is it bad to be alone with coworkers of the opposite sex?

A reader writes:

I work in an STEM industry that is probably 75% male and I’m the only woman in my company (seven full-time employees and one temp employee) .

I graduated in spring 2021 and this is the first salaried job with benefits I’ve held since graduation (I’ve been at this company since last fall). I live in a high cost of living area and so I live with my parents still. They know a few of my coworkers and talk to them frequently.

Recently, one of the owners pulled me aside and let me know that he was told that I’m uncomfortable with being left alone with one or two guys instead of being with all five (we have three fully remote employees) and he can’t always accommodate that in the office as people are often working from home or going on-site to clients, but he can try to let me know when that will happen and I am free to work from home. He also told me that he and the other owners can stop having one-on-one meetings with me with their office door closed.

Needless to say, I was confused and asked where he’d gotten that impression. It took a little bit of digging, but it turns out one of my coworkers had approached him and let him know that my parents are uncomfortable with the fact that I’m in office alone after hours (my job sometimes involves working past close of business) or with just one or two of the guys. He seemed relieved when I was understandably livid that my parents had said anything intended to make its way to the owners.

We have cameras and an open floor plan office, and I’ve never felt uncomfortable. I’m just wondering if it’s normal for there to be strict rules surrounding this. In my industry, this could really hurt my career since it’s so male-saturated. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s not normal for parents to do stuff like that, but I grew up in a very strict religious and conservative household and my sister has told me that my parents’ concern is valid and their way of communicating it is also valid.

Nooooo. This is about your family overstepping.

It’s very normal for people to find themselves alone with colleagues of the opposite sex, or with just a few of said colleagues, or having closed-door meetings with someone of the opposite sex. All the things that people do with others in the work world — have meals, work together on projects, meet privately, give feedback, get feedback, brainstorm, chit chat, joke around, travel together — all of that is very normal to happen with the opposite sex, either one-on-one or with a small group where you might be the only woman.

There are people who ask to avoid that (generally on religious grounds) but they’re in a small minority — small enough that it’s not something that comes up in the vast majority of offices. When it does, it has the potential to cause real problems for women, who more often than not are the ones who miss out because of it.

Your parents are entitled to hold whatever beliefs they want, but they are not entitled to interfere with how you manage your career as an adult. If they did indeed tell one of your coworkers that you were uncomfortable being alone with men, they were wildly out of line! First, it doesn’t appear to be true. Second, under no circumstances should they be intervening in this sort of thing on your behalf — ever, but particularly not behind your back.

If they have concerns, the only appropriate avenue for them to use would be to talk with you directly. (And then to back off after doing so, not to continue to push the issue if you disagreed.)

I’m curious how it’s come about that your parents know and talk with your coworkers at all (let alone “frequently”). Did they know them before you got the job, or did they meet through you after you started working there? If it’s the latter, I strongly recommend not introducing colleagues to your parents in the future, since your parents have shown they’re willing to violate boundaries and try to manipulate your professional life from behind the scenes. And either way, consider asking those colleagues not to discuss you with your parents at all, and definitely not to pass messages from them to your employer. (I’m sure the coworker who did that thought he was helping, but that was an overstep too.)

Don’t let your parents convince you that their concerns are typical ones. They are not.

{ 414 comments… read them below }

  1. King Friday XIII*

    OP I’m honestly impressed you grew up with this and yet have the instinct to know it’s unreasonable even if you need to double-check.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Agreed – I’m glad you have outlets other than your parents to double check professional norms with. As you say, it’s a still male dominated field, don’t let your parents and sister’s beliefs about norms warp yours to the hinderance of your career.

    2. Nameless in Customer Service*

      I just wanted to agree. For some of us with really conservative, limiting families, it can be really difficult to see past the walls our parents build around us, and OP is accomplishing that very task. We’re cheering you on!

    3. Chickaletta*

      Meh, I kinda disagree. Unless one is also brought up in a conservative community, most of us were exposed to how normal people operate just by going to school, work, having friends…

      1. Lentils*

        Not necessarily – if OP’s parents were as religious as all that, they might have been raised in an environment surrounded by people who share similar or even more restrictive views. It can be really difficult to break out of those restrictive views and I think it’s important to point out when someone does it successfully. (Speaking from experience!) (and Alison, feel free to delete if OT)

        1. Chickaletta*

          Yes, which is what I said. Unless OP was raised also raised in a community that was very restrictive, chances are they were exposed to other worldviews and therefore would have an idea of how other people operate. I

          f there were raised in a restrictive environment with little exposure to mainstream culture then sure, it’s great that they were able to come to this conclusion on their own. I think we agree here!

          I was under the impression that OP was not brought up in such an extremely restrictive environment based on their education, profession, and workplace (as a female).

          1. br_612*

            I went to undergrad with plenty of people who were homeschooled in relatively strict religious households but still majored in STEM. And that was in molecular biology where evolution was sure to be taught. Engineering or CS? I’m guessing there were even more.

            Her major and current profession are clearly not a good indicator given her parents interfered this way AND her sister is on parents’ side.

          2. Rainy*

            I grew up in a cult and still went to university and grad school. You can’t really make assumptions about where people started from where they ended up. (Well, you can. That doesn’t mean you should.)

            1. Caroline Bowman*

              I would say that that’s true of course. There are examples of this everywhere. Thing is, it’s so incredibly common that this IS the case, that the stereotype is there. It’s not usual to be raised in a cult and then do as you did, for example. Often cults actively work against that notion. Not all, but many.

              To go against the grain often requires a very, very hard determination and quite a lot of personal sacrifice. Again, not always, but very often.

              1. Rainy*

                The cult I was raised in was extremely against secular education, especially for women. I absolutely know that conservative religious cults work against choices like education for their members, because I lived it.

                But what I’m saying is that making an assumption about what someone’s home life is or was based on what you see them doing now is going to be wrong, a lot of the time. I fought hard for everything I have–the people who are visible as cult survivors all have fought hard for what we have and are and have done, and assuming because I went to grad school and have a professional job that my upbringing was more normal or secular or whatever would be wrong. I’m visible to you because I fought. The same is true for a lot of people who leave cults: we’re visible because it was bad, because we fought, because we did it all the hardest possible way. Not because it was easy.

          3. Ally McBeal*

            Anecdotally, people who have parents that are THIS conservative do tend to raise their kids in restrictive communities. I was one of those kids – we lived half a mile from our evangelical church+school campus, so I spent, at minimum, 6 days a week there. I didn’t have friends outside of that community until I started sneaking away on Sunday nights to my best friend’s Catholic church (told my parents it was Lutheran so they’d let me go). They BEGGED me to go to my state’s Christian women’s college, even offering me some pretty expensive dorm gear if I went there instead of the flagship public university.

            (Fortunately, my parents were both well-educated and passed down their love of learning to me – and never monitored the books I was borrowing from the library – plus the internet was fairly new and therefore they didn’t know how to monitor my usage, so I exposed myself to new ideas in sneaky ways. And religious college was never, ever going to happen after 12+ years of religious primary/secondary school. I saw how my school treated people and wanted nothing more to do with that BS.)

        1. Nina*

          I was homeschooled by conservative Christians in a conservative Christian community and I knew the billy graham rule was bullshit before I got to college.

          I’m a rocket scientist now and I’m the only woman in the room 98% of the time.

      2. AthenaC*

        Sure. Unless your parents were savvy enough to construct a narrative about “the world” and how you shouldn’t adapt to “the world” or you risk your eternal soul. Complicated by the fact that when you say things out loud about the worldview you were raised with, the reaction is either: 1) polite silence; or 2) polite “you’re weird” disengagement. Very few people actually say anything, so in your mind, your worldview is basically uncontested.

        So it’s not just about seeing how other people operate, it’s getting over that hump to understand that how other people operate is infinitely better than how you were raised in the absence of anyone actually teaching you this.

        Ask me how I know.

            1. Rainy*

              Neither JW, F/conservative LDS, nor conservative Catholic checking in! There are so many ways to be raised like this, alas.

              Congrats to all of us who got out alive, though.

              1. Anon for this*

                I’m just going to drop the phrase “Church of God, Mountain Assembly” here, as an explanation of why I’ve been Buddhist for the past 25 years.

                1. Rainy*

                  Oof. WWCG here, now a…er…pagan atheist probably comes closest. I don’t believe in gods, but the ones I don’t believe in are definitely not Abrahamic.

        1. CoveredinBees*

          It can also be if you grew up within an immigrant community that was somewhat closed. Afterschool language and culture classes. All of your family’s (and therefore possibly your) socializing happens within your ethnic and/or religious community. Discouraging friendships with classmates from other backgrounds. I have been a “secret friend” because my friend’s parents wouldn’t approve of me because they don’t know my parents because my parents are not part of the community and therefore not worth meeting.

      3. jSPA*

        That the parents know the coworkers suggests to me that this could indeed be an entire conservative community, not one conservative family in a very mixed community. Or a sub-community that (via religious schools, home schooling or what-not) prevents that sort of exposure to mainstream ideas (and quite possibly demonizes same).

        OP, it’s not that nothing bad can ever happen at work, as you presumably know; it’s that something bad can happen anywhere (including in a trusted religious setting).

        It sounds like you are extremely well set-up for there not to be undocumented problems, in any case! Policing the gender mix would be highly unusual, and even if it were your call, asking other people to change anything about what THEY are doing to deal with your gender restrictions would (of course) be problematic.

        In that the only tenable (i.e. non-gender-discriminatory) solution would be the one your boss suggested (to have you work from home more of the time, and to have you only present in larger groups) have to wonder if this is a bid by your parents to have you in their house more of the time, and to make sure you don’t have WANTED one-on-one time with any male co-workers. Above and beyond the outrageous workplace overstepping involved, I really don’t like nor trust the level of behavioral control that would imply.

        Are your parents co-owners / co-signers on your bank account, and do they monitor your credit cards? This seems like a good moment to quietly make sure that at least some of your money is in an account that’s entirely your own. Just in case.

        1. Artemesia*

          oh yeah. If your money is still in some sort of joint accounts, you need to go to a DIFFERENT bank than theirs open a savings and checking account and transfer your money there and start having your check deposited there automatically. Don’t discuss it, just quietly do it. And if they share a credit card account, same thing; get your own with a different bank. In small towns or small circles with this kind of lack of boundaries, you don’t want a busybody who works at the bank reporting to your parents either, so you need to be using a different bank from theirs.

          1. MsSolo UK*

            Just to add a thumbs up to this, and to be thoughtful when you’re asked to set up security questions. For some reason the idea that your parents might know your mother’s maiden name, your first school or your first pet’s name is not seen as an security issue because of course no one’s parents could ever possibly financially abuse them, never not ever /s

      4. Just Me*

        Some are, sure. And many are not. Even for those who are exposed to a less conservative friends, growing up with strict parents/as part of a strict religion can easily outweigh that.

      5. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        People are praising OP for doing something that is actually extremely difficult to do since it involves changing the views one was raised with, and your response is “Meh, I kinda disagree”? Rude. Step back and take a look at yourself and why you feel the need to be the contrarian when compassion is called for.

        1. Chickaletta*

          Sorry, did not intend to be rude. I made that comment because the origional comment was based on the assumption that OP was raised in a constrictive environment in addition to a constrictive family. I myself was raised by conservative parents but in a normal community/public school/etc and I could see that I was sheltered growing up as I was growing up, and much more so as I became an adult.

          We are all making assumptions here, so I think I’m going to back out of this thread as it’s obviously touched a nerve for several people.

      6. Selina Luna*

        I had a classmate growing up who went to the same public school I did, who nevertheless graduated from high school without any idea that two people of the opposite gender could be alone together in any situation and have nothing untoward happen. She was utterly convinced that if she stayed in a classroom with a closed door with any male, he would start hitting on her. This was the “fear of the worldly” viewpoint her parents had instilled in her. I was her manager at her first job, and the one time the head manager needed to speak with her, she insisted that I needed to be there if the door was going to be closed.

        1. JSPA*

          To be fair, my entirely unreligious mother subscribed roughly to the same school of thought, based on her experiences traveling solo as a young europen woman in the early 1950’s. She felt that even men who were not necessarily interested often felt required by what we’d now call “toxic masculinity” to at least make a vague attempt. But that’s when young women traveling solo were unusual enough to be something of a target, and if you were clearly foreign, even more so.

          But I assume that in a closed community, experiences like that color people’s attitudes for multiple generations, rather than an extra decade or three.

    4. Lentils*

      Yep, I grew up in a very similar environment and I want to join in the chorus of praise for your awareness and willingness to push back against your parents’ unreasonable teachings, OP. Fist bump of solidarity!

    5. Jules the 3rd*

      Same! Good luck in the future, you’ll want to keep that ‘normal’ detector honed.

      As part of that: if a co-worker does something that *does* make you uncomfortable, it sounds like that boss is a good person to talk to about it. Women in STEM fields do get dismissed, belittled, and targeted for dating by co-workers. Men often disguise this as ‘joking’, so a trusted mentor can help you figure this out. It sounds like that boss is willing to think about these issues and can be trusted to guide you about office norms.

    6. Overbearing*

      To all the people dumping on the co-worker int he threads on this post, yes I agree he should have talked with her first. However, my parents are these parents and would say “Jane has been worried sick about this but doesn’t know how to bring it up. She really wants you to talk to boss about……but was afraid to ask. We know how much you care about her well-being, would you help with talking to the boss for her?” And would be laid on really thick as part of a longer conversation… Yeah…don’t be those parents.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. I was enraged reading this on your behalf OP. I hope you made it clear to your parents that they have damaged your career and that you never want anything like this to happen again.

        I hope also if you are living at home that you start making plans to get a place of your own.

        I spent much of my early career with mostly male colleagues; we often worked late together, or had lunch or even traveled on business. This was never an issue and the one or two times the male colleague hinted at interest beyond work, I was able to make it clear that was not happening — heading it off at the pass so to speak so that it never got to a really awkward point.

        This behavior on your parents’ part was outrageous and you should not count on them not to do something like this again. So you need to keep information about your work entirely private from them and make sure they KNOW what a violation this was.

      2. CoveredinBees*

        I can see that happening, but the coworker was wrong to just share it without even talking to Jane first.

    7. Anomie*

      I work in STEM and am alone with male coworkers all the time. It’s pretty much the norm. But if you get persistent creep vibes you have to say something.

    8. LittleMarshmallow*

      I grew up in that sort of environment and also work in a field where I’m frequently alone with male colleagues and I personally have also never felt uncomfortable at work alone with a male colleague. You know where I have felt uncomfortable alone with a male? At church. I don’t go to church anymore and this is much the reason. I’m confident this is a them problem and not a me problem because in literally every other normal situation it’s fine. Growing up religious and then learning about the real world is such a bizarre experience. The real world is safer in my opinion.

  2. Cataclysm*

    I do agree the parents are overstepping, but I’m wondering if something got lost in translation — it sounds to me like her parents said they were uncomfortable with her being alone after hours or with only a few people and would prefer that more people are with her if she has to stay late (which is a much more valid concern!)

    There’s also a typo in the letter that’s making it a bit hard to tell exactly what her parents did — “one of my coworkers had told know that my parents” — did her parents go to a coworker? Casually mention they weren’t happy with it chatting at the supermarket? One of her coworkers just knows her parents don’t like it?

    1. Esmeralda*

      It doesn’t matter what exactly the parents said — it’s still overstepping.

      And if it was carried by a coworker to the boss– that’s overstepping too.

      1. Observer*

        It doesn’t matter what exactly the parents said — it’s still overstepping</I.

        Actually, it does matter. A parent just casually mentioning "Uch, I wish things were different" is one thing. Not great, but whatever. It's their problem and they are over-sharing about their feelings. Approaching someone and asking them to actually do something is way out of line.

        And if it was carried by a coworker to the boss– that’s overstepping too.

        No “if” about it. The OP says that the coworker had approached the manager. And it’s a MAJOR over step on the part of the coworker.

        1. I'm just here for the cats!*

          I don’t think it’s an overstep from the coworker. If he learned via the parents that the OP was uncomfortable (even though that’s false but he didn’t know) it would make sense to go the boss, even if it’s just him saying I just learned X and I’m not sure how to handle this.”

          1. Observer*

            No, it doesn’t make sense to go to the boss. The OP is an adult and a colleague. The thing to do is speak TO your competent, adult colleague, not FOR them without even telling her that this came up.

            1. JSPA*

              Bit of a trap there, though. If she really didn’t want to be alone with a guy, and he’s a guy, he’s on thin ice, trying to get her alone to ask her privately.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                because it’s not like there are ways of communicating that don’t involve shutting yourself in a room on your own with a person of the other sex /s

          2. Wisteria*

            Absolutely agreed if the CW didn’t know how to handle it, they should go to the boss! Then the boss can coach him that if a parent, or anyone outside the company, contacts him, he should not engage with the parent at all. Also, the boss needs to know! If outside people are contacting employees regarding other employees, management and possibly security should know about it.

