can an employer steal your work when you apply for a job, why can’t low-wage jobs retain workers, and more

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

1. Can an employer steal your work when you apply for a job?

This question is purely hypothetical. My interest was piqued by a story I read from fashion watchdog group Diet Prada (the story has gone viral).

As the story goes, a woman was applying for a design internship with Converse (makers of the ubiquitous Chuck Taylor sneaker for anyone not familiar). Along with her application, she submitted a design pitch. This was not a test assignment or part of the application, just additional materials that she decided to send along to show her skill and enthusiasm. It is worth noting that the work was done specifically to strengthen her application to Converse — it was design ideas for some sneakers inspired by U.S. national parks. This wasn’t previous work done for other clients or a student portfolio or anything of that nature.

I’m sure you can guess where this is going. She was rejected for the internship, but two years later, Converse announced that they are rolling out … a line of sneakers inspired by national parks! The designs are undeniably similar (some would say identical) in both color and style. Converse is predictably denying that they got the idea or the designs from this woman. It goes without saying but they never contacted her to get permission, give credit, or to pay her for her work.

I think we can all agree that this is unethical so I guess my question is — is this legal? If this woman wanted to sue Converse, would she have a legal leg to stand on? Any time you submit something to a potential employer, are you giving them the right to use those materials for their own profit? Maybe it gets tricky because she was basically giving them an unsolicited design pitch but it feels so incredibly wrong!

Nope, employers do not own materials that you share with them in the process of applying for a job, regardless of whether those materials were solicited or unsolicited. That candidate owns her own work; she wasn’t creating it as a work-for-hire (like if she worked for them) or under any sort of contract.

Of course, sometimes people think their work was stolen when it was an idea that multiple people could have easily come up with independently of each other. (I’ve seen people allege that when the idea was something really general.) But other times unscrupulous employers really did take someone’s work and use it without paying them for it, which isn’t legal or okay.

The trick, of course, is in proving that they did, which will take a lawyer and time and money.

2. Why can’t retail and food service jobs retain employees?

I’ve been struggling with this question for years now, since having noticed that “seniority” seems to have stopped ruling, at least in my field (retail or food service) and local area. Anywhere one might shop or eat, they are more likely to receive service from a new face than a (more) familiar face. I’ve always heard the phrase, “I’ve got a stack of applications in my office” (typically in a joking manner or as part of a story about someone else, no one has actually said that to me). Why does it seem like a revolving door for a constant influx of new people is the preferred practice over retaining experienced employees who actually know what they’re doing?

It’s because employers in retail and food service often don’t pay enough or provide decent enough working conditions (including benefits) to retain employees over long periods of time. It’s not that employers prefer a revolving door of employees necessarily, but they’ve calculated that it’s not worth it to them to do the things they’d need to do to stop it (because those things cost money).

3. Sick leave when you have a flexible schedule

I work part-time on a completely flexible schedule—as long as I average 20 hours a week for the fiscal year, my supervisors don’t seem to have a strong preference as to which 20 hours those are, or if they are even in the same week. In the past, this has meant when I am sick I simply reschedule my working hours to a later time and make them up them. As a consequence, I have accumulated a lot of sick leave hours and, as of a month ago, did not see myself using them any time soon. However, in the last month, I started a new (additional) part-time job and got busy in some other parts of my life, and so my ability to just reschedule if I am feeling unwell has decreased. I can still technically reschedule work for later if I am feeling ill, it is just a lot more of a pain to do so. Is it ethical for me to use the sick leave I have accumulated, given I could just reschedule my working hours? I figure I have the sick time for a reason but I feel weird using it unless I absolutely have to.

Use your sick leave! That’s the whole purpose of having it. If you were working there full-time, would you feel weird about using sick leave because you might feel well enough to make up the hours over the weekend? Hopefully you would not. They give you sick leave, it’s fine to use it when you’re sick, and you aren’t doing anything unethical or even mildly sketchy.

4. How do we write an executive-level job description that makes it clear our staff is highly diverse?

My question concerns language in an executive director job description. Our temple has a small staff, about a third of whom are queer. We’re varying levels of quirky, shabby, fat, disabled, and neurodivergent. We love working together and we’re sad to see our beloved executive director move on.

Are there any key phrases you recommend that say “the queers aren’t leaving and you must meet the weirdos where they are” but in executive hiring-speak? (I am one of the queers in question and I’m using the words by which I self-define.) I’d love your advice as I meet with our various committees and explain to them (probably repeatedly) that our diversity really does make us who we are and it’s vital that whoever they bring on knows that.

Ideally the job posting would explain the person will lead a “diverse and inclusive staff” and that candidates should be committed to equity and inclusion on multiple fronts (race, disability, neurodiversity, LGBTQ+, etc.) … but don’t just rely on that! Interviewers should also talk explicitly about the org’s commitment to diversity and equity and ask candidates about their experience building diverse and equitable teams (for example, “tell us about a time when you worked to make sure your workplace/team/project was a place where everyone—particularly those with marginalized identities—could participate and thrive,” etc.).

5. Changing my name to something gender-neutral

I’m a young woman with a recognizably female name, but I’ve been thinking about using a more gender-neutral name or initials solely for my professional life, a la J.K. Rowling, for example. I wouldn’t want to change my actual name, pronouns, etc., just the name I get bylines under. I’ve floated the idea before, and now I’m starting to consider it more seriously.

(For what it’s worth, the specific name I’m considering would be CJ. I’ve been told that it sounds like a “basic frat boy name,” which, LOL, but maybe that wouldn’t be a detriment…)

My question for female readers is: have you done this? What effect, if any, has it had on your professional life?

I’m happy to throw this out to readers to share advice.

{ 462 comments… read them below }

  1. Storie*

    For #1–in the entertainment business, this happens all the time as candidates for exec jobs audition by writing notes on scripts, make director and cast lists, etc etc. I’ve done it more times than I care to remember. And yes I have seen ideas remarkably similar to mine in later versions of scripts. It’s all so slippery. I’m over doing it, and have reached the point where I don’t need to audition this way, thankfully. But people do it every day.

    1. AcademiaNut*

      I’ve seen multiple authors state that they will not read other people’s work or ideas, and in some cases even stay away from forums discussing their work, specifically to avoid getting sued by someone who thinks the author stole their idea.

      It’s a tricky issue. Stealing work illegal (and unethical), but ideas are not nearly as unique as a lot of people believe. From the company’s perspective, it would be reasonable to have the resumes screened by someone in HR and the original content (designs, product pitches, script treatments) stripped out before they’re passed on to people doing the actual hiring, to avoid legal trouble down the line, and to come up with working examples for the interview process that aren’t directly related to their own product.

      1. Magenta Sky*

        There’s also the matter of whether or not the idea actually qualifies for copyright protection. It’s not as simple or obvious as many people believe. The only one who can give you an opinion worth listening to is a copyright attorney.

        1. MK*

          Ideas never qualify for copyright protection, even if they are unique. She might have a case if they used her actual designs.

          1. Lilo*

            There was an interesting case where Glee blatantly ripped off the cover of some song (down to using the guy’s name in it). However, the guy didn’t have the right kind of license to create a derivative work so he had no copyright protection in his arrangement.

              1. Alex*

                And I believe in the Good Wife the reason they won the case was because the fictional TV show who were being sued had actually used the character’s original recording of the song which took place in a bowling alley. They identified the sound of bowling balls in the recording. So they won because they had taken the actual track and used it on the programme, not the idea or even the arrangement.

            1. Simply the best*

              I believe you’re talking about Greg Laswell’s cover of Girls Just Want to Have Fun, but I don’t know what you mean by “using the guy’s name in it”.

              1. Nekussa*

                It may be Jonathan Coulton’s cover of “Baby Got Back”. In his version he sang it like it was a sweet love song, and changed one line to say “Johnny” instead of “Mixalot” since he wasn’t Sir Mixalot. Glee properly licensed the song from Sir Mixalot (no one disputes that he owns the rights) but the performer did it in the sweet love song style and said “Johnny” with no credit given to Coulton. Coulton discovered that he didn’t have much protection for his unique cover of the song.

                1. FrivYeti*

                  The adding insult to injury part was that Fox’s official response to Jonathan Coulton was that he should be happy for the exposure (for a song that, I cannot stress enough, they did not credit him for in any way.)

                  Coulton retaliated by releasing his original song again as a Glee cover, with the track description updated to say that it was a cover of Glee’s cover of his cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot. It wound up outselling all of Glee’s songs that year.

              2. lyonite*

                I think it’s actually Jonathan Couton’s cover of Baby Got Back they’re talking about, where he added a line that included his name.

              3. banbanbanana*

                They’re talking about Jonathan Coulton’s version of Baby Got Back. Pretty sorry stuff.

          2. Judy*

            I remember a story from years ago where a designer had an interview with Victoria’s Secret to pitch the idea of a bra you could wear five ways or some such. They told her to send her designs and come for an interview Friday. She sent the designs, and they then cancelled her interview and never rescheduled. Six months later VS rolled out this same bra design. I’m pretty sure it went to court. I can’t remember if the designer had had a patent for the design but it got complicated. I can’t remember who won.

            1. Joan Rivers*

              I saw the photos of the Converse shoe vs. hers, and it didn’t look so much alike that it had to have been copied. Maybe, maybe not.
              Layering colors isn’t that unique.

              I have some sequinned flats [like a ballet shoe] that are Converse — have the label in the back and a white rubber sole, but silvery sequins all over them. They’re fun. And whoever thought THAT up [probably helped by a substance] was being unique. I see lace-ups online but they look like lace-ups w/sequins, while these look like sequinned flats and then you see they’re Converse.

              1. twocents*

                Yeah I’m kind of peeved at whoever wrote this into Alison because they really, really overstated just how similar the Converse design is to the application. “National park colors” is not a unique, or hell, even interesting idea; my local yarn shop has been selling yarn that looks like that for years now.

                1. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

                  I think it’s an interesting idea, but definitely not unique. I’ve seen notebooks and stamps with this theme and I like them.

                  I don’t know anything about this case, so I’m not trying to make a value judgement–just saying I like national park themed stuff.

        2. Arvolin*

          Whether a lawsuit would succeed is not necessarily as important as whether one would be filed. A science fiction author with a strong fan following received a letter from a fan, replied saying the fan’s ideas were good, and she might use them, and then received a letter from the fan’s lawyer husband saying that, if the writer used the ideas without listing his wife as an author and giving her half the royalties, there was going to be a lawsuit. I don’t know what happened following that (I’m not much of a fan of that author), but it was frightening. There are a very few authors who make enough that they can take a lawsuit threat with equanimity, but most can’t.

          Back when the science fiction show Babylon 5 was showing, in the 1990s, there was a strong online fan following (probably one of the first shows with such), and there were warnings on the discussion groups as to what not to post where, as the producer read some of the groups.

      2. Fancy Owl*

        I think part of the slipperiness too is that plagiarism is very much an “I know it when I see it” kind of issue. If someone lays out a case where they show you both works and give you the backstory it’s usually not that hard to say when it’s plagiarism or not but it’s a lot harder to come up with general rules that will apply in all situations. Hence why lawyers generally have to get involved I suppose.

        1. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

          It’s tricky isn’t it? I looked at the Converse designs in question and they don’t look that similar to me. Sure, the color palettes are largely the same, but since they got pulled straight from the characteristic park colors that’s not very surprising. And “national parks” is hardly an idea someone couldn’t come up with independently. I wouldn’t be surprised if more that one potential intern pitched it to Converse, actually.

          The lady is also claiming that Converse stole her color pattern for another design, but since the colors in question are muted shades of blue, green, yellow, orange in that order, it hardly seems unique. I mean, rainbows?

          Really, it looks like mother nature was the one plagiarized by both, but she’s hardly likely to sue.

          But the internet looks like it believes it was a ripoff, so maybe I am missing something.

          1. BuildMeUp*

            I had the exact same thoughts when I saw an article about this last week. The designs just don’t look similar enough to me.

          2. Lilo*

            Also, to be blunt in the application materials she posted online there were blatant misspelled words. I’m not surprised she got rejected. There’s a reason companies don’t want unsolicited materials and she could have been rejected for that alone.

            1. Well...*

              Sure, but that doesn’t mean they can just steal her stuff. Her quality as a candidate shouldn’t affect this question..

              1. Lilo*

                True, but just pointing out that this is exactly why companies do not accept unsolicited designs. If you’re applying to an internship, don’t do this.

                And while the whole David and Goliath story is popular, if you look at it, it’s not super likely they ripped her off. Using earth tones for Park inspired designs is nothing new, and the designs aren’t that similar.

              2. Mily*

                They aren’t that similar, and I admittedly don’t know how the internship application process works at Converse, but it seems really unlikely that the company’s shoe designers saw her unsolicited materials.

              3. Worldwalker*

                If someone can’t be bothered to spell-check their application materials, that doesn’t bode well for the attention to details that they’ll give to their work.

            2. Sue*

              Lol employers of talent don’t care about spelling. There are proofreaders for that. Good spelling will get you a job as a secretary for somebody else. He’ll, I see spelling errors in employment applications and all sorts of corporate materials.

              1. parsley*

                Sure, but a smaller company may be outsourcing proofreading, and the more mistakes a document contains, the more passes they’ll have to pay for. If it’s between two otherwise equally talented candidates, but one has a better grasp of spelling and grammar, that’s the one they’re more likely to go for.

                1. Lilo*

                  I do a lot of writing for my job and we have never outsourced proofreading. I have personally tossed out candidates whose writing samples and cover letters contained multiple errors (a couple, not a big deal if their work is otherwise strong).

              2. Lilo*

                I hire and we 100% will exclude someone for spelling and grammar errors. We are going to be spending money outsourcing proofreading.

              3. Worldwalker*

                Good spelling will show that you care enough to run a spelling checker over what you’re presenting as your best work.

                Bad spelling will show that you don’t.

              4. Selena*

                It’s like how companies make a commitment that ‘in the event of equally talented candidates we will go with the minority candidate’.

                Good spelling will in itself not land you a job, but it does add to the list of mental ‘points’ that a recruiter puts on your application.

              5. Mrs. Weaver*

                But they do care about paying attention to detail. And they may not care if you write copy with errors, knowing they’ll have someone else clean it up. But the resume/cover letter/application materials, where you’re supposed to show yourself at your best? That should be error-free.

              6. Tau*

                In addition to what others have said, chances are there are places in your job where you use written communication where no one would have a proofreader to go over it (internal communication, writing technical docs, back-and-forth with external partners you work closely with, whatnot) but spelling errors could still be a problem. I write a lot in my job, including important long-living documentation and decision records and the like, but no proofreader sees any of it because it’s both highly technical and not customer-facing. But it’s not like misspellings don’t matter there! Especially because my company’s working language is English but approximately 95% of my colleagues are ESL. Bad spelling could cause real problems for them, because it’s a lot harder to figure out what a misspelled word is actually supposed to be if you don’t know the language that well. And we already have problems getting some of our external partners to accept English-language documents/meeting notes/etc.

          3. Snow Globe*

            And the thing about a color palette is that there tends to be fashion trends in colors, so the intern candidate could be just following current trends with the colors (even unconsciously) and the company is following those same trends. I’m reminded of the scene in “the Devil Wears Prada” where Amanda Priestly lectures about cerulean blue.

          4. Dwight Schrute*

            This! I looked at them as well, and National park inspired shoes are hardly original. Other brands have done them as well, using similar designs because they’re inspired by the same park and color palette

            1. MissGirl*

              Good point. The national park had its centennial a few years back and in’s of companies were doing park related products.

          5. Moholy*

            When I was in design school, people would often present very similar ideas – they weren’t cheating, they were people with similar education, involved in fashion & popular culture in similar ways. A lot of times, the same idea will be the obvious solution.

            Converse does limited series, people have been super into parks, parks have specific colour palettes.

            I would never pitch usable work as part of an application, and an ethical employer won’t include tests that would result in usable work in their pre hire process.

          6. MCMonkeybean*

            The bit about how the yellowstone one is obviously copied because the colors are in the same order does seem rather ridiculous when that’s just… the actual order of the actual color gradient in the actual park. I have no idea whether they really stole her ideas, but that does not seem like the proof she seems to think it is.

        2. a sound engineer*

          As someone working in a creative industry, I’d add that people tend to overestimate exactly how unique or original their ideas are as well.

          1. Worldwalker*

            I’m reminded of the times in various Sherlock Holmes stories where Holmes says that some apparently unique crime is similar to several that he knows about, with of course his encyclopedic memory of crimes. Reality is much like that: you can pretty much *always* turn up prior art for *anything* if you try hard enough. Humans are creative creatures, and we’ve been creating things — and ideas — for thousands of years. Pretty much anything one can think of, someone else has already thought of. Possibly lots of someones.

              1. Arvolin*

                Miss Marple was always finding parallels in her little village (St. Mary’s Mead). Holmes was intimately acquainted with criminal history.

                Similarly, I had a computer science professor around 1990 who claimed that he’d always been able to find prior art for everything in the field dating back to (I think) 1964. He said it sometimes took an awful lot of digging, and he was emphatic about it not applying to 1963.

              2. Worldwalker*

                It’s Holmes. (Might be Miss Marple too, but I haven’t read as many of those stories) It happened a couple of times. “There was a case something like this in Such-and-Such in 1896”, that kind of thing. “A Case of Identity” might have been one of the instances, but I’d have to do a lot of rereading to find examples, and the comments would have locked before I had the time.

          2. Nella9*

            I remember a few years ago reading about an artist who claimed that a big company stole an idea for a mask from her and wouldn’t give her credit or pay for it. The masks looked almost nothing alike. They just both had horns attached to them. It was a Halloween mask, horns are not in any way a unique idea.

        3. MK*

          I really doubt “I know it when I see it” works as good as you think. Many people see what they want. In this instance I see not particularly original designs which are not that similar to eachother, but many people think it’s outright theft.

          1. Lilo*

            It’s like that story about how Finding Nemo was supposedly ripped off from some kid’s book… until you read the court opinion and find there court found, based on pretty solid evidence, that it was actually the other way around and the guy hadn’t even had books printed until after the trailer had come out.

          2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Yeah, I think it’s really tough to identify actually (barring some egregious examples, like the Opal Mehta case). Especially in fashion and design, since trends seem to spring up across the board pretty quickly.

            Like how I went out for our first sunny day this year and SO many woman were wearing these lovely floating floral dresses with tiered skirts and balloon sleeves. Or a few years ago when I patted myself on the back for suddenly desiring wide-legged jeans and diligently hunting down a pair in a vintage shop. I think I was ahead of that trend for only about three months before they started surfacing everwhere.

            Which of course means the trend must have actually started much earlier and I was participating in it, not creating it.

            It’s as though we’re all participating in some giant, covert conversation that we don’t even realise is happening.

          3. Harper the Other One*

            Yep, my current work is children’s book related and I cannot count the number of times that there will be two or more books released in quick succession about, say, ballerina monsters (actual example.) There’s always some reader who thinks one author ripped off the other, but the authors themselves generally freely admit that since it takes 1-2 years to get a children’s book from proposal to shelves, it’s just two people having similar ideas at once.

            To be sure it’s plagiarism, you not only have to show the ideas are EXTREMELY similar, but also that one person had knowledge of the other’s work, and early enough that it influenced it.

            1. Klio*

              And probably both monster Ballerina Bild were inspired by that ballerina movie two or three years before that made the authors go “hmm, ballerinas are great and those monster high school things are Great too, wouldn’t it be awesome if I combined both, so unique, never done before, I’ll have the niche”

      3. Eden*

        I’ve definitely seen this from established authors too. And it totally makes sense in light of this converse situation. Like yeah I guess it could technically be plagiarized? But “national parks” aren’t a unique idea and the design is just color layers, it doesn’t look plagiarized at all to me. Which is the point, there’s literally no way to prove it one way or another so easier to just… avoid the issue.

      4. MGW*

        I’ve seen authors who also have on their FAQ page that they also do not read fan fiction sent to them of their universe because if there was anything in the fic they were actually going to write into their books that they could be accused of plagiarism (not sure if there’s a legal standing for a fan fic author to sue the original author bc the sequel was similar to fanfic, or if it just creates bad press/backlash).

        1. Well...*

          It would be pretty wild if a fanfic author sued over this. “I took the characters and universe you created and made a plotline that you can’t use in your universe now bc it means you stole it from me.” Like the fanfic itself couldn’t exist without using (stealing if they are trying to profit) the original work.

          1. Lilo*

            It is interesting because there was a fad for while of publishing reworked fanfiction (most notably 50 Shades of Grey, which started off as Twilight fan fiction). But they did change the character names and settings.

            1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

              I mean, that’s another thing. I read the first Twilight book and I’m vaguely familiar with 50 Shades — and they seem sufficiently different that I don’t really feel there’s any violation there.

              I remember there was an issue with McEwan and Atonement allegedly plagerising a memoir by Lucilla Andrews. A lot of discussion about the lines between inspiration and plagerism.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                And there are tropes, too! Just because Oldboy reminded me so strongly of The Spanish Tragedy that I knew the main character was going to bite off his tongue at the end long before it happened doesn’t mean it was a plagiarized work. It just means the director thought there was more to be done with revenge/blood tragedies. (Spoiler alert: There wasn’t. I couldn’t stand that film.)

                1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

                  Good point! That reminds me of going to see Avatar with two friends. All three of us left the theater feeling that it was a rip-off of another movie, but when we compared notes we were each thinking of different movies.

                  I can’t remember the other two, but I’m still convinced it’s just hot-alien Fern Gully. Right down to the magical tree!

                2. Roci*

                  Avatar is basically Pocahontas, Dances with Wolves, and Fern Gully. They’re all the same story basically.

          2. Curly sue*

            There was a case like this. Marion Zimmer Bradley ended up having to scrap a whole novel because a fan writer accused her of plagiarism and wanted a co-author credit. There were apparently a lot of extenuating circumstances and a pre-existing relationship-not just someone with an AO3 account and an axe to grind – but it’s usually cited as the big moment fantasy creators recused themselves from engaging with fanfic.

            There’s a very long write up on Fanlore.

          3. D'Arcy*

            The one notable case of this happening which triggered a lot of professional author caution about it was with Marion Zimmer Bradley, except in that case Bradley had *outright acknowledged* that she copied ideas from a fanfiction writer and had privately offered to pay a small lump sum to said writer to settle the rights, then reneged on the deal, denied that she’d ever made any such offer, and threatened to sue if the writer made any claim. The fan’s claims were widely denounced as delusional, but after Bradley’s death, evidence came out in her private papers that pretty much confirmed that it really did happen.

