Falling Diphthong*

    Re point 1, a mark of true social awkwardness is to be appalled when the boundary violation is explained and work to never do it again. Rather than explain “It’s okay for me to offer evaluations of your body because I have social awkwardness.”

    Reply
    1. Quill*

      Yeah, 100% whenever I’ve worked with men or boys who legitimately have awkwardness / inexperience problems with appropriate boundaries, embarassment makes them very retrainable. If they bring up “don’t tell me I can’t say things, I have Y,” it’s about a 95% probability that 1) they don’t have Y, and 100% probable that Y isn’t the problem.

      Reply
  19. MtnLaurel*

    The Appalachian equivalent of “The sense God gave a goose” is “the sense God gave a goat.” I have no idea why.

    Reply
    1. Quill*

      Not sure if this is from goats being good at climbing and therefore having “more” sense, or bad at judging what they should eat, and therefore having less sense.

      Reply
      1. 'Tis Me*

        Can’t goats pretty much eat anything? So the fact that they will happily do so isn’t a major issue for them as they don’t experience negative side effects? (People considering it to be a major issue and taking steps to prevent them from doing this is most likely too far removed from the unauthorised nomming for them to mentally connect the two and are therefore not experienced as consequences.)

        Reply
        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          NO! They cannot get away with eating anything but they TRY to eat anything.

          I lost my goat because he found a way to break in and binged on his grain. It caused bloating that wasn’t noticed quick enough.

          They are good land clearing options because they’ll eat briars and other hard to get rid of vegetation. But they often have to be saved from themselves. They do experience side effects.

          Reply
          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            A past workplace was considering hiring goats to clear a steep hillside, but the goat rental place ended up declining the contract because the bushes were frequented by folks shooting up and the risk of the goats eating scraps of paraphernalia along with the shrubbery was too high.

            Reply
      2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        It generally indicates very little sense, as in “This amount [sense granted to goat/goose] is tiny, and yet somehow you have less.”

        Reply
  20. TechWorker*

    I love this. Slow improvement is 100% better than no improvement if you have the energy to do it. One day we will get there and not have to worry about the bullshit.

    Reply
  21. Blueberry*

    OP, you are awesome, and have shown yourself to be tough indeed! Not by putting up with stuff but by pushing back, educating someone who is indeed educable, being an ally to your fellow coworkers, and pushing to improve your company. Well done!

    Reply
  22. Southern Gentleman*

    It’s y’all…a contraction for “you all” and it’s perfectly used despite the misplaced apostrophe. As you were.

    Reply
  23. Thany*

    Update season is the best season. :)

    OP, I think it’s worth trying to change your company, but I agree with others here to not let it burn you out. Know your limits. And I am glad that you’re employee was able to be retrained. Rooting for you!

    Reply
  24. Greta*

    “although she did mention that she likes him as a person and they frequently chat and go to lunch together”

    I hope he doesn’t consider having lunch together as a date.

    Reply
      1. Amy Sly*

        It’s part of the stereotype that the incel type guys are also the ones who wear “fedoras” (if you look at the brim, it’s upturned in the back so it’s actually a trilby) and use exaggerated courtesy like calling all women “M’lady” while at the same time hating all women for refusing to sleep with them. The percentage of single men who actually act like this is right on up there with the percentage of Jews who are bankers with hooked noses, but they’re loud on the internet and as such treated as far more influential than they deserve.

        Reply
    1. Close Bracket*

      OP was using the possessive form. “Y’all” on its own can be plural with “all y’all” being used for emphasis.

      Reply
  25. Sandman*

    I absolutely love this update because it so accurately reflects the real world that I’ve experienced, where things aren’t the way they really ought to be but there’s a lot of good there and it’s worth fighting for a little bit. No “shoulds” intended by this comment and if it ever gets toxic for the OP I hope she gets out, but sometimes we have it in us to actually be the change – even if only a little bit – and I think that’s awesome.

    Reply
  26. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

    Leaders like you can significantly change company culture. Just look what you’ve accomplished already!

    Reply
  27. 'Tis Me*

    I’m in my mid-30s now but when I was at uni half of my degree was in the computing department (heavily skewed male, with similar stereotypes). Pretty much all of the guys I worked with and talked to in the computing dept responded to me as a person who had stuff to contribute, rather than a body that had boobs on it but that weirdly kept on making irritating noises.

    These guys and their peers are now I guess the experienced team members, and moving up the management rungs. It would be nice to think that there was something of a generational shift at some point, and that sexism in the workplace is seriously decreasing because the people entering the workforce are increasingly doing so without sexist attitudes that need to be challenged… When it’s come up with a friend who’s 15 years older than me, things she experienced are jaw-droppingly bad, which does lend credence to the idea.

    But obviously progress is not uniform across all fields or companies. There is a long way to go before we’ll be able to state “On average half of FTSE 500 companies’ board members and leaders are women, as are half our politicians globally and half of our countries’ leaders. Diversity throughout represents underlying population demographics and opportunities are truly equal for all people. From early education teachers onwards, people are educated on subconscious biases and expected to work to eradicate them. This forms part of the school curriculum although it’s likely that it will move from personal social education to modern history soon.”