            In this case, CW is as loony as the parents are, and it wasn’t a case of CW not knowing how to handle it.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      I think that sentence was either supposed to read “coworker who knows my parents was told (by my parents) that they are uncomfortable…” or “coworker who told (the owner) had known that my parents are uncomfortable…”

      What stuck out to me was “my sister has told me that my parents’ concern is valid and their way of communicating it is also valid.” I’m also curious exactly what their “way of communicating” is.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I fixed it. Something got messed up in pasting it in. It says: “It took a little bit of digging, but it turns out one of my coworkers had approached him and let him know that my parents are uncomfortable with the fact that I’m in office alone after hours (my job sometimes involves working past close of business) or with just one or two of the guys.”

      2. ecnaseener*

        I think “their way of communicating” just refers to the choice to communicate with some coworker instead of their daughter.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          Yeah, and that’s what really matters because the parents communicating with a coworker instead of with their daughter is overstepping.

          I have some idle curiosity about the communication with the coworker along the lines of Cataclysm’s questions. A chance run-in at the grocery store that the parents took advantage of? Did the parents actively seek out a coworker’s contact details and call/email? Are the parents airing their displeasure far and wide and the coworker picked it up second- or third-had through the grapevine? Again, I know this doesn’t matter to the advice OP was given, just wondering about all the ways the parent to coworker communication could look like.

    3. Jennie*

      Her parents are grossly overstepping and have clearly shown they have no problem violating boundaries and professional norms. Parents have ZERO business talking about your work conditions at all, and definitely not going to a coworker to express concerns. I give the OP all the credit in the world to question this situation, it’s hard to be in the early stages of a career having grown up in an environment with parents who treat you as an extension of themselves.

      I still shudder at when I was a teenager working my first job in fast food and my dad called the manager to insist that I did indeed need to have my lunch break during a standard lunch time (which was right in the middle of the rush) and not 9am like the manager kept scheduling me for. I had no clue he was being inappropriate, to me it was just one more example of my dad being my dad.

      OP – if therapy is at all a possibility for you, it can be a great resource for helping you with all sorts of things surrounding these kinds of issues.

      1. ErinWV*

        I have a similar flashback! High school job, fast food. One day I left my jacket there. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but my mom told me she called the boss to give him a heads-up and make sure it didn’t get stolen or whatever. I came in for my next shift and was like, “sorry she made a big deal out of this.” He said, “No problem, she calls me all the time.” I had been unaware of that, and WAS HORRIFIED.

        Mom has always been well-meaning, and we established good boundaries in college.

      2. DJ Abbott*

        To be fair, the parents might not know professional norms. IME people like this are usually in a bubble. The man works only with other men. The woman works only with other women (if she works a job at all), and any men around are managers or executives that she only sees in passing.
        As I posted below, to me the big deal is they didn’t talk to the OP and went behind her back. That’s toxic in almost any situation.

    4. Moira Rose's Closet*

      I’m not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. No matter how merited a concern, it is totally inappropriate for her parents to go to her boss/colleagues about it. The LW clearly says that the information was *intended to* make its way to her boss. If they don’t like the conditions of her workplace, that’s fine, but they should communicate that to the LW, not to people in the workplace.

      And it’s not even clear that staying “late” actually means something like 11 p.m. “After hours” could mean, like, 5:30 — after COB for the office. I don’t think we need to assume they are being reasonable here.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        Even if it DID mean something like 11 pm, that STILL doesn’t justify family members raising issues about work schedules directly to a co-worker with the intent of it getting to the boss and actually influencing what goes on in the workplace.

        I’ve worked at jobs where, yes, sometimes staying until 11 pm is what happens.
        If *LW* had safety concerns or work-life balance concerns, that would be one thing. But family members presuming to intervene about the work-practices in a grown adult’s workplace is WAY out of line. It would be out of line no matter the hours, and even IF LW *had* complained to them about it.

        Oh, man, would my parents be on an extreme information diet after that. And the co-worker would get a direct talking to as well.

        I’m so glad a) LW found out about this and b) was able to root out where this came from. This kind of stuff can really clip the wings of women in the workplace, hamper their careers and sometimes they have NO idea it’s even going on (see also “benevolent” patriarchal managers presuming they know best how to protect the little ladies who work for them … “she’s pregnant? no more travel to executive meetings for her or working with the high-value, stressful client” “she’s married? Oh, wouldn’t want her husband to get all threatened – Mike Pence rules for her from now on, no meeting with her boss or other senior execs one on one or offsite meetings, wouldn’t want her husband to get the wrong idea” Argh!)

        1. RFlaum*

          I think it depends whether the parents knew this coworker already. If they called up a coworker just to say this then that’s bizarre, but if this coworker happened to be a friend of theirs and they just happened to mention this in passing that’s different.

          1. anon this time*

            I’m getting “we’re all part of this close-knit religious/ethnic community” vibes from this letter. Could definitely see it happening in some of the minority communities in my own area.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          I had a well-meaning manager say something in that vein to me once when I was (7 months) pregnant. “Are you sure you want to travel in your state?”. I just shrugged and replied that I was sure they also had excellent hospitals in [city] and I wasn’t due for a while anyway. At least he told me to my face and I could head it off, someone just quietly doing that in the background… uuuurgh.

    5. Cataclysm*

      Basically, I’m wondering if this might just be the result of a game of telephone! If one of her parents ran into a coworker casually, coworker asks how LW is liking it, parent says, “Good, but I am worried about her being there after dark with only [Frequently Around Coworker] around,” with it meant as a passing comment, and the coworker misinterprets the concern and decides to bring it to an owner — since *all* the coworkers are male, it would easy to mix up “I’m concerned about there not being enough people after close” with “I’m concerned with her being around too few people because they’re men” if you jump to conclusions.

      In which case, there’s more of a coworker problem than a parent problem, although the parents should still be told to tamp down on the chattiness

      1. Moira Rose's Closet*

        The letter just doesn’t support that reading, though.

        The LW clearly says that her parents *intended* for the coworker to communicate their message to the boss, not that the coworker misinterpreted and decided to bring it to the boss.

        As for the “after dark” thing, LW just said “after hours,” not “after dark.” “After hours” doesn’t necessarily mean “after dark,” it also means “after COB.” At my office, COB is 4:30 p.m.

        There is both a parent and a coworker problem here.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, I agree. LW seems pretty clear that her parents’ intent was to influence her work. We can assume the LW has a long history with her parents. Obviously this would be different for different families, #NotAllParents, but for this family and this LW it’s pretty clear that the parents were deliberately overstepping.

      2. Julia*

        It’s a good point to be aware that we don’t have all the facts and LW is hearing about the interaction third-hand herself. I’m thinking the fact that LW seems to perceive this intrusion as on-brand for her parents, rather than being taken aback that they’d do this and searching for an alternative explanation, suggests your account is sort of unlikely. But it’s def possible.

        1. Snow Globe*

          And the sister stating that parents’ concerns are reasonable also supports that this alternative explanation is unlikely.

        2. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, I think there’s enough internal evidence that we can believe LW’s take on this, no need to minimize and normalize her parents’ and co-worker’s errors.

          Even if the “oh, *we* don’t like her there alone” is a legit reading, the co-worker answer is “that’s a normal thing! don’t worry, we’re all professionals” not “oh, that’s a reasonable concern!”

        3. CowWhisperer*

          Plus, if the LW was concerned about after dark, the better response would be for the LW to ask if she could walk out with coworkers or move parking spots near close.

          The LW’s folks are power-tripping their adult daughter by cutting her out of a discussion about her job and her life. Doubt this was the first trip and it won’t be the last unless the LW can set some firm, non-negotiable boundaries with her parents and sister.

      3. JSPA*

        I get that it’s strangely unpleasant enough, on the direct reading, that one wants to find alternate readings, to make it, well, less bad.

        But it’s a good exercise to instead sit with that fact that some families are EXACTLY this controlling, and EXACTLY this meddling.

        Our wish to feel better about the situation does not justify looking for alternate readings that could, perhaps, lead, by a kooky series of misunderstandings, to something somewhat similar. Not when the direct reading makes complete and perfect sense–except that the parents are behaving really badly (which happens) and the sister is in agreement (which likewise happens).

        1. ShinyPenny*

          That’s such a critical point.
          If this concept were discussed more and understood better, the “well meaning” gaslighting about mysogeny, racism, ableism, bigotry, etc. would be reduced, and the world would be a much better place.

          Because some people ARE exactly as awful as they appear to be, and trying to invent alternative explanations to make them appear less awful is just an exersize in prioritizing a personal desire for a more pleasant-looking world, at the expense of the people who are actually being targeted.

          1. WhatAmIDoing*

            So much this. They do “mean well” but their idea of what is good is Wrong.

            Her parents want to protect her from things they see as dangerous. They are Wrong about what the risk is. Their well meaning prevents none of the harm and their goals are bad. They’re willing to sacrifice her career development (which isn’t important in their eyes) to maintain some whacky idea of purity and submission. They mean well for their own goals, and they are wrong.

            (They are also wrong that her career is theirs to choose to sacrifice.)

    6. Sloanicota*

      I agree there’s some ambiguity in the letter and, if I were OP, I’d try to investigate a bit more to find out exactly what happened. Did a parent say, “I worry about poor OP staying so late in the office alone!” and then a coworker ran with it out of misplaced concern? Or did you parent ask your coworker to approach the boss saying this was YOUR concern? Seems like a wide range there.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I figure Op knows her parents. She is not surprised it happened. Her sister also said it was “appropriate to be concerned and how they went about it.” SO this was not some misunderstanding or miscommunication.

        Her religious parents meant for it to get to the boss that they do not find it appropriate for a woman to be alone with a man, especially after business hours. The parents can THINK this all they want. But the ONLY time your parents should be communicating with your employer is if you are unable – as in unconscious or dead — to do so. Otherwise, it is HIGHLY inappropriate.

        OP, for now, your parents are on a strict information diet. They don’t meet your colleagues and you only tell them that work is fine. NOTHING else. Then you save like mad to move out, even if it means getting roommates.

        1. Not that Alison*

          Agreed, and also I’m willing to bet that the connection between the parents and coworkers could be attending the same church.

          1. anonymath*

            Yep, I’m figuring there was a community event at church/temple, there was causal conversation between parents and coworker, parents took the opportunity to tell coworker they’re not comfortable with after hours work with just a few men, coworker elaborated (with more conservativism) to tell owner “LW shouldn’t work with men”, etc etc.

            This *definitely* has the possibility to hold back LW’s career! This is really unfortunate. I think this needs to be a discussion with parents & sister. “Yes, you can be concerned about my safety. No, you cannot negatively impact my career by going to the owner via coworkers. Yes, I live with you. I am also an adult and you are undermining me to my coworkers and boss. This reflects poorly on our family. You raised me to be a professional in the workplace and I can handle that and excel. Here is what I do to ensure my safety; you need to respect that I am knowledgeable about the conditions of my work and that I handle this.”

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              My friend had this happen at her mosque, but it was her dad going directly to her great-grandboss who attended the same mosque. My friend was unamused. Her great-grandboss only told her as an “FYI he did this”, thankfully, rather than as if he was going to act on it.

            1. OyHiOh*

              An amusing follow on to this important reminder

              I (a person who does not attend religious services in a “church”) once had someone tone police me and tell me that “church” was a generic word for a house of worship and I shouldn’t get so offended by what was, to their way of thinking, a totally neutral and inclusive/supportive comment. The precipitating comment was trying very hard to be inclusive/supportive but fell short of the mark and absolutely was not neutral.

              1. Worldwalker*

                What’s a practical and inclusive term for “church/synagogue/temple/mosque/gurdwara/meetinghouse/shrine”? Getting even a reasonable percentage of them in there is too long and awkward, “place of worship” sounds stilted, and I can’t think of anything better.

                1. JSPA*

                  “place of worship” is just fine. It will sound less stilted as you use it, like breaking in a new pair of shoes.

                  “In the same faith community” ditto.

                  “Co-religionist” only means “of the same religion,” not of the same worship group, so is inadequate. ”

                  Do you like Co-congregant”? (To congregate is to come together, so even faiths that don’t use the term “congregation” do generally still congregate, as a verb, and “congregants” is applied to a wide range of faiths.)

        2. learnedthehardway*

          I would also have a conversation with the colleague who communicated the parents’ concerns, to ask them to please talk to the OP before discussing anything her parents might say with the manager.

          OP, you can frame that any way you want, but I would make sure that the colleague knows that you are managing your own work life, thank you very much.

          I’m guessing that the colleague comes from the same faith community – nipping interference (from anyone) in the bud is a good idea.

          1. Artemesia*

            Super important. The OP needs to make it clear to this co-worker that she is outraged that s/he served as a flying monkey for her parents to help them meddle in her career. She needs to make clear that she is an adult professional and was offended that someone would interfere in her work this way. Please don’t pass messages from my parents again; if you feel you must, then pass them to me.

      2. Original LW*

        Original LW here. I guess I forgot to mention this, but my boss (let’s call him M) let me know that this coworker (let’s call him W) had said my parents specifically wanted M to know that they were uncomfortable.

        So basically – parents tell W to tell M that they and I are uncomfortable with all the things I mentioned and M comes to me directly to ask me about this.

        And for everyone saying my parents knew W from church – yes, they do. W actually worked at the church with my dad (a pastor) and they talk frequently.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*


          This is on your parents and W then. And sadly will probably keep happening until you are out of their easy reach (betting this convo happened at some church event given the additional info you just provided). Please know, this is not you but them.

          And let me add again the advice to move out (most likely with roommates) as soon as you can. The distance may make going on an info diet with your parent easier.

        2. Artemesia*

          I am so impressed with your ability to intercede with your boss here and stand up for yourself. This is amazing given that you were raised in a family and church that seems to think this is appropriate behavior.

          Again — if you live at home, it is time to explore getting our own place, with a roommate (not your sister) if necessary. If not, well time to stop telling your parents anything about your work life that is not bland and uninformative.

          But congratulations for handling this pretty darn well under kind of awful circumstances. You are in a hot field; consider finding a job about 1000 miles away — if you are in Birmingham or Nashville, consider Seattle or Portland. If you are in Idaho, consider something in Chicago.

        3. Rocks are neat*

          Your parents were way out of line. Your co-worker was horribly out of line to speak to your boss on your behalf without your knowledge. The owner however gets some credit here for coming directly to you when he heard that one of his staff may be feeling uncomfortable and actively tried to resolve the (non) issue. As a woman in STEM it is very normal to be working with predominantly men in my field. If fact, my work right now is in another community where I share a house with 5-7 guys, we have another accommodation that houses another 2-4 guys and when the grand boss is not there, I’m in charge.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yeah…. it’s just a bit weird that the boss came to OP saying “OK you can WFH if you want” rather than “I just wanted to touch base with you, I heard you were uncomfortable, and I want to make sure you get what you need to be comfortable working here”.

        4. something about sharks*

          OP, with this context I’d recommend telling M and W very, very directly (though politely!) that your parents absolutely do not speak for you, because it sounds like your parents may have indicated that this was coming from you as well as from them. Make sure that both of them know that under no circumstances will you be passing information to them through your parents. This may not deter W from chatting with your parents and passing it on, especially if he agrees with them, but if M is a decent boss, he’ll shut it down. (Which he should have done from the start, but it’s possible that this was presented to him or W as “OP asked us to say something” – that plausible deniability goes away if you have explicitly stated “if it comes from my parents, I did not ask them to do that and I do not agree”.)

          In the long run, I’d recommend job-hunting and looking to move even if M does start shutting this down. This stuff is a lot easier to deal with when your parents live in another state and therefore do not go to church with any of your coworkers.

        5. irritable vowel*

          It’s interesting to me how this info was apparently communicated to W and then to M without there being an implication that W, and his fellow male coworkers, were problematic in some way. Clearly, the behavior of W was not being called into question in this conversation, so why is it that you would have allegedly been uncomfortable? It’s completely illogical. This is just about your parents wanting to control your life by constructing a reason why you can’t work late.

          1. GammaGirl1908*

            …late…and/or closely with men. If she was knitting with women after 6:00, they’d probably be fine with it.

            The family is likely uncomfortable with LW being the only double-X-chromosome there AT ALL, and the fact that she has to work late sometimes WITH MEN is taking them over the edge. They likely aren’t thrilled that she is working there under these circumstances at all, but would feel a little bit better if they knew a paternalistic type who agrees with them was looking out for her and protecting and shielding her.

            This attitude is going to make it nearly impossible for her to work in her field at all, let alone at this business. LW needs to give the family as little information about work as possible.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              yeah, they so wish she’d done something feminine like hairdressing or teaching little children or getting married to a nice rich man.

        6. Two Dog Night*

          Ugh. You’ve been at this job about a year, right? Even if you can’t move out of your parents’ house, you might want to start looking for a job at a larger company, where no one knows your parents. You don’t have to rush into anything, but leaving your first job after a year isn’t unusual at all.

          Good luck! You’ll get through this.

    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      Regardless of how reasonable/unreasonable her parents’ concern is, that concern gets addressed with OP and not funneled through intermediaries to her boss.

      How infantilizing – I’d be 100% mortified and livid if my mom or my spouse tried to do an end-run around me and interfere with my employment.

      1. Poison I.V. drip*

        To me, this is beyond infantilizing and goes straight to paternalism, of the kind practiced in some religious communities where the “honor” of the daughter is thought to be the concern of *everyone* in the family. It’s creepy and I feel for the OP.