            Much like the McDonalds coffee story, pretty much all the key points in the actual case got erased in popular retelling, leading to much broader fears that authors can or will lose rights to story concepts if they so much ask acknowledge seeing fanfiction.

            1. TardyTardis*

              Ahem, it was me. She offered to buy an entire novel for a very small sum–I said that she could have all the ideas just fine. I then asked how much of the book she was planning to use, and then was told I would have to sign an agreement not to sue for copyright infringement. You do the math.

              I was delighted to move the archetype of the main character to his own universe where he could be much happier (working on #3 in the series).

          4. Worldwalker*

            Marion Zimmer Bradley. She ended up not being able to use a whole section of the history of her own world. And that put an end to her willingness to allow fanfic, etc.

            I write fanfic. (under a secret identity!) There are an amazing number of fanfic writers who scream bloody murder that a fellow fanfic writer has used one of their original characters in a story (or, even crazier, written a character they think resembles one of theirs) when the whole *point* of fanfic is using *other people’s original characters*! They somehow think that professional authors aren’t “people” the way they themselves are, or at least don’t have the same rights that they do.

            1. Lenora Rose*

              As stated by someone else above, the MZB case really isn’t a case of a random fanfic author making a vague claim or screaming bloody murder. It’s about Bradley reneging on an agreement she actually made. (MZB was a terrible person. This is the least of it.)

              That being said, as both an original author AND a fanfic dabbler AND a fanfic reader, I think that authors keeping a distance from fanfic made from their own properties is smart business, regardless of what I think of that original case.

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                Worldwalker’s two paragraphs were talking about two separate things, I’m pretty sure.

            2. Spencer Hastings*

              I think there actually is a difference between those things (not legally, of course, but ethically). The published author is a public figure, and the work is a part of pop culture. This contrasts with the random schmuck who just wrote a story set in the universe of their favorite book and posted it online. Ripping off the latter is so much more of a dick move because fans are doing this out of love and are operating in a kind of… “reputation economy” is the best way I can think of describing it? The only reward for fan authors is other fans going “hey, that ‘purple_dragon6’ writes good fanfic!”

              Anyone who reads your Game of Thrones fanfic is going to know immediately that it wasn’t written by George R.R. Martin. But with your fanfic that’s based on AryaMontgomery123’s GoT/Pretty Little Liars crossover, it wouldn’t be clear what originated with the other fanfic writer unless the reader was familiar with both fan works.

              Again, obviously legality doesn’t come into it, because none of this stuff is legal. But it’s not that people are treating the published author as “not a person” — the difference between them and fan authors is that the original author can’t be harmed by the existence of fanfic (pace Robin Hobb), whereas another fan author can be (wrt that reputation economy).

              1. Worldwalker*

                I just can’t see it that way. GRRM has just as much right to his characters as SomeFFWriter. How is SFFW being harmed in a way that GRRM is not. The major difference between them is that GRRM makes a living off his writing, and his characters, while SFFW does not. (full disclosure: I both own IP and write fanfic, so legally I’m on both sides)

        2. Kora*

          There isn’t a lot of legal precedent around fanfic, but I’d say what there is says no. A fan once tried to sue Sylvester Stallone for the similarities between a spec script that he’d sent him and Rocky IV, and the court dismissed most of the plaintiff’s claims because the script was unsolicited, unauthorised, and using characters originated by Stallone. They eventually settled out of court. People talk a lot about the time Marion Zimmer Bradley scrapped a book because she couldn’t come to an agreement with a fan about similar material that had been posted as fanfic on her official website, but that one never came near the legal system. I’m pretty sure if a fanfic writer ever actually tried this they would lose; but understandably pro authors would prefer it didn’t get that far.

          1. Nobby Nobbs*

            Very few people interested in the legal status of fanfiction from the fan end want it to get that far either. If fans come up against authors in court, nobody wins, no matter how the judge rules.

            1. pancakes*

              I don’t see why it should matter so much what the fans want. Courts reviewing intellectual property disputes aren’t obliged to preserve fans’ parasocial relationships with their favorite authors.

              1. Fushi*

                This is a strange response. The reason fanwriters historically have not wanted there to be litigation of this kind is that it could spur authors and, more significantly, corporate rights-holders to actively pursue copyright and/or takedown claims against fanfiction, which has a chilling effect on the medium given that most of us don’t have the money to fight individual court battles to prove our works are sufficiently transformative. Even now with AO3’s legal team to do that work when it comes to fic posted on the archive, there’s a certain level of corporate attention it would be risky to attract. It has nothing to do with parasocial relationships.

                1. pancakes*

                  I’m not sure we’re talking about the same things. I don’t know what AO3 is. It seems like you’re saying that people who write fan fiction don’t want to feel discouraged, by courts, from writing fan fiction. I certainly wouldn’t expect them to feel otherwise! But it doesn’t follow that courts ruling on intellectual property disputes should (or will) analyze the cases that come before them from the point of view of fan fiction writers.

                2. DarnTheMan*

                  @pancakes I believe what Fushi is saying – which is something I’ve heard a lot as a longtime fanfiction reader/writer – is most fanfic authors don’t want cases being brought to court (by either fanfic writer or original creator) because that might give other creators the idea to sue fanfic authors. Way back in the day Anne Rice was notorious for this, I don’t know if she was ever actually successful, but she certainly attempted to sue quite a few fanfiction authors for copyright infringement – and many fanfic authors don’t want this to start happening again.

                3. Fushi*

                  @pancakes Kora wrote above that authors do not wish for there to be legal battles about whether fanfic can be plagiarized by the author of the original work. Nobby Nobbs said fanfic authors generally don’t want that either. You replied with a statement implying that reason for this is “parasocial relationships,” and I am explaining why that is not the reason why we prefer this kind of litigation not to occur.

                  No one besides you has mentioned whether courts should review the cases from a fanfic writer’s perspective, so I’m not sure where you’re getting that, but fwiw I know the primary concern in these cases is whether the work constitutes infringement based on a variety of (subjective) measures, regardless of how the original writer or fan writer feels. In practice, however, there can be an imbalance because rights-holders with money and resources can often afford to fight legal battles that random hobbyists cannot, regardless of whether the work actually has a shot of being ruled legal, as was true in the infamous Anne Rice example DarnTheMan mentioned.

                  (Also AO3 is the largest hosting site for fanfiction, and the organization that runs it maintains a legal team to defend works on the site from copyright claims.)

                  I think Alison might come in with the broom to scooch us out if we go any further down the rabbit hole here, but hopefully that clears up any confusion about my comment.

                4. anonymous coward*


                  AO3 is an Archive Of Our Own, a fanfic archive run by One True Way. (I forget what OTW actually stands for — someone called it One True Way and it stuck in my head, because they’re that kind of people: highly sexist, among other things)

                5. ecnaseener*

                  @anonymous coward, OTW stands for Organization for Transformative Works. No clue what you’re talking about re sexism.

              2. Tussy*

                Uh, because in the case of a fanfic author suing the original creator, the fan would be the ones bringing the case.

                Basically, the people who are interested in the legal status of fan fiction are people who like fan fiction and don’t want it to be declared to be infringement in a court case.

                Not wanting fanfic to be declared as infringement has nothing at all to do with parasocial relationships.

                1. pancakes*

                  You don’t seem to have considered that there are indeed people who don’t write fan fiction who are “interested in the legal status of fan fiction” – lawyers and other people who work with intellectual property, and the writers/creators of the work that fan fiction writers base their work on, for starters, are interested.

              3. pancakes*

                Fushi, that’s not what I said. What I said is that the legal standards applicable to judicial review of fan fiction litigation aren’t determined by the authors of fan fiction, and aren’t meant to center their needs or wants. The idea that “nobody wins” if “the fan end” isn’t the primary consideration is what I take issue with.

                1. Koalafied*

                  The comments you’re responding to weren’t about how courts make decisions. They were about the inclination of the key players involved to want to file a lawsuit at all. Neither authors nor fan writers typically want to sue the other because neither group (broadly speaking) wants to end up establishing a court precedent in the process that could have a chilling effect on fan writers.

                2. pancakes*

                  Koalafied, it’s not that I don’t understand that both of those groups have incentives to try to avoid litigation, it’s that I don’t think it’s entirely reasonable for people who use one another’s intellectual property in ways that sometimes conflict with one another’s interests to refuse to be perceived by the legal system. I don’t think it’s entirely sustainable, either.

              4. Allonge*

                Legally, it does not matter.

                But fans are literally the ones putting money in the copyright holders’ pockets; fan activity is huge unpaid publicity for the original work, fanworks can be stored in a million places and the harm done by fanfiction to copyright holders’ is nebulous at best.

                Therefore, the interest to stop fanworks by legal means is not (always, consistently) there. Not because it’s what fans want, but because it’s a high cost for very little practical gain.

              5. Eden*

                It matters what fans want because this situation would require a fan suing an author, and a fan is not likely to sue an author, because fans don’t really want courts involved, because they don’t want a legal spotlight to begin with. And “parasocial relationships” with authors? Wow. I don’t feel like you know much about fanfiction culture at all.

                1. Neptune*

                  Well, they’re making pretty sweeping (and quite dismissive) statements about fanworks and copyright law without ever having heard of AO3. So I think it’s pretty clear they don’t know what they’re talking about.

                2. pancakes*

                  I don’t know much about it, no. The idea that only people who are immersed in it should talk about it is quite doctrinaire.

                  There are all sorts of people who don’t want to be in any sort of legal spotlight, but whether they are or aren’t isn’t always their decision to make.

                3. FoolishFox*

                  @pancakes You can talk about it, but maybe don’t ascribe motives to people when you know nothing about them or the culture. You’re making assumptions based on a lack of knowledge. That’s not debating in good faith. In particular, you are making the assumption that people write fanfic because of the author. In my experience, that is far from the truth. The author is often irrelevant and in many cases, there isn’t one. For example, no one is writing Marvel fanfiction because they like a comic writer/artist, or a tv/movie script writer or director. The connection formed is not with the author but with the fan community.

                4. FoolishFox*

                  I’ll also note that I wrote two papers in law school on the topic of fanworks, and the legality of them is a difficult issue. Fair use is a very complicated balancing test and there is no hard line rule that all fanworks are or are not legal.

                5. pancakes*

                  @FoolishFox, it seems like you and others took my use of the term “parasocial relationships” to convey something intensely negative. My understanding is that those relationships have been studied for many years and are very, very common. It seems clear I underestimated the degree to which people feel they’re shameful. Fwiw, I don’t think my view that intellectual property law isn’t the best venue to preserve or center those relationships is ascribing an unseemly motive to anyone the way the responses to my comment suggest.

                  In hindsight it probably would’ve been more precise if I’d said “with their favorite characters” rather than “favorite authors,” but it doesn’t seem all that controversial or off-base to say that people have all sorts of parasocial relationships with all sorts of media (including comics artists, directors, franchises, etc.). I also don’t think that would be any less true if no one talked about it publicly.

          2. TardyTardis*

            She wanted to buy a novel from me. We could not agree. She threatened to sue me if I talked about it too much (prior to her death).

      5. jolene*

        Authors mostly do that to avoid having to read pushy people’s manuscripts, FYI. It’s a brilliant excuse – “my agent tells me I can’t” – because it’s very effective.

    2. MK*

      I am not discounting the possibility that unscrupulous companies would use candidates’ ideas. But the reality is that ideas aren’t as unique as people think (there are cases of people arriving at truly groundbreaking discoveries independently of each other). Also, it’s not a given that the company did this; it could well be one employee who saw the application and decided to pass of the idea as her own. Heck, it’s even possible someone saw the application, forgot all about it, and some time later “got” the idea without remembering where it came from.

      1. Lilo*

        A large company also isn’t going to have their designers screening thousands of internship applications. For a large company like that there’s a good chance this person never made it past a computer screen.

      2. Kathlynn (canada)*

        most every traditionally published author I read has a burb on their website like that. and they say the publisher requires them to do so to protect their copy right. So no fan can ever say they stole the idea from something sent to them. (so this goes on to don’t send story ideas either).
        Not that there’s actually legal cases that have said this. But as a lay person, that’s what it always sounded like/implied to me.
        taken off of the website of a favorite author of mine:
        How can I send my story ideas to Patty?
        Please, please, please don’t! Patty appreciates the thoughtfulness and generosity you are expressing, but for various legal and other pesky reasons, she cannot look at someone else’s story ideas.

        and from another author:

        As for reading fanfics, I must abstain, politely. There’s the time factor, for one, as in, I don’t have any. More importantly, though, sometimes in the heat of the battle with a book, we grab any idea that surfaces, without necessarily knowing where it came from. I can’t take the chance that someone else’s ideas might enter the stew where my creativity happens and surface years later: that’s how writers get sued for copyright infringement. It’s nothing against fanfics or their writers, and everything to do with me covering my behind.

        1. MK*

          No one wants to risk being sued, but I would think for authors it’s more a PR thing than a real fear of copyright claims. A legal battle with a fan is hardly something an author wants to be known for.

      3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

        Yeah — a lot of ‘artsy’ industries really lean hard on passionate candidates and exploit the labour of artists, performers, writers and designers — it’s a huge problem.

        That said: ideas don’t happen in a vaccum. If one person felt inspired to create something, it’s not crazy to imagine that someone else (often immersed in the same world) would feel similarly. National Park inspired merch, for example, has been heavily advertised to me on Instagram for several years now (mostly t-shirts, coffee mugs and posters). I remember at one point early in my career, my company solicited marketing ideas from staff, and pitches from contractors….and there was a lot of overlap in peoples’ ideas, especially once you whittled it down to the actually workable suggestions.

        Personally, I’m not sure copyright law is the best way to address the more serious issue of creators being undervalued. But I would be curious to hear from people who are more engaged in that world.

        1. MK*

          I think the exploitation is more along the lines of unpaid internships, long hours and unfair compensation in general than “ideas theft”.

          And when it comes to corporate design, often the major part of the value isn’t in the creative idea, it’s in the company’s product. I remember hearing/reading about the logo of a famous sportwear company, for which the designer was paid about 100 dollars and is now worth millions; the person talking about it seemed to imply that the designer was scammed, but…. the logo is only worth so much because it became associated with this company, not because it is so brilliant people would buy anything with it.

          1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

            Yeah, more an issue of stealing labor than stealing ideas, sounds like.

        2. pancakes*

          +1 to all this. It happens in media, too. There was a good article about edit tests in Columbia Journalism Review a few years ago, “Edit tests are out of control, say journalists in search of jobs.”

      4. Claire*

        Also, ideas cannot be copyrighted. There is only a copyright violation if they stole her actual designs.

      5. Worldwalker*

        Calculus. The telephone. About half of the Industrial Revolution.

        A lot of ideas come about because of the environment. That is, “this is popular” or “this is needed” or “this was in the news” and multiple people derive the same idea from that.

      6. Cat Tree*

        Yeah, and even the rare ideas seem to spontaneously occur to multiple people at the same time (such as the invention of calculus).

        I read a webcomic and lurk on the forum after each new page is published. There are naturally questions and speculation. But the author has stated that he rarely reads the forum. Whenever a new comic comes out that addresses a forum question or speculation, some readers always think it is a direct response to their previous post. No, it’s just that their speculation was a logical conclusion based on storytelling convention, and the author anticipated that many readers would have the same thought so he addressed it.

        The Converse example could easily be a case of two different people coming up with a similar idea independently.

      7. meyer lemon*

        I don’t know about this specific case, but there are plenty of instances of a company straight up stealing another artist’s work, usually when they found it online and grabbed it. In those cases, it is often a pretty clear-cut case, though. The sad reality of copyright law is that it usually ends up weighing on the side of whoever has the most resources and the most prestige. It’s hard for an individual artist to fight against a wealthy corporation, even if they’re pretty clearly in the right.

        1. Worldwalker*

          My city government did that. The photographer got a few thousand out of them, for something he probably would have given them if they’d asked. But they didn’t ask.

    3. Mily*

      Carrie Gisher said this was why she stopped working as a script doctor. She had been one of the best in the business, but they started making her pitch her ideas, then using her ideas without hiring her.

    4. yala*

      Yeeeeeah, flashbacks to TokyoPop and their truly horrific submission guidelines et al. More than one creator lost their whole baby to them.

  2. Observer*

    Alison’s advice is good, as usual. But I would add that you should probably also talk about generally dealing with out of the box and unexpected situation and personalities. Because “quirky” and “weird” may or may not be / be seen as the same as neurodivergent / marginalized. But they are out of the box and, to some extent, unexpected in the workplace.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      That would explain a lot about the crap I get at work. This workplace sounds lovely. Not to diss my nice coworkers who accept me even though I’m the only “weird one,” but somewhere that accepts everyone who is unique? Huzzah!

      Signed, Quirky/Weird, But Probably Not Excessively Neurodivergent

    2. Laure*

      As I am not American, I might be off base, but why not use “neurodivergent” directly in the ad? Write “with LGBT+, neurodivergent staff “… And intolerant people will opt out directly.

      1. Autistic AF*

        I find that people don’t read that closely, especially on popular job sites like Indeed.

    3. ecnaseener*

      Agreed, “quirky” especially reads as “only slightly weirder than average, still within socially accepted bounds”

    4. ThatOnePlease*

      Yes, I would get much more specific in interviews, because these terms are open to interpretation. Maybe pose situations that have actually come up and ask how the candidate would handle it. “Quirky” sounds to me like cutely unique (ie, Zoeey Deschanel), whereas “weird” could be anything from “this person is really into Star Wars fandom” to “this person has poor social skills” to “this person doesn’t respect boundaries and is a known harasser.” There is a very big range of weird, from the harmless to the not-so-harmless, and much depends on the subjective viewpoint of the person assigning the label.

      1. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

        Yes, I can see “weird” being a turn-off for some genuinely qualified applicants because it can be code for “no professional boundaries” or the kind of self-satisfied/condescending “we’re not like other people” that can lead to exclusion (like the letter from awhile back about the workplace that bullied a co-worker out because she wasn’t part of their going-drinking-over-lunch” clique).
        I think addressing it in more detail in interviews–how they operate, the kind of management style that works best, the kind of culture their building.
        In the job ad, you do probably want to put more emphasis than the generic equal opportunity statement.

  3. Retail Not Retail*

    #2 – Unfortunately, if you ask some managers/owners, they’ll just blame kids these days or unemployment benefits, as my boss bizarrely did. We can’t get people to stick around for part time seasonal work where the hours are uncertain day to day based on foot traffic. It’s a mystery!

    My retail job had some typical turnover but it wasn’t as bad as other stores since there were luxuries like benefits and guaranteed hours (union). Nothing like my current employer or the store my mom briefly worked at.

    1. Xenia*

      Retail and food service are also attractive to people just entering the workplace or those looking specifically for seasonal work—college and high school students, partners of people who are only expecting to be in town for a couple of months, parents coming back into the workforce, etc, etc. That, the uncomfortable hours, the difficult work, and a lot of turnover around you makes them challenging places even with good bosses, benefits, and pay.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, a lot of the tourist-related jobs where I live depend heavily on high school and college students during the summer. They’re expecting a fair amount of them to move on when fall comes around, or at least to drastically cut their availability.

        1. MassMatt*

          Summer resorts in my state import workers from the Caribbean, Ireland, and eastern Europe. Typically, service at resorts will be very spotty early in the season as they learn the job and towards the end when they are getting sick of it and looking forward either to their own vacation/tour of the states or getting back home. It boggles my mind that it’s cheaper to hire/fly people in from Poland, etc than it is to get American workers but that’s the way it’s been for years.

          1. Mid*

            It could very well be that it’s not cheaper per se, but that the workers are stuck and can’t just quit. I’ve seen many positions that will refund your airfare costs, but only if you complete the entire contract. And if walking off a job means having to leave the continent, instead of just finding a new job in town, it’s a lot more difficult to quit.

      2. Shad*

        With students in particular, just because you stop seeing Bob at 10 am on Tuesday, that doesn’t mean Bob left the job. Bob may just have a 10 am class this semester! Retail and food service tend to be some of the more flexible jobs in terms of slotting in work when you’re available and changing when those times are.

    2. Kathlynn (canada)*

      years ago I was looking for a new job. one of the jobs I got interviewed for would have required me to quit my full time job to work on call with no guarentee of hours. I know that can often work in an employee’s favour. But with bills to pay, not a job I could take. (and since that was at a hotel with cleaning supplies. which would trigger my asthma more now then it did then. Glad I turned that down).
      My gas station jobs, high turn over from younger people who were able to get better jobs. I generally had 12-16 hours of work I was expected to do in 8 hours on top of helping customers and my coworkers. Constantly playing catch up for that reason.
      current job completely wfh, minimum wage, high stress, doesn’t pay us to load our programs (15-30 min). purposefully found a job where I wasn’t expected to call people or do sales. Now have to do both regularly. And it’s still the least stressful job I’ve had. But I’ve only worked there 6 months, and (in my over complaining self) have many rants and “how do people not know how to” wtf moments I could share. (there’s a reason support asks you those questions you find annoying “because everyone knows how to do x”)

      1. Huttj*

        I’m just glad that on my PC when I had a monitor cable that looked connected, but was barely hanging on and came out when I bumped it, that I only wasted my own half hour trying to figure it out.

        Manual inspection of connections important, not just visual.

        1. Kathlynn (Canada)*

          And not just an assumption that just because you never touch it the cord couldn’t be loose

    3. Well...*

      Ah, yes, the “Make people so desperate they have to work for me no matter how terrible a deal I offer!” argument.

    4. Richard Hershberger*

      Also, working conditions. There are a couple of local businesses in my town where I have seen the same faces over the course of a decade. I doubt that they pay great, just because I doubt the finances of a local business allow for this. But working conditions is something a business has control over. Make it a pleasant place to work and workers will stick around longer.

      1. Generic Name*

        I’ve noticed this at my local Kroger-affiliated grocery store. I’ve seen the same faces for at leas 10 years. I’m sure it’s no coincidence it’s a union shop.

      2. justme*

        Absolutely. I think that’s much harder to find with big box kind of retail stores. Everything ultimately comes down from corporate and managers have very little autonomy.

        But I have worked at privately owned businesses, the best was a darling gift shop at a small resort owned by a family, and it was the best part time job I ever had. They tended to hire people more for their personalities, friendly, nice people, and less because of actual experience, so you didn’t always get people who were great at folding shirts lol, but as a result, they had a great group of really good “people people” who worked well with others, and it was a really fun and friendly environment. The pay start wasn’t great, but the atmosphere was so laidback. You could clock in whenever you got there, didn’t have to wait til like the minute the shift started like most retail jobs, you got a paid lunch, I got decent raises without even asking for them, after events or anything I did outside of the scope of my job, I would get beautiful handwritten thank you notes with a nice envelope bonus too. They constantly made you feel valued and appreciated which sure goes a long way. I worked a long time in the corporate world and never felt that way.

