my boss flirts with (and sometimes sleeps with) our vendors — and tells me all about it

A reader writes:

I am hoping for some help here. I’m really not a prude; I am afraid that is the way I might come off. My manager has put me in a weird position. I’m not sure if I’m overthinking things and would appreciate some advice.

Within the past year, I have noticed that my manager has become increasingly narcissistic and inappropriate at work. She has always been a toxic manager, but the company I work for is good. I have been with the company for almost 10 years, and with this manager for almost five. I am a hard worker and they pay me fairly.

My manager tells me too much. A year ago, she confided in me that she is having an affair with a want-to-be vendor, whom my company has since purchased from due to my manager’s perseverance. And I know she has kissed other vendors at work events in the past. She will often attend industry events alone and tells us stories of how she likes to lead them on by allowing them to walk her to her hotel room.

She recently took this same vendor to a sporting event with company tickets. She did not invite anyone from our company to join them. I politely confronted her, explaining that I think this is inappropriate use of company tickets. She offered to get me a ticket by myself — in a different section — to attend the game. I declined. A few days after the game, she told me that it was wrong of me to say that to her and that I “need to remember that she is my superior and deserves my respect.” She essentially gaslighted me, telling me that I am the one in the wrong here.

Then this week, she last-minute invited our team to dinner with a different want-to-be vendor. The entire dinner, she continued to be flirty and made sexual innuendos at this person. I went to dinner to learn about this vendor’s product, not to learn about their inside jokes and how often they text.

We are in an extremely male-dominated industry. I want to be taken seriously as a woman in this business, but I feel like my manager’s actions are affecting how we are viewed.

Is it worth having another conversation asking her to tone down the flirting at work, or is it a lost cause? I know I need to find a new job, but it has been hard in this current climate.

I would not bother asking your boss to tone down the flirting. Based on what you’ve seen so far, it’s unlikely to work … and it’s likely to cause problems for you.

I can imagine a different set of circumstances with a different boss where it might be worthwhile to try. With a boss who wasn’t defensive and with whom you had pretty good rapport, I could imagine saying something like, “I know you’ve got a really friendly relationship with Ralph, but dinner last night was pretty uncomfortable for the rest of us.” Or, “I’m worried we’ll be violating the company’s conflict of interest policy if we push Ralph’s company since you have a relationship with him outside of work.”

In theory, you could say those things here too. But you’ve already tried to broach these issues with your boss and she (a) told you that you were the one who was wrong and (b) suggested you remember that she’s your boss (your “superior” even — ick) and need to respect her. Those are not signs that she’s open to feedback, at least on this. To the contrary, those are signs that she’ll push back hard if you try again and will use her authority in ways that make your life unpleasant.

What you can do, though, is to talk to someone else. Does your HR have a track record of dealing with issues competently? If so, you might consider talking with them about your concerns — not necessarily the flirting on its own (that’s probably not something in their purview) but the conflict of interest if she’s carrying on relationships with vendors/potential vendors and then pressing the company to use their services, as well as the sexual innuendo your team is getting subjected to.

If HR isn’t an option, you might be able to find someone senior to her who you trust to hear what’s going on and act on it appropriately.

But I doubt your boss is going to stop just because you ask her to. It’s going to have to come from someone above her.

{ 339 comments… read them below }

      1. Mommy Shark*

        I realize it’s not a particularly helpful comment, but it’s all I could muster on first blush haha. I am also a woman in a male dominated the industry and this would bug me so much too, because I have to work so hard to be taken seriously.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          So much this. People who behave like this “manager” make it ten times harder for others who superficially look like them to be taken seriously.

          1. Meep*

            This. I have been told I cannot wear a dress otherwise I will look like a secretary and men in my field will assume that (which they have, regardless of what I wear). And at the same time, I believe that because the person who told me that was a like LW’s manager. I only started dressing cute again because it makes me feel confident.

            1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

              As a career admin, I also hate that “looking like a secretary” is a bad thing. Without me, you can’t do your job!!

              1. a tester, not a developer*

                It also has undertones of “…so you don’t have to be polite/listen to what she says”. Like that guy who went to A Very Prestigious University and was upset that they never taught him to be polite to everyone – even the lowly support staff.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Yep, yep, yep.

          Way to play to the stereotype of how women get ahead there boss.

          Then to say “You must respect me.” How about you act in a way worthy of respect????

          1. I've Escaped Cubicle Land*

            Grandma’s motto was “Politeness is mandatory, Respect is earned” And yes this popped straight out of my mouth before I could stop it when a former bad manger demanded I had to respect her simply because she was management.

            1. allathian*

              Your grandma’s my new hero, I agree wholeheartedly with that. Although to be fair, I sometimes fail at politeness…

        3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          THIS^, Mommy Shark! As another woman in a male-dominated industry who went through decades of people assuming indecent behavior just because I existed in the workplace as a woman, having to watch everything I said and did, and having always stood up for other women and shut down multiple conversations of “Oh, so-and-so must’ve slept her way to the top”, to see OP’s boss actively undoing what all of us spent our careers building up (respect and equal treatment for women in the workplace) AND THEN TO TURN AROUND AND TELL OP SHE DESERVES RESPECT! That makes me angry.

          And making OP and their teammates the captive audience at boss’s vendor flirting sessions is just so gross.

        4. Ace in the Hole*

          Agreed. This is awful on three levels:

          1. Skin-crawling unpleasantness from having to be around inappropriate public displays of affection, and listen to discussion of sexual escapades at work. This would bug me even if it was happening between a happily married couple!

          2. Ethically terrible – at BEST she’s playing favorites based on who she’s attracted to, but it’s quite possible she’s pressuring vendors into trading sexual favors for business. Which makes me wonder… does it stop with vendors? Would she do the same to a subordinate at her own company?

          3. She’d be making life harder for me, as another woman in the field, by reinforcing extremely harmful stereotypes. Not only making it harder to be taken seriously, but also raising the chance I get sexually harassed at work since she’s modeling that sort of behavior.

          1. KoiFeeder*

            Yeah, your second point is the vibe I’m getting as well, especially with the comment about leading people on by letting them walk her to her hotel room. This feels more like she’s pressuring people into sex in return for business, and that’s not a good thing whether it’s vendors or subordinates.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            #3B. This sets up her company for a discrimination charge too if the vendor promotes a woman into the sales roe and she drops the vendor. (Or, you know, someone with ethics..)

          3. AKchic*

            All of this. I’ve worked in male-dominated fields in a very male-centric state (hello Alaska). I’ve spent my entire career getting full-body “looks”, getting eye-to-chest staring contests, talked down to, overt flirting/innuendos, the “quid pro quo” suggestive talks with eyebrow wiggle cliches (seriously, it’s like they think they are trying to recreate the harassment videos and don’t care because they aren’t going to get in trouble).

            I’m now at an age where I don’t have to put up with any of it and shut it down. When I was younger? I couldn’t shut it down as easily because we’re an employer-friendly state. At-will employment is so easy to lose. “Not a good fit” and “he said she said” covers so much when the employer has lawyers and the terminated employee has to fight for benefits to feed their family while immediately finding another low-paying job.

          4. Mari*

            Oh good lord yes!

            It’s a WORKPLACE. I don’t care what you do not around your co-workers, but around them, be professional!!

            Look, my parents worked together for, geeze, 34? 36? years. They taught in the same department and there were a whopping 14 professors and three communal offices. My parents ALWAYS insisted on being in different offices – Dad used to say it was good to have an excuse to close the door on each other. Aside from the fact they had the same (not exactly common) last name, you would not know they were married if you saw them at work… They were polite, professional and acted like colleagues. No PDA, no ‘pet names’, hell, they had a rule that the only time they talked about family stuff was if they were at lunch in the faculty lounge or it was a medical situation (my sibling was in the hospital a LOT). I think the most ‘lovey’ they got was ‘see you at home’ or ‘drive safe’.

            At home they were disgustingly cute… My sibling and I were masters of the eye roll and the ‘ick kissing’ face long before we were teens. But at work? Not a chance! I remember one of mom’s office mates emailing me when I was in university to tell me something awful must have happened because my dad was hugging my mom in the hallway (she was right – there has been a death in the family).

          5. Uncertainon*

            I don’t know about point 3- she’s behaving very badly, and according to certain sexist stereotypes (altho maybe reversed?) but it isn’t her fault that sexists extrapolate that to ‘all women behave this way’. Yes, she is encouraging workplace flirting with her, but it’s still on the men if they use her to go ‘well, Woman A says this is ok, why can’t I do the same with you??!!”. She’s in no way being professional here, and may even enforce/encourage terrible ideas of ‘go along to get along’ but if she disappeared, a harasser would just find another excuse.

        5. OhNo*

          Maybe some of the commenters in this thread can help me out, because I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m of the same mind as many of y’all, in that this behavior makes me think “blech” and seems like it could be dragging women in this field down. On the other hand, I try to be sex positive, and if the LW’s boss wants to sleep around with people I think we shouldn’t shame them for having the type of consensual adult fun they want to have.

          Since I’m a guy, though, I feel like I don’t really get to decide where the line is because I’m not affected. So how do y’all navigate that line? Is it a case of “it’s fine until it affects other people”, or is there some other measure that makes sense for these cases?

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            The sleeping around is not the problem. I don’t care who people have sex with, I just don’t want to hear about it at work nor do I want to be even tangentially involved in a potential ethical violation re purchasing decisions. I also find people who invite others to dinner or other events and then spend the whole time making in-jokes that only they get to be quite rude.

          2. Mr. Tumnus*

            I think the issues are:
            1. She may have the right to sleep with anyone, but she doesn’t have the right to make people at work hear about it or somehow party to it. This should be the standard for all the people at work, regardless of gender.
            2. And it’s worse because it’s a boss, so you have a hard time telling them to stop talking about it.
            3. The sleeping with vendors is a huge ethical red flag, again, regardless of gender. This can get this company in so much trouble!

            1. OhNo*

              Ah, this is a really good breakdown of the underlying issues at play. Thanks! This was one of those times where the behavior just seemed Wrong-with-a-capital-W, but I couldn’t really articulate why that would be so.

            2. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

              Exactly-I am a very sex-positive person. Have sex with whoever and however you like so long as everyone is into it. This does not mean I want to hear about it in any way. And that goes double for work/managers.

          3. KoiFeeder*

            Honestly, it doesn’t feel like LW’s boss is “sleeping around” with the vendors because she enjoys sex and everyone’s having a good time. I’m just getting vibes, and I could be very wrong, but it feels like LW’s boss is pressuring the vendors into sexual favors in return for helping them out.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              I thought about it the other way, that the boss pushed the contract through because she was sleeping with the vendor, and wanted to continue doing so.

          4. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

            The sleeping around isn’t a problem (at least, it’s only a problem for her if she has a spouse/partner and it’s not an open relationship)

            What IS a problem is sexualizing her workplace by talking about it to someone who, because of office heirarchy, can’t tell her to STFU without serious repercussions.

            When in doubt, don’t sexualize a situation. You lose nothing.

          5. Tea and Cake*

            LW’s boss is behaving profoundly unprofessional towards their vendors, in front of colleagues, and towards the LW. And there seems to be a consistent pattern.

            This isn’t about being sex positive.