    8. LittleMarshmallow*

      The comment that they are of religious background makes it pretty clear there likely wasn’t a loss in translation. This fear of women being alone with men is super prevalent in the Protestant Christian circles. I can’t speak to other religions but having grown up with this I can say it’s not surprising but is super inappropriate for her parents to intervene in that way.

    9. Caroline Bowman*

      It’s possible, but the issue comes with both the parents and the co-worker. If the co-worker felt moved to say something, the person to speak to would have been the OP, right? That they went behind her back and over her head in what I feel is quite a sneaky way, is not okay.

  3. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    LW, I’ve been working for 30+ years and it never once occurred to me to be uncomfortable meeting with men 1 on 1 or uncomfortable in a quasi-deserted office. This is definitely a your-parents’ problem and not a you problem. Note, they also lied about you to your employer, rather than talk to you directly.

    1. Ugh*

      Same here. I’m not at all uncomfortable with male coworkers (I’m female), but having a 30+ year career, I’ve seen some of the stuff people write about – like office affairs. Maybe her parents are concerned about that? Still no reason to overstep like that. Or accusations?
      One time a coworker was angry that I refused to sleep with him and that I started ignoring him for asking so he told management that I was sleeping with other coworkers. The owners called *my husband* about it but did not call the accused males’ wives.
      Thankfully, I got another job a few months after and that did not follow me but it was a tough few months and everyone believed him.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        That’s horrifying. They could have caused serious trouble in your marriage over something they didn’t even have any evidence for.

      2. Nameless in Customer Service*

        That sounds absolutely atrocious and I am so sorry that glassbowl inflicted that on you (and why do people always believe people like him, argh) Whenever people talk about how men are the real victims, etc, I remember the situations like these which I know about.

      3. EPLawyer*

        That’s terrible

        But considering her parents are very religious, I don’t think they are concerned about actual office affairs so much as “propriety.” Young men and women should not be alone without chaperones because …. reasons.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          And if they are like many who think that way, they have ZERO concern about negatively impacting their daughter’s career, because after all, she will just get married and have babies and have a man supporting her, so she needn’t bother her pretty little head about work or a career anyway.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            but how’s she even to get a man if she can’t get seduced late at night by one of top-paid engineers? /s

      4. Observer*

        The owners called *my husband* about it but did not call the accused males’ wives.

        That is GROSS.

        And it’s something that’s really bugging me about this whole situation. Parents were wrong. But so were the coworker and manager. In some ways, more so. Because they KNOW what norms are supposed to be! If you are a manager and don’t know that you talk to your EMPLOYEE, not their spouse or parent, you should not be in management!

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I think that’s a trifle unfair. The manager *did* address it with OP, not her parents. And if find out that somebody is uncomfortable with something through a roundabout way you can’t ignore it. Sometimes people won’t speak up and they only way you are going to find out is if a coworker calls it to your attention (or you notice yourself).

          He probably should have framed it as “I heard this weird thing and wanted to hear what’s going on from you” instead of “we can’t really accommodate your request (which you haven’t actually made)”. But given the awkwardness of the situation I wouldn’t be too critical of that without further details. He seems to be trying to work things out in good faith with OP and you can’t ask for much more than that.

          1. AthenaC*

            Agreed – am not inclined to audit people’s reasonable attempts to do the right thing if they don’t get it exactly right at the time.

            1. Observer*

              Sorry, this was not a “reasonable attempt to do the right thing” that was just “imperfect.”

              It was making assumptions about someone without ever getting their feedback or letting them know what is going on, and making a decision that they then just communicated. I would be livid.

              1. Kevin Sours*

                Oh my god, he went into a conversation about a potential accommodation having given some though to what he was and was not willing to accommodate. And, upon discovering the accommodation wasn’t requested or desired backed off immediately. We should nominate for for worst manager of the year !!!!

                Seriously. You are really reading something into this that’s not there. No hard decisions were made, no action was taken. This was the start of a negotiation and he was laying out his position. This is *normal*.

                Yeah he made a bad assumption and probably should have checked before jumping into the accommodation discussion. But handled it with grace on being corrected. I’m not sure what’s worth being livid over.

                1. Observer*

                  The boss is not a monster. But trying to game out a solution to a problem that came to you third had is really bad management. And doing it without even asking the person who you want to help if they actually have a problem is even worse management.

                  We’ve had letters in the past from people who want to help coworkers or employees who have various disabilities, and every single time the first thing that comes up is that you have to talk to the person FIRST. Because with the best intentions, to do anything else is a problem. Same thing here.

                  Trying to be accommodating is good. *Thinking* about what those accommodations could look like is normal. LEADING with that, with the assumption that the person actually wants / needs accommodations without asking first is a non-starter.

                  And taking information about an employee this way is generally a pretty bad idea, as well.

                2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                  Agree with Observer. This is reminds me of the manager who wrote in, all offended because he was looking into setting up a pumping room for a pregnant report, who brushed him off and said there was no need. Yay for being positive about breastfeeding kind manager!!! but ASK her first and don’t get huffy when it’s obvious she’s not planning to breastfeed! It’s her choice. Some women (such as those who were SA once their breasts started growing) cannot bear anyone to touch their breasts. So their babies don’t start off in life with the best of nutrition, but they do at least have a mother who’s managing to keep her life together.

          2. Wisteria*

            Yes, agree. The way LW framed the conversation from her boss is that he told her what he can do—not that he told her a decision had been made. And he didn’t insist when she told him he was wrong. Let’s stop harshing on the boss.

          3. Deb*

            I think he handled it well considering he knew her age and lack of prior work experience. He did talk to the employee, not the parents. I think saying it was a “weird thing” would come across as judgy and if she had actually felt uncomfortable working with men, him saying that could make her clam up or feel mortified about how she felt. Because of how he framed it, it comes across genuine caring and that he was trying to accommodate her as much as possible and yet it gave her the chance to say omg, no, I don’t feel that way or want that.

          4. Observer*

            He “addressed it” by deciding what he can do and telling her that he’s going to do that.

            How hard is it to actually SAY to the person you are supposedly trying to help that “I’ve been told that your parents are uncomfortable with the set up?” Because the manager actually knew that it was the parents who said that *they* were uncomfortable.

            So, he decided how to “accommodate” THE PARENTS and then told her that “I’m can do this to accommodate *you*”.

            1. Camelid lover*

              I think you are misreading the letter here.

              **Recently, one of the owners pulled me aside and let me know that he was told that I’m uncomfortable…**

              The series of events is
              OP’s parents talk to Coworker and insist both she and they are uncomfortable–> coworker talks to owner about OP being uncomfortable–>Owner talks to OP about what can and can’t be done to address *her* discomfort –>OP shuts this down and asks where Owner got that idea –> Owner names coworker, and OP does digging/realizes this was a message coming from her parents.

              But based on the letter and OP’s comments, the owner was had taken the report of *her* discomfort on good faith and was trying to address it directly with her.

        2. turquoisecow*

          I think the manager did the right thing here – he discussed it with OP. If I was a manager and someone told me that an employee wanted me to know something, or an employee’s parent wanted me to know something for that matter, I’d immediately call in that employee and ask what was going on, and also tell them that they need to come to me directly from now on.

          Hopefully manager also told the coworker that he should talk to OP, because OP is an adult and should speak for herself. Even if he did, OP should do the same.

      5. InTheLibrary*

        There are multiple people in the comments speculating on what the parents might *actually* be concerned about. I think these folks might be missing the fact that for a great many conservative and religious/evangelical people in the US, simply the fact of an unmarried man and woman being alone together IS the concern. Not an affair or sexual harassment necessarily, or even the OP being uncomfortable, but the FACT of existing in the same space together. For example, one middle-aged long-married evangelical/conservative woman I know highly regrets accepting a ride to the airport from a lifelong family friend of the same age who is male and also married, because the fact of being in a car with him alone felt so *wrong.*

        The parents in this case are not worried about the OP’s safety; they are worried about her being a social and professional equal to men. They are not worried about her being uncomfortable — on the contrary, they are worried about her being *comfortable* with being in the office alone with a man because that would indicate that she does not have the proper conception of the role of women.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          My dear, if you ride in a carriage alone with that Bridgerton boy, the ton will assume you are compromised even if nothing occurred. And you will never find a good match, let alone be the season’s diamond.

        2. DJ Abbott*

          I wonder if they understand how insulting that is to men and women. The assumption that a man and a woman can’t be adult and have a professional relationship or a friend relationship. The assumption that they can’t control their animal urges for even a short time. The assumption that they only care about the one thing, not the relationship or each other’s feelings.
          I would be hugely insulted if anyone made those assumptions about me or my friends!

    2. Wisteria*

      “they also lied about you to your employer”

      Doesn’t sound like the parents told any lies:

      let him know that my parents are uncomfortable with the fact that I’m in office alone after hours

      Based on what we know from the letter, sounds like the parents are speaking for themselves. They are overstepping, but not lying. When/if LW talks to her parents, accusing them of lying is going to distract from the conversation about overstepping.

    3. EPLawyer*

      Mostly because if women refused to meet 1:1 with men, it would seriously stymie our careers.

      But there are men who do that. Our former VP being one high profile example. He refuses to be alone with women. But he can do that, because it doesn’t hurt a man’s career because there are plenty of men that he can just avoid women. But women can’t. If we refuse, its impossible to be a manager.

        1. EPLawyer*


          he most likely did. Because if you can’t meet with the boss, there goes a whole lot of things that go into advancing one’s career.

      1. LittleMarshmallow*

        Don’t worry… the men that think that way believe that women shouldn’t be in careers so it shouldn’t stymie anything. *sarcasm* of course. I’m feeling extra spicy after reading this letter…

    4. Chirpy*

      I had a friend in college who had a coworker attempt to rape her when they were alone at work (during the day!) so it does cross my mind sometimes, but honestly, I’ve only ever had one super creepy coworker that I refused to be alone with. Because he was super creepy, not just because he was a guy. So while I would want to know management would take my concerns seriously if I did say something (mine didn’t on the creepy coworker despite several people’s complaints until it escalated to threats of violence), your parents aren’t the ones to be making that decision for you.

      1. Rain's Small Hands*

        I was raped by my boss. It was horrifying. I then spent the next 25 years working in IT operations setting up servers which was often done on evenings and weekends because we USED to have outages when you would do that and often with one of my almost always male coworkers. Although I didn’t like every single one of my coworkers, I never felt threatened – and if someone gave off creeper vibes (like my boss did, but I was 22 and didn’t trust my instincts and had a mortgage) – I would have gone to my boss who would have assigned a different person to work with me after hours.

      2. UKDancer*

        Yes. I’ve had one guy who was creepy and weird (many years ago when I was early in my career) and letched on female colleagues. I avoided having meetings alone with him and fortunately never had to travel with him. I’ve had another who refused to eat dinner with me while travelling to avoid “temptation” which was very weird as I had absolutely no interest in him as he was not my type. I did give him a wide berth because that attitude weirded me out so I didn’t trust him after.

        In a 20 year career that’s been it. I’ve never held these two bad examples against the rest of my male colleagues or transmitted it into a need to avoid being alone with them. Most men I’ve worked with have been very normal and professional.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I’m AFAB, but enby. I’ve worked in male dominated workplaces for most of my working life. Only a few times have I had problems, and then it was the guy being a sexist jerk. (One supervisor said to me “Look, you’re a nice girl, but I don’t believe women belong in tech.” The entire place was toxic and sexist.)

        Then again, if some guy was making a pass at me I likely didn’t even notice, because ADD, introverted and socially awkward.

    5. JustaTech*

      LW, I’ve been in a STEM industry (though one with more women) and I can tell you that I would much rather have one of my male coworkers around when I have to be in the lab at 1am (or 11pm) than be there alone.
      Even the coworkers I didn’t like.

      Now, if one of your coworkers was a creep and giving you bad vibes, then the situation would be different, but if your coworkers are like most people (decent humans who are professional at work) then there’s nothing untoward and your parents are being completely unreasonable.

      Here’s another thing: there are some work situations where you wouldn’t want to be one on one with a coworker of the opposite sex, but they usually involve traveling and hotel rooms. Here’s my example: I was traveling with my female coworker and our male boss. We wanted to practice our presentations before giving them at the site the next day. My coworker and I were fine practicing in my hotel room, but our boss nope’d right out (even though there were two of us) and said he’d just run through his slides alone, just to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. But if there had been a room without a bed in it? Yeah, we would have practiced together.

      I’m really sorry your parents are making your life difficult and I hope you can clearly communicate where you stand to your bosses and coworkers (and tell them not to listen to your parents).

    6. Ellis Bell*

      So I have been uncomfortable when I was in the office late, alone with a male colleague, and the feeling came on from nowhere, and took me totally by surprise because a) I’d been alone in the office with him late at night loads of times before, and b) he wasn’t seemingly doing anything but looking at his computer. So there I was trying to figure out where I was suddenly getting this “go away” feeling from, and I realise he’s not doing any work, and he’s surreptitiously watching me. A lot. All of a sudden I start checking out the exits and trying to figure out how well he was likely to handle a rejection and realising it’s actually more dangerous that I know him. He did end up trying to chat me up, and despite me being very unenthused, hovered over me and creeped me out for weeks (as well as telling people that I was leaving the job and moving to a city with him), so my instincts were sorta on point. This was a very rare, singular occasion in my 20 years career though, and I’ve been in cars alone with colleagues I’ve just met, and knocked on the doors of sketch people when I was by myself, as a reporter. Pretty much always felt perfectly safe and never needed to consider gender implications. It’s important that while it’s possible to feel uncomfortable in certain contexts, it is not for anyone else to tell a woman what her comfort levels SHOULD be.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, I’ve had two specific people I strongly preferred not to be alone in the office with as well and avoided being alone with them because some people creep you out for legit reasons – but it sounds like OP’s parents have generalized to her not being along with any small number of her colleagues, regardless of who they were, which is none of their business and can hurt her career. I 100% support people trusting their gut and getting out of situations where they are uncomfortable (and a few of my female colleagues and I went to HR over one of our creep’s behavior), but I also support OP getting to make that decision for herself.

        1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

          Yeah, in a large tech office with multiple hundreds of co-workers where I routinely worked late (accomodation for delayed sleep phase disorder) I was only actively uncomfortable around one guy. Unfortunately that guy was one of the security guards, which compounded the amount of discomfort.

          I did have a group of large or otherwise imposing dude friends there, and most of them understood exactly what my discomfort was about when I laid out the situation. Between them and my manager who had a word with the security office after he said something unmistakably Interested, I felt pretty well protected.

          (Ordinary dude giving me sus vibes? Call security for an escort out. Security guy giving me sus vibes? Odds are the person who would would be sent to respond to the call is … that dude, and you don’t want to have to have the “soooo I don’t trust your co-worker specifically, can you please send someone else” conversation with a random person in the security dispatch office.)

          There was another dude who seemed interested in flirting with me at the same hours (a member of the janitorial staff) but he always gave off respectful vibes so I was chill about his presence.

    7. Ace in the Hole*

      I’m a woman working in a field that’s 99% male. I spend a LOT of time working 1-on-1 with men, often in isolated areas.

      It would never occur to me to think of this as inappropriate or unprofessional! It’s just part of the job. And it SHOULDN’T be uncomfortable. I say “shouldn’t” because, while there’s nothing inherently uncomfortable about working with men, you may at some point work with someone (of any gender!) who gives you bad vibes… if that happens it’s important to pay attention to that feeling and take steps to protect yourself, especially when you’re alone with them.

      Frankly, I’d be uncomfortable with whoever talked to your boss about this – you now know this is someone who (A) holds misogynistic views that affect their perception of you at work, and (B) is not trustworthy. What they did is super inappropriate… your parents did overstep, but what your coworker did is far worse in my opinion.

      1. Hannah Lee*


        And RE the co-worker, the MOST that person should have done with whatever the parents were selling him was to approach LW “hey, your mom was mentioning you’re/she’s uncomfortable when you have to work late alone with 1-2 people. Is that the case? Is there anything I can do to make it more comfortable?” But even that is already over the line IMO unless that co-worker is already a trusted friend-friend and not just guy in my department at work.

        But going to the boss? Yikes!

      2. Artemesia*

        This. The parents are awful and she would be well advised to move across country IMHO. BUT the worst player in all of this is the co-worker busybody who chose to speak to the boss without touching base with her.

      3. JustaTech*

        Yes to the “person of any gender”!
        The only coworker I’ve ever had touch me in a way I didn’t want (ie, not an invited hug or something) was another female coworker who thought it was hilarious to randomly poke me in the arm. Normally that wouldn’t have bothered me, but it was pre-vaccine COVID, and we were in the lab so she was wearing gloves (and gloves = unclean). And even that I might have been willing to let go, but when I asked her to stop (visibly annoyed) she just laughed and said it was her job as a younger sibling to annoy me (an older sibling).

        1. GammaGirl1908*


          “It is also your job as a professional to leave childish dynamics like that out of the workplace.”

          **eyebrow lift and prolonged unsmiling eye contact**

        2. Ace in the Hole*

          Ugh, I’m sorry you had to deal with that!