        It was the only job I’ve ever had where I actually looked forward to going into work. They had very little turnover there. It would not have been sustainable for a full time job as a single person, but it was an awesome part time hobby kind of job or for extra money. The hours were great too. We opened at noon and closed at 6. I still had my mornings and evenings free and quality of life. Also, the owners were on site a lot, so they had a good pulse on what was going on or were approachable enough that you could give input on something and felt like you had a voice and were also empowered enough to make decisions on your own and they would back you.

        We had fun there. Employees would even come in on their days off to hang out. It didn’t hurt that the setting was absolutely beautiful. And the store itself was stunning, wall to wall windows, all natural light. Not that awful retail fluorescent light cave. It had its moments of course, like any job, and obnoxious guests at time, you know, the public eh, but I truly enjoyed my coworkers and my employers were pretty awesome people. And if you needed more money or wanted to be full time, they would try their best to make it work or expand your role where you could earn more, or let you pick up extra hours at the bar where you could make much more in tips.

        Stark contrast to having corporate in another state and in an ivory tower dictating a whole bunch of bs that makes NO sense for your local store, which was my experience in my brief seasonal job at well known retail store. That was not even worth the employee discount which was actually the only reason I wanted that job. That turnover was out of control. The managers had so much pressure on them from their district managers and corporate that they just took out their pressure and stress on people making $10 an hour who have no reason to care about the store’s sales goals. Ugh. I have ptsd just thinking about that job.

    5. sswj*

      I’m in retail, and my store is one of 30+ in the company.

      The company definitely pays on the low end of the scale, and they acknowledge that up front. They try to make up for that with a really pretty great employee discount on most of the merchandise, but that only goes so far. They are pretty clear that this is a part time job for fun, some extra cash, and a great discount on expensive products in our niche market. They trade on the fact that as a niche market your customer base is pretty relatable and generally it’s fun to interact with people who love the same thing you do. The staff they hire is mostly younger who are really drawn by the great discount, but will be moving on to better things eventually. The company knows that the hiring revolving door is always in motion, and they’re ok with that.

      I’m lucky in that
      1) I have a great boss who does try and keep employees happy and supported, despite the crap wages. She’ll do her best to accommodate necessary time off and scheduling switches, etc., and is adamant about protecting them from the occasional rabidly irrational customer.
      2) I have moved into a rare full time and supervisory role (still crap pay, but I do like what I do and it’s not our only income) that includes benefits. My boss and I work well together, and while I could walk into a big box store and make more right off the bat, the actual store, product, clientele, and working atmosphere are worth a lot to me.

      And personally … there isn’t enough pay in the world for me to *ever* go into any kind of food service!

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        My store had me rotate once I made full time and the deli is where I fell flat on my face figuratively speaking and that was JUST slicing meats and cheeses. I’ve always known food service is not for me. I can handle fast paced work, but food service is just one element too many, something way too important to be responsible for.

    6. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Reminds me of the boss I had who complained, constantly, about staff wanting to be paid more than ‘15 year old school kids’. Because all the staff were older than that, hence why the shop could be open during school hours!

      She couldn’t seem to grasp that having lousy pay, almost zero respect for staff etc. was what was causing people to bugger off as soon as they humanly could. Nope, it was ‘people get more money on disability’ (they don’t, trust me) or ‘people are just lazy with no skills and prefer unemployment’ (nope, nope and nope).

      I only worked retail once, as a university student.

    7. 20 years in hospitality*

      LW #2 clearly has never worked in a retail/hospitality space, otherwise they wouldn’t have felt the need to write the letter. These spaces offer few benefits, and often times little pay. Long gone are the days of a “stack of applications on the desk,” and now these spaces barely have enough staff to open. You are starting to see some fast casual/fast food places up the pay, but only as a direct response to not being able to hire anyone. After months, or a year of not having to work in these difficult spaces, people have found other industries with better pay, schedules, and benefits to work in. I

      1. Myrin*

        I mean, OP says “at least in field (retail or food service)” so unless that’s a typo – and I don’t see why it should be – your first sentence isn’t really accurate and she seems to be coming at this from a point of “I’ve never really thought about the actual roots of this phenomenon”.

        1. tangerineRose*

          As someone who worked in fast food, I think most people who have worked in food service or retail wouldn’t ask the question because they’d already know why people don’t stay with it.

          1. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

            I was thinking the same. My experiences in retail and food service weren’t awful, but it’s very taxing to work in those environments both mentally and physically. Add in stagnant pay, irregular hours, general abuse from customers, and so on and it becomes clear why most people don’t want to work in these places if they can help it. If you’ve worked in that kind of place you’ll know that.

          2. MCMonkeybean*

            I think she’s not asking why people don’t stay with it, she’s asking why the companies don’t seem to care or do anything about the turnover.

      2. Here we go again*

        It’s hard to keep staff when less than a dollar an hour raise if they apply to the place across the street will increase their income 10%. Especially without benefits or regular working hours add in obnoxious customers and maybe cleaning up disgusting messes.
        When I did scheduling for retail I tried to keep all the non-management workers schedules the same every week. Because they only worked weekends and they kept claiming they didn’t know when they worked. (Unfortunately keeping they girls in the same shifts every week didn’t work)

    8. ronda*

      I am retired and was considering if I wanted a part time job. Read some job listings:

      “10 hours a week, you must be available anytime we want you to work”

      just NO!

    9. Koalafied*

      Yep, I’ve also known plenty of people who would quit their job every summer when they wanted to go on a vacation, because their current crappy job wouldn’t give them the time off and it was trivially easy to get a new crappy job when they got back.

      1. SeanT*

        I had friends in college who would do this when finals came around and work would not work around their finals schedule or need to study, so they would just quit, and then go apply elsewhere two weeks later.

    10. Potatoes gonna potate*

      So, I’m not in food service or retail. I’m in accounting. But boy can I relate to a lot of these comments.

      My last employer had a LOT of turnover. At the lower level, being overworked and underpaid (seriously, the pay was shit). At the higher level, toxic upper mgmt.

      I’ve joined a few professional groups on FB and it constantly comes up that they cannot find or keep workers. Yes a few “pull up by your bootstraps” types have blamed raised UI benefits BUT I wager it’s more because of: angry/unreasonable clients, rapidly changing mid-season tax law changes, a seemingly never-ending tax season, and dare I say, crappy pay and toxic small biz owners.

    11. Curious About Turnover*

      If anyone has more information about this (articles or books), please comment. I find this whole revolving-door culture fascinating from a company’s perspective. Of course this happens a lot in retail/food service/entry level jobs, but I just left a “corporate” job where the turnover was pretty comparable to entry level.

      How is this worth it? I have a few friends who get fed up and say things like “this company will go under, there’s no way it can survive like this” but they DO! It makes me so mad, but very curious of the economics of the situation… haha

      1. boppity*

        Take a look at The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep Ton (she also did some TED talk-type stuff, I believe).

      2. Arvolin*

        I worked for a company where we had over 100% software developer turnover in two years (at which point I had had enough). They didn’t seem to see it as a problem, despite having decidedly quirky internal software that would take some time to get acquainted with. With my favorite job, for the first eight years or so it was an unusual year when someone left, and that includes one case where love dictated a move. Guess which company succeeded and which went away?

    12. MassMatt*

      LW #2 seems to be writing from the position of being a customer. I wonder if she has ever worked a retail or restaurant job, and how recently. I suggest she try it and see how long she sticks with it to see just how “seniority rules”. Most of these jobs require a lot of work for low pay, few if any benefits, and often the only “flexibility” in the hours is for the benefit of the employer, not the employee.

      Try paying your most basic bills (let alone health care, saving for emergencies, or retirement) on a minimum wage (or in case of restaurant work, often dramatically lower) job where your hours fluctuate between 8-30 per week (yet you are expected to always be available) for a few months and I don’t doubt you would jump at the first opportunity.

      Most people don’t (and shouldn’t) stay at poorly paying jobs with few if any benefits for long if they have alternatives. Yes this means a lot of turnover, and especially at truly terrible workplaces, poorly trained staff that don’t know what they are doing. Businesses are deciding to operate this way, consciously or not. If you notice a lot of turnover at a business you patronize regularly, chances are it’s not a great place to work long-term, and maybe think about whether it’s the kind of business you want to support with your dollars.

  4. Anonymous Poster*

    For #5, while I’m not a woman and cannot comment intelligently on the professional aspects, I have known women that have gone by CJ and it didn’t seem to impact them in my field any. That was aerospace engineering.

        1. kicking-k*

          Mine too!

          For what it’s worth, I think if you are _wanting_ to underline your gender, there would be ways you could, if you wanted. I had a male colleague in a female-dominated workplace who went by Chris, and sometimes wanted to give people a heads-up that he was Christopher not Christine. But CJ seems very neutral to me.

      1. Cambridge Comma*

        Yeah, my only association with that name is the (sadly only fictional) White House chief of Staff.

          1. Kristina*

            It could be entirely regional, but I don’t think I’ve ever met a male CJ. AJ, yes, sure, but CJ, no. CJ strikes me as immediately feminine. Go for it!

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              And there’s CJ Samson, the (male) author of the Shardlake book. Perhaps it’s a UK thing.

              1. SarahKay*

                I’ve just realised that I was assuming CJ Samson was female, probably because I watched The West Wing with CJ Cregg before I’d come across CJ Samson’s books.

      2. Juniper*

        She was my favorite character! And though I don’t love the name CJ, I remember when I learned that her real name was Claudia Jean, the initials fit her so much better.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Had a programmer called something like ‘AJ’ a long time ago. Considering the rather colourful nicknames that can fly around a British IT department she had very little issue with people respecting her name.

      (I was ‘weirdo, the SQL’ for a while. Ahem)

    2. TheSüperflüoüsUmlaüt*

      Yep, anyone called C.J. is automatically a woman in my brain (and the brains of many West Wing fans and beyond, I expect), thanks to Allison Janney’s memorable portrayal of the fabulous Claudia Jean Cregg.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        I believe Brooklyn 99 had a captain called CJ for a while (for Captain Jason Stentley). And as much as I love B99, CJ will always be Claudia Jean Cregg to me. I love Allison Janney.

        OP, I know you’re asking for advice on initials in general, not on the particular ones you’ve chosen. But fwiw, I think CJ would be great!

      1. CCC*

        I did a similar transition…perhaps a year and a half ago? Like you, I’d toyed around with the idea for a while, asked a few people who were close who supported me, and then…pulled the trigger.

        I love it! I love the name I go by and it feels very ‘me’ to me. I do occasionally get addressed as the wrong gender in email communications by individuals who haven’t met me. There’s also the awkward experience of talking to someone who knew me by my previous moniker, ‘You knew me as x previously, today I go by y,’ all of course done in front of a new contact. Some friends have struggled to make the change but I don’t mind being called my previous name either. It’s been a good move for me and I feel more confident or more myself, perhaps. Best of luck!

        1. Natasha*

          I changed my name from ‘Natalya’ to ‘Natasha’ when I was 30, and had similar slightly awkward moments where people I knew previously thought it was a weird thing to do. Some people flat out refused to call me Natasha, which doesn’t matter to me. I like both names, I just think of myself as a Natasha. Natasha is a common nickname for Natalya in Russian cultures, but not a common connection here in the US. My family has always called me by my nickname, and I wanted everyone to do so. It hasn’t changed my professional life in any way except people get my name wrong less often (Natalie). I realize this is different than going by a gender neutral nickname, but I don’t think that will matter much since gender neutral names like Charlie are very popular.

      2. Virtual Light*

        Interestingly enough, C. J. Cherryh’s publishing name was purposely coded as non-feminine in multiple ways. As a science-fiction author starting in the 70’s Carolyn Janice Cherry was asked by her (male) publisher to add an “H” to her last name to make it sound less feminine/ like a romance novelist’s name (!!) and ended up as C. J. Cherryh. (Her “Foreigner” series is one of my favorites.)

        1. Arvolin*

          It was older than that. D.C. Fontana worked on Star Trek (first name actually Dorothy), and Alice Norton was a popular science fiction writer in the 60s under the name Andre. (I actually got confused – Andre Norton’s stuff just seemed to me that it was written by a woman, and thought Andre was a woman’s or at least ambiguous name for some time.)

    3. Lady Knittington*

      Clearly I’m the only one who thought of Pamela Anderson’s character in Baywatch.

    4. Knitting librarian*

      I go by my initials ~ I have since I was a baby, as my family isn’t creative with names so that’s the nickname I got to distinguish me from cousins with the same name.

      I get lots of emails addressed to Mr., even though my email signature clearly says she/her.

      The IT department where I currently work insisted on my full first name for email address and email display name ~ said it was HR policy, which HR denied. Took 2 months and threatening a sexual discrimination complaint but I got my display name changes. [Why the complaint? The men with offices on either side of me had emails with Chris and Jim, although those aren’t their full legal names.]

      But other than those ~ I’ve never had a real issue with going by a nickname that’s initials.

    5. CB*

      My casual work nickname is my initials – CB. It was started by a male colleague calling me that and I liked it so much, I kept it. I found that once I started signing my emails like that it caught on quick. (For reference: I’m a female in a male dominated industry)

      CJ is great!

  5. Aggretsuko*

    My impression of the food industry in general is that a lot of places treat employees as disposable/easy come, easy go. Who cares, churn and burn, as long as they’re cheap.

    On the other hand, I was at Krispy Kreme the other day and the guy waiting on us had a pin on saying he’d been there 5 years. Maybe Krispy Kreme is treating people well? I also went to a restaurant on my birthday where the waitress had been at this restaurant and their sibling one across the street for years, so they must be treating people well too.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      There certainly are exceptions. As Alison says, it’s expensive to do the things that keep people around, but the retailers that do so are often much more successful because their employees are *much* better at their jobs.

    2. Aphrodite*

      In-N-Out Burger also seems to have less of a turnover than most. In my town, a high COL one, they start employees at about $18/hour.

    3. Heffalump*

      I don’t know to what extent turnover enters into it, but I’ve had a great deal of poor service from Kinko’s and Starbucks. I’d be willing to pay more for better service.

      Dick’s Drive-In in Seattle offers employees a matched 401(k), 100% employer-paid medical insurance, and a $22,000 college tuition scholarship after six months of work.

      1. Elmyra Duff*

        It’s hard to care about a job that barely pays your bills. If Kinko’s and Starbucks paid their workers better, they’d have less turnover and a more engaged workforce.

      2. Mr. Shark*

        I knew a ton of people in college who worked at Dick’s. Their burgers, fries and shakes are awesome as well!

    4. MGW*

      I worked at two different grocery stores while in college. While there were a few people at both places who had worked there for years and years, there were also people (like me) who just needed short term jobs and the store was not picky about who they hired. I made minimum wage and worked 38 hours a week. They didn’t stick to the original schedule I was hired for and would schedule me for shifts I didn’t ask for or give me a 2pm-11pm shift and then the next day a 6am-2pm shift. Even the people who had worked there forever did not necessarily love their job or felt like they were treated well by management. I for one felt very lucky that it was just a temp job while I got my degree. Also had a coworker who got hired at the same time as me at the second store I worked at. When we got our first pay checks he realized we were making $7.25/hr & that he could make way more than that in tips as a waiter so quit as soon as he got something else lined up.
      My sister worked for a large department store chain for 5 years (quit in July due to a combo of new better career opportunity in a different field and pandemic retail jobs in a very red state sucking). At the time she quit she was a floor manager. This company had made the news for committing to a $15/hr min wage nationwide. Well my sister as a manager was making about $16/hr and before the new wage bump new entry level employees were making $10-11. Company said they were bumping everyone up to $15/hr and all new hires would be at least that (depending on job and skill level) but did not adjust any other current employees salaries so she was making barely more than her brand new hires.
      Just some personal examples of reasons why retail and food service don’t have good retention rates!

      1. parsley*

        Same, there’s no amount you could pay me to go back to my old McDonalds job, my knees would give out in a week.

        1. tangerineRose*

          When I have a bad day at work, I like to think about how much better it is than working at McDonalds. To be fair, a lot of co-workers, managers, customers were nice. Constantly on your feet, but not all of the customers were nice, and some of the managers were kind of obnoxious.

      2. justme*

        Yea but I would think if someone is going to do food & beverage, I can’t image doing fast food if you can help it, at least try to get work where you can also make really good tips. I worked on occasion at a high end cocktail bar at a resort and made $10 an hour doing that, but would leave every night with $400-$700 in my pocket in tips. It was a lot of work and exhausting, but the time would fly by, and often we were bringing home way more than even the managers who were on salary and not in the tip pool. The downside was dealing with intoxicated people, but it wasn’t really like a bar where they could linger or keep tabs, it was just order, hand them a drink, and away they went. This was all pre-pandemic, but these were good gigs at the time and there was literally no turnover, it was the opposite, we were fighting over who got these shifts.

        What was hard was that the money was good, but it’s not really a “career” – it was great for me who was just looking for part time work at the time, but what happened with some of the younger employees is they needed to get on a real career track, but this was a hard gig to give up because they were basically earning $40-70 an hour during the tourist seasons, and instant cash, which most entry level jobs don’t pay nearly that much – but if you want to go the corporate route for greater earning potential long term, you have to make different decisions. A lot of those part time employees would have a different “real” job during the week, then want to do this on the weekends because the money was good. The problem is, they were always fighting for the “good” shifts with the more regular employees who were there during the week too who would get rewarded with the more earning potential weekend shifts.

    5. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I wonder how much geography factors here. I bet in larger areas people are more likely to cycle through lots of different opportunities, whereas in more remote places that might be harder.

      Different management could also make an impact. Retail is different than fastfood, but I’m thinking of when I worked at a Borders back in the day. Our manager was wonderful (flexible with schedules, stuck up for the staff with difficult customers, didn’t guilt people for sick time). I distinctly remember that our location was a preferred one for long-term employees, even though the pay was similar (the same?) at nearby locations.

      1. WellRed*

        I worked part time at Borders for five years (until they closed). It’s definitely a lot in mgt. set schedules, etc? See, that’s not so hard.

    6. Beth*

      There are some restaurants in Seattle that figured out decades ago that if they paid their wait staff well, offered benefits, and also trained them, they would have expert staff providing outstanding service, which would be good for business, and would also have very little turnover. Turnover is expensive!

      I’ve had better service at some diners in Seattle than you can get at four-star places in Miami. Not a coincidence.

    7. boop the first*

      I worked in a restaurant for a decade and all I had to show for it was a decade-old ratty uniform, a key, more responsibilities, and $2/hour less than all the new hires.

    8. Lacey*

      It’s a lot of factors. My husband managed a fast-casual restaurant for a long time. He didn’t feel employees were disposable, he was desperate to keep them.

      But corporate wouldn’t approve competitive wages (in our area Burger King is starting people at $11/hr, where this place was capping pay at $11/hr), didn’t offer benefits even for management, & the hours were often rough because they couldn’t keep people.

      And, since they weren’t offering anything remotely like the best wages for entry level work (the best being Aldi & Target, starting people at $14/hr) they generally can only attract people who have either been fired from those better jobs or already know they don’t want to meet the standards of those jobs.

      Those people often have unreliable transportation or an unstable home life that makes showing up difficult. A fair number have substance abuse issues that make showing up a problem. Another small portion are hopping from job to job evading sexual harassment charges.

      All of these things make it miserable to work there, so the good workers are even more likely to leave for a better paying job.

      I’d also say, just because someone sticks around, doesn’t mean they’re being treated well. My husband worked insane hours to make up for all the people who didn’t show up for the their shifts, he stayed because he felt trapped.

  6. Mia*

    CJ was the name of Allison Janney’s character on The West Wing, and things worked out pretty well for her!

    1. Aggretsuko*

      I think there’s various name studies that having an ambiguous/not obviously female first name helps you, actually :/

    2. vho842*

      That was my first thought, too! OP stated the word “byline,” which makes me think PR or journalism. I would love seeing CJ as the author, and I think with her ubiquity in culture with people over a certain age, I think you’re good. :)

  7. Eva*

    For LW on retaining retail/food workers: every boss I had in those fields (and there were many) were unethical, illegal, and downright evil. They break laws knowing nothing will happen, commit harassment of many types knowing you can’t afford to sue, and generally treat you like sh*t knowing that even if you can afford to quit, there are hundreds more desperate people behind you. Oh, and if you go to these places, you should know that they laugh at safety laws. All food is unwashed, expired, and/or left out on the counter for hours.

    1. Tbubui*

      Yeah, this is basically my experience in retail and food service. Our kitchen flooded and we kept pumping out food because it was the dinner rush. Waitresses (they didn’t hire men) like me were walking around in our stupid high heels in two inches of water. And no, they weren’t non-slip and yes, high heels were mandated.

      Also our managers wanted to see everyone who dropped a resume off. If you were white, female, with natural coloured hair, under 24, and could fit in a small or extra small you were hired. Men, BIPOC, and anyone over a size small were not hired. They don’t fit the “look”. This happened in Canada in 2018 at a major chain restaurant so I have exactly zero faith it’s different or better anywhere else.

      I quit because I got sick of the terrible pay, no benefits, sexual harassment (from the kitchen staff, customers, and management), poor safety standards, and the cockroach problem. Made a report to my local health department and they didn’t do anything. Food service is terrible, which is why I don’t weep when many restaurants in my city close down. A lot of them deserve to close.

      1. Chinook*

        Would this be the same chain that later lost a worker comp/labour law case against requiring heels at work? I know that that case was recent and so many women cheered at no longer being legally required to wear heels for a job.

        1. Tbubui*

          No, surprisingly. As far as I know, the chain I used to work for still mandates high heels for its female waitstaff in my province. Also, I think I know what chain you’re referring to re: heels. Although they are no longer mandated, my friend who works there is strongly encouraged to wear heels. If you don’t, you don’t get the good sections or the good shifts so you lose out on tips big time.

      2. Heffalump*

        Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica is a good waiter’s-eye view of the restaurant business. I like to think I’m not like some of the jerky customers he describes.

      3. Personal Best In Consecutive Days Lived*

        If it’s that nightmare company Sh4rk’s C1ub,/M0xies, hey get (got?) away with their sexist hiring/wardrobe practices by classifying their waitstaff as models.
        I hate them so much and I hope they go out of business. I’m pretty sure 95% of Canadians hate them actually.

        1. Tbubui*

          No, it’s not the usual suspects. The chain I worked at is a Canadian restaurant chain. We definitely weren’t classified as models. But I hate them and I hope they go out of business.

