is my girly office holding me back, my manager refuses to mute, and more

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

1. Is my girly office holding me back?

I’ve been in my first management role for about a year. Recently, another employee retired, and an office came available in a more desirable location of our building than where I previously sat. I was given permission to move to the vacant office, and my dotted line boss recommended that I have it painted. The administrative assistant gave me a book of paint chips with no guidelines, so I selected a color that matched the theme I envisioned, and decorated my office accordingly.

Well, the paint color ended up being a little brighter than I anticipated, and the overall outcome is a very girly office. It’s not pink and it’s not loud — it’s actually a really soft shade of aqua blue, and feels calming. I don’t think my decor is over the top, and the overall look of the space is cheerful and homey. Other women in the office have come to my doorway and literally squealed because they think the color and decor are adorable.

One work friend of mine, a man who admittedly can be an ass at times, had an absolute fit, going on and on making fun of my color choice, and he continues to make snide jokes about it constantly. Yesterday, a new manager stood in my doorway and flagrantly mansplained a very simple concept to me. Probably just two guys being jerks, but it did make me wonder … is my girly office in a very male-dominated industry making me look soft, and/or making people take me less seriously? For the record, I have a reputation for being smart, good in a crisis, and a leader. But I do lean towards being more cooperative and less confrontational, so I really hope my office isn’t giving the impression that I’m mush, or that I don’t take my job seriously.

For the record, I think it sucks that “girly” women are marginalized in the workplace. Throughout my career in manufacturing, I’ve heard men dismiss the work contributions of women who wear too much jewelry or makeup, or dress in ultra feminine clothes. I happen to be “girly” and good at my job, and I’m willing to remind any mansplainers that women are perfectly capable of being both, and any comments to the contrary are sexist. At the end of the day, am I fighting a losing battle? I guess my real question is, do I have to dial back my femininity to be taken seriously at work?

You sent me a photo and I see why you like it! It’s also pretty feminine. Not over-the-top Elle Woods, but feminine.

Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. There’s nothing inherently less professional about feminine things (and the idea that “male” traits are neutral and “female” ones are a deviation from the norm is hugely problematic) so I’d love to tell you not to give it another thought  … but as you note, the reality is that in some workplaces it will affect the way you’re perceived and make it harder to get the outcomes you want for yourself in your career. Is your workplace one of those? I don’t know. In most offices, the look of your office would be no big deal. In your office, it could be. Unfortunately this is a question where you’ve got to know your specific office to be able to know. I can tell you that it’s not so outside the norm that it would be a bad idea in general, but to make this specific to you, I’d run it by women in your office whose judgment you trust (ideally with jobs senior to yours and who have been there for a while).

To the broader question about dialing back femininity in general … again, I think you’ve got to know your office and know how you’re already perceived, and you’ve also got to decide how much you care. You can wear pink and be softer-spoken and generally present on the highly feminine end of the gender presentation spectrum and still be powerful and respected. It’s also true that working while female is just more challenging in some jobs/fields/offices, and the more female you present as, the higher those barriers can be. Of course, presenting with less-than-average femininity can also cause problems too, because we live in a society with very restrictive ideas of acceptable womanhood. In fact, it’s nearly impossible for women to perform gender in a way that won’t cause one problem or another. That makes it easy to say, “F it, just do whatever makes you happy, someone’s not going to like it regardless, and it’s not your problem if they don’t.” But of course, the frustrating reality is that it often becomes your problem … so you’ve got to figure out what your values and goals dictate, what’s practical in your particular job, and what you can live with reasonably happily.

This feels like it might be the most unhelpful answer I’ve ever written. There’s just no easy answer that will apply across the board.

2. My manager refuses to mute and I am about to lose my mind

We have been working remotely since March. Prior to all this, my whole team worked from home once per week and we work very closely with teams across the country. I say that all to mean we have quite a bit of experience doing video meetings. We will likely continue working remotely for the foreseeable future and we do multiple video calls every day so I would really love to address this (or reframe it for myself).

My boss is lovely, but consistently leaves herself unmuted during video calls throughout the entire meeting. She will be the only one unmuted and doesn’t mute herself even after people mention that there is a lot of echo and you can see that everyone else is muted (there is a little icon on WebEx that shows who is muted). Since it is always only her and because it is my boss, it feels awkward to ask her to please mute herself each time. It makes it really difficult to hear and as somebody who is pretty sensitive to sounds, it grates me way more than it should. How should I go about this?

When you ask her to mute herself, does she do it? Assuming so (and she’s not deliberately keeping herself unmuted for some strategic reason, like that she’s talking 99% of the time), there’s nothing wrong with saying “Jane, I think you’re unmuted and we’re getting some background noise.” I get that it starts feeling weird if you’re saying it every day — but really, as long as you’re polite about it and not accusatory (and as long as it’s not a situation where you’re super junior and no one else cares), it’s fine.

I think you’re feeling like “I can’t tell my boss what to do” — but you’re not doing really doing that. You’re helping her remember something useful. And you say she’s lovely, so I’m guessing she’s not going to take it as an attack.

3. Would I be a jerk if I quit my job early?

Last year, I got laid off from my job when it was sent to our team overseas. The new job I’ve been at since the beginning of this year has been good in that it’s great pay and I’ve been working mostly from home due to the pandemic. However, it is a temp job that will end in a few months.

I got a call today from a company I’d applied to at the end of 2018. They are located really close to where I live and pay almost as much as the temp spot I have now (with my commute being cut down so much, the difference in pay wouldn’t matter as much, plus there’s room to negotiate). I’m sorely tempted, and have sent over my resume to talk to them further.

But … how do I do this? Can I do it? Is it wrong? I know my manager needs me and has said several times that she doesn’t know what she’d do without me. I’m the only one in my department, and she’d be covering my work by herself if I left. On the other hand, these are insane times and I’d be foolish not to think ahead and do what’s best for me … right?

I just don’t know how to get past being so conflicted. I feel like I’d be letting them down, and I don’t even know how I’d explain my leaving. What would I even say? Initially, I had every intention of staying until the end of when they needed me, and I was definitely not seeking another job or an interview. I know it would be totally out of the blue for them if I left and is probably not a great look for me. To complicate matters, we’d started discussing the possibility of my staying on past this fall, and they were willing to work with me for some scheduled time off I need for a medical issue. So they’ve been willing to work with me, and, well, I would be a jerk if I left. Help.

You wouldn’t be a jerk to leave a temp job (or any job) when a permanent job that’s a good fit for you shows up. You’re allowed to make the business decisions that are best for you, just as your current employer would do. If they realized it no longer made business sense to keep you on another few months, they almost certainly would end things early. Not because they’re jerks, but because this is business and this is how it works. (I’m assuming there’s no contract to the contrary or you would have mentioned it.)

Your manager saying “I don’t know what I’d do without you” doesn’t mean “I will collapse if you leave.” It means “you’re valuable and I appreciate you.” But she will presumably be able to hire someone to replace you, as managers regularly do! Even if she can’t for some reason — if there’s a hiring freeze or you’re the only person in a 200-mile radius with your skills — she will still survive. You’re not abandoning a needy dependent — you’re leaving a job, which is a totally normal thing for people to do and happens all the time.

As for it being out of the blue if you leave — it usually is! That’s not odd. As for them having been good to you, that’s good … and decent employers should be. That should make you work hard for them while you’re there, but it does not obligate you to stay past the point it’s in your best interests like an indentured servant. The same goes for them discussing you staying on longer — that’s a business opportunity that you can take or turn down, depending on what makes sense for you (at whatever point it materializes, which it hasn’t yet).

It sounds like you feel a lot of gratitude and obligation toward this job and this manager, but these are business relationships. As long as you handle your departure professionally and responsibly, this will be fine. You will explain you’d intended to stay through the fall but a perfect opportunity fell in your lap that you can’t pass up. This happens.

Also, if it gives you any peace of mind, it sounds like you took this job pre-pandemic. The world has changed since then, and it’s especially reasonable that the decisions you make for yourself now might need to be different than what you envisioned at the start of the year.

4. Is the job I’m interviewing for full of red flags?

I have been interviewing with a company and on top of several red flags, like changing the job focus in the middle of the interview, one of the things the person I was meeting with said there was a possibility I wouldn’t be talking to the person who would be who I reported to before being offered the job. In fact, the person I had this interview with is part of the department I would be working in but not a part of the team I would be on and has little to do with what I would be doing on a daily basis.

How much of a red flag is this and should I run?

Not being offered an interview with the person you’d be reporting to isn’t always a red flag — sometimes there are reasons that makes sense, like that the person is on leave or hasn’t been hired yet or is likely to change, or that you’ll have far more day-to-day guidance from someone else. But generally when that’s the case, the employer will explain that to you. And all the details here taken together do add up to something troubling — at a minimum it sounds like there’s been some confusion about what the job is (concerning enough on its own), but it sounds like there may be more chaos than that.

I wouldn’t say run, but I’d ask a lot of questions before deciding anything — including asking to talk with the person who would be your boss. If they balk at that, that’s a sign that they’re not prioritizing getting you the info you need to evaluate the job, and that itself is usually a sign of other bad things.

5. Naming “instability” as a reason for leaving my job when instability is the norm

I’ve been working for my organization for a little over a year, and have had a very positive experience. However, since COVID hit, the nature and volume of my work has shifted significantly with the move to remote work, and is unlikely to ever return to what it once was. We also recently learned there will be a significant restructure and our workforce will be reduced by about 15%, and even if our department is not reduced, we will have a new vice president (not my current, awesome direct supervisor). The whole process is set to begin in a few weeks; people will have between 2-3 months notice that their positions are being eliminated.

My supervisor, who I trust, has said that her discussions with senior leadership do not indicate that our department — which is small, effective and cheap — is likely to be eliminated. However, this is not my first restructure and I don’t take any of that as the word of God. Under normal circumstances, I would be aggressively searching for a new job since I might be laid off or at least be in a department with a vastly different culture, but I’m less confident that departure is the right move in the current environment.

My gut tells me to put feelers out, but be prepared to stay if the dust settles with our department intact. However, I’m not sure about how to discuss my reasons for looking. Would it be fair to say to employers that I’m looking for more stability when the workplace norm right now is fundamentally unstable?

Yes. Interviewers know that some workplaces are more unstable than others, even in generally unstable times.

Explaining that your company is cutting 15% of its workforce and you’re worried about your job’s future stability will be a perfectly acceptable answer for interviewers.

{ 645 comments… read them below }

  1. Bowserkitty*

    OP1 – I am a feminist with an affinity for the feminine. I have a complete “princess” room but you would never guess it from my personality. (One could say I am the princess in Bowser’s castle..?)

    I think those men are just being jerks. I’d love if you could shut them up a little but I don’t know the dynamics. :( But I would love your office.

    1. Mina, the Company Prom Queen*

      Your office sounds fabulous! Those guys are definitely being jerks. Doesn’t that one guy have better things to do than be so bothered by your office decor? (Maybe he doesn’t?)

      I agree that some offices are super conservative and would frown upon any sort of personalization or creative expression like your paint color or decor. And sometimes you have to go along to get along. But I always wonder about people who focus on and are bothered by things like that rather than their actual job. I would probably love your office as well!

      1. Amaranth*

        I wonder if LW is senior to Bowser or gets more kudos so he’s finding something to criticize. Or he’s just one of those immature people who thinks calling something ‘girly’ is an insult.

      2. Anita Brayke*

        See, now I’d want to display a box of tampons or sanitary napkins on every flat surface until he finds his big boy pants again, but maybe that’s just my frustrated mood talking today. That’d show him girly!

        1. Enter_the_Dragonfly*

          Oh my goodness, I would be so tempted to tell him, “Put on your big boy pants and get over it! The decor of any office that is not your own really shouldn’t bother you this much.” I wouldn’t. But I would want to.

    2. virago*

      In response to OP 1:

      To the guy who carries on every time he walks in your office about how extra it all is: The next time he drops by and goes on one of his rants, just sit there quietly until he winds down and then say briskly, “Good timing, Jason! I’ve been wanting to touch base about the Farquhar-Chavez deal. Have you heard back from Steve in Quality Control yet? I’d really like to get that wrapped up by tomorrow morning.”

      If he’s just stopping by to chat (and snark on your color scheme), then you don’t even have to give Jason that much airtime. Just look busy and distracted (which you probably are anyway, considering that you’re in your first management position) and say something like, “I’m sorry, I’m on a deadline with the Farquhar-Chavez deal” as soon as ol’ Jason rolls out the attempted standup routine. (Where *is* this guy’s boss? Doesn’t Jason have anything better to do?)

      As for the flagrantly mansplaining new manager: I’ve worked in a male-dominated profession since 1988, and over the years, cisgender heterosexual men have mansplained everything to me but how to put on a bra.

      I like to wear dresses and a pair of pearl earrings, but given that I had a very smart woman boss who was just as much a target of condescension as I was — and that she usually wore turtlenecks, cardigans and trousers, in somber colors — I’m not going to conclude that a feminine presentation is to blame for being mansplained.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        Yes, this is what I was coming down to say! OP, don’t feel bad about shutting this guy down. Personally I’d be tempted to say something like “did you have a work-related reason you needed to talk, or are you just here to critique my decor” but that may or may not fly in your office.

        1. RecentAAMfan*

          “ are you just here to critique my decor”
          I like that! Maybe even “you seem pretty obsessed about my decor”. That’ll probably fluster him no end (OMG maybe they’ll think I’m GAY!!!) and stop the comments.

            1. RecentAAMfan*

              I guess that landed wrong. Just suggesting (clumsily obviously) that a man with that sort of attitude towards women and femininity is probably homophobic too.

            2. LCH*

              i mean, he does sound obsessed with the decor. one could say this neutrally. it is on him how he interprets it.

              1. LCH*

                like, “you seem weirdly obsessed with my decor, it’s all you ever talk about. could we make this a topic that is now off limits because it’s getting really boring.” all factual.

          1. Alex the Alchemist*

            I’m envisioning a very Regina George-esque, “Why are you so obsessed with me?”

        2. LCH*

          i was going to suggest saying, “what is wrong with you?” but i guess that wouldn’t be good either.

      2. WellRed*

        I don’t see why she has to continue giving airtime to his rude comments? Why not briskly cut him off and get to work? Or comment that he’s mentioned the decor several times and ask why?

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        LW, I agree, you should actually shut him down about critiquing your office. Since you say he’s a work friend, how do you think he would respond to a serious, “hey, I’m concerned that your comments about my office are undermining me here. Could you stop?”

        His response should be ‘oh sure! Sorry!’. If he responds with ‘It’s just joking’ or ‘wow, you’re sensitive’, he’s not actually a friend.

        1. lilsheba*

          I’m so glad my workspace is at home. I can do whatever I want and no one can say anything about it.

      4. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘…but given that I had a very smart woman boss who was just as much a target of condescension as I was — and that she usually wore turtlenecks, cardigans and trousers, in somber colors — I’m not going to conclude that a feminine presentation is to blame for being mansplained.’

        I think this is a great point. Women CEOs who’ve lead F500 companies have gotten dragged for everything from their office decor (‘A floral sofa, how feminine!’), their wardrobe (‘A scarf with a suit, how feminine”), even the shade of lipstick they wear – or that they wear any makeup at all. If women in truly powerful roles are targeted for those choices, can you imagine what less powerful women have to deal with?

      5. Student*

        I am a bad person who likes fighting fire with flamethrowers.

        For mansplainers – I cut them off and move them to the next topic. I am not going to be a good audience to that crap because it just reinforces to them that the behavior is okay.

        For the guy who complains about the OP’s office – I would be giving him copies (cheap ones- nothing valuable or time-consuming) of the girly tchotchkes that he is carping about. “You went on and on about my silk flowers and lacy doilies, so I got you some to enjoy in your own office; stop coming over to mine!” Or decorate his office with them when he is out as a prank. Or start complaining about his office decor, whatever it is, every single time he starts talking about yours.

        Pro tip: telling someone obnoxious that their office smells bad will often spin up their shame subroutine, causing them to waste a lot of time trying to figure out why and “fix” it, regardless of whether it is true. In this situation, the comment is best accompanied by a gift of cheap potpourri and your best concerned-elder-aunt imitation.

        1. I Love Llamas*

          OMG – the bad office smell is genius. You could easily enlist others to agree…and make him crazy….

      6. Artemesia*

        I was the woman in trousers and tweed jacket and turtleneck and while I was assertive enough to avoid some of the sexist crap, I still had the joy of having my own specialty explained to me by clueless men, the pleasure of being the one asked for information about where the director was or whatever although there were men in offices to the right and left of mine and I was not positioned or assigned to be receptionist, and have been in a group of men without terminal degrees where they were all addressed as ‘Dr.’ and I the only one with a PhD being addressed as ‘Mrs.’ The only way to resist this is by ignoring it, not putting up with it, and demonstrating competence — and that is sometimes not enough.

        I wouldn’t worry about the color of the office walls — I’d probably want to make sure the decor was professional e.g. not including the doll collection (although guys get away with their Star Trek figurines or model car collections) or frilly lamps etc but it should be a space that gives you joy.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Your last paragraph, for sure. I haven’t seen the office so I don’t know if OP has aqua walls and cottagecore decor. Which, depending on how overwhelming it is, could possibly be perceived as too “homey” for an office. Aqua walls with sleek modern accessories could be just as calming and look rather sophisticated.

          Not that you’d have to change anything just to shut up a bunch of sexist jerks, OP.

      7. LW#1*

        Virago – this gave me a good laugh! “I’ve worked in a male-dominated profession since 1988, and over the years, cisgender heterosexual men have mansplained everything to me but how to put on a bra.”

        Meeee toooo, friend. Me too.

        1. AKchic*

          depending on industry, cluelessness and/or gumption, that could still happen.

          A few summers ago, me and a few other very busty women were discussing our bra troubles and how hard it was to find decently-priced ones in our area (Alaska is not kind to prices, size range, or any kind of variety). A guy we’ve had problems with who learned from another guy we had problems with told us that we just didn’t know where to shop, because he stocked the intimate section at Walmart himself and knows that bras are cheap and plentiful there. Our Walmarts never go above a DDD. At the time, I was a 36J-K (depending on brand). The other women I was with were all similarly endowed and we generally went to Nordstrom or in a few cases for costume purposes, custom ordered.

          He still doesn’t understand why nobody finds him or his “advice” helpful. Or why people avoid him.

    3. WoodswomanWrites*

      First, a rant. It makes me so mad that many professional women have to deal with this kind of crap from some men. Okay, now that I’ve got that over with, here’s a suggestion.

      You mention that one of the people who regularly comments on your office is a work friend. I’m thinking something like this. “Fergus, you have shared your opinion about the appearance of my office multiple times. It works for me. I don’t comment on how you’ve set up your office, and I’d like you to stop bringing up mine.”

      1. LavaLamp*

        I’m super feminine myself and come from the construction industry where being sexist jerks is the norm. I’ve never gotten to decorate an office, but I usually use a rainbow gaming keyboard (so much more comfortable for me) and have toys and cute things on my desk. You might just have to make a joke like “I’m sorry my office feels emasculating to you, can we get on with work?” or at least that’s what I’d say but you know your office best. Sometimes calling out the shitty behavior makes em stop.

        1. embertine*

          Same, Lava Lamp, I’m in construction too. I recently got my revenge: a colleague was mocking another for eating a prawn sandwich, because it was a bit “la-di-da” (definitely code for gay) and I now mercilessly rib him on his masculinity being so fragile that he can’t even eat prawns without suffering spasms of gay panic. Sometimes calling them on it really is the only way.

            1. Rexish*

              There is a reddit thread about the weirdest straight men have heard is “gay”. It’s hilarious. Those uncluded using sunscreen, getting a new comfortable chair, uisng bookmarks, buying towels, owning an umbrella to name a few.

              1. LemonLime*

                I literally worked with a guy who bragged ‘real men’ didn’t use umbrellas. I thought that was the strangest thing to get caught up on and to be honest, I felt if you’re so frightened of seeming ‘not manly enough’ that an umbrella would unravel your self esteem then it really just shows how fragile you are. Real men can hold a pink umbrella and not be bothered a twit. Those guys know who they are and aren’t defeated by an inanimate object.

              2. Secret Identity*

                Once, my cousin’s husband saw my husband choose a diet soda at a family gathering and mocked him for being a “sissy” for drinking a diet drink. My husband looked at him like he’d grown a second head and said, “Dude, I’m diabetic.” He mumbled an apology and slunk away. People are stupid. “haha! diet drinks are gay! haha!” gag.

              3. Blue Horizon*

                Once I had been away on vacation in Hawaii and had brought back little mini-gifts for close colleagues, as you do. I had a bottle opener shaped like a pineapple for my PM. He was pleased with it until the redneck manager from another group (who happened to be visiting at the time) told him that pineapples were a gay symbol. I was scornful of the idea (it’s a pineapple, they’re everywhere in Hawaii) but apparently my PM was rattled enough by the idea that he refused to accept the gift. People can be weird sometimes.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Cool, so instead of calling out his disgusting beliefs, you lean into them for your own benefit.

            Calling out toxic masculinity = good
            Equating non-toxic masculinity to being gay = homophobic

            1. Nobby Nobbs*

              I mean, “you can’t even eat prawns without suffering spasms of gay panic” is literally calling out homophobia. The homophobia is being called out. The fact that it takes the form of merciless ribbing instead of a lecture that would get embertime branded a Lisa Simpson is culture- appropriate and makes it more likely to land, not a moral failing.

            2. embertine*

              No, perhaps I wasn’t clear. He said that eating prawns was forbidden for “real men” because it’s gay*, I teased him for having fragile masculinity. At no point did I imply that if eating prawns WAS gay, that would have been bad.
              *still not sure how seafood is gay, unless it’s cute lobsters holding hands

        2. NotQuiteAnonForThis*


          I tend to use purple office supplies, or pink. Why? Because the sexist jerks in my sphere don’t and won’t borrow them. And when the same jerks snark about my color choices, I’m happy to explain “well, it certainly guarantees I always know where my stuff is!”.

          1. embertine*

            I’m a surveyor, and my contracts managers never take the pink highlighter. I make a point of marking everything up in pink just to watch them squirm.

            1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

              I work in construction and a former boss of mine bought me a pink hard hat so the guys I worked with wouldn’t wear it. I told him that was pretty insulting. I don’t really like pink, I never wear it. So I would always take one of the regular ol’ white ones. I eventually quit, for a multitude of reasons.

              Both my current boss and coworker, who are a men in their late 30s-early 40s, wear more pink shirts than I ever will. My coworker has a particular love of the color salmon (it looks good on him).

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I was offered a pink hard hat at my last job and was a little offended. The threat of theft was diminished by putting my initials on the inside of the brim. I have a small head, and literally no one else would have been able to actually put mine on without turning it over to readjust significantly, in which they would have seen my initials (which are distinctive) and let it be. The person offering it at least had the good sense to be embarrassed at themselves when I asked them why I needed a pink hat and not the generic white ones.

                1. soon to be former fed really*

                  I loved my pink hard hat! I would never do an over-the-top stereotypically feminine office, but this was just enough for me.

                  Unpopular opinion: I think anything that causes distraction may not be a good career move. I have always loved big dangly earrings and it’s a key indicator of my personal style. I never wore them on interviews. Small hoops and a classic watch was it.

                  The workplace is sexist and racist, we know that and little has changed in the 4o years I’ve been in the workforce. I’m not optimistic, based on what I see here daily on AAM. Women and minorities, and sometime even men, have to play games sometimes.

                  So, if I was OP, I would maybe paint the office a more neutral tone and leave the rest. After all, it’s not her home. Not worth any more of her time dealing with the reactions of other peole, no matter how silly they are.

                2. Environmental Compliance*

                  @soon to be former fed really – the concept itself doesn’t bother me – have whatever hard hat color ya want if it’s available to you. Just…don’t offer it to only women with the statement of “but of course you’d want a pink hat, right?”

              2. soon to be former fed really*

                I don’t wear pink and love it when men do. It did used to be a masculine color, and high heels, wigs, and ruffles were masculine too.

          2. Environmental Compliance*

            At one point, I was threatening to color code equipment that kept going missing between departments (brooms, shovels, etc – was used for housekeeping in those departments, needed for compliance). It needed to be something bright and obnoxious to be able to be quickly seen. Apparently none of them wanted their stuff painted bright neon orange, purple, yellow, and pink, because the complaining and the thefts stopped. Why can’t the paint colors be like blue and red? Because that’s not bright enough to see at a glance from one of the Gators, and I keep finding shovels hidden in corners, so in the interest of time and energy, it’s going to be neon.

            I love rainbow colored things, and was known for having folders, post-its, highlighters, and pens in every color, all coordinating. I like being able to tell at a glance what that file is from, what year, and when I can get rid of it. You can’t keep track of your crap and now I have to step in? I’mma rainbow it, and it’s going to be BRIGHT.

            1. Black Horse*

              For some reason, this made me SO HAPPY! Today’s goal is to use the word “rainbow” as a verb.

              1. Environmental Compliance*

                I have a deep, undying love of rainbow. Do I put it on everything? Nope. I just sneak it in everywhere I can. Once my hair is long enough, I really really want to put a hidden rainbow in.