          This also applies for things other than physical/sexual harassment. For example, there was one coworker I didn’t like to be alone with because I got an uncomfortable feeling from him. It later turned out that he was doing very sloppy work (errors, omissions, very bad judgment overall) and pinning the blame on colleagues. Fortunately I’d documented everything carefully because of my gut feelings about the situation.

          1. JustaTech*

            It was very weird because we had been good friends, but something went weird during COVID (she’s a very outgoing person and didn’t take to not being able to socialize well, and I couldn’t be her social outlet) and the whole thing got very weird and I was glad when she left. I’m still working on how much of a relationship I want to have with her (professionally, because she’s one of those people who knows everyone).

            The only person at work who’s ever given me full-on creeps was a security guard who managed to creep out everyone with his candy pushing (to the point my boss, a serious looking dude, sort-of joked that the candy might be poisoned).

    8. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

      they also lied about you to your employer, rather than talk to you directly.

      Yeeeeeeep, some fine Christian morals on display there. (And LW said in comments their dad’s a pastor, too!) *Eyeroll*

      1. Not Your Admin Ass(t)*

        (Also, this snark is for if the parents actually lied. The sheer number of comments is causing me to forget what I’ve read exactly on what was said. But I actually still have plenty of snark for religious zealot and controlling parent types, even if no lies were told.)

  4. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    Make sure your boss knows that you do not approve of your parents’ meddling and that you have asked them to respect your boundaries and stay out of your work affairs! The boss can also have a “no communication with LW’s family” policy going forward. Sounds like it’s needed. Good luck and I hope you can move out soon.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I’m also confused as to why the owner started making arrangements based on a rumor rather than just talking to her directly, or waiting for her to bring it up.

      1. Reba*

        It seems like there is quite a bit of social overlap between LW’s family and the business, and I also wonder if the boss and coworkers are closer to parents’ age than LW’s, they might be acting parentally toward her, perhaps without realizing it. Hopefully this will also be a wake-up to the boss that LW is an adult, like all the way an adult who negotiates her own working conditions.

        Anyhow, clearer boundaries for everyone!

        1. Reba*

          ok, after reading the clarification to the letter I would like to put it more strongly that the parents AND THE COWORKER are grossly paternalistic and the coworker also needs a talking to.

      2. Observer*

        I’m also confused as to why the owner started making arrangements based on a rumor rather than just talking to her directly, or waiting for her to bring it up.

        Yes. That actually worries me a bit. The manager seems to have some really problematic assumptions at play here.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          My assumption was that the manager thought the request came from her and wanted to make it clear that “we cannot ensure you are never alone with a man, but if it’s really a problem we can put these accommodations in place to reduce any discomfort you may have.”

          1. Observer*

            There is no reasonable way that the boss should have thought that without some problematic assumptions. Remember – the boss knew that the coworker heard this from the parents.

            What would it have taken for him to have just said “Hey, your parents expressed this concern. What do you think?” or something like that. Why did he *tell* her that “This what we can do to make you comfortable” without even actually asking her is she uncomfortable and then being cagey about where he got the information?

        1. Observer*

          Yes, he pulled her aside AFTER he made a decision and *informed* of what he “can do for her”. Solutions should only come up once you have verified that there is actually a problem that needs to be “solved”

          1. Kevin Sours*

            People work out hypotheticals in advance of conversations. There isn’t any reason to believe he actually *did* anything to make arrangements before talking to OP. Should he have lead with “is there a problem”? Yes. But there are a lot worse faults in a manager than dealing with an awkward conversation awkwardly.

            1. Observer*

              This was not “dealing with an awkward conversation awkwardly.” Keep in mind that he knew that it was the parents who were uncomfortable, but he just projected on to her and told her he was told that SHE was uncomfortable.

              1. Kevin Sours*

                He got his wires crossed and thought she wanted the accommodation. He addressed it with her directly and promptly. She said she didn’t want it and that was the end of it. No harm, no foul.

          2. Glitsy Gus*

            I think that isn’t a huge deal. If I know I need to help a coworker or report figure out an issue I try to spitball possible solutions before talking to them. It doesn’t mean that these are the things that WILL happen, but coming to the conversation with an idea of what is possible is just a good idea.

      3. Artemesia*

        I can easily see where the boss, who may be conflict avoidant and spooked by possible sexual harassment issues — lots of bosses are very paranoid about this — would bend over backwards to try to accommodate ‘her concern’. Yes he should have spoken to her first, but it is understandable how this played out and good that he did come clean with her about it.

      4. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I didn’t read the letter that he had already started making arrangements. We don’t here anything about change in hours or anything. Just that the boss came and spoke with OP and explained that they might be able to make accommodations but when they can’t he would try and give her notice. It’s not like all of a sudden she had a different schedule or something.

    2. Wisteria*

      Yes, I didn’t see anything in the answer regarding how to talk to her bosses and coworkers about calls from her parents. Nobody at work should be discussing work conditions with someone outside the company.

      it turns out one of my coworkers had approached him and let him know that my parents are uncomfortable with the fact that I’m in office alone after hours

      I wonder what the details of what happened on that call and afterward are. Was it more like:

      Parents: We are uncomfortable that our daughter works late with only 1 or 2 other men in the building.
      CW: Um, I’ve gotta go.
      CW (to boss): Yeah, LW’s parents called me? They said something about her not working late in the building with just 1 or two other people? What am I supposed to do?

      Or was it more like:
      Parents: We are uncomfortable that our daughter works late with only 1 or 2 other men in the building.
      CW: Thank you for passing that on to me. I will talk to our boss and make sure it never happens again.
      CW (to boss): LW’s parents called and asked me to make sure she is never in the building after hours with just one or two other men! We have to make sure this never happens again!

      Cuz the conversation with CW will look very different based on which scenario actually happened

      1. Hannah Lee*

        IDK, to me, it’s the same conversation with CW, because in both cases, he picked up opinions about LW and LW’s work conditions …. and brought them to the boss, instead of either:

        CW: – hmmm – shrug – LW’s a grown up, if it’s a problem I’m sure she’ll deal with it with boss


        CW: hey, LW, your parents mentioned xyz to me. It seemed odd that they were bringing it up with me like I should do something about it (or alternatively – It makes sense to me) I wanted to touch base with you to see what you were thinking?

        At this point, whatever his perspective or his motives were/are, the behavioral, work-related change that’s needed going forward is “stay out of your colleagues personal business, let them manage their own work conditions and do not ferry messages from colleagues relatives, friends to the boss”

        1. Wisteria*

          It’s the difference between leaving the conversation with the parents and asking the boss on guidance for how to deal with somebody’s parents calling you and engaging with the parents and doing as they ask. Leaving the conversation with the parents is the right thing to do. Asking a manager for guidance on a situation you don’t know how to handle is a reasonable course of action. That’s the difference.

          However, LW clarified that her parents know CW from their church, so we can be safe assuming that CW engaged with the parents and asked the boss to take action. If it hasn’t already happened, a follow up conversation with Boss about shutting down CW’s engagement with LW’s parents in the future is a good one to have.

  5. Llellayena*

    Oy the parents! I’m curious though: If she HAD been uncomfortable in the listed situations, is the manager’s solution the right option? It seems like it would be bordering on sex discrimination except that it would have been requested by the person who would then be discriminated against.

    1. Lance*

      Personally, I don’t think it was the right option; at least not as such. The right option would be to talk to the LW and see if anything might need/be able to be done, not just come up with a ‘solution’ on the fly before even talking to them at all.

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I once was pulled off a trip for project team I was leading days before we were scheduled to fly to CA to present at a national sales force meeting. It was an important presentation, meeting a lot of the sales team was important for building support for the project and my future networking, plus being a sales meeting, there were a lot of fun things scheduled so being able to go was a good thing and a perk.

        Turns out, one of the managers thought I was pregnant, and thought the best thing for me would be to NOT have to fly and attend the event. a) I was not pregnant b) gross! c) even if I was pregnant, it would be up to me – with guidance from my doctor – to decide what work activities I was comfortable with. Still don’t know if the pregnancy rumor was started on purpose, taking advantage of the company’s misogynistic culture to bounce me from the high-profile event (there was one back-stabby manager who’d been trying to get one of their allies to be the lead on the project) or if some dopey person thought …hmm, Hannah looks a little lumpy in the waist, bet she’s pregnant and went off to the races. But in any event the fallout for me was not good. I not only missed out on the event and the professional and personal upsides of that but because I was unmarried with no BF at the time and because I never delivered the imaginary baby, I was the subject of all kinds of rumors about which co-worker, VP I was having an affair with, how I got my current position, whether I had an abortion or had suffered a tragic loss I was keeping a secret.

        All because some dopes decided pregnant ladies don’t get to travel for work and then had to explain why I was MIA, spreading the false pregnancy story far and wide.

        If, instead, any one of the decision makers had approached me to mention “hey, heard the news, are you still okay with traveling?” I would have been able to shut down the rumor before it got to far, and NOT been pulled off the event, plus if it was politics, I would have sniffed it out sooner and avoided some of the sabotage.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Yikes! Step one is ALWAYS to talk to the person affected by the decision. This was a horrible horrible abuse of you and your time and every single person even vaguely associated with that fiasco owes you a huge apology.

        2. bookworm*

          wow, this is textbook hostile work environment (the legally actionable kind) and just ticking down a list of violations to anti-discrimination/harassment laws. I’m so sorry you went through this.

      2. Elenna*

        But… he did talk to OP in order to figure out what could be done! That was the whole point of the meeting, to talk to her and figure out a viable solution.

        And I don’t see why it’s a problem that he thought about possible solutions beforehand. That’s just preparing for a possibly awkward meeting. If he hadn’t thought about possible solutions and OP really had wanted to not be alone with men, the meeting could have been very awkward:
        Boss: “Well, we can’t prevent you from being alone with men.”
        Imaginary OP who agrees with her parents: “Well what can you do then? What options would you suggest?”
        Boss: “Uh…” *flounders because he didn’t think about it beforehand, meeting ends awkwardly and probably has to be rescheduled, wasting both of their times*

        Sure, in this case the boss could have saved himself some time by checking that OP really wanted that before setting up the meeting. But the whole subject (including the parental involvement) is awkward enough that I can understand Boss wanting to set up an actual meeting about it instead of just stopping by her desk and discussing it publicly. And if he’s going to set up a meeting anyways, why not prepare for the meeting by thinking of issues that could come up?

        Of course this is all assuming Boss only thought about solutions and didn’t actually implement anything. Implementing anything without asking OP would have been a big overstep for sure.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Sure, he could think about some other possible solutions in case this was actually the case… but he STILL needed to start the discussion with “I was told you have concerns X and Y. Is this true?” BEFORE he jumped to “So… we can’t do this accommodation for you.”

          It wasn’t as bad as skipping steps A, B, and C and jumping straight to D, but he still skipped step A, and “not as bad” is not a synonym for “not bad”.

    2. Banana*

      If she was asking for it as a religious accommodation, they’d need to consider whether they could reasonably accommodate it, how they’d theoretically offset or work around any potential sex discrimination issues, and whether those workarounds are reasonable. It’s not something I would try to work through without involving HR, and I am sure my HR department would involve Legal. The answer is almost certainly that we can’t accommodate it, but it’s important to follow the process to get to that answer, and to document the following of the process, to discredit any future claims of religious discrimination.

    3. Apples*

      LW is correct that this would hurt her career. It’s pretty normal in tech to have out-of-hours activities that only need a two or three people around, and realistically those other people are going to be men. Let alone all the 1-1 meetings, lunches etc that might only involve a small team. If LW was left out of all of those, they might not have much of a job left. Honestly, if someone’s really uncomfortable being the only woman alone in groups of men, they’re going to find a tech career hard to get on with.

      1. Apples*

        Oops, re-read and they said STEM, not specifically tech. My bad! The same might go for other STEM careers but I can’t say!

        1. Antilles*

          We can’t say for certain, but if it’s an industry that’s >75% male and at a company where there’s a maximum of 5 people there at any given time, it’s likely that there’s plenty of situations where LW would get held back if she was never allowed to be alone with a man.
          Just a simple scenario here is a client meeting: Well, as a senior exec, I’d normally take OP to this client meeting but that requires a drive – and the other people in the office are all on tight deadlines so it’d be just us and welp, can’t do that”.

      2. Emmy Noether*

        I’m in a field that is 85% male, and this is most definitely true! For example, a lot of the most interesting opportunities involve traveling somewhere (conference, experiment, potential collaboration), and I’d say about 75% of those involved me alone with a guy in a car for significant lengths of time (with the rest 20% alone and 5% group). I’ve also spent entire nights on experiments alone in the building with just one or two men. I’ve also rehashed presentations in hotel rooms, or gone to dinner 1-on-1 when that’s what was convenient. None of those times were a problem or even considered remarkable.

        Avoiding those situations would have been seriously limiting to my work, not to mention my career!

        Hell, I even shared an office with a man for a time, so being alone with him was a daily occurence.

    4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      The right thing to do is ask OP what she wants. Then brainstorm a solution with her. Possibly pointing out how her solutions might harm her career or whatever.

      In OP’s shoes I like to imagine that I’d have been quick-witted enough to say “I need a pay rise so I can move out of my parents’ place, or a very strong reference so I can find a better-paid job in another city and have enough to pay rent there.”

  6. Irish Teacher*

    I couldn’t do my job without being alone with a male colleague. Our current SENCO is male and he and I are the two main learning support teachers in the school so we need to work pretty closely together (and have an “if I get hit by a bus” principle about ensuring the other knows what we are doing/understands our job well enough to cover in an emergency) and a lot of the information we are dealing with is pretty confidential – students’ disabilities, etc – so we need to be able to discuss things privately. He also lives in a neighbouring town to mine, both of which are maybe 20 miles from the school we work in, so he has driven me home after work on occasion.

    I also wouldn’t use your sister as somebody to sound out on this, as she has presumably been raised by your parents too and may well see what they do as normal, because she may have been influenced by them.

    The owner sounds like a good guy though.

    1. ferrina*

      Seconded- I would be hard-pressed to do my job if I couldn’t meet with men 1:1. I’ve had days where it’s just me and a male colleague in the office all day (no cameras). I didn’t even think about it. (Caveat for when it’s the office creeper: then I GTFO. But that’s because that dude is creepy, not based on him being a man).

      Also seconding not using your sister as a sounding board. Siblings that have grown up with the same abnormal norms that you have will have their thinking influenced by that (I’m going through similar with my own siblings; it sucks cuz I love them and really want to trust them, but their advice perpetuates the toxic cycles of my family because that’s all they know).
      LW, you are really smart to get an outside perspective.

  7. Colette*

    One thing I’d add is that, if you know who mentioned this concern to the boss, you ask them not to speak for you.

    1. ursula*

      I wonder if the person was one of the men who works there, who now is worried that he is making her uncomfortable in the unavoidable situations where they need to work 1 on 1. (This is obviously speculative, but it feels possible to me.) I’m not sure that would be an inappropriate thing to discuss with a boss, especially if you don’t have a lot of discretionary ability to avoid putting your coworker in that situation, and I’d want some guidance on how the company wants me to handle it.

      1. Colette*

        If he was worried he was making her uncomfortable, he should have talked to her, not someone else.

    2. Mina*

      I would follow up with that coworker – it’s so weird to me that they went to your boss before going to you, but maybe in context it’s better than it sounds.

    3. Original LW*

      It would be nice if I could do this. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t really work with this particular coworker. I’ve known him basically my entire life and his wife and I are very good friends. I think he means well, but I’m still incredibly annoyed by the fact that he went behind my back. He also holds to the same view as my parents do about me staying late (alone or with others) and having one-on-one situations with the other guys in the office.

      I’ve addressed my annoyance with his “big brother” attitude with my boss and I think he’s talked about it with my CW.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        This is tricky, I’m sorry you have to deal with it. I hope you can find a little more privacy in your situation soon.

        You obviously know the relationship best, but if you could even float a, “hey, so if you or my parents have a concern about me, could you talk to me first? That was an uncomfortable conversation to have with Manager without any warning.” Possibly making it more about the weirdness of the conversation, rather than the concern itself, might help. Obviously you shouldn’t have to handle it that way, but I understand that not all situations are ideal and sometimes you have to work with what is.

        I am glad you talked to your boss about it. At least that way he knows if he hears anything else like that he should come to you rather than assume it’s the truth.

      2. Artemesia*

        time to move to a new city. This was not even about your parents but about the church; this co-worker believes this and is using the parents as an excuse. How can you have a career here with this guy meddling and condescending?

        Time to go to Portland or Chicago or ? And build a career without being the continuous subject of church gossip.

      3. Ellis Bell*

        It’s so funny to me that he’s not at all worried about offending his wife’s good friend, or his colleague. Most people would be mortified on both professional and social fronts.

      4. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        When I have a problem with the husband of a friend, that usually means I see less of the friend… or I try to organise “girls’ nights out” so we can hang out without the husband.

      5. I would prefer not to*

        I’m coming from a very different cultural context here I think, but I really find it hard to reconcile “meaning well” with his behaviour or his belief that you shouldn’t be in one-on-one situations with other men.

        I just can’t think of a non-sexist, non-offensive reason for it.