    2. MGW*

      One job I worked a grocery store deli I was on a shift the day the lady who normally set up the olive bar was on a doctors appointment so I got asked to do it.
      They kept the trays of olives overnight in a walk-in fridge in the back and then we had huge containers of the olives in the back-back giant walk in fridge.
      So I go to take the trays and put them back in the display case and happen to like actually look at the olives as I’m doing it and realize that at least half of the trays had disgusting moldy olives in them.
      I go show my manager and we realize the normal olive lady has just been…dumping new olives in to refill the trays when they get low but never tossing out old ones. Spent an hour scrubbing everything out, had to throw out so much product, have not trusted olive bars since

      1. Heffalump*

        I assume that the old olives, being at the bottom of the tray, just got moldier and moldier.

    3. Liz*

      I despised working in food service. The impact on my mental health was detrimental. I now work frontline healthcare and it is considerably less stressful. At least if people scream at me in my current job, I can usually exercise some kind of empathy and calm them down. What’s the possible justification for a customer making ridiculous demands of a waitress just for giggles, or the sous chef who liked to bombard us with questions like “so, do you do anal?” every time you stop by go collect something. EVERY. TIME. The owner said “oh he’s just like that.”

      I lasted 3 weeks in my last waitressing job. I’d rather be homeless than go back.

    4. ellex42*

      Lots of restaurants in my area, especially the sit-down, tip-your-waitstaff type, have signs up saying they are short-staffed. EVERYONE is hiring. The fast food places are advertising hiring bonuses and wages from $12-15/hour, and some of those are also visibly short-staffed, to the point of closing the dining room even now that they are permitted to open.

      Per conversations I’ve had with people, the issue mainly comes down to scheduling and hours. Even at $15/hour, if you don’t get more than 20-30 hours a week and an irregular schedule, it’s not worth it. The tipped waitstaff say that they are also having issues with being paid less (due to tipping), customers are tipping less (if at all) and abusing staff, and even the chain restaurants are shorting tipped wages. Kitchen staff complain of many of the same things, along with the expectation to work when sick/injured, broken equipment, and health/safety violations.

      Honestly, I think a lot of people have gotten to the point where they feel a situation that was bad, but endurable, has gotten worse to the point that it’s now unendurable.

      1. ecnaseener*

        The irregular schedule is the killer — you can’t even work 2 of those part-time jobs because they both expect you to be available any time they want you.

    5. PT*

      I worked in fitness and I had managers like this, too. I worked for some great managers and they were very good at retaining long-term employees. But the general attitude was that they could do whatever they wanted to you and if you didn’t like it a) you could leave or b) you couldn’t afford to leave so you’d just take it.

      They did this to the upper level management staff (full time, salaried, benefits, leadership titles) and they had pretty high burnout there too, because when you’re getting paid to work 40 hours with work life balance and you’re actually working 60 hours with people calling you on weekends and evenings and at 4 am and it’s still not good enough you start going insane.

    6. Aitch Arr*


      At one summer job at a restaurant, the owner would take 10% of the waitstaff’s credit card tips to cover the fees credit card companies charged.

  8. Jessica*

    LW5, the first person I thought of was sociologist C.J. Pascoe. I don’t know what line of work you’re in, but initials didn’t hold her back from getting a tenured job or writing an award-winning book. May you enjoy such success in your career as a CJ!

  9. CouldntPickAUsername*

    this is a general rant in regards to the letter but also the whole thing I’m seeing lately about so called labor shortages in fast food and retail:
    retail worker: we’re paid like crap and treated like crap. Students are hired in these jobs a lot for very obvious reasons and there comes a time when they graduate and move on. I work for an office supply chain. I’ve been there almost 11 years. couple years ago the owners changed, now we’ve not had raises in three years, not allowed to wear shorts anymore, given uncomfortable new uniforms, (by the way initially only women were allowed shortsleeve shirts), take a weird stance on having anything on the counter, our general manager got into a shouting match with the district manager just about using having a trashcan behind the counter.

    local management isn’t great either. Ask for something to do in between customers and literally get laughed at, it was so demeaning. They love to talk about how experienced I am but then ignore all the problems I point out.

    On top of all this I then also get to be treated like crap by all the customers and have to be on my feet the entire time because sitting is ‘unprofessional’. Further I’m a tall, straight, cis white guy so I don’t have to put up with the creeps and bigots.

    stop asking why these jobs rotate people out, stop acting like it’s any great mystery that people quit these jobs, stop acting like we don’t deserve better and the next time you get fast food if they forget your ketchup, smile and ask nicely for some.

    1. Magenta Sky*

      It’s amazing, the effect that simply having good manners will have on the service you get, especially in a restaurant.

      One place I’m a regular at, the employees all wear black, except two older gentlemen who are obviously managers of some sort. The food there is . . . OK, for a national chain, but the people are the reason I drive across town to eat there. One night, one of the manager types took my order, and I asked him if he was a manager. The wary, half-scared look he got when he said, “I’m the owner” would have been a real education if I hadn’t already known why. When I told him I wanted to compliment him, personally, for his hiring practices because he has such a great staff, he had the biggest grin you’ve ever seen. I’m very glad they survived the last year.

      1. The Original K.*

        I make a point to tell retail managers about great customer service and I always tell the worker that I want to see the manager to tell them how great the worker was so they don’t get that scared look! I know “is your manager around?” can spark fear.

    2. BcAugust*

      Honestly, even if you do have the best bosses in the world(I’ve worked retail at a store that is union, has multiple decade+ service workers, and backed up my part time position(with benefits!) against the manager of the department when a complaint went in), it’s still hard, hard work.

      Mainly because it’s physical and hot work a lot of the time, you’re on your feet all day, and customers feel free to be the worst because “they’re just retail workers.”. I would literally get death threats three or four times a week over tiny stuff, people who issued threats, sworn at, and I can’t even count the amount of times people would sexually proposition me or my crew members, especially the teenagers. And it’s paid nowhere enough to put up with that for long.

      1. Xenia*

        Agreed. I took a very part time job in our college cafeteria as a student. My supervisor and coworkers were great, the pay was surprisingly good, and we had a customer population that was very chill, and it was still exhausting. Even the simple cashier work got super challenging just in its monotony. I found it super valuable work experience and it was a lot better than doing nothing but I wouldn’t want it as a full time job.

        1. kicking-k*

          Yes, this. I haven’t had really terrible experiences waiting tables or as bar staff – I worked in that sector for about six years, on and off. I live in a country that doesn’t expect you to depend on tips, which helped. But it was hard work, and can be high pressure. Its main selling point was that when I was 18-19 it was one of the few jobs I could actually get, and was at least partly flexible. However, as soon as I stopped being a student and could commit to slightly longer placements, I started looking for office temp jobs instead (and continued to do occasional agency waitressing in between and at weekends). It wasn’t something I’d have wanted to build a career in.

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        Holy crap is service work physical. I wear boots designed by a podiatrist and my feet and knees are made of lava-flavoured sandpaper after a shift these days. I’m always finding mystery cuts and bruises all over myself. And that’s not counting the cognitive drain of having to shift attention constantly while juggling seven things in your working memory. Without lunch, usually, and not much respect. I can’t wait until I finish this damn new chain of degrees and can bail.
        Fortunately my boss is a good bloke (if rather disorganised) and is cool with me having two + weeks off for surgery, and will no doubt pop a bottle of cheap bubbles on my return, but most people aren’t so fortunate.

        1. kicking-k*

          + 1. I have bad feet too and I don’t think I COULD be on them all day now, even with custom orthotics etc. I never had to waitress in heels, but I did have to wear “smart” flat shoes for silver service waitressing which had no cushioning in the soles whatsoever, so by the end of the day the balls of my feet were on fire. And yeah, the cuts and bruises and minor burns are always with you.

          1. Tiny Soprano*

            IMO this is one of the reasons you don’t see many older service workers. Like I’m 31 and my body can’t handle it much longer. And I’ve only really done it for 2 years since I left opera (which to be fair was a whole ‘nother kettle of wrecking one’s body.) I wonder how much it costs in health costs a year globally…

    3. EPLawyer*


      We have told people for YEARS, these jobs are starter jobs. They are not meant to be careers. You want to make more, up your skills and get a better job.

      So along comes a WORLDWIDE pandemic, these folks are the hardest hit. They take a look around and say “F-this” and start looking for better jobs. Now people are complaining no one wants to work food service or retail anymore.

      As for the argument — well, paramedics/firefighters/teachers/insert favorite hobby horse here, don’t make that much so why should someone make $15 an hour flipping burgers? The solution is not to keep the burger flippers at holy hell $7.25 an hour, it’s to riase the paramedics, etcs. salaries.

      1. LTL*

        Honestly, these are high skill jobs. People talk like they aren’t, but working in retail/fast food/customer service does require a skillset. “But anyone can do it/be trained to do it” applies to almost every entry level job.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          True. I simply couldn’t handle retail/food service. Being on my feet the whole time, in a uniform that doesn’t fit, a hot environment that stinks, expected to take constant amounts of abuse from customers who truly treat you as the lowest of the low while still maintaining a serious work output?

          No. Just, no. The few insulting ticks I get on the phone while working IT are nothing compared to that. I bristle at people saying retail/fast food/etc is a ‘starter job for young people with no skills’.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            (Yeah, I worked as a barmaid/waitress for a while. Physically I couldn’t even do it again, let alone mentally)

      2. Humble schoolmarm*

        I won’t even go near that hobbyhorse, as teachers are (luckily) paid respectably in my country, but this as an argument against paying retail and restaurant workers more is silly. My job would be so much better and easier if all of my students’ parents had stable work that paid a living wage. I know darn well it’s going to be a monumental task to get Fergus to do a whole lot better on his class work when he’s twelve-years-old and his mom is working ’till 3 am bartending every night (so he either waits up playing video games or has his sleep disrupted when she gets home) and I certainly can’t blame Fergus’ mom for taking a job that at least gets a roof and lights for Fergus.

        1. Ms. Frizzle*

          This! I mean, I do think teachers/the other professions mentioned should be paid more, but it’s not a zero sum game. I would be delighted if my students’ families made as much as I did. I’ve had families where parents worked multiple part-time jobs and the family was still living in a series of transitional housing facilities. No children (or adults!) should go through that.

      3. Aitch Arr*

        Two dollars and fscking thirteen cents an hour.

        That’s the hourly wage for tipped workers.
        It’s been $2.13 since 1991.

    4. learnedthehardway*

      I have to say – as a parent of a teen – I’m not AT ALL enthusiastic about my teen working in that kind of environment, particularly in a COVID hotspot. I’ve told my kids that they’re not going back to school in person until they are vaccinated. I’m certainly not going to ask them to go to work before they’re vaccinated, either.

      1. pancakes*

        Do you suppose people working in that kind of environment are doing so mostly because they want to or mostly because they have to?

    5. Miss Pantalones En Fuego*

      *standing ovation*

      Yep. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked in any kind of retail job, but just as a customer I’ve seen so much crap that gets thrown at the employees. It’s maybe counterproductive but I avoid places that visibly treat their staff poorly and allow customers to be obnoxious.

  10. EAB*

    LW5: I am female and I work in tech. When I went to college, I stopped using my first name, both because I disliked it and because it was very common. I switched to my middle name, which is a family name that reads much more gender-neutral (think “Parker”). I felt like this was useful in the early 2000s, when I definitely benefited from the assumption that I was male, to the point where people would express surprise on meeting me in person. However, this is a bit less common now that I’m older and better known in my industry, and because my LinkedIn pic makes it clear.

    There are probably still some edge cases where it’s helpful to be “Parker” rather than “Penelope”, since not everyone takes the trouble to google you. I don’t necessarily think it will *help* that much overall, but it also won’t hurt. Just make sure you’re prepared to really reinforce the use of CJ, in conversation as well as in documents. If you EVER allow people to call you “Christina”, even once, they will use it forever.

    Expect to have to fight for this for the rest of your professional life with IT departments and HR, where you will be told that there’s a policy to call people by their legal names. I am constantly explaining to people that “yes, you’re going to have to put me into your expense report as Penelope,” and I literally have to wear a name badge on my body every day that says Penelope. I had to make a whole stink to have my email be Parker instead of Penelope, and all my logins are still PenelopeB. I pushed pretty hard on this being a human rights issue — I am the mom of a trans kid, so I’m very aware of the complexities of legal-name usage, and fighting for name choice is capital-I Important. It’s helpful that Parker is part of my legal name rather than a nickname, and shows up on my passport and driver’s license, but it hasn’t fixed everything.

    Honestly, if I had it to do over again, I would have dropped Penelope entirely when I got married, and made my legal name into Parker Maiden Married. Should I ever change my name again, that is exactly what I will do, and make this a non-issue. There is SO much resistance to using things which aren’t your legal first name, and it’s just stupid and aggravating.

    1. Tag Goulet*

      Thank you for sharing your story Parker. I admire you pushing back!

      I have been going by the name “Tag” in many professional interactions for a while now. (My initials are T.A.G.) and I feel much more comfortable being called that than my given “girl” name.

    2. SSG*

      My story isn’t the same, but I use a different name to my legal one. I was a teenager when I picked this name, and have often wished I’d have had three foresight to make it gender-neutral. I did have a weird issue in my first job where my email address was required to be my legal name, which caused nothing but confusion, especially as I worked with international colleagues a lot, and they could never find me to email.

      My 2 jobs since then have been much better about it. In fact I’ve had no problems at all. I applied under my actual name (ie: preferred name), only mentioned my legal name when the legal bits came in, and asked for my email and badge to be correct. First job was a contractor, the later 2 were directly for the company, which may have helped. Also, it’s an abysmal idea to have these potentially very damaging policies. I’m lucky my name change was just a cosmetic choice.

    3. Juniper*

      Why is this so hard? I’m truly baffled by the fact that some people don’t understand that someone’s legal name may not be what they go by in their daily lives. At my job several peoples’ email addresses (that follow lastname.firstname) aren’t what they are known by in general. After the first introduction it’s really not hard to keep straight, so I’m sorry you’ve experienced this your whole career.

      1. Thunderstorm*

        I worked at a university with a large Chinese student population, and it was quite common for the students to adopt a Western first name. But IT absolutely refused to change the first name.lastname as written on your legal documents. They seemed to take glee in the students’ frustration.

      2. EAB*

        As it happens, I work for a large software company (US-based) that makes human capital management software, similar to Workday or ADP. We are in the middle of a large company-wide effort to support usage of preferred name, because 1) we have an awesome diversity commitment; and 2) we need to comply with the appropriate legislation in places like California.

        There are some legit hard logistics here, since your employer does need to know what your government name is to check that you are legally able to work in the US, and report your tax info to the IRS with the correct name. We also optionally require employees to provide marriage/birth/adoption certificates to validate that your dependents belong to you (configurable by employer and subject to local regulations. The software is older and did not take any of these things into account when it was first developed 30 years ago. Retrofitting preferred name everywhere, and balancing it out with legal name, is a large effort that’s requiring thousands of development hours across the company. There are a lot of edge cases too, like “my employee is Parker but I need to search for her tax filing as Penelope P. Person”.

        One thing I only became aware of recently, as we started working through the name change with my trans teenager, is that trans people often don’t have a single legal name (or gender) but several. There’s the name for which you have a legal name change order. There’s the name on your passport, if you have one. There’s the name on your driver’s license, and the name on your social security card. There’s the name on your birth certificate. There’s the name used on your credit history. It is HIGHLY likely that not all of these names agree. Various states require court proceedings and documentation of very specific medical procedures to update the birth cert, and some outright forbid *ever* changing it (I know Tennessee won’t let you change birth cert name/gender at all if you are trans). The rules follow the state where you were born, not the state where you live, so conservative states like MS/TN/AL can block your name change even if you live in CA or WA.

        It has all given me a new appreciation for how VERY hard it is to update this in systems, even for kids like mine who will have his legal name change before he gets his driver’s license. If you are older when you transition, it’s orders of magnitude harder.

        It’s not easy to support this in systems, but it is very, very important.

    4. AOB*

      This sounds so frustrating. In the UK, we don’t have a concept of “legal names” as such – any name you go by regularly can be considered your name for any purpose – and generally people are not fazed by people using their middle name.

      But that is not to say that organisations always get these things right at all! I know universities can be very slow to respond when students ask to change their first name, even when they do last-name changes (e.g. on marriage) very quickly. Very frustrating!

      1. Sandra*

        So, you could get official government ID under your preferred name without filing for a name change?

        1. Katie from Scotland*

          It’s not quite that simple! But deed poll process is really straightforward.
          I’m sure AOB is thinking more of how people approach name use in day-to-day life. There’s very rarely a time where I have to put my “Sunday name” or legal name on anything, I just put Katie.

        2. allathian*

          You can change your name in the UK by a process called the deed poll for IDs, etc. The UK equivalent of the social security number, the national insurance number, serves for identification purposes. If your employer has the NIN, which is mandatory so the employer can deduct your taxes from your salary, it’s pretty irrelevant whether the name you go by at work is the same as that on your passport, ID, or driving license. The system in most EU countries is pretty similar, I’m in Finland.

          1. trekkie*

            Just make very sure that the name you use for your airline reservation matches exactly the name on your ID (passport or drivers license). The airlines (at least in the US) can be wickedly strict about that. Chris Elliott’s sure has many horror stories about folks who got tripped up by that.

        3. Ponytail*

          Deed poll, as someone else has commented. I did it when I was 16, cementing a decision i made when I was 11. I think my mum paid £20 for the solicitor’s appointment, which was cheap even for then. Never had a problem and I actually have certificates in all sorts of variations of my first and last names! Only place it was a problem was France, where I had to get my name change certificate officially translayed if I ever wanted to receive state benefits.

          Work has been cool about it too – I didn’t realise until I got an official piece of paperwork, that they had my first name down incorrectly. I asked them to change it and they did, and reissued the paperwork.

      2. Ponytail*

        Interestingly, I just responded below how good my uni employers were about updating their records to my proper first name. Reissued my certificate too (I got a qualification through them). Less than a week, no problems and no demanding paperwork either.

      3. Aggretsuko*

        Eh, my alma mater is pretty quick about it. We have had a “legal names on diplomas only” policy, but as far as I can tell that is more of a thing because of international students (we have tons), because God Forbid their names don’t match when they go back to their home countries. There is huge drama about that. I’ve had to write an Official Letter to (insert country here’s) government explaining that Jane Smith Doe is the exact same person as Jane Doe because she left her middle name off her diploma. I think she still had to change everything to be the same name everywhere anyway. The general attitude I get is that they think we are all lying, somehow.

        They’re being forced to change the policy to “literally any name you like no matter what” in a few years, but unfortunately I know that’s gonna cause huge drama with the international students again. Reordering diplomas is extremely slow and excruciating (and even worse when international mail is involved–think 2 months for US and at least 3 for international) and it’s always a dire emergency to get it ASAP in the other countries, which we can’t do. So great, that makes that worse.

        Sometimes there’s a good reason for the legal name thing, is all I’m saying.

    5. ellex42*

      I go by Lex, and the number of people who continue to change it to Alex or Lexi – even after being corrected more than once – is seriously aggravating. I don’t mind when people who have only seen my full first name on my emails or other paperwork call me by my full first name, but again, many people continue to do so after I tell them I go by Lex.

      Only one person has ever gotten a pass for calling me Lexi, and that was because her daughter’s name is Lexi, and I totally understand that the second syllable just came out automatically. Even then, she would constantly correct herself.

      If your name is – for example – Jennifer, and you tell me you go by Jen, I’ll call you Jen. If you tell me you go by Jenny, I’ll call you Jenny. If you tell me you go by JJ, I’ll call you JJ. I don’t understand why it’s so hard for so many people. It certainly feels like dismissal at best, and disrespect at worst.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        This kind of thing is why I answer to all permutations of my name. I like them all, but also it’s way too much effort for me to nitpick it.

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      Piggy-backing here – even though my experience isn’t the same, the ingredients are all similar.

      Corporate software tech company in the past, male-dominated physical science academic now, and I’m a queer woman. I shortened my feminine name to a (very common) gender-neutral name at age 10 and mostly went by that name. It’s so common though that my own brother’s name can be shortened the same way, so we ended up with the same name, which is not ideal. For a while (in France, where the short form is a little cacophonous) I went mostly by the feminine long form. But for my friends it’s always been the short one. At work now, I’m nearly always the short except: a) Official HR stuff where somehow also my second name has been made it into the way I’m mostly addressed (now as a US style middle name, which it originally wasn’t). It’s a very German, rather long (3 syllables, but several consonant clusters) feminine given name. b) When I started to publish in scientific journals I had to make a decision. Research shows male-coded names get more props from the outset, which is why I’m always so happy to see papers authored by women in my field. So I went with the full, female coded version for my publications. (Not so different from Andys who publish under Andrew F. or Mikes who are Michael on their papers. Except it’s more like Max becoming Maxine F. Tamarack…. and then the Maxine sometimes bleeding into how I appear on programs and am therefore introduced (if the MCs aren’t thinking ahead and asking).

      Bottom line: Not a problem. As for initialisms as names, we have a female CeCe who might as well be going by CC (I only know because of Zoom handles and because we’re Facebook friends!) as well as AJ and JR (both male). A non-binary Will. NBD – just do what you like, ask for all systems that allow “use name” to be updated, seed a few trusted coworkers to address you correctly and politely correct everyone who gets it wrong.

  11. Phil*

    LW5: The initials CJ are used by well known SF author CJ Cherryh for, I believe, the same reason you want to use your initials.

    1. E*

      And the ‘H’ was added because marketing thought – probably with good reason – that nobody would take a sci-fi author seriously if their surname was Cherry.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Yes her brother David, an SF artist, never had professional issues. I guess because art is more instantly visible than words?

        1. jolene*

          It’s because men won’t buy books/art by women. That’s why many female thriller writers use initials.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            I’m thinking there are two factors at play, though, not just the one. The first is the “men won’t read books by women” thing, which is very real and I won’t downplay it even a bit, because I have seen men who say this within the last year. The second is that you can generally tell if an artist’s style suits you by glancing at it.

  12. J*

    I literally came here after hearing about the Converse story, to try and find marginally-related stories at best, and you have the Converse story itself as the very top post.

    Blown. Away.

    1. L6orac6*

      As far as I’m concerned they stole her designs from her original ideas. Someone from that interview thought they were good! Converse, enhanced them and brightened the colours. I hope she engages a lawyer.

      1. L6orac6*

        Oops she had the brighter colours, I like her original designs better than what Converse went with.

        1. Kristina*

          What Converse went with is infinitely easier and cheaper to manufacture than her original designs.

