my new boss is an elder in a sexist church

A reader writes:

My new boss is an elder in his church which has very old-fashioned beliefs about women. They believe that the role of women is to obey their husbands unquestioningly and more or less only speak when spoken to, at least when there is a man present.

I don’t have a problem with him being a church elder, but I am worried that his church’s beliefs about women may affect how he sees (or more importantly, doesn’t see) women in the workplace.

I am one of only two women who report to him, and the other woman who reports to him is a shy person who never speaks up about anything anyway.

I am the most senior level employee in our unit, with over a decade of experience doing cutting-edge innovation in a highly technical field. I notice that in meetings my boss immediately gives uptake and attention to ideas thrown out by very junior level male colleagues who are not even fully trained in their current roles. He does let me speak, but I might as well not have, because nothing I say ever seems to have any effect on the topic under discussion. Everybody just moves on to the next (male) person’s comments after I say anything. It makes me feel invisible.

I’m not so new to the workplace that I’ve never seen this kind of thing before, particularly in a relatively male-dominated field. But even when I schedule an appointment for a private meeting with my new boss, the work-related topic that I made the appointment to discuss gets almost no airtime at all, and the meeting quickly turns to friendly workplace banter about home and family. (“How’s your Dad doing since his surgery?” “Did you notice that the daffodils are coming up early this year?” “My son is learning to play the trumpet; don’t you have a son who plays the trumpet too?” etc., etc.)

I’m really starting to wonder if his religious views make it impossible for him to actually see or hear women in roles other than obedient wife and homemaker. I could use some ideas for how to handle this other than by looking for another job. (I have worked there for 13-1/2 years and only need to work there for 1.5 more years to be vested in the pension plan, so this would be a bad time for me to leave financially.)

I wrote back and asked whether the company has competent HR and what the letter-writer’s sense is of how much the rest of management might share her boss’s views. The response:

HR: I don’t really know. I avoid HR as much as possible. There is an HR director who seems like a very smart person but the few times I’ve been in meetings with him he always acts like he is much too busy to be bothered with unimportant things like the meeting we’re in.

Generally: I think executive management is conservative but doesn’t want to take controversial positions on anything. I’m pretty sure they don’t want to be seen as biased against religious employees. But for the most part the official position is that religion doesn’t belong in the workplace.

I think you’re going to have to go to HR on this — because what your boss is doing is sex discrimination, it’s illegal under federal law, and if your company has any sense it’s going to want to put a stop to it because of the legal liability he’s creating for them.

But before you do that, spend some time documenting every instance of you can of times and ways he has treated you differently than men, or seems to be basing his treatment of you on your gender.

The complaint you’re taking to HR isn’t “my boss is an elder in a sexist church and I’m worried it’ll influence how he manages me.” Rather, it’s “my boss demonstrably treats me differently than he treats men, and here is a list of what that looks like.” So start making that list.

If you want, you could also try addressing this directly with your boss — “I appreciate you asking about my family, but I’m hoping to spend our time today talking about Work Topic X” and “I’m finding that my ideas in meetings generally are ignored in favor of ideas from junior trainees — what should I be doing differently?” and so forth. I’m skeptical that it will change anything, but it’s worth seeing how he responds, if only because it will give you more data and the ability to answer “yes” if you’re asked if you’ve tried speaking to him about it directly.

Ultimately, though, I think you’d be well-served by speaking with an employment lawyer for guidance. Talking to a lawyer doesn’t mean you’re preparing to sue or that things will go in that direction. A lawyer can advise you on what documentation will be most compelling, how to approach your company when it’s time, and whether and how to mention the religious element, and can guide you in the background through your entire dealings with your company. They can also help you decide what outcome you want — because even if this guy begrudgingly agrees to toe the line, a boss who only treats you as equal to men because he’s forced to isn’t a boss who will be great for your career, and a lawyer can help you figure out what you want in that regard and how to negotiate it.

At some point you might decide you want the lawyer to play a more up-front role, but just having someone guide you behind the scenes can be incredibly useful when you’re dealing with clear and obvious discrimination by someone with power over you.

{ 366 comments… read them below }

  1. Littorally*

    I think focusing your issues around your boss’s church participation is going to be a dead end. Not that it isn’t relevant in the bigger picture, but the way he treats you on the job is a lot more important, and it’s significantly harder to argue. Bringing up his church participation will muddy the waters significantly and make it look as though you are stereotyping him for his religion rather than bringing a complaint about his actual workplace behavior.

    Think of it this way: your company can’t discipline him for the role he holds with his church. They can discipline him for the way he treats you in the office.

    1. vampire physicist*

      I’d agree – not that it’s not completely reasonable to believe his treatment stems from his religious beliefs, but the important thing is that you’re being subjected to discrimination because you’re a woman, not where the gender discrimination is specifically coming from.

      1. Elbe*

        Agreed. Religion often gets blamed, but it’s just as likely that this guy was already a raging sexist and that’s what drove him to get involved in this particular church, or, as an elder, guide the church in a more sexist direction. Religion influences people, but people also influence how their religion manifests in their communities.

        The LW doesn’t need to psycho analyze this guy in order to take this to HR. She doesn’t have to guess at what’s in his heart of hearts. Knowing his behavior is enough.

        1. Liane*

          Please note that “elder” doesn’t necessarily mean a “high ranking church official.” Two examples from very different churches :
          1. In the (mainstream) Mormon church, “Elder” is the proper address for men who are members, as is “Sister” for women. (I have surprised many pairs of missionaries because I politely greet them so. I have close Mormon friends, that’s how I know.)
          2. In my denomination, United Methodist Church, “Elder” means an ordained UMC minister, although they are usually not addressed that way.

            1. JessaB*

              The third definition is literally an elder, a lay person who has been with the church for many many years and is often looked to for advice on things in an unofficial manner, or just generally an older respected person.

          1. Renata Ricotta*

            As a nit, LDS “elders” are men who have been specifically given a particular level of church authority (“priesthood”). But in practice, this applies to the majority of actively-practicing men who are over the age of 18, and all male missionaries (so they are all “Elder,” but pretty much only while on their mission).

            Growing up as a Mormon kid, I almost always called men in my ward (congregation) “Brother LastName,” not “Elder,” even if they had that hierarchical priesthood level (or higher).

            But yes, “elder” could mean all sorts of things depending on the church and even specific denominations.

    2. Cheese_Toast*

      In fact, by not bringing up his religion and just sticking to the facts, he might bring it up on his own if she gets management or HR involved. That happened at a company I used to work for — someone documented instances of sexism by the team lead, and in a mediation session with the employee and the lead, the lead brought up his religious beliefs all on his own. Definitely hoisted himself by his own petard.

      1. IrishMN*

        This is a really good point. Then if he does bring it up, they should state that his religious beliefs are not relevant to his job or his conduct in the workplace. If they do not do that, and indicate that they are going to work within his belief system (e.g., move all female employees to another manager), then it’s time to get that lawyer front and center.

      2. Observer*

        I was thinking that this would be highly possible. And, yes, from the OP’s point of view having the boss bring that up as a defense would work in her favor. Especially since the official line is “keep religion out of the workplace”

      3. Quill*

        Give people enough Petard to hoist themselves by. It always looks better for you when that one happens.

      4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is where my mind went reading this.

        Do not bring his religion up, if it’s because of his religion, he’ll do it himself.

        Focusing on sexism and inequality is what is illegal, it’s fine [legally] to be a sexist in your private life but not on the business level.

    3. Southern Academic*

      Yes, I’d agree w/ this point, and w/ Allison’s that the complaint isn’t “my boss belongs to a church that I think is sexist;” it’s “my boss treats me worse than men, and here are several examples.”

      I grew up in churches that many people would consider sexist, and though I have since left, I speak from experience when I say that many people do not consider themselves as “bringing religion into the workplace” by acting in this way; they may not even be aware of it. Or, they may consider religion an integral part of their identity and read concerns about “not bringing religion into the workplace” as a rejection of their person, rather than a rejection of these specific actions.

      This doesn’t mean their actions are any less wrong –– still wrong!!–– but what it does mean is that if you approach this as “I need Bob to stop bringing religion into the workplace,” you’re going to get an unproductive debate around whether he’s really doing that and/or whether that’s a fair thing to ask, when in fact the conversation you really want to have is that he needs to treat you the same as men, listening to your ideas and engaging you on work issues.

      And yes, I agree that long-term you may just want another job. Bob may change if forced to but is likely to have difficulty with sustained, internally-driven change.

      1. Rainy*

        I once worked with a woman who belonged to a very conservative Christian denomination, and was getting more involved with her church. We all overlooked her occasional comment until she started referring to us, her coworkers, as “the sluts” because we all wore pants to work. The second she started calling us names, the owner came down on her, hard, and she had the nerve to complain that we were bullying her because of her religion.

        1. MassMatt*

          OMG! That’s one of the most outrageous things anyone’s ever posted here, which is saying something.

          1. Evan Þ.*

            On the other hand, the boss handled it extremely well, which makes it less outrageous as a whole situation IMO.

        2. ihatelogins*

          Anyone else imagining Pink Ladies jackets, like from Grease? I think you’ve found this year’s corporate Christmas gift.

        3. Public Librarian*

          I would be singing ” I’m going straight to hell.” loudly every time they got near me.

          1. Astral Debris*

            I think I’d favor the lines from Phildel’s The Wolf: “Everyone knows that I’m going to hell, and if it’s true…I’ll go there with you.”

          1. Rainy*

            She didn’t, and I left that job a few months later so I’m not sure what ever happened to her.

            The boss felt sorry for her because she and her husband had a ton of kids and her job was pretty much keeping them afloat–which I think was also adding to her horrible behaviour, because their church said that she should be subservient but she was the one keeping their heads above water, and I think some of her hateful behaviour was just that she felt like she was being unwomanly, and it made her feel a little better if she could try and assert some spiritual dominance over us.

            I was very young–probably 19 or 20?–when I worked that job, and I’m afraid that most of us were pretty young (it was a restaurant that didn’t do table service, so we were all doing BOH roles that could get pretty filthy) and we weren’t as mature in our responses to her as we could have been. If I recall correctly she would have been maybe 24 or 25 and she already had five or six kids, though I think at least one of them might have been her husband’s from a previous relationship.

    4. Sara without an H*

      Yes, try hard not to get sucked into a discussion of his religious background. Admittedly, that’s probably driving this behavior, but it would be a mistake to focus on it. A very specific, well-documented description of discrimination on your boss’s part should get the HR director’s attention, if he’s any good at all. If you bring up the boss’s religion, he’ll have an excuse to brush you off and dismiss your concerns. Stay focused on the behavior.

      If you’re hesitant to follow Alison’s advice and consult an employment lawyer, just consider the costs of a mistake at this point, so close to your pension vesting. Getting some expert advice at the beginning of the process will improve your chances of a successful, or at least satisfactory outcome.

      And you have my sympathy. It must be very frustrating to have to deal with this.

      1. Sparrow*

        If the HR director is familiar with the boss, they may already know about his religious affiliation and make the connection themselves. Even so, I think I’d leave it as the elephant in the room until/unless the boss brings up his religious beliefs as justification for his actions.

        In the meantime, I wonder if OP has some male allies in the office that can help spotlight her ideas or back her up in meetings. It wouldn’t fix the problem, and it’s obnoxious to have to consider that as an option, but documenting solid examples of his discrimination might take some time and support from colleagues might make things a bit more livable in the short term.

    5. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Exactly! I have worked with many men of faith who worshipped at more conservative churches, but they didn’t treat women differently at work. And I’ve also worked with avowed atheists who behaved like OP’s boss – and worse.

      HR needs to address the boss’s behavior and treatment of a member of his team. Plain and simple.

    6. BRR*

      Great point. I think it’s common to identify an issue but then start trying to solve it, in this case figuring out why he’s sexist. I think of it as sometimes you need to zoom out or backup to the actual problem which is he’s sexist.

    7. AKchic*

      Yep. It ultimately doesn’t matter why he is the way he is, all that matters is the fact that he IS the way he is.

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        It more than doesn’t matter — the instant she mentions his religion, he’s the one with a claim that he’s being hassled on legally protected grounds. It’s not what she actually means, of course; sure just wants the discrimination to stop. But she has to say it as just wanting the discrimination to stop, without mentioning his religion, or there’s a good chance he’ll be able to turn the whole subject into “how OP is prejudiced against me because of my religion,” rather than “how Boss is treating OP differently from/worse than her male colleagues.”

    8. Down with Ashholes*

      Not that this is coming off as a criticism of OP, but what I see her doing is trying to find an excuse for his sexist behavior that makes some sense other than “he has a deep-rooted belief that he, that all men, are fundamentally superior to me and all women.” As a culture, it seems that we find it easier to excuse horribly outdated, wrong and offensive beliefs if they come from someone’s deep felt religious belief system. This guy believes these things because he’s an ashhole. He’s a fundamentalist whatever because that religion fits his ashhole nature.

      1. FionasHuman*

        *Applause* exactly! People choose their religion, and at least some people choose a religion (or version of a religion) because it tells them what they already believe, and tells them that the way they want to treat people is actually not only correct but godly. From my experience, this is how most fundamentalist belief systems (not just religions) survive and attract people — by giving them license to be assholes to others.

        1. WTF?*

          People choose their religion, and at least some people choose a religion (or version of a religion) because it tells them what they already believe

          I’m sorry, but who are you to diagnose how I chose my religion?

          1. Crooked Bird*

            I imagine they are talking about people they have in mind who probably aren’t you. Human life is a rich and varied tapestry. Just for myself, I don’t really think this is a comment on how I chose my religion.

      2. Junger*

        Agreed. If the sexism went against his personal beliefs, he would try to minimize and avoid that part, not replicate it in his job.

        Religions are often full of workarounds for unwanted rules and commandements. If he didn’t want to be sexist, he wouldnt be acting like one.

    9. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I think focusing your issues around your boss’s church participation is going to be a dead end

      Actually, worse than a dead end, I think focusing on the religious aspect is likely to attract HR’s attention unfavourably on to the OP instead of the manager, as it risks coming off as “I object to my boss’s religion” more than “I object to unequal treatment on the basis of my gender”…

    10. JSPA*

      The only relevance of his church role is that it provides you with some insight into why and how he may be primed to do what he’s doing. That’s potentially useful to you, but it’s not a relevant piece of data. In fact, it’s inappropriate to bring it up.

      If he were a supplicant of a mother goddess cult, or an atheist (or anything else)–in other words, if his discrimination sprang only from his individual psychology or philosophy–the pattern would be exactly as problematic.

      I’d also consider that they may be happy to see you not become vested, and they’re pushing your buttons by having you report to this surface-amiable jerk. Wouldn’t be the first company to pull that stunt. (Whether it’s worth it to you to sit tight and chew your lip for the next 1.5 years, given the current economy, is something you’d have to decide, I suppose.)

  2. Observer*

    OP, to start with, I would probably not bring up the religion he belongs to. Because you want to make it EXTREMELY CRYSTAL CLEAR that your issue is *not* about his religion, but completely about how he TREATS you.

    In some minds it might be possible to treat “please don’t let your religious beliefs negatively affect how you treat me” as “controversial”. (FTR – It’s not.) However, I don’t think that anyone can twist “please don’t ignore me in favor of the most junior and even untrained staff members” into something controversial.

    1. Carbondale*

      I agree with this. The fact that he is an elder in his church is completely irrelevant and I’m not sure why the title of the post focuses on that. The focus should be on how OP is treated compared to male employees.

      1. ChemistryChick*

        The title shown may have been the subject of the e-mail Alison received. I think she’s mentioned in the past that she’ll keep titles as long as it’s not just some variant of “question for you”.

        That said, regardless of the title, Alison’s advice is focused around the way OP is being treated compared to male employees. Boss’ religious beliefs just help provide context/confirmation for the OP that she is in fact being treated differently….at least that’s how I read it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I nearly always rewrite titles (most of them are “question” or similar) but this one is the OP’s email subject line. I used it because I think it captures something significant about the situation; it’s context for what’s going on (and frankly when a headline can capture what’s different about a letter than a previous one on a similar topic, I want it to).

      2. Fieldpoppy*

        I really don’t think it’s completely irrelevant — it’s part of the context to understand his behaviour, and I’m sure it flavours the way it plays out. But I agree that the focus should be on the actions and behaviours and impact, not the motivation or reasoning behind it.