  8. Mellie Bellie*

    Wow. Everything Alison said and I’ll add that it’s time to start looking for another place to live, ASAP. Get a roommate if you have to, but this type of meddling will impact your reputation, which can impact your career. And, given that your sister is defending their actions as “valid” I’m betting your parents won’t just stop because you ask them to never interfere again. Time to start setting some hard boundaries.

    1. My Business*

      I avoid giving out the addresses, phone numbers, and even names of places I work to family members. Even the ones who I know won’t call bc they talk e those who will.

    2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      The fact that sister is also in agreement with parents is what is driving my recommendation:

      -move out, with roommates due to cost of living
      -put your family on an information diet
      -get boss on board with only communicating with parents in the event of an emergency, as you are an adult now

      Seems as if OP may be less malleable to their ideas than the sister, hence the behind the back interference. They also may be operating under a forgiveness rather than permission mentality to get OP to continue to toe their line when it comes to their ideas with regards to social and other standards of behavior.

      1. JessicaTate*

        ^This. This, so very much. I know it’s not the question you asked, but to stop this kind of interference, it’s harder to assert boundaries when you are financially dependent on them (even to a small degree), particularly when the family has already shown they are going to very liberally cross boundaries.

        It’s time to start planning how to fly out of the nest and get your freedom. It’s worth every penny.

  9. Dust Bunny*


    Yeah, no–your parents are way, way, over the line here. I’m sure it comes from a place of love but it’s also completely unreasonable and not at all their place.

    For the record, I have always worked with both men and women, including sometimes working alone with male coworkers, and it’s never been an issue. I’ve heard of one or two isolated incidences where a woman coworker of mine had a problem with a man, but it was a specific man and when she brought it to the attention of her supervisors it was quickly and firmly handled. I’m sure my male coworkers are capable of being, um, frisky, but they’re adults and don’t bring it to work. I’ve also never had coworkers, for the most part, express any concern about men and women working together alone–I’ve had a few who were maybe mildly side-eyeing about it but they weren’t vehement and it wasn’t at all the prevailing culture. It’s just not a thing when people behave appropriately.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Thinking about it: If either of my immediate male coworkers did or said anything even remotely inappropriate my first response would be to wonder if they were ill (had a stroke? Hit their heads?) because it would be so wildly out-of-character for them.

      1. Nesprin*

        I’ve had some sketchy male coworkers in STEM, but the response to sketchy dudes is not to ask my parents to prevent 1:1 conversations with male coworkers, it’s to deal with said sketchy dudes using HR, documentation, buddy systems (when necessary) etc.

        That OP’s parents are making this leap out of supposition and rumor and that OP’s company is treating her parents input as valid is 2 separate problems neither of which is sketchy male coworkers.

    2. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      Nope, it isn’t born of love – It comes from a particular stream of religious patriarchy combined with fear of the Other that is entirely non-sensical, and needs to be discarded into the trash bin that is human history.

      Betting nine would get you ten that her father was the one to bring it up, and if they talk about the subject at all will complain about her disgracing the family and herself by consorting with men without a chaperone.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Bonus points if he mentions tempting men and how they can’t withstand the wiles of women with a side of women shouldn’t really be working past marriage/motherhood anyway.

    3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      No it’s not coming from a place of love. It’s coming from a place of needing to wield power over daughters/women. There’s no love in that. Love would be if the father offered to come and pick her up when she works late, or offered to speak to the boss if OP felt uncomfortable about asking.

  10. Office Lobster DJ*

    OP, good for you for pushing through a wildly confusing interaction with your boss and getting to the real root of the problem. And good for your boss for following up with you directly, for that matter.

    1. Observer*

      No, NOT “good for the boss.”

      He mishandled the situation. He did NOT follow up with her directly. He made a decision and then informed her of it. And even when she asked where he got the idea from, he made her dig for it.

      1. sdog*

        I agree. A good boss would have approached OP and told her, “This is what I have heard, but I wanted to speak to you about it directly. Are you asking for an accommodation?”

      2. Wisteria*

        I find that a curious take on the owner. He approached LW directly and actually said that he mostly couldn’t accommodate (what he thought was) her request. Then he presented what limited options he could accommodate. Nowhere does it say that the options he presented were a final decision about how they would interact going forward.

        1. Observer*

          He didn’t ask her – he told her. And he explicitly assumed that she had an issue, despite the fact that she’d never brought it up and he never checked with her. And then when she asked what’s up, she had to “dig”.

        2. Office Lobster DJ*

          This is where I’m coming from. To me, Bad Boss behavior would have been to act on the other conversation and roll out these accommodations without ever mentioning it directly to OP. “Here’s what I heard, and here’s what I can offer you” seems okay enough to me.

          I’ll admit I might have a low bar…

          1. I would prefer not to*

            He made an assumption based on a rumour which he knew came from her *parents.*

            Not the worst boss in the whole world but definitely not good.

      3. Malarkey01*

        I’m divided on the boss here. I don’t know if she had to dig because boss wouldn’t tell her or if boss was equally confused and said “Jim old me you were uncomfortable” and digging was necessary to find out why Jim thought that. If it was the latter I think the boss approaching LW right away to say “I heard this thing and want to discuss it. There are some things I can do to accommodate it and some I can’t, let’s talk” is okay.
        It’s just hard to parse exactly how this evolved.

        1. Observer*

          If it was the latter I think the boss approaching LW right away to say “I heard this thing and want to discuss it. There are some things I can do to accommodate it and some I can’t, let’s talk” is okay.

          Except that according to the OP, that’s not what happened either. The boss didn’t offer to discuss the matter – he told her that this is what he can offer for her “problem”.

          1. Malarkey01*

            Fair enough. For me it’s more nuanced. If that was just his opening to say there are definitely things we can and can’t do like x and y as a way to kick off the discussion with LW and try to set a comfortable tone by indicating there are options available I still think that’s a good approach. If it’s a one sided conversation with all decisions are already made that’s different. Without knowing how the entire conversation went I’m not ready to say good or bad boss.

        2. Wisteria*

          “I heard this thing and want to discuss it. There are some things I can do to accommodate it and some I can’t, let’s talk” is okay.

          It sounds from the LW that the boss took exactly that tone when he spoke to her:

          he can’t always accommodate that in the office as people are often working from home or going on-site to clients, but he can try to let me know when that will happen and I am free to work from home. He also told me that he and the other owners can stop having one-on-one meetings with me with their office door closed.

          It’s all about what he can and can’t do. There’s nothing in there to support a claim that he had made a decision and presented what he will do.

          1. I would prefer not to*

            It isn’t about whether he made a decision, it is about making an assumption re her feelings in the first place.

        3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          For me, the fact that OP had to dig was because the owner realised he’d messed up and didn’t want to own up to having acted purely on hearsay.

  11. Quinalla*

    Oh OP, your parents are horribly overstepping. I’m glad the owner came to you to discuss and you were able to clear it up. This is not normal! I am a mechanical engineer and a woman and yeah, I’m in meetings so, so often either 1 on 1 or even 10+ people where I am the only woman, it is very common especially in certain engineering disciplines/fields. It sucks it is still so common, though it has at least gotten better over my 20 years in the field, but we have a LONG way to go.

    1. Gnome*

      Not in engineering, but in a STEM field in a male dominated industry too. I’m the only woman on my team. I’m often the only woman in meetings. I am much more likely to have an issue with someone being condescending than anything else (e.g. the “young lady” post from yesterday).

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Same, same, and same.

        That said – holy effing he!!, the parents are so far out of line that I’m not even sure where to start logically. Information diet (sister too), move the heck out, etc. Because they’re going to damage your reputation professionally with this nonsense.

        I kind of want to know which coworker brought it up to the owner, and I’d consider figuring out how to handle THAT particular work relationship too.

  12. to varying degrees*

    I’m new to a job and the company I work for has a total of four people: me (female) and three men. I would not be bale to actually have this job if this was an issue.

    I agree that LW needs to probably stop using family as a sounding board for stuff like this. And I too like the owner.

  13. Phony Genius*

    Why is the owner acting on this information if it didn’t come from the employee directly? If you came to me with information like this about an employee, my response would be to have the employee tell me directly, or I can’t act on it. (And I probably won’t even if they do come to me, but at least I can give a direct answer and explanation.)

    1. Phony Genius*

      OK, Alison made a correction to the OP, which amends my comment.

      That coworker who went to the boss had no business doing so. It’s unclear how they even knew the parents’ position, but that doesn’t really matter. I still put part of this on the boss, and would have told the coworker that either the employee tells me directly, or I won’t act. And not to come to me with concerns raised by another worker’s family.

      1. I'm just here for the cats!*

        I don’t understand why people are side eyeing the boss or the other employee. Earlier in the thread the OP says that the coworker knows her father from church. My understanding is Father said stuff to coworker on behalf of OP. Coworker then says they learned that OP is uncomfortable at work and talks to boss.

        I can see where the coworker is coming from. He finds out that a younger, junior, female employee is uncomfortable. The logical thing is to bring this to the attention of the boss in case there was more at play that he didnt know (maybe another employee made advances, or something) and let the boss address it.

        I think boss did jump the gun saying that they can do X to accommodate but I don’t think the boss or the employee are in the wrong here.

        1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          The employee should have gone to OP and asked whether she was uncomfortable and whether she would appreciate him doing something about it.

        2. I would prefer not to*

          The OP makes it clear above in comments that the co-worker also holds these concerns. So it doesn’t sound like that was the situation.

    2. Observer*

      Even with the correction, I’m still side eyeing the boss AS WELL as the coworker.

      Talk about paternalism!

  14. Dr. Rebecca*

    OP if you heard a gasp from somewhere in the Midwest, that was me. Your parents didn’t just push past a boundary, the put the boundary in a blender and served it up like a milkshake of awful. What *were* they thinking??

    1. Clobberin' Time*

      They were thinking that OP is not really an independent adult and of course she agrees with and follows their views of what’s appropriate, so it’s okay for them to go behind her back and do what they think is appropriate for her.

    2. lost academic*

      I’m projecting here, but I imagine what they were thinking was rooted in the concept that their Daughter Must Be Protected, and also that she has no agency or authority in the Matters of Men. I wonder if they understand her job at all, but that’s really beside the point.

      In a more normal overstepping of bounds by parents the first option is to sit them down and explain How the Professional World Works and what role parents have in it (NONE). But – that seems likely to fall on closed ears. It will sadly fall to OP to have a frank discussion about the lack of appropriate boundaries with each coworker (I recommend that one on one) and make it crystal clear with no softening or equivocation that the ONLY person who should be expected to relay information about OP’s level of comfort and everything else with respect to her job is the OP. Yeah, it sucks to have to do that, but I have found everyone understands overbearing parents and boundary issues in general and will be pretty receptive.

      Good luck, OP.

  15. It's Bamboo O'Clock, Tick-Tock*

    I had a boss who had gone from working with all men to working with mostly men. He would not be in a closed office alone with a woman and would either open his blinds or have another person present. He framed it as keeping us women comfortable, but honestly it was so othering and uncomfortable. I’m glad you were successful in pushing back, because that kind of treatment is awful.

    1. Prof Ma'am*

      I like how what this really is saying is “I realize I might make you uncomfortable, so the solution is to open the blinds”. Like dude, if you act in a way that makes women thing you might assault them then maybe fix yourself, not the blinds. But if you act like a decent human being then calm down…

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, what? I am A-ok with men unless and until they do something awful. You make women comfortable by treating them like any other human.

      1. londonedit*

        Absolutely. You don’t make women feel comfortable by effectively saying ‘Hey, I’m worried about being alone with you so I’m going to open the blinds’. Well I wasn’t worried before, mate, but I certainly am now…!

        1. Allonge*

          This. Nobody really safe ever said stuff like this to me. WTF is even in your brain, ‘man’, so you need to specify this?

        2. UKDancer*

          Definitely. I mean that would worry me. I had one colleague refuse to eat with me when we were travelling because he wanted to “ensure he avoided temptation.” I mean I wanted to tell him that it took two to tango and I was in no way tempted by him and so nothing would have happened if we’d actually eaten together. I mean if he’d said he was tired or wanted to facetime his kids or something to avoid eating with me that would have been fine and I’d have been none the wiser. But the fact he even mentioned temptation implied that he viewed me in a non-professional way so I never trusted him after that.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            All of this.

            Dude, that was not at all on my mind, but now I have to worry about what you’re thinking about me? Urgh, no, thanks.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes. I mean I didn’t desperately want to eat dinner with him while we were travelling. I didn’t need to know that he had any thoughts about me as being attractive and it made it weird that he was viewing me as potentially tempting because I don’t want my colleagues viewing me in that light as a rule. He’d have done better to just make a tactful social excuse rather than performatively being virtuous.

      2. Koalafied*

        For real, I’ve said before that all I want at work is for my sex and gender to be as irrelevant to 98% of my interactions as my favorite ice cream flavor. (The other 2% of the time is when they’re placing the order for the ice cream social or picking a new couch for the women’s restroom vanity area.)

    3. The Person from the Resume*

      The religious excuse for the man to “avoid temptation” is also gross. The idea that when a man is attracted to woman he can’t help but attempting to flirt with her, seduce her, have sex with her with or without her consent is insulting to men.

      It makes you wonder about how much religious conservatism which espouses separating the sexes and telling women they need to hide their bodies, messes up boys into thinking they can’t control their sexual impulses and shouldn’t even bother because it’s a woman’s job to make sure a man is not attracted to her.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Oh, it 100% does – or at least, it’s a woman’s job to control the situation; men can’t be held responsible.

        1. Koalafied*

          Exactly this. It’s not about making sure they aren’t attracted to you, but rather taking responsibility for preventing them acting on the attraction. The Madonna is never painted as a homely woman.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Honestly it makes me sad for young people being raised that way because it lessens them. It leaves the boys as permanently less than adult (because you aren’t responsible enough to be in control of this part of your life) and puts way too much on the shoulders of the women (who are forever responsible for the men and their thoughts, while probably also being in charge of all the “traditionally female things” too).

      3. Chickaletta*

        Seriously. If the men coming up with these rules spent five minutes thinking through their reasoning, I’d think they’d be embarrassed for themselves.

    4. Irish Teacher*

      If anything, that would make me LESS comfortable because…now the idea that he might assault me or something is on the table, you know? I still wouldn’t think he’d DO it, but “I’m just opening the blinds so you don’t think I might assault you” brings the whole idea up. (I’m not saying he’d phrase it like that, but still, the implication is there).

    5. Heiress of Whitestar*

      Your boss’s rationale was probably bull, also. I’m sure he was wholly unconcerned with women’s comfort. He was protecting himself from women making hysterical, unfounded accusations of harassment about him because that’s what we all are waiting to do and men like him are the real victims.

    6. nnn*

      The ridiculous thing about that is all he’d have to do to be equitable would be to never be in a closed office alone with ANY employee

  16. kitryan*

    It is not terrible to have a rule or to be uncomfortable being completely alone at work, presuming that this is not inherently part of the job.
    The rest of it, the parents talking to the coworker, the parents apparently presenting their own inappropriate concern as OP’s issue, and the gendered aspect, are all terrible and as Alison says, the only way the parents should have handled their fears is to speak to OP and then to let it go.
    A story about a past workplace where we had a ‘no one works alone’ rule:
    I used to work as a fabric dyer for a theatrical costume shop and was working late one night and burned myself (I’m fine, it was fine but a bit scary for a minute). Because I was alone in the workspace and there was the potential for more serious injury, the boss implemented a new policy that no one should work alone in the evenings and there should always be another person, so that someone could get help in case of injury/accident.

    1. Phony Genius*

      Even an office should have that rule. I know of someone who had a stroke and was discovered by a security guard.

      1. kitryan*

        I do agree – I think it’s pretty important for any work where there’s a clear physical hazard (in the case of my prior job, boiling water/gas stoves, sewing machines-more hazardous than most people think, and other sharp tools and caustic chemicals) but not a bad idea for work environments generally, as accident and illness can happen anywhere.

        1. Koalafied*

          Eh, as a counterpoint, I live alone. If I have a stroke in the evening, it would take a lot longer than until the next morning for someone to find me. I would mildly resent a rule that prevented me from being alone in the office purely in case a random health hazard unrelated to work were to occur, because that rule only makes sense if you assume the person goes home to a trusted person and not to nobody, or to an abusive person, or who knows, a home full of black mold that actually sickens them to be in. Not suggest the office needs to stay open late specifically to accommodate am employee who doesn’t want to go home, but if it’s okay for two people to stay late toiling at a desk job, there shouldn’t be any problem with one person staying late toiling at a desk job.

          1. kitryan*

            As another person who lives alone, so I get where you’re coming from, I think – I do disagree, but possibly not to the extent you might think.
            I do think that in a standard office environment (as opposed to a more hazardous one) it’s not an essential rule, but I don’t think it’s a bad rule. When you’re in the office, the company is to a degree responsible for you and there are workplace liability issues and so forth. When you’re home, you’re responsible for yourself and your environment. I think there’s a difference there that makes a rule for the workplace a reasonable thing to have.
            I would say that what I think should be ‘required’ of all workplaces is that they at minimum consider whether people will be working alone and what they should do about it, if anything, and that some sort of communication be made to employees about their decision/policy.
            Whether that’s a rule that no one can work alone (and what you’re supposed to do if you feel you need to) or a safety button that rings an alarm or a contact number for the building’s front desk posted in a prominent location – there should be some sort of clearly communicated policy and/or action, just as offices have fire plans and so forth.