      2. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        Looks like Converse didn’t interview her. Just got her application for the internship.

      3. BuildMeUp*

        They didn’t even interview her, though. I don’t know, I fully believe theft like this happens, but I’m not sure that’s what happened here.

      4. twocents*

        That’s a huge reach.

        Converse used four color blocked stripes in the colors the National Parks are famous for. The only one that arguably looks similar is the Grand Canyon one where she used stripes too, and the idea of “Grand Canyon stripes” is not something she uniquely owns, because that’s what the Grand Canyon actually looks like.

        I just feel embarrassed for her for the arrogance in thinking she’s the only person clever enough to look at famous natural landmarks and think “yes, I should copy that.”

        1. raktajino*

          Also, NPS themed stuff is super popular right now, at least in outdoors capitalism. There are at least three separate sites that have artists do NPS posters, two board games highlighting the parks, and loooooots of shirts and other clothing.

          I also fully believe that companies stealing designs happens, and you don’t need to have applied to be vulnerable. But the examples on the buzzfeed article aren’t compelling.

  13. hallucinating hack*

    OP5, I changed my name to something gender-neutral 15 years ago. The original intention was to deal with clients from different cultures who apparently couldn’t pronounce my real name (a whole other can of worms going on there) but the outcome was gender neutrality. For reference, I was born female and used to look somewhat more feminine.

    I am sorry to say that it made my professional life slightly easier than otherwise in small but noticeable ways. Clients I worked with remotely, who never saw me in person, suddenly became less likely to try to push me into “soft” projects such as advertising and marketing, and more likely to be happy with me taking on “hard” projects related to technical areas. The (largely male) higher executives I worked with were a lot more easygoing and chatty over email, and surprisingly that attitude didn’t change when they finally met me in person. For reference, the industries I worked with at the time were a stuffy lot, senior levels were overwhelmingly male-dominated, and they were often highly conservative in blatantly gendered ways (women must wear skirts, heels, have long hair and make up level of stuffiness, even for the back office functions that never saw clients).

    Now the curious thing is that while I managed to get along more easily with male executives, there were some odd reactions from female executives. Most of them had no problem with a female-presenting woman who used a gender-neutral name and wore dress pants – but the ones who did have a problem were rather…unpleasant. Especially if they had initially assumed I was male.

    Of course, things have changed a bit in the last decade, and even that stuffy industry crowd seems to have relaxed their grip on gender norms a bit.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      “there were some odd reactions from female executives. Most of them had no problem with a female-presenting woman who used a gender-neutral name and wore dress pants – but the ones who did have a problem were rather…unpleasant. Especially if they had initially assumed I was male.”
      Wondering whether more than one was disappointed that such a nice guy turned out to be a woman…

    2. pancakes*

      In a way that’s not odd at all, though – what you’re describing is an industry where the men and some of the women are sexist. That’s generally how sexism works! Women who internalize it try to enforce it, whether they’re aware that they’re doing so or not.

    3. Heffalump*

      (women must wear skirts, heels, have long hair and make up level of stuffiness, even for the back office functions that never saw clients).

      I can understand (if not endorse) that mindset in some industries, but requiring long hair? And I’m male.

      I’m reminded of the now-famous post from the interns who were fired for circulating a petition for a more flexible dress code. They thought that since their jobs weren’t customer-facing, the dress code was unnecessarily restrictive.

      1. tangerineRose*

        I don’t understand a company mandating skirts and heels. At a previous company, even when we did need to dress up (if meeting clients), they didn’t care if we females wore slacks and low shoes.

        Wearing heels can cause damage if you do it long enough.

  14. Long time listener, first time caller*

    I’ve literally known six different CJs. All were women or girls whose real name was Christine.

    1. Janet's Planet*

      Right, I don’t read C.J. as ambiguous or gender-neutral. It’s known primarily as a women’s “name”.

    2. Fieldpoppy*

      There is a toddler next door to me who is so far in his life male, immediately dubbed CJ by his parents. (Connor something, I think). I think it can go different ways ;-).

        1. Mimi*

          In life I don’t make assumptions, but for fiction I usually assume that an author who goes by initials is female or non-binary (they aren’t always, but more often than not it holds true). See CJ Cherryh, for example.

      1. Eff Walsingham*

        My spouse works with a male CJ, 20’s to 30’s. No idea what, if anything, it stands for, since they don’t get along well.

  15. Long time listener, first time caller*

    Re retail and fast food, I have no doubt everything Alison said is true. But, also, one of the bad things about working those jobs is so many of them do not use consistent scheduling each week. But you probably go to these places on a consistent schedule. So you may be perceiving some long- (or at least not short-) workers as new.

    1. pancakes*

      Yes – it’s very common. There was a good article in Vice about it last year called “Here’s What Happens When an Algorithm Determines Your Work Schedule.”

    2. Clisby*

      But in some cases, lack of consistent scheduling is a plus. My son is working a seasonal retail job, and gets a schedule every 2 weeks. It’s not always consistent – they hire a bunch of high school and college students and (probably correctly) think it’s decent not to schedule people to consistently work every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night. I’m sure if someone volunteered that working every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night would be their preference, they’d get it.

      1. pancakes*

        More consistent scheduling wouldn’t preclude your son from requesting not to be scheduled every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, though. The fact that he benefits from inconsistent scheduling at his job right now is inadvertent, not by design.

        1. doreen*

          It’s true that more consistent scheduling wouldn’t prevent him from requesting not to be scheduled for Friday/Sat/Sun every week – but it’s also true that people who work those sort of jobs often don’t want a totally consistent schedule and most of those jobs require coverage. Maybe they want Friday off this week and Saturday off a month from now. There are only two ways to do that- either set a deadline for requests and make a schedule every X weeks or set a consistent schedule where for example, I’m scheduled off every Friday and I work every Saturday. That usually involves me having to find someone to swap with if I want Saturday off one week. No matter which way you do it people will be unhappy because there is no way that will make everyone happy – some people think it’s the manager’s job to arrange coverage , so they don’t want to be responsible for trading shifts when they want Saturday off and some people want consistent shifts so they will be unhappy when the manager schedules them to work Saturday to accommodate my request

          1. pancakes*

            It seems to me that most people working these sort of jobs would prefer more consistency. It also seems that hiring people with scheduling expertise would make more people happier than continued reliance on algorithms like the ones discussed in the article I mentioned does.

            From the article, which links to the research: “Software firm Shiftboard’s own research shows that nearly half of U.S hourly workers would cut their own pay for more influence on their schedules.”

            1. doreen*

              I didn’t mention algorithms because what I’m talking about happens even with humans doing the scheduling. Maybe an example will help – say my normal days off are Wed and Sunday in a job that requires coverage. But I have a wedding to attend and I would like to be off on Saturday June 12. There are only three ways to accommodate this. Either 1)I get scheduled for my normal hours and it’s up to me to try to get someone to work my Saturday shift, 2)the manager rearranges the schedule for that week and swaps my shift with someone who normally is off Saturdays and works Sundays or 3) if it’s a job that provides PTO , I request PTO for that Saturday and the manager schedules someone else to work my normal Saturday shift. In the latter two situations, the manager can look for a volunteer, but won’t always find one. If they don’t find a volunteer, either someone’s schedule will be changed involuntarily or I won’t be able to get the day off. Some people object to finding their own coverage, so they won’t be happy with option 1. Other people will object to any involuntary deviation in their schedules, so they will be unhappy with options 2 and 3 if their schedule is changed so I can have Saturday off. There is no way possible to keep everyone happy.

              I am absolutely certain that workers in these jobs want more influence on their schedules- but more influence doesn’t only mean consistency. I think from my and my family’s experience in that type of the job the issues of employers demanding 7 day availability, the practice of scheduling people for “call-in” shifts and distributing the schedule the day before it starts are much bigger problems for workers than a schedule change with sufficient notice.

              1. pancakes*

                I mentioned algorithms because they’re already very widely used, and according to the article the industry is on track to more than double between 2019 and 2024. I don’t at all disagree that there’s unlikely to be a scheduling solution that pleases everyone.

  16. Ms. Yvonne*

    I worked 18 months in retail full-time at a major national chain store (in Canada), because I’d been out of work / on very short contracts for a few years (due to an illness in the family; it was reallllly f%cking hard to get back into the labour force with that gap) and b/c as a middle aged woman there’s apparently age bias or something? 18 mths in retail is the equivalent of 5y outside of retail in my opinion. The turnover was result of no-shows (show up three times in your first eight shifts? Fired), zero investment by post-industrial capitalism in the workforce (the lack of caring one way or another about having an ongoing workforce is downloaded onto the manager who has to constantly hire anew), shite wages, “better” (wages, get a job some interesting, closer to home, whatevs), the grind, and because few among us want to be doing that kind of work. Although it was a real education in the socioeconomics of a depressed / gentrified neighbourhood, the multi fascinating layers of theft, post-industrialism, the alienation of work, classism, and a ton of other stuff that I used to get paid to think and write about when I was in academia.

  17. Beth*

    Re: #2…it really does come down to, these fields aren’t set up for employee retention. They’re set up to take the worst-off people and exploit them to the maximum possible level. If your employees have no better options, then you can get away with a lot of terrible but money-saving treatment. You can pay them a sub-living wage. You can refuse to offer benefits. You can put them on an irregular, at-your-whim schedule, and make it their problem to sort out any issues that causes. You can run an unsafe, hazard-filled workplace—what are they going to do, report you and lose income while you’re shut down? You can tell them to handle problem customers themselves, without paying to staff experienced managers to support them. You can under-staff your business, so your employees are doing more than one person’s worth of work on the regular and don’t feel able to take even unpaid sick leave.

    The downside is, when you treat people like this, they will leave the moment they’re able to do so. As long as there really is a large enough pool of exploitable people that the business can not only staff its current positions, but also easily replace someone who leaves at a moment’s notice, that’s not that big a deal for a business owner who values profit over treating their employees well. But when that labor pool shrinks…well, we’re currently seeing how many of those business owners are reacting to the discovery that their lack of loyalty goes both ways.

    1. Retail Not Retail*

      We have another category of worker that’s not retail or food service but they’re subject to erratic scheduling and low pay. (You have 20 hours for the week, plan accordingly, oh oops we’re not as busy as expected, go home.)

      So a bunch quit en masse last year over a supervisor’s behavior. Left everyone scrambling but I mean… why would they have any loyalty or connection to this place?

      My department has less churn since we are hired full time with benefits but we still do because our pay is very very low. And a certain a to z company will beat your body too but pay better, same with a local shipping one.

  18. My dear Wormwood*

    I didn’t end up making a full shift to using my initials (KJ, for what it’s worth) but I haven’t seen any blowback for the publications I did use them for.

    More amusingly, I was discussing possibly doing this at the dinner table and my 4-year-old niece wanted to know what I was talking about. We did a 60-second primer on sexism and she said, “Well that’s silly. I can think just as well as the boys at kindy!” Then we did a 60-second explanation of unconscious bias and finished with, “So does that make sense?”

    She said, “Bwa-kaak! I’m a chicken!” and went back to her dinner, and there were no more high-level conceptual discussions that day.

    1. ecnaseener*

      She’s got the right idea. I will now be responding to all sexism with “Bwa-kaak!”

    2. learnedthehardway*

      I had to explain unconscious bias to my then-7 yr old, when he concluded that because more men than women won at Jeopardy, that men must be smarter. He knew he was on shaky ground as he was saying this – his voice was trailing up at the end of his statement – but he didn’t know how to understand it any better, and he couldn’t make what he was seeing on TV align with what he knew in real life (ie. that mommy was pretty darn smart, lol).

      Education about socially ingrained gender roles was immediately provided, and he ended up getting an understanding that it’s even hard in a game to overcome social expectations of women taking a back seat. Blew his little mind, and he was upset about it (more that he wasn’t going to see the best possible game, than about socially enforced gender roles per se, but at least he saw that it wasn’t good for anyone, lol.)

  19. Iconoclast*

    To LW #1 – literally forgetting Converse exists going forward, and your designs were better! You deserve better.

    1. Xav*

      The OP is not the person who claimed Comverse stole their unsolicited design ideas. They’re just using the story as a way to ask about the issue.

  20. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    Don’t know about retail, but the fast food places that I’ve worked were set up specifically so they could get new staff up and running fast. And really, it’s not that complicated. You’ll be pretty much as good as you’ll ever be a month in. Sure, having reliable staff is great, because they actually show up and work, but there isn’t really much difference between someone with 6 months experience and someone with 12.

    Plus, the profit margins aren’t really that big in either industry, so they are trying to pinch pennies wherever possible.

    I do think there is a good deal of value to society in kinda lousy jobs that are always hiring though-they don’t mind taking a risk on people who might be lousy employees. The job doesn’t care, they’ll just fire them if they don’t show up. But if you’re looking for a first job, or just out of jail, or kinda weird, you can still get an income, and hopefully move on to something better in 6 months. The problem comes when people get stuck in kinda lousy jobs. So in a weird way the churn-and-burn is that sort of job’s greatest merit.

    And yes, I’ve personally worked at a number of kinda lousy jobs.

    1. Scarlet2*

      Although the value of those lousy jobs to those companies is obvious, I’m not sure I see how it benefits “society”… I don’t think the person who’s “kinda weird” or just out of jail will be able to move on to something much better 6 months or even a year after being treated terribly and being paid a wage that doesn’t even cover the basic necessities. They’ll just move on to another badly paid, terrible job.

      My point being that every job should at least pay a living wage. And society could definitely benefit from that.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        Yes, this! Any person working full time deserves a living wage. Working people to the bones is NOT to the benefit of society.

        But, Elspeth McGillicuddy still has a point. Some jobs just don’t require a lot of skill, and for those the employer will always have the upper hand. If you could pick up pretty much any person from the street and have them do a sufficient job within a few weeks, the employees don’t have any bargaining power and competition between employers will never, ever, make up for that. And employers do love to exploit this…

        Which is why unions and minimum wage set by law are so important. The idea that free-market rules could solve this is incredibly naive – or rather, it’s a deliberate lie told by those who benefit from it.

        1. Scarlet2*

          Oh yes, I totally agree about the benefit from the employer’s point of view, what I’m disputing is the claim that this has any value for society.

    2. Speaks to Dragonflies*

      This is what I’ve thought about it. If an employer can have a new employee up and working in a short time, and the job skills are easy to learn, then there isn’t an incentive to try and retain them. Cheaper for the employer to turn and burn, treat employees like crap, have no benifits, and pay them a pittance. Not tryin to say the work is easy. It’s hot, dirty, non stop and on your feet all day. It’s hard work. Up untill now, there was no reason for the employers to offer good…anything, really. But if the skill set for a job can be learned by 4 out of 5 folks, it’s probably not going to pay much. This isn’t just for FS and retail either. When I first started working in a machine shop to learn the trade at 18, I was the lowest paid peon in the shop, so I did the job that was the nastiest, dirtiest, back-breakingest job they had…sandblasting the parts. It was the worst job, but also took basic skill…”Load part, open valve, point hose at part untill clean, turn off valve, change out part, repeat. Refill with sand when empty.” Almost zero skill set needed. But they could get another body in there to do it with a phone call and within a couple hours of thier arrival, have new body doing just as good as I was.

    3. Liz*

      I’d like to push back on the idea that these jobs are generally easy to train for and that you don’t get any added value from an experienced worker. While I don’t doubt that such jobs exist, I think what we’ve seen over recent decades is a “race to the bottom” in terms of these kinds of customer service facing roles.

      In many roles, there really is something to be said for an experienced retail/ food worker who knows the stock, understands how to read a customer, meet their needs, and handle difficult interactions with dignity and resilience. The issue is not that anybody can do these jobs: it’s that employers no longer value the experience and expertise of the workers within those roles. Look at what happened with Barnes and Noble – laying off 15-20 year retail veterans to save a few bucks. Like “fast fashion” and other aspects of rampant low-quality/high-volume consumerism, that extra bit of service just isn’t valued. The current trends have made the jobs simultaneously harder, yet valued far less. Workers are expected to be handle a hundred and one things at a high pace while chronically understaffed, underpaid and underappreciated. We do them no favours as long as we cling to the fiction that anybody can do the job and there is no way to excel or utilise experience within the role, and I think it’s a little harsh on service industry “lifers” to suggest that they cannot bring anything more to their role than someone with less than a year’s experience.

      Society as a whole needs to realise that as long as the middle class notion of “progression” is off limits to many people, there will always be people doing these types of jobs for the rest of their lives. There are people who enjoy them, invest time in learning to do them well, who care about their customers. Employers are missing a trick by not valuing those people and the enhanced service they can provide, while exploiting the countless individuals who may never have the luxury of leaving. Until that trend changes, high turnover will be a feature of these industries, not a bug.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Yes I agree, an experienced retail worker will do the job much better. I expect that doesn’t actually show up in stats, or you’d have to measure different things. A lot of the time, nasty customers get away with it precisely because the retail worker is inexperienced, has no idea how to de-escalate the irate, doesn’t feel legitimate pushing lechers away.

        I’ve never heard anything like the level of rudeness you read about on Not Always Right in Europe, staff are not expected to suck it up, and turnover generally isn’t anywhere near as high as in the US. (The downside to that is that there are fewer openings anywhere, so it’s harder to move on).

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        What you are describing is the difference between short-term and long-term goals. Often in the modern corporate world, it is all about short-term goals. The next quarterly report is all that matters. That is what the investors are demanding, and even the CEO might be working somewhere else before those long-term plans pay off. Why would he let the next guy get the credit? We see the same thing in sports. Some franchises churn through coaches and executives. They always have trouble with long-term thinking for the same reason. The franchises where they same guys stick around year after year can form a plan that will take five years to come to fruition. See also: Amazon. Jeff Bezos managed to hold the investors at bay in favor of long-term thinking, with spectacular results.

        1. Liz*

          This is an excellent point. I read an article a couple of years ago about how short term investors/dividends had shaped these kinds of business decisions. Amazon, as you say, does things very differently but still had their fair share of poor employee treatment for years. I’m glad things seem to be improving in terms of pay, though.

        2. pancakes*

          Spectacular results for Bezos. Not spectacular for drivers with no time or place to pee besides a bottle, or people who own independent bookstores, etc., etc., etc.

      3. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

        I mean, I worked food service for four years, mostly fast food. I was maybe marginally more effective as an employee a year in than at half a year, but really, the work was pretty easy in skill level. Hard on the feet, yes. But it’s hardly rocket science to remember that burgers A, B & C get ketchup, mustard and pickle, while burgers D, E & F get ketchup, mayo, lettuce, onion, tomato and pickle.

        It’s quite possible to be lousy at the work. But the employee is going to be lousy at the work a year in as well.

        Waiting tables was definitely higher skill and higher relationship, but also much better pay per hour. Tips are a fairly lucrative source of income at a busy restaurant. Also, I think most of the reason I was mediocre was because I’m too reserved, so extra time didn’t really help.

        I never worked retail, so I can’t comment on it.

      4. Cat Tree*

        I agree. Due to being pregnant during a pandemic, I started frequenting quite a lot of drive-throughs. There is absolutely a difference in service between different places. One place was so error-prone that I would only risk it when I had a super intense pregnancy craving. One place was generally OK but couldn’t consistently handle special orders so I had to account for that. Two places never messed up an order so I went to those often.

        Some places run really well so it’s easy for us to forget how much training and skill the job requires. But it can certainly go bad, and having a bunch of untrained poorly-managed staff can absolutely affect business.

    4. FrivYeti*

      Other people have covered the “you’re as good as you’re going to get” angle, so I’d like to take a moment to discuss the profit margin angle.

      Simply put, it’s not really true. Profit margins are poor because a few very large fast-food corporations undercut everyone else, and then used that to drive wages into the gutter to the point that they hired people to help their employees qualify for low-income benefits from the government rather than raise wages. They then use the ability to undercut prices to force smaller businesses to lower their prices, which forces those smaller businesses to lower wages. At least that was the theory.

      What the recent pandemic has shown is that fast-food business that boosted wages to $15 or even $20 per hour have thrived, rather than collapsing the way they thought they might. Experienced workers can deliver more meals faster with fewer errors, which keeps lines down and customers happy, and boosts traffic. The only thing keeping wages down is the fact that a few very large corporations are subsidizing their profits by forcing their employees on to welfare.

    5. Lenora Rose*

      I disagree that “You’ll be pretty much as good as you’ll ever be a month in” on most of these. I had the unenviable experience of ending up going from the newbie to being the most experienced person on staff when I’d been at a fast food location for two months (The person with 4 years experience quit, the guy who’d been there a year went on vacation for over a month despite having two weeks vacation time, so yeah he didn’t get to come back.) and I was NOT as good as either of them were at speed or efficiency. There are a lot of hidden bits of technique you only get from muscle memory or advice from the more experienced folks, and some don’t come up every day.

      I also disagree intensely that there’s any merit to having a job that doesn’t pay a living wage. The job won’t be that much less lousy or always hiring, and it IS nice to have jobs willing to take on ex-cons, new students, and folks who need experience — but it’s also important that even those jobs don’t leave folks choosing between food or the electrical bill.

      1. tangerineRose*

        “You’ll be pretty much as good as you’ll ever be a month in” I also disagree with this. I worked fast food, at the counter and in drive-thru, and experience helped.

  21. Not Australian*

    OP#5, I’m joining the chorus of those who admire CJ Cregg in ‘The West Wing’ and have no other associations with the name. I think you’ll find that it’s generally considered to be an empowering name.

    Interestingly, nobody ever asked CJ in ‘The West Wing’ why she went by initials instead of her full name. I always assumed that she just didn’t *like* being called ‘Claudia Jean’ (I hated my own real names and managed to get rid of one of them when I was old enough; the ship had pretty much sailed/sunk on the other) but it could also have been that she found the gender ambiguity useful in written communication at an earlier stage of her career.

  22. Axel*

    Re: #2, it’s not so much why people they keep getting rid of people and more why anyone who had any options would stay.

    I’m counting down the days before I move for post-graduate school and can leave my customer service (regional chain coffee shop) job for good after five years doing this sort of work. Ive been at my current store for three years and I’m now our second most senior employee. On our staff of fifteen, four of us have been here over a year.