                I’m slightly surprised no one has questioned me on it and just accepts that I will put everything in rainbow color coordination after numeric/alphabetic/chronological organization as appropriate.

                1. Eeeeka*

                  My eldest had a peekaboo rainbow under their hair when it was long. Very striking against the dark brown. Now that it’s short, the whole top is rainbow. :)

            2. 2horseygirls*

              Absolutely LOVE turning ‘rainbow’ into a verb!

              When I worked in an academic division, my desk was across the hall from the fire science and EMS faculty office. Even though I did not support that division, I was friendly with the instructors and students. I had two packs of perfectly sharpened #2 pencils in a nice deep pink in a cup on my desk, and when students needed a pencil, that’s what they got. The instructors always smiled when they saw one of their students (male or female) using one of my pencils :)

          3. Professional Merchandiser*

            Yep. When I was doing resets I got tired of men borrowing my tools and never returning them. I went out and bought a set of hot pink tools. That cut down on the borrowing about 90%. And the ones who DID borrow got them back ASAP so no one would see them using girly stuff.

            1. Sacrificial Pharmacy Tech*

              One of our pharmacy techs bought a pack of these really nice different colored pens so each of us could have our own color and funnily enough, everyone wanted the purple one.

              I use green myself. The ink color is so pretty.

          4. LW#1*

            I purposely buy pink safety glasses for this very reason. I typically buy my own vs. the company issued ones so I can get a better fit. Well, as you can imagine, my nicer safety glasses vanished off my desk weekly. Since I started wearing pink ones, I haven’t lost a pair yet! My reflective vest is pink too, and I bought pink vests for my whole team – much to their delight. My team is made up of a dozen women, by the way.

          5. JustaTech*

            This is part of why my freezer gloves (like oven mitts, but for liquid nitrogen) are pink, so they don’t wander off. (The other reason is that they were on sale.)

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        If he brings it up again, try a tone of mild exasperstion.
        “Fergus, no one hired me as a decorator. I was handed a bunch of paint chips and picked one. I’m not spending the company’s money to redo it just because it’s more color than I expected. You’re welcome to come in on the weekend and redo if you want. Time to drop it.”
        “Oh, I’m just having fun.”
        “Personally I’m working.”
        “You’re no fun.”
        “Oh, I’m plenty of fun, but the joke flopped the first time.”

        1. WellRed*

          I don’t see the benefits of making him think she agrees with him that her office is too much.

            1. WellRed*

              “I’m not spending money to redo”
              “More than I expected”
              “You’re welcome to redo it”
              These comments sound a bit defensive
              How about a cheerful “I love it!”

              1. Important Moi*

                I speak fluent sarcasm, so that’s how I read it . It’s not for everyone.

                I think I have a right to be defensive when people are being insulting to me. I see no need to be cheerful.

                I think we just don’ t agree.

                1. Artemesia*

                  Defensive always reads as ‘you lose’ — when they push you into a defensive crouch they have dominated you. Screw em and the horse they road in on. The only response to whining about the color of the office is ‘I love it; so what did you need to see me about, I am on deadline here.’

        2. blink14*

          YES! The OP was offered paint chips with no guidance or expectation to follow a certain colorway that already exists, so she picked what she liked!

        3. Brooks Brothers Stan*

          One of my go-to phrases when a friend/co-worker/loud person on the metro won’t drop something that they think is clever is, “I get it. I’m not laughing, but I get it.”

        4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          “I was handed a bunch of paint chips and picked one.”
          If OP is wondering how appropriate her office is, this clearly shows that it must be OK. She chose something that was available. Surely they wouldn’t make inappropriate colours available?

          Other than that, anyone with a good put-down for mansplainers, I’m all ears.

      3. Crivens!*

        Agreed with your rant. Also, you just know the same men who relentlessly mock anything they perceive as feminine are the ones complaining that women don’t give them enough attention.

    4. Anonya*

      Your office sounds awesome, and I’m a little jealous!

      I don’t know what to tell you, either. Sometimes being a woman at work is just exhausting and demoralizing. I tend toward the feminine, too — at least compared to others in my environment. Every time I try to tone it down, I end up feeling more insecure because I’m less myself. And when I’m feeling that way, I am less effective as a leader and a colleague. So, I keep doing me. I cannot say whether that decision has been free of consequences, though.

      One way to look at this — if all this male colleague has to complain about is your office color, then you must be doing pretty darn well. He’s an a-hole who is grasping at straws. RAWWWRRRR.

      1. LW#1*

        Anonya – YESSSS. This.

        “Every time I try to tone it down, I end up feeling more insecure because I’m less myself. And when I’m feeling that way, I am less effective as a leader and a colleague. So, I keep doing me.

      2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        “if all this male colleague has to complain about is your office color, then you must be doing pretty darn well”
        I think I might just say that to him if it happens again. Following up with “did you have any work issues you needed to discuss?”

    5. HR Exec Popping In*

      I wish I could tell the OP to decorate her office however she likes. That is how it should be. And it is that way in some offices. In others it is not. Only she will know her office’s culture. I work in a highly male and masculine industry. And I’ve been able to advance fairly high in the organization. I have seen particularly feminine women be perceived as not serious or professional. Again, not right, but real. As someone in a leadership role I have learned that I now can enact change but when I think back to my younger self, I don’t think that would have been possible. I am not telling the OP to change how her office is decorated, but the reality is there may be consequences (justly or not) of having what is perceived as an overly feminine or homey office. I agree with with Allison that she may want to talk to senior leaders she has a good relationship with to get their advice. Also, her own manager as your manager has a great deal of say in how you are assessed and perceived by company leadership.

      One thing I am going to do to “help the cause” is start increasing the femininity of my own office (if and when we ever go back to the office). At my level, there really won’t be negative consequences that I can’t manage and it may signal to others that they can be their authentic self at work and that at least this executive won’t judge you based on office decor.

      1. LemonLime*

        The ‘homey’ part sticks out to me too. There are of course good reasons to stick to your guns but that doesn’t mean it might not effect your work life/ job.
        I am someone who thinks anyone’s office that is overly decorated with personal stuff comes off less professional (I’ll admit that might not be fair, but I’m being honest for OP’s sake). If you have a bunch of stuffed hunting trophies or a bunch of motor cross posters or tea lights and wreaths in your office it comes off as unprofessional in my opinion. It’s one thing to have a few photos of you catching fish, your spouse and kids, maybe a well placed decoration on the corner of your desk but more than that speaks of not keeping professional you/home you separated.
        Plus you want people think of you as Sarah the one who got the spreadsheets organized, not Sarah the one with poodle pictures on her wall.
        However if I had an employee with this decoration habit I’d let it be, they’d have to work against the ingrained biased (prove they can keep strictly professional at work) and then it’d become less of an issue and more of a quirk). So I guess I’m saying also you might have an uphill battle for a bit but once you prove you’re very capable then the office thing won’t be a big deal.

        1. lilsheba*

          I’ve never actually had my own office (until now I guess if you count the room in my home as one) but I HAVE to have my work space homey. Or I can’t concentrate or function. I have to have my things around. and right now it’s pretty damn perfect since I am working at home.

      2. LW#1*

        Thank you for this. In my experience in manufacturing, women who are ultra-feminine but also show a little more skin tend to be bad-mouthed the most by the men. A woman who wears more makeup and shows cleavage (even a work-appropriate amount) or a slightly shorter skirt is a target every time, and assumed to be shallow/less intelligent. I think it sucks, and I consciously try to counter their ignorance with a supportive comment about the woman in question.

        1. HR Exec Popping In*

          Sadly this is a reality. I think we can all push against it, but we also have to live within these organizations. I’ve personally always lived by “what do you want people to notice about you”. Is it the short skirt and high heals? Or is it your strategic thinking and problem solving skills. Over the years I have personally chosen to remove the potential distraction that that some clothing choices may result in. I certainly don’t dress like a man, but I also don’t wear anything potentially racy or extremely feminine. Again, this has been my choice and was right for me in my organization. I also wouldn’t hold making a different choice against someone else but I know not all of my peers would. It does make me sad that women have to think about these things and make these choices. Things men typically never have to think about.

    6. Prof. Murph*

      LW1: I am a social psychologists and I study person perception and first impressions. There is research showing that people do make judgments about a person based on the person’s chosen environment. For instance, judgments about a person based on their office or dorm room (and in one study, the participants actually went to the offices/homes). Person judgment is nonconscious, meaning it usually happens instantaneously and without awareness. People are usually unaware that there are a lot of cues that influence our judgments of other people. Now these judgments are certainly biased, and do not excuse any sort of racism, sexism, etc. (though some of the research is pretty interesting – like extroverted people tend to display more pictures of family and friends, etc.) But it is worth knowing that implicit judgments are made about people on things like their office environment. I’m definitely NOT suggesting that you need to change your office, and certainly impressions of a person can change once we get to know them, but it is likely there is some sort of implicit judgments being made about you based on your office.

    7. TardyTardis*

      I remember the girliest invoice for pallets I’ve ever seen (I’m talking lilac), and…I was amused by it, but in the end, nobody cared.

      Is there any way you can call the jerks in on a meeting where you run rather roughshod over them? Just to let them know where you stand on the food chain?

  2. Courtney*

    I am so curious about LW#1 and her pretty office. I would love to see the picture, or even see a link to the colour which was chosen!

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Right – I was coming to say the exact same thing. I wish I could see the office because a visual would help us to know whether or not the office is too much (I suspect it’s not though – it sounds like it’s just well decorated).

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The LW asked me not to publish the photo since she doesn’t want to be identified (understandably). But it’s very pretty. (It’s really just the paint color and a wall decoration that reads as feminine, not the rest of the office.)

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Woah, if it’s just the colour and one decoration, then the men are really taking it over the top. The constant comments on it are obnoxious and should be shut down. Do women comment on the office every time they see it? I bet not.

        1. KateM*

          Wull, OP does say that “other women in the office have come to my doorway and literally squealed because they think the color and decor are adorable”.

          1. Diahann Carroll*

            And to many a layperson, decor includes wall color. They are squealing over the walls, a painting, and possibly some cute tchotchkes OP has on her desk. It’s not that deep.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Yes, but I’m betting the women aren’t stopping by every day to comment on the colour.

          3. Jack Be Nimble*

            I got the impression that the other women in the office said “wow! I love it!!! Soooo cuuuuute!” the first time they saw OP’s office, but her other coworker is harping on it every time he meets with OP. If the other women in the office were squealing with delight every time they passed the office, that would also be really obnoxious.

            My impression was that the Dude Coworker has just not let the subject of “office decor” drop even though everyone else is entirely over it.

    3. LW#1*

      The color is “Waterfall” by Sherwin Williams. I was going for a very pale, shabby chic-type shade of aqua, but this one ended up being brighter than anticipated. Still pretty, though. It’s a small office with dark furniture and trim, and it has a proportionately big window and a big white board, so the color gets broken up a lot.

      1. Millennial Pink*

        Does anyone else have their office painted a color? It might just be that you stick out, and then also, its feminine. I work on a 6 person team, and all of our offices are varying shades of beige (very dull, but functional). If one person painted theirs, even if it wasn’t an especially bright color, it would read as over the top for us.
        On my team people would see it as not being here to get work done, or just being too comfortable. Being too feminine wouldn’t be the main issue, but separating from your peers in a big way would be. You wouldn’t be LW1 who gets sh*t done, you would be LW1 with the pretty office.
        There was a submission here a while ago about “whats the difference between professional clothes and pretty clothes” and this seems similar to that. No, its not fair that more masculine decor is seen as professional and feminine is not, but its a very real thing in our culture.
        Basically, in your office you want to find out if this is going to become the thing you’re known for, instead of your work, and if you’re okay with that.

      2. TGI'maFormerED*

        That is a gorgeous color! It is a finalist for my bedroom and my sewing room. I also don’t think it’s overly feminine. It’s reminds me of water and sunshine.

      3. Alanna*

        Ooh, this is a lovely color, but I can see why it’s coded feminine and maybe a little teenager-y — it’s just very bright. (Light gray/blue/green shades are so tricky — they can look SO much different on the wall than on the sample!) Honestly, I think it will set you apart a bit. An office like this would definitely seem memorable to me and set you apart in my mind as quirky/individual, the same way that rainbow hair or an eccentric style of dress would. (And I work at an org that’s majority female, including in the leadership ranks. That said, painting offices isn’t really the norm where I work. If all the men have covered their walls with dark colors or sports memorabilia or something, I think this would stand out less.)

        To be clear, there’s nothing bad about being different! It’s just a question of whether you’re comfortable with Brightly-Colored Office being part of your work identity. If you are, I say go for it, and have a go-to line about it, whether that’s “It’s a little brighter than I expected but it’s really grown on me” or “I love looking at this color all day because [reason].” If you don’t love that idea, unfortunately, it might be worth thinking about going one step lighter and one step toward neutral on the color palette.

  3. EPLawyer*

    LW1 — you can be female at work. It’s kinda hard not to be, if you identify as one. However, your office should not be “homey.” Comfortable yes. but this is work, not home. There are ways to express your more feminine side without your office being “homey.” Just a suggestion.

    1. Julia*

      What? I mean, depending on your definition of homey I’d agree that a recliner with a TV probably doesn’t belong in the office (although gaming companies, who often skew very male, tend to have sleeping spaces in their offices!), or be so fully of knick-knacks Dolores Umbridge would be jealous, but why should people not make their offices more inviting?

      Or, asked differently, would you say a more masculine office looks less unprofessional? And what is a masculine office? Was it decorated by Gaston?

      1. snowglobe*

        I’ve known quite a few men that have sports memorabilia on their walls (e.g., signed professional sports jersey), and never noticed anyone giving them a hard time about that. (And I know that women like sports too, but the stereotype is that it is a masculine thing.)

        1. EPLawyer*

          I would say the same thing to a guy. Don’t make your office into your “man cave.” If a place is too casual it leads to casual acting and maybe you spend more time discussing the game last night than the Chavez-Farquahar contract.

          I posted before Alison clarified its just the color and one decoration. First off, I would LOVE that color and aqua blue reads calming to me, which is fine in office you want calm. Second, its one decoration? Yeah guys needs to get a life. I would say the same about one sports jersey or signed ball.

      2. andy*

        > Or, asked differently, would you say a more masculine office looks less unprofessional?

        Generally, visibly masculine offices are considered less then professional by managers. They also takes issues with things like metal t-shirts, messages on cups etc.

        It is not like this was first time style was discussed on ask-a-manager and up to now the consensus was “go with the most bland version, everything else will be judged”.

        1. kt*

          I have to say I disagree. There are so many CEO offices that are “masculine” in the decorator sense of the word — dark wood paneling, brown leather. No one would bat an eye at that.

          1. a clockwork lemon*

            By the time someone is at the CEO level, regardless of gender or presentation, they’re generally not having their offices scrutinized for “professionalism” but most people would notice and remark on, say, a meticulously curated collection of diecast toy cars. That said, dark wood paneling and brown leather are also pretty unobtrusive as far as decorations go and tend to not register much unless the rest of the space is deliberately designed to create a certain vibe.

            Aqua-colored walls are generally considered a bold choice even for peoples’ home interiors, and not something you’d see in an office unless it’s a deliberate design choice meant to reflect something about the company–it’s a Statement Color. Obviously OP didn’t intend to make a statement or even pick a bright aqua for her office paint, but unless the wall decoration is, like, a bedazzled feathered mardi gras mirror or something equally attention-grabbing, it probably wouldn’t register as “feminine” or really at all without the bright color as well.

        2. EventPlannerGal*

          I disagree – I think that many very common design features of executive/professional offices are stereotypically considered masculine. I agree that metal t-shirts are not usually considered acceptable officewear but that’s not because they’re too macho, it’s because almost all graphic t-shirts are usually considered inappropriate for officewear except in very casual environments. If I came to work in a death metal t-shirt I would be asked to go home and change, but I would also be asked that if I turned up in a shirt featuring BTS, Ariana Grande or the Backstreet Boys.

    2. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

      In all fairness, people spend up to 12 hours in their office and that’s a mighty chunk of their day to not have it feel more honey or comfy. And I’ve seen the offices of my fellow managers filled with sports memorabilia, pictures of their family and anything to make it their space – including a reclyning chair for quick naps and a panini maker. So in the grand scheme of things an aqua coloured wall with a framed picture is not overly excessive.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        THIS. There is nothing wrong with a homey office since most of us spend most of our lives at work.

        1. Cathie from Canada*

          If you add some black touches, it will look less “homey” and more “designer”.
          Examples: a black lamp and desk set, a black flower vase, a black and white photo on the wall, black artwork frames, a framed blackboard (instead of a white board), a black side chair, a black bookcase, a set of black baskets on the shelves, etc. Black with aqua is a great combination.
          Some examples:

          That said, I think your male coworker is trying to gaslight you by making you self-conscious about your decor. Instead of feeling apologetic, I recommend you “own” it – state how pleased you are with how good your office looks, how great it is that your boss suggested the repainting, and talk about how hard it would be to do the best work in dingy surroundings.

          1. Batty Twerp*

            So, just curious, if she took the wall decoration down (assuming its a picture and not integral to the structure somehow) would she still get the same level/volume of jackassery thrown her way? Given that she was provided with paint samples, aqua blue doesn’t always scream feminine. One former boss of mine had a gunship-grey office (she didn’t get a choice – it was corporate colours) which she put a reed infuser on the window sill – instantly the most feminine room in the building.

            It’s not immediately apparent, but how long has OP1 been a manager? If these comments are new and only since getting the new office, would green be the more applicable colour?

            1. Amaranth*

              Frankly, it sounds low key already, so I’d probably be doubling down with a patterned lumbar pillow and a plant. :)

            2. Batgirl*

              It could well be just the colour. I have a teeny tiny aqua blue car. When I got it, I was psyched because I could only afford to order the standard red but because they were out, they offered me what would have been my first choice: aqua in metallic paint. When I first got it, I mentioned to my male co-worker (who was very beige, and tried super hard to be Average Man) that I had a brand new car, he took a look out the window and his response was: “Well that’s… girly”. No shit. I choose feminine stuff on purpose whenever I can. Why did he even look if it’s too threatening to even comment on something that might belong to a woman?

              1. LifeBeforeCorona*

                My car is small and turquoise, I also wanted red but none were available. I love the colour because it’s easy to spot in a parking lot. And now I know no man will steal it because it’s too “girly”. :)

              2. Former Producer*

                My car is also tiny and aqua blue and I love it! I bought it slightly used and honestly didn’t think I’d be able to find that color because most of the options available in the make and model I wanted were boring colors like white and silver. I can always find my car in any parking lot and the color just makes me happy.

                When I was car shopping for my first car in college, I actually almost got a magenta pink car but the paint job made it cost $8,000 more than the base model so I didn’t get it.

          2. Colette*

            I’m also wondering about adding some more industrial stuff (posters about something work-related, for example). I feel like “designer” would also have the potential to be a problem in manufacturing; blue walls with a poster about a machine or safety protocols or something might be better. (Put them behind your chair, so visitors see them but you see what you like.)

        2. Cj*

          My office has looked like home (literally), and my home like my office (again, literally) for far too many months now. I’m over it.

        3. soon to be former fed really*

          The only thing I cannot stand is when it is so “homey” that people have hoarded their offices, probably like they do at home. I worked with a guy who hung a spare pair of pants over his door. The entire office was a trash bin. Too homey if you ask me.

    3. Arts Akimbo*

      I don’t understand– she’s not “express(ing) her more feminine side,” she just picked a color she liked. This comment troubles me for reasons I’m having trouble putting into words, but I think it’s the assumption that she, being a woman, wanted to express her femininity at work just because she chose a color other than grey.

      This is why being a woman or minority is exhausting, especially in the workplace– people ascribe motivations to you *because* of this one characteristic, this single teeny tiny part of who you are. They then blow it out of all proportion and project onto you that this is ALL you’re about. You didn’t do this part, EPLawyer, but I suspect that’s what OP’s coworkers are doing.

      It’s like people constantly handing you rocks all day that you’re then expected to carry, and the mental load of other people’s expectations just gets heavier and heavier. I have no advice, only exhaustion. Why can’t people just be normal and treat other people well?

      1. embertine*

        Absolutely. And the assumption that grey or taupe or another neutral, being an acceptably masculine colour, is the default.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        Absolutely. It’s so, so tiring to have everything you do, down to what PAINT COLOUR you pick, be assumed to be down to you “expressing your feminine side”. Why must everything women do be viewed through this lens?

        1. MCMonkeyBean*

          Especially since she said she was told she should paint her office and handed a bunch of paint chips–I took that to mean that she chose a color from those chips so it would be ridiculous to say that it wasn’t appropriate!

      3. kt*

        Blue — girly. Pink — definitely girly. Yellow — girly. Beige — girly. Dark brown — probably girly in a decorator-y way. Gunship grey — see above.

        You know why they’re all considered “girly”? Because they happen to exist near a woman. Take the woman away and they’d be fine :)

        I won’t even start on the race version.

        1. Batty Twerp*

          I love this comment – I hate that it’s so accurate, and I hate that it needs to be said, but I love this comment.

    4. Lucky Meas*

      I work in manufacturing, in a company that has all white cis straight male execs except for 2 women (sales and HR). And their global offices are also lead by men. For context, the BLM protests are what made them realize they need to do something about diversity & inclusion (they made a statement! Mission accomplished).

      Of course you should be able to be as feminine or masculine or androgynous or mix-it-up or any kind of gender expression you want at work, and face no professional repercussions. Maybe you can in some offices, or with some colleagues! But the reality is you can’t. There is nothing you can do, no amount of contorting you can do to make your gender expression fit into an acceptable shape that will eliminate sexism you face. At a certain point this is beyond you. So you can’t fix the root problem. All you can do is find a shape that is comfortable enough, and whack-a-mole the problems you face.

      Based on the women I’ve seen succeed, I would recommend expressing your femininity as power: Think queen, not princess; elegant, not cute.. Masculinity has many expressions too, think of stories with an overbearing/stern father/king and his gentle, clever son/prince. Think of how people of all genders express authority: being calm and confident, being wise and persuasive, having integrity and responsibility. I’m recalling my theater class’s lesson on how to convey high status through body language on stage.

      The women I’ve seen have this aura of self-assuredness that commands respect, and their clothes and office and so on align with that. They dress elegantly and professionally (one person matches her jewelry with her outfits). Their office is comfortable but not “homey” as EPLawyer put it. Specifically I mean things like: brown eyeshadow instead of blue. Calendar has images of flowers instead of puppies or firefighters. Mug is simple or elegant instead of cheeky or cutesy. Dress has subtle pattern instead of little ducks. And they speak thoughtfully and directly and assertively. They are quick to thank others and enlist help but also quick to delegate and table topics for later. They are not cynical, they don’t call people out (in public), they don’t make waves (if they do they become the Evil Queen…)

      This expression of femininity is allowed to thread the needle and be respected. Not everyone like this is successful and every woman experiences sexism, but this is the kind of woman I have seen make it to the top. If you are ambitious, you may have to adopt some parts of this into your professional persona in order to succeed in the male-dominated manufacturing industry. Maybe when you make it to a certain level you can broaden your gender expression and hire/promote others who help break the mold!

      These are some women from fiction who match the kind of people I’m struggling to describe:
      -the main character and many others in The Good Wife
      -the queen in Brave (first 30 min)
      -Wonder Woman, Agent Carter, Captain Marvel
      -anyone played by Michelle Yeoh, especially from Crazy Rich Asians
      -anyone played by Angela Bassett or Oprah
      -many characters played by Cate Blanchett or Dame Judy Dench or Meryl Streep
      -Lucky Meas from the Bone Ships (seriously she’s a power fantasy captain of a ship made from dragon bones and the only one I can think of who pushes for drastic change under her leadership)

      1. Mary Connell*

        I’m assuming this is satire?

        Otherwise this just proved Alison’s point that being a woman is okay as long as women perform being a woman in a very narrow fashion agreed upon by someone somewhere, probably someone in Hollywood.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          This! I mean, perhaps the reason that it’s a struggle to describe this sort of person without resorting to characters from children’s cartoons is that… they’re not real.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              yup totally. If you know it’s a woman, you can call it womansplaining.
              If a woman gets called out for mansplaining, then like any decent man she can check her tone for condescension;

        2. soon to be former fed really*

          Judge Judy wears a lace collar with her judicial robe. Love it! These are the touches of femininity I love, and that collar has not changed her fierceness one bit. Some of the other women judges do it too.

        3. Lucky Meas*

          Yes, that is the point I was responding to. This is the kind of woman that is “accepted” by sexist white men in a powerful role. Those are the only women I have seen succeed. It’s not how it should be, it’s not how I want it to be, but that is how it is. I hope it changes.

      2. Mystery Bookworm*

        Instructions unclear.

        I divorced Dustin Hoffman, went to work in a patrotic swimsuit, gave my colleagues supplies and sent them on a quest with a magical ring. We await their return.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          You win the Internet for today.
          My browsing is done and I’m going to work with a smile on my face. (Maybe I’ll even go back and change into a hot pink shirt on general principle.)

        2. Diana Prince*

          I had a sweet pair of Wonder Woman under-roos as a child that I loved and wore to rags. If only I had known that I was preparing to be CEO of Important Company I would have gotten that MBA!