          6. IndustriousLabRat*

            Don’t feel like ‘being a guy’ means you don’t get to think about what boundaries mean around this topic. You may be affected by something like this someday, even just as the verbal recipient of Things You Didn’t Want To Know About Your Colleagues. It’s pretty common.

            Here’s where I have the issue with the line between sex-positive and downright creepy: CONSENT. Including others in ones sexcapades, and yes this can mean leaking tittilating details into their cringing ears, requires consent. This group of coworkers has not consented to their inclusion; and, due to the power imbalance of manager/managees, true full consent, un-tinged by the Boss Problem Dynamic, is impossible.

            1. OhNo*

              I was thinking of ‘being a guy’ throwing off my perspective more in terms of this specific situation, where part of the problem was articulated as the behavior affecting how women are seen in the field generally. While I’ve dealt with that in regards to other aspects of my identity, it’s been a minute since I’ve had to worry about my behavior affecting the perception of my entire gender.

              Thanks for articulating that point about consent! I hadn’t thought about it from that perspective, but framing it in that way makes a lot of sense to me. It sounds like I might have had the start of the right general idea, where it becomes a problem once it starts affecting other people in any way – including making them hear things they don’t want to hear about their colleagues sexual escapades.

          7. Seeking Second Childhood*

            There’s a phrase in my corporate ethics training: “appearance of impropriety.” That’s when someone seems to be getting kickbacks or other special favors from a vendor in exchange for business.
            We don’t do business with companies owned by exec’s spouse or family members for example.

          8. Becca Rosselin-Metadi*

            Is that true when it’s a vendor who wants the company’s business though? There are whiffs of “sleep or flirt with me or I won’t even consider doing business with you” which is not cool. I mean, she could probably find lots of other people to have sex with other than people who want her company’s business.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Yeah, I caught those too. The fact that she seems to be solely targeting vendors with this (and solely subjecting her subordinates to her sexually inappropriate talk) suggests to me that the power differential is part of the appeal, and maybe a significant part of the appeal.

          9. AKchic*

            Her sex life isn’t the issue. What’s the issue is she is using her sex life to influence who is getting vendor contracts (which may make these vendors think that the only way they can GET a contract is to sleep with her, which is an abuse of her power), she is openly flirting and being sexual in front of her employees, and she is TELLING her employees about her sexual exploits/conquests – all of which create a sexually hostile work environment and open the business up to lawsuits.

          10. LQ*

            So a sex positive version of this would look more like…. My boss hands off a lot of vendor contacts to another manager, she seems to only do this with attractive vendor contacts. My team still gets the same number of vendor’s in the mix for the work we do, it’s just she passes a lot of ones after initial contact to another person. I went and looked for them on social media and I saw some pictures of my boss making out with one of these people. I’ve never hear her talk about them at work, but I think she’s sleeping with these people. What should I do?

            ….nothing. Your boss gets to do whatever they want because, it’s not a conflict of interest, it’s not something that your boss is bringing into the office and it’s not impacting you.

            The conflict of interest with the vendor is a really big deal here, as is the making people hear about it.

            1. learnedthehardway*

              That still might be a conflict of interest, if your boss is in the decision tree about which vendor to use or how pricing will work, or if they have a negative impression of your work, if you don’t use the vendor. At least your manager seems to have some discretion about it and isn’t making it an issue in your workplace, though.

              1. Boof*

                I think what they are saying is that if their manager decided they found a potential vendor attractive and wanted to take a pass at them, to hand them off to another person at the company to deal with on a professional level. On one hand, I agree flirting with anyone who you know through work is iffy at best, and if it’s happening more than once in a blue moon it starts getting into potential harassment territory, on the other hand people are human and in a scenario where two adults who work together on some level realize they do want to pursue a romantic relationship, then yes first making sure to remove any direct command chains / conflict of interest would probably make going for it ok.

            2. OhNo*

              This explanation was really helpful, thanks! It’s interesting to see an example of how this sort of thing could be handled professionally, since I suspect it’s one of those things where you only hear about the people who are doing it “wrong”.

          11. Ace in the Hole*

            Sleeping around is fine. If she were meeting these people at the bar, social groups, etc. it wouldn’t be an issue.

            There are basically two troubling aspects to this behavior:

            1. Someone in a position of power and authority using their position to get sexual favors. This is unethical both because it can be coercive, and because it’s a conflict of interest for the employer.

            2. Making someone else an unwilling participant in their sex life – being sexual/flirtatious in front of them, telling them about sexual experiences, etc. In a social context, if the other person doesn’t want to hear it they can just walk away. At work, they are a captive audience – this could create a very uncomfortable environment for someone which they can’t easily get out of.

            Example of something similar that would be okay: boss only asks out people she will NOT be working with (vendors or otherwise). She’s very clear with them that if they turn her down there’s no hard feelings professionally. They meet up outside of work, and if she talks about it with her coworkers it’s something like “I went out with Mike over the weekend, we had so much fun together!” with no details about the sex.

          12. Wintermute*

            I had the same initial impulse and I had to interrogate it a little, and here’s why I think sex positivity is a red herring here: the key words for sex-positivism are “enthusiastic consent” and “ethical behavior”.

            There’s a lot going on here that is definitely unethical, and could easily be non-consensual. Abusing power dynamics makes you an ass, man or woman. Abusing a position of power makes you an ass. Yeah that makes a lot of men asses, but that doesn’t excuse her behavior.

            And any time that you have power over someone else’s economic circumstances consent becomes fraught very quickly. If a vendor feels he has to put out to get the big sale, which might be money he needs to live, he’s not able to freely say ‘no’. Even if she’s not making an exquisite quid-pro-quo “if you don’t sleep with me I won’t buy from you” arrangement (which would be horrifically unethical) there is always the unspoken potential it will influence her decision. That means that they aren’t able to freely say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, they have to consider there might be consequences and implications. Even if they WOULD want to say ‘yes’ (and that’s far from impossible) there’s still that fact in the back of their head, meaning even if they’re not consciously compromised they’re being unduly influenced. Even if there is superficial consent there’s just too much hanging in the air for it to be free and enthusiastic consent.

            TL:DR? Discounting actual sex work, which is more complicated but not relevant here, sex is only ethical when the only thing exchanged is mutual satisfaction, and there are no material consequences for choosing to say ‘no’ to any given sexual contact at any point in the relationship.

            Also, though it’s a much smaller problem than the questionable consent, employees of a company have an ethical duty to serve their employer’s best interest. She should be looking for the best possible deal and highest quality-for-price available when selecting vendors. Even if we don’t ever intend to allow our personal relationships to impact our business decisions, the human brain is just wired for it. Also, not only is she compromising her objectivity, she is opening herself up to blackmail– spoken or unspoken. It could be directly spoken if a vendor decides they really want a better commission and uses the threat of compromising her to force her to accept higher prices, larger orders or otherwise wasteful terms, or indirect by just treating her less favorably and counting on her not wanting scrutiny.

        6. Le Sigh*

          I want to gently push back on this. OP’s boss is gross and awful and she isn’t doing anyone favors, but if women aren’t being taken seriously in a traditionally male-dominated industry, it’s not because of a few women sleeping around. It’s because the industry is permeated with, even built on, misogynistic attitudes. If other men (heck, anyone with internalized misogyny) decide all other or most other women can’t be taken seriously because of this, it’s not because of one woman. It’s probably because they’re surrounded by a culture that assumes women shouldn’t be taken seriously unless they prove they’re not like that. Otherwise, why not just assume OP’s boss (or any other woman who exhibits crap behavior) is just a crap person?

          1. Cdn Acct*

            I agree, boss’s behaviour is bad for many reasons, but people who use her as an excuse to be sexist are still sexist. Marginalized groups’ members should not all have to be model citizens for the group as a whole to get respect from the larger group.

          2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

            Eh, I don’t know that I agree. I’m gonna be more pissed at the guy with the gun, yes, but I’m also going to be pretty pissed at the woman who willingly gave him bullets, yknow?

              1. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                A woman who helps men think less of women isn’t as bad as the men, but she’s still pretty f*cking bad for giving them even more tools to do so in the first place.

                1. Le Sigh*

                  Going to disagree. Her behavior is crap and shouldn’t be tolerated, on that we agree. And if I were OP or the boss’s company, I’d be furious with her for her behavior for a whole host of reasons — for putting OP and others in a very unfair, unprofessional, and uncomfortable position (one that strikes me as sexual harassment), for putting the company at risk in all kinds of ways, etc.

                  But that’s all about her specific behavior and the direct consequences of it. Being mad at the boss for giving men more tools to be crappy to women is just shifting blame and absolving those men (or anyone who thinks similarly) of some of the responsibility for creating and sustaining that culture. If men are assumed to be competent professionals unless and until they demonstrate otherwise, everyone else should automatically be granted that same baseline. Each of us is responsible for assuming that baseline and checking our biases and behaviors, rather than choosing to use those tools as an excuse to treat other women and people in the industry poorly.

                2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                  Le Sigh — I’m not seeing a single person absolving these men, nor saying that this boss is worse. Seems like you’re reading into something that isn’t there.

                3. Le Sigh*

                  I wasn’t saying anyone was absolving those men or saying the boss is worse. Here’s what I am saying:
                  1) Based on the letter as written, the boss is entirely responsible for her own crap behavior.
                  2) Each of us is responsible for choosing to use the boss’s behavior as a weapon against other women in the industry and make them suffer for it. Did the boss provide ammo? Perhaps — but it’s only ammo if other people choose to use it against other women. Each of us gets to make the choice about whether to use that as a weapon against others or to refuse to uphold a system that systematically oppresses others. The boss is responsible for her behavior; the rest of us are responsible for using it as ammo or not. If I choose to use it against others, you could say that’s partly the bosses fault, but that would be bs; it’s up to me to see the problem for what it is and choose not to do that. That’s entirely on me and to partly blame the boss for giving me that ammo is to shift some of the blame for something I’d be responsible for.

                  To EventPlannerGal’s comment, people who are sexist will use any excuse to weaponize it. It may not even be conscious. It isn’t about any one person’s bad behavior or type of behavior — it’s about leveraging anything as ammo to uphold a system we’re comfortable with.

                4. EventPlannerGal*

                  @Le Sigh – just want to say that I really appreciate your comments on this and agree entirely!

                5. Boof*

                  I’m going to also have to say ideally a woman behaving badly is a problem because she is behaving badly, not because of her impact on women everywhere. I guess if it’s some high visibility “First [underrepresented group] doing [the thing]”, there is some extra pressure to “represent the group well” but that sort of pressure is an unfortunate byproduct of society, not the individual’s fault if they don’t/can’t, and not usually worth policing each other about.

            1. EventPlannerGal*

              My issue with this analogy is that pretty much anything women do can be transformed into a “bullet” by a misogynist. Woman sleeps around, she’s a slut. Woman sleeps with no-one? She’s a prude. Woman has average sex life? She’s boring. Woman hangs out with guys platonically? She’s mannish or a try-hard. Etcetera etcetera forever and ever amen. So even when an individual woman is doing something that I find objectionable I don’t usually think the whole “you’re giving misogynists ammo” line is very helpful, because it kind of implies that if women didn’t do whatever that thing is then that would somehow reduce misogyny and historically I don’t think that has actually been the case. They will use literally anything we do as ammo, in my view, so you may as well just judge this woman’s actions for what they are – unethical, inappropriate and unprofessional – rather than for letting the side down.