    2. Don't Send Your Kids to Hudson University*

      This makes perfect sense and I think it’s helpful to isolate the thread of a legitimate issue or question here. When the nature of the work and details of the workplace and work schedule create a potential risk, we should focus on solutions that mitigate that risk. A “no one works alone” rule is neutral and relatively simple to implement and communicate, especially when its in response to a real job-related risk.

    3. Angstrom*

      A former workplace had emergency call buttons available that one could clip on a belt if working alone after hours. This was primarily for the lab/shop folks but anyone could use them.

      1. kitryan*

        Sounds like a good idea! I could see that translating to other work environments I’ve been in – theater in particular has a lot of weird hours/solo projects.

        1. Phony Genius*

          I know of a zoo where the snake house has an emergency button for the feeder to press if they’re ever bitten. They’re also supposed to take the card from the cage of the snake that bit them and hang it around their own neck (it’s on a chain) so that when help comes, they know which snake bit them. Scary stuff.

    4. Nesprin*

      Especially in STEM labs where hazards abound and bad things do happen. Having someone help you get to the chem shower can be the difference between going home and going to the hospital.

    5. Lady_Lessa*

      I’m a woman in a STEM field, and I was going to say the same thing you did about no one being alone in the building. But, you said it so much better.

      As far as a desk job alone, I would prefer that the person has someone to text, “I’m home” just purely as a safety issue.

      As for myself, I enjoy working with my male co-workers, but always make sure that someone knows that I’ve gone for the day (without the last person having to check the parking lot).

    6. Sparkles McFadden*

      Many workplaces have guides around safety that specify that one must be in the line of sight of another employee or security must make rounds in order to check on solo workers.

      …but this is not that. This is really, really not that.

    7. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      oooh yes. A friend had an accident with a lift and lost his arm. He’d literally just told his colleagues to leave, he just had a few bits and pieces to wrap up. They went, but they’d already missed their bus and were just waiting outside for the next one. Luckily it was summer and the windows were open and they heard him screaming, or he’d have bled to death overnight.

  17. KofSharp*

    The only time it’s been discussed at my company as not being “appropriate to be alone with a coworker” is when you go on separate business trips, and then everyone is supposed to get their own hotel rooms.

    I can see being nervous about you leaving at night or in the dark, I work in a downtown location and it’s not always the safest after dark, and that’s totally normal for parents to worry about… that doesn’t mean they should call your coworkers or your boss on your behalf.

  18. lifebeforecorona*

    Start with my mother who believed that women only worked for pin money and only if the husband approved of the job. I told her one time what I earned and her reaction was that I was overpaid and that a man probably needed the income more.

    1. BatManDan*

      In what decade did she say that, how old was she when she said it, and does she still believe it? I’m quite curious!

      1. cottagechick73*

        I had a similar experience with my grandmother. She thought it was terrible that her daughters-in-law were working (was like 20 years ago so she was just of a different time period). I flatly told her that “it was clearly because her sons were not working hard enough, support the family”. She looked at me like I had two heads to even suggest such a thing and why would I be so snarky to her.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Reminds me a little of my grandmother suggesting the male neighbour was “an idle oul’ fellow” because he was a stay-at-home father. To a family of five children, including twins who were…about four when she said it? That…is not my idea of “idle” and she wouldn’t have dreamt of saying that about a stay-at-home mother. Heck, she’d been a stay-at-home mother herself.

          She didn’t object to women working though and thought it fair enough for husbands and wives to split the chores if both worked (but a husband with a stay-at-home wife should not be expected to do anything).

          1. Koalafied*

            I can see this as a variant of one of those memes: first panel, SAH parent says, “I could really use a vacation.” Second panel, neighbor replies, “You already have vacation at home.” Third panel, captioned “vacation at home,” image is of 4 year old twins.

    2. Generic Name*

      I’m guessing your mom’s head would explode if she knew that I (a woman) am my family’s primary breadwinner and make more than twice what my husband makes.

      1. Jay*

        Fist bump of recognition. For most of our careers, I made about three times what my husband did. And my mother (born in 1935) did indeed find that worrisome. “Doesn’t it bother him that you earn more than he does?” And she was HORRIFIED that one of my friends followed his wife when she got a new job in another state.

        Definitely from another era. I didn’t try to change her mind. I just shut down the conversation every time she brought it up. “Nope, he’s still fine. {insert subject change here}.”

    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Please tell your mother I’m making more than my (now retired) father ever made.
      (Nevertheless, that money is not enough to pay rent in the area I live and want to stay, but that’s another story)

    4. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’d love to have had my grandmothers, who were both full time work out of the home in the 40’s and 50’s, have fun with this idea. It might have been interesting.

      My family may be weird. Due to the way farm-to-industrial worked its way in, prior to my generation, to find other full time SAHMs in my family tree you’re going back to…farmers’ wives circa 1920s (so you know they definitely worked).

  19. Prof Ma'am*

    Welcome to the STEM field! I’m always so happy to see more females (or those identifying as female) making their way into this historically male dominated field.

    Definitely need to get the parents situation under control. You were lucky that you had the opportunity to clarify what was going on. Actually the owner was pretty great in coming to speak with you and offering accommodations. That easily could have gone very differently…

  20. Petty Betty*

    Oof. This is horrendous on so many levels.

    I’m assuming your parents know your coworker socially (maybe church?) and that’s how this got communicated. Because that’s *exactly* how my grandparents or even my mother would have gone around me if I didn’t conform to their notions of propriety or just their standards in general. They would go to the nearest male they knew for a “confidential heart-to-heart” and expect that guy to handle it from there, or “confide” some weird version of their side (that usually wasn’t the case but would get them what they wanted) so the guy would then turn and confide in the supervisor or main boss to try to get what the family wanted in the first place.
    It’s small town politicking and familial meddling all in one. You’re a woman in a male-dominated industry. You aren’t conforming to the traditional role your parents insist on. Guess what, your parents are going to continue meddling behind the scenes until they get some version of what they want. Either you’re in a more traditional working role (until you’re safely married away) or out of a job (and they won’t care about that because they can push you towards a more “suitable” job).

    I think you should find a new place to live and set some hard boundaries (or harder ones if you’ve already got some in place).

    1. PotsPansTeapots*

      Yeah, it’s sort of like the toxic workplace thing- the meddling will continue and warp LW’s sense of normal until she changes the situation.

    2. JustKnope*

      This is exactly the scenario my mind went to. It’s very likely the parents know the coworkers through a church setting, and the coworker in question is an older man they thought should be looking out for OP. So gross.

  21. Middle Aged IT Guy*

    I am furious at your parents on your behalf.
    For the record, I’ve been alone in the office with women any number of times, sometimes late into the evening–I’ll often work after-hours on things like firewalls or server installs to minimize downtime. Not once have I done anything creepy because a) I like my job and don’t want to get fired; b) I’m married; c) most importantly, I’m not a creeper. Women of any age should not fear being alone with men in a professional environment because everyone should be able to act professionally.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Same. I would take them to task – hammer and tong. The site is rampant with Inappropriate Things but this is the most pissed I have been for an OP in a while.

    2. Veryanon*

      Exactly – it makes me angry and sad that in the year 2022, we still need to have these conversations at all.

  22. XF1013*

    The parents are the main problem here, but I’m also side-eyeing that coworker who passed around the parents’ statements without consulting OP at all. That’s quite a violation too.

    OP, I’m really sorry to hear that you’re in this mess. With your parents talking this much to credulous coworkers, who knows what other false things the staff now believes about you, or what true but private things that you’d prefer they not know about you? :-( I agree with the other commenters advising you to ask for help from management in establishing some kind of “don’t listen to OP’s parents” policy for the staff.

  23. Sally*

    The parents are overstepping for sure but also… what is with the male coworkers going to their boss with demands on how LW should be treated?? And the male boss starting to move forward without really checking with LW on if that is what she wanted??

    1. Prof Ma'am*

      Maybe I read it wrong but it sounded like the boss hadn’t acted on anything yet. Sounded more like he came to her with a list of ways he *could* accommodate. Sure, I think there’s an argument that he should have asked her what she wanted before dreaming up solutions but it didn’t sound like he had already changed her schedule or canceled meetings.

      1. Observer*

        He came up with a solution and TOLD her about it.

        As for I think there’s an argument that he should have asked her what she wanted before dreaming up solutiomns, that totally minimizes how inappropriate this was. In fat, the reverse is the case. There is just no argument that it is appropriate for an employer to dream up solutions for an employee who has not asked for solutions and where the “request” came from someone with no standing to make any requests.

        1. Prof Ma'am*

          Oh I did a bad job phrasing that cause we’re in agreement! What he should have done is asked what she might need and NOT dreamed up solutions… and you’re pointing out even one more step which is first confirm there even is an issue!

        2. Elenna*

          I think maybe the reason we disagree on this is because you’re imagining “dreaming up solutions” as something the boss consciously chose to do, whereas I wouldn’t be able to *stop* myself from thinking of solutions in that scenario!

          I could imagine myself reacting like this: “OP wants what? Well, we clearly can’t do that. Do I just go over and tell them we can’t do that? This sounds like it could be a long and personal conversation, I’ll set up a meeting for tomorrow.”
          *sees meeting on calendar the next day* “Oh, right, that weird thing. Ugh, what am I going to say in that meeting? What do I even do if OP insists on not being alone with men? We obviously can’t accommodate that directly. Maybe if I leave my door open in meetings with them? etc”

          Like, it’s not a conscious “I’m gonna think of solutions now”, it’s just that my brain likes to imagine every possible future situation and the best response.

          That being said, we both agree that it’s not great that the boss assumed the co-worker was right about what OP wanted.

        3. unaccountably*

          I mostly agree with it, but also: this is just a really, really weird situation and I would have been at a loss too. The first thing I’d have done is tell the coworker to mind his own business, that’s a given, but then I would have wanted to run the whole thing by HR before I talked to OP, in case I stepped on some sort of religious-exemption land mine. I’d probably also want to make sure my bases were covered by going in to the encounter with the employee knowing what the options were if this was actually a concern for her, rather than having to tell her to wait while I went to talk to HR again.

          That would not at all be me telling her “This is what we’re going to do,” and that’s not how I read the letter at all. It says that her boss told her things they COULD do – as in, “If this is really an issue for you, here are some options” – not Things We Will Be Doing Whether You Like It Or Not, Missy. I think that’s a misreading.

          However, it’s entirely possible that her boss is only just slightly less of a fundamentalist patriarchal jerk as her coworker and parents, and that he assumed that of course a young woman wouldn’t want to work in an office alone with men. In that case, sure, he sucks too.

          1. Original LW*

            You’re spot on here. My boss wasn’t telling me that these measures were going to be put in place, just that they were the only options he had if I was uncomfortable and hadn’t told him.

            I think part of the issue was that he was under the impression that I was uncomfortable based on the conversation he had with my coworker.

            1. Observer*

              I hear you.

              I’m still not impressed with his handling of the situation.

              To be honest, he should have shut down the conversation with CW. But if he really thought that he needed to address it with you he should have led with asking you if you are actually uncomfortable, or are your parents under a mistaken impression?

              That’s the key problem – when your boss heard that you were uncomfortable third hand, he should have asked you about that. Even if the issue were something more conventional, eg unexpected travel, it’s always better to ask about the issue before getting into a discussion about what can be done about it. That’s true even for second hand information. That is even more true when it’s third hand, as it was here.

              I’m not defending your parents here. They really, really overstepped. But I really think it’s important to understand that your coworker was out of line – he should not have brought this to your boss in the first place – and your boss missed the most important first step in handling the situation.

  24. Haven’t picked a user name yet*

    This stinks and your parents were so out of line. Make sure you tell them directly to never reach out to colleagues or your company unless you have been hit by a car, and only then if they need to tell them you won’t be in!

    If you know who your parents spoke to and it is a co-worker (vs the CEO) I would also speak tot hen like you did your boss and re-iterate that your parents overstepped and you have no issues.

    Sorry your parents did this!

  25. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Concur that the parents are doing the wrong thing with this back channel.

    I think we also have a situation where they conflated a bunch of stuff together. And then having it passed on third- or fourth-hand may have muddled it even more.

    “Concerned that OP works late all by herself” could be a thing about safety leaving the office.
    “Concerned that OP works with one guy” certainly sounds sexist.
    “Concerned that OP only works with one or two guys” could be sexist, or it could just be worried that OP doesn’t get the chance to make professional connections.

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Given the question the LW is asking and her sister’s response though, I get the impression that she has good reason to assume this is due to not wanting her to work alone with guys.

  26. UKDancer*

    There is nothing wrong with being alone with co-workers of the opposite sex. I work with a lot of men and have worked with, travelled and spent long hours with them. It’s only been problematic in the rare occasions when someone was unpleasant or sleazy and this was always a problem with the individual rather than the concept of working together.

    I think I’d definitely recommend moving out as soon as practicable and putting your parents on a limited information diet.

  27. Veryanon*

    These parents are wildly, wildly overstepping and I hope OP can soon make other living arrangements. I am the parent of two young adults, one of whom has just embarked on their professional career, and one of whom is still in college. My kids come to me often for advice or just to vent. I always try to make sure I am erring on the side of coaching *only when it’s requested* and never getting involved in their work or academic lives.

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Yeah, it can be hard being in your 20’s. Rent is getting more expensive also. I would advise getting a roommate if you can find one you can trust. But as long as you’re living under your parents’ roof, and I’m sorry to say this happens way more to young women then other genders, that they will often not see you 100% as an adult. The helicopter parenting is a sign of this. It can be very hard to break helicopter parents of the habit.

  28. Fluffy Fish*

    Oof I’m sorry. It’s hard growing up in a certain way and trying to untangle the mess as an adult.

    Your parents have shown they can not be trusted with information about your life. Consider limiting the information you provide them.

    Take care.

  29. kupo!*

    I’m a young woman (ish, but as far as presentation goes there’s no reason for anyone at work to think otherwise) in tech, and even being fairly early in career, I wind up in one-on-one meetings with men a *lot*. My direct manager is a man! My coworkers are mostly men!

    Hell, I had lunch in the office of someone in C-suite because he was watching an event on his tv that he knew I was also interested in. If you’re going to be getting that important facetime with higher ups, you’re going to be alone with men. Your parents are off base; keep doing you!

  30. KatEnigma*

    People who were raised by the same people as you were are not a reliable source of what is or isn’t normal and acceptable. Please disregard further real world advice from your siblings.

    I would suggest you get a roommate or two and move out. And ask your boss to please discard anything that doesn’t come from you personally. I hope he is having a long talk with the coworker who passed on this gossip.

  31. ABCYaBye*

    I’m so sorry your parents put you in this spot, LW! As difficult as it is, you probably need to talk to them and let them know that despite their own beliefs, they do not (and cannot) speak for you. And let them know that conversations with your coworkers need to end now. It is worth pointing out to them that it can hurt you professionally…both having parents discussing their child’s employment with anyone but their child and putting you in a spot that may limit your ability to work on specific things because you “can’t be alone” with a man.

  32. Observer*

    Alison, I think that you overlooked an equally big issue. That is that this company is toxic.

    Look at the sequence. Parents talk to coworker. Coworker does NOT talk to OP but does to manager. Manager does NOT discuss this with OP but instead *informs* her that he’s going to be a good guy and “try” to accommodate her – in a why that could do damage to her. Then when she asks about it, he doesn’t immediately explain what happened. No, she needs to *dig* for the information.

    What the what?!

    Why did the coworker even entertain the conversation with parents? Why did they then bring it to the manager? Why did the manager not tell the coworker that if the OP needs / wants an accommodation, she needs to speak to him directly? If he really needed to act on this, why didn’t he actually ASK the OP what she needs instead of telling her that he “understands” that she is uncomfortable and this is what she is doing? And when she was confused and asked where he got that from, why did she need to “dig”?

    OP, your parents were out of line. The question here is not if their concerns are valid, to be honest. It’s that they totally mishandled the situation. You are presumably a competent adult, and you should be handling your own workplace issues. There are some rare exceptions, but even there, you should have been in the loop. But your employer was at least as much out of line. This was a situation that should never have happened this way.

    1. Prefer my pets*

      I completely agree…I think I’m actually angrier at the coworker than the parents. Most of us have at least one nutty family member who has wild, out of touch ideas. But that both the coworker and the boss thought they should do absolutely anything except tell the parents “we do not discuss employees with anyone except the actual employee” is super sketchy.

      For a couple years, I lived in a rural smallish community on the Utah border where this type of nonsense was common…fortunately all of management was from elsewhere in my agency and shut it down HARD. I was still incredibly relieved when I could transfer back out though!

  33. Lilo*

    If I was the boss here, I’d ask the coworkers bit to speak to the parents anymore. This is just grossly inappropriate.