      3. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

        This is joke, right? Are you seriously telling women out there can’t have pink unicorn mugs ( and I’m going all out here) because it’ll thwart their career success? So, I can be smart, intelligent, strong, open minded, knowledgeable – what have you- out of my eyeballs and yet a tiny pink mug will destroy every ounce of credibility because…why exactly??

        1. Rayray*


          But then a man with a mug of his favorite football team or video game would be fine in their eyes.

          1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

            Heck, I doubt a woman who has the same mug of her favourite team or video game would be held in the same regard.

            I’m mid thirties and sometimes wear doctor who t-shirts when I am at home, even my own mother thinks it is stupid that I buy shirts like that (sometimes also sports related btw, huge football fan here). That my male sibling (also past his thirties) still buys and wears them isn’t considered a problem, but I am considered childish when I wear them (even as a pyjama I’ve heard people comment on it: “don’t you have anything else, what if you need to go to the hospital?” Well, I’ll be wearing the TARDIS one, or the one with Toothless on ;-) )

        2. AKchic*

          Crap. My glow-in-the-dark fish skeleton stapler, ninja turtle pen holder, World’s Okayest Employee, and nerd tchotchkes are going to be so mad that they aren’t conveying the right “tone” in my office. I wasn’t aware I had to play a certain fictional character to be taken seriously. Only one guy in this place doesn’t take me seriously, and frankly, I don’t take him seriously either. Everyone else understands that this isn’t a popularity contest and I’m good at my job.

        3. Lucky Meas*

          Because sexism, unfortunately. I have not seen a woman with a pink unicorn mug rise to exec level, though I am hopeful!

      4. Kate 2*

        I’m sorry you’re getting so much shit for your comment. For what it’s worth I think you arr 100% right. We can say women should get to dress like Elle Woods at work and be super cutesy and extremely feminine but the world just doesn’t work that way. Yet. I actually worked in an extremely male dominated industry. The only women in our office were the assistants, including myself. My bosses used to call me efficient and hardworking, then they found out I enjoy a traditionally feminine hobby like quilting. Suddenly I was getting praised for being nice and sweet. Literally. And they stopped praising me for ither things. So yeah, other people can tear you down but what you are saying is the truth. It is a lot harder to get to the top and achieve a position of power to change things if you display too much feminity.

        1. Valancy Snaith*

          Nope. It’s not about that. It’s about the pushback to performing femininity in a way that’s socially acceptable via Hollywood (!) and Disney (!!) and superheroes (!!!). I’m in the flipping military and one of my female superiors has a travel mug that is top-to-bottom glitter and sparkly and it’s totally fine, even if it wouldn’t appear on Meryl Streep’s desk in a movie, because real life is not like Hollywood and it’s extremely disconcerting to think that anyone would model their professional behaviour, in any way, on what Hollywood deems appropriate.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            And want to add that, as someone at the bottom of the ladder who’s had many women managers in my career, my boss’s, grandboss’s, VP’s, CEO’s etc eyeshadow color and what kind of mug she has on her desk are the least of my concerns. All I am looking for in a leader is leadership. If that is absent, then I don’t care what dress patterns she wore to get to a position she’s unqualified to be in. And vice versa.

          2. boop the first*

            Especially when right off the bat they state their credentials, which were “all the woman I’ve seen” in the same paragraph as “my workplace has TWO women.”

            1. Batgirl*

              Yeah I was definitely thinking that’s a deeply homogenous workplace if none of the guys have any personality without their wives’ help at all. No star trek mugs? No marvel calendars?

            2. Lucky Meas*

              There are more than two women, but only two female execs. It’s absolutely homogenous and sexist.

          3. Lucky Meas*

            I’m not saying that is how it should be. I’m saying that is how it IS. Maybe your office is different than mine.

        2. Lizzy May*

          The “Yet” is never going to happen if women don’t push for it to happen. Men aren’t just going to wake up one day and decide to cast off misogyny. Neither are women (because internalized misogyny is very real and hard to shake off.) That sort of change happens because people are going to challenge gender norms in the workplace until the window of what is acceptable is opened wide for all of us.

          And if you don’t want to be that challenger (and I’m not just talking about Kate 2 but anyone) that’s fine. But don’t hold someone else back.

          1. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

            Thank you for putting in far more eloquent words what I’ve been shouting from every available rooftop for years.

          2. Bananers*

            Beautifully said, and makes me think of something Jenny Slate once wrote — there was a start and so there can be an end.

          3. Kiki*

            YES. I think it’s worthwhile to be honest about the manifestations of femininity that are more likely to be respected in the workplace (because not every person has the time or energy to be the person who breaks the mold), things will never change if we keep telling people that only a narrow category of femininity is acceptable.
            I completely understand Lucky Meas perspective because it was something I also believed for a while. But men in my office are free to talk about their interests with enthusiasm and emotion. Men in my office are still respected when they wear a novelty tie. Men in my office will respect me, duck dress and all.
            *drops mic*
            *Darkwing Duck theme plays*

        3. Kate 2*

          By the way, Allison says pretty much the exact same thing in her reply: It shouldn’t matter but it does and only you can decide if you want to fight, and how hard.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        This is a joke, yes?

        I think it’s interesting that all of your reference points are tropes from TV shows and children’s fiction and cartoons. Personally, I do not go about my professional life modelling myself on characters from Disney movies, whether it’s the Elegant Queenly Approved ones or the Silly Girly Bad ones. The IRL successful, powerful women that I know are all individual, interesting people and do not fit in this sad brown-eyeshadow-and-twinsets box that you seem to have constructed from repeated viewings of The Good Wife.

        1. EventPlannerGal*

          Also, although it’s fun to dunk on the idea that the path to career success for women is to make sure you act like the RIGHT children’s cartoon character – never call anybody out? Never be cynical? Never make waves? This is genuinely awful and antiquated advice and I’m surprised to see it here.

      6. Not colorblind*

        Oh my gosh. We are living on entirely different planets here. As a factory foreman and a sewage treatment plant supervisor…in unairconditioned work areas…”elegant” and “makeup” have never been a part of my career path. More like “wipe the sweat off your osha-required safety goggles” and “remember to make sure your socks match if you will have to climb into/out of your mud boots at work”

      7. Ana Gram*

        I’m a cop who likes glitter eyeshadow and is currently wearing a Hello Kitty bracelet. And you know what else I am? Respected. I work hard, know my job, and I’m willing to get my hands dirty. I am sometimes the first woman a man has ever worked with. And we all get along just fine. (And if we don’t, they’re smart enough to keep it to themselves!)

      8. Nikki*

        It’s pretty offensive to tell women they can’t be themselves in the office. Nobody would ever give a man this kind of feedback. I work in a male dominated industry. I’m one of three female engineers in a department of 60. I also love to wear super girly dresses to work most days. It’s never held me back. I’m regularly assigned the most complicated projects because my manager and teammates recognize my abilities and trust me to do a great job, and my manager is talking about promoting me during year end reviews. More people should be supportive of women no matter how they present themselves, not telling them they need to fit into a very specific mold in the workplace.

        1. I'm just here for the cats*

          No one would ever tell a Cis white man not to be themselved in the office. Gay men, and minorities or thos from other cultures would be more apt to be told to be “normal”

          1. andy*

            This is absolutely not true. Middle management has all kind of rules over how cis men express themselves. It might be more permissive then the rules for women, but overly sport decoration, metal posters, stickes, t-shirts are all commented upon by management and judged unprofessional.

            I mean, we literally had managers taking offence over t-shirts with band pictures last year (no nudity or violence, just visibly metal).

            1. Observer*

              While it’s true that “overly” sporty, metal etc. stuff might get some commentary or side eye, there is simply no comparison. There is just no way that the guy is going to be judged on what color his socks are or if his suits are of the “correct” and extremely narrow color family. No one is giving a cis white guy the kind of extreme “guidance” that is being discussed here.

              1. scribblingTiresias*

                Oh, they’re perfectly happy to give you that kind of extreme guidance! It’s just that most cis guys have it hammered into them when they’re kids, so it isn’t necessary.

                I’m a trans guy, but I pass pretty well- I have a beard, for heavens’ sake. People generally read me as AMAB unless I explicitly tell them I’m not.

                I’ve gotten this same kind of extreme advice, including a supervisor telling me that my (blue, purple, and green-striped, but fairly sedate) waistcoat looked like a “clown outfit”. I haven’t had a professional job for years now, but I can only imagine the kind of side-eye I’d get if I wore my bottle-green pants to work, even if it was with a white shirt and sedate tie. Let alone my iridescent purple button-down, or (heaven forbid) my handmade brocade waistcoat.

                The rules men live under are just as arbitrary, sexist, and restrictive as the rules women live under. The fact that they put men in positions of power more often doesn’t change the fact that they’re *awful*.

                1. SGP*

                  You say the rules men live under are just as restrictive, yet admit they put men in positions of power more often…

                2. scribblingTiresias*

                  @SGP – yes. these two things can coexist.

                  what about men who don’t want positions of power, but feel forced into them anyway?

                  concrete example: what about men who *want* to stay home with their children, but get just as much crap for it as a mother who chooses to work?

                  the grass isn’t greener on the other side, it’s just a different shade of sh*t.

                3. SGP*

                  Sure. But patriarchy does benefit men much more than women. It’s ridiculous and insulting to argue with that so I won’t engage with you further.

                4. scribblingTiresias*

                  @SGP- when did I say that patriarchy doesn’t hurt women more?

                  You are treating me like I’m saying “ACKSHUALLY SHE DESERVED TO BE CRAPPED ON BECAUSE MEN HAVE IT WORSE”, when what I’m actually saying is “this comments section is full of clueless cis people who are assuming a lot of things about the ‘opposite’ gender, many of which are flat out untrue”.

                5. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Yes, I remember reading a thing about John DeLorean, whose personality was much too “larger than life” to fit into a narrow corporate culture. He was forced to wear a black or dark suit to work, but managed to get one in a flamboyant cut. Even though there were no rules about cut, he managed to annoy the hell out of his superiors.

                  I think it’s much simpler to be a man because your clothing options are so much narrower. Men are not supposed to think much about their clothes, so they mostly just find a look that fits their job and stick to it.

        2. Student*

          Something can be both offensive and true at the same time.

          In my industry, you can’t be both a successful woman in the field and an extremely feminine woman. Because the men who control all the power in the industry only rarely grant any bit of that power to women. And when they do, they only grant it to women that fulfill their personal, very narrow definition of “acceptable” women.

          It is both true, and it is offensive.

          I try to help other women in the field by letting them know about the power dynamics so that they have a fully informed choice to make: pursue power here with full knowledge of the limitations that are being imposed on them by men in power; be themselves here and accept the risk that they will likely hit a career ceiling because of it, or pursue power in a field that is hopefully less sexist. I try to acknowledge the unfairness directly, rather than reinforce it by pretending that going along with it is the “only” way.

          I think gains in my field for women are worth it, and I accept some suffering and self-suppression to achieve them, because the field is that important to me. I don’t expect everyone else to make those same sacrifices and I’m glad that there are more and more fields that are open and accepting of women. But it’d be nice if other women didn’t immediately assume that any woman who openly lives under some gender-based restrictions is some sort of Jezebel who has betrayed the sisterhood to the patriarchy. I’m trying to get a wedge in over here for our people, it’s going to take time and stubbornness, and I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t piss on me while I’m doing it.

          1. Kate 2*

            Thank you! It’s good to see that some women acknowledge reality. Some fields and some workplaces are less sexist and some are much more. Not all of us can go full femme at work and not experience harsh consequences. Including getting put on probation. Which actually happened to me because my voice was too high pitched, even though I had the same voice when I was hired.

          2. Anya Last Nerve*

            I totally agree with you. I work in financial services, it’s about as male dominated, bro culture as they come. I would never recommend going the princess route if you want respect. And I don’t know who these people are who think that men never get judged. I am fairly senior in my role, and I have harshly judged and complained about the professionalism of a young, white male in my office who keeps a foam finger and baseball bat in his office. I’m all for empowering women, but encouraging OP to die on this hill is not productive.

          3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes. The first women to hold positions of political power had to play it like men (Mrs Thatcher was often said to be the only person with balls in the cabinet). Nobody ever comments on Angela Merkel’s clothes, because there’s rarely any hint of girliness in them. Now that she has proved that a woman can be vastly competent at running a powerhouse economy, the world is finding room for more feminine leaders like Jacinda Ardern.

      9. Rambler*

        My key takeaway from this comment: there is a book about warships made from dragon bones. Totally putting that on my Christmas list.

      10. Crivens!*

        I want to submit this to the selfawarewolves subreddit because you come so close to the actual point and then wildly, WILDLY miss it.

        If there is no “correct” way to be a woman in our society because the rules always change and the points don’t matter, than BE A WOMAN IN WHATEVER WAY YOU WANT. The answer is not to contort ourselves into one narrow acceptable womanhood.

      11. Lizzy May*

        Life is not a fairy tale and if women don’t challenge these stereotypes and ridiculous expectations, there will never be any movement on this topic.

        I am great at my job and that should be what matters, not if the dress I’m wearing has little scottie dogs or if my eye shadow is blue. But it is good to know that I can show up in full Tina Turner drag and pass this ridiculous test.

      12. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Crap, I’ll never be up for promotion with my Space Cats calendar and my Shakespearean Insults mug *weeps femininely*

        1. Batgirl*

          Where do I get a Shakespearean insults mug? My Pusheen tote and my comic style pencil case want to know.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            I bought mine years ago at one of the big-chain bookstores. But I can see it on Amazon now. It is still out there!

      13. Mirabel*

        ANY character played by Michelle Yeoh? Okay, you’re the expert, I’ll take that as approval that I can act like dirty crazy-looking pirate captain Aleta from Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2.

        1. Queer Earthling*

          I was thinking it was time to start putting “Her most Imperial Majesty, Mother of the Fatherland, Overlord of Vulcan, Dominus of Qo’noS, Regina Andor, Philippa Georgiou Augustus Iaponius Centarius” in my email signature.

        2. Lentils*

          I think that would be badass! (also, I love that someone else knows that character’s name! I hope we see her again!)

      14. Bananers*

        If you can only explain “acceptable femininity” in the workplace with fictional characters, then it’s probably a sign that that’s not actually a solution to anything

      15. un-pleased*

        Gross. You know of no actual women who are good role models? Like, I don’t know, Michelle Obama? Tammy Duckworth?

        Also, this makes me so glad I lean into my femme side hard core at work, pink sparkly eye shadow and bold lip and all. My bosses knew what they were getting, and part of why they like me is because I am so me in a company of people who are who they are. They would probably not be surprised if I showed up on Zoom in a taffeta gown. I don’t know why I shouldn’t.

      16. PVR*

        Flowers are as girly as puppies. Matching jewelry to your outfits is also fairly girly. Makeup should enhance one’s features and because we all have different skin tones and eye colors, if done well often you won’t actually notice what color eye shadow someone is wearing whether gray or brown or off white or pink or purple or yes, even blue. There are so many shades of each of these colors (and also just as many shades of skin colors) that you cannot uniformly say that everyone should wear brown eyeshadow. This narrow narrow definition of how one is allowed to be a woman and still be respected is so so so problematic. Like I can’t even. Yes, it’s a truth that the way you present yourself affects the way others view you. But what suits one person and enhances the way they look varies so much from person to person. On one person a power suit is amazeballs and on another, they look overwhelmed by too much material. Not every woman looks good in a “subtle pattern.” There is more than one right way to be a woman and to look professional. What makes a woman successful or not is so much more than the way she looks. I would agree that body language and communication style are important, and both of these can be boiled down to confidence. However, these traits also apply to successful men. But back to the question at hand, whether or not a colored office is too girly is completely dependent on office culture. Because OP was given paint colors to choose from, we know other offices are also painted. I’d be interested to know what other people’s offices look like. Also, I’d be curious going forward if people stop picking the “safe” colors and choose some of the other options based on OP’s office.

        1. Observer*

          You are 100% right. The real issue is that this is someone who clearly either know almost no women or who has never take the time to actually look at them as individuals yet thinks that he can actually dispense advice to ALL women at a level of detail that’s ridiculous.

      17. Observer*

        So you have exactly two women in your company at a visible level and your prime reference point for what a “successful” woman looks like is science fiction and fantasy with an emphasis on superheros. And you actually think that this is a reasonable basis to make sweeping generalizations about what makes for success? How would you react if someone tried to encourage you to model yourself on superheros because those that the men they have seen be successful?

        If you are not up to helping solve the problems women face, that’s understandable. But please treat women in careers and the workplace with the same basic respect and seriousness that you would treat men with. And don’t be an active part of the problem by promulgating ridiculous stereotypes and generalizations. And take the time to actually look at a reasonable sample size before providing extremely general advice.

        Lastly, the idea that that it’s ok to critique women’s dress choices down to the color of their eye shadow(!) is insane. If that’s the kind of thing that holds women back in your company, that’s an organization that’s regressive by the standards of the 1950’s.

        Oh, and PS there are lots of successful women who don’t dress according to your dictates. You may not LIKE these women (I’m not passing any opinions), but you cannot say that they are not successful.
        Sheryl Sandberg – wears pastels and bold colors
        Ginny Rometty – from IBM, with a culture that was famously conservative about dress- bold patterns and bold solid colors.
        Carly Fiorina – Bold colors, “unsubtle” patterns, bold makeup colors.
        Even Meg Whitman whose look tends to be more like what you describe has had the audacity to appear in public in pink, red and bold prints.

      18. Lentils*

        Uh, I know you’re already getting a bunch of shit for this comment but I just wanted to point out that if you were going to go for Marvel references, Pepper Potts? Who is a canonical CEO? Jane Foster, who got an entire theory named after her? Carol is also heavily coded as a butch queer woman in her style, so she’s a weird one to jump to in conjunction with the rest of your examples.

      19. Anon for this*

        I also work for a manufacturer, one of the few large global manufacturers led by a female CEO. Half our c-suite is female, and they’re getting there with our board. This is also the first time in my operations career I’ve worked for a woman who was above manager level.

        What you said has some truth at more stodgy companies, but things are fortunately changing fast. Presenting an aura of power is about self-assurance and confidence, not performative gender presentation. Smart companies are recognizing that they need broader inclusion to have the best talent.

      20. HelpImaBear*

        I missed the part where you said we should only embody the Queen in Brave for how she is in the first 30 minutes of the movie, and I accidentally became a bear at work. Oops.

    5. Rayray*

      We’re only talking about a paint color. Doesn’t seem she’s moved in her bed and tv or anything. Her company gave her the option to paint so it seems that customizing offices is A-OK.

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        Exactly this. A paint color (a blue no less) and one photo does not turn this place into Barbie’s Dream House.

      2. Triplestep*

        Throughout the letter, I never had the impression that we were just talking about paint color. In fact she says “Other women in the office have come to my doorway and literally squealed because they think the color and decor are adorable.”

        1. Rayray*

          Even still, it’s just decor. Some people just like their work space to look nice. Many of my coworkers, past and present, have decorated their offices and cubicles with photos, plants, and Knick knacks. It definitely does not bother 99% of others so long as it is non offensive and stays on their area. I’ve got a coworker with a cardboard cut out of Jason Momoa and no one cares.

        2. virago*

          “I never had the impression that we were just talking about paint color here.”

          Alison, who has seen a picture of the office in question, says that only the wall color and one wall decoration read as feminine.

          1. Triplestep*

            I was going by the letter and imagining the things I’ve seen people do to their offices over the years. Did not see Alison’s comment. That said, I think the LW – even though she was given a choice of paint colors – chose one that is just out of the ordinary enough for this workplace that it calls attention to itself.

            1. PVR*

              Maybe it looks more “put together” (in a good way) than other offices and that is also calling attention to it. Some people have that knack, others do not.

            2. Observer*

              Maybe that. But it’s more likely that the guy is a jerk. Because even if her decor were truly out of the ordinary in any respect the constant commentary is definitely out of line. And no matter how “girly” someone’s decor is, mansplaining is NOT a reasonable or realistic response. So their behavior simply cannot be considered a reasonable barometer of how “girly” or unusual the decor is.

    6. Triplestep*

      … your office should not be “homey.”

      Yup, my work is in office planning and design, and this is what I was coming here to say. I don’t think it’s a matter of an office being “girly” as it is an office being “homey” which is thought of as the domain of women. The exact scenario described here is not one I’ve seen because I’ve always worked for organizations that keep a tight rein on paint colors. (It makes sense in terms of Facility Management.) But when I have had people complain because they couldn’t have the paint color they want, it’s never been a man. When people have brought in non-commercial window treatments and non-commercial rugs (both fire hazards) and hang non-commercial shelving for knick-knacks, it’s always been women. It’s not about “girliness” but needing to have a “homey” office can be seen as focusing on the wrong thing. And if the majority of the office is open space with only a few private offices, it’s a bit tone deaf to make so much of one’s own.

      It’s not only women who do this, but it’s often women-driven. Many times I have seen men get their first office and within the first few days, they march in there with items handed to them by their wives. And these dutiful husbands have wives with their own ideas of what it means for the husbands to have “made it” with no knowledge of office culture, and what it might look like for Hubby to have “homified” his office. The most memorable example of this I saw was a guy in tech with about 24″ x 36″ of space at a table, and there sat a giant framed 10 x 14 professional photo of his SO and child. Knowing this guy, I’m fairly certain that photo came from the woman in it, just as I’m sure she’d never seen his workspace. He was very much the type to shrug and say “she gave it to me for my office” without regard to how out of place it seemed and what that might say about him in this particular office culture.

      1. Anononon*

        Are you saying men don’t decorate their offices like women do? From my experience, that’s entirely wrong. In all of the offices I’ve been in, everyone has had offices decorated with a good amount of stuff.

        1. ThatGirl*

          My husband’s office is full of geeky toys and decor and yes, a few gifts from me (no photos of me, though, because he’s a therapist) and … wow are there a lot of clueless and infuriating comments here today

          1. Interior decoration buff*

            “My husband’s office is full of geeky toys and decor”

            But surely you can appreciate that a room full of (say) Star Trek paraphernalia *does* project a certain professional image? (Whether that’s a positive image or a negative one depends on a lot of things; your community’s standards, the nature of his practice, the mood he’s trying to set for his clients, etc.)

            I don’t claim to be an expert on therapist office decor, beyond saying that the therapists I’ve seen on TV seem to want to set a calming mood for their patients (Dr. Melfi’s office on the Sopranos, that therapist played by Gary Sinise on 13 Reasons Why, even Deanna Troi on Star Trek). I, personally, would prefer calming decor and would steer away from a therapist whose office decor was “geeky toys.” I get that I may not be part of your husband’s target clientele, and that his mileage may vary…but the point is that some clients may seek out his style of decor, and others will avoid it. So your choice of decor matters to the image you project.

            There was also a Norwegian show called Occupied, which took place in Oslo, and really showcased Norwegian architecture and design well. The show featured a female prime minister, a female head of the security services, and a female head of the state prosecution service. All of them had ultra-sleek Scandinavian offices. I corresponded with the set designer concerning several pieces of furniture. I do think that excessive tchotchkes look cluttered and unprofessional, and it is unsurprising that the set designer picked the pieces he did to showcase women who reached the very top echelons of government.

      2. WellRed*

        But why is the default then men or masculine? And really, one photo? Why does that bother you? So it’s a little larger than normal, I thought it was poster size from the way you carry on about it. If all the women are complaining maybe that should tell you something.

        1. Lady Meyneth*

          Right? And the assumption that a guy couldn’t possibly *want* a photo of his family in his office and therefore must have been ordered around by an authoritative yet clueless wife? That whole comment truly hurt to read, and coming from someone who works in “office planning and design” is just really depressing.

          1. Observer*

            Yes, it is. I can’t even begin to imagine what anyone with unusual needs is going to have to go through when dealing with someone who is so stereotype driven.

      3. Rayray*

        Why are people on your office bothered by someone having a photo of their family? Sheesh, you’d lose your mind if you walked around my workplace.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Right. I worked in insurance, which is very male-dominated on the property/casualty side, and guess what? All the male executives with offices had photos of their families everywhere you looked in their office. They also had their sports memorabilia everywhere, and no one said anything to them about it. In fact, no one said anything about anyone’s office decor because I think most of us realized it was none of our business how someone who was several pay grades above us chose to decorate their own space that they damn near lived in (exec hours there were looong, especially on the claims side).

        2. Crivens!*

          My theory is they’ve drunk the capitalist Kool aid that tells us we should all be personality free drones who have no function outside of work.

          1. Rayray*

            Most likely.

            I’m actually now reminded of when I was told off for keeping a throw blanket on my chair. It was a horrible job and toxic boss that cared more about appearances than efficiency or wellbeing.

        3. sfdgf tr*

          I took it as being more about the size of the photo on that small table. It takes up a LOT of the table making the working space less usable. Also it makes the photo SO PROMINENT. Lots of people have photos of their family in their offices or cubes, but few have them so large as to take up a large portion of the working surface.

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Maybe that was the one good professional photo they had. Maybe he knows he’s up for promotion and an office move soon and will not have this tiny desk for much longer. “his SO made him do it” is such an odd conclusion to immediately jump to.

