update: my mentor falsely accused someone of sexism on my behalf without my knowledge

Remember the letter-writer whose mentor accused someone of sexism on her behalf and without her knowledge? Here’s the update. (Note: To follow the timeline, it helps to know the original letter was received in early February and not printed until March.)

I want to thank you again for responding to my question! By the time my letter was published, a few more things had happened that were eye-opening. First, literally the same day as the discussion with the CEO Melinda, a junior colleague who does not report to me but is on a committee I was about to start leading came to me very upset because another member had become angry and was yelling at her during a meeting. This all happened on Zoom and everyone had forgotten the session was being recorded, so I was able to go back and see what happened and I really did consider the behavior pretty egregious. I don’t know if I would say this was sexism although it did happen to be a man behaving inappropriately toward a woman. In any event, it was helpful to have had the conversation with Melinda so I could model my approach to a sticky situation on how she had very gracefully handled it, as well as drawing on lots of things I’ve learned from reading Ask a Manager. I provided info to the employee about how to make a report to HR, let her know I would support her in whatever way I could, and told her about our Employee Assistance Program if she needed additional support, which she did say she ended up taking advantage of. I also worked with HR to see how I could treat everyone in the situation fairly yet still make sure that no one was placed in an uncomfortable or inappropriate situation during work on the committee. For privacy reasons, I have no idea what the outcome was for the male employee, but he’s still around and participating in things normally, so it was helpful to me to see that reporting something to HR doesn’t amount to “I am going to destroy your career.” Knowing that their response will be measured and appropriate has helped me feel more comfortable should the need ever arise for me to report anything to them in the future.

A while later, I was looking back at my notes and remembered that a male colleague working with me on a project had said he was going to make an appointment for us to discuss with Melinda but he’d not done it yet. I figured I’d take the initiative and schedule it. Right after I’d put it on our calendars, Melinda called me and said she would like to offer some friendly advice. She said that she had been trying to get my male colleague to schedule that meeting for 4 months and he had never followed through, and that it was a frequent pattern in our male-dominated profession for the men to push “menial” tasks and other work on to the women. She described some occasions when it had happened to her and how she had pushed back on it. The conversation really opened my eyes to the fact that sexism and gender disparity doesn’t always look like blatantly open harrassment, but can be much more subtle yet still damaging to women and their careers. I’ve also come to see Melinda as someone who really has my back and wants to see me succeed, and she’s really a fantastic mentor (much moreso than Jane, my actual mentor).

Speaking of Jane — Alison and some of the commenters offered some helpful scripts for discussing the issue with her, but I decided not to say anything at all. Due to our schedules both being busy, about 6 weeks passed between the incident and the next time she and I met. I had a feeling she had probably forgotten about it by that time anyway and there was no sense in dredging it all up again. Our chats now are mainly her venting about issues she’s having and reminiscing about the good old days at our organization, which is not what I would typically expect from a mentor but is helpful in its own way. I don’t say much to her about what’s going on with me and am careful to not sound like I’m agreeing with anything she complains about. But at Melinda’s suggestion, I have started working with an executive coach, who is super helpful.

As for Bill — is he sexist? I don’t know. There was speculation that Melinda, Jane, and HR reacted the way they did because they had seen a larger pattern of behavior from Bill that I wasn’t aware of. I started paying more attention to how he responded to other men/women and I honestly don’t know. He’s certainly not overtly inappropriate, but as I said above, I’m realizing it can be more subtle. What I HAVE learned about Bill is that he is an extreme micromanager. In hindsight, it’s weird that he as a VP was even reviewing the project that I had messed up on, and the mistakes I had made were so minor and easily remedied that his annoyance seems disproportionate. I assumed I was getting this level of scrutiny because he didn’t trust me and thought I was an idiot, but I’ve seen now that he expects everything, and I mean EVERYTHING in the whole organization to get his personal review and sign off. Now that I’ve seen him react the same way with other people (men included), my attitude is that Bill is just gonna Bill. When I get criticism from him about something now, I just internally roll my eyes, fix whatever it is, and move on instead of taking it personally.

Finally, I want to thank Alison and the commenters for helping me change my perspective on how I was approaching this job more broadly. There was a general vibe of “it seems like you’re freaking out about this more than is warranted,” and I see why my letter got that reaction. I remember leaving the discussion with Melinda in shock at how close I’d come to inadvertently ruining Bill’s career and trashing my own reputation just by replying with an off-handed “huh maybe so” to Jane’s comments. What everyone pointed out and what I observed in my subsequent interactions with HR is that neither of those things would have happened even if I had made a real report of sexism. This was part of a more general pattern of nearly constant anxiety for the first few months of this job because I felt so unsure of what to do and out of my league. But I’ve learned to be more patient with myself now – I may have a PhD and years of experience in my scientific area, but I’ve never managed people before so of course I’m not going to know what I’m doing right away!