              1. Le Sigh*

                +1 to all of this. it’s what i was trying to articulate above and this better reflects what I was trying to say.

              2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                So even when an individual woman is doing something that I find objectionable I don’t usually think the whole “you’re giving misogynists ammo” line is very helpful, because it kind of implies that if women didn’t do whatever that thing is then that would somehow reduce misogyny and historically I don’t think that has actually been the case.

                I couldn’t possibly disagree more. If you’re giving misogynists metaphorical bullets, you are making an already awful problem even worse.

                1. EventPlannerGal*

                  I’m sorry but I just really don’t understand the thinking here. Your line of thinking seems to imply that if women just stop doing bad things then the problem of misogyny will be reduced. I don’t think that works, based on, like, human history. So I guess we will have to disagree.

                2. Hogsmeade AirBNB*

                  Well then you’re reading things into what I’m writing, because that’s absurd and I don’t believe that at all.

                3. ActuallyTrans*

                  If you’re giving misogynists metaphorical bullets, you are making an already awful problem even worse.

                  Ah, we’re blaming women for misogyny now. Such feminism wow.

            2. marvin the paranoid android*

              Hmm, I really disagree with this! I just don’t think that’s the way stereotypes tend to work. The stereotype is the justification for discrimination–generally the discrimination comes first. Any woman who in any way feeds into the stereotype could be used as fodder to back it up, or really the stereotype can keep on existing even with no basis in reality. Or it could just go ahead and get replaced by a different stereotype. For anyone who’s invested in maintaining the status quo, it doesn’t really matter.

            3. Wintermute*

              Anyone who has some basic life experience knows that some people– men and women– do shitty things, this should not come as a shock to them. So I can’t see one woman engaging in unethical sexual behavior would be some lightbulb moment that makes people go “aha! Women can be abusive, too! I must tell the entire world my amazing discovery!”

              IF they were going to be sexist, they’d be sexist whether or not this woman existed, she’s not changing hearts and minds here. Is it a data point that some people may use? I mean, I guess but I don’t really think that there’s hordes of people that would be sexist if only they saw a few examples of women behaving badly.

              Either they are or they are not.

          3. IndustriousLabRat*

            THANK YOU for saying this so eloquently. I was trying to figure out how to put into words my discomfort in the “making the rest of us look bad by playing into a stereotype” discussion that has been going on around this letter. Exchange “women” for “any other underrepresented group in a given industry or whatever” and you start to see how icky that line of logic is. We come back to the basic fact that it is NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY of any one individual in a group to model what is “good behavior”, and coming down on a “misbehaving” member of the group for “making the rest of us look bad” seriously undermines the effort to bring the REAL issue (which you’ve spelled out perfectly for this letter) to the forefront.

            Let’s focus on LW’s Boss here for the blatant ethics violations, which would be the same if gender roles were switched, and the nonconsensual oversharing, which obviously coming from a male boss would also be inappropriate.

            If the boss were male, I highly doubt that anyone would be saying “oh he’s just reinforcing stereotypes and making us all look bad!” regardless as to the fact that sleeping with business contacts is a sport [of dubious merits, obvs] as old as business itself, and doesn’t require being one specific gender to play at a pro level!

          4. learnedthehardway*

            While you’re right on a theoretical level, I had a hiring manager decide that “we need a guy in this role” because of a prior inappropriately-behaving woman (who was upsetting the spouses of the male clients she was doing business development with). I had to push back on that one and insist that the standard should be “behaves professionally at all times”, and “involves all business partners in the business decisions” (turns out women can be sexist too, sadly).

            So it SHOULDN’T make things worse, but it sure serves as an excuse for women being treated less fairly.

            1. Le Sigh*

              “So it SHOULDN’T make things worse, but it sure serves as an excuse for women being treated less fairly.”

              Oh practically speaking, this is 100% the case. I will not, for a second, question that because I’ve seen it plenty, as have you. But your situation is actually a great illustration of the discussion. People (like your hiring manager, cause yes women do this, too) will use any excuse to do what she did and pushing back the way you did is exactly what needs to happen. It doesn’t always mean you’ll win, but it’s important to do it where and whenever possible (recognizing that sometimes it isn’t!).

              But I also think that’s why the theoretical conversation is important. Having these conversations allows us to challenge and interrogate our ways of thinking and our biases. Overtime, those conversations can improve the culture around us and hopefully give us the tools to push back when we can and need to — and eventually create practical change.

        7. MCMonkeyBean*

          It’s at least a little helpful in that I hope it helps OP know they should not at ALL be worried about coming across as a prude for finding this behavior inappropriate!!! It is highly inappropriate and some of it is full-on unethical and almost certainly violates company conflict of interest policies.

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Every single thing I think of to say in response to this is something that would likely get me banned from the site.

    Okay, this should be safe. OP – if your company doesn’t handle this appropriately after being informed, they are not as great as you think and you need to run away fast.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      The corollary being that if you don’t trust HR or someone senior to her as Alison suggests, you should also run away fast.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        I agree. Companies that do not police this sort of behavior are likely to allow other ethically questionable activity. I hope that your HR is accessible and willing to take action. Also, do you have a Procurement or Vendor Management department? If so, speak with them. They should take firm action, both with your manager and with the vendor(s) with whom she has inappropriate relationships.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          I think this is a good point. Vendors generally don’t get picked in a vaccum. HR, legal, a supervisor above this “manager,” tell them as well as the vendor/procurement person.

          1. Botanist*

            Totally off topic but I read way too fast and saw “Vendors generally don’t get pickled in a vacuum.” And I thought, “hold up now . . .”

              1. Phony Genius*

                If you ever met some of the vendors I’ve dealt with, you’d want to pack them in a vacuum, or at least a pickle jar.

                This whole exchange is reminding me of an old Bloom County comic where a rumor was spreading around like the ole “telephone” game; “Opus is pickled in vats,” “Opus caught rickets from bats,” etc.

              1. R2-beep-boo*

                Canning industry popping in to clarify that you definitely want your pickle containers to have a vacuum. Check the safety button on the lid before you open that jar!

            1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

              Boiling-frog vendors! She’s slowly raising the temp until they come to believe that this is all normal.

        2. EPLawyer*

          Oh yes this. The manager is putting the company in a WORLD OF HURT if it is comes out that vendors are chosen by who is sleeping with this person. Legally, ethically, reputationally.

          If the company is even halfway decent, they don’t want that kind of exposure. And if they don’t mind ….. well as everyone else said — RUN.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

            Oh that reminds me of a director a long time ago – multiple women, me included, complained about how he’d harass and grab women at work. HR did nothing.

            But the instant it was found out that he’d awarded a very valuable contract to a vendor he was sleeping with? He got dropkicked out the door.

          2. SarahKay*

            This, this. this!
            I have literally just completed my annual company code-of-conduct training today and it had a whole section *with examples* on why what this manager is doing is at best unethical, and is likely to be illegal. Actually, the examples in the training were egregious enough that they felt almost cartoonishly-bad….and now here’s a real-life example that is just so much worse.

            OP, if you possibly can then take it to HR, or head of procurement, or even see if your company has a hotline for reporting issues like this.

      2. quill*

        Third point: if your manager gets shifty at you after you take this to HR, assume that HR is not actually handling this with professional discretion.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      The first sentence I typed looked more like PERL code after I finished redacting the swearing…

      Definitely don’t confront your boss directly. I get the distinct impression that she doesn’t care, or sees it as her right to do what she wants and that’ll get ugly fast.

      But definitely raise it higher to management or whoever handles that stuff. She’s not only making her staff feel bad (don’t talk about your sex life to your staff ffs), she’s likely doing severe harm to the company reputation as well.

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    This needs to be stopped, ASAP. If you do work for the government, and this kind of conflict of interest comes out, then your company could be sued by the feds and every other competing vendor. Not to mention the PR disaster. Or your company could get blackballed – or extorted – by other vendors.

    1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Yeah, the only industry I have experience of where this kind of behaviour is not only tolerated but encouraged is the gaming (game developers/publishers) industry. And boy has the backlash been severe recently.

    2. Eether, Either*

      Yup. We receive annual training at my company, which sounds eerily similar to where I work, on this very subject. The action of taking a vendor to a baseball game with company tickets is opening the company to lawsuits, as Alton Brown mentioned. Report her to your legal department or HR department.

      1. Karl Havoc*

        To be fair, I think company tickets for sporting events are generally intended more for business development (e.g., inviting clients and maybe vendors) than for just treating employees. But business development ≠ dating.

          1. CmdrShepard*

            It can and usually is but it is not unheard of for the purchaser to be nice to the vendor in order to work out a better deal. I think it kinda depends on who wants it more.

            Sometimes the vendors are the ones really itching to close the deal, but the company might really want to work with the specific vendor and it trying to get a 1% fee reduction, or extra services etc….

          2. Wintermute*

            lately some companies have been having them trade off who picks up the bill. It’s an– in this specific case hilariously ironic– attempt to reduce the untoward influence that gifts can have on decisionmaking. They don’t want their managers to feel indebted to anyone when awarding contracts.

            It’s not what I’d call common yet but it is becoming more of a thing.

        1. Loulou*

          Yeah, I don’t think taking a vendor to a game is inherently inappropriate at all…it’s that she seems to be doing so for personal rather than business reasons.

          1. dogmom*

            Yeah, my dad worked in an industry where taking clients or potential clients to sporting events with company tickets was extremely common. He frequently took me as his “date,” so I didn’t have to pay for tickets to any sporting event I ever attended until I was well out of college and he retired. So just taking this vendor to a game wouldn’t be that unusual if it weren’t for all the other associated ickiness.

            1. Oodles of Noodles*

              Yep, I’ve gotten to go to many football games with my Dad, whose company has a box for our local team, when the company wasn’t using it for clients and such. In and of itself, a company having box seats/season tickets for business purposes doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, it’s just what OP’s manager is doing with the seats that seems sketchy.

          2. Seeking Second Childhood*

            In many places it will depend upon the cost of tickets. Local minor league game might be 20 bucks and no problem. World Series? Big violation.

      2. Cj*

        That sounds odd to me. My brother in law actually went on a fishing trip to Alaska with one of their vendors. It’s the reverse situation, but obviously for the same reason. The vendor is trying to get in good with BIL company.

    3. Momma Bear*

      Secondarily, I’d want to report it because that covers my own butt if it come to light another way. I would not want to be dragged because I knew and said nothing.

  3. BPT*

    Yeah, didn’t The Office teach us that this isn’t ok when Meredith was sleeping with a supplier for discounts and steak coupons?

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Worse, it seems like the vendors are getting preferential treatment in return for, you know.

        There’s a pun to be made here about “getting x% off” and “getting [buyer] off”.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Heck, Monica got fired for accepting five steaks and an eggplant from a vendor! Without any flirting/sex.

    2. female peter gibbons*

      Sure, Holly the HR rep said it was unethical — then everyone else in the company allowed it anyway – including Holly’s boss. So what did we really learn?!

      1. KoiFeeder*

        Eh, being a chain means that it’s a reliable option for cheap steaks whether you’re in Alaska or Arkansas. It ain’t great, but you know what you’re getting and you don’t have to worry about food poisoning if you get it any way other than well-done.