            1. Triplestep*

              You saw where I said I knew the guy, right? You seem to want to read something else in this so badly! Why? Why can’t it be a nice guy with a photo his SO gave him not realizing his “office” was a giant table he shared with five other people and their phones, headphones and drinks? What is so offensive about the idea that someone gave her husband a gift that looked out of place in it’s intended spot?

              1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                I saw it. I also saw it where he never said anything to you about his wife insisting that he bring his photo in, and him reluctantly obliging. But you know him, so you read his mind, so it’s all good.

                1. Triplestep*

                  You must be reading on a phone and did not scroll. Or maybe you thought my question was rhetorical so you ignored it. But I truly want to know: Why can’t it be a nice guy with a photo his SO gave him not realizing his “office” was a giant table he shared with five other people and their phones, headphones and drinks? What is so offensive about the idea that someone gave her husband a gift that looked out of place in it’s intended spot?

              2. Observer*

                He could be. But you really don’t have the standing to make that assumption and have people accept it. For one thing, you never spoke to him about it. At the same time this comes as part of a larger comment that IS absolutely inaccurate in that it trades in a bunch of stereotypes, most of which are either false, offensive or both. Why would someone trust your assessment when your bias is so glaring?

          2. Triplestep*

            Yes, it was the size of the photo compared to the small amount of space he was allocated. A bit further down I describe the set up in more detail, but the point was not that it was a family photo, but that as a giant professional photo in a tiny tech space, it was out of place. Would have looked just right in giant office on a giant desk.

        4. Miso*

          My coworker (we share an office) has all kinds of family photos, pictures drawn by the kids, heck, even an ultrasound! While I only have some small things we got from customers.

          Oh yeah, he’s the guy, I’m the woman.

        5. Interior decoration buff*

          Triplestep did not say that all family photos should be banned. She said that her client had a “giant framed 10×14 professional photo of his SO and child” handing above a table with 24×36″ of free space. In other words, it was a centerpiece that dominated the room. I would agree that this is out of place.

          1. Triplestep*

            Actually it was sitting right off to the side of his monitor! But yes, that was the point. It was out of place and made the guy seem a bit tone deaf compared to his peers at the same giant table. I didn’t say all family photos should be banned. Or that only women have them, and if men have them it’s only because they are “forced” to by their overbearing wives.

            I tend to forget how people run away with things here. I am guessing the thinly veiled ageism in some of the replies is due to my having said I have 30 years experience. Sharing what I’ve seen over decades doesn’t mean I think women should be given the side-eye decorating their offices in a homey stye, but in my professional estimation … they ARE. Is that not what the question was about?

            1. Anya Last Nerve*

              I don’t know why people are jumping on you, Triplestep. I have observed some crazy cubicle and office decorations, and I agree it’s primary been women. In an open workspace, a woman put up a shelf on her low cube wall and legitimately had over 20 framed photos. I used to call it her “mantle” and it looked very unprofessional. Another woman had a bunch of sea shells and beach paraphernalia. We are in an urban area. Many people snickered and joked about it – her cube was decorated like a powder room at someone’s beach house. I think people need to accept that this is how it is – if you put a giant professional photo on your desk or put up a whole bunch of decor, you are going to look out of touch and unprofessional. And as for the OP, I think a bright teal office sounds pretty unprofessional. Not feminine as much as just unprofessional (my daughter has a teal bedroom, but she’s 11).

              1. Triplestep*

                I think people are turned off by my asserting there is some truth in things we think of as negative stereotypes. The occupants of very personalized offices are more often female. Men often bring in things given to them by their wives, and I have to figure out where to hang or place them. (That’s not to say I don’t have men personalizing, but I have NEVER had a woman say “Please find a place for this thing my spouse gave me for my office” or “My spouse wants to pick the furniture.” Yes, that has happened with wives.) And since the question was about being seen as “too girly” it all seemed worth mentioning. Sure it’s distasteful to think we as women are measured on things like this … but don’t kill the messenger.

                As to why I’m getting jumped on, it’s may have something to do with people doing the math (30 years experience) and realizing I’m as old as their mother!

                1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  I get what you’re talking about.
                  Your argument just gets diluted though when you start playing the ageist victim though. Pretty sure you have no idea how old those picking your comments apart are.

                2. Triplestep*

                  @RebelwithMouseyHair – writing style can reveal a lot about how old a person might be. For example, you haven’t written enough for me to be able to tell your age, but the fact that you don’t see writing style as an age indicator tells me that you might be significantly younger than I am.

                  Another thing is righteous indignation. When I was in my twenties, I would have shot the messenger like a lot of the commenters here have done with me. Back then I stood on ceremony a lot, and bristled at anything that looked like it was a reinforcement of gender stereotypes. I think it takes maturity to realize that as distasteful as gender stereotypes are, a person who speaks about having seen them play out in the workplace is not sexist for having done so. I didn’t see a lot of that maturity here.

      4. EventPlannerGal*

        Honestly I just think it’s kind of sad that you view your colleagues through this henpecking wife/dutiful husband dynamic. Maybe they like their families. Maybe they *asked* their partners for stuff to decorate their offices with and that’s what they got. My office is about 80% male and most people have personalised their desks/offices with family photos, postcards, souvenirs, personal knick-knacks, whatever, and I don’t believe for a second that they’re being made to do this by their wives. In fact, many of the guys that I can think of with personal/family stuff on their desks are single.

        1. Diahann Carroll*

          Yeah, that comment was disturbing and was not reflective of any office I’ve been in, and I’ve worked in law, insurance, transit, and now software.

          1. Triplestep*

            I have been in this field for thirty years. I have never had a woman say “my spouse wants to measure my office so he can decorate it”. Multiple men have. Besides family photos, IME men tend to decorate with non-personal items, industry-related things for example. They are not making their offices “homey” the way women are with words on the wall, floral prints, etc.

            I could go on, obviously, but if you find a collection of comments about things I have lived and observed in the daily goings-on of my job “disturbing” (really?) there’s little point. I don’t dabble in this … Unlike most people who only set up a handful of offices in a career, we do it day in and day out. We are visual by nature and notice things others may not.

            1. Diahann Carroll*

              They are not making their offices “homey” the way women are with words on the wall, floral prints, etc.

              Where in the world is this happening? And why are you extrapolating this to anything the OP has in her office when Alison explicitly said upthread the only things that read as “feminine” from the photo she’s seen of OP’s office is the wall color (which came out lighter than the OP expected, so wasn’t truly her choice to begin with) and one piece of wall art. Yeah, I do find your comments here disturbing because they’re reinforcing gender stereotypes (did you ever think those dudes are blaming their wives because they’re embarrassed to be interested in something that’s traditionally seen as “feminine”? Surely, their wives are not coming to their offices everyday to inspect that it’s been properly measured and decorated just so) and they have nothing to do with OP’s actual situation.

              1. Triplestep*

                And why are you extrapolating this to anything the OP has in her office when Alison explicitly said upthread the only things that read as “feminine” from the photo she’s seen of OP’s office is the wall color (which came out lighter than the OP expected, so wasn’t truly her choice to begin with) and one piece of wall art.

                I am not extrapolating anything. I am responding to the comment by EPLawyer that an office should not be “homey”. I agree. I also did not see Alison’s comment (actually still haven’t – I’ve been in meetings) so I was going by the letter which indicated other women “squealed” when they saw her paint and decor.

                The better question is why are you getting bent out of shape over an office designer telling the LW what she’s seen over 30 years. The question was can a “girly” office hold someone back. I think an office that is overly decorated and overly “homey” can read as “not serious”. I am also saying that in my career as a designer and construction project manager, it’s women that tend to make their offices overly homey. Do men do it? Sure but in my experience, not as often. When men over-personalize it tends to be with sports paraphernalia which can make an office read just as “not serious.” Men who over-personalize would probably be looked at similarly to a woman who over-personalized an office, but again, in thirty years I’ve seen women do it more. Is that better?

                1. PVR*

                  I’m hoping that a lot of these generalizations are based more on the 30 years ago end of things although I guess that still brings us to the 90s, and I would think spouses being involved in office decorations to be much more of a 70s (or earlier) thing. I do think that gender norms in the workplace have changed considerably over the last 30 + years. The way some men spoke about their wives when I was growing up is way less acceptable now and generally only seen in older generations.

                2. Anononon*

                  How is sports paraphernalia not as equally homey as more stereotypical “feminine” items? If anything, it sounds more homey to me than a thoughtfully decorated office.

                3. soon to be former fed really*

                  Triplestep, I don’t know why folks are piling on you, you have said nothing unreasonable.

                4. Queer Earthling*

                  I also did not see Alison’s comment

                  It…seems weird to me to go on a site where the primary premise is that one (1) person gives advice…and then not read the given advice before commenting? But then reading through the comments until you find one that you agree with? But you’re still to busy to read the site proprietor’s comment which is directly below the letter? But okay.

                5. Triplestep*

                  @PVR – The wife wanting to be involved in a new office design happened as recently as 2018, but the first time I can remember was in 1991.

                  @Anononon – Sports paraphernalia IS equally homey. I wrote: “When men over-personalize it tends to be with sports paraphernalia which can make an office read just as “not serious.”

                  @Queer Earthling – Because Alison’s comment it is buried in the reader comments; not in the advice (which, don’t worry, I read.)

                  @soon to be former fed really – Yes, it’s weird isn’t it? It’s the reason I rarely comment here anymore. People see a good fight a-brewin’ and need to jump in. They find something to be offended about (often in the way someone else has interpreted what you’ve written – not in what you’ve actually posted) and just run with it. I realize it’s distasteful to the commenters of a blog who are mainly young women that there might be a grain of truth to what we think of as gender stereotypes. (In this case, that the occupants of very personalized “homey” offices are more often than not, women.) But refuting those things does not make sexism go away. Thanks for the gut check.

                6. Queer Earthling*

                  fair enough, I misread and since there were several people downthread who straight-up didn’t read the original letter I was like ???????

            2. Crivens!*

              The fact that toxic masculinity tells men they’re only allowed to show a very narrow amount of personality does not mean women also have to live that way.

              1. Sarahhh*

                But if you’re a very real person in a very real job who is losing very real capital and opportunities for advancement because people see you as “not serious” then maybe you should change your decor, instead of dying on the altar of making feminine presentation more professionally accepted.

            3. EventPlannerGal*

              I feel like the goalposts are shifting here. When the OP said “homey”, she is talking about a paint colour (blue) and some wall decor. You’re talking about men’s office decor being “women-driven” and how men are being marched off the work to decorate with family photos against their will and women wanting, what, floral wallpaper and Live Laugh Love signs? I don’t really understand what point you’re trying to make or how to relates to OP’s situation, which is a paint colour that she chose from the options offered to her and someone else, a man, is making a big deal out of. Nobody’s trying to dismiss your experience here but you are bringing in a lot of elements that don’t really make sense to me.

              1. Joielle*

                I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I don’t doubt that high-level men delegate office decoration to their wives, or that the wives who are used to taking care of everything domestic jump to take it on. (In fact, that strikes me as just another facet of the patriarchy, not some “oh these frivolous women” thing.) But it has absolutely nothing to do with the letter, in which the OP committed the heinous crime of… picking out a paint color from a list of options. She’s not bringing in rugs or hanging wallpaper or whatever. So the advice of “your office shouldn’t be too homey” just doesn’t make any sense.

                Also, like… women really cannot win here. If a woman has an overly “done” office, it’s her fault. If a man has an overly “done” office, it’s his wife forcing him to do it.

            4. stiveee*

              This is a very heteronormative and frankly out-dated take on marriage and gender roles. I’ve also worked in facilities and have never heard of someone measuring because their wife asked them to. Also… stay with me here.. some men have husbands and some women (like me) have wives and don’t have “floral prints,” whatever that is. Time to throw away that copy of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus.

              1. Triplestep*

                Stay with me here … this is what I wrote:

                I have been in this field for thirty years. I have never had a woman say “my spouse wants to measure my office so he can decorate it”. Multiple men have.

                I didn’t say someone measured “because their wife asked them to.” Gee I guess I implied a woman’s spouse would use the pronoun “he”. Sue me.

                Your comment is typical of someone who is just aching to be offended. It’s not MY heteronormative and out-dated take on marriage and gender roles, it’s the way I have seen other people behave.

                You’ve worked in Facilities and never seen this? Geez, I guess I couldn’t have either. You got me!

              2. Interior decoration buff*

                @stivee, you may be confusing sexism on the part of Triplestep’s clients (“I’m the wife and know best about interior decor”) with sexism on the part of Triplestep, who is merely reporting her clients’ behavior. Shooting the messenger is one of the most fundamental logical fallacies.

                As for “some women have wives,” of course that is a valid point, but it also strikes me as “not everyone can eat sandwiches” — it is derailing a broader conversation about what various kinds of decor signal about one’s office and career.

                It also seems to me that some people are forgetting this is an advice blog. If you post here, you can expect to hear all kinds of advice, some of which you may disagree with. If you come here expecting to hear nothing other than viewpoints that validate your own opinion, perhaps you’ve already made up your mind and don’t need to ask for advice.

            5. Observer*

              There is a good line about “thirty years of experience” vs “one year of experience 30 times”. I wonder which you have. Because you really, really are trading in stereotypes and unsupported conclusions in most of your comments.

              Allow me to point out that someone saying that his wife (or anyone else) wants him to measure the office so she can decorate it does not support any of the claims you are making. And given the kinds of inaccurate and sweeping statements you are making, I also have to doubt the accuracy of your perceptions.

              I don’t think you are lying – I’m sure you actually believe this stuff, which is actually the problem. Because your bias is almost certainly leading you to mis-perceive a lot of what you are actually seeing.

              1. Why on earth*

                It isn’t a stereotype, it’s their lived experience!

                If 1000 of my female clients do something and 10 of my male clients do, I am not stereotyping to say “In my experience, women are more likely to X”. Because it’s referencing MY EXPERIENCE not the sum of all humanity.

                1. Triplestep*

                  Yep, this is why I didn’t even bother to respond to this comment, but thank you for explaining it to them. I didn’t even know where to begin, it’s so far from being about what I posted.

                  It is not nice to think that someone can draw gender lines about a workplace behavior even based on her own experience, so rather than considering it, we need to call them out on bias.

        2. Interior decoration buff*

          “My office is about 80% male and most people have personalised their desks/offices with family photos, postcards, souvenirs, personal knick-knacks”

          That said, “most people” are not aiming to join senior management. Those who are need to give some thought to their personal brand and how the workplace perceives them. I don’t think that means banning all personalization whatsoever, but it should not be overly obtrusive. A giant family photo (especially if it’s not black and white or in some way avant-garde) should not be the centerpiece artwork in an office.

          The home offices of Keisha Lance-Bottoms and Joe Biden are good examples of what I mean. Mayor Lance-Bottoms has a few family photos on a credenza behind her desk. They accentuate, but do not dominate. The same is true of Beau Biden’s memorial flag and football.

            1. Interior decoration buff*

              “So now this tech guy with the family photo is aiming to join senior management?”

              No idea. If he doesn’t care about being promoted, then he can decorate his office however he likes without caring how it’s perceived (assuming it meets minimum standards of decency/fire codes).

        3. Interior decoration buff*

          “Maybe they like their families.”

          Triplestep did not say her clients dislike their families. On the contrary, they like their families so much that they are making questionable interior decoration choices based on their families’ recommendations.

      5. Amy*

        My office would never have allowed the paint color customization. It’s just too much, even for truly senior people. Offices get moved around, people move floors, people leave, we’re ending the lease on one of our floors due to Covid. There’s no sense letting people get that comfortable these days. Paint color is standardized throughout.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          The OP picked the paint color out of a bunch of chips provided by her employer. It’s not customized.

        2. Observer*


          The OP was given a set of paint chips to choose from. If the employer actually did that, why on earth would someone NOT choose the color they want? Why would anyone worry that in some companies this would never be allowed?

      6. MCMonkeyBean*

        Wow I don’t even know how to respond to this comment it is so bad.

        “It’s nothing to do with sexism, but only women are decorating wrong and if a man decorates wrong it’s only because his woman-wife told him to.”


        1. Crivens!*

          “Wife bad!”

          Why do these type of men get married if all they’re going to do is act like it’s an imposition on their very soul to be around a woman?

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Hopefully this is a generational thing, and the generation that thinks they’re obligated to complain about their wives in public in order to be seen as manly, is currently in the process of retiring. I only ever had one coworker of my generation (X) that would not quit complaining about his wife. Then we had an office party with +1s invited, and he spent a few weeks leading up to the party loudly stressing out about how his wife would embarrass him at the party, he was worried, she was also worried, they were both losing sleep over whether she’d be able to behave at the party… The party rolled around and sure enough, the wife turned out to be a normal, functional adult, fun to be around. Monday after the party, coworker started in about the wife again and I interrupted him to say, “Give it a break. We’ve all met her. She should be the one complaining” and like magic, the complaints about the wife stopped. I’m not working with him anymore so maybe he’s now back to doing it again. But he was the only one; and the least professional and upwardly mobile of the team. Complaining about the old ball and chain is really not done anymore, in my world anyway.

            1. Observer*

              Perfect response. But this has always been a really bad take. Guys who wanted to be upwardly mobile did NOT complain about their wives. It was very much frowned upon. Many reasons for that, some good and some not so good…

        2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I was in my husband’s office and made him buy a box of tissues during cold season, instead of leaving a roll of toilet paper unwound across his desk so it looked like he was watching porn at his computer.

          Was that acceptable? Or should he have left the TP because it’s more masculine?

        3. Queer Earthling*

          OP: Is my office too girly and is that bad?
          Alison: I don’t think so, and it’s a complica–
          Commenters: Your office is bad and you should feel bad.


      7. MissBliss*

        “I don’t think it’s a matter of an office being “girly” as it is an office being “homey” which is thought of as the domain of women.”

        If “homey” = “the domain of women” then “homey” = “girly” which means that judgments of such spaces are sexist. Whether or not the person with the homey space in question is a woman.

        1. Triplestep*

          If “homey” = “the domain of women” then “homey” = “girly” which means that judgments of such spaces are sexist.

          Yes. They are. That was my point. Why do you think the LW wrote to ask if she was being held back by an office that might seem girly?

          Are you saying we should not assume the owner of a “homey” office is a woman? You are offended by my assertion that women make their offices homey in much higher percentages than men do? Not sure what to tell you there.

          1. MissBliss*

            I mean… I’m not offended by anything you said. But what you seemed to be saying was “it’s not that it’s girly, it’s that it’s perceived as feminine” which… is a pointless difference. LW asked if they were being judged because their office was girly; you said “no, you’re being judged because your office is HOMEY, which is a feminine thing.” It’s an unnecessary distinction that isn’t helpful.

            But also, yes! Don’t assume that the owner of a “homey” office is a woman. That would be a weird thing to do.

      8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I was today years old when I learned that: 1) it is typical for a wife to give a husband items for his office to “homify” it, 2) having a photo of their SO and children on their desk makes a man seem unprofessional, 3) no real man would put said photo on their desk unless their wife or girlfriend makes them do it. Seriously? Seriously? Pretty sure even in the 50s it was acceptable and professional for a man to admit that he loves his family, and to have photos of them in his office. In fact, I suspect that family photos in execs’ offices are (for better or for worse) part of their professional look – displayed with the intention to show that they are not robots, that they value work-life balance, that they are respectable family men, etc.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I must be a bad wife, because I’ve never given my husband “homey” items to decorate his office with, I don’t have any pictures of my family at work currently, but Hubs has definitely always had a picture of the two of us (that he picked out, printed out, framed, and brought to work his own self) on his work desk. I have two mini Portal turrets, a welded bolts/nuts/screws horse, and a big ol’ plant on my desk.

          I’m also pretty sure my dad, who has been in roles reporting directly to company president for years now, has always had several pictures of the family in his office for….forever. As in, I visited once when I was in town to take him to lunch, and someone *recognized me* by face and knew who I was, who I belonged to, and had paged my dad that I was there before I even introduced myself. I have and have had lots of male coworkers who have pictures of their families up. Heck, generally if they have Smaller Children, they even have a poster or picture said children made for them up at work.

        2. PVR*

          My dad always had an 8×10 photo of our family on his work desk… as did literally everyone he worked with. This is so common on so many desks, both now and in the past, I am astounded that this can be construed as unprofessional.

          1. Triplestep*

            Don’t be astounded, one said “unprofessional”.

            Hold your hands straight out in front of you and part them slightly. That’s about how much workspace this guy had. Now hold them straight out in front of you and move them a bit closer together. That’s how big the frame was. Now hold your hands straight out to the side and imagine you’re touching your work neighbor. That was the set up here. A table with a bunch of tech professionals, and the only personal items were headphones, phones and drink cups. And then a giant professional photo, 10 x 14. Unprofessional? No. Out of place? Yes.

            Does anything about what I describe above sound like your father’s office?

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              Again, I just truly, truly do not understand why your immediate assumption is that this guy was marched off to work with this photograph by his partner against his will. I understand thinking that it was out of place, although based on my heavily male office I believe men are just as likely to personalise their workspace as women, but I don’t understand leaping to “and therefore this is a woman-driven attempt to homeify his space that he has no say in”. I mean, if my partner wanted me to display a giant embarrassing photo that I hated on my desk, I simply would not put it on my desk and they would never know because they do not work there. Like, here are some possibilities:

              – he wanted a photo on his desk, went out and got one but misjudged the size and wasn’t bothered enough by it to get another smaller one
              – he wanted a photo on his desk, asked his partner for one and she, never having been to his office, gave him one that was the wrong size
              – he wanted a photo on his wall and got a wall-size one, didn’t have time to hang it up yet and left it standing on his desk
              – he wanted a photo on his desk and literally didn’t care about the size/aesthetics beyond that
              – he wanted a photo on his desk and deliberately got a giant one that he could also use as an impromptu table divider

              There are so many possibilities and all of the ones I just threw out in 2 minutes start with “he wanted a photo”. I’m sorry to be stuck on this point but I just don’t agree that men don’t display these items by choice.

              1. Triplestep*

                Again, I just truly, truly do not understand why your immediate assumption is that this guy was marched off to work with this photograph by his partner against his will.

                That is not my immediate assumption. Sorry, I stopped reading after that because … well … this was not my immediate assumption and I’m tired of responding to posts where people misrepresent what I’ve actually said. I actually thought the mega photo on this guy’s work surface was kind of sweet. My guess was that his wife had no idea what his office environment was like, and knowing him, he was kind of oblivious to how out of place it looked.

                My point was this: The question was “Am I holding myself back by having a girly office.” The occupants of very personalized “homey” offices are more often women. Having an overly personalized “homey” office can read as tone deaf. Don’t read as tone deaf.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  Okay cool, so you don’t actually take in what people are saying to you because you don’t want to hear it. Love that for you!

                  “it’s often women-driven… Many times I have seen men get their first office and within the first few days, they march in there with items handed to them by their wives… The most memorable example of this I saw was a guy in tech with about 24″ x 36″ of space at a table, and there sat a giant framed 10 x 14 professional photo of his SO and child… I’m fairly certain that photo came from the woman in it, just as I’m sure she’d never seen his workspace. He was very much the type to shrug and say “she gave it to me for my office”” – You! Literally your copy-and-pasted words, which you typed out and posted and are freely available to read a few comments up.

                  Again: why do you assume that this was an example of something handed to him by his wife, with the very clear implication that he would not have chosen to display it himself? Why is this a “memorable example” of something “woman-driven” when this guy, by any version of the story, must have accepted the photo, agreed to display it and continued to display it even after it became clear that it was awkwardly large? Why is that “woman-driven”, and not his choice?

                2. Triplestep*


                  Okay cool, so you don’t actually take in what people are saying to you because you don’t want to hear it.

                  No, when someone starts with a false premise (i.e. something I never said nor implied) I can assume the rest of it is based on the initial false premise, so why bother? Just like I didn’t read the rest of this one! I regularly engage with people who disagree with me as long as they don’t start out with something preposterous. (Or obnoxious as in “Love that for you!”). I’ve ignored plenty of attacks on what I posted here today because they are way too far from the reality of what I wrote, and I’m neither itchin’ for a fight nor looking for a reason to be offended as so many seem to be. I’ve wasted a lot of time here today!

                3. MCMonkeyBean*


                  But it’s not a false premise, EventPlannerGal is literally responding to your exact words.

                  “I’m fairly certain that photo came from the woman in it, just as I’m sure she’d never seen his workspace”

                  There is literally no reason other than very weird sexism to be fairly certain the photo came from the woman rather than being something he wanted for himself.

                4. Triplestep*


                  I wrote in my original post, the one from which you quoted:

                  Knowing this guy, I’m fairly certain that photo came from the woman in it, just as I’m sure she’d never seen his workspace. He was very much the type to shrug and say “she gave it to me for my office” without regard to how out of place it seemed and what that might say about him in this particular office culture.

                  I knew the guy. I have written about more about this elsewhere here, so if you care to, go look for it. But even if you don’t (oh who are we kidding?) if you’re resorting to selective editing to “win” here, you should probably not bother to comment.

            2. PVR*

              This is wildly condescending. I can visualize what a 2 foot x 3 foot space looks like, as well as 10×14, and if I couldn’t I would be a lot more likely to use a tape measure than to hold my arms out in various ways. I understand it’s the proportion of the photo to the work area that may have been out of place but in the context of the rest of the comment surrounding this, it did seem as though it was the photo of family itself. Having larger photos of one’s family on a desk is just such a normal thing across multiple generations and industries that I was … surprised.