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          Yeah, “not useful to bring up with HR” and “completely irrelevant” are not synonymous.

      3. TechWorker*

        The fact that he strongly believes women should only speak when spoken is not ‘completely irrelevant’. Utterly bizarre to claim it is tbh.

        Sure, some/many people who are very religious do not actually practice all of the more extreme bits of belief, or successfully separate their views from their behaviour. (Although you be 100% honest I am dubious that it’s possible to strongly believe women are inferior and not treat them as such). This guy? Not so much.

        1. AK*

          But why he believes that is irrelevant. I agree that his religious beliefs are likely not just a coincidence, but it’s not on the letter writer to parse that out. The behaviour is the problem, so while his religious beliefs are very likely the cause, they are irrelevant for the purposes of dealing with it at work. If the behaviour had a different source that wouldn’t change the problem any, so focusing on the cause is just going to confuse matters and likely inadvertently give him cause feel/act as though he is the one being discriminated against.

          1. TechWorker*

            Agreed, basically what Nobby Nobbs said above. Not relevant for what you actually say to HR, but totally relevant in reality and imo unfair to LW to act like she’s being unreasonable or making unfair assumptions for thinking it’s related.

        2. hbc*

          Yeah, I think without this context, there’d be a lot more, “Well, maybe he’s trying to encourage the new people” or “He doesn’t think you need as much coaching so he’s switching to discussing personal topics.” With the context, we have near 100% certainty of sexist beliefs, and also sexist behavior. So we don’t have to waste time dithering about alternative explanations or what kind of benefit of the doubt he needs.

        3. valentine*

          he strongly believes women should only speak when spoken
          There’s no proof of this. He doesn’t necessarily believe what the church teaches and OP speculating about his motives would derail her.

        4. JSPA*

          It’s relevant if you’re his psychologist, or you are searching for insight because you care about the “why” of the situation. (Which may be personally illuminating, don’t get me wrong.)

          But the “why” of the situation is not what you bring to HR. If you’re going to HR, you bring the “what,” and let them decide if there needs to be further investigation into the “why.”

          The number of religious institutions that don’t allow for full female equality within their faith tradition is a really long list. Plenty of people who come from and stay in those traditions believe that they, personally, don’t discriminate. A subset of those people work hard not to discriminate. And a subset of that group actually do a pretty good job of not discriminating.

          It is actually dramatically, demonstrably a violation of rules against workplace discrimination to presume that “active in faith X” equates to, “unable to do the job.” That’s much more clear cut than, “I don’t feel he’s listening to me”–which can be a real bear, to prove.

      4. Student*

        The OP thinks it’s pretty relevant when a religion teaches its adherents that women are inferior. I expect that the members of that religion also find it highly relevant – if they didn’t sincerely believe in what their religion teaches, they’d be going to a social club instead of a religious gathering.

        However, the religious background has to be excluded from the OP actually tackling the issue, because religion has special protections that elevate it above discrimination protections. She can’t make an HR complaint that the boss follows a belief system that holds her inferior. AAM’s advice is realistic on that point.

        Which is, in my opinion, unfortunate – religious liberty is extremely important, but when it’s placed above other liberties instead of weighed carefully against other liberties, then it holds us back as a society. Her freedom to exist and work while a woman shouldn’t be held captive to his religion. If he posted the exact same beliefs about women being inferior as this religion espouses, but put it in a public tweet without the religious context, that would be cause for dismissal at many companies.

        Religious beliefs about racism helped shelter and entrench racism for decades; religions have only relatively recently, and partially, started abandoning that discriminatory practice. You can still see remnants of that in how churches remain deeply segregated, in the US. Religious beliefs about sexism help entrench and shelter sexist actions in a similar way, and are more deeply entrenched. Religions are slowly changing on this, but the pace is glacial.

        1. Observer*

          because religion has special protections that elevate it above discrimination protections.

          That’s not entirely true. Mostly, secular organizations cannot discriminate against women just because of religious belief, even if it’s “sincerely held”. None of the exceptions I can think of would apply in this kind of situation.

          1. Littorally*

            Right. The problem is not that religion has special protections above and beyond other types of discrimination. The problem with bringing up the boss’s religion is it takes the focus off of him as an individual actor and places it on the church he belongs to, which ultimately weakens the point.

            “Boss belongs to a church that generally teaches discriminatory beliefs” doesn’t actually say anything about his behavior. “Boss is discriminatory in the office” is where the discussion needs to be centered.

      5. nonegiven*

        It’s like that guy that couldn’t shake hands with women because of his religion. As long as he doesn’t shake hands with men, either, it’s OK, because he isn’t discriminating.

    2. Snai*

      Yes, do not bring up his religion at all. It may make HR think that you are making assumptions about what his personal beliefs are, or that you are interpreting your interactions with him based on your knowledge of his religion.

    3. Chinook*

      Ditto. The behaviour that is affecting you is what you document and complain about, not his possible motives. He can think and believe what he wants, but he is nog legally allowed to treat you differently/disparetly from the men.

    4. LGC*

      Also – she can’t necessarily prove that he’s doing this based off of his religion. (Unless he’s explicitly saying it, or otherwise making it obvious.) It doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.

      The religion is really a red herring in my opinion (at least in this case), because the behavior is not okay OUTSIDE of his religion.

  3. Lizy*

    Ugh jerky mcjerkface….

    I’m no help, but just want to say this guy is a jerk. And I’m one of “him” – I go to a fairly conservative church, live in a pretty conservative community (almost all of the customers – and employees in my little branch – think COVID stuff is going extreme and I haven’t seen ANYONE wear a mask), and I myself am pretty conservative as far as religious views. My husband is 100% the head of household, I haven’t worn pants in… 5 years? I can’t remember … and while I don’t wear a head covering, I haven’t had my hair worn down in years, nor have I cut it.

    But I still speak up and have a voice and I sure as heck use it at work (and at home) so…. this guy’s a jerk.

    1. Sis Boom Bah*

      This is actually a really valuable viewpoint–you yourself are conservative, but you are pointing out that workplace norms especially have to be separate from that. You know, so that work can get done best.

    2. Yeah_I know*

      Yeah, I grew up in a fairly conservative community and I’m actually surprised that the guy would speak to her about personal stuff, but not about work. The super conservative men I’ve known tend to be more along the lines of, “It’s fine to work with women, but it has to be all work and nothing personal”.

      But, everyone’s different. And obviously it doesn’t matter *why* he’s doing it as much as that he is and it’s unacceptable.

      1. Hallowflame*

        I think the difference there may lie in whether women are viewed by these men as subordinate and weak, to be coddled and humored but not heard, or as a threatening temptation to be treated as a live bomb.

        1. Lizy*

          Which, to be clear, is not ok (in church or outside of church) and not biblical anyhow so…

          Women are partners with men – helpmates. They are not to be treated as subordinate and there’s honesty a lot of biblical teachings and scriptures that support the idea of equality. Just because we’re different doesn’t mean we aren’t equal and deserving of equal rights.

          Anywho… I agree. And this guy is still a jerk.

          1. Ash*

            I feel like these are degrees of sexism though. Anything besides equality is inequality. It’s not too far of a leap to go from “man is head of household” to “man is the boss of woman.” Great if your church’s teachings work for you, but it’s undeniable that they are sexist. And also what if I’m in a same-sex relationship—who’s the “head” then?

    3. Morning reader*

      Thanks for giving us a perspective from within these communities. Very brave! Also the admission in light of our British readers’ amusement this morning about “pants.” You mean trousers, I presume? (Sorry, my inner 12-year-old escaped, LOLing at the thought of going commando at work in your conservative community.)

      1. Lizy*

        HAAAAAAAAA yes – trousers. I wear skirts exclusively – and long skirts at that. Mid-calf or ankle-length skirts, shoulders covered, and of course no cleavage.

    4. Merriel*

      I too am in a moderately conservative church that teaches that the husband is the head of the household. It saddens me that too many people misinterpret or take advantage of that to support sexist beliefs. It has absolutely no place outside of the marital relationship, let alone in a work environment.

      Being head of the household does not mean that he is inherently better than, or in control of any other person in our family. To us it means that he holds responsibility to care for his family, and to serve and protect us – which sometimes means putting himself LAST. We are partners, I support him and supports me. I absolutely have a say and agency to make my own decisions.

      We also both work full-time. As my salary is more than double his I returned to work after three months, and he took two years off to be a stay at home parent. We both know how hard it is to be a full-time carer, and being a stay-at-home dad wasn’t beneath him in the slightest. He was stepping up to care for his family, as is responsibility.

      OPs boss is a sexist jerk who is treating her unfairly at work and is likely using religious beliefs to justify his behavior.

      I agree with the majority of commenters – take the evidence of unfair/discriminatory behavior to your HR and don’t speculate on the underlying cause. It’s not relevant and you don’t want to get sidetracked down a tangential argument regarding religion. Best of luck

      1. Ash*

        Everything you are describing indicates an egalitarian relationship. So why is it so important then to still assert that he is the “head” of the household?

      2. Bundle*

        As someone who also goes to a conservative church, I’m glad that my church explicitly teaches thay male leadership pertains to the marriage, and should not be a consideration in electoral candidates, promotions at work, etc.

    5. Jean (just Jean)*

      Thank you for posting this! Sharing this kind of nuance is very helpful for those of us who are not members of conservative congregations.
      I try to do the same thing from the other side: by claiming the term “religious” despite not belonging to (or entirely agreeing with) the most traditional positions of my religion.
      It’s always good to see that “the other side” includes plain old folks who seem “just like us” whether that be people who dress modestly but work full-time outside the home, follow traditional gender roles in private life but not at work, care about spiritual matters despite not strictly observing the Sabbath, or anything else that seems on the surface incomprehensible.

  4. ChemistryChick*

    Ugh. Your boss is a jerk-osaurus rex.

    I’m sorry you’re having to deal with this, OP. I hope HR takes this seriously and things get better for you.

    1. Helen J*

      So I officially love this. I work in a museum with a dinosaur gallery and I’m going to use (steal) this the next time someone is being a jerk.

  5. Spicy Tuna*

    Your boss’s behavior in the workplace is an issue that should be separated from his role in his church. His behavior is worth pursuing, but do not bring up the religious aspect of it. It would still be an issue if he was an atheist, or just non-religious!

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yup, and judging from what the women I know say who are involved in atheist communities and spaces…there are unfortunately plenty of those, too.

          1. Istanzia*

            It’s the only reasonable response. I am definitely atheist, but (almost) the whole New Atheist movement and its members are just a dumpster fire of epic proportions.

            1. whingedrinking*

              Hoo boy, yes.
              “We’re rational and skeptical! It’s essential to question everything and go where the evidence leads, even when it’s uncomfortable.”
              “Great! So you acknowledge that you are influenced by the society you live in, and that you should listen to other people and possibly change your mind? Because I’d like you to consider your beliefs about women and POC – ”
              “Oh, we don’t need to do that. Truly rational, skeptical people like us already believe all the right things so we don’t need to consider that we might be wrong.”

      2. The Grey Lady*

        Definitely. If you’re super bored and need some anger to perk you up, check out Stefan Molyneux online. An atheist misogynist, among other things.

        1. Chinook*

          I wonder what the logic is behind athiest misogynists? Atleast the logic of patriarchal religions is based on a (flawed) idea and should come with responsibilities proportiknate to a man’s superiority.

          But an athiet is presumably pro-science and humans being equal? How do they justify it?

          1. whingedrinking*

            Usually they either deny that they’re sexist, or claim that science backs them up. Or (somewhat confusingly) some combination of the two.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Well, yes, because if what they believe is backed up by Science then it can’t be sexism; it’s just acknowledging reality. Obviously.

          2. Working Hypothesis*

            Usually, they justify it by “biological differences between men and women obviously and necessarily include all the specific behavior differences that have been demonstrated widely in five thousand years of sexist culture, and therefore we must continue those behaviors because they’re hard wired in our DNA and we court disaster by attempting to flout our natural instincts.” Never mind the fact that they’re perfectly happy to override “instinct” (even presuming they were accurate about the biology, which is a whole different rant) in zillions of other cases where it’s convenient for them to behave in a civilized fashion.

          3. pamela voorhees*

            With a lot of junk science that confirms what they already want to believe (I’m not sexist, women are just biologically meant to serve, etc).

          4. Librarian1*

            There’s no logic. They’re all from sexist socieities, so they learn sexist behaviors and some of them get really into being sexist for whatever reason. Probably because it lets them maintain their power.

          5. Crooked Bird*

            There’s science and then there’s science. To take one idea some of these guys believe in, “evolutionary psychology” holds that a man wants to have sex with as many women as possible in order to spread his genes widely, and a woman wants commitment in order to have a man’s support in helping her inevitably limited number of children survive to eventually spread their own genes. It’s… not a philosophy that tends toward respect, equality or even cooperation between the sexes.
            If I’m completely honest, that sort of the thing is one among the many reasons I’m still religious. In a very egalitarian way.

    1. Yvette*

      Totally agree. Focusing on his religion could be misinterpreted as a bias on your part. (I DO NOT feel that way, but some people might)

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        I feel there is definitely a small amount of unconcious bias due to the nature of his church’s beliefs but thats only natural. What OP needs to do is take a step back acknowledge that it is there (cause heck I’m even a bit biased against the guy for that).

        If you ignore bias and don’t address unconscious biases head on it will warp your perception. If you can recognize it is there you can rationally say hey, ok let’s look back on the situation from a new perspective. Does that mean that this guy isn’t a misogynistic jerk, probably not, but it ensures that what the OP brings to HR or upper management can’t be construed as religious discrimination.

    2. Littorally*

      Right! The OP’s question boils down to “does his religion make him incapable of managing women fairly?” but the answer is no — it’s his bias, regardless of its source, that makes him evidently incapable.

      1. Amaranth*

        I think his religion is relevant only as an indication its probably not a personal bias against OP, specifically, if that matters to her. It doesn’t sound like his interactions with the other female employee give her much basis for comparison.

  6. Elbe*

    I agree with the advice here. The root cause of his behavior – possibly his religious views – isn’t really important. It’s the behavior itself that is the problem, regardless of why he’s acting that way.

    It’s unfortunate that things like this are so difficult to prove. If possible, the LW should try to move some of the communication to email so that there’s a message thread. If he’s not responding or blatantly dodging the questions, it will be a lot more apparent when everything is in black and white and timestamped.

    Even if his other report is shy, it may be worth talking to her about her own experiences with him. Her “shyness” may actually be her trying not to waste her breath when she knows her ideas will get no attention. Having two people come forward with similar stories would be illustrate the issue a lot more clearly to HR.

    1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

      Just adding, in a well-run organization this does not have to be proven – HR/leadership just has to believe it’s probably true and is worth this guy being told to do better.

      We might need proof in legal action or in a badly run organization, but a good organization does not need proof to call someone out for this.

      1. Donna*

        Well, a good HR should not just “believe” a report from a single person without doing their own due diligence. We trust that the OP has a reasonable complaint because she’s the one who wrote in to Alison, but in the real world it’s possible for complainants to be malicious and/or unreasonable.

        Of course, due diligence doesn’t mean proving it in a court of law, or expecting the victim to bring irrefutable evidence. But it does mean that they should see the complaint as an impetus for investigation.

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          Good HR will assess both sides and even if it is He Said/She Said, will make a determination based who is more credible and who is not. As you said, it does not need to be proven to the level of a court of law, but I have sadly seen too many HR people claim that He Said/She Said situations can not be resolved because it is just two people with different opposing perspectives and no evidence. That is weak and lazy HR, IMO.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I think the distinction here is not that HR wouldn’t try to find out what really happened, but that they don’t need proof beyond a reasonable doubt there way a court would — they only need to believe, at whatever standards of evidence they think reasonable, that this is what happened. A good HR department will investigate, certainly… but they’d be more likely to use a neutral “preponderance of the evidence” standards or just an informal “do I think that the facts I’m seeing support this?” standard, rather than requiring absolute proof with no cracks in it at all.

        2. JSPA*

          If HR’s directive is, “make sure you give thorough public and private feedback and consideration to your female as well as your male reports,” full stop, I don’t see that there’s much investigation needed. If they say that to someone who’s already committed to doing so, but for some unrelated reason has been focused on the new hires…that’s not a problem. It’s right up there with reminding someone that insurance requires that they wear a seatbelt while on company business.