        The real issue is that everything goes into the same coconut-contaminated oil even if it’s not being fried and then I turn into a different, seafood-centric food chain.

  4. ENFP in Texas*

    There are times I like working at BigCompany in Corporate America… where we have anonymous Ethics and Compliance Issue reporting options. I hope the OP is able to find a resolution.

    1. PivotPivot*

      That’s what I came here to say.

      My company has an anonymous Ethics and Compliance Issues hotline which allows anyone to report shady behavior. I hope you have something similar.

    2. Susie*

      Agreed, but I think this manager would probably grill everyone trying to find out who “snitched” on her or perhaps start retaliating against OP, since OP “dared” to speak to her before.

      This is just so gross. Like I do not want to hear about any of my coworker’s sex lives, especially my manager. Yuck.

      1. LKW*

        Yes, but big companies with good compliance policies also have very good No Retaliation policies in place. So while I agree the boss might go a-huntin’ , the OP merely has to go back to compliance and state that the boss is asking questions and challenging people and then the next step in the investigation starts.

        1. Susie*

          Yes, but written policies do not always protect employees. This manager has terrible judgement and could make OP’s life miserable until/unless OP can prove retaliation.

          1. LKW*

            I think we’re talking about two different points/perspectives. If I’m sitting in Compliance and know there is an ongoing investigation (or closed investigation) and someone says that the focus of said investigation is asking their team members about their actions, involvement, etc – I’m going to cut that off at the knees immediately. I’d have already warned them that they are to take no action, especially no retaliatory actions or any action that could be interpreted as retaliatory. I’m going to warn them that they are not to ask their team if they reported it, if they have thoughts about the issue, anything.

            Again, this is assuming that the company is taking this seriously. If the OP does not believe that the purchasing company walks the walk – my advice would be different.

    3. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I feel the same. No ambiguity. Once a year we have to review a 45 minute lesson on Bribery, Coersion and Unfair Business practices. It does state you cannot promise business to vendors in return for personal favors, nor can you provide personal favors in return for products or business.
      Because apparently this needs spelling out.

      1. Wintermute*

        I mean sure some of it is CYA but I think the training is useful because it covers some of the less-obvious things that could be considered bribery– stuff like personal favors that don’t involve money, bundled services, and other things some people may not think of as inappropriate.

        Our training (just took it myself) also explicitly calls out “no harm done” stuff that would appear to be a win/win like getting airline miles and a better rate for the company by signing up for discount clubs when you pick a certain hotel chain, even though it seems the cost savings would justify your decision regardless, you still can’t take a benefit). It also defines what, exactly, the company considers “de minimis” pleasantries. If I recall it’s a meal while doing legitimate business or training, and non-monetary or cash-substitute gifts for a typical cultural occasion or milestone of a retail value less than 15 dollars, I don’t buy stuff from vendors so I don’t remember the exact amount but there’s also a clause about shared office supplies (branded pens, notepads, USB drives, etc).

    4. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, we have annual conflict of training that explicitly states that this behavior is wrong. Most of us sort of roll our eyes about how obvious that is, but apparently some people do need it to be spelled out for them!

      1. 'Tis Me*

        My husband and I were quite amused that I needed to take “harassment training” but I now feel better able to harass others in the workplace… (“Anti-harassment training” wouldn’t have been significantly less wieldly a title…)

        I also need to do annual compliance training even though I’m not in a position where most of it really applies. But it was nice to note that where we used to have a caveat about there being some countries where bribes were part of the cost of doing business, and that they needed to be tracked, signed off on, reported, etc – we now don’t do that, as well as taking steps to ensure that e.g. We don’t have child labour anywhere in our supply lines. Also annual IT/security training… They tried to make that more fun this year, with an interactive tutorial where you “help” a hardboiled detective investigate and identify various ways people fall for scammers, and what you should do.

        This sort of stuff SHOULD BE basic, eye-rolly stuff.

    5. ThisIsTheHill*

      Right? I’ve had to sit through yearly ethics courses including signing off on any potential personal conflict-of-interest disclosures for more than a decade. This situation would be a perfect example of a highly unethical situation that should be reported to Compliance immediately.

    6. Littorally*

      Same, I was just thinking how much I appreciate the existence of an anonymous ethics hotline in every firm I’ve worked for.

    7. RC Rascal*

      Unfortunately, it doesn’t mean anything, even though you think it does. I have experienced working for a narcissistic, inappropriate manager–similar to OP only the irregularities were more financial and legal compliance issues than sexual ones. The ethics policy did NOTHING to protect the employees reporting the issue and in many cases they complaints weren’t even investigated specifically so the employee could be retaliated against.

      How this actually works is that it is up to the manager/local HR to investigate it. That means if the person causing the problem is a VP or higher; or very, very close to those at the VP level or higher, or very, very close to HR, nothing will come of it and the employee who reports will get crushed.

      There is no legal protection for employees who report Ethics issues except for certain select Whistleblower claims. Do not trust your career to these policies.

      1. LKW*

        That’s a question of your leadership then. I have seen this play out at my company, quietly and competently and people have been given the option to resign or be terminated but they are not permitted to stay. This is for embezzlement, inappropriate relationships & misuse of funds (the last two were the same case). And some of these folks were very senior who brought in a lot of work. It didn’t matter, they crossed lines that meant they could no longer be trusted.

        1. The Starsong Princess*

          Yes, some companies take this stuff seriously. We fired a guy for interviewing at a vendor while he was a decision maker on a large project that vendor was bidding on. The question was who was he working for? That’s why this LW’s company might take it seriously.

      2. Calcium Carbonate Encrusted Duplicate*

        This very much depends on the company.

        — Manager who had to fire their best employee at the insistence of the ethics team for something that I and the three layers of management above me all agreed was a failure to consider appropriate context in investigation

  5. Elizabeth*

    OP you are not a prude to want to not hear about your manager’s sexual exploits, period, and you’re definitely not in the wrong to not want to hear about your manager’s sexual exploits when they are work-related ethical violations! I hope we get an update from you about either this woman being fired or you getting a new job someplace more sane.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      I think there is a huge difference between being a prude and not wanting to hear about somebody’s sex life.

    2. Xantar*

      This isn’t even being a prude. This is an ethics violation, sexual harassment, a hostile work environment, and probably a lot of other things that could make the company liable for a lot of damages.

    3. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Heck, I write incredibly explicit fan fiction and I still have a real ‘ewww’ reaction to hearing about my managers or coworkers or staff’s sex lives. Or my parents.

      (I was created by osmosis. Right mum?)

        1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

          It’s that or the ‘brought to the planet by aliens’ one. Either works.

    4. Anonymous Hippo*

      Exactly. There are two major issues here that any decent HR would jump on. IDK if it actually qualifies, but I would consider being forced to hear about my supervisor’s sex life to be a kind of sexual harassment. Then there is the vendor issue on top of it. This is really bad for the company.

      1. 30 Years in the Biz*

        Yes, that meets the description of sexual harassment. From Nolo Press: “While overt forms of sexual harassment certainly still happen in the workplace, more subtle forms of harassment are on the rise. For example, any of the following actions can be sexual harassment if they happen often enough or are severe enough to make an employee uncomfortable, intimidated, or distracted enough to interfere with their work:

        repeated compliments of an employee’s appearance
        commenting on the attractiveness of others in front of an employee
        discussing one’s sex life in front of an employee
        asking an employee about his or her sex life
        circulating nude photos or photos of women in bikinis or shirtless men in the workplace
        making sexual jokes
        sending sexually suggestive text messages or emails
        leaving unwanted gifts of a sexual or romantic nature
        spreading sexual rumors about an employee, or
        repeated hugs or other unwanted touching (such as a hand on an employee’s back).”

    5. Miss Muffet*

      Not wanting to hear about ANYONE else’s sex life is not being a prude. Also, it’s really ok to be a prude, too. It’s fine for people to want to have things stay private.

    6. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      A prude is someone who cannot handle the fact that sex happens, (it’s “bad” or “dirty”), and therefore wants everybody to pretend it doesn’t. (Storks, anyone?) You are so NOT a prude. It’s completely normal to not want to hear about someone else’s sex life, particularly when you never asked.

    7. A Wall*

      Whenever someone writes into Miss Manners with a situation like this where they say “I’m not a prude” or “how do I talk to them about this without looking like a prude” or etc, she always replies “What’s wrong with being a prude?” Especially if it gets people to stop putting info you don’t want to know in your lap.

  6. Amethystmoon*

    I would be concerned about retaliation from your boss if you report it to HR. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be reported, but it could happen. Do whatever you can to be prepared for that.

    1. Coffee First*

      I agree Amethystmoon and came to comments to say that. She SHOULD report to HR, but in many orgs I have seen, HR’s initial reaction is support the manager. There is no guarantee that her comments to HR will be kept confidential.

    2. anonymous73*

      While we all hear about trash HR departments, if they’re doing their job properly there should be some sort of protection against retaliation.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Key words: should be.

        I’ve been in a particular industry for far too long to believe “should be” anything, unfortunately. And its not gaming.

        1. anonymous73*

          And that’s why I started the sentence with “if they’re doing their job properly”. That’s actually the key phrase here, because there are plenty of HR departments who are NOT doing their job properly.

    3. Aquawoman*

      One thing about this, I know there is protection from retaliation for sexual harassment claims, which this is. And maybe from ethics “whistleblowers” also.

      1. Wintermute*

        It’s also against the rules to commit sexual harassment– clearly workplace norms are not all as it should be here. The issue is you’re not sure if that extends further than your boss and how deep into the structure it goes, which is what makes decisions like this so agonizing.

      1. IndustriousLabRat*

        I agree with this statement. Legal has the interest and standing to cut the nuts-n-bolts of the vendor relations impropriety off with no fanfare as an obvious ethical issue, and then refer it back to HR for resolution of the personnel aspects, with their suggestions already included.

    4. Sparkles McFadden*

      Going to HR can be a risky thing to to for an employee, so documentation is vital. The employee needs to keep a running log and enter every instance with dates, times and people present.

      I was in a similar situation. Past conversation with my boss were fruitless and I knew if I persisted it would just mean trouble for me. I never trusted HR, so I just kept documenting instances that came more and more frequently. Then, one day, my boss decided I was the problem and had me called to HR to be put on the path to termination for unprofessional behavior. I printed out my documents and, when the HR rep asked what I had to say, I dropped the pile of documents on the table and said “Well, what about all of this?” I moved to another department and boss got let go.

      HR doesn’t like it when subordinates approach them with complaints about the boss, but they really hate it when they get blindsided by a bad boss using HR as a cudgel. That is especially true in a situation where there is good documentation and an employee could easily sue.

  7. Snow Globe*

    Check if your company had an ethics hotline. I’m not sure this is a general HR matter as much as it is an ethics situation, since your boss has a clear conflict of interest with these vendors.

    1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

      In this case, either door should work. Ethics officers are often housed with HR, or if independent will coordinate with HR. Competent HRs and Ethics or compliance teams will cross-coordinate and refer.

      Please note the “competent,” it’s doing a lot of work there. But at least that gives OP a couple options.

    2. AnonNurse*

      I came here to say just that! An ethics hotline, anonymous reporting line, compliance holtine, or anything along those lines would be a good place to report this to try to give some measure of protection to the employee.