              1. Triplestep*

                Nope, it must have been someone else’s response to what I wrote – not what I actually wrote. That happens a lot here. I never said anything remotely like “family photos are unprofessional.” (Never said men don’t have them, which is another thing people have run off with. I actually said the opposite.) I was very specific in my post; I gave dimensions of this person’s work surface. Sorry that you found my explanation above “weirdly condescending” but when you equated this guy’s tiny workspace with your parent’s office, I was reminded that some people can’t visualize dimensions; in those cases typically I’ll find another way to spell it out.

            3. MCMonkeyBean*

              10×14 is not giant, that’s barely bigger than the size of a normal piece of paper.

              Looking at your coworker’s decor and deciding without him having said anything at all to indicate it that obviously it was his wife that wanted it there is insulting to him, his wife, and basically all humans in general that have the ability to make their own decisions and not be confined to gender stereotypes from the 1950’s.

              1. Triplestep*

                … not be confined to gender stereotypes from the 1950’s.

                Would you say that to someone who hadn’t posted all over that she has 30 years work experience? I’m finding some of the responses here to be rather ageist.

                As I’ve said, I knew the guy. I thought it was sweet that he had the photo, and it was still completely out of place compared to the work setting. To think that his wife gave it to him is to be generous in my conclusion that she had never seen his office, and he was just kind of a nice oblivious guy and didn’t see it himself. I’m sorry that this innocent explanation offends you as a human being.

                1. MCMonkeyBean*

                  Lololol I don’t know how you think that has anything to do with your age. “The 1950’s” is just the go-to decade for referencing sexist workplace sterotypes.

          2. Joielle*

            My dad had an 8×10 glamour shot of my mom on his desk! One of those soft-focus shots where she was all swaddled in pink tulle and pearls, with blue eyeshadow and hair teased to high heaven. Just the most absurd picture ever taken of her. This is mostly unrelated to the topic at hand (he also had a whole collection of photos of my brother and me) but your comment made me think of it :)

        3. Triplestep*

          I Wrote This in the Bathroom for the win! Though many have tried, no one else has turned my general statements into absolutes as thoroughly as you have!

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Or we could just agree that your coworker is a grown-a## adult who brings whatever he wants to display on his desk, for no reason other than that’s what he wants.

      9. Cdn Acct*

        Sometimes I feel like industries which market to people can lean into generalizations way too much, and I think that’s why this comment bothers me so much. Thinking that all forms of decorating with family photos somehow originate from women, because all men don’t care and all women do, is just ridiculous.

        I’m a woman fairly high up and the few personal items I have on my desk are sports-related. I work with many men who have family photos or personal items who definitely didn’t get told to bring them. I have my sports stuff there because one, I don’t have much space at home and I think they look neat, and two, they’re a hobby that I can widely chat with co-workers about – a much better conversation starter than some anime figurines which almost no one is familiar with.

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Thinking that all forms of decorating with family photos somehow originate from women, because all men don’t care and all women do, is just ridiculous.

          I had a lot of my residual gender stereotypes shattered when I dated and had two serious relationships while in my 40s. Come to find out, men can be good at, and enjoy, cooking, cleaning, home decorating, raising children on their own, and a million other things that we are somehow being told to believe they cannot do and need a woman to do it for them. In this age of same-sex marriages, people never marrying, polycules etc etc, where does this garbage keep coming from? do a lot of cis hetero married men actually act like this in 2020? I wouldn’t know, I was only married to one and he was raised in a different (pretty sexist tbh) culture.

      10. D3*

        Wow, what a load of stereotypes and leaping to conclusion. You assume the items were handed to them by their wives, you think he is “just the type”
        You are definitely projecting your own beliefs and prejudices on all those around you. And not in a healthy way. You need to get over the “feminine = bad” assumptions, and the belief that any evidence that men might actually want things in their office means that their wives are nagging them into it.

      11. Batgirl*

        This office environment sounds super depressing. Personal items are allowed but frowned on? That’s nuts. No wonder people are blaming spouses.

      12. Observer*


        Lots of blame shifting and stereotyping here.

        According to your telling, men don’t want anything individualized in their offices; women are clueless about what offices typically look like and about the fact that different place have different norms around this stuff; women order their husbands to do stuff in their workplaces that don’t affect those women just because; and men are a bunch of hapless twerps who just do what their wives tell them to and don’t push back on issues directly related to their workplace.

        I’m not going to address each stereotype. But I will point out that while any one of these may be true of individuals, it’s not credible that this same narrative comprising all of these tropes is really playing out for “all” guys / “all” guys getting their first office.

        Please stop perpetuating stereotypes. And maybe it would be a good idea to re-examine how you are looking at this stuff.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          These comments are starting to pile up here. Triplestep has explained herself at length else where. I think it’s time to read comments before commenting rather than just saying with slightly different words what’s already been said by loads of others…

      13. LilPinkSock*

        “what that might say about him in this particular office culture.”

        …That he has a family? Heaven forfend!

        1. Triplestep*

          I cannot believe that people are still commenting on this, but moreover, that they are still not getting it. The fact that people need to be so offended by it is just really the most curious thing of all.

          The giant framed photo looked out of place and made him seem a little out of touch. Are you so offended by this idea that you’re saying you’d walk by a table shared by six tech colleagues, scattered with head phones, coffee drinks, charging devices, etc, and NOT notice a huge framed 10 x 14 photo as being out of place?

          This blog regularly talks about workplace norms, and things people do that show in subtle ways that they understand them. I wonder if people are offended by those conversations as well.

          1. Mirabel*

            What’s “offensive” is your insistence that there’s no way this guy could have chosen this photo himself, there’s no way he could actually like having it there.

            Unless he’s a literal child incapable of making decisions, he has the ability to *gasp* remove the photo if it’s so gigantic and embarrassingly out of touch. There’s no need to drag his wife into this.

            Like, is this guy literally sitting there, wringing his hands over this photo and crying that he really wishes he could liberate his precious desk space, but if the ol’ ball-and-chain finds out, he’ll be banished to the couch?

            He’s an adult. If he didn’t want the photo there, it’d be gone. Your insistence in blaming his wife is what’s “offensive”.

            1. Triplestep*

              I cannot believe that people are still commenting on this, but moreover, that they are still not getting it. The fact that people need to be so offended by it is just really the most curious thing of all.

              Oh wait …

              There was no “insistence” (or even suggestion) that he didn’t want the photo, and no “blame” on the wife – just the notion that she gave it to him. Seriously, there HAS to be a better use for your anger right now.

    7. Minocho*

      After my technical accomplishments and abilities were all ignored at my last job, and only my emotional labor to improve team morale got any notice, I decided to avoid wearing skirts or dresses (except at the Christmas party), no longer bring in snacks or baked goods I made (I love to cook), and to aggressively push back against being assigned work that reads as female (note taker, coffee maker, general admin work when I’m a software engineer and team lead, etc.).

      It kind of stinks that I feel I have to do that in order to advance my career, but…I spent three years working to be allowed to develop software at my previous job, finding only male employees, most junior to me, were considered for transfer or promotion (and I had been a developer in jobs previous to this one), and I not only was hired as a developer here, but have since been promoted since starting.

      Some of this is the industry, some the career path I chose, and some is based on individual work environments, supervisors, etc. This is a real consideration for women in the workplace, as unfair as that may be.

      1. Triplestep*

        This is a real consideration for women in the workplace, as unfair as that may be.

        I agree, and I’m sorry that your accomplishments and improvements were ignored initially, I am glad your skills are being recognized now. I do think the things you mentioned (skirts, dresses, baked goods) translate to office decor. Similar to those “girly” things, how does it help to deny that women personalize their offices more than men do (my main point for posting) just because it’s distasteful to think women might be getting unfairly judged for this?

    8. Artemesia*

      I have worked with many me who bring in oriental rugs, and comfortable leather couches and artwork and make their offices look like a typical den. One had a rocking chair that he claimed JFK had once sat in — it was all very ‘homey’. It isn’t about ‘homey’, it is about sexism.

    9. LW#1*

      Eh, I say “homey” because I have a table runner on top of a credenza, and some succulents in the windowsill. I actually prefer a few homey touches – but as other commenters have pointed out, I don’t have throw pillows or lamps or any actual living room-type accessories.

    10. Eether Eyether*

      I respectfully disagree. I don’t equate “homey” with feminine. My office is very “homey” and warm. Everyone, male and female, comment on how welcoming and comfortable it is when they drop by. I had no say on the wall color (it’s a dark tan) but I have several plants and have hung a couple of photographs that I have taken. It’s a very relaxing space in a crazy busy company, which is what it’s meant to be. I am not a girly girl, but I like to surround myself with nice things and I’m glad that my co-workers find it “homey.”

  4. Bubbles*

    OP2: I have one of those people at my site. She REFUSES to mute, even when people point it out. But last week on a huge important Zoom session with almost 300 people, she refused to mute… and when she made a noise and her video popped up, all 300 saw her picking her nose. Like finger up in there! It was SHOCKING.

    So now when someone refuses to mute themself, we wait for the booger video.

    1. many bells down*

      We literally have someone (usually me) designated to mute people on large zoom calls. There’s a few people who consistently (accidentally, probably) unmute themselves at the worst possible time. Hosts and cohosts are all tapped to mute people who unmute at the wrong time.

      1. MayLou*

        That’s one thing I like about Microsoft Teams – at least the way ours is configured, anyone can mute anyone else. My supervisor has a very noisy laptop fan and isn’t very tech savvy so I muted her since she didn’t know how at first.

        1. MayLou*

          Also, on zoom you can use the spacebar to temporarily unmute yourself, just hold it down to talk. Having an easy way to speak might make it more likely people will mute themselves.

          1. Sparrow*

            How do people manage this if they’re taking notes in another program during the meeting? I leave myself unmuted in smaller meetings where I’m more likely to be asked a question or to have something to add to the conversation because stopping whatever I’m typing to toggle over to zoom and hit the space bar was just really awkward and inconvenient. Going unmuted seems to be working ok (I live alone so don’t have much background noise and use a head set with mic, which does help reduce ambient noise like the a/c), but if there’s a way to more smoothly unmute while multitasking, I’m open to suggestions! And I do mute myself in larger meetings, regardless.

            1. leeapeea*

              Position the window you’re typing in “next” to the zoom window (assuming you have more than one window open). Ctrl+Tab once to toggle and and Spacebar shouldn’t take that much time. Plus other people can see that your muted and there’s usually a bit of a pause before people will chime in to “remind” you to umute yourself. I’d rather be reminded to “unmute” than “mute” personally.

              1. Glitsy Gus*

                This is what I do. I also have a mute button on my headset, so I’ll just use that to mute/unmute a lot of the time. That way I don’t even need to toggle.

            2. Feline*

              Good suggestion from leeapeea. Depending on your computer’s mic, your coworkers may be hearing your typing. Mute is always safest.

        2. violet04*

          Yes, our Team is configured the same way. Any participant can mute another. I’ve done that on occasion.

          OP – check the settings on the software to see if there is any option like this.

        3. Zweisatz*

          MayLou, I use that option as well, it’s so great. Someone is typing loudly and not muted? Don’t care, I will do it.

      2. Feline*

        Designated muters are necessary, and in my opinion, it’s good practice to announce you are muting everyone to save on confusion later in the meeting. “I’m hearing some background noise, and I’m muting everyone except Esmerelda now.” If OP mutes everyone the boss and the boss constantly unmutes, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

    2. Pretzelgirl*

      So many people refuse to mute themselves on calls for my work. One day there was a tuba playing in the background of someone’s call. Finally someone asked her to mute herself.

    3. OP#2*

      Oh. My. Goshhhhh. That is amazing and I would have had to quickly turn off my camera so I could laugh in privacy lol.

      1. Larina*

        Hi OP#2!

        Hopping into this thread to let you know that if you’re the meeting host in WebEx, you can mute anyone else in the meeting. I provide software training via WebEx pretty much every day, and if there’s someone who is causing echo/feedback, I mute them, tell them I’ve muted them to avoid the issue, and let them know to un-mute themselves if they have a question.

        I know this doesn’t help if you’re not the meeting host, but if you let other people in your organization know, you might be able to work together to reduce the issue.

      2. The New Normal*

        There were a large volume of phones suddenly appearing in videos with people asking, “Did you just see that???”

        And yes, we normally have a co-host who goes around muting everyone. This particular individual unmutes herself when she notices.

    4. Mimmy*

      The unmuted person’s video (or screen if their video is turned off) popping up every time they make the SLIGHTEST sound is so incredibly distracting!!

      But I have to say I’m giggling at the mental image of seeing the nose picker on a 300-person Zoom call!

    5. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’ve been in a meeting with someone who had to take a call and didn’t mute herself. And so couldn’t hear us saying “Jane, you need to mute yourself.” The ability to mute someone else is pretty important.

    6. anonymous 5*

      This is both gross and priceless.
      Every time I hear about people encountering hilarious consequences for not muting, I think of the story that I’m 99% certain I saw here (pre-COVID, even) about a mutli-continental company who set up a recurring videoconference to start automatically in a designated conference room at each country’s respective HQ. Apparently a couple chose exactly that conference room for their after-hours hookup (can’t remember why nobody from the office was on the call that night) and managed to give everyone else quite the show…

      1. anonymous 5*

        oops–nesting awkward. I specifically meant the booger show when I referred to “gross and priceless.”

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        This is what I want to know! Does she know everyone saw her digging for gold? And has she started muting herself since??

  5. LittleRedRiding...huh?*

    LW1, It upsets me more than I’m willing to admit, that women still have to explain, discuss or even fight for their mere existence in the work force and only because there’s still men out there, whose fragile masculinity is showing on a daily basis.
    I wish for the day when women can just get the job done, without being questioned about their choice of clothes, hair, or even office wall colour.

    1. WellRed*

      Me too! I’m bothered by some comments above that seem to reinforce the idea that women and all their silly notions and frills are outside the norm.

    2. Doug Judy*

      It is absolutely ridiculous. It’s a color for crying out loud. Are some men so fragile that a color is offensive to them? We redid our formal dining room and converted it into my home office/school and it’s a deep purple. My husband loves it as much as I do and our two sones manage to do their online learning just fine in our “feminine” room. I get so many positive comments on my wall color in video meetings. (Webster Ave by Magniloa if anyone is curious) It’s a color. It’s a nice color and compliments other prices in the room. I’m sure OP1’s office is beautiful and it makes her happy. These men can deal with it.

    3. Quinalla*

      I work doing engineering design for the construction industry and while folks that know me this is not a problem, for new people and especially on construction sites or in mechanical rooms the more feminine I’m dressed, the less seriously I am taken. I have my “engineer” outfit for when I am first getting to know people (slacks, button down long sleeve shirt or golf shirt, pony tail) and I make sure to wear understated jewelry. I don’t ever wear make-up so that isn’t a problem, but if I did I would tone it way down. As I get to know people, I dress more feminine. I like all sorts of clothing, but it is irritating to enraging to me depending on the day that I have to do this BS to be taken seriously.

      I had to go to a mechanical room last minute and was dressed more feminine that day (just a feminine shirt and some more “fun” jewelry still with pants) and I had 4 different random people come into the room (it was open to the outside and folks were walking by from building to building) and ask me if I was lost. It was utterly ridiculous. I had a clipboard and was clearly looking at items and taking notes and none of these people were maintenance folks or security who might have felt obligated by their job to check-in. The dude engineer who was with me, but was walking around in other parts of the big room witnessed it and told me after he still couldn’t believe that BS. Not one person approached him.

      So anyway, this is a thing and also something I actively push back against when I feel I can. If a friend is giving you grief, call him out on that BS. Mansplainers are going to do their thing, but yes it may be worse because of your paint color. Hopefully as he gets to know you that will get better, if he already knows you, ugh…

    4. soon to be former fed really*

      I’m pessimistic this day will ever come. That, and an end to racism. I’m 65 and this blog makes it clear that little progress has been made in the decades I’ve been in the professional workforce. At least skirt suits, pantyhose, and dress shoes are no longer required.

  6. Zombeyonce*

    #2: While this won’t help after she starts talking and only works if she’s not leading the meeting, many meeting applications let the organizer set all attendees to begin the meeting muted. This might cut down the amount of time she’s unmuted since she’d have to actively unmute herself. I also recommend implementing a very short “meeting etiquette” line at the beginning of meetings: “Thanks for coming, hope everyone is doing well, let’s all make sure we’re muted to keep down background noise when we’re not speaking, here’s the agenda…” Maybe she’ll eventually get the hint.

    WebEx just implemented a new feature where you can hold down your spacebar while muted to unmute and let it go to remute which is great. If you use that, you could make a big deal about “how convenient” it is and “how it really makes it easier to avoid hearing every little thing going on in people’s homes isn’t that nice!” I’ll bet other commentors have more suggestions.

    1. OP#2*

      Ohh I didn’t know that about the space bar! I’ll try that out and will share that with the team! It may help because despite having used these tools for several months/years, some people on my team still forget how to mute/unmute, leading to several “sorry guys, was muted…” comments.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We have recently switched to Webex and the unmute button literally runs away from me whenever I need to click it. Some kind of a design where, if you hover your cursor over it, several other buttons appear and the unmute button moves over to be on the left of all of them. Will certainly be trying the space bar next time!

      1. BadWolf*

        Yes, I think it happens when you’ve clicked on other windows and the “mute” is just an icon to tell you whether you are muted or not. Then when you click on webex, you refocus on it and it gives you all the buttons that you can click. It is super annoying.

  7. Carrie Oakie*

    People used to make comments about my office (only used lamps instead of overhead light, had a personalized photo calendar, my Work Funko friends and some art. I even brought in a small diffuser (I was right by the kitchen, so many food smells.) people would always say “it’s so dark how can you work in here!” And I’d just say “it’s cozy! I don’t know how you can work with fluorescents!” And keep on typing away. You’re spending most of your time in your office and, IMO, spending that time in a space you enjoy makes it better. Those men are jerks. I’d probably reply with something like “you’re welcome to walk by without making comments. But since you’re here, studies have shown vibrabt colors in calming Hues decreases Stress and increases productivity. Guess I won’t be losin gun my hair or worrying about high blood pressure for awhile!” (Don’t actually say this … but do kindly lEt the men know “aww, thanks for noticing, so nice of you, bless your heart!”)

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Actually one part of your hypothetical would be great to say: “Studies have shown vibrant colors in calming hues decrease stress and increase productivity.”
      Then go back to work and leave him dangling.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      Well, now my coworkers are going to think I’m Carrie Oakie, because I also use lamps instead of overhead lights and have an office full of Funkos…

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      I prefer to turn off the florescents in my office area and use a desk lamp as well. Obviously I don’t do it when other folks are over there, but at least two days a week it was just me and one coworker and we both prefer lamp light so we would turn the overheads off.

      So many times folks would be all, “Oh, let me get the lights for you!” as they walk past. NO! Leave them off! We did this on purpose!

    1. LW#1*

      Ominous Adversary – this is LW#1. You are not wrong. His behavior when I was decorating my office spoke volumes to me and frankly, pissed me off. I’m still friendly with him because we work closely together on a small management team and I don’t want to make things awkward. But I am more vocal about telling him when he’s being an ass these days.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        Without criticizing your handling of the situation in any way, I would reframe it- things are ALREADY awkward because HE made them awkward. There’s nothing wrong with letting the burden of that awkwardness fall on him to the extent it does not interfere with your ability to do your job.

  8. Zombeyonce*

    LW #3, any employer hiring temps knows very well that they’re likely to lose them before the end of their term, and the better the temp is, the higher the likelihood they leave early. It goes with the territory. If they can’t offer a permanent position, they may get lucky enough to attract people that are great at the job but they’ll rarely keep them because those people are going to be in demand enough to find something permanent and with benefits.

    Don’t feel bad, do what’s best for you! Temp work is a means to an end for the large majority of people that take it. You may feel that you’re taking advantage of them for not finishing your term, but realize that they decided to hire someone for a short time, most likely not offer benefits, and it looks like they probably have longer term work but just didn’t want to make the commitment to someone by hiring a perm employee. No one is being taken advantage of here. Take that new job and have a better commute and more stable immediate future! Congratulations!

    1. Chocolate Teapot*

      Also, given how long recruiting processes can take, it might very well be almost the end of the temporary contract, before interviews begin.

    2. Shirley Keeldar*

      Amen to this! If your current company wanted to keep you permanently, they would have, you know, offered you a permanent position. I get that you like working there and appreciate your boss, and I don’t want to discount that. But particularly in this unstable time, nobody rational would fault you for wanting a non-temp job–with, hope, excellent health insurance. Take it and don’t look back!

    3. Xarcady*

      This. It’s a temp job.

      Trust me, if the work you were hired to do suddenly stopped, no matter how long you were told you’d be working there, they would let you go. With a lot of apologies if you were a good worker, but they’d let you go.

      Give two weeks notice, thank everyone who helped you out because you might need them as a reference some day, make sure to leave instructions/fill in your replacement, and leave for the better, permanent job. Good luck!

    4. Persephone Underground*

      This, exactly! A company hiring temps knows they can’t expect them to stop job hunting for a permanent position.

      If you like your employer especially well and would prefer to stay with them, I think this is a situation where giving them a chance to counter (by making your position permanent) would actually be appropriate and not have the usual negative ramifications associated with taking a counter-offer. E.g. it doesn’t show you want to leave, it shows you want to stay but need a permanent position. But that’s only if you actually prefer your current job over the new one, otherwise just go with a clear conscience!

      You’re not obligated to stick around for a temp position ever! That’s what temp means, on both sides.

    5. delicate&lustrous*

      Yes. We hire temps but with no fixed term (some actually stick around for years, and others only a few months). Every time a well-performing temp leaves for a permanent position, everyone is genuinely happy to see them go and we usually have a small going away party for them. If you are a pleasant and decent employee, working for a decent employer, they will be happy to see you succeed.

    6. Death Before Dishonor*

      If they don’t know what they’d do without you, then they should get off their asses and make a full-time offer.

  9. Iron Chef Boyardee*

    #3: Alison says, “Your manager saying ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you’ doesn’t mean ‘I will collapse if you leave.'”

    Even if it did, that’s not your responsibility.

    After all, an employee saying “I don’t know what I’d do without this job” wouldn’t mean anything to an employer who wants to let him go.

    1. Scarlet2*

      This. Also, there’s no way a temp leaving for a permanent job would be “out of the blue”, that’s what pretty much every reasonable person would expect. Even if LW stays until the end, it doesn’t look like the company will hire them permanently anyway, so why the guilt?
      Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.

    2. LifeBeforeCorona*

      This is the classic, “if you get hit by a bus tomorrow, your workplace will still function.” Never make a career decision on a manager’s plea that you are indispensable. No one is, I’ve seen “indispensable” people fired mid-shift.

      1. Ashley*

        And for the number of workplaces that will really fall apart if one person is unexpectedly hospitalized for a month, well that is the fault of the company structure and the individual employee shouldn’t bear the burden. Yes it is good to be needed, but I think the pandemic has taught all of us even jobs we used to think of a secure are not. Employment is a two way street.

    3. Rayray*

      Exactly. Many employers have no problem laying people off or firing them with no warning, even though honestly it’s easier for an office to adjust to losing a person than it is for a person to adjust to losing their job.

      Even if the manager really did feel this way literally, you need to take care of yourself before you take care of a company. If something else will work better for you, take the opportunity. It isn’t your problem if the company or manager is so dysfunctional that they couldn’t get by without someone.

      I really think the comment was made just as a compliment to your good work, not that they would collapse without you.

    4. Glitsy Gus*

      This is exactly correct.

      That said, it’s already mid-August. Depending on how things go with the negotiation, it could be mid-September before you get the offer, which is already fall. If there is a hard deadline that would be a good wrap-up for you at your temp job that isn’t too far out, you could reasonably ask your new employer if your start date could be, say October 15, rather than October 1 so you can finish the project you are working on at your current position. That may not be doable for your new employer, but you could ask.

      If they can’t accommodate that, though, don’t feel bad! As Allison says, this is a business arrangement, and if the shoe was on the other foot they would have zero issue ending your contract early if they no longer needed you.

  10. Zombeyonce*

    #5: I’d actually lean into the stability angle in interviews. I’d want to know how stable a new employer is so I’d outright ask how they’re weathering the pandemic and expect some honest answers. I’d volunteer that I’m looking for other work because of my current workplace’s instability and ask if that’s also a concern at this business. You don’t want to go from the frying pan into the fire.

    You might say, “Why would they be hiring if they’re cutting their workforce?” Different divisions have different priorities and one might be doing okay and need to fill a critical role while another department is floundering and dumping people left and right. That critical role might be the person bailing water out of the engine room of the Titanic. Don’t be that person.

    1. Smithy*

      This is a really good point.

      Just before COVID-quarantine hit, I wasn’t looking but had been recruited for a position where the interviews thus far had been interesting. Lockdown paused the interview process, but even when interviewing picked up at the end of April, it was early enough where going grocery shopping in NYC was an evolving adventure, let alone the idea of starting a new job. I made it to the final two, and was was ultimately not selected because they didn’t believe I would thrive in their “start-up environment”.