    Employee retention in my industry comes down to two things in my experience, barring the normal reasons people leave jobs (moving, school, family, etc): in the minority there are people who thought they wouldn’t have to really do any actual work and then got here and found out it was actually a hard job and went “nope” and dipped as soon as they were subject to actual expectations. The vast, vast majority has been driven out by workplace practices like extremely low pay, unpredictable and chaotic hours (our schedule begins on Wednesdays, it is now Monday and it has not been published for this week, so there are people who work in 48-ish hours who don’t know it yet which makes scheduling any other part of your life impossible) where one week you won’t have enough to survive and the next you’re working every day, zero benefits, and the blatant disregard for us by management and corporate. We’re literally always understaffed and when we attempt to explain that we need more hands on deck we’re shamed for not up selling enough and if we’d been turning a higher profit, we’d be allowed more coverage in labor hours. And then there’s the customers. Ive been screamed at, cursed at, called slurs, threatened, and had things thrown at me. Almost every time, I’ve been deliberately positioned so that the 16 or 17 year old kid I was working with was as shielded from it as possible. And then I had to serve the person with a smile because my boss informed me early on that we’re not allowed to ban anyone.

    The kicker? Even though I hate my job and have been driven nearly to the breaking point by it more times than I can count, I love my work. I find dignity and joy and fulfillment in doing something to serve people, even if it’s just making lattes. I like watching my regulars graduate high school and go to college, watching their kids grow up, chatting with the old folks who remember who’s in school for what and bring us lovely Christmas cards. But I’ve been driven out of work I actually, sincerely love and feel is valuable work – if nothing else I can be kind to someone and talk to them like a person – by dehumanizing, degrading, intolerable conditions.

    It’s not just our workplaces, it’s customer behavior, because ultimately neither our bosses nor our customers see us as *actually* human. We’re means to an end and we’re treated accordingly and no one ever does or says a thing. We’re set dressing. Just on this website the other day we were spoke about as if we couldn’t possibly be present – someone commented on a letter saying they doubted many readers were retail or service industry workers and it was jarring to read given there was no basis for this conclusion provided at all.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      Up-selling: I actively seek out business that don’t try to do this. In some sectors it is hard to find any.

      1. Jay*

        Co-sign. There’s a clothing retailer I like and only shop online because the upselling in the store is relentless.

    2. C (um, a different one...)*

      I’ve worked retail off and on since I was 16, and yes to all of this. While I would absolutely leave if I could, since my passion and other experience is in creative and design, the only things I actively dislike about my job are the pay, chaotic scheduling (great term), and being seen as less-than-human by a wide swath of the public. And, if I’m being honest, the other two wouldn’t bother me as much if I was paid more.

    3. Whiskey on the rocks*

      Yes to all of this. I’m leaving grocery (next week!) after 10 years. I actually love my work. I am super proud of my team. We pulled off some incredible stuff over the last 18 months.

      But now that we are no longer “heroes” (which I found demeaning to start with), all the ways the company does not value us are apparent at a level I don’t personally find acceptable or livable anymore. As you say, I love connecting with regulars and witnessing their lives. But other customers have been fine with screaming, cussing, name calling, and threatening us, and I just can’t look those people in the face anymore and be pleasant, knowing this is how they think they can treat us. This has, in fact, been a career for me (and yes I also have an education, thanks for asking). This isn’t, in most cases, a high school or starter job, because we don’t hire under 18. I’m not stupid or less than because I work in a service job. But what it comes down to now is the parts that used to make the hard stuff worthwhile now just don’t. And I’m not saying I’m irreplaceable, but to corporate, good luck managing this transition after I leave and three quarters of remaining management have left behind me. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

    4. D3*

      It’s remarkably hard to get fired from these kinds of jobs. My college student has worked for several places while in school and at one place people can no-call-no-show up to 15 times before losing their job. At another place a coworker just stopped showing up for shifts and it was six weeks before the manager stopped putting them on the schedule. Got to the point where my kid just planned on working at least one of those shifts every week because they kept calling in a panic “Johnny didn’t show again! can you cover?”

      1. Axel*

        Yes absolutely this. My company makes it EXTREMELY hard to fire people so the longest retained are frequently problem employees who enjoy the leeway to do basically whatever! I had a coworker at the first location of this chain I worked at who was evidently under the impression that I was sent by the devil to persecute her – her assessment, she told me this – and once followed me across the store yelling at me. We were pulled out onto the back porch by the assistant manager who let this girl yell at me – I think she was maybe 22, 23, I was 19 at the time – for several minutes including informing me how badly she wanted to hurt me whenever she saw me, then sent her back inside. AGM told me that she knew it wasn’t my fault but “only one of you is capable of understanding reason and it’s not her”. This coworker was clearly experiencing some serious mental health issues but concern for her mental health came second to concern for my active safety, because the store did absolutely nothing at all to prevent her from acting like this, and she was allowed to just keep doing whatever she wanted because we were too understaffed to fire anyone, never mind the policies that make it so hard to fire.

        That case is really extreme obviously but it’s just one of a dozen at least stories of coworkers I had who pulled whatever they wanted and couldn’t be kept in check because the policies were designed to make it hard to fire people. It’s not that these places are causing turnover on purpose at all.

  23. Jopestus*

    #4 These questions and the need to even specify always strike me in a weird way. I would be wary to even apply to places that feel the need to mention that everyone is allowed to be themselves in the workplace, since of course they should, and my experience tells me that things easily “go weird” and the focus is not in professional mannerism, but the traits of people and in glorifying those traits. It leads to “valuing” people more “because they are gay”, which is not a good thing either. It might not be that and my experience is of course limited to people i have met, but that how it seems.

    Then again, we are not living in the ideal world. There are people who find problems with traits of their coworkers even if they are not directly related to their job, which i suspect is the thing causing the need to specify in the first place.

    This whole topic is a glorious mess. Sorry for going a bit off topic, i left this one here mainly to get more viewpoints, since of course i can only have mine.

    1. singlemaltgirl*

      it’s more about culture imho. if this is their culture and they wish to preserve it, i think it’s good to be upfront about that, to be clear about that. competence and skills and attitude are one thing. when i’m recruiting and hiring, i spend a lot of time focusing on ‘fit’, too. my org is relatively small and collaborative where everyone ‘pitches in’. there isn’t room for thinking you’re better or too ‘good’ for doing something you think is beneath you. not everyone likes that kind of environment nor would they ‘fit’ in that kind of environment.

      frankly, i wish more people would be honest about their toxic cultures so that people could steer away from them altogether. as someone who spends time vetting future employers just as vigorously as employers sometimes vet their candidates, i can tell you culture matters. i want to know. i’m a person of colour, i’m a woman. and i usually an interviewing for senior exec roles. culture really matters to me.

    2. Susan Calvin*

      This isn’t about necessarily wanting the ideal candidate to *be* a minority though. It really makes a difference that this is about a leadership role – if you’re ‘only’ hiring individual contributors, the onus is on them to fit into the culture. With someone who really has the position to set the tone of an organization, that’s a lot less true, and imho it makes sense to be really explicit about any bits of culture or idiosyncrasies of your org that you want to declare off limits for change. Whether that’s a dress code allowing for spoonie-friendly sweatpants and blatant gender nonconformity, keeping the office kitchen on second floor kosher, or just a strong commitment to pizza Fridays is kinda secondary.

      1. Jopestus*

        You are correct and i did not, at least mean to, imply that they would prefer candidates to be a minority. They say they just want someone who is okay with a diverse crowd and treat people fairly. I just find the need to even specify that they are tolerant odd, since at least i literally do not care what other people are like as person, as long as they do their job and are not ill meaning.

        The “tone of an organization” you mentioned is true though. It might be seen in the same light as you said. I will give it some thought and i thank you for bringing it up. Now that i think about it, i am a “work is work, free-time is free-time” type person and i might have some serious problems if my workplace would have those mandatory-voluntary events outside the clock.

        1. Jopestus*

          Which, in turn leads to me avoiding workplaces that go heavy on “teambuilding events” and such. Thanks Susan, i think i learned something today.

          1. Susan Calvin*

            Thank you for saying that! For what it’s worth, I’m also eternally leery of places where “bring your whole self to work” blurs into “…so you don’t need a life outside of it” so I get you. Just that within a culture of “I’m just here to work” there’s a lot of wiggle room to make people’s lives easier or harder…

        2. Nona*

          When they said ‘temple’ I assumed it was a religious organisation, and therefore being clear that LGBT+ people were there, welcome and not leaving, would be more important as that’s not necessarily the standard.

          1. Juniper*

            Good catch! Either that, or they’re in Greek antiquities tourism. Yes, I do believe that any time another identity (so religion) may be at odds with the culture, this is important to recognize. Having said that, my understanding is that mainstream Judaism in the U.S. has had quite liberal attitudes on social issues for quite a while, so I don’t know that this would be a particular concern here.

            1. BubbleTea*

              Temple is also a term that could imply Sikhs, Buddhists, Mormons and many other religions, each with varying levels of openness to LGBTQ people, so it is probably an important point to include in recruitment.

            2. Simply the best*

              That is definitely the experience at my temple, especially with regards to queerness. We have multiple queer staff members including one of our rabbis.

          2. Richard Hershberger*

            I took it to mean Reformed Judaism. My understanding is that the diversity described is not astonishing in that context, but neither is it universal. My liberal branch of Lutheranism is much the same, in that regard.

            1. ecnaseener*

              It’s actually just Reform, not Reformed. (Not a Judaism that has been reformed and is now static, but rather a movement that appreciates the need for continuous reform.)

              1. Richard Hershberger*

                I stand corrected. I was influenced by my background in Protestant history, one thread of which is Reformed. But you are correct that this does not transfer.

        3. LTL*

          I just find the need to even specify that they are tolerant odd, since at least i literally do not care what other people are like as person, as long as they do their job and are not ill meaning.

          I mean this in the kindest possible way. Are you sure?

          The issue with prejudice isn’t often someone who makes an active choice to discriminate. It’s the unconscious biases that we have since they are so unquestioningly, subtly, woven into our cultural and societal narratives. In my experience, people who find inclusion efforts difficult to understand because “of course I’m not X-ist, its a given” tend to be woefully unaware just how much internal prejudice they hold. It leads to all these little things that make environments less inclusive that are noticeable to marginalized groups, not so much to people outside those groups unless they make it a point to increase their awareness. It’s why we are now seeing such a *conscious* effort towards inclusion, towards being anti-racist, etc.

          Examples of the “small” things:
          – A man interrupting a woman at a meeting isn’t noticed, a woman interrupting a man is seen to be aggressive and not a team player
          – A black man who’s not smiling is more likely to be seen as aggressive or scary whereas a white man isn’t
          – A black teen doing drugs probably comes from a bad home, a broken family, may be doing other illegal activities, poor, hanging with a bad crowd, etc. A white teen doing drugs (especially if they’re affluent) is just a teenager doing something stupid
          – A white-sounding “familiar” name on a resume looks better than a “foreign” one

          There’s a number of studies done on these micro-aggressions, I highly suggest looking them up. These things aren’t normally done by people who are malicious, rather, by people who don’t really notice what they’re doing.

          I also roll my eyes a bit at diversity talk but that’s more so because I assume it’s just lip service until shown otherwise.

          1. The Wandering Scout*

            This. As a queer person, whenever someone says “I don’t care if you’re” followed by a minority it tends to signal to me that they haven’t experienced marginalisation and/or don’t believe it exists to the level it does. A a pakeha (white) person I honestly do care if someone is BIPOC, especially if they are being hired as part of a workplace, because I value their voices and their experiences which I have not had due to my privilege as a pakeha person.

            I do eyeroll at diversity talk too as it is often just virtue signaling rather than actual effort.

          2. Jopestus*

            I am as sure as i reasonably can be. Which means there is a great chance of me being wrong. I am wrong about a lot of things many times a day.

            Lets reword this. I AIM not to care what other people are like. I am also aware that there is the conscious side and the unconscious side in all of us. We as a species learn by our experiences, let it be occurrences, readings to or listenings to, and we have a strong tendency to notice the patterns, and we tend to act based on those established patterns, no matter if we aware of the fact or not. Like you said: People can be aware of their psychological shortcomings, but still find themselves doing the mistakes all the time anyways. I have no choice but to embrace that fact.

            Considering micro-aggressions, that is a problematic topic. I am genuinely happy that they are noticed and looked upon, but since we are still not living in an ideal world, there are people who are claiming micro-aggression on everything and using it as a label in weaponized way. In a small scale when compared to the problem, as usual in case of side-effects, but still it bothers me.

            Okay, we are getting to topics like human psyche and so on, which interest me so much i seriously risk to start babbling(it seems i already expanded this a bit too much. I am trying to fight this habit). These things are vast and many sided, so it is easier to leave this discussion to places dedicated to it and peace out.

        4. fhqwhgads*

          Finding “the need to even specify that they are tolerant” odd suggests to me you’ve either been very lucky in not experiencing intolerance allllllllllllll over the place, or you’re downplaying how prevalent it is. Ideally, yes, it would be completely unnecessary to state that up front, because the default would be Not A Bigot. Of course, bigots generally don’t think they’re bigots. So in order to get some of them to self-select out, and to make sure you don’t inadvertently bring someone in who wouldn’t treat people they ought to be treated, doing the things AAM suggested is an extremely prudent idea.

    3. Juniper*

      I appreciate this viewpoint and the fact that you voiced it, since it can be a little tricky to discuss. I, too, felt like something was a little off in the framing of it. I think no matter the situation, I fall down pretty hard on the side of work being a professional place. People should be polite, considerate, and supportive of one another and the organization’s mission, full stop. But it makes me feel a little squicky when people talk about their coworkers as being family, extol the friendship aspect, or otherwise lean heavily on non-professional considerations. And these can be anything: a candidate’s alma mater or sorority should mean just as little as their sexual orientation when it comes to recruitment. But like you say, we don’t live in an ideal world, and these kinds of things happen all the time, just usually to the detriment of marginalized groups.
      That’s why I think Alison’s script is a good one — it leaves room for the candidate to emphasize how they have experience with fostering the kind of culture this organization values (and which undoubtedly is part of its success), rather than making it about their own identity or “weirdness” level.

    4. Apples*

      Mm, I think Alison’s script might be too professional to properly convey what the LW was seemingly getting at. If someone asked if I was happy to work with a diverse and inclusive team, I’d say yes, of course. If someone asked whether I was happy to work in a team that considered it very important to let people be their quirky, queer and shabby (whatever that means) selves during work, I’d say the job wasn’t a good fit for me. Not because I’m opposed to those traits in people, but because I like a workplace to lean towards ‘professionalism’.

      1. Juniper*

        I see what you’re saying, but then you likely wouldn’t have been able to answer the question in a satisfactory way for the search committee, right? Alison’s script didn’t ask if you would be happy to work with a diverse team, but your experience with building and fostering an environment where people with marginalized identities could thrive. Frankly, a lot of people wouldn’t have anything concrete to point to here, short of the standard DEA initiatives and a general commitment to equality. For many companies, I wouldn’t see this as a red flag either. But for this workplace it would be important to demonstrate how you have actively promoted this kind of workplace culture in the past.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          I had to struggle to find an example, too! I am an individual contributor and the best I can think of is that I have fought to include images of people who are not white men on internal communications.

          I was lamenting to a German co-worker that it was difficult to find images of non-white conductor hands and female conductor hands for an internal marketing campaign.

          “Americans sure care a lot about that stuff,” she said.

          “It’s pretty clear to me that Germans don’t!” I answered. “Our corporate materials – from Germany – show nothing but middle-aged white men!” (Although that did reflect the reality of the executive corps. :( )

          1. Juniper*

            Same! I’m in a conservative industry, in Scandinavia. It just doesn’t seem to be talked about as much in general, though it’s definitely catching on.

      2. Susan Calvin*

        I’m with you on that, just saying “we’re very diverse” is really too unspecific (and if you get into the realm of accommodating disability or neuro-divergence, a mismatch of competing needs can become a problem very quickly).

        However, you also might want to try and come of with more specific language than ‘professional’ for what you’re looking for. Definitions of professionalism that require successfully hiding the fact that you’re queer or disabled are how we, as society, got to the place where we need to have this discussions, so it’s not exactly a neutral term in this context.

        1. The Wandering Scout*

          I love this comment Susan! The word ‘professional’ always makes me a little uncomfortable because it too often reflects something directly opposed to who I am.
          I was really luck when I was hired to my current position (admin in private healthcare) – I interviewed over Zoom with dark green hair, and when I met my boss in person on my first day I did ask if it was fine if I continued to have it coloured this way. She explained that they were hiring a person, not a robot, and if I had green hair then they were going to have a green-haired admin.

      3. PT*

        I was struggling with the neurodivergence question in particular. I have managed and worked with many neurodivergent people. However, none of them were affluent enough to have been able to seek out a formal diagnosis. We simply had to figure out how they worked best through trial and error.

        That showed a lack of awareness of the privilege in their workplace. Many people are neurodivergent and all they know is they’re “bad” at something, because they can’t afford to get tested to figure out why.

      4. ecnaseener*

        Seeing as this is a temple, it’s not going to be your standard professional workplace. The temple staff are presumably also constituents, so it’s not the typical coworker dynamic. But I do see what you mean – maybe a script needs to emphasize “part of this job is supporting and celebrating all of our constituents as they are,” not just treating them fairly etc.

        1. Simply the best*

          Just want to point out that that’s not a guarantee. In my experience many temples and other similar organizations won’t hire from within their congregation or constituency because of how messy that can end up.

          1. Metadata minion*

            That’s been my experience as well. Some of our staff tend not to be Jewish at all because then, hey, they don’t have to spend the most holy day of their religious calendar trying to get the sound system to work ;-)

      5. generic employee*

        “Professionalism” is an interesting virtue to appeal here. It’s often considered to be “unprofessional” to mention thst one is in a same-sex relationship but perfectly professional to mention one’s heterosexual marriage. It’s often considered to be “unprofessional” for Black women to not chemically straighten our hair, which involves expense and discomfort, but White women can wear their hair as it grows from their heads. And so on.

      6. DataSci*

        And you think being queer is intrinsically unprofessional? What does ‘diverse and inclusive’ mean to you, then, that white women are welcome so long as they’re sufficiently feminine?

    5. Beth*

      To me, LW4 sounds like they’re trying to convey that they know their culture is unusual, that they actually deeply value that and find it very important to maintain, and that they really want to find someone for this role who will also fit in that culture, value it, and work to maintain it. As someone who values adhering to professional mannerisms above creating a work environment where people can bring their own quirks to the table, you probably wouldn’t be the right fit for this position! If you were wary to apply, that’s actually a marker of success.

      I will say—I’ve never in my life been in an environment, outside of explicitly gay community spaces, where people are genuinely valued more “because they are gay.” I would hazard a guess that the same is true for most marginalized communities; we do sometimes get held up as this symbol of “ooh, look how diverse and progressive we are at this company!” but that’s not the same thing as actually being valued. I have, on the other hand, definitely seen and been in a lot of spaces where an abstract version of ‘professionalism’ that bought in unquestioningly to societal power structures was valued extremely highly. The effect of that is generally that there’s no space for, say, a trans person, or a person with ADHD, or a fat person, or a person with kinky hair, or so many other people, to even function in that space, much less thrive. I actually see a lot fewer red flags in how OP describes their culture than I do in many descriptions of ‘professional mannerisms’.

      1. The Wandering Scout*

        Your comment made my day because I hate the word professional – because I am trans/non-binary, have ADHD, am fat, and have green hair. I am your example haha!

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      When you’re looking for a manager, and you want to preserve the existing feel of the department, you probably need to be more explicit about specific items than you would be when interviewing an individual contributor.

      I think that, in this case, you have to ask candidates questions such as: “You would be leading a very diverse group. Can you tell me a bit about the make up of the departments you’ve managed in the past?” The response to this question can be very telling. I’ve know people who think they are open-minded who would easily disqualify themselves at this point by saying “I’ve only managed groups of normal people.”

      There’s also nothing wrong with saying: “This is a very quirky group but we value that because it leads to creative thinking and friendly debates that make all of our projects better ” or something similar. I managed a very quirky group and part of the interview process was putting each of the final candidates in work area to introduce them to the existing staff. I’d introduce a work topic where I knew at least two people disagreed…and then I’d step away for a couple of minutes. The person I hired for the job was the person gleefully took part in the technical debate. The others said something like “Those people are weirdly…passionate.” At least one person pulled out of the running.

    7. tamarack and fireweed*

      To be a little blunt, if your take on this is “It leads to “valuing” people more “because they are gay”, which is not a good thing either. It might not be that and my experience is of course limited to people i have met, but that how it seems,” then I think either your experience is too limited or your values are just not compatible, and either way you’d not be good in that role as things stand. So it’s probably good you wouldn’t apply.

      We really don’t have a problem with queer people being valued too much, especially not in Christian clerical workplaces.

    8. MCMonkeybean*

      To be totally honest, if you can’t understand how pretty large demographics of people are quite often *not* allowed to be themselves at work and that they have probably worked pretty hard to create a culture where they are, then you are probably not the candidate that they are looking for anyway.

  24. square round*

    Letter 2#

    In my country there are way less immigrants due to Covid, and immigrants used to make up the bulk of min wage food service jobs. That’s where the staff went.

    1. WS*

      Australia? Yes. But at least here there’s a minimum wage and you don’t rely on employers for healthcare. Shitty practices abound but it’s been very interesting to see which industries are suddenly crying out for staff while there’s no easily exploitable international students around… (fast food chains not so much, other restaurants definitely)

    2. Stephen!*

      I live in a small city, and one of the food service places here was in the news, complaining about all the “lazy” people who don’t want to work. While glossing over the fact that they don’t offer any type of PTO until after a year, so if you got sick in a global pandemic due to their inadequate safety precautions, you’d be SOL. And as it is a small city and they are notorious for their awful worker treatment, they’d been actively recruiting refugees, as people fleeing other countries would not know the conditions beforehand.

  25. Francesca to Frankie*

    #5 – I’ve done it (and put gender neutral pro pins in my signature to boot) and the hardest part was remembering to use the right name when answering the phone to clients.

    People change their names when they get married, and many workplaces are more trans friendly now than they were, so all the infrastructure should exist for you to change your first without issue.

    If your experience is anything like mine, expect some awkward well-intentioned but invasive questions about why you’re doing it.

    1. t-vex*

      Semi-related: When I was in college I had 3 different part-time jobs where I had to answer the phone. I used to pick up and freeze for a moment while I tried to recall where I was. Habits are hard to break.

  26. pcake*

    No. 2 – all the people I’ve known, and some quite well, who worked in fast food and usually in retail were treated awfully. Someone quite close to me worked for a large high-end department store chain fairly recently, and they were typical in that they threatened to fire her if she took a day off. She had been working 2 weeks without a day off at the time, and they kept her daily hours so low that she was making terrible money, and they made her come in at random hours so she couldn’t schedule a second part-time job.