    But it would be nice if that happens within our lifetimes…

    Reply
    1. Old Biddy*

      Early Gen-Xer here – I agree that things are better overall than when I was in my 20’s or 30’s, and I hope it continues. In my experience, though, there are some dinosaurs in every generation, as well as some well meaning folks with a lot of unconscious bias, so the shift has been a lot slower than I would’ve expected – sometimes the dinosaurs have outsized influence, and sometimes people become more conservative as they get older.

      Reply
      1. Elfie*

        Late Gen-Xer here – in my experience (in IT in the UK), things are getting worse, not better. Maybe it’s because I’m now more senior, or maybe I’m seeing it more than I used to, but early on in my career and when I was a student I truly don’t recall being mansplained to, people dismissing my experience or points of view, or people just not listening to me. Now, as someone with 20 years in the industry, I’ve experienced all of those things in at least my last 3 jobs, as a support function across 3 different industries. Not dismissing your experience (I hope your experience is more common than mine!), but I’m worried for the future of my industry, despite all the progress we’ve allegedly made.

        Reply
  28. CM*

    I love this: “I kind of want to create the company that I want to work for. From within.”

    OP, here is my prophecy: if you end up staying, I see you becoming the CEO and running a company with equal numbers of women and men in powerful leadership positions, where nobody would dare call somebody “sweetie” or question their judgment in an identity-based way.

    Reply
  29. Blue Horizon*

    “…therefore my basic social skills are seen as highly rare and whimsical, like the rainbow mane of a unicorn…”

    I love this phrase. I work in IT and my ability to talk to a CEO at an appropriate level (as opposed to, say, diving into a 20 minute exposition of exactly what the code does) is similarly regarded as a kind of divine gift.

    Reply
    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      My husband is a similarly blessed engineer who can & will summarize. I’m a technical writer working with subject matter experts who often, er, do not. So Monday’s Dilbert is already on our refrigerator…I can’t wait for the rest of the week’s series.
      https://dilbert.com/strip/2019-12-02
      (To avoid derail: I know Scott Adams is problematic. I just can’t pass up Tina the Technical Writer because she is one of the few bits of visibility for my career.)

      Reply
      1. Blue Horizon*

        That’s great, thanks.

        All hail Precis, goddess of many things that collectively add up to adapting to your audience! We give thanks for all the qualities (see Appendix A) that let us convey relevant business messages on behalf of our colleagues that can’t, and perform the usual ritual observances (Appendix B). Who wants coffee?

        Reply
  30. Fikly*

    This is not a comment on the LW, but ooph, that thing we women do with the “I like him as a person,” it’s just that sometimes he treats me horribly, and then somehow in our heads the behavior is ok because we like them as people.

    If they treat you horribly, that’s not ok, no matter how likeable they seem. Also, we shouldn’t like them if they do this!

    Reply
  31. Who Plays Backgammon?*

    Glad to have the chance to comment on this:

    y’all (not ya’ll) – contraction of “you” and “all”

    Still remember being chivvied by Southern Californians (the farthest south I’ve ever lived, by the way) for saying “you all” and archly informing them that “you all” is the plural of “you.”

    Therefore, possessive of the plural “y’all” is y’all’s (like women/women’s, children/children’s).

    tee hee hee :)

    Reply
    1. SouthernGrammarNerd*

      I missed your comment and just wrote the same thing!! One of my pet peeves is “ya’ll.” It’s not a contraction of “ya” and “all!” I saw that printed on a flyer at a restaurant in California once and laughed and laughed and laughed.

      Reply
  32. Littlest raccoon*

    Omg, I would have loved to witness the letter writer shutting down the colleague after the burrito situation!

    Reply
  33. Lexin*

    Talking of calling people ‘dear’, a story against myself…

    I’m a personal assistant (glorified secretary) to three ladies, all of whom are younger than me. One of my ladies called me yesterday, out of the blue to ask a question. She said, “It’s Jane…” and I went, “Hello, dear! How are you?”

    Ulp. Embarrassment city. So, so inappropriate. I apologised immediately – admitting I’d been inappropriate. I had a brain fart and it just slipped out, which is what I said.

    So there you go. Sometimes, it’s not intentional.

    Reply
  34. Alicia*

    I don’t think you’re nuts. Your efforts at the company are making a difference, which is very satisfying! You sound very valuable and you will probably make a big difference in the long run. :)

    Reply
  35. SouthernGrammarNerd*

    To answer the question….. it is “y’all’s” lol! Remember that “y’all” is a contraction for “you” and “all,” not “ya” and “all,” so the apostrophe comes between the “y” and “a.” And sure, make it possessive! That’s a widely used term in the South. And don’t forget “all y’all,” which refers to 4 or more people! ;)

    Reply

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