      In retrospect – phew. Mentally, I probably was not in a great place to start a new job at all – let alone one that was directly telling me had less structure than what I was used to. Recruiters reached out to me a about a month ago, and I’m finding more quiet comfort embracing certain aspects of stability that I do want.

    2. LW #5*

      Thank you! That is a very good point, and a helpful reframing of the “problem” for me psychologically. And you’re right, getting an honest answer (and not being penalized for it) would actually tell me a lot about the situation I’d be walking in to. If it was a dealbreaker for me, I wouldn’t want to work there.

      I guess my anxious mind is imagining a situation in which I hadn’t yet lost my job, but where job loss felt imminent, and feeling stuck in a situation where I either had to undermine my own candidacy or be less informed about the health of the organization than I’d like to be going into a new role. Obviously, this isn’t always an either/or situation.

  11. Admin4Life*

    Op #2. WebEx has a feature that allows you to mute other people. I highly recommend asking anyone who is setting up the invites, to put you as a cohost so you can manage the noise issues. Also, I’m an admin so this type of thing isn’t an unusual duty for me. I don’t know what kind of role you’re in.

    I do this. I will mention to my boss ahead of time that I will be monitoring the audio “to improve the experience for everyone. And I’ll mute noisy lines as needed.”

    I also include a brief bullet list of etiquette in the meeting invite; please use a headset, please mute your line when you aren’t speaking, please note that we will periodically mute lines that are adding feedback or mechanical noise to the meeting audio.

    And finally, I set up a separate IM chat (Skype or something not within the WebEx meeting) to my boss and let them know when I’ve muted them in an attempt to alert them to unmute when they have something to say. I usually say “I’ve muted all additional participants. You’ll need to unmute to be heard.”

    But it’s far from perfect.

    1. OP#2*

      Thanks for these suggestions! I don’t know that they will work for the type of role I’m in as I’m not an admin, just a participant in the meeting. I think I’ll try to ping her though when it is happening, but I don’t want it to show up on her screen as she is usually screensharing. I wonder if WebEx IMs will show up if I send those?

      1. SpringIsForPlanting!*

        Almost every system I’ve used, anyone who joins with a company account has ‘admin’ powers over the meeting. Each one is a bit different in how-to, but you can very typically mute others if you’re an employee using an employee account, even if you’re not in charge of the meeting. I’ve found it very helpful.

  12. Observer*

    #3- Listen to Alison and the commenters who are telling not to worry about this.

    Keep something in mind. If your boss needs you so much they should offer to make your job permanent. They aren’t. They are “talking” about perhaps, maybe they will give you a bit more time. Which is good for you if you don’t find anything sooner. But this is NOT the behavior of someone who actually NEEDS you.

    1. Mockingjay*

      #3, It’s a temp job that will end. Your manager will have to do without you at some point.

      Even if your manager values you that much, she many not be able to bring you on permanently: it’s not in this year’s budget or in the company’s current interest; temps are cheaper or COVID-19 is making them leary of permanent hires; and so on.

      Do your work well, pursue the other opportunity, and if you accept, do what Alison always says: give standard notice, wrap up your projects and hand them over in good condition, and bid the company best wishes and farewell.

    2. Rachel the Admin*

      Yes, exactly. In fact, I was once offered a job at a place I liked two days after I told them I had to end my temp placement because I had a confirmed offer for an equivalent permanent placement. (I took the permanent placement at the job I already knew, because it was a terrific place. I was there for four years including my temp time.)

  13. TechWorker*

    On the webex one, you’re probably right if you’ve already spoken about it to your boss and others see (/hear) the same – but also worth being sure it *is* her mike. Unless you guys generally sit on calls in silence she can’t actually be the *only* one unmuted (?) (if she’s the one talking muting ain’t gonna help…). Webex a) doesn’t recognise when the mike is muted from the system end (eg mute button on laptop) and b) doesn’t cope amazingly with low bandwidth in a seemingly non-consistent way… so problems can be tricky to diagnose.

    Source: I use webex every day with the same group of people and microphone setups and we have pretty varying sound quality. I also have someone who keeps complaining that they can’t see my screen when I’m sharing, but given everyone else in the 10+ person meeting can I’m a bit like ‘not sure how you expect me to fix this’.

    1. TimeTravl_R*

      We had a lot of these issues with WebEx too. We switched to Teams (Microsoft) and try to get everyone to use headphones when on the meeting. It has helped immensely! Sounds quality is so much better in general, but especially when participants are using headphones. Also, Teams allows anyone (not just the hosts) to mute people. It really helps so I don’t have to hear all the background noise from my boss all the time.

    2. Mockingjay*

      If you’re using Webex and dialing in from a phone, one mic can be muted while the other is not. Boss may need to check both.

      We use Webex frequently (love the screen share), but my laptop mic is of poor quality, so I mute it and dial in on my phone which has much better sound clarity.

      (We won’t mention that yesterday I hit my phone’s disconnect button instead of the mute button TWICE in the same call. Need MORE COFFEE.)

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        If you’re using Webex and dialing in from a phone, why wouldn’t you just not connect the audio on the computer at all, and only dial to the audio in from the phone?

        1. CTT*

          Mockingjay mentioned that her laptop’s mic is bad, so that’s one reason. I like to connect through WebEx so I can see the list of participants but then dial-in separately because I don’t like the audio quality on my computer.

        2. TechWorker*

          Yes, this is definitely the ‘right’ thing to do but if you join through webex teams it’s fairly easy to join with your default settings in one click and not realise you’re connected and/or not on mute. (I guess that’s a really helpful feature if you *want* to join a meeting in one click :p)

        3. BadWolf*

          When I was in the office, it was more comfortable and much easier to listen and talk using my phone headset. But I disabled my laptop mic to avoid the echo of doom.

          Now, working from home, I join via the computer (I don’t have a work headset for one, but the sound works fine).

      2. OP#2*

        That very well could be the situation that she has called in but only muted the phone and not the laptop! Plus I know she has been having some internet issues so that could be at play too.

    1. embertine*

      Paint it hot pink when he’s on holiday, watch blood come out of his nose upon his return while you demurely sip your coffee.

    2. Rayray*

      Good point. I’ve worked with my share of insecure coworkers and they definitely get bothered when people get promotions, new responsibilities, better desks etc.

    3. Glitsy Gus*

      That is a good question! Or did he maybe ask about moving into that office as well and it ended up going to you?

      Spite can be a powerful drug.

  14. Amaranth*

    Should LW3 wait until they take the other job to mention needing time off or wait until she shows up for work? Is the answer different if its a week vs a month?

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If you’re referring to the needing time off for the medical issue in the fall, it’s something you bring up when the new job is offered. This would be for anything that was already scheduled – medical procedure, vacation, etc.

  15. EvilQueenRegina*

    Does the mansplaining manager make a habit of doing that to other women in the office as well or was the time with you the only time you’ve noticed? (Although I know that if he’s new there’s possibly not been that much opportunity to notice) It may be a “him” thing rather than anything to do with your office.

  16. Keymaster of Gozer*

    Here’s something I’ve noticed about offices: regardless of what or how it’s decorated somebody will absolutely hate it and want to tell you exactly why. It’s the corporate equivalent of the Brits complaining about the weather.

    Worked in a place where they painted the walls bright orange to ‘aid concentration’. Not only were there the migraine sufferers complaining but also a load of blokes reckoning it was ‘too childish to have bright colours’. Worked in another place with white walls and grey floors, people hated how ‘sterile’ it was. I’ve worn suits every day to work with hair and face done, I’ve worn floor length flowing dresses to work with no makeup, I’ve worn trousers, I’ve never found an outfit that hasn’t got me an accusation of being ‘too girly for the workplace’.

    (Irony, I’m not ladylike in behaviour)

    There’s never an acceptable standard to all. If the decor in the office isn’t offensive (I mean in terms of no offensive posters et al), it’s not making someone physically sick, it’s not a health and safety issue and it can pass for professional then it’s not a big deal.

    The men complaining need to understand that the workplace doesn’t run on their demands entirely. Not anymore ;)

    1. AnonInTheCity*

      You literally cannot win. Nothing a woman wears is ever “right.” I had an unpleasant, bordering on sexual harassment interaction with a (drunk) male coworker at my last office holiday party at which I was wearing a full men’s style suit complete with bow tie.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Oh gods mate, that’s horrible!

        (And how sad is it that I have a similar interaction with a drunk male colleague who tried to grab my front, based on ‘you’re showing cleavage that means you’re up for it’ while I was wearing a simple trouser suit.)

        If I had my own office, I’d do it in really dark colours and very low lit…

    2. Polka Dot Anon*

      Regarding the general office – pops of color! My current company did standard white walls, lots of windows, and brightly colored accent walls. People love it! Visitors compliment it and our other office is now redecorating to match because the employees loved it so much. Each conference room has one accent wall. We get just enough color to make the place feel cheerful and offset the white walls. Plus natural-light style light bulbs.

  17. KTLFM*

    Op #1: Well I hate that someone just points to my office, even though I’m male, I like light things, and especially navy blue, a bit pale and more white. Even my blog page is almost pink, maybe orange. My friends don’t usually pay attention either, but they make fun of me as soon as they can see me writing something, on a pink blog and a light blue office.

    1. fhgwhgads*

      I’ve got no beef with your color preferences but navy blue is a very dark color, so I’m sort of confused.

  18. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

    I usually read all of the letters before I comment, but I saw red and barely even read Alison’s answer or any responses before writing my own comment. I have a lot to say, an entire book’s worth of stuff to say, but imma keep it brief.


    I am 59 years old. I broke into an all male industry in the 1980’s, in the time of Dress for Success books that tried to teach me how to dress like a feminine version of a man in order to get ahead.


    I made a great career and it started with bright purple dresses, big earrings (1980’s big) and big hair (1980’s big). I had the book. I threw it away.

    FIGHT THE POWER. Do a good job. Win. And do it on your terms.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Thank you.

      (Doing a good job, winning the fight, and doing it on my terms. Daily. Its a little easier now. Not much, but a little. Thank you.)

      1. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

        Move into the White House. Paint it yellow.

        (Yes, I just quoted Barbra’s A Star is Born. :) )

    2. Lady Meyneth*

      Thank you for being part of making it easier for my generation. Not easy, but definitely easier! I’ve had bad experiences in previous jobs, but I’m in an excellent place now. I hope it makes you, OP and others feel a little better to read about my current office.

      I’m an engineer, so 85% of my colleagues are male. I’m very girly, wear pink and purple a lot, dresses often, heels always. My post-its are all pink and teal, many of my pens have glitter in them, my water bottle has a unicorn in it and I take it to meetings with me. Nobody has EVER cared. Except maybe the new female intern who did a visible double take when she first met me, and then smiled and showed up in a dress the next day. It hasn’t impacted my reviews or raises or promotions. It hasn’t impacted my interactions with my (awesome) male coworkers.

      I know I’m very priviledged to have all this, but I wanted to remind all my fellow women these offices do exist. Here’s hoping they become more common soon!

      1. Batgirl*

        “the new female intern who did a visible double take when she first met me, and then smiled and showed up in a dress the next day.”
        This is why it’s important.

      2. Wakeen Teapots, LTD*

        Well it does make me feel better because I read that letter and I’m like seriously, seriously? 40 freaking years later? :)

        Arc needs to bend faster on everything!

  19. TimeTravl_R*

    We recently switched from WebEx to Teams and I love it… mostly because I can mute anyone! My boss also does this, and not because he has so much to say (he rarely speaks… that’s a whole other letter) and it always creates background noise. I don’t have to be the “owner” of the call to do the muting and it’s beautiful!!

    1. OP#2*

      Does a note pop up saying who has muted them? I have thought about doing that since it would be les disruptive, but I worry about looking passive aggressive!

      1. kt*

        I have the same worry! I tried it on a friend and I *think* a note didn’t pop up, but he was also a somewhat unreliable narrator as he wasn’t really paying full attention to the call. Commentariat, can you enlighten us?

  20. Bookworm*

    #3: If it’s a temp job then if anything you have more of an incentive to find something more table. I did this but my manager knew it was likely (this type of job tended to create these holes so she had backups to hire) so it wasn’t a big deal. You could always offer to do a little extra effort and post the job in your networks so they’d possibly have a connection to the next hire.

    #4: No, it’s not necessarily a red flag. My org is doing the similar, where we are hiring and people who are in similar roles but won’t be working directly with the person are doing interviews. It’s my understanding it’s to give an “outsider” POV in the sense they may not work with the person directly but do understand the general duties the new hire would have.

    That said, some orgs don’t think this through and just need a body to do the interview. Which is not to alarm you, but if you feel there are other questionable things, go with your gut. Good luck!

  21. Madame X*

    LW3 – It’s great that your current company has treated you well, but that is no reason to hamstring your own future career opportunities if a permanent job offer is now available to you. Companies that foster a culture of high employee retention usually do so by offering competitive salaries, good working conditions, and generous benefits.

    Companies that hire temporary workers, do so with the knowledge that those workers are much more likely to leave if they offered a permanent role before the end of their contract. In the meantime, they benefit from your labor At a much lower cost than if they had hired you as a salaried permanent employee with benefits. If your current company hasn’t giving you a permanent offer then all this talk about how grateful they are to have you, is just talk. At the end of your contract, they may decide to not hire you for all kinds of reasons: they may realize that they only needed your labor for a short period of time, they may prefer temporary workers for your role, or they may not have the money to hire you on full-time.
    Accepting an offer from another company that’s willing to hire you permanently, is not putting your current company in a terrible position. It’s just business. They are fully aware that this scenario was a likely outcome.

  22. Not colorblind*

    Office wall color – I have had the misfortune to work in windowless cubicle farms or windowless offices for most of my career. I am actually less productive and less focused under these conditions. The two times I had my own office (one was a modular office in a warehouse bay) the walls were bright peach/apricot (“orange” to all the warehouse guys) and light orchid (“purple” to the next incoming facilities manager who decreed all walls in the building must be repainted a “cream” color that reminded me of 20 years of cigarette smoke). I was MUCH more alert and focused in my personal color ambience. For me, natural light and wall color have a tremendous impact on productivity and job satisfaction. However I do recognize a lot of my co-workers just don’t care about this. Caveat- same facilities manager hired a “consultant” for a factory control room project. Consultant surveyed all 15 of my employees who used the room – all asked for white or blue walls. Consultant decided on what was…exactly…”baby-sh@t Brown”…and my employees were furious and bitched about it for a year. Wall colors matter!

  23. The Original K.*

    #3: take the permanent job and feel good about it. When you leave, they’ll find another temp. Maybe as good as you, maybe not, but that’s not your problem. I’ve temped and made the same call – didn’t even consider staying at the temp job when I got a permanent offer elsewhere because the permanent offer was much, much better. The temp agency was like “Okay!” because this happens every day. Take the better job for you and don’t look back.

    1. The Original K.*

      Edit: I’m actually of the belief that if you’re temping and want a permanent position, you shouldn’t stop looking, even when you’re in a temp assignment, until you find one.

      1. JM in England*

        Totally agree.

        Quite often have I taken temp roles as a stopgap so that I’m in the much stronger position of job hunting whilst employed.

        1. The Original K.*

          Me too. It puts you in a less desperate position because you have some income coming in, so you don’t have to take the first thing you get (unless it’s great!).

  24. Blahblah*

    OP3 I was in exactly your position years ago. Because of when trainings were scheduled at my new job, I basically had to give my temp-to-perm job one day’s notice. They were very understanding and they managed to get by without me. They didn’t begrudge me the new opportunity. You’ll be fine.

  25. Titta*

    I ordered scissors at work some time ago. They were, coinsidally, soft aqua blue (really nice color!) And people have been making fun of my girly scissors ever since! Scissors!

    Personally I am just thrilled whenever there are options besides Black and White and sand…

  26. Jennifer*

    #1 Hooray for girly girls! We need to redefine what it means to be a strong woman. I hope you keep your office exactly the way it is.

    Too everyone: I use the term “girls” to refer to women all the time as slang. So don’t come for me.

      1. Jennifer*

        Lol people went after someone for the exact same thing just yesterday so I’m covering my bases.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Women calling each other girls is no worse than black people calling each other the n-word
          (and I’m from the UK so I don’t have the same hang-ups as using the term “black” ^^)

    1. Batgirl*

      Gosh yeah. I say girls a lot too and get so tired of the word being demonized. There’s definitely some contexts it’s not right for but it’s a perfectly fine word.

  27. Scarlet*

    OP #2 – Can you mute her, or can the organizer of the meeting mute her? That’s happened to me, I’ve been muted by a coworker and they just send me a little message saying “I had to mute you since there’s a ton of background noise”, or something to that effect.

    1. OP#2*

      I’ve wondered about that! I think I have the option depending on which tool we use (we use both Microsoft Teams and WebEx depending on who we are meeting with). I just didn’t know what would pop up if I did that and worried it would be passive agressive.

      1. Alexis Rose*

        Its definitely not passive aggressive. Its honestly just a part of running virtual meetings these days and no one will blink at it.

      2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        If you have to ask her every single time to mute, muting her without warning would not be passive aggressive.

  28. Perpal*

    LW1, I advise you to rock on with yourself and put anyone who gives your crap in their place. Maybe not good advice but satisfying advice and I bet it’ll actually go over fine in most places; people tend to respond to confidence more than gender (or other) stereotype anyway.

  29. EnfysNest*

    Related to #5: How common is it for interviewers to ask why you’re leaving your current company? I’ve only ever interviewed for government jobs where that was not one of the questions (since they focus on “tell me about a time when…” questions), but it seems to get brought up here a lot. Is it pretty much a guarantee for a private sector interview or is it just an old standby that might pop up like the dreaded “weaknesses” questions? It feels strange to me to have to justify why you’re moving to a new job, especially coming from a company that hopefully wants you to work for them. And for those that are asking, are they trying to see if you have a “good enough” reason to move on or do they just want to confirm that you’re not going to run into the same concerns in the new position?

    1. Jennifer*

      During my last job search I was asked in every interview. I think it’s a dumb question unless you have the tendency to jump around and not stay at jobs very long. People move on for all kinds of reasons, professional and personal.

      1. irene adler*

        I agree-it’s a dumb question.
        Some interviewers use it as an ice-breaker to get the conversation going. There are better ways to accomplish that.
        They might be assessing how serious the candidate is about taking the position.

        1. Jennifer*

          I always got the impression it was about loyalty or stability. A lot of the people at these companies had been there for many years and they wanted to add another lifer to their ranks. I wouldn’t mind staying at a company for a long time if my needs are being reasonably met, but I don’t want to be viewed as a traitor if I choose to leave. At least that’s how it seemed.

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’ve always been asked why I’m looking for a new job, not necessarily why I’m leaving my current one. I feel like the answer is usually obvious (more opportunity, advance in your career, etc.), but maybe they’re trying to weed out people with unrealistic expectations?

      1. Smithy*

        This is what I’ve come across – where questions are more like “what drew you to this job” vs “why are you leaving your old one”.

        In a genuine sense, I do think hiring managers to ensure that there’s a realistic expectations of the position. What’s the actual level of seniority, level of responsibility, opportunity for management, etc. I’m in a field where someone can have a Director title and (depending on department or organization) can manage no one or numerous direct reports in a very hierarchical department with dozens if not hundreds of people.

        However, as an interviewer, I inevitably feel like I have to relate it to my current job. Looking to grow professionally or seek new opportunities always feels like it needs a more concrete explanation – but I try to remember that this is more about showing I understand and want what the job role actually is versus presenting my 5 year professional plan.

    3. MCMonkeyBean*

      It’s not that you need to *justify* why you’re leaving, but it’s often helpful for them to know why and helpful to you to make sure that the new company would be a good fit. If you say you’re leaving because of reason X and it turns out that X is also a major thing at this company then that’s probably not where you want to be.

    4. Honoria, Dowager Duchess of Denver*

      I got asked a few months ago why I was looking for a new role after only a year at my old company. Which was a travel agent. In the middle of a pandemic, where travel was banned (at the time).

      I don’t think they’re stupid, it’s just so ingrained to ask about that kind of thing.

    5. LW #5*

      Thanks to all on this thread for this food for thought! I’m not sure how likely the question is, honestly, but it felt potentially political and I wanted to get some insight from AAM and the community on how it was likely to be perceived in our current context.

      I’m at a point in my career where I’d like to be (intelligently) candid with interviewers when possible, and the reality is that I’m pretty satisfied with all the conditions of my job with the exception of worrying about a layoff further down the line, or a stymieing of opportunity. Although, if a new role I was interviewing for did excite me for “x specific reason” I’m sure I could speak to that clearly and confidently as a reason for my interest.

    6. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Potential employers ask because it’s quite a good way of gauging fit. If the employee says “because my boss is sexist” and the person they’d be reporting to is one huge stereotypical macho, that would show that they’d probably not make it to the end of the first week. Or if they say “there was too much filing” and filing is actually a large part of the job they’re interviewing for, again, it would be a red flag.

  30. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    LW1 – I find it odd that they let you paint the office any color you wanted. I’ve never been in a business, large or small, where you got to pick such things. Standard color, standard desk, standard accessories. The most I’ve ever been able to do was hang diplomas or art on the wall, and maybe bring in a plant.

    So I’m wondering what your office norm is about repainting & decorating. Maybe just the act of spending time and effort on it was enough to make it ‘girly’ in your coworkers’ eyes, as opposed to the exaggerated stoic male trait of “whatever, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter”.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Well, it doesn’t sound like the letter writer painted her own office. She was asked what color she wanted, she chose one, facilities painted it the color she selected, but the blue ended up being lighter than what she thought it would be so she rolled with it. This takes little to no effort on OP’s part, so I’m not sure why the men would make that inference.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      They didn’t just let her paint the office; they recommended it. So it sounds like that *is* the office norm.

    3. Me*

      Its common when an office is vacated for it to be repainted anyway as part of normal maintenance. Even my no frills local government does this. We don’t get to pick colors but it’s not weird for a company to have a set standards of paint colors and let someone chose from that.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      She didn’t pick “any color she wanted.” She was handed a book of paint chips and chose from the options provided by her employer.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Ah, silly me. Obviously that color was part of the options only as a test, and she failed.

        2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

          Right, that was what I was getting at. Does her office consider it to be ‘girly’ if she spends a week looking at paint samples, instead of saying “just repaint it the same color it is now”. OP’s office culture just seems weird about this thing – and that’s in addition to the other mansplaining, etc. going on.

          1. PVR*

            It’s just 2 men though so maybe (hopefully) they are just outliers and not representative of the culture at large,

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Okay, but you’re reading SO much into this letter that wasn’t there. There’s no reason to think she spent a week looking at paint samples. And other people at her company were the ones to suggest she paint it a different color, even to the point of handing her a bunch of samples and saying “pick one.” There’s no reason to assume she’s going counter to office culture.

    5. Spcepickle*

      I didn’t ask, I came in with a gallon of paint on the weekend and painted over the terrible old nicotine color when I got my office. Sometimes it is better to beg forgiveness.

  31. Azumi*

    I am in the same dilemma as the temp OP, but with slightly different stakes. I lost my job in a round of COVID layoffs and took on a pandemic temp position to cover someone through a maternity leave. Unfortunately, the baby came early— and I got my dream job offer simultaneously. It’s all been less than a week (starting, all of it).

    My new job wants me to start as soon as possible, and while I may be able to give a week and a half notice, I’m not really able (due to other concerns) to give a full two weeks. I feel distraught about this, but not enough to risk losing an opportunity I’ve sought for years. Commenters, please help!

    1. Reba*

      Congratulations / argh!

      I would apologize sincerely but not excessively, and explain that this new opportunity “fell into your lap” or “came up and can’t wait” and say that since it is a permanent job you are sure the temp people will understand.

      (Since it was a temp post they have to know you would continue looking all through it … If they are reasonable.)

      It will be ok!

      1. Azumi*

        You’re absolutely right. I’m very sad to let these great people down. They’ve extended certain benefits to me that are a little out of the norm for temp work. However, I still don’t have the full benefits I could otherwise have.

        This is quite literally my dream job— going from Development to the foundation side, which is a total unicorn opportunity.

        1. irene adler*

          Put yourself in their shoes. Would you begrudge anyone the opportunity to procure their dream job? No, you wouldn’t.

          Remember, only you have your best interests at heart. And only you can take the actions to protect/pursue those best interests.
          Others may provide things to you that are beneficial to you. But that ain’t the reason these things are provided to you.

        2. Smithy*

          As a development person – if you’ve found your Unicorn Foundation role – as disappointed as the organization or team may be, I’d hope that deep down they’d understand. When someone in a nonprofit ultimately decides to go to the donor or corporate side of life, and gets a job that they feel is a good fit, I feel like the response has to be to wish them well. Even if it leads to initial frustration.

    2. WellRed*

      You’re only a week or so into the maternity cover? Awkward but bright side, they didn’t expend a lot of time and training on you.

    3. Jayne*

      Congrats on the baby! If they are not understanding about it, leave them off of your resume. Aside from that, temp positions are absolutely temporary, on both sides. If they are not willing to give you a permanent job, they have to take their lumps of having to hire someone else. Like someone else said further up, “Don’t set yourself on fire in order to keep someone else warm.” They may have been good to you, but you do not have to feel distraught over a foreseeable outcome of a temporary position.