    This is very typical of fast food and retail – pay them so little they can’t afford even a 1-room apartment, make sure the hours are too low to pay benefits, then schedule them so they can’t get a second job. Bury them under more and more work and often pointless rules. Treat them poorly in general including yelling at them, making insane demands, sexual harassment is common, and write them up if they’re 5 minutes late because the bus was running late, and they can’t afford a car.

    There’s more, but I know so many people – friends in college, current friends, kids of friends – this has happened to, and on occasion, have heard the bad treatment myself. I’ve heard managers go off on people I didn’t know in fast food and retail, and often for stupid things, but hey – anyone makes an occasional mistake, and besides, these bad managers could have at least spoken in a normal talking voice and pulled the employees off the floor to protect their dignity before berating loudly them for something so minor it isn’t worth even mentioning.

    1. Generic Name*

      Yeah, I really don’t get why people are surprised or confused that people would rather stay home for pay versus working a job where they were being abused for low pay and no benefits.

  27. Myrin*

    #2, I work part-time as a shelf stocker at a drugstore and your question made me take some time to really, really think about this.

    And the conclusion I’ve arrived at is that it comes down to higher-ups not realising – and I’m still not sure whether that not realising is wilful or not; I actually have observations supporting either of the two – that it’s infinitely more valuable – both for the inner workings of the store and for customer relationships – to have competent people who really know what they’re doing, even if they’re a bit more expensive because of their seniority and skillset, than to have a new person who has to learn everything from the start again every four weeks. It’s monetary value vs. human value, basically.
    I’m not in the US so some of the problems Alison and other commenters have brought up are not an issue here because of legal mandates but the overall phenomenon is still very, very similar and I think that what I’ve said above is the main reason for it.

    (A bit of an aside that got longer than my actual answer to OP’s question of “Why does it seem like a revolving door for a constant influx of new people is the preferred practice over retaining experienced employees who actually know what they’re doing?”:
    I first wanted to list numerous problems we have or had (like a wimpy boss or a terrible second-in-command nobody did anything about) but then I realised that none of those are unique to the retail environment.

    Another observation I’ve made – and that might be country-specific – is that I see both a lot of turnover but also not. By which I mean that there’s usually a somewhat steady stream of old workers going and new ones coming but there’s also always a more or less big core group of people who stay the same throughout all of it. The changing people are usually students who only need something for a few months to begin with, mothers who want to work just a few hours when their children are young and then get back into their regular profession once they’re old enough, and people who plain don’t work out. There are stores which cycle through the core group faster than others but when I really think about it, our somewhat-high-end drugstore has only retained more of the longtermers than the grocery store next door because we have about three times as many employees.

    Also, these positions are very visible and observable by the outside public eye so it might well be that people just take note of the turnovers more than they would with any random company where only the 15 people working there realise that there are two revolving-door-positions which change their occupant every few months. Doesn’t mean that looked at through a field-perspective, retail doesn’t have higher turnover overall, but I definitely think it’s also more readily observant in a way that tends to stick with people.)

  28. IrishEm*

    To OP2 re: revolving door retail/food retailers. Not sure if it’s the same in the USA but in Ireland a lot of protections for employees hit after the 3 month mark and many retailers bring in new people, train them up over a day or so and then get rid of them on the 12 week mark so they don’t have to account for the legal workplace protections. I experienced this firsthand and found out that it’s rife in retail here after being let go out of nowhere.

    1. pcake*

      In the U.S., there’s little to no protection for low-paid workers at any time. There are some laws, but no enforcement and little to no way to prove one’s claims. The few who do take legal action find it can take months or years to get things straightened out, during which time one is out of a job.

    2. Grace*

      When I waitressed as a teenager, I knew a lot of people who worked for the same cafe as me – we all got dropped (stopped being scheduled rather than an official firing – it was very casual cash-in-hand employment) shortly before our 18th birthdays so they wouldn’t have to pay an increased minimum wage. I’ve heard of places doing the same for 20-year-olds and 23-year-olds for those wage brackets as well.

  29. c-store worker*

    People don’t stay in fast food or retail jobs because the pay is low for work that isn’t actually all that easy, with the added non-bonus of having to deal with abusive or just plain awful attitudes from customers.

    I work at a convenience store. I and my coworkers are simultaneously cashiers, cleaning/janitorial staff (including bathrooms), food service workers*, stockers, we make sure the outside is clean in terms of trash swept up/gas pumps look clean/empty trash, and we are responsible for making sure the gas pumps have receipt paper/squeegee buckets have water (and squeegees, they get stolen SO often). Our customer base is mostly chill, so we don’t get lots of yelling or whiny customers like big box stores seem to, but we’ve all had our share of people yelling at us (the most common is people not liking getting carded for tobacco or alcohol).
    (*Note: food service here is not full food service like fast food. what we do have is a mini kitchen for preparing the reheated foods we sell (mostly sandwiches) and a roller grill, and we have to have food service training/food handler card for it.)

    All that…for 11.50 an hour, is what I make. I’ve been here for five years and am only making one dollar above local min wage, which itself was only raised to 10.50 at the beginning of this year.

    Sure, maybe some people get hired and decide they don’t feel like doing work. But I’d bet cash money that, for most of them, low pay is the primary factor, while other factors include bad or nonexistent benefits, bad/unfair management, inconsistent scheduling (to be honest, I think “flexible schedule” in job ads means *the applicant* should have a flexible schedule, not that the company offers one…), and just plain bad customers (both in terms of bad attitudes/entitlement and truly abusive behaviour).

    Alison is right in that it’s not preferable to have a revolving door of employees. Companies usually don’t want that…but companies get as good as they give: they give us low wages and bad management who reward abusive customers, they get employees who don’t stay and aren’t motivated.

    I stay at my job because I need a job, and because it’s close enough (I rely on the bus or rideshares to get me to/from work) to home. Actual food service sounds like a special kind of hell and I’ll never work food service if I can avoid it at all. Big thanks to all the fast and non-fast food service personnel out there.

    I’m personally looking into going back to school so I can get out of retail, or at least to get a skill that makes me less reliant on retail as a primary means of earnings.

    1. ronda*

      my sisters 1st job was at a convenience store.

      The other main problems was robbery. One of my waitress coworkers left a store after that happened to her. (sister didn’t have it happen to her, but found a factory job instead after a short time)

  30. Bookworm*

    #2: Alison’s answer is spot on. I will also add that in my limited experience (first job) that retail is often not invested in developing people unless you get a really good manager and/or customer service is a very high priority. I worked in a position where it was expected that people would leave after a few months (it was inevitable since it was seasonal) and so some of the “harder” aspects of customer service and these public-facing jobs aren’t part of the training. Sometimes you get people need more than what you’re selling and while it’s not part of your job to give them whatever, sometimes it’s a matter of you being the only human contact they have all day (maybe at all) or they just need a little more compassion because they’ve been dealing with people all day too, etc.

    The pay and conditions really don’t reflect that. And the same people who screamed about “re-opening” so they could get haircuts and what not are now upset, thinking unemployment benefits are encouraging people to not work (debunked widely).

  31. NinaBee*

    #1 large brands are notorious for stealing small makers’ ideas/designs and selling the mass market. The small makers, as Allison points out, need money for legal fights that they may not be able to afford. I’ve seen articles about Urban Outfitters and Zara doing this, and not even changing the designs. It’s rife.

    1. librarymouse*

      Came here to suggest the same article! Millions of people died during the pandemic, a lot of them had to be working somewhere. Why are people surprised that they came from the people forced to work with the public during a worldwide pandemic that has lasted for over a year?

  32. Richard Hershberger*

    LW4: The problem I see, even with Alison’s language, is that it can be empty corporate blather. It is like when a job posting says it is a fast-paced environment. I take that as mere filler. A posting about a “diverse” workforce might mean that they tolerate that guy who roots for the wrong football team. I would take to heart Alison’s advice about the interview stage. Be really specific about what you mean.

    1. Phlox*

      Agreeing with Richard. I would add that it might be helpful in the job description to think about what you can show (not corporate-speak tell) about what your organization’s diversity means. Starting with good basics of a job description with nuanced job requirements (not traditions, or preferences), and clearly stated salary range and benefits. You can include requirements about experience or ability to manage your current staff, what skills, cultural compentancies or community contexts does your new ED need to know before starting the job (as opposed to what can be trained/learned on the job)? Certainly do add the stock phrase Alison wrote but you have to back it up with a thoughtful job description that supports your stated values for candidates to more likely trust and be excited by the position. And then as Richard said, followup that up with good interview questions – but folks will self-select in or out of your candidate pool because of how they perceive your organization based on the job description and whether they think they are qualified are not.

  33. Charlotte Lucas*

    Re #5: Am I the only one who immediately thought of Madame C. J. Walker? It definitely didn’t make me think of frat boys, etc.

    I’ve considered going by my initials but never did it. And I’ve known people who have gone by first initial & middle name. I think of it as unremarkable, but it’s your name. Do what feels right for you.

    1. Wisteria*

      I thought of her, too! Fun trivia fact: She adopted the name of her third husband, Charles James Walker.

  34. srs*

    LW 5, I can’t comment on professional impacts of using initials, though I don’t see it hurting your career, but I want to reinforce what some people said about the possibility of pushback from IT and HR when you switch to something other than your full legal name. If that happens, just calmly insist that this is the name you use professionally and you want your email to reflect that. I have a long, very non-western ethnic name that is pronounced differently than it is spelled in English and for my entire life I’ve gone by a short version of the name (the first 2 syllables). Basically everywhere I worked this was a non-issue, except for one place that defaulted to for my email and INSISTED that I could not change to without showing proof of a legal name change. I went back and forth with IT several times before finally emailing them, and ‘cc-ing HR, to say that I had TWO SEPERATE male colleagues in my ~20 person directorate who’s emails were so I did not understand the issue with changing my email to the name I actually use.

    My email address was changed right quick, let me tell you.

    1. PJ*

      I don’t understand what the big deal is with companies insisting people have their ‘legal’ name for their email address. It makes no sense. On your pay cheque and tax forms? Sure. But your email address? Why?

  35. Blarg*

    #4: Some things we do at my org:
    1. Panel interviews – have the staff, in all their queer, neurodivergent, human bodies, get to meet their potential leaders, either virtually or in person. Does the tone change from one on one interviews? Do people feel comfortable thinking the person could be their boss?
    2. If you have any equity statements or similar send them in advance and then ask about it. We ask “[org] is committed to becoming an anti racism and more equitable organization. What stood out for you in the statement we shared? What does being anti racist mean to you?”
    3. Ask about fostering the values that are important to your org, which will be necessary to retain staff
    4. Make it clear that your prior director was beloved. That’s a very different hiring process than “phew, thankful he’s gone” or “it was fine, but was time for her to move on.” They aren’t going to come into an org needing to be built back up or have a course correction.

    And, of course, consider internal candidates!

    1. Susan Calvin*

      These are good! The last point especially is something I hadn’t considered like that, but definitely true!

  36. NewYork*

    #2 — I think more and more jobs in fast food and retail are being made so that workers can be brought up to speed quickly, so turnover is not so painful to management. I think one of the best benefit of these jobs is to encourage workers to go back to school to get needed skills.

    1. pancakes*

      Do you think the biggest reason people don’t go on to higher education is lack of motivation? Rather than, say, the enormous expense of it?

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        And the enormous debt it incurs, and that there’s absolutely zero guarantee of a better job at the end of it….

        1. pancakes*

          That too!

          Also, being paid fairly and treated with dignity shouldn’t be reserved only for people with white collar jobs. (Not that all white collar jobs pay people fairly or treat their workers with dignity, either, of course). Not everyone wants to or is well-suited to working in an office, and they should be paid fairly and treated with dignity whatever they do instead. Including fast food workers.

    2. Nanani*

      Ah yes, treating them badly for their own good.
      If that’s anywhere near true then what’s with all this SHOCK AND HORROR when fast food workers do go get those “skills” they supposedly lack, and a better job?

    3. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I really disagree on that. When you’ve worked a long shift serving food and drink for piss poor money you frequently don’t have the resources to ‘go back to school to get needed skills’.

    4. C (um, a different one...)*

      Entertaining this bs for a second, can you please explain how people are supposed to pay for higher education on wages where they likely are struggling to make rent? And when are they supposed to be at school when these jobs notoriously have unpredictable schedules? Are they supposed to be taking fewer hours and thus making even less? Are you able to guarantee a higher-income career upon graduation?

  37. Dwight Schrute*

    I’ll likely get flack for this but to me the Converse deigns don’t look all that similar. National Park inspired clothing or shoes is not an original idea, and most of them have similar designs and color palettes because they’re based on the same park.

    Also, I know a female CJ and she’s used her initials professionally without issue

    1. Alianora*

      I gotta agree. I’m an artist myself, and matters of plagiarism are important, and I don’t put it past any company to steal ideas. But these designs are so simple, and based on the same source material (which would account for the color order), that it just feels more like a simple coincidence than anything else to me.

      I know some authors don’t read fan ideas for this very reason, because they don’t want to be accused of stealing them if they were already going to use them.

    2. Nella9*

      I agree with you. The Grand Canyon one looks very similar, but it’s not a very unique idea. The others don’t look at all the same.

  38. Gawaine*

    #1 – I may have missed this in someone else’s comments, but “ideas” aren’t a class of intellectual property. In the USA, intellectual property isn’t a natural right, it’s granted by the Constitution and by international treaty. And IP only has a few specific kinds of property that’s created, that can be stolen. Ideas aren’t one of them.

    Copyrights are protected – if you bring a drawing, and they copy that drawing; if you bring words, and they use those words; if they exactly copy that expression, that’s protected. But it’s explicitly a copyright exception if there’s no other way to express the same idea, because ideas aren’t protected as copyright. A concept of having a shoe based on a national park is like the concept of having a movie about kids going to a special school and learning how to defeat an existential threat while occasionally challenging each other in sporting contests (e.g., Ender’s Game). That idea isn’t owned by anyone.

    Trademarks and service marks are protected – if you’re doing business, and you can prove that someone else uses the trademark or service mark in a way that causes confusion, that’s a problem. But if you have an idea to have a business or a name, and don’t use it, you can’t call it protected.

    Trade secrets are protected within a group of people sharing the secret. Once you share it, it’s not protected.
    Design patents, patents, and geographic appellations are protected, but only because you registered them.

    The reuse of an idea is protected by reputation damage, or academic honesty accusations. It’s protected by contract and labor laws, but only if you’re in a relationship. If you pitch something to someone, and they act in bad faith to use your pitch, you can go after them for fraud, but not for stealing an idea.

    If you want to protect yourself when sharing an idea, you need the other party to have signed a non-disclosure agreement or have some other relationship with you that you can tack onto. Then the offense is that they shared the idea without your help. You need to have some kind of consideration if you want to treat it as a contract. But you don’t get to “own” an idea, so they didn’t have to steal it.

    1. pancakes*

      Copyright and trademark protection aren’t self-enforcing, though. As Alison said in her answer, “The trick, of course, is in proving that they did [infringe], which will take a lawyer and time and money.”

      1. Gawaine*

        I’m not saying they are – I’m saying that neither of them protect ideas. If the interviewee in question brought in a picture and they copied that picture well enough that you could prove it was a derived work, or if they trademarked “Natural Park Shoes” and started selling them, great – but mere ideas aren’t either, and are explicitly not protected by either copyright or trademark. A lawyer can’t help you prove otherwise (unless you’re enough of a pest that they pay you to go away to avoid the nuisance).

        1. pancakes*

          The question isn’t about ideas, though – it’s about particular shoe designs. The person the question is about did submit pictures of her shoe designs to Converse. When people talk about this person’s ideas for shoes, that’s what they’re referring to.

          1. Lilo*

            This issue is that what she’s claiming is similar is a pretty vague idea, not a specific pattern or design. Copyright doesn’t cover ideas or vague color schemes.

            1. pancakes*

              No one disagrees that copyright doesn’t cover ideas, but the person in question did indeed supply the company with specific shoe designs. You can see screenshots of them in any of the several articles about the allegations. Whether any of us think her designs only vaguely suggest national parks or vaguely resemble the shoes the company is selling are separate questions. The company did not deny that she submitted designs in its statement on the matter. What it said is that it had already completed its own work first: “Converse takes our creative work seriously. This concept and design was completed before we received this application. Converse does not share unsolicited portfolios of job applicants across the business.”

              1. Lilo*

                But if what their alleged to have copied is color schemes or ideas, it doesn’t matter what she submitted. Trademarks can be a little broader than copyright (like the YSL red soles), but the sine qua non of trademark is use in commerce which does not occur from mockup designs.

                1. pancakes*

                  I don’t see any particular reason to believe that the would-be intern who is accusing the company of copying her designs is well-versed in the differences between copyright and trademark protection.

  39. Justin*

    CJ does sound like a frat boy but it’s also Allison Janney on the West Wing, so it would probably go over just fine.

  40. Kel*

    #5, don’t overthink it!! If anything maybe it’ll teach people not to make gendered assumptions about people based on their name ;)

  41. Fried Eggs*

    What are the chances this is a marketing ploy? ‘Cause as a Mainer now I kind of want those Acadia converse.

  42. Smitten By Juneau*

    For writer #5, what that pops into my mind when I see ‘CJ’ isn’t a frat boy, but C. J. Craig and C. J. Cherryh.

  43. Xarcady*

    #2 Reasons low wage jobs can’t retain employees:

    *Punitive attendance policies. Usually some form of points for every absence and lateness, resulting in termination when a certain number of points are earned in a specific time period.This is exacerbated by

    *Scheduling. No paid time off for vacation or illness. Schedules change every week. Largely part time jobs that demand availability every hour the store is open. Schedules sometimes posted the day before they start, and sometimes only posted on paper, in the store, not on line.

    This means employees have to beg for every scheduled day off. It makes scheduling even a dentist appointment a struggle, and getting a free day to attend something like a wedding or your final exams a tangle of pleading with your manager who frequently is “forced” to schedule you for the day you need off and then you are “forced” to beg co-workers to take your shifts.

    Many places have policies that you must get a co-worker to cover your shift even if you are sick, or come into work sick. That’s why they had to make provisions in the CARES Act for employers to allow employees to stay home if they caught covid.

    *Dealing with rude customers.

    *Dealing with customers and managers who have completely different expectations of you and your job, and never being able to please everyone.

    *The physical aspects of these jobs. Hours of standing on hard surfaces that cause foot, back and knee pain. Having to life and carry heavy loads. Not being allowed to sit, when there is no real reason cashiers, bank tellers, and others could not sit down to do their jobs.

    *In many cases, being kept after hours to clean, but not getting paid for the time. And numerous other wages violations, such as being made to clock out during slow times but also being forced to wait in the parking lot until it gets busy again to clock in again.

    There’s more, but you get the picture. The wonder is that anyone takes these jobs.

    1. Generic Name*

      Seriously, all of this. I’ve never worked these jobs, but I know that they suck and I’m not remotely surprised no one wants them when the alternative is staying at home. It’s not about work ethic at all, it’s finally having an alternative to being treated like crap.

  44. Anymouse*

    #2 I work in retail and have for a long time, off and on, and currently on. I actually enjoy it for the most part over a lot of the office work I’ve done. But it’s hard work and when there are bad or tough conditions it’s not like the pay, benefits, or hours are reasons to stay.

    Some of the best managers I’ve worked for have been in retail ,I do want to say that.

    There is so much that is outside of our control and the managers for the most part. Decisions are being made so many levels above when you work for a chain. No one at the store level has control over company policies at that level. And a lot of customers don’t understand that.

    It’s physically and emotionally demanding work. Food service even moreso.

    And those are jobs where you go in and you don’t know how you will be treated because that depends on the customers.

    A lot or customers are great but so many aren’t. Especially in 2020 with the pandemic. I had people complain about being asked to stand on social distancing marks…not even for social distancing just to make an organized line. It’s amazing how many people don’t want to line up but want to bunch around and then get upset when we can’t tell who is next.

    The fitting rooms were closed. So that meant a lot of insults and complaints and abuse. A few people threw clothes at my co workers. We had people stripping down and changing on the salesfloor. It’s uncomfortable asking someone to please put their pants back on or not undress their kid in a corner to try on clothes.

    And people don’t understand the supply chain and how it all works.

    The biggest issue though is customers want helpful, knowledgeable, friendly ,experienced staff but they also will say these jobs are starter jobs or if a worker wants better pay or conditions they should get another job. So they have high expectations but but devalue the work and treat like it’s meaningless.

    It can’t be both.

    And in order for things to change it has to come from all sides. It needs to come from customers and the public treating these jobs like they are valuable and important and pushing for better pay, expecting companies to treat employees better.

    But it also means that there needs to be peer pressure so that when you see or hear someone devaluing the work or treating retail or food service badly you say something.

    If it’s your friend or relatives or whoever.

    Yes there are workers who are bad at their jobs or treat customers rudely all the time but that is rare. Usually it’s people getting burned out. I have co workers who are on their 8th or 9th day working in a row. Their feet hurt, they are tired, they have had to deal with customers and want a break.

    How many people who don’t work in retail or food service or some kind of direct customer service are regualry insulted, yelled at , mistreated, etc by multiple strangers on a daily basis? Well some aren’t strangers , we have regular customers who come in and everyone wants to avoid them because they are horrible.

    I worked at one store where where regular customer would come in and single out one young girl (just out of high school) and bully her until she cried. After the second time the managers said to call them. And no we couldn’t get that lady banned from the store. We had 2 women in their 60s almost get into a fist fight and our store manager wanted to ban thwm but corporate wouldn’t let it happen.

    I have coworkers who have to deal with men of various ages following them around or staring at them.

    But I’ve also had some great experiences. Customers who make me smile every time I see them. I’ve worked for a different store and got sick and one of the assistant managers bent over backwards to help me.

    I like what I do overall and it’s better than being behind a desk.

    1. Kiitemso*

      >The biggest issue though is customers want helpful, knowledgeable, friendly ,experienced staff but they also will say these jobs are starter jobs or if a worker wants better pay or conditions they should get another job. So they have high expectations but but devalue the work and treat like it’s meaningless.

      This is so true!

      Recently a big department store in my area was in financial issues, and a journalist interviewed old staff and current staff to find out what they thought. A big reason for the issues was declining sales because customers who loved the department store for their knowledgeable staff were turning away from the place, because a lot of that staff had left because new management that came in a few years ago didn’t care about their expertise and put a lot of restrictions on how they did sales. They also stopped training the new staff extensively so when a new person came on, they had to learn on the job and by asking some of the older staff. When the Unique Selling Point of excellent staff was taken away, all that is left was expensive stuff. You can buy the expensive online so that’s what people did.