  8. Hills to Die On*

    I would report it through the whisteblower hotline. It would offer you more protections in case your boss or the company retaliates. I would get your documentation in order too.

  9. Chauncy Gardener*

    Wow. Just when I thought nothing could top the last few whackadoodle situations, along comes this!
    And as a woman who has always been in male dominated industries, I’d like to take LW’s boss (“superior” gag) aside and have a little discussion with her. Thanks, lady.

    1. Hills to Die On*

      I mean, if there are procurement decisions being made based on this. isn’t that a SOX violation? I was once laid off for reporting a SOX violation (my lawyer said I had a good case but I decided it wasn’t worth the energy to pursue it).

        1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

          Wow I’m old. I remember when SOX first came out, and we had to have, either mandatory annual training in it, or take our software through an annual audit process to ensure that it was SOX-compliant, I don’t remember which. And I now realize it was nearly 20 years ago!

          1. Dancing Otter*

            Both, more than likely. My consulting firm had a couple of v.e.r.y good years helping client companies become SOX (also called SarbOx) compliant. Amazing the poor internal controls at even SP100 companies back then. And the excuses presented for why it really wasn’t an issue. Yes, yes, it is, sir. I’ve thankfully forgotten most of the stupidities after so long.

            Being on the client side of a SOX compliance audit is no walk in the park, either. But some of our clients richly deserved to be written up — one place had system users still with valid login credentials five years after they left the company. Of course, there was also the auditor who demanded I *email* him the entire contents of a SQL Server database *as a spreadsheet*.

      1. LKW*

        I though SOX was more about ensuring that financial processes have clear decision points and decision owners. People who signed off on financial decisions can’t hide behind “I didn’t know what I was approving” and the company can’t claim that they don’t know who approved something.

        If a vendor is selected because they are sleeping with the buyer, it’s not necessarily a SOX issue as those financial decisions are still documented. It’s more a compliance issue in that someone was giving favorable treatment to a vendor due to a hidden relationship. The relationship doesn’t need to be sexual for this to be an issue. A person could give a relative a contract without disclosing the relationship and it would fall under the same bucket.

        1. Big 4 Denizen*

          Operation of an ethics and compliance hotline and discussion of investigations sent to the hotline at board meetings can and should be an entity-level control. If you think about it, what if someone reports a financial issue that management is covering up?

        2. Wintermute*

          Exactly. It’s actually not illegal for a privately-held company to show blatant vendor favoritism and use whatever method they want to select vendors. There are no fairness requirements. The issue here is the sexual harassment, and should the vendor wish to pursue it they would have a strong claim for sexual harassment as well. Though in both cases that is a civil matter and a labor law it’s not a regulatory compliance issue except in terms of labor law.

            1. Wintermute*

              First, the FCPA only applies to foreign governmental officials. Bribery of people that are not foreign officials could be considered an anticompetitive practice but not automatically, and the FCPA wouldn’t apply. I don’t see how it would apply here

              Second, the FCPA only applies to things of monetary value. You could try to make an argument that sex counts but if no sex workers are involved, it probably doesn’t.

              Third, it only applies to international commerce, not domestically to the US.

              1. pancakes*

                Yes, I am well acquainted with these basic facts about the FCPA. I mentioned it because I wanted to push back on your overly-broad assertion that blatant vendor favoritism isn’t illegal. In some circumstances it is. There are many, many, many employers in the US that do business multinationally and have to keep up with FCPA record-keeping requirements. There are compliance requirements that are mandatory domestically, and not dependent on active bribery. You don’t need to make such broad claims about the laws around working with vendors to address the letter.

  10. XF1013*

    Honestly asking: Why is using company tickets for a baseball game inappropriate? I get that this particular manager is doing it for romance/flirting and not really for business purposes, but otherwise I don’t understand the problem. Most companies where I’ve worked have had a budget for schmoozing vendors with entertainment expenses like this, including season tickets to sporting events so that seats are always reserved. If someone in management wanted to take a vendor to a baseball game, no one would have objected, and a subordinate questioning the appropriateness of the outing would have been in the wrong.

    1. Pants*

      Compliance policies often note that use of company tickets (and the like) must be used for company-based activities, meaning business is actually discussed. Also, anything over $50 must be declared in order to avoid the appearance of kickbacks. Sounds like kickbacks are what this boss is into though.

    2. Flossie Bobbsey*

      Usually tickets are for wooing clients, not vendors (for whom YOU are the client). Vendors usually entertain their potential clients (i.e., OP’s company), not vice versa. The backward direction of the boss’s ticket use jumped out at me immediately as completely contrary to the purpose of company tickets.

      1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

        Yes, it would have been fine (I mean, not fine, but you know) if the vendor had taken the boss to the game on expenses. The other way round is Really Very Not Fine.

      2. Not Today Satan*

        Would your opinion be the same if the vendor was, for example, an IT vendor who recently finished a major project for the company? Just like employer-employee, it’s not a situation where the client holds all the cards. Sometimes it is worth showing appreciation for valuable service providers.

        1. Non non*

          Yes, I can think of a number of situations where a company gives perks (like game tickets) to vendors. I have seen it done multiple times.

      3. Wintermute*

        That norm is changing, somewhat, because of, ironically, concerns about undue influence. Some companies now trade off with vendors as to who entertains when doing all that ‘relationship maintenance’ stuff with a long-term vendor (though when it’s a newer relationship the vendor almost always pays still in my experience).

        So it might be highly irregular or reasonable, it’s tough to say.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Thank you! Had to scroll very far down for this.

        I know it’s nitpicky, but words have meaning. I see the word gaslighting everywhere now, most recently used by someone who essentially said that disagreeing with her was gaslighting. I think true gaslighting would be trying to manipulate OP into believing that she had purchased the tickets herself or didn’t go to the game at all or something that would really call into question OP’s grasp of reality.

        If I were Queen of Words, this one would be on its way out (along with toxic, which has lost all meaning, and woke, which is almost always used in a way that puts down the person being described.

    3. Julie in Ohio*

      This is actually backwards to me. I know that vendors have that kind of expense account/budget to use when trying to get the customer’s business. I don’t see what kind of benefit (except, eww) the customer could get for schmoozing a vendor.

      1. Not really a Waitress*

        That was my take too. Companies don’t schmooze vendors, vendors schmooze companies. Companies do provide such perks to their employees however.

      2. Anonymous Hippo*

        Sometimes you do need to woo the vendors because there is a limited supply, we have that going on in my industry. So to me that isn’t the issue, and sometimes the tickets are used for random happy events (project complete, etc) or just given away to employees when nobody has a good business use for them. The problem is this manager has displayed they don’t really have the ethical wherewithal to be administering out the company tickets in a proper way.

    4. Valancy Snaith*

      Agreed. I’ve worked at places where this was definitely the norm, for vendors and/or clients, and a subordinate would not have been correct to question it. I’d also suggest that the manager’s interactions were not gaslighting–maybe if she had said “I never asked you to come to the game,” or “we never went to the game, what are you talking about?” or something along those lines, but it isn’t gaslighting to say “you were wrong to question me.” Bad management it may be, but gaslighting ain’t it.

      1. twocents*

        This. It’s a personal pet peeve that people say “I was gaslit!” for any situation in which the other person didn’t immediately agree with them. Lying isn’t gaslighting. Getting facts wrong isn’t gaslighting. Disagreeing isn’t gaslighting. Gaslighting is attempting to manipulate someone into doubting their own sanity. The bar is HIGH.

        It sounds more like the manager just changed the subject in making the conversation about her management than company policy. Jerk-ish and bad management yes. Gaslighting no.

          1. Wintermute*

            this wasn’t even manipulation it was disagreement. If that counts as gaslighting I am not sure what form of communication other than enthusiastic agreement doesn’t count as abusive…

        1. Umiel12*

          Thank you so much for saying this. I’m really starting to feel like I might be getting gaslighted because of how often I see people saying they were getting gaslighted. Why has this become such a popular term lately? I see it all the time, but it used to be a rarely-used term.

          1. Tom*

            Because it sounds all dramatic and makes the person you’re talking about seem like some kind of devious evil mastermind who is out to destroy you rather than just a garden-variety jerk.

        2. Wintermute*

          I saw a post on relationships lately and people were telling a woman that a guy she went on a date with was a gas-lighting, dangerous and probably abusive because he said they “had a nice date and had fun” but she didn’t think it was a nice date at all and she didn’t think it was fun!

          He did not tell her she had fun or even that she looked like she had fun, he did not say anything about her experience at all only his, he did not lie about anything that occurred, he simply expressed the fact that he had fun and enjoyed her company.

          Yes, they were trying to say that having a different subjective experience from her was abusive.

      2. Wintermute*

        yes! thank you!

        This is a hill I will die on because it’s becoming overused to the point of meaninglessness. “Gaslighting” is undermining someone’s perceptions by a concerted effort to alter their perceptions. Merely disagreeing with your subjective opinions IS NOT GASLIGHTING.

        Traditionally gaslighting only applied to PHYSICAL alterations (moving your stuff, destroying things, deleting computer files, etc) but I accept that doesn’t apply anymore.

        But it does require them to deny your perceptions are accurate– disagreeing with your opinions is not abusive! it’s perfectly normal to have disagreements of opinion, and while can be crappy for other reasons but it is not an abuse tactic just to say “I think you are wrong”!

    5. KimberlyR*

      If the company has a policy that the tickets are for the employees and the boss is using one for the vendor, it might be breaking their policy. Thats just a guess but I am assuming the LW has a reason to question it based on her company’s policy.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        Agreed. My ex BF worked for a company that was the biggest sponsor of our city’s minor league baseball team. There was a batch of GA tickets employees could get for free for games, but only a certain number available. There was another batch of tickets (better seats, of course) that were for doling out to clients. I think we used those one time because they had some extra left over at the very end of the day right before the game. In that case, it was approved by his manager because they would have gone unused.

        If the boss is using the tickets in a way that takes away from someone else (especially from employees who might enjoy the perk), that’s definitely not cool. There may be a policy to make sure those tickets go to those that they’re meant for. That’s the situation where I could see the LW speaking up.

    6. Saberise*

      I guess it would depend in part of what the intended purpose is for said tickets. Perhaps in the past they’ve always been used as a reward for job performance for example. If the company has never used them to take out vendors than this manager uses them for a vendor that she’s sleeping with it is much different then if it were done at a company where it’s normal practice.

    7. CBB*

      Part of what makes a situation like this tricky is that considered individually, any single one of her actions might be OK, or overlookable.

      But the overall pattern of her behavior is obviously problematic.

        1. CBB*

          Maybe I work in an unusually sleazy industry, but at my last job my boss, the manager of sales and marketing, dated (and eventually married) one of our customers. No one batted an eye.

          If she made a pattern of dating customers, that would have been a problem. But as a one-time thing, she totally got away with it.

          1. EPLawyer*

            You can do it, you just have to be very open and transparent. Also someone else would have to handle that account and the boss’ boss review anything related to it. To make sure decisions are being made for business not personal reasons.

            The big problem here is that OP’s boss sees nothing wrong, has apparently used her influence to hire a vendor based on non-business reasons and told OP to shut up about it.