          The person told gets to say, “Yes, of course, I already do, but will certainly be extra attentive.”

          They’re put on notice that doing otherwise will not pass without comment, not written up for past misdeeds.

      2. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Oh, no, that is NOT how a good HR department handles matters like this. They may fully believe the person making the complaint, but they will still investigate and make a determination based on their findings.

      3. Keymaster of Gozer*

        In my experience, no. I haven’t encountered any HR department that’ll act on accusations of sexism from just the word of one person alone. Which is usually why it’s so difficult to get them to do anything about it – others are quite often unlikely to support the accusations.

        (Been there. Got told that since all the rest of the team didn’t see any problem that I was taking things out of context. I’m glad I don’t work in HR. IT at least is easier to prove wrongdoings and I’ve never met a sexist computer…)

      4. LizM*

        Agree with others that a good HR department will do some investigation (or advise a supervisor on how to do at least an informal fact finding) before taking or recommending action.

        But also, an individual’s statement *can be* proof. Even in court, eyewitness testimony is considered evidence or proof. The fact finder needs to weigh the credibility of the statement and witness, and obviously, if you’re able to corroborate it, it’s more credible, but it is evidence.

        I just feel the need to point that out on occasion, because often there is no physical or documentary evidence or corroboration, but that’s not the same as saying there is *no* proof.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It’s not proof, but it is evidence. I think what the original statement that HR doesn’t need proof may have meant in the first place was that they do need evidence of some kind, but it’s not on a level of “must be airtight” — they just need to see that the facts support it. “I wrote down every time this happened to me and here’s the list” is a significant source of fact for those purposes, since very few people make up that kind of list over a period of weeks or months out of whole cloth if nothing’s actually going on.

      5. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        in a well-run organization this does not have to be proven – HR/leadership just has to believe it’s probably true

        I’ve been on the receiving end of this* where HR believed what was being told to them (by my manager!) without investigating further or following up in any way and it didn’t end very well for me, certainly wasn’t what I’d call a well-run company.

        * Where “this” isn’t anything comparable to the OPs manager in that it wasn’t anything to do with religion, discrimination on any basis, etc. It was an interpersonal situation between me and the manager.

  7. Jaybeetee*

    So my worry here is Boss seems to be landing in that plausibility zone of “maybe the things LW is noticing aren’t because she’s a woman.” TBC, I’m not disbelieving LW here, more concerned that if HR or her boss ask for “proof”, they’ll pass the behaviour off as something else. It can be so hard to prove these things.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      It can be, but there’s still ways to pull out relevant anecdotes, like ‘I made suggestion A on B date in C meeting. No action. On D date, Tom made suggestion A, project initiated.’

      1. Mockingjay*

        Notes are gold in this context. I keep personal notes on every meeting or call I have, even if it’s something innocuous: “29 July, weekly Widget Production meeting. On schedule. No action items [for me].” I recently pulled up notes from a year ago to remind someone that we had agreed on X, not Y; here’s the justification that was discussed.

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          Yes, I did this. I had a boss who was a disaster and these notes upset him. He tried several times to get the originals from me such that I took photocopies home every night. I didn’t trust him not to break into my office and steal them. (Old building; weird keyset; he would have had to break in because I had the only key, no master.)

      2. WantonSeedStitch*

        Yes! And I think that if I were the OP, I would probably want to start planning things to bring up, suggestions to make, etc., to act as tests.

        And I’d document every time I tried to have a work-related convo with the boss and he turned it to small talk. I’d first check with the other female employee to ask if that’s the same thing that happens to her. If the OP has trusted colleagues who are men, she could also ask them, “when you have your one-on-ones with Boss, does he tend to be willing to address work stuff in those meetings?” If they say “well, yeah, that’s the point of the meetings! We chat some too, but the focus is on work stuff,” she’ll know there’s a distinct difference in how people are treated.

      3. Yeah_I know*

        Yeah, I noticed similar patterns at an old work place and I *know* my boss knew what he was doing because he would always glance over at me to see my reaction. But there was no HR at the time so…

        In some ways I didn’t even care. I wanted what I wanted and all I had to do was tell a friendly male coworker to float the idea and *presto*, suddenly it was in motion. Which yeah, I didn’t get credit at the company, but I still got the projects that were approved and could add them to my resume.

        It’s not ideal. But it worked for me at the time.

          1. Nanani*

            In my experience, probably not. And if they did, they’re unlikely to be able to do anything about it in the unlikely event that they’re willing to rock the boat.

            A LOT of men treat discrimination against women as some kind of faux-pas -on the woman’s part- that shouldn’t be brought up, the way you wouldn’t bring up menstruation in a work meeting.

            1. Altair*

              A LOT of men treat discrimination against women as some kind of faux-pas -on the woman’s part- that shouldn’t be brought up, the way you wouldn’t bring up menstruation in a work meeting.

              This is very true and fits into a wider pattern. People localize discrimination on the person with the characteristic being discriminated against, the person suffering the discrimination, rather than onto the perpetrators of the discrimination. I’ve seen this happen in many different ways.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      That’s what happened to me when I had a manager who acted like a sexist jerk. Because it was my word alone (no written proof and none of the team would back me up) then I was essentially told I’d seen/heard things wrongly from the manner in which they were intended and to stop being so sensitive.

      I should have lasted longer and taken more evidence like how all my coworkers (all men) got payrises regardless of performance and I never got one, or that I never got to go to conferences, or the ‘jokes’ I got (I don’t have any kids or interest in them; these guys would put nappies, fertility clinic adverts on my desk etc).

      I was a lot younger, and just got severely depressed that HR wouldn’t believe me, and ended up leaving the firm. Nowadays I’d have documented things a lot better and refused to back down if HR said it was no big deal.

      I wish in 2020 we didn’t have to suffer sexism at work. Really hope one day it goes away for good.

      1. Juneybug*

        That sounds terrible! I am so sorry you had to go through the horrible experience. I hope karma punched them all in the face.

  8. RestroomTimeExtraordinaire*

    Document, document, document and do not raise this to HR without 1) having a clearly organized and objective (matter of fact) presentation of his sexist behavior, with dates, times, topics for group meetings and one-on-one meetings and 2) having asked your boss the suggested scripts Allison provided (i.e., giving him the opportunity to perform some introspection and adjust his behavior). This also will take some time, which benefits the LW by getting closer to pension vesting.

    LW didn’t mention whether there’s lateral job opportunities within the organization, only that leaving is financially inopportune (wrt pension); depending on the size of the organization and the LW’s long tenure / experience, maybe that’s something that can be pursued.

    1. Chinook*

      By using Allison’s scripts, you have the possible bonus of him changing his behavior. Some men who come from a patriarchal structure do not realize their behavior because they have never been called on it. The odds are low, granted, but not nil, that he didn’t realize he was brushing you off.

      My dad and his extended family was like that but his children were all Canadian born and raised with his Canadian wife, so we all spoke up when we realized a family member was designating tasks as pink or blue (think responding to a male cousin’s comments about clearing the table as women’s work by putting all the dishes in front of him and sitting back down at the table complete with teenage girl attitude). His mother was a lost cause (to the point that we warned future spouses before they met her) but he learned to change his behaviour to the point of being proud that his son became a stay-at-home dad.

      My point is that you have to give someone an opportunity to change behaviour by pointing it out to them, preferably in a way that also allows them to save face. After that, it is gloves off, time to document and report.

      1. pancakes*

        I don’t see any reason to avoid documenting their behavior in the meantime. If it turns out to not be necessary to use it later on, that’s fine.

  9. Mandie*

    I just want to provide some insight into your boss’s likely mindset that could be contributing to his behavior. I belonged to a super-conservative Christian denomination for over 20 years (I escaped in 2018 – woo hoo!), and the beliefs about women in these groups run deep. Stereotypes are taught as facts, and decisions are made based on those “facts”.

    In my former church, it was widely taught that since Eve was deceived by the serpent in the garden of Eden, that women are more easily deceived and more gullible. It was also widely taught that women are less logical than men and are emotional decision-makers. All critical decisions, therefore, should be made by men. This was taught so vehemently that as a woman, I believed it, and I’m still unraveling it in my mind.

    This is a real problem, because in my opinion, there’s no way a man who has risen to the position of elder in one of these churches could separate his opinions about women from his work life. He may be able to suppress the worst of his sexism to avoid trouble at work, but as you’re noticing, it’s likely to color his interactions with women.

    I agree with Alison’s advice that you have to focus on the facts of how he’s behaving at work, but rest assured your gut isn’t leading you astray.

    1. Mazzy*

      Question, do you think they were totally not sexist before this and then fell in line with beliefs from the church? Or do you think they’re just using it as justification for their preconceived ideas? I feel like if it’s the latter, it doesn’t make sense to mention the religious beliefs outside the church (though maybe inside it, outside of it being a work issue).

      1. AVP*

        I always love the Roxane Gay line about certain religions who take this view, “their God was hateful because they made Him in their image.” (that’s a paraphrase…can’t find the exact story.)

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          The version used in the play “Inherit the Wind” (dramatized version of the Scopes monkey trial) was “God created Man in his own image — and Man, being a gentleman, returned the compliment.”

      2. Georgina Fredrika*

        well if you’re raised within a church community, there is no “pre” conceived, the church community is literally how you “conceive” those views!

        1. Altair*

          Yes, this, so much this. I always hate the argument that when religions promote bigotry it’s entirrely because people who were already bigoted brought that to the religion. When someone is raised from before birth in a religious community that is precisely where they get their views, including endemic bigotry.

      3. Sarah*

        Grew up in a sexist religious group here – I hear this sentiment all the time and only believe it half the time. “The religion doesn’t teach this, the people believe it and put it into their religion”. In my opinion, it’s circular thinking. “I think women are incapable of x because of my religion, which believes that women are incapable, because it was founded by men like me who think women are incapable…”

      4. Dust Bunny*

        Flip side: I was raised in a church environment with a long history of strong female leadership and I know a lot of people who fled conservative, patriarchal, religions.

        I think in most cases their parents were ordinary, run-of-the-mill, general-societal-norms sexist and at some point you either tip into more-sexist or wake up and run away from it. If this guy was raised in this church he’s probably known it all his life and, for him, it’s normal and seems “neutral”. Or even if he was raised in general society but the church sucked him in when he was young and impressionable or at a point in his life when he was feeling powerless or some other situation where he was vulnerable to their messages. Basically, sometimes you can’t see the problem if you’re too close to it.

        I agree with other posters who suggest that he’s unlikely to be able to separate his work behavior from his identity/general worldview, and the LW shouldn’t hope for a life-changing epiphany from the guy.

    2. Escapedvangelical*

      This!! I agree with everyone saying to not make it about his church with HR, but it is absolutely a factor that should be mentioned with an employment lawyer. Even mainstream evangelical churches preach a lot of really horrible views about women and their inability to lead because of emotion and their need for males to train and guide them because their core desire is love, while men are made to be respected. OP, you’re not alone, I experienced this behavior in multiple Christian nonprofits and churches before I escaped altogether- and not ones a normal person would consider particularly conservative or fundamentalist. The roots of sexism run deep. My advice is in addition to careful documentation (Include not just dates and times but *witnesses*) see if there is anyone, anyone who can back you up. Other employees you have worked with successfully, former managers who will vouch for you, the other female report. It is really easy to squash a lone voice- when it was me, it was my first job so I innocently documented everything and sent it to HR, and the next day I was told that I wasn’t demonstrating a team spirit or Christian values of grace and was given the choice to “resign for the sake of future jobs” or “be fired and have to put that shame on all future job applications.” I was young and stupid and didn’t think of unemployment so I quit in terror (I was stupid.) This is real, you aren’t crazy, and you have a case here, as totally unfair it is you have to fight it. Still, please consider fighting it, because if we don’t call this out in the workplace it will be continued to be enabled.

    3. Ominous Adversary*

      This doesn’t help the OP but I’m fascinated by the theology here. Eve wasn’t deceived, right? The serpent told her the truth (eat this fruit, you’ll understand good and evil), and she knew she was disobeying God. And since the serpent is Satan, it’s kind of understandable that she was deceived. Whereas Adam just listened to what she said and didn’t even have the excuse of having been persuaded by the Father of Lies! Doesn’t that suggest that men are even dumber and more gullible than women?

      1. Littorally*

        It depends a lot on the reading and interpretation; the serpent isn’t even textually stated to be Satan. (Remember, the story is a Jewish text; Judaism really does not have nearly the focus on any sort of devil figure that Christianity d0es.)

        1. hbc*

          At the risk of derailing totally, the Gnostic texts actually interpret the serpent as the good guy, the one who wants what’s best for humanity versus the jealous, vengeful guy who wants to keep them in ignorance. I remember getting stuck on that myself in Sunday school.

          1. Liz T*

            “Eve just wanted to know shit. She took a bite of the apple and found out what was good and what was evil. And she gave it to Adam so he would know. Because they were in love. And that was good, they now knew.”

            ~Tommy Gnosis

          2. JSPA*

            That’s interesting! People whose focus is on delving into mysteries (forbidden and otherwise) would of course be predisposed to adopt the serpent and Eve as the original mystery-breakers. Neat! (Not being embedded in any tradition, I really appreciate these nuggets of cultural insight.)

            For OP: it can be magic to find a religion’s buzz words and hangups, and co-opt them…so long as you can do so subtly enough that it doesn’t come across as mocking (on the basis of religion). Probably easier if you already have some past experience with the faith in question.

            And while you should never have to do this, it can work, to introduce your ideas occasionally by saying, “I was thinking about my father’s sage advice to [insert wise but formulaic saying] and it guided me to come up with a protocol to [the meat of what you want to transmit].” It’s an appeal to abstract male authority, but only in the sense that it frames the situation and gives his possibly stunted brain an “in” to hearing your actual words.

            Yes, it sucks to have to do that, but it’s less demeaning than having to funnel ideas through the intern.

      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        Seems like a good interpretation. The non-theological explanation is that a hetero guy pretty just does whatever a naked woman tells him to.

        1. Ominous Adversary*

          Except at that point he didn’t understand either of them were naked, so even that’s not an excuse.

      3. The Grey Lady*

        Well, I like your interpretation, but it definitely wouldn’t have been listened to in my old conservative church lol.

        Basically, Eve was deceived by the serpent telling her that God was trying to keep something good from her for no reason. Yes, he technically told her what it was, but then he convinced her that it was her right to have it (unlike what God told her). Also, keep in mind the caveat that this is from what my church taught and there are many different interpretations.

        Either way, though, Adam is still a big dodo face who gets off way too easy.

      4. SickofCovid2020*

        Not necessarily that she was deceived but more she was persuaded and then manipulated her husband, poor guy just wanted to do the right thing /s, but she convinced him to eat it too. And when the big guy comes down to see what happened she convinces Adam to join her in trying to decieve the creator.

        As such, women are manipulative, power hungry, and deceitful so they should not be in positions of power in the church or family as they will lead everyone astray as Eve did with Adam. After all men just want to do the right thing and obey the big guy so men should run everything.

        That’s my 2 penny summary.

      5. Chinook*

        That is the arguement I would use if anyone tried the “Eve was dumb” line (which I have thankfully not heard around me). She atleast was logiced into trying the apple after askin questions and for clarifications, which shows her own agency and intelligence. Adam just looks like a guy who did whatever his wife told him without question. Who is the one who shouldn’t be trusted now?

    4. Analyst Editor*

      Bars on this it would seem that we should presumptively bar anyone who had a position in a conservative religious organization from positions of management of influence, unless they can plausibly demonstrate that they can separate their religious views from the workplace…. Which they can’t 100%, because half of it is unconscious, even if not overt the way it is with OP.

      1. Altair*

        Does anyone have any examples of conservative Christians being not hired or forced out of jobs in “the West” (Europe, the Americas, etc)? Aside of the period when Mexico officially had no state religion I wonder how many examples there are.

        Yet this specter is always raised whenever people criticize conservative religious beliefs. I did specify Christianity here because conservative minority religions such as Judaism and Islam face additional barriers.

        1. Librarian1*

          Nope and I would bet my entire life savings that it has never happened in the United States. Or at least they’ve never been forced out o work or not hired BECAUSE of their religious beliefs. Conservative Christians, particularly the evangelical and fundamentalist types, have a TON of power in our society.