  32. LGC*

    #2: “Hey, Boss, would you like me to remind you about muting?”

    …yeah, it’s passive-aggressive to a degree, but honestly, put the ball in her court. (More elegantly than I just did, of course, but you get the picture.) For better or worse, some bosses deal better with more deferential communications, if that’s what you’re afraid of.

  33. OP#2*

    I’m the one who wrote in about my boss that doesn’t seem to like to use mute on video calls. Thanks so much for answering my question Alison! One of the issues is she is the meeting host and is technically leading these meetings (most often with only 5-10 total people total with the goal of all talking and collaborating, so not a situation where we can mute everyone as some of the comments suggested. I wish though!) Though she is talking for a good portion of it, a lot of these meetings are discussion-based so multiple people are talking. When a person speaks when somebody else unmuted, it creates this horrible echo so nobody can hear the first bits of what the other is saying.

    Do you think based on that I can still ask her to mute? It honestly might just be that my computer audio is terrible, but I know others have been annoyed by it too.

    1. Colette*

      If it’s an ongoing conversation and she’s actively participating, I wouldn’t ask her to mute. Does everyone else stay muted unless they are actively speaking? In my experience, if it’s a conversation everyone is participating in, people will stay off mute unless it is really loud where they are.

      1. OP#2*

        Yeah, everyone else muted unless they’re actively speaking. It seems that when multiple people are speaking at once, the mics pick up everyone talking and it’s a cloud of echo that makes it difficult to hear or understand what anyone is saying unfortunately.

      2. Zweisatz*

        It depends. In my org people can get away with not muting in an ongoing discussion IF there is no echo/background noise. Otherwise we always only unmute to speak. And it seems that’s pretty standard here too.

        OP, as your boss seems to be a pretty nice person just talk to her in a quiet minute matter-of-factly, lay out the issue and ask her how she wants you to handle it if these echoes happen/if it’s fine to mute her.

    2. Reba*

      If the issue is echoing (more than random background noises) getting everyone to use headphones will cut down on that a lot. Maybe it will be easier to introduce (require) headphones than to cultivate a new habit in your boss.

      (Actually headphones would help with the random background noises, too.)

      It’s not your computer audio being crappy as such. What happens is that when the sound of somebody speaking is playing through someone’s computer, the computer’s microphone is picking up and rebroadcasting that sound.

      It drives me batty and it is worth pushing on solving this either through muting or a little bit more equipment.

      You can say what you have here — it makes it too hard to understand what people are saying, so it’s distracting and makes meetings less effective.

      I mean, at least in my case we are still WFH more or less indefinitely… If it was once or twice, sure let it go. But how many more meetings like this are you going to have?

      1. OP#2*

        That could be a good move – I will try to rally everyone around the headphones! I know with WebEx an issue we have is using the phone for audio (and headphones) is that it will mute the phone, but not the computer or vice versa. I’ll try that out though and see!

        1. Buttons*

          If people are dialing in on the phone, when they connect to the WebEx meeting they need to not choose the “use computer audio” option. That will cause all kinds of echoing and background noise.
          Maybe people need a training or a step by step guide how to properly join Webex?

        2. drpuma*

          *Before* you enter a meeting on WebEx (or Teams) there are a few different options on how to join. One of them is to have WebEx/Teams call a phone number you input. It should remember your number/s after the first time. That’s my preference for sound quality; it’s faster and easier than dialing in and keeps my video and voice linked even though I’m technically using two different devices.

      2. Mimmy*

        Ah I’ve wondered what caused that “echo”!

        Another sound I hate is the sound of something rubbing – I think it’s when an unmuted person has their fingers on the phone’s mic. Would a different audio setting help to cut down on that?

      3. BadWolf*

        And the worst thing about the echo is the problem causer can’t hear it. So generally saying “go on mute” probably will not alert them to the problem if they think they are quiet. In my hobby group, I have to say “I’m getting an echo, who is not getting an echo” — if you are not getting an echo…it is probably you. Fortunately, my hobby group is excellent at people grabbing or swapping out headphones, etc.

    3. Shirley Keeldar*

      Can you get a couple of coworkers to do it with you? Take turns? So it’s not just you, but she’s hearing pretty consistently,”Oh, Jane, can you mute yourself? I’m having trouble hearing with the background noise.”

      1. OP#2*

        That’s a good idea too! I know we are all annoyed so I think I could easily get people on board!

        1. WellRed*

          I like this idea. I also think if this is repeated a few times by multiple people, she may start muting automatically.

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I think the bugger issue here is that you seem to be afraid to approach your boss about this. It’s really not that big of a deal. Bring it up one on one, and remind her (and anyone else that does it) when it happens. There are plenty of times on meetings I’m in where people are asked a question, and then silence, because they’re talking but muted. After a few seconds, I say “So and so, if you’re talking you’re muted”. It doesn’t matter who it is (my boss, the president, an SVP). I’m not being nasty about it, it’s just matter of fact. They unmute, laugh and say they’re sorry, and we move on.

    5. LGC*

      Honestly, I’d suggest one of two things:

      1) Everyone should mute automatically and press to unmute to speak (I’m most familiar with Zoom-type applications, not so much with WebEx).
      2) People should use headphones, which will prevent echoes.

      It doesn’t sound like it’s an issue unique to your boss, based off of your wording, but it does sound like she’s the primary culprit. Maybe frame it as a new suggestion for meeting protocols?

    6. Important Moi*

      I don’t understand the hierarchy of the meeting attendees.

      I understand that it is you and your supervisor. Is your supervisor the supervisor of everyone else at the meeting? Is everyone else at the meeting the equal of your supervisor in rank? Why do you “have” to be the one to tell her mute? Why can no one else say that your supervisor should mute herself? Do you think gender is a factor? I am curious.

      I admit my bias, I don’t like to take on the emotional labor of other people.

    7. Akcipitrokulo*

      Yes :)

      I came to comment on part of letter “…doesn’t mute herself even after people mention that there is a lot of echo and you can see that everyone else is muted…”

      …so people mention echo, and can see… but has anyone actually said “Jane, would you mind muting please? We’re getting background noise.”?

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Yes they were, OP is writing in because of the repetition.
          “She will be the only one unmuted and doesn’t mute herself even after people mention that there is a lot of echo …it feels awkward to ask her to please mute herself each time. “

          1. Zweisatz*

            “There is echo” is still not the same as “and you are causing it, please mute”. And Boss is a nice person, so the least headach-y solution is to just… have a chat

    8. BadWolf*

      I think it is definitely easy for the host to forget to self mute. Or for some reason to think “they’re in charge, they don’t go on mute.” Not maliciously, just that they might have to jump in/out and so they don’t jump on the mute button.

      The echo on other people is a pain in the rear because the problem causer doesn’t hear it. Usually the problem is that the computer microphone picks up the meeting audio and feeds it back into the meeting. We recently had this problem in a hobby group and the person had to use headphones with their laptop or use their tablet.

      The online tips that I found included, lower the speaker volume, installing any updates in case there’s a fix for not the microphone, wearing headphones to separate the audio in/out.

      Anyway, I might address this immediately after a meeting as a technology problem (versus lack of mute-rudeness) — Hey Boss, I’ve noticed the last couple meetings that your laptop is creating a feedback. I know you can’t hear it, but it creates an echo on everyone else’s voice. The easy thing is to mute (point out space bar option) and here are some other ways to help fix it.

    9. Mimmy*

      You can disregard my suggestions – I didn’t realize your manager was the host! And yes, when it is a small group discussion, it can be difficult to keep everyone muted. Then people start to talk not realizing / forgetting they are on mute.

    10. Allonge*

      Obviously I don’t know how your workplace operates, but in any place approaching any kind of normal, this is a perfectly reasonable ask! Ask her, just ask. Dear boss, could you please mute yourself when not speaking, we can’t hear each other from the echo – let’s try if this works. You are not asking for her firstborn child!

    11. PX*

      OP2: Im going to add to what Reba said, you need to do a couple of things:
      1. People should only have one (1) audio source when they dial in. If you are only using Webex for screenshare and dialing in with a phone, then dont let Webex connect to audio. This is what causes echo and feedback loops. Tell people to get into the habit of No Audio connection in Webex if this is the case.
      2. Headsets are absolutely your friend. It makes a massive difference to audio quality. Plus good sets have a separate mute function on them which can make it easier to get into the habit of muting/unmuting quickly.
      3. Get your boss to give you the host key (or let people get into the habit of sharing a host key when they set up a meeting invite). This way you can reclaim the host role when you’re in the meeting which allows you to mute noisy people!

  34. employment lawyah*

    1. Is my girly office holding me back?
    I’m leaning towards yes.

    Some people people don’t care (I am wearing a purple shirt right now, FWIW) but they don’t matter.
    Other folks won’t like it because it’s pink (which obviously includes any sexist folks but is by no means limited to men, some feminists hate pink!)
    Very few people–and even fewer older, more powerful people–will actively think better of you professionally because you have a very “girly” office.

    So it’s neutral on one side and bad on the other, ergo bad overall.

    And of course, “girly” is very much a derogatory term in the professional world, implying immaturity. So even if the worst-case is that everyone else starts referring to you, your space, or your preferences using the same term YOU used, that’s bad.

    Basically, the goal is to get noticed for things which matter (great at Excel, awesome in meetings) and to avoid getting pigeonholed for things that don’t matter (the “pink office girly person”). I’d change it.

    1. londonedit*

      It’s not even pink, though. It’s a soft aqua blue. And it doesn’t even seem like there are many actively ‘girly’ things in the office, it’s just the wall colour and one piece of wall decoration that her colleagues seem to be commenting on. I completely agree that women want to be known for being great at their jobs rather than ‘having the girly office’, but she’s not going full-on pink glitter unicorns, she just happens to have a jazzier wall colour than maybe the other offices do. Also – and I know this does happen because the world is a stupid place sometimes, but it shouldn’t have to happen – women shouldn’t need to perform some ‘masculine’ role in order to be taken seriously. You should be able to wear a dress and be taken as seriously as a woman in a black trouser suit. And you should be able to have whatever damn office wall colour you want without it being seen as ‘feminine’ (and, by extension, ‘less than’).

      1. Diahann Carroll*

        It’s not even pink, though. It’s a soft aqua blue.

        I’m convinced many people do not read the letters here in full before posting.

    2. WellRed*

      This is at least the second comment on this issue from a lawyer. Lawyers here often get a bit testy when non lawyers comment on law office questions. I’m beginning to think law norms are too skewed for them to understand other office norms. Her office is blue. Isn’t blue a boy color?

      1. EventPlannerGal*

        I mean, let’s hope they aren’t working on anything too important if this is an example of lawyerly reading comprehension…

      2. AnotherAlison*

        My issue is blue is a bedroom or bathroom color, or maybe a breezy nautical/beach themed living room. Offices should be neutral. If every office in this company is some form of beige or gray, and she’s painted it blue, that would cause a WTF reaction from me, even if it wasn’t reading as feminine. A brown faux finish suede would be odd, too. It’s just not what you’re supposed to be spending time on. Bring in some trinkets to show your hobbies and interests, but keep the space mostly impersonal because it’s really shared, company space, not your personal office. I don’t think this should hold the OP back in her career, but it seems like it is a little bit of odd judgement at best. It’s like if you take a group of kids to get movie snacks, tell them to pick one thing, and one kid gets the 5 lb bag of m&ms. Sure, no one said don’t get the party size bag, but common sense says look around and see what the rest are doing and do that.

        1. Lizzy May*

          She had it painted a color offered up by her company. If that wasn’t a color they approved of, it wouldn’t have been in the samples.

        2. Diahann Carroll*

          It’s just not what you’re supposed to be spending time on.

          She spent little to no time on this as a) facilities presented her with paint swabs to choose from and she picked a color she liked and b) they painted the office. That might have taken all of, what, five to 10 minutes? Some of y’all are acting like the OP did a whole remodel of the place during work hours.

        3. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

          No, office color isn’t what you’re supposed to be spending time on in most offices. LW isn’t spending a lot of time on it: she took a few minutes, picked a color from a set of paint chips, and let it go.

          LW doesn’t need to be told not to spend a lot of time on this, because she isn’t the one spending time on it.

          What she needs is a way to deal with a male coworker who is spending a lot of time on it, and using it as a way to put her down, and wasting her time as well as his.

        4. Joielle*

          I mean, she picked from a list of approved paint colors, which is exactly what everyone else did, so I guess I don’t see your point. I agree that she shouldn’t, like, insist on wallpapering instead, or pick a different color for each wall, or make the facilities guy do horizontal stripes of her three favorite colors, but she literally chose from a list of colors that the company gave her. Blue is certainly not a color reserved for bedrooms or bathrooms – which we know for a fact, because the OP’s company considers it an approved color for offices. This is just one of those situations where no matter what choice a woman makes, it’s wrong somehow.

        5. Seeking Second Childhood*

          60% of my corporate office building has blue carpet. Some is dark gray with blue flecks, some is maroon. Some walls are white, some grey, some light tan, and some –wait for it –are blue. Some cubicle walls are blue.
          At the start of my career I briefly managed an office. Trust me, if office manager gives you a choice, you pick one or you are an annoyance. Notice that OP was surprised by the result but is living with it –perfect response.

      3. Anononon*

        The law firm I work for recently repainted the entire office, and now each individual office has a cerulean accent wall.

  35. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #3 – yes to everything Alison said. In addition, know that it is up to management to have a back up plan in place. If they would collapse if you left, that’s on THEM not YOU. They need to be prepared for emergencies (sickness, leave of absence, etc.) as well as employees leaving for other jobs.

  36. I'm just here for the cats*

    we use webex and my work. Typically whoever set up the meeting or gives permissions can mute anyone. Have you done this. Or if you dont want to call out your boss in the moment if someone could say in the beginning of the meeting, I’m going to mute everyone so there’s no echo. If its your turn to speak I’ll unmute you. Or if you have a question raise your hand (I’m not sure if all webex has this option but ours does. then the person conducting the meeting can answer the person)

  37. Buttons*

    For LW 1 I think there is a distinction between feminine and juvenile. If your office is reading young, some people may translated young to mean incapabable or inexperienced. Even if they know that isn’t the case, it may trigger a bias. If your office is reading juvenile it might be worth it to bring in a few more modern or sleek design pieces to make it more mature. That may be necessary too even if its feminine but not juvenile.
    I work in a very male dominated industry, but for a company that has worked hard to recruit and promote women and it is still an issue. The women who work in manufacturing and in one of the other departments actively dial back their femininity within weeks of starting for the company. It is something I have addressed in the unconscious bias training I have conducted but it still is an issue.
    What is also crazy is that in some areas of the business being more overtly feminine and dressing up, with makeup, heels, dresses, and manicured nails is more the norm and more expected. Wovmen in those areas who don’t “dress the part” are on the receiving end of the bias.
    We can’t win! We are too feminine, not feminine enough. Not assertive enough, No, not like that you are aggressive. Be decisive- gosh, you sure are bossy.
    The one area of the business it doesn’t seem to matter either way is software development. I think the software developers are so focused on all their codes they wouldn’t notice if the person next to them had two heads. LOL
    There is a commercial from Pantene titled called “Labels Against Women” you can find it on YouTube. I show this commercial in my Unconscious Bias for Leaders training class. It is powerful.

          1. tom*

            The comment I was responding to literally said this: “There is nothing to indicate the office is too young.”

            I answered: “The squealing is.”

            Frankly, your answer is absurd to that exchange. Squealing might indicates the overall look is either too young, or too something. The overall look that is not too something in some way does not elicit loud reactions.

            1. WellRed*

              But the wall paint isn’t squealing and the reaction of women in a higher pitch then you, Tom, are comfortable with, doesn’t mean the decor is too young. It might mean you should think of how gendered language is. You seem to have no concerns with her male coworker continuously commenting. Is it because you assume he is not squealing, but rather, deep voiced?

          1. Buttons*

            Seeriously?? Girly is a jevenile word. Feminine is not. I am a woman, not a girl. I am feminine and womanly, not girly.

          2. Andy*

            I am woman and I am not girly just like my male adult colleges are not boyish. Except those who actually are boyish or girly. Another way to be sexist is to drive the whole “women who don’t like to be framed in children terms have internalized sexism”.

          3. Taniwha Girl*

            Come on. We can’t criticize the use of “girl” for fully grown women and then claim “girly” is not juvenile. “Boyish” is also juvenile.

  38. Quickbeam*

    All the male managers in my company have loads of sports crap in their offices. One of them told me it was at their wives request to get it out of the house.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I’m sure women don’t give them shit about it thought, right? And treat them differently in their job for being “too masculine”?

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      One of my offices was fully decorated in sports “crap” and I present very much female.

      And it also leads to questions about my sexuality. So let’s not play into this constantly.

      And “wife’s request to get it out of the house” is another kettle of society fish that needs to stop.

    3. emmelemm*

      My partner doesn’t really do “sports crap” although he does watch sports. Nonetheless, he takes all the art that he likes/I hate to the office.

  39. Buttons*

    I always set up my WebEx, Zoom, and Teams meetings so that anyone, not just the create of the meeting can mute anyone. Most of the platforms you just cover your mouse over their name and right click and it will allow you to mute the person and they won’t be able to see who did it. I have to mute people all the time and I have no guilt about doing it. It is proper web based meeting etiquette you stay muted until you are talking.

  40. G*

    OP1 – paint and decor doesn’t hqve any bearing on work ethic or knowledge/exsperience (this isnt the days when astethic matters more to climb the career ladder. The male co-workers are just jerks and possibly have skewed veiws. i work in a very smart casual office (emphasise on the casual) yet i am way more comfortable in a suit as a female than trying to pick out some smart casual outfit for the day. Does it mean im too formal with my work or not flexible/able to challenge processes? Absolutely not so neither should a girly office affect anything about you or the work you do and some people may just need reminding.

  41. Amy*

    I don’t think male = neutral. Neutral = neutral. Frankly, I’d be quite put off by a lawyer or accountant’s office that was decorated with lots of baseball posters or hunting scenes.

    My husband and I share an home office for video calls. Previously it was a very pretty guest bedroom but many aspects of the room were distracting on video – the bed, the art. It didn’t serve our purposes professionally (in two different fields) so we figured our a neutral solution that speaks to both industries. If we were in art, fashion or design, we might be willing to take more design risks. But we’re not, so it has a look similar to a therapist’s waiting room – generic, tasteful in a bland way and fundamentally about clients and our work.

    And when in doubt, do like Coco Chanel and take one thing off. A Hello Kitty mug in neutral office is one thing but in one with, let’s say, a Hello Kitty art, statement paint etc can be distracting from what should be most important – you and your work.

  42. J.B.*

    I used to get flack about my office because it was too plain. Personally I don’t care very much what is on my office walls. It took a long time to get artwork up in my new house – although I like looking at it, the lack just doesn’t trip my notice day to day. *Shrug*

  43. Janon*

    #2 – if you are using Teams, hover over that participant and you can mute them. They can unmute themselves, but that will save you some. I have someone on a lot of calls who does not mute and there is so much echo so I’ve done that because otherwise I lose information that I don’t hear or am distracted from.

  44. cmcinnyc*

    “This feels like it might be the most unhelpful answer I’ve ever written. There’s just no easy answer that will apply across the board.”

    Ahh…but it is the truest advice. There is no way to be a woman that is “right.” First of all, of course there’s no way to be a woman that is “right.” There’s no one way to be human! But specifically, society’s rules and regulations are absolutely contradictory. You must be sexy and modest, pretty and plain, care about your fitness/health and not care about your fitness/health, be a mother/not be a parent, be young/not too young/ick you’re middle-aged, etc. etc. etc. I think the only consistent rules in the office and in life are be white and be male. Oh, and be heterosexual. And cisgendered. Those of us who are not white, male, cisgendered heterosexuals are always somehow not quite “professional” enough.

    The game cannot be won.

  45. Anon for this*

    OP 1
    A quick web search yielded these company names as major players in “Color of the Year” options:
    Benjamin Moore
    HGTV Color Trend Forecast

    If you read their press releases, they all make reference to color, and emotional responses & psychological responses to it. It seems Annoying Coworker and Mansplainer are both having emotional, psychological responses to your wall color. Perhaps they are both too emotional for the office, and need to seek counseling.
    (Full fledged snark. But not really. Turn the tables.)

    1. BadWolf*

      I was thinking the OP should “innocently” misunderstand Annoying Coworker. “Oh coworker, since you’re so interested in the color, I got the paint chip name and number for you. Here, I wrote it down on a post-it so you can check it out for yourself. What room are you thinking of painting?” Later: “Oh hey coworker, did you ever decide what room you’re going to paint with my office color, Awesome Blossom Blue? Or are you going to re-do you office? Can’t wait to find out!”

  46. HailRobonia*

    LW #1: The mens’ reactions sound like something Sarah Cooper would satirize (e.g. her book “How to Be Successful without Hurting Men’s Feelings: Non-threatening Leadership Strategies for Women”).

    I bet if your paint was “too masculine” (whatever that means) they would make snide comments about that as well.

    1. Roy G. Biv*

      I am now building a color palette of colors that are “too masculine” for walls – Army Green. Safety Orange. Battleship Gray. It’s Just Flesh Wound Blood Red.

      1. Joielle*

        Those are clearly colors reserved for basements. And man caves. And… wherever you go to fix a car.

  47. HR Bee*

    Am I the only one who is shocked OP1 got to pick her office paint color? Every company I’ve ever been apart of, the paint colors matched the branding of the company.

    1. Asenath*

      I’m surprised she got so much choice. My last employer gave a choice of three or four for office space – all very bland neutrals – I don’t know the proper names, but they’d be things like almost white beige, beige, beige with a greenish (or bluish) tinge. I think floor tiles had two choices, but you generally got whatever the installer showed up with. Carpets were being eliminated in favour of tile (I think because tile was considered more hygienic), but they were not only some version of beige, but showing their age. Public spaces were more colourful, but workers didn’t get to choose those colours.

    2. Amy*

      I’m frankly not sure I see the benefit. We paint our office every 3 years. Individually painting offices on changing schedules does not sound like a great use of company money.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        That’s my take. We move offices around the building quite a bit, so this is not even an option for us, but I’d think the office should be painted a neutral color that anyone (current and future occupants) can live with.

      2. Asenath*

        Ours tended to paint when a new person was assigned to the space – assuming that the condition of the current paint job indicated it needed to be re-done.

    3. Insert Clever Name Here*

      It’s not been the norm for any company I’ve worked for, but I’m not shocked by it — I know it’s a thing some places do. TBH, I had an actual office at one job (and I’m not in management) and it would have been awesome if they’d painted it to remove the years of scuff marks from the walls.

  48. M. Albertine*

    #3 – I was in your exact position earlier this year: I took a temp job doing taxes when my regular job stopped paying me and I needed the income and flexibility to continue my job hunt. I applied for and got a job two weeks into my 12-week commitment, with an organization notorious for its long hiring timelines. I felt terrible, especially because my temp position would have hired me full-time, but I was clear at the beginning that I did not want to go back to public accounting. To assuage my own feelings of guilt, I negotiated a delayed start date with the new job, which ended up being about the same time everything shut down and the tax season was extended, and started out the new job working from home. Honestly, I should not have let my feelings into the decision, but it ended up working out well anyway.

    The temp job understood it was a business decision and didn’t hold it against me. I know not every employer would have been so understanding, but it really should be standard, as Alison says. Be loyal to yourself, or you will kick yourself later.

  49. andy*

    LW1 The managers sounds a bit jerks. But if people are literally squeal when entering, then I have huge problem to believe that the office fits into how contemporary offices look. Whether male of female, both genders goes with inexpressive bland variants – in all aspects. Very apparently, people of both genders are shocked when they walk in.

    I have trouble to recall a single heavily personalized office among managers. I have seen such in lower levels – tech teams, cleaners etc, but even there management tend to hate those and negatively comment on them. We just kind of pretended we don’t see those.

    Also, and a bit unrelated, I find it a bit odd that ask-a-manager forum is so super supportive of office people squeal on. As far as I remember, pretty much discussion about slightly controversial personalisation was met with universal “it is unprofessional and shows bad judgement lack of social skills”. Had the other discussions were more open to show of personality, I would not see an issues here. But given that the consensus here was strongly pro-conformity up to new, I find it odd.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What? You missed the “It’s okay, get a sloth pencil case, it’s fine. We all personalize our space.” conversations.

      At no time has the majority ruled on the side of “Bland and safe is the only professional choice you can make. Stay bland, Pony Boy, stay bland.”

      1. Batgirl*

        Yeah I cannot remember any blanket advice to assimilate your personality at ALL; quite the opposite, there’s been lots of advice on how to judge when you can wear your personality at work, like coloured hair, tatoos etc. The sloth pencil case is my fave too.

    2. Anononon*

      I find it bizarre that office decoration is so negatively looked down on at your work, that people actually “hate” it. At my work, all of the partners have super nicely decorated offices, both genders, and so do most of the associates.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What other posts are you referencing? I’ve told people it’s fine to have stuffed sloth pencil cases, Lord of the Rings figurines, and a bunch of other personalization so I’m curious about what posts you’re thinking of. (And I can’t imagine I’ve ever told anyone their office personalization shows a lack of social skills, unless they’re decorating with porn or something.)