  45. Question*

    #2 I see a lot of posts referencing horrible working conditions and treatment if employees. I could add a lot regarding trying to manage and run a business that is ever changing depending on the city and a host of other factors, but instead I will ask this question instead.
    If you believe all restaurants and retailers mistreat, underpay, harass, and fire at random their employees why are you supporting the business? Why not boycott all restaurants and retailers for months or a year until it changes? And how much are you willing to pay for a sandwich to change the current conditions?

    1. Nanani*

      Firstly, bold of you to assume everyone here is some sort of scab while workers are striking for higher wages.
      Second, systemic problems are not solved by individual boycotts. Employers who treat people like pond scum need to be mandated into doing otherwise. While the political battle is being fought, it’s not EVIL!!!!one for someone who works a different shitty job to get a fast food burger. Nice attempt at copying the Bigoil playbook though.

      Plus it’s completely fake economics that paying a living wage will make sandwiches unaffordable. See: Literally any country with both a living wage and a mcdonalds.

    2. pancakes*

      I haven’t seen anyone saying that all restaurants and retailers across the board are terrible employers. To the contrary, many commenters have talked about places they worked that they appreciated for not being terrible.

      Even if many people were making that assertion, though, it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect people to simply stop buying food or retail products in protest until conditions improve. People don’t buy food they haven’t cooked themselves to make a statement, for example, but because they don’t always have the time or energy to make it themselves. People don’t buy clothes and shoes for their kids to make a statement about supporting retailers, for another example, but because the kids have outgrown their old ones. Etc.

    3. Beth*

      This 100% is what the “there is no such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism” quote is about. People buy things—prepared food, clothes, groceries, home goods, whatever—because they need them. When a specific company is known for being unusually shitty, above and beyond the rest, a lot of people DO boycott them! Chick-fil-a, Hobby Lobby, Walmart, Amazon…all of these, and plenty of other known-to-be-terrible places, have a chunk of the population refusing to go to them at any time. (Which, the fact that they’re all still doing well is maybe something to consider when suggesting individual boycotts as a solution to these issues.)

      But when the entire industry is generally treating their employees poorly, individual consumers really don’t have much ability to impact that. You need to get groceries from somewhere. You need to replace clothes eventually. If you’re hungry and far from home, you need to get prepared food. It is what it is. If we want to change systemic problems across whole industries, we need systemic solutions.

    4. Generic Name*

      The funny thing is that the price of a sandwich doesn’t have to increase if workers are paid more because the executives are making such obscene amounts of money that they could afford to pay better wages by not having a 7th mansion.

    5. turquoisecow*

      1. There are a few businesses that I personally boycott and discourage others from shopping at. They’re doing fantastic in terms of profits and have not changed their working conditions.

      2. If Horrible Retailer starts to lose customers and profits, they’re not likely to make life better for their front line workers in response. If anything, the pressure on them to increase sales will increase even more, some will get laid off, and the rest will be even more overworked. Eventually if the business closes, they’ll get laid off and have no income and be forced to find work at another, probably equally horrible retailer. How has my boycott helped them?

      3. I still need things. Thankfully I’m not in a position where what I need is only available through detested companies, but some people have no choice but to shop at Objectionable Retailer because the next closest option is 100 miles away or twice as expensive. And every company has some objectionable practices, so if I refuse to shop at Company A because they pay a low wage and I also refuse to shop at their competitor, Company B, because of some other objectionable practices, I’m left with very few places to get what I need.

      I’m not saying that people shouldn’t refuse to shop at places that treat their workers like crap, but good luck finding enough places that don’t, and also don’t expect it to make anyone’s life better. There are ways to effect changes, but individual boycotts aren’t it.

    6. Colette*

      Frankly, I don’t have the time or energy to investigate every company (and their suppliers) before I make a purchase. Very few people do.

      But I think your last question is a decoy. A sandwich will cost whatever it costs. As a consumer, I can decide whether I’m willing to pay for it or not – and if not, I won’t buy it. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

      But businesses are terrified that they’ll cut into their own profits; they’d rather treat their employees poorly than miss out on some money, which is why solutions have to come from government, not individuals.

    7. Axel*

      This is remarkably insensitive framing given the entire phrasing of this question seems to be addressed to people who don’t work at these places when the vast majority of anyone commenting here on this post about it are current or former industry workers.

      Jobs are hard to get especially if you don’t have connections in a lot of situations – for example I’ve been in school the entire time I’ve worked customer service and while all of my pre-law classmates were interning or summering with their parents’ firms or the city because their uncle is on the chamber of commerce or whatever, I, the child of a freelance artist and a construction worker with one high school diploma between the two of them, made coffee. It’s not like we’re swimming in options and the places with the least ethical conditions and most terrible pay are often the ones that are the easiest and laxest about hiring.

      As to purchasing – putting aside for the moment the assumption that in order to criticize bad practices in business you first must become an expert in navigating business ethics and choosing “good” places to buy from, we just don’t have the money. Especially for the people who actually WORK at these places, we can’t afford to only shop at the kind of places that tend to be rigorous about these things, because were paid poverty wages by the places you’re criticizing us from shopping at.

      Besides – a lot of companies do really manipulative and skilled marketing. The coffee chain I work at bills itself as a community, somewhere supportive and positive and conscious about the environment and its impact. We do a charity sale every year and all our beans are rainforest alliance certified! Which is great! Except it tricks people into believing we aren’t being worked into the ground in unreasonable conditions and abused by customers and fellow staff on the daily. Even if you’re looking, you might not see it.

  46. Nanani*

    #2 – the answer is in the question.
    They’re low wage jobs. People leave them for… higher wages.
    Or for perks, whether a company provided benefit or something personal like working with a friend or more convenient commute.

    When it pays the least it can legal pay, OF COURSE nobody sticks around.

    1. Gilmore67*

      Exactly. Those jobs have never been known to pay well or have good benefits.

      I say work those jobs to get experience in working with the public. Get job exp. Get extra money while in college or high school….. and set your goals HIGHER….. as it relates to more money, better benefits and so on.

      Most of those jobs it is expected that there is a high turn around. It is just the nature of those jobs.

      Work your way to other types of jobs, educate your way to other jobs. Whatever it takes to get getter pay and so on.

  47. Worldwalker*

    With regard to stealing ideas:

    It’s not the idea; it’s the execution. They don’t *need* your idea (for any value of “they”) — ideas fall out of the sky. It’s the work of developing it into an actual product (story, movie, game, whatever) that’s important. Shakespeare didn’t have unique ideas — his plays were mostly just reworkings of other popular plays at the time, or of course history. It was his execution of those ideas that made the difference.

    I could, in the next hour, write down 100 ideas for what I do. In another hour, I could winnow that down to 10 worth developing. And then I’d throw them away, because I have a huge backlog of projects based on ideas that I’ve come up with; I don’t need more. I need more time, more customers, more caffeine … but I’ve already got more than enough ideas. And that’s true of anyone in any creative job. They’ve got no trouble coming up with ideas. They’ve got more than enough already; that’s what being creative is all about. It’s doing something with them that’s important.

    I’m a tiny software company in a small industry. I’ve had people come up to me at conventions and say “I’ve got this great idea. How about I tell you the idea, and you write the program, and we split the money?” They don’t like it when I reply “Better: How about you *keep* the idea, write the program yourself, and get all the money?” The same thing happens to authors, game developers, you name it. All they have is an idea (and it’s frequently a very vague idea) — but they don’t want to do any of the heavy lifting. In my snarkier thoughts, I suspect it’s the only idea they’ve ever had, so they think it’s really special.

    Also: Ideas are not copyrightable. (though some might be patentable) Only the implementation — the story you write from “a man fights a monster” — is copyrightable.

    1. Generic Name*

      Interesting how “ideas people” seem to think their ideas are so awesome and must be worth a ton of money, yet don’t want to do the actual work of implementing those ideas.

      1. Worldwalker*

        Isn’t it, though?

        My friends in the computer game industry tell me there’s a whole legion of people who propose ideas and expect that they’ll be given jobs where they do nothing but suggest ideas, which the entire remainder of the company then develops. And they get horribly upset when they’re told “we might have an entry-level job in QA”.

        Ideas are the easy part. I should be finishing up an (overdue) article right now, not reading AAM. The idea was simple. Writing this article has been like pulling teeth. My own teeth.

  48. Gender Neutral = Assumed Male*

    LW #5, my Mom, who has recently retired, did this for most of her professional life working in a very male dominated industry. She has a gender neutral name and just avoided using any pronouns herself. This lead to the intended effect of the person on the other end thinking her a man. By doing this, it avoided them asking to talk to a man who could answer their questions ‘better’. When she was the expert that answers customers more difficult questions.

    I think she would find it rather depressing that the next generation is still needing to do this in order to be listened to. Though not surprised since there would be some people that once they found out would ask who actually answered their difficult question since it was obliviously not ‘the woman’.

    Just get use to when meeting someone in person to have to do the “oh, yeah my name is gender neutral lots of people make that mistake” conversations since it is bad form to admit that, yes the point is for them to assume guy.

  49. mskyle*

    For LW5 – I’m a feminine-presenting (if sometimes scruffy) woman with a name that is generally perceived as male (although I’ve known a handful of other women with the name). I am currently in a male-dominated profession (software developer) and before that I was in a heavily female-dominated one (librarian).

    I can’t really point to any times it definitely helped me in a job search or professionally, although I think it’s possible that there were subtle things that I didn’t notice, or that I might have gotten interviews because the search committee thought I was male (especially in librarianship, where male librarians are rare and exotic). My name has made things weird on occasion when a colleague at another campus who I’ve only interacted with over email realizes they’ve been misgendering me (mostly in their own head or to other people – no one uses your pronouns in an email *to you*, so it’s hard to notice or correct this!), or when the search committee is visibly surprised that I’m a woman, and there was this one guy who worked at another campus who always re-introduced himself to me every time we met, which I think was because he couldn’t make the connection between Kyle the guy he emailed and this woman he saw when he visited my branch. Even my wedding photographer was awkward about this (and a bit disappointed, I think that we weren’t her first same-sex wedding). None of this is particularly embarrassing for *me* – I’m used to it and don’t care a bit – but it is sometimes embarrassing to the other person, and then I feel like I have to make them feel OK about getting my gender wrong, lest it have a negative impact on our working relationship.

    Anyway, as a result I actually go out of my way to try to make my gender clear to people who I’m likely to interact with in person *before* we meet – I put “Ms” in front of my name, put my pronouns in my profile/signature/whatever, but it just does not sink in. I don’t go out of my way to make it clear on my resume, though, so presumably people do assume I’m male during the initial screening process. (I also think my name reads as a bit younger than I actually am, and especially given that I got a late-ish start in my current career I don’t try to set people right on that at all.)

  50. #WearAllTheHats*

    I am non-binary but use variable pronouns, she/her or they/them. Two years ago I stopped going by my [hated] legal name and started using my initials: CJ. I’ve scaled in duties and pay and have transitioned most of my life to using CJ. People assume I’m a dude. I’m not but I don’t care either way. I also changed my email/Google login at the corporate domain level but kept the old one as an alias so email doesn’t get lost. It will be annoying AF to correct people for 6-8 months but that’s all part of a full stop name transition.

    I say do it. It’s your life, your name, your career. If people think CJ is unprofessional: I’ve got a nice, pointy middle finger they can spin on.

    1. Cj*

      I’ve posted here as Cj for quite some time, and now I’m wondering if people perceive me as male or female. I can’t remember if I’ve ever mentioned my gender.

      1. Dwight Schrute*

        The only CJ I know irl is female so for some reason it’s stuck in my brain as a female name now, but I initially thought male before I actually met her. Could be similar for other people!

  51. "Alexandra"*

    LW #5 – a bit of a counterpoint to some of the other comments! I’m someone with a feminine name that is very commonly shortened to a more androgynous nickname (think “Alex” from “Alexandra”) and I work in a male dominated field.

    I used to go by the “Alex” version but, truthfully, the amount of times I had to deal with someone’s shock at discovering I am (gasp!) a woman! after only communicating over email got really annoying, and I’ve since made the switch to using my full name all the time.

    If the motivating factor behind going to initials is to face less sexism, well… The sexism was much more apparent for me when I had the androgynous name! I’m sure it still happens but it’s less in my face.

  52. Amaranth*

    LW#3, take your sick leave! Your benefits are part of your compensation. My concern is, if you’ve always made up your time, does your manager have contingency plans to cover your work when you are out, or are you going to be stressing about tasks piling up? It might be worth a talk with management to make sure you won’t come back to twice the workload.

  53. HereKittyKitty*

    OP#4, I applied at a domestic violence nonprofit last year and when I went through the interview process the questions themselves were good screeners for filtering out not just bigots, but also people that may just be very uniformed on how race, gender, sexual orientation, poverty and disability intersect with domestic violence. In that role you definitely wouldn’t have wanted to hire people who thought “well why don’t they just leave,” but people who were really well-versed in the complexities of the work. You can probably use diversity buzzwords in the job description, but I would focus on recruiter screening questions and also hiring questions to really sus-out who might be a good fit.

  54. HereKittyKitty*

    OP 5, I guess it would depend on what type of bylines you were trying to get. I’ve always written under my legal, feminine name and haven’t had any issues in-regards to work. However, there may be industries that are still heavily sexist where it may be of benefit to obscure your name. I would say ultimately it’s up to you!

    I will say I prefer keeping my legal name in the byline because it’s just easier to have everything consistent for me: my samples match my resume, etc. And I don’t have to explain why my names are different, which I personally would find tedious. I have seen some creative writers make a differentiation between their “day-job” writing and their “creative writing” before, because they don’t necessarily want their employer googling for samples and finding personal work, but again, I’ve just kept everything under one name. If my employer finds a personal essay about domestic violence from me and a sample about the best llama groomers of 2015, so be it is my attitude.

  55. Owler*

    For #5: several of my French/French Canadian friends have prénoms composés—basically, two first names (usually hyphenated)—and go by their initials. So Marie-Andre goes by MA, and Amélie-Pierre goes by A-P. It’s a hassle when you start a job and want your email correspondence and other forms to use your preferred initials, but once you’re past that hurdle, it’s not a big deal.

  56. twocents*

    #5: I have a co-worker that has a feminine first name, a masculine middle name, and goes by the middle name. Other than being asked once (that I’ve ever heard), “hey what’s up with your given name being a masculine middle name?” the name choice has had no effect on her, certainly not career-wise (corporate legal). I agree with the above commenters that how much this name change impacts you is going to be very industry and location specific, and don’t be surprised if the answer is not at all.

    1. twocents*

      And just to add: my coworker is cisgender, very feminine, just hates her first name. Her first name is basically what you would think a stereotypical old grandma character to have. Both very feminine and would make you think she’s 80 at the same time.

  57. Susana*

    Frat boy? I hear “CJ,” and I immediately think “CJ Craig, the fictional WH press secretary in The West Wing.

    I love it. Traditionally, only men have gone by their initials. Why shouldn’t women?

    1. Former Employee*

      Yes! That’s who I thought of, too.

      For anyone not familiar with the show, CJ was played by Allison Janney, so definitely female.

      I’ve never known a “CJ” IRL.

    2. MCMonkeybean*

      Yes for sure. I think it is sufficiently gender-neutral, but the first person I think of is definitely CJ Craig as well, and then the second person I would think of is DJ Tanner (obviously not the same but extremely similar so that’s where my mind goes) and those are both women so my mind definitely does not go to frat boy.

  58. Abby cats*

    Stealing ideas from creatives is so pervasive that it has a name: brewdogging, based on the notorious brewery that does it as an interview SOP.

  59. Tara*

    Eugh, the wording on question 4 would make me, a lesbian, actively turned off applying somewhere. It comes across as so cringe, LGBT people aren’t shiny novelty items for you to show off, even if you are in the community. Just treat people like people.

  60. Acon*

    #5 – first thing I thought of was PJ Harvey, who is 100% Boss/0% Frat Boy. Go for it!

    1. Jyn’Leeviyah the Red*

      I thought immediately of CJ Cregg from “The West Wing,” and I am here for it!

  61. Mmmmmmmmmm*

    #1) is it possible that the internship paperwork had some legalese in it that gave converse the designs? I could 100% see them slipping that in, and hoping that nobody notices.

  62. Ele4phant*

    Final LW – I have a gender neutral name that I appreciate for the reasons you are mentioning.

    HOWEVER, within the last few years my organization has been promoting the use of pronouns in our email signatures, as a way to promote inclusion. It’s not required but there have been multiple reminders and explanations of why one might want to do it.

    And…I…feel…conflicted. While I support anyone regardless of what their gender identity is and will happily use whatever pronouns they are most comfortable with, I personally don’t want to make my gender an aspect of my work persona, and resent getting pushed to. I realize I’m already in a unique position as most cis people have gendered names, and as soon as anyone meets me or talks to me on the phone they assume I’m female.

    But still, I don’t want to preemptively announce my gender in a professional setting. I just don’t.

  63. Raida*

    #5 one of my friends is Cheryl, and she goes by CJ. her socials use CJ, her work email address uses CJ, most people that aren’t related to her call her CJ.
    One of my managers at work deliberately chose initials for his son’s first and middle name so he’d have an easy nickname option – CJ. couldn’t tell you either of his names because CJ is used so much.

    For me, it’s only got a gendered feeling because we’re more likely to hear guys use nicknames than girls that are like this, and the ‘frat boy’ part comes from nicknames when you’re drunk and boisterous. It’s not actually ‘a boys name’ at all. And plenty of female artists and writers have used initials for the reasons you want

    The question for me is, do you want to be addressed a CJ? If your signature block has CJ Doe, you should expect that people think you’re telling them that is how you wanna be addressed – same as Bradley or Brad, we use what the person’s signing off with to know how they want to be addressed.

  64. X-Man*

    Another big thing about #2: the customers. Retail jobs are in a nut shell jobs where you sign on to get abused by the general public who see you as lesser than them. That combined with low pay, bad managment and uncaring corporate offices makes these jobs extraordinarily unappealing long term.

  65. morethantired*

    #5 – my best friend’s legal name is a common nickname, think Nicki as opposed to Nicole. About 10 years ago she decided to start going by “Nicole” at work because she felt it sounded more professional. It’s never been an issue, and the only time anyone gets confused is if one of her coworkers meets me and I slip and refer to her as “Nicki” and they say “who?’ because they’ve never heard anyone call her anything but “Nicole.” I just apologize and say I’ve known her since high school and have always called her that, because it’s true.

  66. Tupac Coachella*

    OP 5: I literally worked with a woman who switched her name to from a more gendered full name (think “Carrie Jane”) to CJ while we worked together. IIRC, it was what most people in her personal life called her and she felt more like herself using it at work. Government job, very typical office environment with a range of ages and personal characteristics, political affiliations, etc. No one batted an eye. The only issue was the typical adjustment period of switching our brains from “Carrie Jane/Carrie” to CJ. I didn’t hear a thing about negative or even neutral associations with the name-my guess is that the people you asked thought about it because you brought it up, and may have just accepted it without even thinking of the “frat boy” association if they hadn’t been asked to dig a little deeper.

  67. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    #2 – I was talking about this subject over the weekend. IMO, a big part of it has to do with scheduling-on-demand; they’ve applied ultra-lean supply chain philosophy to labor, and rank-and-file employees have no idea on a week to week basis what their schedules are going to be. Which means that planning for child care, gig jobs, etc. just goes out the window.

    If managers get smarter about ways to use extra hands during slow periods on get-ahead tasks, in order to even out the demand swings, they’ll be able to offer jobs that are more attractive because they have less scheduling volatility.

  68. Cooper*

    I want to get “the queers aren’t leaving and you must meet the weirdos where they are” embroidered on a pillow, or perhaps something I can hang by my front door. That’s a wonderful phrase.

  69. IL JimP*

    I know I’m late to this thread but CJ is probably fine, my favorite show The West Wing had a character named CJ that was the press secretary so I probably wouldn’t bat an eye lol

  70. TurtlesAllTheWayDown*

    Most fast food places have gotten their training down to less than 40 hours. Unlike a lot of white collar office positions where even experienced people will take months to get up to full contribution, the average McDonald’s worker stays 4 months, so the less time invested in training and the more production you can get from them in that time, the better. Of course, it leads to a cycle of them leaving at 4 months on average, but it doesn’t cost you that much extra to just hire and train a new employee, oh well.

    1. Two-Time College Dropout*

      I hear figures like this and I wonder how accurate they are.

      Every McJob I’ve ever had was mostly long-term employees who’d been there for years… but I guess all it takes is a few people who bail on the job after a few days/weeks (once a new employee sneaked out the back door a few hours into his first shift and we never saw him again!) to make the “average” artificially low.

  71. Theo*

    I’ll be honest, I’ve been rolling my eyes at the Converse issue for a week now; I work in journal publishing, and the number of times someone has sent us a screamingly furious email about “YOU REJECTED MY PAPER IN JANUARY AND THEN SOMETHING ON THE SAME TOPIC WAS PUBLISHED IN MAY, THIEF!!!!” when the published article was submitted, uh, a literal year before the rejected one is unbelievable. People are simply unable to conceive that they might not be the first or only one to come up with something. It’s not unusual for our articles to stretch a year and a half from submission to print, and it can be longer. In any creative field, ideas are in development hell a long time; years maybe. Is it possible Converse stole it? Sure. Is it equally or indeed more likely that it was already in progress? Absolutely. But there’s no indication in any coverage I’ve seen that people even admit that this kind of thing happens — the “Converse stole it!!!!!” explanation is so much more ~sensational~.

  72. Les Cargot*

    #5: I knew a lady who was a newspaper reporter back in the day when the field was almost exclusively male. Her first and middle names were unambiguously female. She signed her stories with her first initial, her mother’s maiden name which is a perfectly good male first/middle name as her own middle name, and her last name, so her published name looked like (for instance) R. Luke Kenobi instead of Rose Leia Kenobi.

    A young lady at an old job was setting up her first apartment and contacted the local phone company (still part of the old Bell System at the time) to order phone service. The very kind older lady at the phone company advised her to have her name listed with just her first initial and last name, so that bad actors would not see that she was female and make nasty prank calls to her. She took this advice, and after the next phone book came out (for any young ‘uns in the audience, phone books carried listed phone numbers and the names and addresses of the subscribers) she started getting junk mail addressed to “Mr. J. Smith” when she was really “Miss Joanna Smith”. We had a good laugh when she brought some samples into the office.

    And IRL, I know three CJs, one male, two female. It seems to be a popular set of initials.

  73. SmileAndNod*

    I vote for including “We’re varying levels of quirky, shabby, disabled, and neurodivergent” In the position description. Not because I can’t think of anything to more effectively convey that sentiment, but bc I am here for the entertainment and fun that will inevitably ensue.

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