        2. Youth*

          Yes. If you have a conservative Christian belief that drinking is wrong, there are absolutely workplaces that will try to force you out because you don’t fit in with the culture.

          1. JSPA*

            Teatotaler and Conservative Christian are not a highly overlapping Venn diagram. Plus it’s illegal to force someone out if their not drinking is due to religious belief or a health necessity (unless drinking is somehow a core part of their job–wine taster, perhaps, if one’s religion prohibits wine even touching one’s lips, even if there’s no swallowing).

            So this isn’t a strong example.

            The question posed is whether someone’s discriminated against based on the presumption that nobody of that religion could be qualified to do the job.

            We have had people here suggest exactly that, off the cuff.

            They were generally shut down pretty dang fast. And instructed that the only way to ask whether someone can do the core functions of job is to state the requirements (without saying, “as a Conservative Christian, as a Muslim, as a Kohen, as a Hindu, as a Jain (etc).”)

            “X is a core requirement of the job, as is Y, and we have strict requirements for Z. Is this something you can commit to doing willingly and well?”

            You can’t make eating pork or wearing a pentagram or stomping bugs or drinking alcohol a fake core requirement.

            If someone can’t kill or cut up a cow, they don’t get hired on the line at the abattoir, but they should be just as open for consideration doing the books in the front office. If you have taken a vow of silence, you don’t get the announcer job on the jungle cruise, but you should be just as hirable as anyone else, to wear a costume, and wave at the guests.

        3. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

          I have seen people ON THIS SITE say, basically, “I could never hire a conservative Christian, because I’m gay and they are all homophobes.” Does that count?

          And the conservatives you are thinking of very probably look like everybody else. Would you expect a woman in an ankle length skirt with uncut hair to find it quite as easy to get a job in, say, a tech start up as a woman wearing jeans with a bob? She probably wouldn’t be a good culture fit. She probably will get married and quit to have babies. She probably is made uncomfortable by strong language and drinking, so she wouldn’t be happy here anyway. She probably is a bigot, and it wouldn’t be fair to our other employees to ask them to work with her because we have LGBTs/POC/religious minorities here. She is probably anti-science, and we are logical people here.

          Do you see how easy it is?

          1. Altair*

            “I have seen people ON THIS SITE say, basically, “I could never hire a conservative Christian, because I’m gay and they are all homophobes.” Does that count?”

            The last time I saw someone say that I made a point of telling them they were wrong and contributing to how martyred Christians want to feel. But do you know if the person who said that actually has hiring power over anyone? I did ask for cases, not suppositions.

            Not hiring a woman because she might leave and get pregnant, etc, etc, etc, is sexism and has happened a few times to women who weren’t explicitly conservative Christian, so this is as much misdirection as the teetotaling example above.

            But it’s good to know that in the case of a conflict between a queer employee and a Christian employee who leaves tracts on their desk, tells them they’re going to Hell for sodomy, and cites that they’re just following their religion, whose side you would be on.

            1. Elspeth Mcgillicuddy*

              Yes, I saw people correct commentators who said they could never hire a Christian. Maybe it was even you! But I don’t know if the person actually listened. I don’t know if they have hiring/firing ability. I do know that there must be people with power and that attitude in the US. How common it is? I don’t know that either.

              I am afraid I don’t actually have cases.

              Imagine two young women. Same age, same looks. One is wearing an ankle length skirt, has hair down to her knees, and her collar up to her neck. The other is wearing pants, a trendy lob, and has multiple piercings in each ear. Which one is more likely to quit to have kids? It’s sexism true, but the assumption is more likely to be make of the first woman so it affects her more.

              Note that I didn’t say whether my hypothetical woman disapproved of queer people in the first place, much less whether she is an aggressive tract leaver.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      I also was raised in a conservative religious community. I left about 15 years ago. It takes time, but eventually, opinions can be changed. People have to want to change, though. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.

    6. Anonymous Hippo*

      Was coming here basically to say the same thing. I literally don’t think it will be possible for this man to treat you as an equal in the work place with the other men, regardless of how junior the men may be. Possibly a facade, but it will be a thin veneer. I would start looking for a new job.

    7. Althea*

      I want to disagree on this point. I worked on and off in Afghanistan, and I’m a woman. There is a mix of cultural and religious beliefs there that women are and should be segregated from men and have different roles in society. It’s often expressed in action in ways that allow men to exert power over women.

      Nonetheless, most men in the country were perfectly capable of treating American and other foreign women as a separate group. Foreign women could sit and eat with men and were generally treated as exempt from all the rules for Afghan women.

      It’s perfectly possible for men to be sexist toward one group of women and not another, and someone like the OP’s boss could easily do it for women in vs. out of his own religion. Sounds like he did not make this choice here – but it is a choice and there are ways to do it, as I have repeatedly seen.

  10. Hey Karma, Over Here*

    If you didn’t know he belonged to this church, would you be as aware of his treatment of you?
    Would you feel that he derails your one on ones? Would you think he ignores you in meetings? Would you feel that the men in your office are taking his lead on talking over and through you?
    if the answer is, “um yeah, it’s freaking obvious at every turn,” then the church thing doesn’t matter. Put it out of your head.
    Why he is sexist is irrelevant. It does not matter why. Only “what” matters. Focus on that.
    Document, document, document every time. Oh, and when your peers and those in subordinate positions do it as well, to illustrate how he’s affecting the office.
    Good luck.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think this is good advice. I’m not overly fond of extreme religious sects, but you need to separate that from the sexist behavior that is going on at work. And document everything!

  11. The Rat-Catcher*

    Even elders don’t necessarily espouse all the beliefs of their churches. Unless he has stated these views himself, you cannot assume based on his church membership what his beliefs are.
    What you can do is push back on the unfair treatment, and that’s what I’d do here.

    1. blink14*

      Second this. I would separate his personal beliefs – which you don’t know the depths of, even given the church he belongs to – from his actions at work. I also think he may not even realize what he’s doing, or to what degree, particularly if there are very few women at the company to begin with.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      This is definitely true. I have a friend who’s currently the bishop of his Mormon ward (it’s a lay position that rotates among volunteers, but it’s kind of like being the pastor of his congregation) and he’s pretty open about his views about the equality of women, LGBT equality, etc.

      Just another reason to focus on the behavior the OP is seeing rather than on the manager’s religion and his church.

    3. Nobby Nobbs*

      OP isn’t assuming he holds these views just because he’s a member of a particular church. She’s basing her conclusions on his actual behavior. If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s… probably getting up to something rude in the copy room, on this site, but otherwise you can generally safely assume it’s a duck.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        I’m just playing devils advocate here because none of us know the specific situation but:

        Unconscious bias is a real thing. It can shape our perceptions of what people say and how they treat us along with how we treat them. All I’m saying is to make sure that is the case and remove all considerations of his church and beliefs and just look at the actions point blank.

        1. Chinook*

          This is why OP speaking to the boss first is important. If it is unconscious bias, he doesn’t know he is doing it and has not had an opportunity to change. He may just need someone to point it out to stop doing it. Like I said earlier, it worked in my family, but only because we kids felt like we could call Dad on it.

          Is it guaranteed to work? No. If he does want to change, will it be easy or instantaneous for the OP? Probably not. But, if this is a boss who is willing to accept a correction like this, then he probably is one one that is good to work with in the long run and worth the effort.

          And if he doesn’t want to change, then the documentation you give to HR will make this an easy decision to follow up on.

          1. JSPA*

            I believe SickofCovid2020 is pointing out that there is no such thing as a human being who is free of unconscious bias, and that this is true of the OP, and of every one of us, as well as the certainly-appears-to-be-functionally-discriminatory boss. We see him through OP’s eyes, so that’s not fully independent confirmation.

            In my experience, sometimes the most biased people will hand you a gift by actually admitting what they’re doing (because they see nothing wrong with it). If OP gives the boss an opening, he may come out and state that he needs to give the men a chance to shine because it’s more important that he promote them, so they can support a family. Or something else that’s not open to, “I see a pattern with my eyes, and I can describe it in detail, but I can’t make you see it with yours.”

        2. Librarian1*

          Based on the OP’s examples, it seems pretty clear to me that he is treating her differently from her male colleagues. What I suspect happened is that OP started noticing the disparate treatment and then started looking for a reason that he behaved that way, rather than vice versa.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah. This happens almost exclusively when someone from a marginalized group is reporting mistreatment, and then suddenly people are very concerned that the person’s instincts might be wrong and need to be checked.

            From the commenting rules:
            “Letter-writers are experts on their own situations. When a letter-writer reports a situation is giving them bad vibes, particularly in regard to safety, harassment, or discrimination, believe that person. Don’t search for ways to explain away the behavior or pressure them to ignore their instincts because you personally haven’t had the same experiences.”

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Also, I have a disagreement with the phrase itself. If you believe something (the general you), say what you believe. If they are your thoughts or concerns, own them as such. Claiming that you’re playing Devil’s Advocate is cowardly. If the writer gets a lot of pushback, they can come back and say, “Hey, *I* don’t believe that–I’m just sayin’ that some might see it that way.”

              If ‘some’ people might see it that way, then let them say it. You don’t have to make an argument you don’t agree with. This isn’t debate class.

    4. hbc*

      While I agree that she shouldn’t raise the issue of his church membership, I think it’s silly to ignore it when doing an assessment. Let’s say there’s a 5% chance he’s a non-sexist elder at Our Lord of Discrimination for some reason, and let’s say there’s a 10% chance that a randomly-sampled guy could be behaving this way at work for non-sexist reasons, like he can’t keep up with her technically. Just playing odds, that puts us at a 0.5% chance that this behavior has no connection to sexism.

      I might spend time messing around with different approaches if there was a 10% chance it was innocent, but with the extra information, I’d go with the assumption that he’s not going to change without a shove from someone above him.

  12. Momma Bear*

    I’ve had the experience of saying something in a meeting, and then having it ignored until a man says it later. One of my favorite PMs has a good habit of affirming what everyone says in a meeting and giving everyone a voice. He will flat-out say, “Yes, like Momma Bear said 5 minutes ago…” After a few times being called out, the worst offenders have stopped. Do you, OP, have anyone who would help back you up in meetings? You shouldn’t need the back up but it might be one way to get the boss to see what he’s doing. I also agree to drag the conversations away from personal matters and back to business. Document everything. Have a list. Go into every meeting with an agenda.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      This was what I came to suggest. OP, is there a man of about your same level or one step down that you can partner with? Who can make a point of restating your suggestions and attaching your name?

      1. Chinook*

        And you may have to outright ask someone to do this. An ally might think it is patronizing to you under normal circumstances or not ven notice thhe behavior because he is focused on his own projects in the meeting. But, once asked, he will be able to quickly see the pattern and jump in.

        1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

          Agreeing to this. I’ve had to do this, partner in crime was more than happy to call someone out on their BS and say “hey, she already said that”, or when it wasn’t worth either of our capital, he’d bring it up and our entire team would get credit for it.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

          Heh, I often “advocate” for people (in the way you described) when their contribution gets ignored or stepped on in a meeting – typically it’s the people who are ‘quieter’ or more conflict averse (but I haven’t noticed any pattern on the basis of gender etc in my particular environment). (I’m a cis female who has spoken up on behalf of men!) – it hadn’t really occurred to me that this could be taken as “patronising”, which it certainly isn’t intended to be, so I learned something today! I’m all about facts and fairness more than “other people’s feelings” as such, so I want people’s contribution to be heard because that’s the fair thing to happen!

          1. Chinook*

            I have seen it when a woman has made a choice to not react or chossing to bring up an issue in private but some guy comes in like a “white knight” to save the day. There is a fine line between white knight and ally, and I think it lies with intention- are you trying to help them or help yourself get noticed.?

            1. Tidewater 4-1009*

              My impression is the white knight behavior comes from seeing women as being like small children in that they can’t stand up for themselves and need someone to come in and save them. So I don’t think it’s necessarily about getting attention… maybe it is now, but when I was young it seemed common for men to see women as people who needed to be rescued.

    2. Agent Diane*

      I was coming here to say this: build allies within the room if you can. They can say things like “hold on, I think OP’s suggestion merits discussion before we move on to Junior Bloke.”

      And if it’s still like you didn’t speak you’ve got more proof of sex discrimination.

      For the 1:1 meetings, I like Alison’s scripts. You can also try things like “We’re both keen to solve X, so can we work through some ideas on that.”

    3. Elbe*

      Having an ally would be really good for the LW right now.

      The behavior seems pretty blatant and I’m assuming that at least some of the people have noticed how the women are being treated in meetings. If the LW has anyone who she thinks she can trust or who would be sympathetic, it may be worth asking them to either speak up on her behalf in meetings, or to occasionally take up her suggestions later on so that she can document the differences in how the idea was received.

      It will be a lot harder for her boss to ignore her if no one else is. The more other people engage with her ideas, the more apparent it will be if he consistently chooses to ignore them.

      1. Mazzy*

        I don’t disagree with you, but just saying “it’s blatant” isn’t convincing anyone. You need to document, document, document specifics.

        And FWIW, me and my boss mostly talk about the things OP described, which seemed weird, and then I realized that they trust me to do all of the difficult work and are old and don’t want to hear about it unless the building is on fire. So just saying “they shifted the conversation away from work” isn’t going to raise a red flag to some people. Maybe a pink one.

        1. Elbe*

          The fact that the behavior is blatant is a reason why some people may have already noticed it on their own, and she would not need to convince them of it. Of course simply saying “it’s blatant” isn’t going to convince anyone who hasn’t already noticed – I wasn’t suggesting that.

          1. Mazzy*

            I’m were on the same page. Maybe I’m projecting from previous situations where people complained about something and then thought they didn’t need to prove it because they thought it so obvious

    4. Mazzy*

      This is a good comment. Sometimes the lead of these letters skews my perception of the situation, so I just re-read it and have a different take. I’m noticing there is so much missing.

      We only have the one example they gave (edit: two examples. Lord, you need to re-read these things a couple of times). I know people will say “trust the OP that something is happening.” I do, but if we don’t have more examples of events and comments and work processes there, it’s really hard to give advice on how to handle it.

      We are also missing information on what they’ve tried to date. They mention the meeting situation with the less experienced coworkers. Are they quiet? Are they literally getting talked over? How much have they pushed back? Have they tried “I just said that” or “that won’t work” or “that’s in the scope my job” type comments that are more blunt? Have they had a meeting with their boss and been blunt?

      Yes these things are hard, but if you don’t say anything, it’s hard in different ways.

      Also, FWIW, your description of “generally” describes most organizations. I’ve been working at a company that thinks of itself as very progressive for seven years and could say the same exact thing about them. So I would try to stay focused on what’s special and unique about situation. A bored HR person and company that doesn’t want to take stances is normal. Stick to documenting specific situations.

      Yes that’s a pain and feels like you’re starting at zero, but you’re not. I built a case once about an employee would kept dropping the ball but everyone thought they were great. First meeting, boss was very skeptical. So I started documenting. Day one, nothing. But over two months, I had enough examples of them making errors and passing the buck that my boss’s fake turned red. So it didn’t take very long.

    5. Uncivil Engineer*

      I used to supervise a man 15 years older than me who didn’t think much of me. One day, I said something in a meeting that was both important and true. He said, “No. I think we should…” and then repeated what I said even though he started his comment as if he was going to disagree with me. He ended his monologue with, “don’t you think so, Uncivil Engineer?” I said: “Well, yes, because that’s what I just said.” Three other men in the room laughed (at him, not me).

      My point: you can call it out yourself if you’re in a position to do so.

      1. The Grey Lady*

        I agree with this. You can politely advocate for yourself (I think this is what they kind of mean by “lean in”).

      2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


        “Are you guys going to listen to the person in charge of teapot mechanics who has three potential solutions, or are you going to spend this entire meeting bouncing ideas back and forth that won’t work in the first place?”. Yes, I’ve used almost exactly that phrasing. One time. When it hit that level of ridiculous (15 people in the room. 1.5 hours in. TBTB are still bouncing ideas back and forth that won’t meet legal muster and/or physics, to the detriment of the rest of the overall topic AND everyone’s sanity. While I’ve been attempting to provide solutions.)

    6. Honor Harrington*

      Getting an ally can be good, but I hate that it may be necessary. It implies that her word and documentation isn’t good enough – but that’s really the whole problem isn’t it? “Her” word and documentation.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        I hear you, but having an ally is always good. And a male ally is especially helpful when dealing with this type of thing.