      1. emmelemm*

        That reminds me of one of the “readers share stories” threads where someone had gone in to interview and the woman she was interviewing with apparently wrote very steamy romance novels on the side and had her office decorated with some ~interesting~ book covers. And yet, that woman apparently still had some kind of corporate job.

      2. andy*

        To clarify, it was more comment on comments section then on you. I apologize for not making it clear. Moreover, your answer here is to large extend something I agree with.

        The one that I remember the most is discussion about a cup where comments section appeared to me basically competitive over who judges more. I think that it would take me too much time to go through discussions I read last months, I binge read this blog. So I will leave it as my impression without hunting additional proofs.

    4. WellRed*

      Why do you keep focusing on the word squeal? Yes, I realize oP used it, but I don’t think people (women) are constantly squealing. Instead it is the manly man in his presumably non squeal of a deep manly voice, who keeps bringing this up.
      Stop telling us how to talk.

      1. Batgirl*

        I know, what is so odd about reacting with enthusiasm? Liking what someone has done with their office might be one of the safest office small talk topics ever.

      2. andy*

        I focus on that word, because that is the word OP used to describe colleges who “have strong visible reaction”. If your office or table or anything elicits strong reactions, it is safe to guess that the item does not fit into how contemporary offices look.

        I did not said nor implied the squealing is something those people should not do. I said that their reaction shows that the office does appear outside of typical norms.

        In fact, I said “people” instead of “women” even. I did not mentioned gender at all.

        The gender plays role only in OP letter, but not in my comment. It seems to be implied that women universally like the new office as adorable and that two guys take issues. It is definitely not me who assumes women are in one way.

      3. andy*

        > I don’t think people (women) are constantly squealing.

        I dont think women are constantly squealing. There are subcultures where women do it a lot and all the time. There are subcultures where women dont do it at all or only rarely. Either way, squealing is form of communication. What is said is kind of complex, but “surprise” and “strong reaction” are part of it. It is not random noise and it makes sense to read it as communication.

    5. EventPlannerGal*

      Really? The only times I can think of that this site has been against this stuff is when it’s done in a way that looks very noticeably out of place, like that person whose entire cube was decorated with handwritten affirmational notes (and even then there was a lot of debate and it came down to the fact that they were handwritten, IIRC). I don’t think that a paint colour chosen from options presented to you by the company falls under that heading.

  50. Mimmy*

    #2 – People being unmuted during virtual meetings is my biggest pet peeve as I too am very sensitive to sounds. I have a slight hearing impairment too so if the noise is especially loud, I can’t hear the person speaking. As I noted in a reply to someone upthread, I find it very distracting when the person’s video/screen pops up every time they make the slightest sound. Sure, in Zoom you could just have it so you see all screens at once, but I like to focus on the person speaking.

    One suggestion I can add (apologies if it’s been mentioned already) is to send a chat message to the host to ask that the manager be muted. You can send it to the host privately or make it so that everyone sees it. You could even say “I’m having trouble hearing, could everyone please mute themselves.” (I’ve actually tried that but it hasn’t worked but other offices may be more responsive).

  51. CM*

    For OP#3, I agree you should go ahead with talking to the other company. But from your letter, it sounds like you would stay if your current job was permanent. This could be one of the few situations where a counteroffer makes sense. If you interview successfully and you think the other job is close to making an offer (or after you already have an offer, depending on how risk averse you need to be), you could tell your current boss that you really like your current position and would prefer not to leave, but you need stability. Then you can ask for whatever you need, whether it’s simply a permanent instead of temp position, or other things too. That way you wouldn’t just be unexpectedly saying goodbye, you would give your current boss a chance to keep you on.

  52. Erin*

    Just let Billy & Johnny know that if they ask nicely, you will help them to redecorate their offices too.

    Then let their managers know that they aren’t busy enough with work tasks.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      “When you get a promotion” …and watch him squirm because she got the job of the guy who retired not him.

  53. Ann O'Nemity*

    #1 Office culture is going to play a big role in the range of acceptable office decor and color schemes. Is individuality and creativity encouraged in workspaces? Do you see huge variation between your coworkers offices? Or it is a subdued sea of beige, and greige, and gray?

    I don’t mean to discount the gendered implications and possible sexism in OP #1’s letter. That could be a very real thing! But the issue may also be about the OP having an unusually unique office, one that stands out and becomes a conversation point.

  54. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    I know Alison said that she felt like she didn’t really answer question #1, but I really like the way she did. It wasn’t all fake and telling her that it shouldn’t matter, when she knows that in some cases it can regardless of whether it is right that it does. And that’s why this site rocks because it tells it like it is.

    But OP#1, as a “woman in power in a male dominated field” please embrace your femininity. Normalize it so that everyone coming after you can be free to be as feminine as they want to. Most guys will figure it out after they are corrected once or twice, and those that can’t wrap their minds around the fact that women can be multiple things are never going to be satisfied no matter how much you squash the fact that you like things that are more stereotypically feminine. Don’t change for them, because you can never make them happy.

    1. andy*

      As a women in male dominated field, I did felt pressured do perform feminine femininity by female managers multiple times already. Way more then the opposed.

      I just dont see the “female managers are putting unsufficient pressure on females they manage to be femaly” an actual issues, quite the opposite.

      1. andy*

        I should have been “way more then the opposite”. But really, guys were typically less of an issue and had less opinions on what I as a technical woman should wear, whether I should have make up, what hobbies I have and so on.

        1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

          Sorry, I was kind of confused by your reply (I think there was some weird autocorrects in there).

          If I got you correct, you’re saying that in male dominated fields, there are a lot of women that call out other women for acting feminine? I have seen that as well. I think we as women are conditioned to also see femininity as a problem in our male dominated work environments and are more apt to be critical of each other. I called out the men because they seem to be the OP’s issue.

          Women in male dominated fields need to stop critiquing each other too. Women run the spectrum of stereotypical femininity. I’m much less feminine (I hate makeup because I suck at applying it, and I’m a roll out of bed at last minute possible person) and often get the snide comments about my lack of femininity mostly from other females. Apparently people think that means that I should critique those that overly embrace their stereotypical femininity, but I’m not going to do that. I respect that everyone should be allowed to represent themselves in any way they want. I’m not going to allow myself to contribute to the weird unspoken culture (does anyone else see this or is it just me?) that there can “only be one female” that is the most successful (and stereotypical feminine actions or lack thereof are for some reason where people start with critiquing other women). I think that’s part of why women cut each other down, because in male dominated workplaces there still is the expectation that in order to be the top, you have to cut down the other females. Men, do you experience this weird pressure to cut down someone else who you know would be just as good as you at your job in order to be seen as the top candidate? I’m just curious if it really is a female thing, or if I just see it that way as a female.

          1. Batgirl*

            Actually I think Andy is talking about female managers pressuring women TO perform femininity. Like implying that women should be wearing makeup.
            Which is just as much of a problem as femininity being taboo.

            1. andy*

              Yes. But if you think about opposite situation, it is usually males who try to force other males to me properly masculine or mock them. While women sometimes do comment on that, a guy not performing proper masculinity is less likely to be issue for them then for males.

              I think that people are simply more likely to do in-group policing. If I put in effort to follow a rule, other people like me “breaking” rule skating easy are annoying.

          2. andy*

            I am woman who works in make dominated field – I am programmer. Non technical managers are both males and females. Non technical management is quite common. Analysts are also both female and male, technical management tend to  male.

            When it comes to commenting on what I (or other women) wear and whether I have proper gender expression, it is only women who comment on that.  Obviously, it is not all women, but if someone comment on whether someone else is feminine enough or properly feminine, it is a woman. Also, women who do openly have these comments tend to be more on the “girly/feminine” presenting.  

            I do not recall technical woman trying to cut me down. That part seems as sexist myth to me mostly. Some women on the same position as me became friends, with others we mostly ignored/tolerated each other. I once had non technical manager have dumb comments pointing toward “women cant get together” stereotype, because I did not knew some other woman. I was mostly confused at that point, because it is not like all males would know each other either.

            And it is not like males would all get along either. They do cut each other down pretty routinely, they do have grudges or resentment over each other too. The moment I would dislike some other woman, I would be confirming stereotype of women not being able to get along no matter how many of them are friends.

            As far as sexism as issue goes, it is easier for me to convince technical people then non technical managers that I know what I am talking about. Non technical management is the most likely to assume the male is more correct then women, not to trust me until male college says the same thing or see what I say about programming with suspicion. I think that technical people have easier time to judge content of what I say, non technical go by how they feel. There is sexism among tech people and I did experienced that. But it is more about who dominates who them trying to prove you less good them them, it is more direct.

            So for me, policing of gender expression comes mostly from women. The hardest issues around sexism come from non-technical people.

            The special thing about non-technical women is that they project their own insecurities on me. If they believe they are incapable to be good in tech because their femininity, their communication towards me is … unpleasant.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think there is one practical piece in her answer that got a bit buried, and I would like to highlight more that I think it’s often a good idea to talk to other women in the office any time you’re unsure about things like this, or even just pay attention to them for cues. In my office I looked at the women higher up the chain when I wondered whether maxi dresses would be okay at my office or colorful nails (in both cases I saw plenty of women rocking it so I did too!).

      In this particular instance I wouldn’t necessarily focus on “girly” or “feminine” but just on whether the look of the office stands out too much. I’d probably just ask someone something like “Hey, I’d love to get your opinion on my office decor. The blue paint I picked was a bit brighter than I expected from the swatches I was given, but I actually love how it turned out! I’m a little worried that it might be too bold though, what do you think?”

  55. Ghostly Apparition*

    OP 1 Is there a possibility that the co worker with the snide comments and the new manager are resentful or jealous and are taking it out on you with passive aggressive comments to “put you in your place”. Since you are a just woman and we have such teeny tiny brains you of course won’t recognize the aggression and will feel belittled or less confident.

  56. Sled Dog Mama*

    OP #1 I’d be thrilled to have my office painted anything besides beige, I hate the color of my office walls and all the random little chips in it from years and years of abuse. Sadly as a contractor I’m supposed to be happy I have an office at all. Your office sounds lovely don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.
    My husband lived with a PINK laundry room and bath room for two years (2 separate rooms) because the paint chip we picked looked like a slightly orange sunset color. When it went up it was so pink. it’s so hard to judge what a room will look like from a tiny chip

    1. AnotherAlison*

      At some point, I realized I painted my house all the same beige variations that were our office colors (camel-ish beige, green tint-beige, etc.). I guess you could say office neutral is my jam. I grew up in a very pink house, and had a Trading Spaces phase with a safety orange kitchen in my previous house (only for a couple years and it was supposed to be darker orange, another paint chip victim).

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Right? I’ve always had offices for the most part but I’ve never had a fun color. Thankfully I can fill the walls with stuff to distract from the beige but a serene blue would be so nice. We inherited ugly patterned carpet too that I have to live with as well, ick, nast.

  57. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    Also for OP#2 because I love the quote, “Not muting your mic is the new reply all.”

    The statement has been all over the internet, so I don’t know who said it first.

  58. school of hard knowcs*

    OP1. Long ago and far away I worked in a old cheap office. The desks were military grade green metal(possible used from a military base in the 50’s) and the tops had some sort of green unknown substance on them that I scrubbed regularly to no avail. At Christmas to decorate, most people covered the desktops with Christmas wrap and I followed along. Then in January I went with a different theme wrapping paper. I changed it every month in the keeping of the season. After a few months the ‘powers that be’ had ALL the desktops replaced with ‘fancy’ formica covers whether we wanted them or not.
    I now work where we can decorate as we see fit. I have plants, pictures, tea pot.
    Honestly, the weird people are going to be weird. I would listen and then ask super technical questions. Or, ooh, start talking about the science of colors and technical stuff. You can neutralize your office with accessories, if it matters to you. I wouldn’t but … monthly themed wrapping paper desk.

  59. Blue Eagle*

    #1 – In thinking about how to answer this question as well as in reading the majority of the comments, it occurs to me that the issue is not if it is too girly or not, the issue is – – – Do you want to blend in or do you want to stand out? Some people (women, new immigrants, people of color, native Americans, different sexualities, etc) prefer a strategy where they blend in so they don’t stand out – – – others prefer to stand out. Each strategy is neither right nor wrong, it is just what works best for your personal preference AND what works best to advance your interests in your situation.
    So – you do you, whatever your preference happens to be (and take the consequences of what comes from that – which sometimes are negative but surprisingly sometimes are positive).

  60. MissM*

    LW#2, if it’s your call or you’re leading it, I’ve gone with “I’m getting a lot of feedback so I’m going to mute everyone. Unmute yourself as needed”

  61. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

    I work in construction and used to purchase plumbing supplies from a particular vendor. Great company, super friendly staff, and very well-managed. Their offices were on one side of a warehouse, so usually when I arrived to pick up my order I would go through the front office before heading to the loading dock. The manager’s office was visible from the front counter, and the manager was very friendly and would usually call me over to say hello.

    I could not stand her office, but I only say that because it gave me a headache. The walls were a bright shade of lilac-purple and a lot of the accessories were bright pink. I like that she showed off her personality with her office, but the color combination with the fluorescent lighting was difficult to handle. It made my eyes strain quite a bit, so I couldn’t stay in there long. I usually said my hellos and pleasantries, then headed out to get my order loaded up.

    LW #1 mentions that the color of her office is more calming. It doesn’t sound like her office looks like a yogurt shoppe or anything like that, it just sounds like her coworker is being a jerk. As long as the overall feel of the office is not too loud, then I think she’s completely fine. Maybe she could use some lamps instead of overhead lighting if she feels it helps tone it down (as long as she can still see well enough to work). You’d be surprised at how much the lighting can make a difference in a situation like that. If she has a window and can control the shades/blinds, that would be even better. The less florescence, the better!!! But either way, don’t sweat it so much. Enjoy it!

  62. Death Before Dishonor*

    I’ve used instability as a reason for looking. It was easy to point to a new CEO and note there was a lot of reorganizations and people being let go. My new job didn’t hold that against me. While nobody guarantees complete job security, there are some changes that warrant not staying.

  63. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    Rolling my eyes so hard at the men in #1, har-har “Girlz tho, ewwwwwwww.”

    Okay, Alfalfa, we get it. Girls make you puke!

    Meanwhile all the men in this male dominated world I’m in are thrilled that I came into this junk factory and made it “look put together” instead of just pieced together hodgepodge style. And they continue to default to my expertise and decision making process, so I’m not concerned. You work with punks, that’s the bottom line.

    1. LW#1*

      Exactly. Guess who the plant manager looks at when there’s an emergency or a complex problem to solve? This girly girl right here.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I laugh because I was recently asked if I was the plant manager. But I’ve always been high ranking, it’s cute when “the boys” who never last long want to overcompensate!

  64. Girasol*

    #1 If OP had painted the office a sedate dull gray, would the men of the office have mansplained anyway and chosen an article of clothing to deride instead? Sometimes one can do everything to mute the appearance of femininity in the workplace and it won’t help because feminine behavior isn’t the source of the problem. Why not go ahead and draw serenity from the pleasant office and use it in battling the real issues?

  65. LW#1*

    Hi everyone – just wanted to chime in and say WOW, I love the conversation this question stirred up! I’m having a lot of fun reading your comments. And Alison, your response is perfect and actually is helpful. I’m glad you didn’t recoil in horror and tell me I must repaint immediately or risk destroying my career. LOL! Knowing I’m toeing the line and it could go either way just reminds me that I have to keep opening my mouth, taking up space, and reminding these guys that feminine does not equal weak.

    For what it’s worth, my dotted-line boss complimented my office and compared me to a straight, cis male director who is much-liked, saying his office is very homey and he even burns incense in it!

    I still love my office and I truly feel peaceful and happy when I’m in it. I’m hoping it will help with the winter blahs when our endless months of cloudy skies set in.

    Thanks again for your input, everyone! You’re the best!

    1. Anononon*

      “compared me to a straight, cis male director who is much-liked, saying his office is very homey and he even burns incense in it”

      What??? But according to some of these comments, men almost never decorate their offices (unless their wife says otherwise).

      This is great, OP! I’m so glad that the response and the comments have confirmed your love of your office and are giving you the confidence to stick up to the a-holes.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      They’re coming for you while there’s a director who burns incense in their office *narrows eyes*, now that’s the real crime here. I sneezed just reading that part of your comment, LOL.

      1. LW#1*

        The director works at another location but visits here often. Not surprisingly, he’s one of my favorite people on earth. :)

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          That lessens my concern about their brazen double standards.

          I assumed it was seriously not a big thing given they gave you a swatch booklet and the color was in there. Most people aren’t going to be all “Paint your color whatever” and then be all “HOW DARE YOU CHOOSE THAT ONE THOUGH? It’s so bright, it’s so out there!”

          But seriously, don’t burn things in your office. It’s gross and disrespectful to people with asthma or migraines. That’s really a thoughtless thing to do. I’m sure he’s lovely, he seems gentle but that’s thoughtless.

    3. EventPlannerGal*

      If you work in the type of office where it’s okay for people to burn incense in their offices then that makes people’s reactions even more bizarre. Rock on with your aqua office, OP, it sounds gorgeous!

    4. CB*

      I (26M) looked up the paint color you mentioned in another comment. I think my first (and only) response the first time I saw your office would probably be “Wow! That’s awesome that the company let you pick you own paint color!”.

  66. scribblingTiresias*

    It’s really confusing and frustrating how many people here don’t think that men get judged on their appearance choices and decor.

    I’m trans, but I pass as cis most of the time. I have gotten so many comments and so much side-eye for the way I dress, the way I talk with my hands, and – yes- the decor I choose. My personal style is traditionally masculine, but in a way you might call “flamboyant”- I wear a lot of colourful waistcoats, use an old-fashioned fountain pen day to day, wear funky socks from the women’s section, etc.

    I haven’t had a professional job in years (I freelance and livestream now), but when I was working? I got *so much crap* for it. Including and up to one supervisor calling my (black with thin colourful stripes, reasonably sedate) waistcoat a “clown outfit”.

    There are certain forms of masculine expression that do get privileged in the workplace, yes. No one is going to give a cis man crap for having sportsball merch in his office. “Boys will be boys” is still a Thing in a lot of places.

    But I can guarantee you that yes, men – even cis men- get judged for expressing their gender at work in an “inappropriate” way, even if that gender is what we’d normally call masculine. It’s just that most cis men don’t bother, because they’ve had it hammered into them from birth that they’ll get beaten up if they try.

    1. EventPlannerGal*

      I think this is a really interesting point and something that I’ve been thinking about – I really appreciate this perspective. I think where I come down on it is that, while men are absolutely judged for how they express their gender and are expected to conform to a very restrictive expression of masculinity, I struggle to think of examples of men being judged negatively in the workplace for being “too masculine”, in the way that women are judged for being “too girly”.

      I think that’s what most of the discussions above are referring to – while men are definitely judged for their gender expression, it’s usually in the direction of “XYZ behaviour is effeminate/gay”, or possibly “XYZ behaviour is immature/boyish”. For example, I know a few guys at work who are teased/judged for wearing waistcoats (although even then it’s completely accepted on older or overtly macho men) but it isn’t because the waistcoats are too masculine, it’s on the grounds that an excessive interest in clothes/appearance is considered feminine and therefore suspect. It’s hard to find a “too manly” equivalent of OP’s aqua walls, a way that a guy could reasonably decorate an office (like, not full Gaston, in the way that aqua walls are not full Disney princess) but still have everyone saying “don’t you think it’s too manly” and joking about it constantly. Maybe if it was some sort of literal man cave with everything made of dark wood and leather? But that sounds like a lot of actual executive offices. I’m not sure. It’s a complicated topic and like I said, I appreciate hearing your perspective on it.

    2. Batgirl*

      I think men get a simpler “how to” brief, loads of rewards if they get it right and much harsher judgement if they dare not conform. Women are given a “be feminine, but not too feminine” needle that’s impossible to thread. However women who don’t succeed with that are just seen as “not serious” by people who dont take women very seriously anyway. It’s kind of freeing to realise you can’t win.

    3. CM*

      Everyone gets judged for being gender non-conforming.
      Woman also get judged for being TOO gender-conforming.

  67. Trolly*

    For #1, I’m also a very feminine person (e.g. I’m not comfortable at work in pants), but what I settled on for my work clothes (and now home decor) is “elegant” femininity. So things like pearls, smooth sleek hair curled under, silk-like wrap dresses, elegant low heels. Think Anna Wintour – she is ultra feminine, but no one would think she is weak! I’ve found that even more traditional/misogynistic men seem to have more respect for the more older/genteel kind of feminine woman vs younger/girlier.

    My home decor used to be more girly (like brighter light yellows and light blues), but now I’ve transitioned to slightly more greyer tones of the same shades. My house still would strike anyone as feminine, but it’s more elegant now, so seems more powerful. Mauve instead of bubble-gum pink.

  68. dustycrown*

    #1 – You have to own that aqua office. If you re-paint it, the guys who snark at you for it will see it as a sign of weakness. You’ll be at their mercy. Stand your ground and make it a non-issue.

  69. Penelope Picklebottom*

    The office thing should have been it’s own post.

    Also, could we get some comment moderation? I’m sure you didn’t expect to need it on a post about a paint color, but people are going all cancel culture and irredeemably evil on commenters about making any kind of gendered statement even if its based on their own experience.

    This is way worse than a typical AAM comment section.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Alison has said countless time she’s not capable of monitoring the comments that strictly. Flag stuff for her or just don’t read the comments, you’re not helping anyone by putting in your unsolicited 2c on how she runs her advice blog.

    2. Lucky Meas*

      Eh, people here always see red when sexism against women is brought up. This letter happened to be the perfect Venn-diagram cross between “outrage against sexism” and “being braver online about pushing back than you would be in real life”. It’s very easy to tell OP to be confident in her paint color choice (as well she should be!). But it’s much harder when you personally are suffering from sexism because of your gender expression. I hope someday no one has to conform to survive, and hope OP can overcome her sexist colleagues.

  70. Spcepickle*

    OP#1 – I am a middle manager women, in charge of a state DOT construction office. I also painted my office blueberry whip (pale purple), hung soft colorful wall art, and wear pink sparkly sneakers. It took me a while to find the right job where these things don’t matter, where I can be mostly seen for the work I do. I say keep making the world a more interesting colorful place.

  71. Nobody Nowhere*

    I have the opposite problem. I’m not at all feminine except for sometimes wearing makeup. The other women in my office are extremely “girly” and I’m pretty much a pariah because of it.

  72. Anabel*

    LW 4: If the company you interviewed with is a household name, I probably work there both the things you are describing are standard parts of our interview process. Yes it is weird. Yes it isn’t a good candidate experience. But they regularly look at the data and their weird way of doing things gets the results you want.

    When I was interviewing my prospective manager explained that he doesn’t interview candidates because he’s their champion. He explains how the hiring process works, he answers their questions, he explains the role and tries to sell them on the team, etc. Interviewers are drawn from qualified folks from all over the company partly for logistical reasons (scheduling interviews is easier with a bigger pool of interviewers) and partly to ensure that the hiring bar is consistent.

    As for changing the role midstream there are good reasons for it. Usually it happen because the company likes you, but the position you applied for has been filled or you aren’t a good match. So they try to find something else that could work. It is okay to ask why the job is changing and if the new one doesn’t appeal you can leave the process.

    In addition to speaking to the manager you can also ask to talk to a potential peer informally. Sometimes that conversation can help you determine if the company is just weird or if it is a red flag.

  73. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    #1 reminded me of something that happened early in my US career, in the late 90s. Back then, I was coloring my hair a really light platinum blonde. (I’d had that natural hair color as a kid and teen, and wanted to keep it when my hair started growing darker in my 20s. I don’t dye it that color now.) One day, a new hire (also a woman) lectured me on my hair color and said to dye it red, because blond hair is a stereotype and will set my career back. I was seriously thinking about following her advice, however in the few weeks that it was taking me to think it through, my new colleague, with her red hair, was escorted out of the office, for doing something, as part of the server maintenance she was performing, that crashed the company’s web and mail servers. She was specifically told by our manager not to do that thing, because it would crash those two servers. She then waited for him to leave the office, did the thing anyway, went home, and was not reachable over the weekend. My boss and grandboss spent 36 hours straight in the office on Saturday and Sunday bringing those two servers back up. Then fired my new colleague when she came back in. I took it as a sign from the universe that what I actually do at work matters more than what color I dye my hair, and continued with my bad self. No damage was done to my career as a result. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a lot of sexism during my career, but not on account of my hair. What I am saying is, it was just one guy who made the comments about the (company-provided and approved, and further vetted by Alison) wall color. He may very well not know what he is talking about. Feel free to ignore, OP!

  74. IslandGirl*

    I looked up the color and then the description of the office. I am guessing that it looks like someone put effort into the decor. I am sure itlooks nothing like the traditional “male” office where no thought is given to the decor. Yes it skews youthful and perhaps not “masculine” in the toxic sense. You. can tell him it cost nothing extra for that shade and that you find that you are more productive in an office that suits your needs. Offer to help him become more productive by assisting with his office. Clearly he needs to spend more time there than in yours.

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