I’ve also started to think that I’ve been a bit naive about the extent to which my gender has influenced the ways people treat me in the workplace and their expectations about me. I tend to assume the best of people and maybe see the world through slightly rose-colored glasses, so when someone behaves toward me in a way that I don’t feel good about, I usually assume it’s my fault. As I said in my letter, it would never in a million years have occurred to me to label the way Bill behaved toward me as sexism. I don’t want to say this whole thing has made me cynical exactly, but it has certainly opened my eyes to the fact that I probably have experienced some sexism over the course of my career and I will be more aware of this going forward. Acknowledging that reality will also make me a better leader and model for my female colleagues and staff, which is something I strive to do.

The Bill and Jane episode was a bump in the road, but I feel like I’ve learned so much in the last few months and will continue to grow into this role. Thank you again to Alison and all who commented!

{ 72 comments… read them below }

  1. BaskingInMyWindowlessOffice*

    Love the learning and growing and eye-opening happening in this update. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Lady Kelvin*

    This update is a really good reminder that sexism (and racism, and bigotry and and and …) all continue to impact our daily lives even when it doesn’t make itself obvious. We all should be double checking our gut reactions and pushing back on microagressions.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        OP, as you’re having this eye-opening moment, I encourage you to keep going. This is a good opportunity to check yourself/your environment for other non-obvious discrimination and bias. Are your coworkers with disabilities being excluded from team building events? Are coworkers with foreign names having to put up with nicknames they didn’t choose? How many people of color did your company interview for the last high-level opening? Are black women being denied opportunities in a way that isn’t the case for white women or black men?

        There’s always more room to learn and grow.

    1. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, even with OP’s growth, she seems to still have thoroughly internalized the narrative that false accusations frequently end men’s careers and that it’s easy to do so accidentally. I’m glad she’s starting to examine that false assumption but also think more self-examination is warranted.

      1. Mid*

        I think that’s a very kind way to word what I wanted to say. OP, if you read these comments, please continue to reflect on sexism and other discrimination in the world and your workplace. You still seem to really want to give men the benefit of the doubt, while not seeming to give that leeway to women in your workplace.

        Such as assuming Bill wasn’t being sexist while also assuming that your mentor was trying to ruin Bill’s career. Why is that your first conclusion? Why does your female coworker not get the same rose colored interpretation of her actions that your male coworkers are getting? And more largely, why do you seem uncomfortable with discussing gender and how it impacts you in the world? (I get not wanting your gender to be a constant topic at work, but it’s also not something to be ashamed of! And it does, unfortunately, impact how people treat you. Owning that and that it’s not shameful to be a woman in a male-dominated industry will serve you well in the future.)

        1. LW*

          LW here and I think you’re making some incorrect assumptions. I never said anything about my mentor trying to ruin Bill’s career. Some of the commenters on the original post were speculating about that but that was never something I considered. I’m not saying I couldn’t do better on how I approach things related to gender, race, etc – I think almost everyone could! But I’m not ashamed to be a woman in my field and I have and continue to do a lot of speaking and volunteer work to encourage more women to get into this kind of work. I just don’t like to think that people would be judging me by my gender instead of my accomplishments.

      2. Pippa K*

        Yeah, I was struck by this:
        “I have no idea what the outcome was for the male employee, but he’s still around and participating in things normally, so it was helpful to me to see that reporting something to HR doesn’t amount to “I am going to destroy your career.” Knowing that their response will be measured and appropriate has helped me feel more comfortable should the need ever arise for me to report anything to them in the future.”

        But the thing is, you *don’t* actually know that HR had an appropriate response, just that nothing visibly bad happened to the man. (Maybe your HR is good; mine’s not, and one doesn’t always know.) As Cat Tree points out, it’s worth continuing to question assumptions about what are good and bad outcomes, etc.

        1. Kat*

          Yeah, that stood out to me too. I really cannot understand being happy to see that someone seemingly experienced no consequences for behaviour that the OP noted was definitely inappropriate. I can’t imagine that the junior colleague who was the victim of this guy’s awful behaviour shared her joy.

          1. ClaireW*

            Yeah I had a similar reaction. I cannot imagine thinking “Oh I’m so glad that guy who behaved awfully has faced seemingly no consequences, what a relief!”, especially while knowing how badly the victim of his inappropriate behaviour was affected.

        2. Beany*

          I’d like to think that people could spot-check later recorded Zoom meetings this guy was in, to see whether his behavior has improved. I kinda think this is something that should be done by a DEIA expert anyway, to monitor the healthiness of meetings.

        3. Aitch Arr*

          But there would only be a few ‘visibly bad’ things that could have happened:
          – he got fired
          – he was demoted
          – he had to write a public apology on the company intranet

          (/s on that last one)

          ‘Invisible consequences’ could be:
          – put on a final written warning
          – put on a PIP
          – had to forfeit a bonus
          – his next merit or review was lower due to this situation

          Most often, it’s not one of the first list that happens, but one of the latter items. Still means that HR was competent and took appropriate action.