        1. The Grey Lady*

          Hmm. I can see the benefit of having a male ally, but I also wouldn’t want to send the message that OP’s words are only valid because there is a man who also agrees with them. She needs to be listened to on her own merit alone, not because she can get a man to agree with her so then it’s worth listening to.

          1. SickofCovid2020*

            So the office I just transferred out of had this issue majorly. (The sexism rolls downhill people) not only would my coworkers ignore me and then repeat my suggestions but my bosses, general and regional managers, would do so as well or credit other people. A new engineer rolls in and I figured it was just going to be another one in the boys club but to my amazement he would turn to me in meetings and say ‘wasn’t that what you suggested 2 weeks ago? Do you still have those sketches?’ It was amazing to see the nervous looks and twitching around the table as this became a regular occurrence.

            I still transferred out because my boss would let me get screamed at and threatened by an employee but…. another story for another time.

          2. Chinook*

            I agree, but change needs support and peer pressure to conform. It is not fair nor right, but I would rather see the change implemented.
            The OP was basically thrown into a sexist hole. She is capable of climbing her way out but it would be easier and quicker if she had others to help.

    7. Cedrus Libani*

      That was how I handled this too. Had an older, male senior who just…didn’t hear me when I had work related input. Wasn’t a hearing issue – he could hear me fine when we were talking about administrative stuff, but the moment I started talking science, nothing I said registered with him at all. So I got a male (same age and rank) to sit next to me and repeat everything I said. Verbatim.

      Me: This chocolate hasn’t been tempered properly. We’ll have to make it again.
      Senior: Who’s on schedule to paint the teapots this afternoon?
      Male Friend: This chocolate hasn’t been tempered properly. We’ll have to make it again.
      Senior: By golly, you’re right! Superb attention to detail, young man.
      Everyone Else: *stares in disbelief*

      I would be doing my damnedest to get out from under this guy, personally – as others have said, if there’s a big financial difference between 13.5 years and 15, how many people mysteriously disappear at year 14 even when their boss doesn’t think of them as livestock. And if there isn’t, then why waste your sanity. But there are things you can do to mitigate the damage.

      1. Quinalla*

        Yes, I’ve had this experience as well and damn if it isn’t blatant enough that even the most oblivious dude even notice it. And yeah, a male ally is something your only choice in the moment and I don’t think it is a bad idea for OP to deal with the situation and honestly might give her even better documentation as I do think that is the right approach. And maybe you don’t turn in that documentation until you are vested in your pension, I might not in your situation to be honest…

  13. EPLawyer*

    In the moment, while meeting with Boss, if he tries to make it about family, be short, but polite, “my dad is fine, now about X thing.” If you change the topic back to work rather than going on further with the personal stuff, no matter how much he ignores the work and makes it personal. “Yeah, we can talk about X later, how about your son’s trumpet playing?” “I will be happy to discuss that another time, I really need to talk about X now.” Rinse and repeat until it either is so obvious that he is not going to talk about work and he starts feeling ridiculous.

    Same in meetings. Don’t present. End with an action item. I propose we do X, what effect would that have on our other projects? So they HAVE to answer rather than just … moving on. If they don’t answer, it will again become obvious.

    Document, document, document.

    1. TootsNYC*

      Or even not “another time,” but “well, I like to keep my focus on work, since I’ve invested so many years in becoming an expert in our field and our company.”

    2. Kate*

      Yes, that was the part where I really expected OP to describe how she tries to get back to work talk, because why would she want to go with the flow (except maybe the first time).

    3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      In an old job I had a boss who (for different reasons than OPs boss – which I won’t go into as I could write paragraphs just about that!) would go into personal stuff in meetings, though more often focused on his own personal stuff rather than mine. I mentally allocated 5 minutes for “personal stuff” during which I would indulge it (to some degree anyway) and then move on to work stuff after the 5 minutes – worked pretty well.

    4. OhNoYouDidn't*

      I love the idea of ending with a question, almost forcing a reaction to OP’s statement. Moving on by ignoring an open-ended question like that would be so rude, it would be hard for even the most sexist of sexists to do so without others really taking notice.

  14. Tisiphone*

    Ugh! That’s so frustrating! His behavior is as subtle as a brick through a plate glass window. Definitely document everything and take it to HR. I like the idea of talking to a lawyer about what kinds of things will help you the most.

    Under no circumstances mention his religion. Whether he grew up in it or chose it because it meshed with his beliefs, none of it matters. Even the most progressive religion on the planet includes jerks like this.

  15. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    Personally, that close to the pension vesting, I’d play the long game. I’d spend the coming 18 months documenting everything to the nines, consuming down any PTO balances, honing my résumé/cover letter/networking (both as plan B and as leverage). I wouldn’t even look at HR, let alone talk to them, until the pension vests; once it does, he’s fair game.

      1. sometimeswhy*

        It’s not long to wait, but it’s a great duration to accumulate notes demonstrating a pattern of behavior.

        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          I don’t like that she has to wait, but I think it’s the lesser of the evils. Burning down PTO both reduces the amount of that wait that is in the office and lowers the company’s leverage if reporting the boss doesn’t go well.

          I didn’t think of it earlier, but I’d be the first to volunteer for any tangential training or certifications that come up in those 18 months. Normally I cast a jaundiced eye on them, but a competitor might value them.

    1. Littorally*

      The more I think about it, the more I agree. If this guy is an isolated actor in the company — that’s one thing. But very often, that isn’t the case, and raising a stink could well lose that pension. Document, document, document, and once you hit that 15-year milestone, then go to HR, and stay very focused on the in-office behavior, rather than the church activities.

    2. Troutwaxer*

      Also agreed. If you can find an ally, that’s fine, but the pension is pretty important.

    3. Lexi Kate*

      Agree, save your energy for this when your vested. Its not worth it when your this close.

    4. yada yada*


      While this long-term approach might be somewhat frustrating for you, OP, it will help to ensure that you receive your pension and are not pushed out just prior to vesting … which, even if you could fight it legally, could put you in a bind.

    5. Anononon*

      One thing to note about this, and it’s super important, is that waiting could cause statute of limitation issues. If the OP is considering waiting (and I agree it may be the most practical), she needs to talk to an attorney about SOL concerns. Especially in employment law, different states have different statute lengths, and they start the “running” date differently. If something especially egregious happens now, but the OP doesn’t do anything for a year, she might be SOL because of the SOL.

  16. Akcipitrokulo*

    It is possible he doesn’t even realise he’s doing it, and will try to fix it, maybe even successfully, if you name the problem to him.

    If not, still doing it and documenting that you have will help.

    I can’t agree enough with advice re his religious beliefs/position – as far as this is concerned, for you, they do not exist.

    You might speculate on the motivations for his behaviour, but such speculation is not actually relevant. Why he does it doesn’t matter.

    WHAT he does matters.

    So stick purely to definable, objective actions such as you described, don’t mention any potential reasons, and if anyone else does mention it to you (like HR saying well maybe it’s because…) then politely shut that down; say you don’t need to know any personal details, and his beliefs are his own and not in question – you would like to tall about the observed discriminatory behaviours. Say you don’t want to speculate on reasons.

    You are right. This is not OK.

      1. Akcipitrokulo*

        Agreed – no it doesn’t.

        Bringing it up to him will either make him go “oh! ok, will stop that” (unlikely) or enable OP to answer “yes” to the question “did you address it with him?”.

        Especially useful to answer “Yes. On (date). His response was x. Since then, we have incidents listed here…”

  17. NoNameNelly*

    Going to jump in and suggest a documentation tip. I see a lot of folks suggesting that you document, and if you aren’t already in the habit of sending meeting agendas prior to each meeting, I would start doing that ASAP. Then, during your meetings, you can take diligent minutes regarding what was actually spoken about.

    I’ve done this for years in a toxic environment, because no one seems to structure meetings well and they tend to go all over the place, but in hindsight, I always have a receipt of the intended meeting topics. I also tend to send follow up emails with a quick recap of the discussion (FTR: I am a late 20’s professional female in a male dominated industry). This could also signal to your boss that you are serious about being taken seriously, and could aid in shutting down this abhorrent behavior. He may actually realize his behavior after he starts getting email recaps talking about trumpet playing and daffodils instead of work related topics. Assuming that doesn’t happen though, you’ll have tons of emails and meeting invites to show as documentation of these specific instances. Easier IMO than keeping a spreadsheet or a notebook, and shows how professional you are.

    So sorry you’re going through this OP!

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Can you comment on “taking diligent notes” — would these be personal notes, or notes for the group? As another woman in a male-dominated industry, I really rankle at providing notes for the group. I take notes for myself, and it’s hard to contribute as much when you’re taking notes. I worry that this kind of rigorous documentation would make OP even more overlooked because now she’s not one of the technical contributors, she’s the lady in the corner writing a transcript.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Because of the “trumpet playing and daffodils” bit, I assume that NoNameNelly is talking about the useless 1:1 meetings that LW mentioned.

        Regardless, for the group meetings, LW can take diligent notes that are still not useful to anyone else, and that’s the push-back point that we’ve seen mentioned here. “I’m sorry, these notes are just about my projects and I didn’t capture any detail on the rest of it. I have a list of topics discussed, but that’s all.” (And a list of topics is commonly called an “agenda”, and meetings should always have those.)

      2. Yorick*

        Don’t announce that you’re taking notes or make any big show about it (unless you need to read them back some time later)

      3. NoNameNelly*

        Hey there – sorry for the late reply. Since I come from a project management background, I’d say my notes tend to be for the group, but I will jot things down for myself throughout. I also like to leave meetings with a clear set of actionable tasks and commitments from others and share those post meeting. I’ll always mention I’m jotting things down for my own memory, because I’ve noticed it can make people uncomfortable. I usually write down high level bullets but in OP’s case, I’d suggest something a touch more rigorous, focusing the various topics. Some of my notes personally will look like this:

        Topic A
        Topic B
        notes – personal note alongside of it
        Topic C
        notes – personal note here
        Topic D – didn’t discuss, bring up next time
        Actionable list
        responsibility – owner
        responsibility – owner
        responsibility – TBD
        Deadlines if any

        That’s just a sample of what they may look like. Usually after a meeting, if I didn’t capture it in my notes, I’ll go back and add any additional details that were discussed – while they are still fresh – that I wasn’t able to note because I was busy talking.

        I see what you mean re: feeling like the lady in the corner, but I’ve found this system actually empowering. I used to just attend meetings and feel like I was out of the loop, now instead, I run them, and I run them the way I see fit. I know for some this may seem like I’m being relegated to the role of a woman handling admin tasks, but truly I think it put me in a stronger position to be taken more seriously. I also enjoy being in the seat of control, and find my colleagues often won’t be as diligent in meetings and forgetful/unable to accomplish what the meeting was set out to do.

        I hope this helps!

  18. HR Exec Popping In*

    Hi Letter Writer. I am so sorry you are dealing with this. As usual, Alison’s advice is spot on. First, you should attempt to divert one-on-one conversations with your boss back to the work at hand. Document those conversations right after the meeting. During team meeting, after you speak and your point is made and ignored, interrupt when the topic moves on and attempt to raise the topic again and ask a question directly asking what people think of your comment. Again, document right after these meetings. Your contemporaneous notes are very valuable and will will be very helpful.
    The next step is to raise your concerns to HR. No matter how busy your HR Director is, they should take this seriously. Explain that you have concerns about how you are being treated as one of the few women on your team. Note, this is not about your managers religious beliefs. It is about his behavior toward you and possibly other women. Yes, his religion may be why, but that is frankly not relevant. You should not even bring up his religion. If asked if you think this is because of his religious beliefs, you should reply that you have no idea why he treats you this way.
    Finally, feel free to consult with an employment attorney. It is never a bad idea to do this. They can provide you with some insights on what you should and should not do.
    In the end, it appears that you are being treated differently and it is most likely because of your gender. This is unacceptable, regardless of your manager’s personal religious beliefs. I wish this was no longer happening in our world, but I personally find gender discrimination to be insidious. Unless it is blatant it can be easily ignored. Don’t make it easy for them to ignore your concerns. That does not mean I am advising you to be difficult or argumentative about this. Your best approach is to be concerned, persistent and honestly looking for help to resolve this for everyone.
    Good luck and please let us know how it goes.

    1. Honor Harrington*

      One caution about when you discuss with HR or anyone else – be careful that you are entirely unemotional and stick to the facts. If you display frustration, it can easily be exaggerated as “you are too emotional.”

      Unfortunately, when it comes to documenting or presenting on sexism, it seems like you have to go out of your way not to give any ammunition that you could be ignored because of behavior. If the company is conservative, you could be guilty until proven innocent.

      One plus about documenting – if there is any part of you that wonders if this is your fault, documenting will help you prove to yourself that it’s not your fault.

      1. HR Exec Popping In*

        I wouldn’t worry too much about being emotional. And half-way decent HR person is used to people raising emotional issues and demonstrating those emotions. And the fact that you are emotional about the situation is reasonable and appropriate. But it is important to be reasonable. A common question asked when these types of complaints are made is “what would you like to see happen to resolve this?” LW should think about how to respond to that question. An unreasonable response would be that the company not employ religious people of that specific belief. A more reasonable response would be that you want to be treated fairly, that your input and work is valued. Or that you don’t want to work for the manager if change does not occur. I wouldn’t jump to recommend he be fired. You want to be seen as looking for resolution, not revenge.

        1. Altair*

          Every time I have evinced any emotion while talking to HR it has been used against me as proof I was overreacting / making things up / insubordinate/ trying to get out of work.

          1. Tidewater 4-1009*

            That’s the thing, many HR people suck. There’s a point here about what that means for OP – how much do her company’s HR people suck? – but the point is escaping me, sorry.

  19. Lora*

    I hate to say it, but I disagree with Alison on this one.

    I am a woman in a VERY male dominated industry. The only thing that going to HR will get you, is a target on your back. You have to decide if that is worth it, because there is a non-zero chance it will make things worse for you: instead of being benignly neglected and ignored, you may quickly get a sign on your back that says “Troublemaker, next on the Layoff List.”

    I think you are better off finding a male advocate who can point out what you said and point out that you said it, in meetings (ie if a junior employee repeats what you said verbatim, have another man say, “yes, that’s what OP was suggesting a minute ago, I agree it’s a great idea” or whatever). In 1:1 meetings, become a broken record re-directing boss to the work discussion at hand – “yes, the flowers are nice, now about those TPS reports–“. You may be viewed as boring, cold, mercenary etc. That’s OK, as long as you are also viewed as competent and intelligent with something useful to contribute.

    Best possible outcome of going to HR is a half-baked “sorry if you were offended”. The worst outcome is your boss has an excuse to lay you off at the next possible opportunity, because he already doesn’t believe that you have anything to contribute, and that is regardless of religion – I’ve caught plenty of that attitude from men who are devout atheists and believe in their hearts that they are real egalitarians and women “just happen, on average” to be more (whatever) than men and therefore do not deserve (respect, interesting projects, attention, mentoring, promotions etc). And there’s a whole range of other things that can just make your life miserable in the meantime: sticking you with the scut work, prestigious and creative work going to junior men while you get to do boring things only that nobody else wants to do, failing to include you in decisions that directly affect your work until it’s too late and leaving you with a mess on your hands, making you work long evening and weekend hours, locking you out of networks and socializing with the big bosses, minimal to no raises for you while the men get huge promotions…

    The other thing is, if the worst happens and boss decides to get rid of you – mystery surprise layoff or whatever – how easily could you find another job? Does his church run the whole area, like if he told his fellow churchgoers not to hire you, would you be able to find another job anyway? Or would you be blacklisted? How badly do you need to work, in this region, or would you be able to find something else easily or something remote? Are you living in Hildale – Colorado City, sort of place? Could your partner support you if you were unemployed for as long as you live in this area?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are companies that would handle this well or reasonably well because they’d see the liability to themselves. They might not care deeply about sexism but they care about not being successfully sued.

      Once the OP speaks up, the company will have a harder time getting rid of her (legally) because retaliation is actually much, much easier to prove than discrimination is. Firing or laying someone off for making a good-faith complaint of discrimination is illegal and can get a company in a lot of trouble — and if it happens, a good lawyer can go after things like early vesting that the illegal firing disrupted, back wages, etc. (Actually, she may want to talk to a lawyer about negotiating early vesting right now, in return for not pursuing this, if that’s something she’d want.)