    I almost wonder if the dynamic is broken enough here that LW should consider job hunting. It’s hard to untangle her parents from her job.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      This is worth considering. A lot of people are suggesting the OP set a hard boundary between her work and her parents, and while I agree with them in theory I know that in practice it may not be that simple. And the “move out” suggestions, while valid, may not be financially, socially, or emotionally possible for the OP right now. It may be worth considering whether switching jobs is the best way for OP to preserve her professional ambitions and her relationship with her family. As you said, sometimes dynamics get too tangled to fix.

  34. Agile Phalanges*

    I’ve worked in small companies for my last couple of jobs, so it would’ve been impossible to manage never being alone with someone of the opposite sex. (When I first started at one job, for example, it was an office of three of us, me and two men–if either of them left for lunch, or even just went to the bathroom, all of a sudden, I was *gasp!* alone. With a man.)

    Plus, there will always be a first and second person arriving in the morning, and a last and penultimate person to leave in the evening, so statistically, they’re fairly likely to be of opposite genders around 50% of the time (give or take, depending on the actual demographics of the people who tend to arrive early or stay late).

    And what of people who aren’t heterosexual or part of the gender binary? Under these rules, would it be okay for a cis woman to be alone with a masculine-presenting non-binary person, since they aren’t a man? What about a cishet woman to be alone with a lesbian woman? You can see how ridiculous this could become pretty quickly…

    Alison’s advice is good–this is a your-parents problem, not a you problem, a co-worker problem, or a work environment problem.

    1. Observer*

      Actually it IS a co-worker and work environment problem. Not that she works late, etc. But that they apparently have so little respect for her that these conversationS happened without anyone bothering to let her know and ~~gasp~! ask for her input.

      Which makes me wonder if the co-worker and / or manager are equally uncomfortable.

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        You’re right. I was eliding over that piece of it in my mind, but it is also a co-worker problem that they’d go over her head to her boss without ever even looping her in, let alone letting the parental comment stop with them.

        And agree with other commenters–I wouldn’t be surprised if the parents and the boss/co-workers are all part of the same religious organization.

    2. Kayem*

      I wonder the same thing, which also reminds me of a former coworker (Monica) who had that belief. She was in a particularly soapboxy mood one day and started going on about the evils of being alone with a member of the opposite sex at work. She was convinced that if one woman was alone with one or more men (and vice versa), it would devolve into an orgy once the TPS reports were done.

      One of my other coworkers (Phoebe) finally snapped at her. Phoebe asked if Monica would really rather be alone with her (divorced lesbian) over Ross (happily married straight man) or Chandler (single gay man).

      We hoped that would shut Monica up, but she declared it didn’t matter because she didn’t believe in gay people. After that, Chandler and Phoebe would greet each other every morning with “If you believe, clap your hands!”

      1. Agile Phalanges*

        …it would devolve into an orgy once the TPS reports were done.

        Ha ha ha ha ha! Only AFTER the reports were done? What good little worker bees, waiting until the work is done to begin the orgy.

        But yeah, I do wonder how the “never be alone with the opposite sex” people consider non-cishet people, but I guess that answers it. Just don’t believe in them, ergo they aren’t actually gay/outside the binary/non-cis, ergo they’re only going to sexually assault people of the opposite (binary, of course) sex. Got it.

        I also wonder how that “don’t believe in” thing works when you’re staring the actual thing you claim not to believe in in their face. It’s one thing to say you don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, whom no one has ever seen, but quite another to say “I don’t believe in gay people” when you’re talking TO an actual gay person. Do they think that means the person doesn’t exist? That they aren’t actually gay? And if the latter, then what about that person’s same-sex spouse (if they have one, of course)–do THEY not exist? Are they just roommates who get along really well? I just wonder how the cognitive dissonance works…

        1. Polly Hedron*

          I think gay-deniers are saying that no one is inherently gay: gay-behaving people are just sinners who could cast off their evil ways after being converted.

        2. Lentils*

          Can’t speak to Monica’s own beliefs, but in my experience this sort of person saying “I don’t believe in gay people” is a combo of “I think people are making an active choice to engage in homosexual lifestyle choices” and “gay = sinful sexual urges only.” Basically, Phoebe and her ex-partner were deluding themselves and making an active choice to live in sin, and Phoebe identifying as a lesbian is choosing to embrace her “unnatural urges” or whatever.

        3. I would prefer not to*

          They think we are unhappy deep down and have been corrupted into the homosexual lifestyle! They sometimes see it as an addiction or a cult. Or an illness. They pray for us to get better.

          They know we exist but they don’t think out sexuality is something we *are*, they think it’s something we do.

    3. kitryan*

      I have a feeling that people who hold these attitudes usually buy hard into the gender binary as well as into the whole ‘men can’t help themselves’ toxic stew of toxicity.

  35. Sleepless KJ*

    Out in the working world for 40+ years working in every situation from legal assistant in a male dominated legal firm of 20+ frat boy attorneys to personal assistant to a rather eccentric writer to a property acquisitions position where I spent most of my weeks flying to newly purchased properties and setting up the management offices and hiring staff. Loads of time alone during business hours and after business hours and traveling (flying/driving/hoteling) and never thought twice about it.

  36. Erin*

    I was actually just in an anti-discrimination training this week (in New York State, if it makes a difference) and refusing to be alone with a colleague of a different gender BECAUSE of a fear of being accused of harassment was listed as an example of discrimination based on a protected class. (At least as far as I understood it.)

  37. something about sharks*

    Hi, OP! I also grew up in a deeply conservative and religious community, and my parents also hold the view that it’s not appropriate for (not-married-to-each-other) men and women to be alone together, and that it’s not safe for a woman to work alone. They’re not happy that I have closed-door meetings with my male boss, they’re very nervous when I stay late and take the bus home, and so on.

    And I know how they feel about it because my parents told me, not my coworkers. They would never even consider going to my coworkers or my boss about it – they’d be horrified at the thought! Because while we have wildly different views on a lot of things, my parents are aware that I am an adult who’s going to make my own decisions, and if they disagree with those decisions, they need to take it up with me. Your parents wildly overstepped even by conservative religious standards.

    It’ll be a lot easier to shut this stuff down once you move out, and I highly recommend it. But since I know that’s a lot easier said than done, it may be worth a conversation with your coworkers (at least the ones who talk to your parents) to let them know that your parents do not speak for you, and you don’t want them passing on “concerns” from your parents to your boss. Your coworkers might be worried that you weren’t comfortable bringing something up to them and actually wanted your parents involved – indicating that that’s not the case and that you will advocate for yourself if you need to might head this off if it happens again.

    1. Observer*

      They would never even consider going to my coworkers or my boss about it – they’d be horrified at the thought! Because while we have wildly different views on a lot of things, my parents are aware that I am an adult who’s going to make my own decisions,

      That’s a key takeaway for the OP, I think.

      it may be worth a conversation with your coworkers (at least the ones who talk to your parents) to let them know that your parents do not speak for you, and you don’t want them passing on “concerns” from your parents to your boss.

      Yes, that’s a really good idea. Make it crystal clear that you and ONLY you speak for yourself. (Excepting the classic “If I’m in the hospital and unable to call” type scenarios….)

  38. Ericka*

    I’ll admit that at first glance (not a thorough read) of this post, I thought the parents were concerned that the OP was stuck working alone with two creepy dudes. I remembered being a straight-from-college gal in a similar environment. a few guys in the office that were very creepy. No words or actions of theirs crossed a legal line, but they were the type that if you found yourself about to be alone in an elevator with them, the would make you wait for the next one. If they offered you a ride, home, you’d swiftly decline. You could imagine them in infinite scenarios up to no good. (I can see now that’s not what’s happening here, but) what should a woman say or do in such scenarios? Made to work late and alone with men who creep you out—yet they haven’t DONE something that’s actionable otherwise? We try to instill in young women to trust their instincts to protect themselves, but how does one do that in professional situations—without having to wait for something bad to actually happen?

    1. Observer*

      I don’t have a lot of good answers. But I *DO* know that the way everyone in this story, excepting the OP herself, handled this is the exactly the OPPOSITE of how we do that.

      You don’t teach people to trust their themselves by going around them and behind their backs and coming up with solution to problems they don’t have, ie by treating them like children.

      1. Ericka*

        Agreed. I was making a side comment. Because yes, we know it’s “not professional”. But then when young women are told “working alone with your creepy, unsafe-vibes coworker is part of the job” there just seems to be a gap then, in how they can account for their safety. That’s a side issue, and of course doesn’t seem to be what’s going on here with OP. It just gave me pause about a related potential scenario.

    2. Allonge*

      Part of the reason why what OP’s parents are saying / doing is horrible is that it makes solving your scenario – so a real issue – a thousand times more difficult.

      If no men are safe, if all men are creepos just waiting to jump on young women, there is no solution for the actual creeps (other than working in a convent I suppose). If women need to be afraid at all times, they will not be able to identify when there is a reason for it (plus, they will be afraid at all times). If parents take control of adult childrens’ lives, they will never get the chance to grow up (and, say, decide that they want to be reassigned to a different shift or find a new job).

    3. Nesprin*

      I have been there and done that.

      I’ve worked places that setup informal buddy systems- i.e. if creepy victor comes by for a thing, male coworkers deal with him, and if you have to deal with him, you ask someone to sit in, and if someone is alone they 100% have permission to not let him in.

      But if there’s a dude that’s creeped one one female coworker, he’s probably creeped on many- a good institution will deal with multiple reports swiftly, and a bad one will let the situation fester and devolve to the people with the least power to solve.

    4. Angstrom*

      I’m sorry you had to deal with that.

      Several creepy guys in the same office is a huge red flag that the culture is toxic.

      What to do? Document. Be specific. get help from your manager and/or HR if you think they’ll be useful. The hardest part can be naming the behavior and speaking up for yourself: “Please don’t crowd me in here” “Don’t touch me” etc. That can be especially difficult when you’re new, young, and inexperienced.

      Non-creepy colleagues can be great allies.

  39. Retired (but not really)*

    I can understand concern about someone being the only person there as it’s good to have a second person around. But to be concerned about who else it is unless the other person is known to be a problem seems way out of line. Although I’ve had a previous friend go all ooolala over seeing me with a male coworker at the local burger spot for lunch. So go figure.

    1. Kayem*

      I used to have one of those friends. Emphasis on the “used to.” There was more that led to the falling out, but it didn’t help that they would publicly declare I was up to something hinky whenever they saw me with someone they didn’t know. The last time it happened, I was at an interview lunch. I don’t know if that’s why I didn’t get the job, but I’m sure it didn’t help.

  40. Dona Florinda*

    I think everyone but OP is wrong here. Your parents should never speak on your behalf even if their concerns were valid (and in this case, they’re not), unless you were in immediate danger.

    Your coworker should never go over your head like this — he should’ve shut your parents down, or talk to you about what they said so you could handle as you see fit.

    And even tho your boss had good intentions, he also should’ve heard you first before making decisions based on third-hand comments.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      What pisses me off is that no one is treating the OP like an adult and a career professional capable of making decisions for themselves. The parents, the coworker, even the boss are out of line in their utterly misplaced attempts to “protect” the OP in ways that will ultimately hurt her career.

      “Your attempts to protect me are unwanted and are hurting me professionally.” Repeat, repeat, repeat.

  41. BellyButton*

    The coworker should have come directly to OP and said “Your parents said this to me, you might want to have a chat with them.” And then never spoke of it again. Your parents cannot have that kind of conversation with anyone you work with. It will negatively impact your career.

    At this point, I would also talk to any coworker your parents have a relationship with and say “my parents have some dated views on how much they can influence my career and work life. If they say anything about me or ask you to do something about my working life, please let me know and don’t share it with anyone.”

  42. Kayem*

    Oof, things like this are why I keep the details of work to a minimum around my parents. Especially one parent in particular, who, despite knowing better, is the type who would drive to a boss’s office for “just a conversation.” It was fine when I was a 16 year old high school student and they wanted to make sure I was safe. It was less fine when I was in my 20s trying to be a professional.

    My younger brother is currently having issues of said parent blurring the line separating work life. He asked me how I solved the problem. I said I moved to a different time zone and stopped telling said parent anything beyond basics. After a couple decades, they finally stopped.

  43. Darkwing Duck*

    A cringeworthy/hilarious aside along the same lines happened to my office at a previous employer. We hired a new, male, field director (second in command for the office) to run the crew that worked out on customer sites installing equipment, and we had a division manager that was head of the office that was female. On day 1 for the new hire, he told the division manager (with whom he interviewed) that he adhered to the Billy Graham rule / Modesto Manifesto that states “a man should not spend time alone with a woman he’s not married to”. Basically, this meant no meetings together that they would be the only ones attending, and since she didn’t drive because of a health concern, they couldn’t go to scout/quote jobs together, as that would be time alone in a vehicle.

    That morning, I came in early to make his AD/email/internal systems accounts. By lunch, I disabled all access and she listed the job again.

  44. Colorado*

    OP – set some hard boundaries with your parents and start an exit plan to move out. Independence may help all of you move forward with being an adult now.

  45. Camellia*

    This is based on a verse from Thessalonians, about ‘abstain from even the appearance of evil’. I always took that to mean “don’t bend over to tie your shoe when walking through a watermelon patch”.

    But many ‘religious’ people choose to interpret it the way OP’s parents did – a woman should not be alone with a man who is not her husband, and if they are in a office/conference room, the door/blinds/curtains should be open and they should be visible at all times to *prove* they are not up to anything ‘inappropriate’.

    1. Observer*

      None of that is relevant.

      As someone else put it, no one but the OP behaved well here. And as another person with parents of this persuasion pointed out, even though their parents would probably agree with the concern, they would never contact the workplace!

    2. KatEnigma*

      You are assuming the parents are Christian, and likely caucasian.

      I make no such assumptions. I lived in the SF Bay Area for 13 years and this kind of thing was pretty common among certain ethnic communities, especially in the first couple generations in the US. I knew a Dad who tried to micromanage not only his daughter’s choice of career, but her living arrangements in the military…

      1. Nopetopus*

        This is *absolutely* also a thing that conservative, white, American Christians do to their daughters. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

      2. Observer*

        I knew a Dad who tried to micromanage not only his daughter’s choice of career, but her living arrangements in the military…

        I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for some of those conversations!

        1. KatEnigma*

          She wanted to go into PreMed, but he would only pay for her if she got an Engineering degree. So she did. Then enlisted and as soon as she was to the point where she could move out of barracks, he paid for her apartment off base… And that’s just the part HE bragged about. He was 2nd generation SE Asian.

          1. Wisteria*

            Wow. Who was that gal’s college advisor? Bc Pre-med is not a major. Pre-med is a sequence of classes that anyone can take, including Engineering majors.

            Not the point, I know.

            1. KatEnigma*

              Seriously? It was a summation. This kind of pedantry is also not acceptable professional behavior in a workplace.

    3. Irish Teacher*

      I find it interesting that certain people seem to only interpret things like that in terms of sexual “sins.” I mean, shouldn’t they be equally worried about being alone with the cash register in case anybody thought they were stealing from it or of using terms that could be considered racist/sexist/homophobic/rude in case anybody thought they were being judgemental or treating another person badly or of buying too many expensive goods in case people thought they stole them or otherwise got them immorally.

      1. SpicySpice*

        Hey, if they started caring about all THOSE sins, they’d have to rethink their entire viewpoints and we all know that ain’t going to happen.

      1. Observer*

        I’m assuming that it’s easy to pickup a melon and hide it under your shirt or something like that.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Yes, I found a supposed Chinese proverb

          That person lacks wisdom who reaches down to tie their shoelace when walking through the neighbor’s watermelon patch

          (because an observer might think that you are stealing a melon).

    4. Camellia*

      So sorry, I didn’t realize I left off the actual point – I’m from the USA Midwest and have both seen and been subjected to this, for this spurious ‘reason’.

      I agree that no one is right here but the OP and if this too is her background, I applaud her recognizing how wrong it is.

    5. I would prefer not to*

      But men spending time with women doesn’t give “the appearance to evil” except to wildly irrational, unreasonable people to whom everyone must only be seen through the prism of whether they’re a man or a woman, everyone is presumed heterosexual, and no one is treated as a full human individual.

      Yes, some people have this view. It is ridiculous.

  46. Haruka*

    Just wondering if OP is from another country (not USA) that is more conservative, and maybe the coworkers are of that same nationality, so this request doesn’t seem so outrageous in these circles, maybe even fairly normal. I know a lot of people from some countries and in those conservative circles I could see this happening without anyone seeing it as outrageously unfair or out of line of her family or coworker (they might see it as pretty progressive that they are ‘letting’ a girl have a job at all instead of making her marry, and sympathize with the parents that they are being so tolerant and risking the reputation of their daughter etc).
    So if this is the case, there is a lot more cultural context to navigate. It might not be possible for OP to set what in the West, we would be seen as appropriate boundaries, unless she wants to cut off her family and her culture completely. The only remedy longer term is probably for OP to move out (I doubt parents like this will let her live alone, she would likely have to find a female room mate) and find a job in a larger company that isn’t dominated by this nationality.

    Sorry if I’m guessing completely wrong, please disregard if the situation is different.

    1. KatEnigma*

      That is my hunch too. Many seem to be assuming Caucasian and conservative Christian, where I assume the opposite, as I’ve seen this kind of thing play out.