          2. Wintermute*

            a customer and a vendor are a little different. Customers have equal power in a corporate relationship in a lot of ways, the company relies on their business. Now it could have been considered improper from a general perspective OR from the other side, because that’s the whole issue here, a customer’s power lies in their ability to pick and choose, a company must compete for their business. When a customer makes overtures to a vendor the vendor, who presumably needs their business, isn’t able to freely say ‘no’ without worrying about the implications and potential consequence… that’s the whole issue here.

    8. I'm A Little Teapot*

      You’re correct, taking a vendor or customer to a baseball game isn’t necessarily a big problem. The issue here is how the manager is using those events.

      Think from the other side. Say you’re a salesperson and you’re trying to get a new customer. Your contact at the potential customer is a woman who is being really flirty, making sexual innuendos, etc. If you want to win the business (ie, your company/job to continue), you’re stuck dealing with her. You may even feel pressured to have sex with her, regardless of what you actually want.

      Done properly, you take a vendor/customer out to a baseball game. You have light conversation about the game, about business, etc. Maybe a bit about how the spouse and kids are doing, but nothing in detal. Nothing really personal. But it helps grow the relationship, maybe you informally chat about new services, etc. Now, there can be inherent problems with this – because if it’s always the same types of people and you’re excluding women, minorities, POC, disabled people, etc then its a form of discrimination. Those people don’t get the opportunity to build relationships, advance their career. But the tone is substantially different from when you’ve got someone determined to heavily flirt/have sex with someone else.

    9. Juniantara*

      Depending on your industry, vendors may be as important a business partner as a customer, so you are correct that taking a vendor to a game in and of itself isn’t necessarily a problem. However, generally speaking these sorts of thing are group outings and the manager isn’t a total skeeze who keeps inappropriately propositioning vendors.

    10. Frank Doyle*

      Yeah, I agree. I see the point about vendors usually wooing clients, but I think even as a client you want to maintain a good relationship with vendors. If the company has season tickets that they have to use anyway, it would actually be more appropriate to take an outside business partner than a member of the company (at least, it would at my previous company, where we NEVER got to go to Phillies games).

      Obviously in this context it’s a moot point since the supervisor is being super inapprops in other ways, but I don’t think that in and of itself it’s an inappropriate thing to do (and she’s not gaslighting the OP in this instance).

    11. Bagpuss*

      as others have said, it’s (mostly) a bit backwards for it to be a vendor who is a guest, normally you’d expect the hospitality to flow the other way.

      It may be a violation of the company policies – OP doesn’t say, but I would mostly expect companies to have policies around this kind of thing.

      Where I work, we have a policy and broadly speaking, you need approval before giving or accepting hospitality or gifts, and have to document why it’s appropriate (We have a minimum, so if a client sends flowers or a box of chocolates when their case finishes, that’s fine, and doesn’t have to be added to the register or approved)

      In this case it sounds as though it may be a misuse of company resources and if she’s only taking one vendor then it may also flag up issues about whether she is following appropriate processes to chose vendors.

      The fact that her response was to offer to get OP a ticket, rather than to clarify why it was appropriate may be a red flag, although it may be that she felt she didn’t owe OP an explanation as OP is more junior.

    12. ENFP in Texas*

      If it was a Client that they were trying to entertain, I think it might not be an issue.

      If it’s a Vendor that they’re having an affair with, that’s not Client Entertainment.

  11. Pants*

    In a previous life, I worked for a company that had a designated “sleep with the vendor” person. Her husband also worked there. It was a weird situation and I was happy to leave.

      1. Pants*

        Not necessarily “endorsed” officially, but there was a reason she was the vendor ambassador, for lack of a better word. Her brother was also part of the VP team (she was a VP, but the company had a ridiculous number of VPs) and he knew what she was doing. Just… ick.

      1. Pants*

        I think you’re right. Vendor / Client — in my current life, the terms mean something entirely different and would technically be switched.* She slept with people to get business for the company. That’s more accurate.

        *My current life job has a lot of off-the-wall titles and terms, but it’s the best company I’ve worked for in at least 5 or 6 lifetimes. I’m more than happy to deal with all the new word salad. (I created an open-source glossary document for new hires.)

    1. EngineerDE*

      I met a woman whose job it was to woo clients for a home building/real estate company. Same thing – it was an open secret. It seemed weird to me, but we just met in passing at an event and mutual friends explained it to me.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Wait, as in “we can’t promise that we’ll build your new home faster, better, cheaper, and where you want it, but you’ll get to nail one of our employees if you choose to go with us”? That’s… quite an unusual incentive.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          To be fair, if that’s the deciding incentive in someone’s choices, I think they deserve what they’re going to end up getting (a bad house).

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      In a WAY previous life, I was the office admin for a small private school, mainly in charge of the school’s only computer and everything related to it. One day, the keyboard broke, and the boss/owner sent me to a small computer-repair shop next door to get it fixed. He stressed that my job would be to get the cost of the repair as low down as possible. I asked how I’d do it if they already had a price list, and this man, who taught elementary-school children and who liked to talk about his morals, said “Well, you are a woman. Figure something out.” I was married and had a kid, and even if that wasn’t the case, I would’ve still had no intention of hinting to the computer shop guys that there might be something physical in it for them from me if they’d charged my boss 8 bucks instead of their going rate of ten. I just added it to my mental list of reasons why I needed to leave that job soon.

      (Boss then went to plan B – the shop gave me a spare keyboard to use while they were fixing ours, and said to come back in a couple of days with the spare and the $10. He told me to “forget” to come back to them. It was a small town. Eventually, to my great happiness, the shop employees and I did cross paths and I did have to go and tell boss that the shop wanted him to pay now.)

    3. Wintermute*

      like, this was her unofficial job? how the hell did that work? When they IDed a potential sleezeball salesman they said “alright, you’re up!” and sent her in? That is BEYOND BIZARRE, that’s just… it’s something from a sexed-up workplace satire show.

      AND WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY GET IT WRONG?! Some guy comes in looking like Leisure Suit Larry and they figure she can use her “special talents” but it turns out the guy is really nothing like that he just gives off unfortunate vibes? (though again that sounds like a B-plot from a workplace satire comedy series episode)

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – it’s my first thought whenever ANYBODY wants to tell me about their sex life in detail. I’m not a prude – you go do you – I just don’t want to know details.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

      Dunno about you but I’m downloading pictures of my cat. Warm fuzzies is comparable to brain bleach in effectiveness.

  12. KimberlyR*

    Also ask for protection from retaliation (actually ask them to keep you anonymous but your boss might guess it was you). She seems vindictive and you don’t want her to target you.

    You mentioned gaslighting but you also mentioned you might be a prude. She is either gaslighting you on that, or you’re doing it to yourself. I could go my whole life without hearing about my boss’ sex life and I am far from a prude. Remind yourself that this isn’t normal and it isn’t on you.

    1. Saberise*

      She said she wasn’t a prude. “I’m really not a prude; I am afraid that is the way I might come off”

      1. KimberlyR*

        I should have worded my comment better to show that she isn’t coming off as a prude and she shouldn’t think so, just because she has this problem with her manager. No one needs to know about their manager’s extracurricular activities like this and it doesn’t come off as prudish to ask about it.

  13. Polly Gone*

    I worked for a company many years ago (like, 40+) where it was an open secret that the woman owner was having a ‘thing’ with one of (possibly more than one of) the sales staff. It made for an extremely uncomfortable workplace, what with all of the undercurrents running around, not to mention the fact that the owner was a generally unpleasant person.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      My first job out of college, still in Home Country, our IT director was a nice guy, in his early 40s I think? Probably handsome (I was 22 and he looked ancient to me) married with two kids, a perfect picture of a family man. Really nice guy. When my oldest son was born and we needed someone with a car to give us a ride to pick him up from the hospital and bring him home, he gave us the ride, and went through quite an ordeal the day before to make sure he had a full tank. (There was a gasoline shortage.) It was an open secret that he had a kid with one of the women working in a data center. She was a single mom of an 8-year-old, and then one day a friend told me that the CIO was the father. It had been a drunken fling at a work party, but she’d had a crush on him for the longest time before that. Everybody knew. Everybody pretended not to know. They had a polite, professional relationship, the kind a subordinate and a department head would have. Hopefully he supported his, uh, second family. The whole workplace was kind of wild and giving off the vibe that everybody had secretly slept with everybody else at some point, or were going to. I was very straight and narrow/religious/engaged to my future ex-husband when I started there, and was only 25 when I left, so I have a feeling that there was a lot happening at that workplace that people had chosen not to tell me about, because I was too innocent. I think I got lucky. Today, my reputation is “far from innocent and can keep a secret”, so I can only imagine the amount of information I would’ve been better off not knowing, that would’ve been unloaded on me there, whether I wanted it unloaded on me or not.

  14. Mina, The Company Prom Queen*

    Your boss sounds like an icky nightmare. Honestly, I would try to either get transferred to a different boss or department, or even look for another job. Sometimes it is worth waiting it out until your toxic boss either quits or is asked to leave, but that may or may not happen soon. I agree that talking to either HR or someone higher up in seniority might be helpful. In any case, do what you can to get away from this boss.

  15. Phony Genius*

    There is a power dynamic that may be in play besides the one the boss played on the writer. I see little difference between the supervisor/subordinate relationship and the customer/client relationship. We don’t know whether the vendor is a willing participant or went along with the boss because he needed to make a sale.
    Sure, if the vendor felt uncomfortable he could go to HR of his company and file a complaint, but they may be so interested in making a profit that they won’t say anything to the other company that might affect the sale.
    All the writer can do here is to try to report it and get out unless her company acts immediately to stop this behavior. I’m afraid “Ralph” sees fewer options available. (Assuming that he was coerced by the power dynamic.)

    1. lost academic*

      You’re right that it’s a problem but the difference is a legal one. The improper relationship with the vendor could easily run afoul of bribery laws. The manager isn’t behaving appropriately with the OP but isn’t doing anything clearly illegal, in my understanding. In my company we have a lot of training around this because we have both clients and vendors so we have to be cautious and trained on both ends – plus sometimes our clients can also be foreign government officials so you can easily get in trouble without the right training if it’s a place where bribery and favors are considered part of doing business.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Re “The manager isn’t behaving appropriately with the OP but isn’t doing anything clearly illegal, in my understanding” – arguably sexual harassment isn’t it? Just because she’s talking about her *own* sex life not OP’s doesn’t mean it doesn’t qualify as harassment.

  16. Saberise*

    Honestly I would not have said anything to the manager at all and gone straight to someone that is in a better position to handle it. No good is going to come out of confronting your boss who you think is morally and ethically off center. There was literally zero chances she would have cared what you thought. And now if something is said she will know it was because you said something.

  17. The Smiling Pug*

    Gross. Just gross. And then she talks about it?? I’m far from prudish but I don’t need to hear about the epic sex life of my boss… O.o

  18. Michelle Smith*

    How is her storytelling not sexual harassment? Her tales of her sexual exploits are making her subordinates uncomfortable and her actions are ethically questionable at best. I feel like this is deeply wrong, but also potentially actionable.

    1. Coder von Frankenstein*

      I wouldn’t assume that. At all. In fact I would assume the opposite.