      Now, obviously people are fired for illegal reasons all the time, lawyers are expensive, etc. But she has more options beyond “suck it up for 1.5 years” if she wants to use them. (And while no one woman needs to carry the banner for the rest of us at expense to herself, I really hope we’ll get away from telling women not to deal with this shit.)

      1. Escapedvangelical*

        Your conclusion was beautifully stated, and I loved this addition. I wish I had found AAM earlier in my career!

      2. HR Exec Popping In*

        Exactly. While some companies will handle this incorrectly, in my experience most actually want to do the right thing. Unless the LW has experienced systemic sexism for the 13 and 1/2 years she has worked there, I think it is reasonable to assume that this manager is an anomaly and does not represent the company’s values.

        And having raised an allegation of discrimination does give the LW some protection. Any action (termination, demotion, poor performance evaluation, lack of opportunity, etc.) taken after that could be seen as retaliation.

      3. Lora*

        I’m not saying ignore it – but try other things that are less risky first and see how that goes. The desired outcome is “boss takes me seriously,” right? I have not ever seen any sexist-behaving man, regardless of the origin of his discrimination, become magically enlightened due to either HR training or threat of legal action. What happens instead is a lot of grumbling about “the PC police say I have to…” and “the legal department says I have to stop being mean to you, Kaaaaaaareeeeennnn…” type crap, or just being frozen out entirely, and then retaliatory behavior that may or may not be more subtle. It is extremely gratifying to see people smacked on the nose for bad behavior, but honestly I have not ever seen it actually work to stop bad behavior – only makes it more subtle and less easy to prove.

        The likelihood of a lawsuit either ending in a nice settlement or a judgment in her favor is not great. Even having filed a lawsuit against an employer, in a small town or a tightly-connected industry, can be enough to end your career, depending on where you live and what industry you’re in. Everyone has to decide risk for themselves. How lawsuit-averse any individual company might be is HIGHLY variable and 100% dependent on the personalities running the place more than anything else, I think – some large companies I’ve worked for had sort of resigned themselves to the prospect of being a frequent target and tried to just keep settlements low, others took the tactic that nobody wants to go up against such an expensive legal team and they’d take every damn case all the way to the Supreme Court as a warning to others. Some small companies I worked for decided they’d rather go out of business than pay out any settlements to anyone for any reason and took every lawsuit as far as they could including being found in contempt of court for refusal to pay the settlement, some were petrified that a single successful lawsuit would shut them down and their HR departments were very responsive to any complaint.

        I have not ever seen HR departments handle a discrimination issue *well*. Not ever. They might be more sensitive or quicker to respond, but actually handling it WELL, in a way that stops the offending behavior and ensures inclusion and equality – no, not since I started working in 1989. The reason for this is very simple: they do not have the power to fire a misbehaving manager, only senior management has that power. I have seen senior management set a different culture, however: usually by replacing the previous, discriminatory management entirely. I think OP should start by finding allies to speak up for her, and potentially expand the pool of allies to senior management mentors if possible – that’s what I have seen work as well, when a woman is being mentored by a senior manager whom the direct boss wishes to be in the good graces of.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      It is really upsetting that when people want to fight back against prejudice and bigotry they’re told “don’t make waves” or “don’t say anything”.

      I get why we’ve been so often told that, believe me. It’s just really, really depressing.

      1. Altair*

        It so is utterly depressing. a piece of my soul died when I basically gave that advice below.

  20. TootsNYC*

    My dad was a feminist.
    Our church body is the second-most conservative of all Lutheran sects. In individual congregations, women were not allowed to vote or hold office.

    My dad was the representative to the district convention where the topic of women’s suffrage was up for a vote.
    He got in line to speak at the mike during the discussion.
    And when he got there, he said, “I’ve heard a lot of you quote the scripture about a woman being subject to her husband as a reason not to allow our sisters in Christ to have a voice in the doings of their congregation. I have this to say to you: You keep your hands off my wife. Only I, who am charged with loving her so much that I would sacrifice myself for her, am the person she should follow. Not you. Not some random guy at church.”

    1. StlBlues*

      I don’t mean to agitate… but I’m legitimately confused. Is your dad’s speech supposed to show that he really was a feminist? Or that he thought he was, but actually held quite sexist beliefs? From your set up, I think you mean the former – but my take is definitely the latter…

      1. Dasein9*

        It’s a use of community language norms and theological framing that would be quite a burn in that context. Essentially, turning the accusation of impropriety back on the accusers.

        (Raised Missouri Synod here and this story is both something I “get” and kind of an exemplar of why I escaped, with all due respect to TootsNYC’s dad.)

          1. Anononon*

            Well, yes, because you’re not part of the community. He’s using their own language to explain why they’re wrong, which is likely much more effective than simply saying that they’re wrong (and all of their beliefs) are wrong. If you’re trying to change an organization from the inside, this is how you do it.

            1. pancakes*

              I’ve never been part of a community like this, and have a really hard time seeing how a woman belonging to Mr. Y rather than Mr. Z is a meaningful change. The community, in this scenario, still full agrees that women belong to men, no? Whether the particular man in charge is their husband, father, fellow congregant or whatnot seems trivial to me.

              1. Working Hypothesis*

                I didn’t see the point he made as being really about “she’s mine and so you don’t get to do this,” so much as “nobody gets to take, according to the very quote you’re using to justify yourself, who is not equally committed to giving.” Authority = responsibility, and in the case of this particular quote, the parallel responsibility required for a man to exercise authority over a woman is the commitment to prioritize her welfare even ahead of his own life. Without that, according to the quote in question, he has no right to any authority over her whatsoever.

                I don’t personally believe in the quote or its source in general, but it doesn’t matter if I believe it or you believe it. It matters that *they* believed it, and therefore they could be held to it. It’s Aristotelian common-ground ethics — you can’t usually successfully demand that someone behave according to *your* ethical standards, when they don’t agree with those standards. But you can damn well hold them to *their own* ethical standards, which is what he did by pointing out the actual meaning of a quote they cared about.

                1. pancakes*

                  This makes even less sense to me. Talking at someone or even with someone isn’t holding them to their own ethical standards. It isn’t holding them to any standards at all. Anyone in that congregation might’ve gone home that night and exercised or tried to exercise authority over their wives. Their own relationships with one another are what they make of them.

          2. hbc*

            He kind of is, but in a “well, if this is the playing field…” way. The nicer and plainer version is “Okay, let’s accept your assertion that women are subject to their husband’s authority. Why not? Go ahead and tell your wife that she has to shut her mouth in church, and I’ll tell my wife that I want her to share her opinion. By your rules, you are interfering in my God-given right to direct my wife if you tell her to ignore her husband and keep quiet.”

            I’m not all aflutter with the progressiveness of it, but it’s a pretty nice job taking an Anti argument and turning it Pro.

            1. TootsNYC*

              “Go ahead and tell your wife that she has to shut her mouth in church, and I’ll tell my wife that I want her to share her opinion. By your rules, you are interfering in my God-given right to direct my wife if you tell her to ignore her husband and keep quiet.”

              The bolded was very much what he would have said; in fact, I think he told us that he’d said something much like it. That if he were asked to “rule over” his wife on an issue like that, it’s what his ruling would be.

          3. TootsNYC*

            more like he’s rejecting someone else’s unjust property claim.

            Perhaps by claiming a property interest of his own. But it was much more about “this is not your place or your right!” than it was about claiming that for himself.

        1. OyHiOh*

          Went to school a step more conservative than Missouri Synod and yes, completely recognize the verbal wordplay TootsNYC’s dad used.

          Also interesting to note how the language he used is not obvious to those who aren’t familiar with the way way these organizations think. How we understand language held in common is very much influenced by the culture(s) we’ve been influenced by!

          1. Dasein9*

            Yep! I was at a Catholic university that has student performances of The Vagina Monologues each year. There are also protestors each year. One year, the protestors let one of the Philosophy professors, a “nice Catholic lady” speak through the bullhorn. She asked them to confirm that according to Catholic doctrine, Mary had ascended bodily into Heaven. They did so confirm, whereupon she pointed out that there is, therefore, at least one vagina in Heaven and if it’s good enough for Heaven, it’s good enough for our school.

            Sometimes Philosophy professors are also chairs of Women’s Studies programs.

      2. RagingADHD*

        He was weaponizing their beliefs against them, not endorsing them.

        I’m surprised anyone with an Internet connection would be unable to recognize a “gotcha” or “hoist by your own petard” argument. They are not rare or subtle.

    2. SunnySideUp*

      I see at least one enormous contradiction.

      Your dad was a “feminist” yet stated that his wife must follow him. So it seems your dad felt that his wife WAS subject to him, a man.

        1. pancakes*

          And that’s meant to be a victory of some sort, to find a way to continue voluntarily aligning oneself and one’s family with a institution one doesn’t agree with?

      1. The Grey Lady*

        It can read that way, but I think her Dad was simply framing it that way because that’s the only way the others would understand it. He couldn’t simply say, “My wife can do whatever she wants” because they would simply dismiss him, but this way he used their beliefs to show why they were wrong. They HAD to listen to him.

        (TootsNYC can weigh in if I’m reading this wrong though)

        1. TootsNYC*

          yes, you are right.

          He said, when he was telling us about this incident, that he always figured the proper way to expect his wife to be “subject’ to him was to expect her to do what was best for her, and to have freedom and autonomy. And for him to value her above all else; and how can you be doing that if you’re pushing her around and lording it over her, hmmm?

      2. TootsNYC*

        He didn’t expect my mom to “subject” herself to him, but if you were going to use that argument in any context but a marriage, you were off base.

        I don’t think that he felt those verses meant much inside their marriage, except perhaps that if it came down to situation in which they couldn’t agree, that it was his responsibility to choose the loving and responsible decision, and her responsibility to defer to it. Which meant they did what she decided, because he thought she was smarter than him.
        It worked pretty well for them; my mom was always talking about how he’d pushed her out of some pretty sexist mindsets of her own.

    3. What the What*

      I’m not sure I’d call Dad a feminist, but his point is well taken. Even if you believe that a wife is subject to her husband, that does not justify making her subservient to every man. In conservative scripture, her husband has earned that honor by fulfilling his duties to her. No other man has a duty to her, and therefore has not earned the right to her subservience.

      1. Cheesehead*

        I was raised WELS and my husband I joined a WELS church after we were married. He had to go through the meetings with the Pastor prior to joining, and I did those with him. It was a very small church, and there was a teenage boy who had just gotten confirmed. When the topic of women and their place in the church came up during these meetings, I said something about being an usher, and the Pastor said that I couldn’t, as a woman, because the ushers might have to (theoretically) refuse to allow someone to the altar to take communion, and that would basically put me at a level above a man, with more “power”. Despite growing up in the church, I’d never heard that before! I somewhat vocally told him that I had a REAL problem with him (or anyone!) telling me that some little 14 year old boy, no matter how nice of a kid he might be, was thought more highly of in the eyes of him and the church and had the power to tell me, a grown woman, what to do merely because he was male and I was not. The Pastor tried to explain it away, I think by saying that the 14 year old would never be alone and it would really be another adult male who would be “in charge”. (This was over 20 years ago so I don’t remember the specifics anymore, but I do remember that conversation and my example!) Through some other weird stuff with that church, we did end up going somewhere else. Not WELS. And the church we joined had a woman pastor at the time!

    4. Caroline Bowman*

      But why would anyone remain in a church once they saw clearly the systemic issues with sexism and refused to have women (or people of colour, or minorities of any kind) in positions of power?

      Surely once one agrees that this is no way to live and uphold, even tacitly, then the only answer is to A/ kick up hugely to the extent of whatever power one has and then B/ leave.

      1. Dasein9*

        Likely because the rewards of remaining in their community are, in their reckoning, worth doing the work of helping the community along to a way of doing things that is better. (Speaking as an escapee.)

      2. Altair*

        If your church and your community are a full overlap, leaving one means losing the other. When I left the church I was born into I had to literally build a new life for myself.

      3. Chinook*

        As a Catholic (and I know some outsiders see my faith as Caroline Bowman described), I stay because I understand the institution, run by flawed humans, is inherently flawed like all institutions run by humans are but that that which is contained (access to the Eucharist which is God on earth) is worth putting up with the B.S.

        I also know that there are good men and women to be found within it and it is our job to hold the bad ones accountable whenever and however we can.

        When you are a true believer, you see the the suffering and b.s. you have to put up with within your church as a price of admission and believe it is worth it. If you didn’t believe, you would leave in a heart beat. I know that I looked around to see if there were alternative “entrances ” and, when I didn’t see anything better, I turned to learning more about my church to help weed out the b.s. from the jerks (and speak up against them like TootsNYC’s in their own terms) and focus on what is true.

      4. TootsNYC*

        A/ kick up hugely to the extent of whatever power one has

        Did you completely miss that this is exactly what my dad was doing?

        And there are major tenets and minor tenets.

          1. Gumby*

            Also, this was not last week. It was presumably sometime in the 1960s as it passed on a synod-wide scale in 1969.

      5. Hitches Said It*

        This. Sigh. I will never understand why women especially would ever join a church/organised religion.

        I would feel like I was placing myself in the role of a second class citizen, a subservient role, and would find it shameful to actively participate in an environment where men are generally thought to be better, smarter, more important etc than women.

        Ladies just WTF is it about organised religion that you’d go along with supporting thousands of years of outright sexism, mysogynistic culture, a history of oppression, kiddo fiddlers, and rejection of science. It is 2020 for heavens sake!

        1. RevMuscles*

          I mean, some ladies have the weird idea to be leaders and set the example in their religious traditions.

          I’m a very openly progressive Baptist clergy woman who rants to people to trust the scientific method as much as they trust God. I confuse people because I’ll swear, drink bourbon, then turn around and be the best pastoral counselor out there. I love for my vestments, heels, and my Covid face masks to coordinate. I also love weightlifting and crushing the patriarchy by being badass in the gym and the church.

          All that to say, you can’t just always yell from the outside for something to change. And who better to help bring about change than a confident woman?

          And I say that as someone who just reported her uber religiously conservative boss for taking and either/or approach to management: he can either listen to the man or the woman and he always chose the man. He is getting a much needed divine enlightenment from the executive team. So op, focus on that as Alison said. His actions are the problem here. Document and report when you think your case looks solid.

      6. Gumby*

        Every church has a variety of beliefs on a variety of topics. And it is often difficult if not impossible to find church B that is exactly like church A in all ways except in the one area in which you disagree.

        Example: Maybe you could move to the church down the street and have a woman in the pastoral office. But you might, depending on the particulars of that church, have to accept different teachings about universal atonement / limited atonement, the nature of baptism and communion, predestination, the role of good works, eschatology, sanctification, justification, and a host of other topics which probably don’t mean much to people who are outside of the church but end up being quite important for some people inside it. And these are all differences within what is generally considered Protestantism – we haven’t even started on Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

        In such cases, people of good will can decide that it is more important to work for change from within.

        Also, as an aside, in general I have heard of roles within the church being described as positions of responsibility or positions of service rather than positions of power. That could be related to my experience rather than something universal.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Some people are too afraid of the potential reaction of their families and friends to leave.

      2. Littorally*

        Very few people are going to find any group (church, political club, heck, knitting club) to be a perfect 100% ideological match. They can disagree with some core tenets and still find value in belonging.

        1. Chinook*

          Yup. You also weigh the tenets, because they are not equal, and decide if the good outweighs the bad vs. the alternatives.

      3. Hitchens Said It*

        Feeling of community, too enmeshed or too scared of change to leave, misplaced responsibility for others. I dunno and I don’t care. Have seen too many friends of mine been lured and screwed over by “the Church” to care about how people are suckered in anymore. You keep your Religion to yourself, and we don’t have any problems.

    5. TootsNYC*

      and the reason I brought this up here is:
      Its about “what is the playing field in question”?

      In my dad’s situation, the marriage was being conflated with the business of the church. My mom didn’t choose to marry the other men in the church, and negotiate how that relationship would play out; she did with my dad.

      In our OP’s situation, the church is being conflated with the secular workplace. Women being subserviant might be appropriate in their church, which people can choose to join or leave. And in which they share a belief system.
      It’s not at all appropriate in a secular situation. Our OP didn’t choose to share her boss’s belief system.