    2. Original LW*

      I got the “best” of both worlds there. My dad is white and my mom is SE Asian. Both are devoutly religious (fundamentalist Christian). We live in a pretty diverse area but I was homeschooled and went to a small private Fundamentalist Christian college for my degree.

      1. KatEnigma*

        I also didn’t discount the possibility of SE Asian and Christian. Did I mention I spent many years in the SF Bay area?

        It may take therapy, but I promise, you can break away from your parents and set healthy boundaries without being struck by lightning. Start with roommates who don’t know your family – not from your ethnic group or church, would definitely be the minimums I would suggest.

    3. JustKnope*

      Oh this would 100% happen in the US in certain religious communities (or small town conservative communities). It definitely does not mean they have to live in another country. There are PLENTY of fundamentalist Christians in America who support the Mike Pence rule, and if they are part of the same church community as OP’s parents this is a very easy scenario to imagine. I know to many readers of this blog it feels like a “foreign” concept but it’s very much not.

  47. Judge Judy and Executioner*

    I’ve worked with a seasoned IT professional who will not have any 1 on 1 lunches with anyone ever. He followed the Mike Pence rule (never eating 1 on 1 with the opposite sex) until called out by a female subordinate, and as a result he just stopped all 1 on 1 outings. It’s more common than I wish it was in the Midwest.

  48. CLC*

    The parents (and the sister) are 100% in the wrong here. But what about this coworker??? Obviously he does not see the OP as a capable adult colleague either. Think about how weird it would be for a coworker’s parents to approach you like that, and then you just go straight to the boss with it as requested? No! You tell the person in question what their weirdo parents are up to, or at a minimum ignore it. And I’m soooo curious as to how the parents are “frequently” talking to this woman’s colleagues.

  49. urguncle*

    OP, what you choose to do with the information that you have about your parents is your choice; however, as someone who had parents that were this level of interfering (had being the operative word, we are no longer in contact), especially while you are living with them, I would put them on an information diet about your job. Who you work with, when you work with them, if you’re alone with them is all information that they have proven to not be able to use appropriately.

    1. kitryan*

      I’d add in that in subsequent jobs (as the ship has sailed for this job), keeping even info on the company and location private from them, presuming this behavior continues, is probably a good idea.

  50. Captain Swan*

    This one really hits home with me, as I am a female engineering manager with 20+ years experience in a very male dominated portion of the field. It’s not uncommon for me to be the only woman in a meeting, on a floor of the building, on a business trip, or the only female manager at all. When there are only 3 or 4 managers and you are one, It’s just the way it is.
    If I couldn’t be alone with men either individually or in small groups (because either they or I were uncomfortable) I would have had to change career paths 20 years ago.

  51. DiscoThunder*

    Uff…Your parents won’t change. If your sister agrees with them, they are set in their ways which is really hard to change. It’s just a matter of time when they will do it again in some shape or form, e.g. today was with work, tomorrow could be with your personal life or some other angle. Now is the time to take control of your life, move out and set the boundaries. Unfortunately, from my experience, this process might end up with “no contact” either temporarily or permanently. Figure out a support system now (find a counselor of sorts). Hugs to you!

  52. I'm Done*

    Oh my gosh. I so feel your mortification OP. That is wrong on so many levels. Please put your parents on an immediate information diet and start thinking about moving into your own place. Additionally, I would seriously have a chat with the co-worker who thought it appropriate to take your parent’s concerns to your boss. The only right thing for him to do would have been to shut down your parents and let you know that they are trying to interfere in your professional life. And I don’t even know what to say about your sister other than do not take any advice from her.

  53. Interview Coming Up*

    It’s not like the parents were even overstepping to relay some information about the daughter’s wishes. They said that “they” (the parents) were concerned.

    Super abnormal, plus 1.

  54. EEchica*

    I had the same question as posted – how did the parents come about in talking to the coworkers frequently. They are overstepping for sure! OP needs to talk to them and set boundaries.

    I’m a female in STEM as well. Since college, I’ve almost always been the only, if not 1 of 3, females in a group. That’s how it is in engineering. I have worked in the industry for 15 years and nothing has changed. I’m the only female engineer in my immediate team. I’m used to it and I’m only uncomfortable around new people I meet (men and women) or if a particular person is weird or giving out bad vibes.

  55. Dasein9*

    OP, why do your parents have access to your colleagues? That is something you need to put a stop to. I hope you can soon afford your own place to live.

  56. SGK*

    General request to avoid the wording “opposite sex” in future–sex (and gender, which this discussion is actually about) aren’t binary and there are more than two, so “different” makes more sense and is more inclusive than “opposite.”

  57. Flax Dancer*

    Since the OP said that she grew up “in a very strict religious and conservative household” – and her sister even thinks that her parents’ behavior was normal! – this could be why her parents thought it quite acceptable to interfere so egregiously. Most very strict, conservative religions in this country assume a “complementarian” approach to the roles of men and women – not an egalitarian one. OP’s parents may be very uneasy at the thought of her being in a traditionally “masculine” field and made even more uneasy at the idea of her working so closely with men. They may well be projecting their own qualms onto her!

    This doesn’t justify their behavior, of course, but it could explain it. If it does, then the best thing that OP could do to prevent future interference would be to concentrate on finding a place of her own. Yes, her parents may find THAT upsetting as well, since their worldview may well include the idea that a “good girl” lives at home until she marries, but that’s their issue to handle – not hers.

  58. Software Engineer*

    I was expecting this to be about traveling with coworkers alone not about just being at the office with them. Your parents are being weird, and parents should always butt out!

    I’ve had folks from the office go out of their way to make me feel safe—like three of us are sharing a cab home and they ask for me to be dropped off first, regardless of efficiency, so I’m not in a cab alone with one guy (and both were senior to me in this case). Usually I meet my male coworkers one on one for lunch instead of dinner and I wouldn’t get drunk with them at my hotel bar or whatever. The kinds of things where people end up on The Couch of Plausible Deniability or in the worst case in an uncomfortable and unsafe situation

    But I’ve never in my life worried about being alone at the office after hours, since I have not had any bad vibes or weird situations with the coworkers I would stay late with

  59. AC*

    Wondering how your parents would have reacted when a non-profit I worked for in the past made me share a hotel room with a male colleague at a conference. :P

  60. Liane*

    These questions always make me think, “If it’s so wrong/dangerous/tempting/immoral for you to have one on ones with someone of the opposite gender, you also need to stop:
    *having one on ones with people of the same gender because it might tempt you to try that…
    inviting a third person as witness/chaperone because you might want to have a threesome…
    and above all, do not ever lead/attend a meeting of 4+ people because you’ll try to turn it into an orgy!”

    1. Irish Teacher*

      Plus, is it only sex that is so tempting? Shouldn’t they also avoid being alone with the cash desk, in case they are tempted into stealing from it or meeting somebody they dislike in case they are tempted to punch them?

  61. CleverUsernameGoesHere*

    OP’s parents are wildly overstepping their bounds. In modern parlance, they need to stay in their lane. They should address their concerns directly to their child instead of taking the inappropriate step of contacting coworkers. If the child tells them to stfu, they need to respect that.

    Stuff like this, if left unchecked, is how people go LC/NC with their parents.

  62. Elle by the sea*

    It’s good to read that there are people who have a healthy attitude to this. I went to university in the US (graduate programme, one of the top universities, STEM focussed, male majority) and we were not allowed to have closed door meetings with opposite sex professors. Or in general, with no professors at all. Probably it was an idiosyncrasy of our department not an institution-wide practice, but I found it extremely weird. And when I mentioned it to other American students at other institutions, they all acted like it’s normal and necessary. I mean, I understand the logic behind it, but still find it odd.

  63. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — First off, congratulations on your willingness to “dig” until the owner of your firm gave you the context for his remarks. You showed admirable assertiveness, especially for someone new to the work force.

    That said, I think it’s time for you to put your parents on what Captain Awkward calls a “low information diet” about your job. Since some of your coworkers apparently know them outside the work place, you may also have to have a frank chat with them, particularly that “helpful” fellow who thought he was doing you a favor by reporting your parents’ concerns to your boss.

  64. Lady_Lessa*

    I come from a background where the Billy Graham/Mike Pence rule developed. I can see both sides of the issue, and look at it as potential risk for the higher ranking person. Often, if a preacher or a politician gets caught in a compromising position, then their career is blown up.
    Normal employees at good companies, not a big deal.

    Think of the risk of working with water based dyes or explosives. You need to be more careful with the later.

    I am also very, very glad that I never ran into any that rigid.

    1. Observer*

      What does this have to do with the OP’s situation?

      If the OP’s parents actually approached the CW (rather than just making an off the cuff comment in passing), they over-stepped regardless of their reasoning. And both the CW and the boss mishandled the situation.

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      So working with the opposite sex is like working with explosives? Because that is what I am taking from this comment

        1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Is a preacher more vulnerable to temptation than anyone else high profile? How did they get high profile without serving his women parishioners? If he can’t be alone with a woman, how can women come to him with matters of faith?

          I’m fascinated with your take because what you are saying is nothing like my experience around leaders of the church I was raised in. If the preacher couldn’t work 1:1 with women the congregation would fall apart. This church runs on women volunteers of all ages (unpaid women’s labor holding up another institution!)

        2. LizB*

          I mean, if you’re a high profile preacher who makes the choice to [cheat on your spouse / harass people / abuse children / whatever], then sure. If you’re a high profile preacher who doesn’t choose to do anything like that, you should be in the clear.

        3. londonedit*

          Because high-profile preachers can’t be trusted around women? Or because women are all brazen temptresses who will take any opportunity to ruin said high-profile preacher’s reputation with all their false allegations?

  65. KGB*

    Hi OP
    I wanted to add one perspective as to why someone may not be comfortable however I understand this doesn’t apply to you. My brother is a manager and heard that one of his employees did not want to be alone in an office with him with the door shut. He is a large man and she had an abusive childhood and the door closing was a trigger. He made sure the door was always open and when needed met her in a conference room so that she sat by the open door and he sat on the other side of the table. He would also arrive early so that she could come in vs him following her into the room. Over time they developed a great relationship and the door is no longer an issue.

    Yes its wrong your parents involved themselves and that they went around you to express their concern as your concern. I just wanted to give you insight from a different perspective. I’m glad you boss came to you and gave you the chance to address it and was willing to offer an accommodation. I’m also glad one is not needed.

    I would remove your parents as emergency contacts and choose a trusted relative or friend. It’s too likely they will over react if they are ever contacted and that trusted relative or friend can contact them if needed.

  66. New Mom*

    OP, I’m sorry this happened to you and I’m so glad you were given the opportunity to clear the air (and your name). This brought a flashback of my first college boyfriend doing something sort of similar and I felt so violated. I worked at an on-campus catering company and he worked at the on-campus gym, and we spent way too much time together so he would walk me to and from work when he could. One day he started talking to my manager when I was clocking in and asked for a job. The manager hired him on the spot and I didn’t know what to say. I later told my boyfriend that he should have asked me first since it put me in an awkward position and he said that he would just work different shifts than me.

    Well fast forward a bit and I was really busy one night and a few shifts were posted, my email was open and I asked if my boyfriend could just respond to the shift email saying I would work shift A, B and G. (Yes, we had access to all emails and social media, red flag, we were young shudder)

    Later in the evening I checked my email and to my absolute horror my boyfriend had written AS ME that I didn’t want to be scheduled during shifts with my boyfriend, and it was written in a directive manner. I would have never said that to my boss, and I was so mad and upset. He acted like he did nothing wrong and referenced our conversation from a while earlier when I said it would be awkward to work together. But because of my weird loyalty to the relationship I never told my boss it was my boyfriend who wrote it and just awkwardly apologized at my next shift to my boss who seemed a bit annoyed. Luckily that relationship ended not long after that and we luckily never worked a shift together afterwards.

  67. E.B.*

    I would be very concerned that this is co-workers attempt to sabotage my career. Coworker lied outright. I would file written complaint with HR, maybe consult attorney, depending on how it plays out.

  68. DJ Abbott*

    OP, I grew up in a fundamentalist area and normally would be bothered by your parents’ attitude on this.
    But this time what bothers me is they went behind your back instead of discussing their concerns with you. That is so, so wrong. Do they still see you as a small child? Even if you were they should find out how you feel before taking action.
    You could try discussing this with them. If they’re not willing to change you will have to set strong boundaries to keep them out of your work, and probably personal life too.
    Don’t ever let them make you feel bad about doing this. They’re the ones who are so, so wrong!

  69. Big Ol’ Beet*

    LW, I agree with the consensus that your parents did a major overstep. The only thing I want to say is, if you find out which colleague acted as the middle man, I would be just be careful around them in future. They could have had innocent reasons but there are people out there who like to cut people down in order to lift themselves up. My brother worked with someone like that before. I’m (a man) in the engineering world and if someone’s parents said something like that to me I would tell my colleague about it.

  70. nozenfordaddy*

    Your parents are wrong. Your sister is wrong. Your co-worker who spoke to the boss instead of you is wrong. Your boss is wrong too since is sounds like he knew this was a concern of your parents not yours before he approached you. So much is wrong with this, and none of it is a you problem.

    I also work in STEM, if it was inappropriate for me to be alone with coworkers of the male persuasion I wouldn’t be able to go into the office. I am almost always the only woman in the room, on the job site etc. and if I worked from another location to avoid being alone with penis I’d have missed out on all sorts of career development and opportunities.

  71. RL*

    I’m also a woman working in a STEM field. Early in my career, I knew many people who used the “mike pence rule” and never considered or pushed back on it. I was also from a very religious family where this wasn’t uncommon. Later on in my career, I began managing a predominantly male workforce, a generation older than I was. Being a 30 year old woman managing a slew of 50 something men is an uphill dynamic. Initially, I would have to prompt my management team to close the door any time we were discussing something confidential. I knew enough to be frustrated but also recognized that they had been taught to be hyper cautious with our “clients” in this way, especially if they were female. As we worked together, I knew our relationships were solidified when they began shutting the door without prompting. It sucks to have to manage those dynamics at all but, for the moment, it’s reality.

  72. Angstrom*

    If working with a professional colleague makes you uncomfortable, the problem is not their sex/gender. The problem is that particular individual and their inappropriate behavior.

    Good colleagues know how to be professional.

    Good companies don’t tolerate bad behavior.

    If a manager is assigning ANY two people to work or travel together, it’s reasonable ask each of them — separately and privately — “Are you comfortable working/traveling with X? Do you have any concerns?” That’s very different from assuming that there will be problems because of sex/gender.

  73. Dawn*

    My position here would be, “You really need to get away from your parents and they need to see that you can and will live your own life, with or without them.”

    Their, I’m sorry, ridiculously fundamentalist beliefs do not in any way justify their attempts to undermine your life to conform with them and your sister is also wildly out of line for suggesting otherwise.

  74. Worker*

    Honestly, if you can’t be alone in an office with someone of the opposite sex solely because they are of a different sex you shouldn’t be in the workforce. It’s an undo burden on everyone else and pandering to beliefs that have no place in modernity.

  75. Really?*

    Parents who do such things based on their conservative religion are not going to back off. They tend to believe that they are fighting with the devil for your soul.

  76. Pink Geek*

    Fellow female STEM worker. Alone all the time with male colleagues. Totally normal. I hate doing anything to draw attention to the fact that I’m the lone woman in the office and that’s exactly what your parents did. I would be so angry!

  77. MaybeRelevant*

    OP- I also work in tech and once was half through a team building session before I realized that I was in the middle of the woods, that we had to take ATV’s to access, in a tree house 15+ feet of the ground with me and about 10 guys. I took a beat, asked myself if any individual made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe and once I assured myself that every person was someone I trusted with my well being, I didn’t worry about it any longer.

    I tell this story for 2 reasons. 1) you are right this is common and not necessarily a problem but 2) so that you remember to ask yourself how you feel about the INDIVIDUALS you are with. It is very easy to start brushing off things that make you uncomfortable because “Well it’s always me and 4 guys”. Pay attention when your gut starts raising a flag.

  78. Me1980*

    I am appalled that the colleague thought it was okay to talk to the owner about what someone’s parents said! That needs to be addressed with them. Immediately.

  79. Luna*

    Dear parents of OP,
    this is the second half of 2022, more than twenty years into the 21st century.
    You should join us.
    We have tacos!

  80. Betsy S*

    I too work in STEM and have been the only woman on my team for much of my career (happily, not in the current job).

    Not counting a few things that happened in the 1980’s when I was a student and we didn’t have the vocabulary – the only time I’ve *ever* felt uncomfortable because of gender as an an adult professional was when my grandboss wanted to have our small team to his house for a pool party as a workday outing. He’d done this in past years when the team was all male, and the rest of the team looked forward to doing it again – but I could not get comfortable with the picture and did not want to say so. (Pools around these parts are often quite small! Everyone on the team, including me, was some degree of large to very large! Could have been way too close) It ended up not happening for logistical reasons so I did not have to do anything about it.
    I did *not* have the same reservations when a different grandboss threw a much larger pool party which included many families , including mine. IIRC I did not go swimming either, but I had a toddler to chase.

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