      If she were using sex to bring in business for the company, it would be plausible (if reprehensible) for them to deliberately turn a blind eye–but that isn’t what she’s doing. Quite the reverse, in fact, she is sending the *company’s* business to people having sex with *her*. It isn’t a case of choosing between ethics and the bottom line, what she’s doing is harmful to both.

      It’s possible, of course, that this company is a mountain of dysfunction where the boss’s behavior is just SOP. But I feel like OP would be aware of it if that were the case. I’m with Alison: Go to HR, do not pass boss, do not collect retaliation.

      1. Yvette*

        “ …sending the *company’s* business to people having sex with *her*.”

        But maybe she is getting them really good discounts! ;)

  19. Essess*

    This is totally sexual harassment to force you to listen to her sexual innuendos, and her escapades. Go directly to HR. Don’t talk to your supervisor about it any more because that is not going to fix the issue. Your supervisor is already refusing to stop and trying to make you the bad person for not wanting to hear about it.

  20. Juniantara*

    If your company is publicly traded or large enough to have such things, I guarantee all of this is against your code of conduct, both as sexual harassment of you (you should not be required to watch your supervisor flirt and hear about their sex life) and as unethical relationships with vendors. If your company has a reporting number for ethics violations, please give them a call.

  21. Khatul Madame*

    Has the Twitterboss from yesterday come back? Sounds like something she’d do.
    I hope she is at least getting major discounts out of all her… activities.

  22. Person Of Interest*

    Spot on advice – take it to your boss’s “superiors”.
    God it felt gross to write that even sarcastically.

  23. I just did compliance courses today*

    You have to report this. This could easily fall under a) sexual harassment issues if she claims she felt pressured to do these things to get and maintain business, and b) bribery and corruption charges.

    1. Phony Genius*

      I think you have the pressure backwards. She (the boss) was the client. The vendor (“Ralph?”) is the one who may have felt pressured.

        1. Littorally*

          Right. Even if it’s usually a vendor trying to win company business, it is possible for things to run the other way — ie, a vendor being willing to offer better deals because of inappropriate liaisons like this.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Considering someone mentioned above there was a dedicated sleep with vendors person, who knows? Maybe the company did designate her this way.

  24. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    Ah, women like this. And eventually, the charm runs out and they’re on the run.

    We had one of those two jobs ago. Suzette clearly believed that being sexy, and playing hard to get and then being available when it suited her needs was the way to move up in the corporate world and to get by in life in general.

    Rumours about who she slept with were legion and she wasn’t shy about being all over other people’s partners as well – such as all touchy-feely with Kelly’s partner at a Xmas party, in front of Kelly, and anyone else who wanted to see. She also sent Kelly to a game with tickets with a vendor with the express purpose of offering Kelly as a sexual reward to that vendor.

    The stories, for me anyway, reached their apex when some senior executives were undermining each other to get their own chance to sleep with her.

    Her behaviour was well known and nothing was ever done. But, the company also got slammed for shady deals. (We were audited by the Charbonneau Commission in Quebec. Fun times.)

    She was reportedly in marketing and sent out to a new branch office out west to get business moving. Poor Kelly had to arrange for Suzette’s house to be packed and moved (because Suzette also had an incredible sense of entitlement and would try to expense any meal, even if not business related), and I had to help move out her stuff from a different location and find a storage locker for it out West with very last minute notice.

    Sending her out west was her undoing as the business didn’t improve, and her charms failed her. She was unceremoniously shown the door.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      She also sent Kelly to a game with tickets with a vendor with the express purpose of offering Kelly as a sexual reward to that vendor.

      What. The. F*ck.

      1. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Oh, yeah. Kelly didn’t know in advance and found out at the game. Did I mention that Suzette was Kelly’s supervisor?

        Kelly was very bright and good at her job. Without using sex as a tool. She didn’t deserve that. She’s since moved on to much greener pastures. And a new partner.

  25. anonymous73*

    You say your boss is toxic, but the company is “good”. If you don’t think you could go to HR and report this behavior without repercussions, I would reconsider your assessment of the company. You are 100% not a prude. And while I agree with Alison that speaking with her with likely do no good based on her most recent response, I would at least say something to her like “Your telling me of your sexual escapades* with vendors is putting me in an uncomfortable position and I really need you to stop sharing those things with me.” That probably won’t go over well either, but I think it needs to be said. I don’t care if she’s your supervisor, a colleague or the freakin’ CEO – she shouldn’t be sharing those things with you at all.

    *sexual escapades may seem odd to say, but I couldn’t think of any other term to describe it

  26. Amy*

    I’m a vendor and the thought of a customer taking me out is pretty funny. My job is to take YOU out. If you’re taking me out, it feels like some upside-down world where neither of us understands what the heck we’re doing.

    Also is this an affair or a quid pro quo? I’m so glad I’ve never once been given the tiniest hint of an impression that I could win business via sex. How inappropriate.

    1. JBI*

      I’m a guy and my boss was looking for a deal from large bank and once told me “I need this deal J, and frankly I don’t care too much what you have to do to get it…”
      at least he said it with a wink…

  27. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I’ve heard some wild stories about business-to-business sales in the old days. A relative of mine was a buyer back in the 1970s, and she told me that when she and her company’s technical folks would visit vendors’ plants in small Southern towns, it was common practice for the vendor to provide prostitutes to the male coworkers traveling with her.

    I haven’t seen anything that extreme in my time, but I’ve seen a lot of ethically questionable stuff. Very expensive sports tickets are common vendor gifts in my industry, and older saleswomen often get inappropriately flirty with me.

    1. Sparkles McFadden*

      Late 90s: Our division head was invited to a vendor’s private party. Division head “You work with them a lot and I don’t want to go, so please go in my place.” I hate parties but I felt I had to go. I walked in and it was fairly obvious that I was the only woman there who wasn’t a sex worker. I walked up to a pleasant looking woman and said “Am I the only woman here who isn’t a professional escort?” She said “Yes, honey. How did you get invited to this?” After chatting with her for a bit, I set off to find the head of the company to say “What the hell is this?” The look of horror on his face was priceless. (Also fun: Reporting back to the division head who said “I sent you to WHAT?”)

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Similarly fun: reporting to my grandboss that he’d sent me to a vendor party at a topless bar. Except I led off with “WTF?!”

    2. Sea Anemone*

      No companion of negotiable affection for your relative? That’s the real sketchy part.


      1. Junior Assistant Peon*

        Maybe they should have gotten her a male escort!

        She told me that the male engineers she traveled with were married, and would habitually cheat on their wives if a supplier bought them a hooker on a business trip. She was horrified by the practice, but it seems that’s how things were in a lot of industries in the old days.

  28. Meep*

    We have an office flirt, I mean salesperson, too. I am also a woman in a very male-dominant field, but work for a small software company so no schmoozing vendors.

    She would try to coerce me into agreeing with her that men young enough to be her son are cute. My therapist taught me to say “This is inappropriate and I am not having this conversation with you.” She will try to bully you a few times but will eventually get the hint. Unfortunately, the company’s reputation and brand (and by extension, ethics) are tied to her behavior but yours don’t have to be.

  29. ChemistryChick*

    Ugh, gross. Just..gross. I’m sorry you have to deal with this, OP. Fingers crossed you can either talk to someone else or get out quickly.

  30. MarfisaTheLibrarian*

    Is this potentially quid pro quo sexual harassment? If vendors feel the need to flirt with and/or sleep with her in order to get a contract?

  31. Exhausted Trope*

    OP, I am aghast at your situation. It’s truly horrible. But if you take this higher, I think you will suffer repercussions from your toxic manager unless they terminate her immediately. She sounds like a person who will make your work life hellish as long as she is retained. I’m sorry.
    I hate when women behave like this at work. So unprofessional. Your manager ought to be above this.

  32. Minsue*

    As someone in HR, I would absolutely want to know this was going on so that we could shut it down in no uncertain terms.

    That said…as someone who has worked for a lot of terrible companies in the past, I see no upside for the OP in reporting it and all sorts of red flags that life at work could become so much worse.

  33. Thin Mints didn't make me thin*

    OP, I hope you’re hearing that your boss’s behavior is wildly inappropriate and you are not wrong to want it dealt with. You deserve to work in a place that’s ethical and where women can earn respect for their work.

  34. JBI*

    Walmart had a rule that people couldn’t even accept a cup of coffee from vendors, because of the conflict of interest.
    Accepting a hump? that should get you fired so fast

  35. El l*

    I think her boss would be very interested to know that the company chose a vendor because of her bedroom activities. The company tickets and the flirting – though highly inappropriate and a bad use of company resources – are bad. Going out of your way to give business to a vendor you slept with is straight-up corrupt.

    So can you go to both her boss AND HR?

  36. Pobody’s Nerfect*

    “The world is full of terrible people.” ~ Shirley Jackson (author). My question is, why do most of them seem to end up as bosses and managers?

    1. Khatul Madame*

      The terrible non-boss people fly under this site’s radar and inflict harm on others in non-work environments. Domestic abuse, for example.

    2. Gerry Keay*

      “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority.” —Lord Acton, 1887

  37. Generic Name*

    I’m sorry, but a “good company” wouldn’t tolerate a toxic, narcissistic manager (who also sleeps with vendors!!). I’m not saying that it’s outrageous that you are staying with your company if you are paid fairly and generally happy and can manage your boss’s shenanigans, but it sounds like the company really isn’t all that great. Do what’s best for you.

    1. pancakes*

      How are you certain that the manager’s behavior has already been reported and that higher-ups have decided it’s tolerable? None of us are in a position to know that. Neither is the letter writer.

  38. Joan Clayton*

    Personally (and because I’m a messy -itch), I would spread her business around the office. And when confronted “Oh, I thought this was appropriate to tell Ralph because of how nonchalant you are about it… Oh! so you don’t want the whole office to know? THEN either (a) stop telling me or, (b) stop behaving in an unethical way” Supervisor or not, she isn’t above the rules of the company.

    1. Redshoes*

      Hahaha I see we’re two peas in a pod. I do recognize why this is a bad idea for OP, but I can’t lie and say I’ve never done it in situations like this.

    2. pancakes*

      Telling everyone who the supervisor is sleeping with would itself be a form of sexual harassment, and an exceptionally poor way to address her problematic behavior. The problem isn’t that everyone is unaware of her tendency to be overtly sexual with vendors, but that she’s being overtly sexual with vendors. Her behavior can be reported without trying to obtain her buy-in first and without attempting to shame her.

  39. No Tribble At All*

    Wow, sounds like your manager is really going above and beyond the call of booty to get good deals from vendors!

    I’m joking. That’s terrible for so many reasons. My guess is, even ignoring the sleeping-with-vendors thing, your manager should be in trouble for the baseball game thing.

  40. H.Regalis*

    I think what LW’s boss is doing is gross . . . BUT she is not in control of whether or not men take you seriously. If they see one woman acting a certain way and then assume that all their female coworkers are going to go down on them or whatever, that’s their own sexism/misogyny and seeing women as a giant hivemind. That’s putting their shitty beliefs off on her. “Well, if you didn’t fuck Wakeen then Grandboss would promote me because he would take me seriously as a female Job Haver.” It’s not like they would suddenly consider you an equal if only this one promiscuous woman weren’t ruining it for everyone, and palming it off on that has and will make a lot of people waste a lot of time trying to earn the respect of people who will never, ever give it to them.