  21. Observer*

    I was thinking that this would be highly possible. And, yes, from the OP’s point of view having the boss bring that up as a defense would work in her favor. Especially since the official line is “keep religion out of the workplace”

  22. Former Retail Manager*

    I hate to be a Negative Nancy…buuuttt…..if it takes 15 years to be vested in the pension plan, and there’s a lot on the line in terms of that vesting amount, I really don’t think now is the time to speak up, although I’d certainly continue documenting. A 15 year vesting schedule speaks volumes to me about the type of company this is. (To my knowledge, that isn’t very common, but my apologies if I’m wrong. It’s not common in my area and it’s always been an indicator of a company that doesn’t want to pay and will take action to make sure they don’t have to.) I’ve known a couple of folks that worked for companies like this and most found themselves getting pushed out/set up for termination right around year 14, even when no issues like this existed.

    If HR can’t be bothered, which is what it sounds like to me, this guy isn’t going to change his views, especially when they’re so deeply engrained. I would document and confer with an employment lawyer, for sure, but I wouldn’t speak up at work other than to try and steer conversations back to work topics to get you the face time/discussion you desire, if the amount of that vesting is really important to you.

    1. Altair*

      Yes, this. LW, my advice, as a random internet celestial body, is to start documenting, recruit an ally if you can, but hold off on going to HR until you’re fully vested and can’t have your pension taken away. After all, HR works for the company. If they can use this as a way to avoid paying you your pension they just might.

      I send you strength, now and over the next eighteen months.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        +1 +1 +1

        She’s earned that pension, and it would be repugnant if she were to lose it by speaking up too early. Once it vests, though, I can’t think of a better punishment for OP’s boss than to have to compete against her since he doesn’t value her.

      2. (Former) HR Expat*

        Except that a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit could end up being way more expensive than firing the OP and having her lose her vesting. Simply because of the steps involved. Yeah, I work for the company, but that means I’m looking big picture at ALL the risks (including this boss), how much it could cost us, and the likelihood of each situation happening. And without stating the obvious, none of my employees should be discriminating. If the OP were fired and sued, at a minimum, the company is likely looking at defending
        -an EEOC audit (lots of manpower focused on all the data involved)
        -defending retaliation claims
        -defending an EEOC lawsuit for discrimination
        and if they lose:
        -back wages
        -pension vesting

        It’s not worth it to me. I’d immediately work on either correcting the boss’ behavior as part of a PIP, or outright firing him if there had been other complaints or issues.

        1. Altair*

          Moxie wrote a better response to this than I could, really. Her comments are further down the page.

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      I actually wonder if it really is vesting at 15 years or if it is eligibility to retire without a reduction that the LW will hit in a year and a half. I’ve never heard of a pension with a 15 year vest.

    3. Troutwaxer*

      This is also worth considering. If the company has a history of pushing people out in their 14th year, then the strategy changes – an ongoing HR complaint might be just the thing to get involved with if that’s a thing that happens at your company.

      1. pieska boryska*

        Yeah I think that tips things in favor of speaking up soon. Yes, speaking up might put a target on her back, but if they were going to push her out anyway, it would be a lot harder to do that after she’s made a formal complaint. They clearly don’t value her now.

    4. SickofCovid2020*

      10-15 years is pretty coming for state jobs and most unions in my former area. Most other job don’t even offer pensions anymore just 401ks.

    5. Happy Lurker*

      Agreeing with this thread. Family member was a 9.5 year employee when company decided to shut down their division. They would have been fully vested at 10 years. It was and still is a kick in the teeth.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        I can see being annoyed that this happened but can’t see how it’s a “kick in the teeth” — what do you propose the company should have done instead? Keep that division open for another 6 months (even though it didn’t make business sense) so that the person could be fully vested? In which case where do you draw the line?

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          It can be a kick in the teeth by fate/bad timing/the universe, rather than by the company personally.

  23. HR in the city*

    UGH! This is such a hard thing in the workplace. Of course the person (mostly male) will deny that he is doing it. Documentation is going to be your best friend in this situation. Defiantly focus on the work aspect of this situation even though the reason it is happening is because of the religion you won’t win that argument (it might end up that this person gets protected because of the religion where you are seen as a troublemaker) and I absolutely agree that an employment lawyer is going to be your best friend in this situation. Just know that without the documentation that if you go to the HR person unless they can show to owners/directors/upper management that there is documentation to back up your claim the HR person might not be able to convince them it is happening. Everyone thinks that HR has all this power but there are times where unless something can be proved through documentation or witness statements (often times gotten through an investigation) there isn’t much HR can do. The HR person might fully believe that something is happening but is stuck. I have been in this situation plenty of times where I know that something is happening but without proof than my hands are tied.

  24. Kimmybear*

    And on the documentation front…keep it somewhere you could access if you were walked out the door tomorrow…personal email, personal flash drive, etc.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      Google Docs on your personal phone. Don’t even let it touch company property in the office where someone could find it.

  25. Llellayena*

    OP, If you document and decide to bring this to HR’s attention before you are vested, definitely consult a lawyer. If you do end up getting pushed out in retaliation, you might be able to negotiate being vested as part of severance. But the pension is a big thing to consider and I could see it being worth collecting 18 months of documentation and then going to HR as SOON as you have the pension confirmation in hand. If you don’t go to HR immediately, keep documentation anyway, because your boss might decide that a woman doesn’t need a pension (that’s what her husband is for) and let you go just before you’re vested. The lawyer can definitely help there. UGH!

  26. Anonymous Educator*

    People are right to point out that you shouldn’t bring up the church to HR, but official complaints aside, the way you wrote the letter makes it sound as if the church is making him sexist, and if didn’t go to that church, he’d be less sexist. I’m certain that church is probably a huge contributing factor to him being sexist. That said, his already being sexist is probably a huge contributing factor to him attending that church and being an elder in that church. I’d be shocked if he was some ardent feminist before attending his church and then suddenly got converted to being sexist.

  27. SometimesALurker*

    Are there any good nonprofits or other resources for people who can’t afford to consult a lawyer on their own for this kind of thing? I am starting to weary of the advice to see a lawyer without any information on how people can do that.

    1. Kimmybear*

      Many state and local bar associations have lawyer referral services that can connect you with lawyers for a free or inexpensive consult. (Think $25 for 30 minutes.)

    2. Anononon*

      The area I work in has an extremely strong legal aid community. There is an income requirement, but they also often either have referrals to fee scale attorneys or can offer basic directions in what one can do.

    3. irene adler*

      Also check with the law schools in the area. Many offer free legal assistance or reduced cost assistance in various forms-clinics, consultations.

    4. Jennifer Thneed*

      States have the “official” bar associations, that you have to be a member of to practice law in that state, but there are many smaller bar associations — city ones, or regional ones, or demographic ones (like a Hispanic Bar Association, which I don’t know that there is one but I’d still bet money that there is). Those are very useful to people who need to find a lawyer.

      1. Kimmybear*

        Not every state has a mandatory bar. You do not have to be a member of the bar in Colorado (for example) to practice law. You do in South Carolina.

  28. Dasein9*

    I notice you’ve been at this company for 13.5 years but this guy is your “new” boss. If the company’s large enough, can you request transfer to a different team and boss? I’d still suggest showing HR your meticulous documentation of what’s going on (possibly in 1.5 years, after you’re vested), but also ditching the bad boss seems like a good idea, if it’s an option.

  29. Moxie*

    Unfortunately, I work in a male dominated field in a pretty conservative area. I have been in nearly this exact situation. Speaking to HR will be a very, very bad idea. They will want to protect the company and probably the manager, and they will try to find a reason to lay you off. Try to get transferred, or do whatever you need to, but I would not go to HR. If you have people who see this behavior and are agreeing with you right now about how inappropriate it is, chances are they will abandon you when HE comes asking questions. I hate that men like this exist and that the system always protects them.

    1. (Former) HR Expat*

      I’m really sorry that this has been your experience, especially with HR. Any HR worth their salt wouldn’t dare hold this against you. Yes, I’m there to protect the company, it’s true. But that doesn’t mean managers/executives. It also doesn’t mean exclusively employees. It’s the business as a whole. I’m going to investigate a claim like this, do my best to get to the bottom of it, and make a decision based on the evidence and credibility of all parties. And if I find that the manager is intentionally discriminating against employees? That’s a hill I’m willing to die on in order to correct the behavior or terminate them.

      Maybe I’ve been lucky to have worked for companies who strive to be fair, ethical, and accountable, but I don’t know that I’ve ever met an HR person who would sweep something this big under the rug.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        Yes you have been lucky. I’m in a very male dominated industry and early on in my career I had the same thing happen as moxie. It turned out great in the end but there are definitely organizations who aren’t as ethical as they should be.

  30. BeenThere*

    Oh, this is so annoyingly frustrating. In an ideal world, I would agree with everything Alison has said. This guy’s behavior is wrong, and you shouldn’t be retaliated against if you make a good faith, documented complaint. And you would be doing a good deed for every woman who works in that company.

    One thing I wanted to know what how old you are. You say you’re 1.5 years from being vested in the pension. If you’re close to retirement age, and if this pension is a crucial part of your retirement planning, then I would be extra, extra careful. Consulting a lawyer would be a very good idea. Losing a job now or feeling you had to quit, and losing that pension could be really tough, especially if you’re older.

    I’ve been here, too, but I was younger and more able to recover from economic loss, and it wasn’t during a pandemic.

    Good luck to you.

  31. RagingADHD*

    Good grief. Leave his church out of it.

    He’s acting sexist at work and breaking the law, period.

    FCOL, I’d hate to see this kind of speculation applied to other cultures or religions with outdated views on various aspects of equality.

    Or bosses speculating on how their employees religious views are causing them to underperform or misbehave at work. Can you imagine?

    Gross. So gross.

    His church is not your business. The sexism at work is your business. Mind it.

    1. Altair*

      I was going to take exception to this comment along two axes (the power of a majority religion is very different than the oppression faced by a minority religion, and there is no reason to throw out information gathered over a lifetime and start de novo just because a situation happens at work) but honestly, Tech Worker has a much more succinct reply below.

      Finding sexism in majority-powerful conservative Christianity is in no way as farfetched as deciding that belonging to a minority religion would make an employee lazy.

      1. SickofCovid2020*

        I’ve got real reservations about that line of thinking. Yes majority anything influences the culture and biases but, we cannot make exceptions to discrimination in employment. We can’t have caveats that say everybody but Christians has the right to be religious without it affecting their job or job prospects. If we don’t where does it end? If in 100 years time Buddhists are the majority does it then change to be we can discriminate against Buddhists because there’s plenty of them? Thats kind of how your comment is coming across to me. This person does not deserve equal rights because they are in the majority. How is that not equally discriminatory?

        Fact of the matter at work your conduct is what counts. If that conduct is unacceptable that needs to be dealt with.

        As an FYI I’m not a Christian just like seeing people be treated equally.

        1. Altair*

          I am making a conscious decision to assume good faith here. I hope I don’t come to regret it.

          I’m trying to figure out why a social criticism of Christianity, such as an observation that conservative forms of Christianity often promote sexism against women, is seen as an automatic call to discriminate against Christians in the workplace. They’re two different discussions. I suppose I should say for the record that I absolutely agree with everyone who says that LW should absolutely not mention her boss’s religion when documenting his sexism towards her or discussing the issue with HR. When talking to HR what is happening is important, not any theories as to why.

          But saying that making note of sexism in Christianity is as off the wall as “bosses speculating on how their employees religious views are causing them to underperform or misbehave at work” is counterfactual and gaslighting. Many versions of Christianity as they are often practiced are often sexist, and one resource they draw on to support that sexism are the writings of Christianity’s central holy book, the Bible. That’s a fact.

          A common response to any criticism of Christianity, one I was taught to use as a child being raised in a fundamentalist church, is to imply or state that the critic wants to ban Christianity, from the workplace, from society, and so on. I see that response being used in this discussion, and I recognized it and said something abotu it.

          No one’s going to ban Christians from the workplace — as if we could, at least in the US, but no one is even trying. That said, I know that accusations of the intent to ban and other religious persecution are often used to shut down attempts to discuss Christianity with anything other than utter reverence. Is that your goal?

    2. SickofCovid2020*

      I agree and that was my take the first time I read this through. I don’t believe we should be making exceptions just because Christianity is a majority religion or because men are the majority or whatever. If his conduct is a problem its his conduct that needs correction. We don’t need to find reasons for that conduct thats his job to fix and if he can’t fix it, is the organization’s job to discipline him.

  32. Sparkles McFadden*

    OP, I am so angry on your behalf!

    Yes to everything Alison wrote. Keep records of every instance. Do not mention the church angle in your records. Do not mention the church angle to HR. Definitely tell the attorney about the church angle. I’d find the attorney to get advice before going to HR on your own. Get the attorney to help you make a plan to get you through to your vesting goal.

    Good luck!

  33. Morning reader*

    I was startled by the 15 years to be vested. I’ve never heard of a term that long. I think it’s a bit strange as it looks like incentive to stay with the company for decades. What is the point of this? 15 years…. that’s longer than Jacob had to work to marry Rachel! Just… wow. (On top of the other wows of this post.)

    1. irene adler*

      My company (back when we had a pension program) required 5 years before becoming fully vested.
      One earned 20% per year during that time.
      Yeah, given today’s frequency of job changes, 15 years is a very requirement to meet.

    2. doreen*

      I think it’s been 30 years or so since a private pension ( governments and religious org pensions may have different rules) could take 15 years to vest in the US – the current maximum is 7 years. I don’t know if the OP is not in the US , works for a government/religious org or is she’s using “vesting” to mean something other than what it usually means.
      This doesn’t, of course, mean that if you leave after 7 years you will receive the same pension as you would have received after 15. There’s typically a formula that multiplies salary x years x percent so that a pension after 20 years of service pays more than one after 7 years.

  34. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I agree with everything Alison suggested and would emphasize pushing back in your one on ones for real answers, instead of letting him steer the topic away from work stuff. Based on past behavior he probably won’t change, but you want to make sure you’ve tried to resolve this yourself before going to HR (and you’d have more to document). Good luck

  35. employment lawyah*

    I don’t have a problem with him being a church elder, but I am worried that his church’s beliefs about women may affect how he sees (or more importantly, doesn’t see) women in the workplace.
    That is the issue, I think. Either he’s acting improperly or not! That is the key. You have a right not to be discriminated against, but you should try not to “worry” about the potential for it based on someone else’s beliefs.

    And also…. well, from the tone, maybe you actually DO have a problem with what he believes? I would! I don’t like those views! But if so it’s important to acknowledge it, at least internally. Because once you have that belief there is a natural tendency to selectively perceive supporting information. Maybe it’s “he goes to a sexist church, so I assume that when he doesn’t like my opinions it is because of misogyny” or maybe it’s “she dislikes the beliefs of my church, so I assume when she doesn’t like my opinions it is because of religious discrimination,” but in either case this type of assumption can cause your subjective experience to diverge from objective reality.**

    So: In order to prove he’s sexist to someone who doesn’t know you and may like him, you need to focus entirely on the behavior, and not the presumed motivations behind the behavior.

    Document it. Track it. Prepare to bring it to a lawyer. If you’re not at risk of getting fired it may be worth tracking it for a solid period of time, to better prove a trend.

    And if you want to aim for expert-level documentation, remember: The natural human tendency is to seek additional information which supports a preconceived belief. If you want to do a kicking job of documentation, you can’t just focus on your spin; you also need to force yourself to look for information which would DISPROVE your beliefs, and either write it down or document its absence.

    Anyway, it sounds like you should probably lawyer up. Google “yourstate NELA” or “yourstate employment lawyer association” to find folks. This is a specialized area and it’s best not to use a generalist. Best of luck.

    **Of course, judges and juries make this mistake, too. So if he’s full “women should be barefoot in the kitchen” this can help in the end, unless you draw a religious jury.

  36. Jennifer*

    I definitely think you should leave his religion out of this. He may be an extremist in that religion and there may be others who hold less extreme views on women within the same church. In almost every religion there’s an extremist wing so to speak, and you may end up complaining to someone who is a member of the same church.

    I’m speaking from experience because someone at work started venting to me about another coworker’s religion and I’m a member of the same religion and don’t agree with the person they were complaining about.

    The problem is you have a sexist boss. I’ve encountered sexism from men from all walks of life, including atheists/agnostics. Keep the focus on his sexism, not his religion.

  37. Luna*

    I almost want to suggest to say the weirdest and most outrageous suggestion during meetings, to see if anyone is actually listening to the female employees. Suggest that the teapot creating team switch over to making Llama sugar thongs and replace the mascot logo of the company with a giant foot that has the words ‘Hibiscus Apple Tea’ written in sharpie on it. Just to see if anyone will actually pop up and ask ‘Are you taking the mickey?’ To see if the problem lies with this guy himself or if it’s actually a problem with the whole company, and this guy’s sexist behavior is merely the tip of the iceberg. Sounds a bit like it is, if HR is already coming across as being unwilling to do things.

    1. irene adler*

      However, that might backfire. You might get branded as not worth taking seriously.

      And employees do tend to follow the lead of the boss. So if OP is being ignored by the boss, chances are, the rest will do similarly-to some degree (my personal experience).

      1. No Tribble At All*

        Yeah, if New Boss always ignores OP’s ideas, it won’t be long before her coworkers start to pay less attention to her suggestions. Not deliberately, but she’ll sort of get marked as someone who doesn’t have much to contribute — regardless of the reason why (in this case boss won’t let her contribute).

  38. Wintergreen*

    What would you all advise on what/how to document this kind of harassment? Going to HR and saying he ignores me in meetings just seems petty.

    I am NOT saying this is not serious, NOT happening, or anything like that.

    But seriously, how would you go about documenting this to take a strong case that the powers that be can’t write off easily?

    1. Dasein9*

      Document each incident with date and time and quotations of what was said, where possible. It might be that no one instance will look particularly alarming, but a large number of such incidents will start to show a pattern of discrimination.

    2. Observer*

      It’s not petty and it won’t sound petty unless you frame it that way. “My boss ignores my suggestions” is not petty. “My boss acts like I’m not there while giving full attention to junior staff” is not petty.

  39. toxic avenger*

    Thank you for recommending OP consult a lawyer! As someone who grew up in a non-legal family, I always held the mindset that you only reach out to a laywer when you want to pursue a lawsuit. My partner is a lawyer with a family full of lawyers, so their default is always, “Consult a lawyer.” Laywers serve more purposes than litigation: they are excellent resources who can help guide you through many a sticky situation.

  40. TechWorker*

    I agree OP shouldn’t mention the religion explicitly when talking to HR and should focus on the behaviour.

    But all the comments saying the fact he’s a religious leader for a known to be sexist branch of religion is ‘irrelevant’ or criticising her for even gasp, daring to think it might be related? Yeah, no.

    You do not get to be a part of an organisation that’s openly, deliberately sexist, and help to spread those beliefs, and then get the benefit of doubt as to whether your sexist views might have any impact on whether you *are* a sexist.

  41. Argh!*

    My grandboss is a religious conservative who believes women shouldn’t cut their hair, wear pants, or work outside the home, but he does his best to obey the law. I think the rule-oriented religion he belongs to indoctrinated him into a reverence for rules and obedience to authority, so if the boss is anything like my grandboss, he might be amenable to a gentle calling-out about this. Something like “Boss, I know you don’t mean to be this way, but it seems like you’re not as cognizant of my professional accomplishment as I have come to expect” (or due to someone of my level & experience — or compared to PastBoss — being compared unfavorably to someone else could be touchy but could also be effective).

    The LW seems to me to have described unconscious bias rather than overtly intentional law-breaking, so going to HR shouldn’t be a first course. Documenting a conversation with a follow-up email would give LW some cover in case that doesn’t work. At this point, HR would not have much to go on, even if they’re sympathetic. I would also advise LW (based on personal experience with a sexist female boss) to do as much documentation as possible to prepare for a low-ball evaluation. There is evidence that women are judged by personality or communication style, while men are judged by accomplishments, and to the extent they’re judged by personality, they get praised for qualities that women get punished for. (Yes, I learned this the hard way)

  42. Some internet rando*

    Start looking for a new job… this isn’t going to change or its going to get worse.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This isn’t true at all. She hasn’t tried to even talk to HR about it. You have nothing to hinge the “it’s going to get worse” on. This is also why Alison suggested speaking to a lawyer, just in case it does take that swift turn.

      She’s 1.5 years before she can get her retirement fully vested, screw getting a new job when you’re that deep and there’s RETIREMENT on the line.

    2. alienor*

      I would look for a new job, not because I think it couldn’t change, but because even if the outward behavior changed, I couldn’t un-know that this person still viewed me as inherently inferior. That’s where I disagree with the “root cause doesn’t matter” approach, because the root cause kind of does matter (at least to me) if it’s something that isn’t going to go away.

  43. Working in psychology*

    Hi, OP

    I work in male psychology (long story) and it never creases to astonish me how many people simply don’t understand how men (and women) think. A lot of our problems today, IMHO, stem from men/women not understanding women/men, a problem made harder by the fact that most valid research into such matters is easily branded ‘sexist’ and any attempt to explain it is often regarded as ‘justifying’ it even though it isn’t.

    Your boss isn’t one of my clients (at least, I hope not), but – from what you’ve said – there are several possible explanations. It’s possible he doesn’t realise he’s doing it, it’s possible he thinks he should be doing it, it’s possible he thinks you expect it … or he could just be a huge jerk. I’ve seen all four types. It doesn’t matter. His behaviour is wrong and needs to change. However, it can be very easy to make it worse by doing the wrong thing. Men – and this is the point most people don’t realise – tend to puff up when they feel challenged, because their natural instincts tell them they have to fight or run. It’s a thousand times worse if someone does it in public, because the male mindset hates backing down in front of watching eyes.

    My advice?

    Once you’ve documented enough to make a case, speak to him – privately – and explain, gently but firmly, that you expect to be treated equally to the males. DO NOT make this about religion. If you’re dealing with someone who honestly doesn’t realise it (the non-jerk type), he’ll probably try to improve. Expect slow but steady self-improvement; don’t be downhearted if there are hints of backsliding. The habits of a life-time are hard to overcome. If he does make a clear effort, NEVER bring it up again. EVER.

    (Seriously. One of the worst problems of the modern era is that apologising only makes it worse – and so the moral of the story, in the eyes of too many people, is NEVER apologise.)

    If he doesn’t improve, then you can go to HR. You’ve given him a chance.

    Good luck.

    1. Daisy*

      I’m sure you come from a nice place, but what I’m reading here seems to be a good willed attempt to make this an “OP problem” and an “approach problem”. This is not a person seeking help in improving, this is someone with firm believes that OP is inferior to any man around just by being a woman (at least from what we can tell from the letter).

      OP does not need to coach a person that has no intentions of being coached, she need a layer to help her making sure the situation is solved (in a favorable way for her, whatever that is) DESPITE the lack of will from the boss.

      He is being dismissive when OP talks about things she is an expert on, the possibilities of him being willing to listen her on some personal critics, is very close to zero.

      1. pancakes*

        I’m not at all sure this comes from a nice place. It looks to me like it comes from a place where pop evolutionary psychology is taken far more seriously than it should be. It also looks like a place where consulting services are marketed to the lowest common denominator, because I can’t imagine anyone else falling for claptrap about men’s “natural instincts” & whatnot.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      No. Ef your idea of “this is male psychology” and how to approach a man in a position of power to try to get them to “gradually change” the “medical way”. This isn’t a relationship coaching session, this isn’t about getting along with your knucklehead family members or understanding a crappy customer’s attitude.

      It’s about a boss, who’s breaking the law.

      The OP needs to do this with HR and screw the idea of “talk to him privately.” WHY? So he can plan his attack and get the OP fired because he’s a bigot? No.

      Yeah. Some people have bigoted ideas ingrained in their mind. So what? It’s not acceptable. And as someone who is usually very sympathetic to those with psychological conditions, this is the kind of nonsense that gets it branded junk-science.

      1. Working in psychology*

        First, it’s true that most of my clients have family-related issues, some relatively simple and some merely signs of a far deeper problem. I have little experience in business, although most of what I’ve seen – and some of the stories here – seem to stem from the same basic mindset and mindset clashes I see everywhere else. Regardless, I am not a judge or a lawyer and my goal is to approach any such issue with a view to encouraging the clients to talk matters out and sort things out themselves, rather than have me pass judgement (which I am in no place to do, in any case). I generally tell people that communications breakdowns are often the causes of family problems and that, if they approach the matter with an open mind, they can find a way to compromise or accept a split without starting WW3 in the courtroom.

        Second, that said, I did not say or suggest that the OP was in the wrong, or that she did anything to deserve it, or anything else. I merely pointed to possible sources of the problem and suggested ways to migrate it. If you feel this is the wrong approach, you have every right to say so.

        Third, as I tell my clients, OP needs to make decisions for herself. Alison (and everyone else here) can give advice, but they cannot make the final call. OP needs to weigh the pros and cons of doing anything before actually doing it, then go with what seems right to them. She is the one who will bear the brunt if things go wrong (or wronger).

        Fourth, it is true – brutally so – that going to HR is the nuclear option. If the boss honestly thinks he’s doing the right thing, for whatever reason, he’s going to be blindsided by her action and he’ll resent it. Badly. An action that will inevitably force someone into the ‘fight to the finish’ mindset is one that should only be undertaken after serious consideration, as it will lead to a brutal struggle OP may not win (or win, only to discover she’s lost in the long run.) If the boss is Jerk Rex, King of the Jerks, she’ll have the same problem. And the consequences might be grave. For example:

        A – HR might investigate, determine the boss speaks to everyone (men and women) like that, and decide OP is over-reacting and/or malicious. This will obviously threaten OP’s job.

        B – HR might decide the boss needs a warning, rather than termination. If that happens, OP has made an enemy for life who will poison the swamp against her.

        C – The boss may rally ‘public’ opinion to his side, to ensure – deliberately or not – that everyone regards OP as a dangerously unpredictable landmine just waiting for someone to step on it so she can ruin his job too. This will make OP’s life very difficult, as no one will want to work with her.

        D – The boss may make it a religious issue, allowing him to claim that OP is a bigot herself.

        I’m not saying that any of these are fair or right. They’re not. But they have to be considered.

        The blunt truth is that people need time to vent, time to calm down and then time to approach the matter rationally. If you get in someone’s face, metaphorically speaking, they will take longer to calm down and think. Most bigotry is based in emotion and can be dismantled, once everyone calms down and emotion is taken out of the equation.

        Dismissing this as sexist nonsense will not make it go away.

        If OP wants to go nuclear, and destroy all hope of working with the boss (and everyone who hears a biased and/or garbled version of the story), she can. However, it is her choice. And it will make her look better, if push comes to shove, if she can prove she tried to talk to him first.

        1. Comment*

          Why do you feel the need to take the bosses side in this? Do you think the fact that you spend your time counseling men means that you’re overlooking how serious the problem of ingrained sexism is and how much it affects women?

          If I was going to project I’d say a lot of this speaks to your own fears.

          “Most bigotry is based in emotion and can be dismantled, once everyone calms down and emotion is taken out of the equation.” This isn’t true if she goes to her boss before speaking to HR or an attorney the most likely thing that will happen is he starts undermining her by finding ways to damage her career and find some way to blame her for his behavior.

        2. Taniwha Girl*

          “Most bigotry is based in emotion and can be dismantled, once everyone calms down and emotion is taken out of the equation.”

          I’m struggling to read this as anything other than “most women are emotional/irrational and once they give up on being treated as equals, the problem is mysteriously ‘resolved’.” Especially since your advice is “If he does make a clear effort, NEVER bring it up again. EVER.” So if the sexist boss makes any effort, once, OP can never object to being mistreated again.

          Why are you so concerned with how men feel about mistreating women, and so little concerned with how women feel being mistreated by men, or how society instructs men to mistreat women? Why do men who mistreat women get to have their feelings coddled and danced around and their efforts to change acknowledged, when they are the perpetrators and not the victims?

    3. Not Legal Advice*

      This is terrible advice. It’s not the OPs job to fix her bosses problem with sexism. It’s his job not to break the law in the first place. He’s an adult who doesn’t need to be coddled. Even if his bias is unconscious its his responsibility to behave in a way that doesn’t break the law.

      Also evolutionary biology has no place in the workplace. Women don’t need to understand a made up just so story about men. Men need to accept responsibility for themselves and stop being sexist. This is pure victim blaming.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes, thank you.

        Also, “if he does make a clear effort, NEVER bring it up again. EVER.” — no, absolutely not. This is the OP’s workplace and she’s legally entitled not to be discriminated against. If he tries but it’s not enough, telling her to never mention it again is incredibly harmful advice. Please stop with this.

    4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      So, when a woman has a problem with a man, you advise her to coddle him.

      When one of your male clients has a problem with a woman, do you also advise him to coddle her, give her time to calm down and never risk embarrassing her by criticizing her publicly?

      Or is that advice only if your male client has a problem with another man?

      LW isn’t your client (whether or not her boss is). You aren’t here to “fix” her or show her “errors” in her thinking.

      Apologizing doesn’t make things worse. Apologizing and expecting that to wipe the slate clean so you can repeat the inappropriate behavior is sometimes called out. If someone apologizes to me, and I say “thanks for apologizing, I assume you’re not going to do that again” or “thanks for apologizing, what are you going to do to fix the problem?” it’s not the apology that caused the problem. And me not saying “that’s OK” so you can go on about your business without changing or fixing anything isn’t a problem. The problem is people who think that it’s okay to repeat bad behavior, as long as they say “I’m sorry” in between times.

  44. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Echoing, as an HR person, that you want to focus on the inequality that’s happening. I don’t need to know where his sexism is coming from honestly. I need to know he’s practicing sexists behavior as a manager. The “why” doesn’t matter. You don’t get a freebie to be sexist or discriminatory because of your religions practices.

    “I’m sorry judge, Jerry is just practicing his religion and his religion tells him to disregard the opinions of women folk.” isn’t going to work out as his defense.

    If he wants to work anywhere who cares about following the labor laws, he needs to fix his shit or I hope the door doesn’t hit him in the butt on the way to the unemployment office.

  45. school of hard knowcs*

    It’s wrong, I don’t disagree. In the past I worked in a company with ‘good old boy network ruled’. I always was more prepared and documented for every meeting. I regularly pointed out their mistakes in writing. (They informed new male employees I was the b******, who then turned around and told me. I thought it was funny at the time.) I outlasted all of them, to my surprise.
    I would manage up. What is the goal of your work? What does your management (aka not your boss) want accomplished? Accomplish those goals well. This keeps the company and the boss’s self-interest in line with you. In meetings listen to his comment and bring back to work topic.
    “Dogs are great. I want to resolve the teapot handle cracking with design change. Here are the drawing and specs that will improve this and bring x dollars to the bottom line.”
    In meetings, always bring in hard technical information to your comments and ideas. Then follow up with hard technical detail in an email. Do so in a pleasant, direct voice and attitude. Also lead those below you in a way you want your boss to treat you. All this will give you the high ground and documentation. This is making yourself invaluable to the company. You decide how much and how long you do this. This gives you documentation if you pursue anything with HR. It gives you a great resume. It gives you political capital with your co-workers. Ahh well-documented work done well, the gift that keeps on giving.

  46. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    Yes. Play the long game for the next 18 months. Document, document, document. By all means consult an employment attorney. DO NOT go to HR right now.

  47. lilsheba*

    Good advice overall, but I wouldn’t add the piece about “what can I do differently” this is NOT on you or your fault, it’s all him.

  48. squarecushion*

    Advice on this site often seem to come from a place of having a financial cushion or easy other job to go to. I don’t know why you would recommend someone go nuclear when it would hurt them financially if it goes wrong.

    I’d just say put up with it for 1.5 years until you get dat money in the pension plan. Who has the security to fight every battle like this site always recommends?

    Advice often seems to be based on being an in demand person with a financial cushion whose HR is going to side with them. It’s fantasy. In reality you could find yourself out of a job, no pension plan and screwed.

    I’m not saying never stick up for your rights but there needs to be a little more thought to – run to HR and fight! That’s just not the best option for everyone. Sometimes stick your head down and cash the check is a good idea too.

  49. I am the OP*


    I’m sorry I couldn’t respond before this. I am totally blown away by all these thoughtful responses … and I haven’t read all of them yet — but I absolutely will!

    I’m seeing a general consensus around Alison’s original answer, but lots of great points and thoughts and… just WOW!

    Thank you ALL for all this info and experience to think about, which I definitely will!

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