    1. Ms. Lady Sweetie-Hun*

      Thank you for saying this. Manager is doing entirely too much and shouldn’t be talking or showing off her personal life at work and around employees. But she doesn’t represent all women and some men are smart enough to realize that women are different people. The “HER actions make ME look bad” attitude needs to GO!

      1. Sea Anemone*

        Yes, it is making women responsible for the behavior of men (and other sexists), which is sexism.

    2. Delphine*

      The reality is that OP’s reputation could easily be damaged by association with this manager and that wouldn’t be the case if the manager was behaving professionally. It doesn’t matter that in the real problem here is sexism or misogyny or making one woman representative of all women, because the OP can’t change that. But she should be able to trust that her manager’s behavior will not damage her own reputation.

      1. H.Regalis*

        It does matter, whether or not she can change that: it colors the entire letter. LW says, “We are in an extremely male-dominated industry. I want to be taken seriously as a woman in this business, but I feel like my manager’s actions are affecting how we are viewed.” Not just because she’s associated with her boss, but because her boss is engaging in these behaviors while being female. If her boss were a man and were fucking a bunch of vendors, the situation would be quite different. Would that still affect her reputation? Probably, but not because her coworkers are thinking, “Well, LW’s boss Fergus blew Wakeen, so that means LW will too.”

        Additionally, I’m more speaking to the comments I’ve seen up and down the thread about how the women who behave this way make being taken seriously harder for other women. They don’t. What makes it hard is when men hate women and treat them as lesser beings. I don’t know how to fix that, but no one on the powerless end of “convince me that you’re my equal by following all of the contradictory, ever-changing rules I create” is ever going to win that game, and it doesn’t do any good to feed into.

      2. EventPlannerGal*

        I do agree with that, but I think it’s more of a “we are closely associated as she is my manager and she is making me personally look bad” thing than a “she is Letting Women Down” issue and therefore it makes more sense to leave the latter idea out entirely. Like, I feel like it would be similarly damaging to OP if she was managed by someone who was known for giving kickbacks to family members or embezzling the pension fund. I don’t know, maybe I’m nitpicking here – practically speaking it doesn’t make much difference to the OP’s actions!

    3. American Job Venter*

      Well and truly said.

      When someone takes the bad behavior of one person in a demographic group and uses that as an excuse to oppress anyone in the group that they can, that’s bigotry, and bigotry is the fault of the person who decides to be a bigot. The person who behaved badly is responsible for their own bad behavior, not that of the bigot, even if the bigot cites them as a reason/excuse. (Usually, such as in this case, the bad behavior is quite sufficient!)

    4. Eden*

      Thank you for articulating this. OP is in a bad situation and it really sucks! And I hope she is able to put Alison’s advice to good use and have a good outcome. But did not love that part of the letter and am disappointed at similar sentiments in some comments.

  41. TeapotNinja*

    This would be an instant firing offense at my place of work. This person would be escorted out so fast she would get whiplash, we would also immediately blacklist any vendor involved, and notify vendor’s legal department about it.


  42. Goose*

    Boy, there has been a lot of contenders for “worst boss” recently. OP, I’m sorry your manager is one of them!

  43. Jam Today*

    Alternately, you could write it all down and turn it into a screenplay or a TV pilot. I would definitely be a spectator to this slow-rolling disaster.

  44. Damien*

    Not gaslighting, you called her out, she attempted to bribe you (!!!), then later scolded you over the incident. Unless she is denying to your face that those events ever happened, it isn’t gaslighting (and I’m unsure how you came to this conclusion based on the info here truthfully, of course she tried to convince you she’s in the right, that’s how disagreements work!), but obviously it’s still ridiculously, cartoonishly inappropriate on many levels.

  45. Meghan*

    Isn’t this a quid-pro-quo that could get the company in legal trouble?

    She’s essentially trading sex, promises of sex, etc with vendors who are reliant on her for contracts.

    I would think an HR worth anything would have a big problem with Boss’ behavior.

  46. Jay Gobbo*

    Just a thought, but imo the idea of being “a prude” (mentioned a few times in comments as well as the letter) is really gross in general and is almost always an insult lobbed at women/AFABs, not men/AMABs.

    OP, you are not a prude because no one is a “prude”. You have a very reasonable desire to not hear about anyone’s sex lives at work. Other people may be sex-repulsed in general. We as a society need to accept that if people don’t want to talk about sex or be involved in a conversation about sex they should *never* feel pressured to do so. OP, I feel sad that you feel like you have to add the caveat “I’m not a prude”. The idea of a “prude” is a concept that’s deeply rooted in punishing AFABs / asexual / sex-repulsed people. It’s disgusting and I hate it, thank you for coming to my TED talk =P

    1. American Job Venter*

      I might quibble about the *existence* of prudery, but that’s another discussion. Mostly I’m commenting to agree. Not wanting to be involved in any given person’s sex life, including hearing about it, is not at all prudery. And that goes double for a milieu which is not supposed to be sexualized, such as work. “Sex positivity” should include the primacy of consent and should recognize that violations of consent are negative. And this is definitely a violation. Good luck, LW.

    2. Nanani*

      Good TED talk!

      Using buzzwords like “sex positivity” to get around consent is just repurposing the same old moldy garbage.

  47. WellRed*

    Late to the party but I notice lots of comments saying this might be illegal. It’s certainly unethical and gross but, assuming it’s a private company, how is it illegal?

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Providing sex in exchange for compensation in any way is technically illegal in most of the US, though you’ll rarely to never see this kind of thing prosecuted. More likely it’s an opening for a sexual harassment suit.

    2. Meghan*

      I think it’s quid-pro-quo sexual harassment. The manager has power to grant contracts / POs to vendors, and is leveraging that for sexual favors. The vendor could sue OP’s company for sexual harassment.

      1. Badasslady*

        Also, sexual harassment law often covers creating an overly sexual work environment, even if the employees are not the target of the sexualization. I would think making sexual references and jokes at a work dinner would qualify.

        1. mreasy*

          Yes, this is sexual harassment by the manager of the OP and other employees who hear her sex stories.

  48. Badasslady*

    Some of this sounds awfully close to sexual harassment (I.e. creating a work environment that is overly sexualized). And of course there’s the conflict of interest piece. I would def report it to HR/her manager, but also, I would consider looking for another job because this sounds toxic af.

  49. ArtK*

    In a lovely coincidence, I just got notified that I need to complete my annual corporate ethics training.

  50. learnedthehardway*

    Beyond the EW factor and the fact that this female manager is completely undercutting the centuries (by now) of struggle that women have fought to be taken seriously in the work environment, what this manager is doing is straight up unethical.

    Sleeping with a potential vendor means and convincing the company to select that vendor – she’s probably given them preferential pricing as well. OR, she has extorted preferential pricing from the vendor, or something equally unsavory.

    Honestly, I would be not only speaking with HR, but I would be looking at dealing with whatever ethics oversight your company has. When a similar sort of situation came up in a company I worked for, the consultant who had the inappropriate relationship was fired immediately.

    1. Cle*

      If someone doesn’t treat OP with respect or take her seriously because her manager flirts/sleeps with vendors, because their thought process is “Manager represents All Women, and Manager flirts with me, therefore All Women including OP will flirt with me,” then that person is sexist and likely would not take OP seriously anyway. Women who behave poorly are responsible for their own behavior, not for the sexism of others.

  51. Batgirl*

    OP, you’re not being wary enough with your boss. She’s non consensually involving people in her sex life because she wants validation from people who don’t have the power to tell her she’s being squalid and unprincipled. She’s using company funds to create some kind of eye roll worthy flirtation club, and awarding business and company funds to her boyfriends. That is not the kind of person you have frank words with, even politely. Her entire raison d’etre is to leverage her power for either sex, blank cheque validation or “respect”. Letting her know openly that you disapprove of her M.O. is a red rag to a very untrustworthy bull. Walk softly and carry a big stick from now on. Be sure of your moves before you make them.

  52. RagingADHD*

    I’m really surprised that you bothered to confront her over the sports tickets. That is easily the least problematic thing she’s doing here. I’m not saying it’s not questionable, since it’s more common to use perks on clients instead of vendors. But it’s not even close to the scale of inappropriateness that’s happening on the regular.

    1. Non non*

      Right? That struck me as really peculiar and made me wonder about the LW’s perception of what’s going on.

    2. Rainy Day*

      I wonder if LW picked up on that since it was an “easy in”, so to speak. They could have the conversation about the tickets because HOLY MOLY, the sexual harassment is a BIG thing to get a handle on all at once.

  53. Tomalak*

    I can sort of understand a woman boasting that she secured a sale by sleeping with the client – at least in a TV show.

    What is hilarious about this situation is that she is essentially boasting that she secured sex by purchasing from a supplier!

    If the sexes were reversed and a male boss was boasting that he is constantly using his company budget to get sex with females who want to sell things to his company it would be extremely creepy. This way around is just sad.

  54. Nanani*

    I’m honestly having a hard time believing this is real – not disbelieving LW but rather suspecting that the boss may be embellishing her relationships with all those steamy vendor contacts. Like, seriously? WHO DOES THAT

    Bur regardless of whether every story is true or some kind of self-insert workplace fanfic on LW’s boss’ part, they should not be telling lurid details to people who cannot opt out of hearing them. That alone is creepy and harassy.

    Definitely tell HR.

  55. LondonLady*

    I agree with Alison – the flirting is awful and icky but hard to address and really depends on how good your existing relationships are. But the preferential treatment for vendors she’s close to IS a valid issue to raise – even the perception of that could affect your company’s reputation, and if it’s true then there are obvious problems: is your firm getting the best deal on price and quality available, would they be under blackmail type pressure to retain the contract in future, etc. If your company has a code of conduct you could invoke it, or at least contact HR and ask if they do.

  56. BitterMelon*

    Something struck me in Allison’s response: “Does your HR have a track record of dealing with issues competently?”
    Why are there no repercussions to HR departments being incompetent? I understand that there is a misconception that HR is there to protect the interests of companies, but if I couldn’t go to them with an issue like this, or otherwise, I would argue for why there are even there in the first place?

    In terms of company interest, the manager in this scenario is putting the company in harm’s why by how she manages vendor relationships or new vendor sign-ons. It’s giving me “Meredith sleeping with suppliers for deals on office supplies and steak” from The Office vibes, except this situation is with a manager and MULTIPLE vendors. There is a lot of liability on this company if things go south (and not in a good way).

    1. pancakes*

      Yes, but I’m not sure there is an HR-specific answer. It’s true of every other job and profession as well: not everyone who does it is good at it. (And not everyone who is bad at it is bad for the same reasons). This doesn’t become less true just because there is a lot of potential liability when someone is really bad at it.

  57. Anonymoose*

    Not only is this wholly inappropriate, and ethically wrong, and probably against every company policy ever written, but is also probably illegal under anti-bribery and corruption law. If she is using things like game tickets, gifts etc and establishing personal relationships to win favour that is seriously murky territory to be wading in.

  58. Dancing Otter*

    OP’s reputation may be tarnished by association with the unethical boss. Not All Women, but “birds of a feather” and so forth.
    I know in some professions, failure to report an ethical violation is in itself an ethical violation. Even if that’s not the case here, people may conclude OP is okay with her boss’s behavior and judge her accordingly.

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