      3. sookie st james*

        I’ve met a lot of women who have a similar mindset to OP’s initial one. They find it hard to acknowledge that the treatment they receive could be motivated by their gender and often find the suggestion itself sexist – I think the thought process is something like “Bill is dealing with me as a colleague, not as a female colleague” – we want that to be true, but it’s not guaranteed.

        Similarly, I’ve known women who bristle at the concept of diversity efforts in hiring because they “want to get jobs they deserve, not because of their gender,” totally missing how these initiatives are trying to close the gap brought on by existing biases – which can and do harm them, whether they are able to see it or not.

        Being a good ally to underrepresented groups (our own + groups we don’t belong to) requires us to remove our rose-tinted glasses and see that these things not only *can* happen but *do* happen – pervasively.

        These ‘small subtleties’ add up and over time cost us (both personally and as a collective class) opportunities, money, growth, security – the list goes on. We have to see that as a consequence we want to avoid as much as we want to protect individual men from having their careers ruined through the natural consequences of their own actions (which, as this letter demonstrates tidily, essentially never happens).

        (None of this is intended to criticise OP, I find the update very positive on the whole and love how OP was able to use their experience to help someone else who needed their support)

    2. A person*

      I’m in a very male dominated field and the subtle sexism is so tough. I’m currently refusing to continue to follow up with a male coworker who refuses to answer my emails unless I copy his boss on them. I copy his boss, send it once and then gleefully throw that ass under the bus when the stuff isn’t done because he never responded to my questions or issues or did his part of the task. It’s not my job to manage him or be his mother. I already feel I have to do that with most of my other colleagues (the number of “hey just following up” notes I have to send weekly is just ridiculous) and since this guy isn’t usually even helpful when he does sort of respond I’m not going to waste time trying to make sure he responds. If his boss is going to put him up on the pedestal he has then I expect exemplary behavior from him without intervention from me.

      To be clear… usually I just cave cuz it’s easier, but I’m refusing with this individual for my own satisfaction.

      I honestly preferred the factory environment where you got told “how bout you go make me a sandwich” but were allowed to respond with a bold “how bout you go F your self” without consequences. That usually established dominance and you were fine after that. But in a more corporate officey environment it’s all so sneaky and way to easy to explain away (oh they didn’t mean it that way, you should just take initiative and set up that meeting, oh you take better notes than we do, you should assume positive intent, they just aren’t very organized, Im sure that’s not what happened, they never talk to me that way, and a million other things) and make excuses and I’ve found it more exhausting than the occasional factory operator telling me to go make him a sandwich.

      1. TechWorker*

        I find this interesting because whilst I am definitely wary of not over volunteering for things like taking notes (or kitchen cleaning duties, noooo thank you); I haven’t really seen ‘following up’ or ‘taking the initiative to set up a meeting’ in the same light? I think because I see ‘making sure things don’t fall through the cracks’ as explicitly part of my job as a manager and one of the reasons I am good at what I do. Yes I have some coworkers (male and female) who are much less organised and good at following up… but I’m getting better feedback and promotions so, I just don’t care that much?

        1. ClaireW*

          I think this very much depends on your role. Like as a manager, sure, there’s more expectation/responsibility to catch things. But for example I’m a senior dev, so it is not my responsibility either to constantly remind my manager of meetings they need to attend, nor to be the organiser/secretary/general help for my male peers who see their time to important for ‘menial’ work but see no issue with me doing it for them. I have been there and I now refuse, and plenty of senior male devs don’t like that I only concern myself with my own work and my more junior folks’ needs and don’t act like their personal secretary. That’s where it becomes sexist, if I’m the one who’s meant to set up all the calls and follow up on all the conversations while they don’t.

          1. bamcheeks*

            Exactly, and it’s also about what work is recognised and rewarded by the company. If setting up meetings and following up action points gets you, “brilliant, you get things done and drive forward change, have an extra $6k”, that’s great. If it gets you, “hmm, you’ve not got as many billable hours / lines of code / articles published as Bill”, that’s the problem.

          2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            This will probably get stuck in moderation for a while, but here’s a really good article about how women individual contributors are more likely to do “glue” work that makes everything run smoothly — much of which is the sort of work that is expected of managers — but that if a woman does it well too early in her career, she can easily be sidelined into low-level administrative work and be denied technical promotions: https://noidea.dog/glue

            (For what it’s worth, I’ve always done a lot of glue work, and I’m pretty sure it was hurting me at my last job, but it got me a promotion at my current job.)

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          I’ve seen both men and women falling victim to higher-ups who never bother to answer emails unless the big boss was also copied. This was more in an out-of-sight out-of-mind situation, with the employee in a satellite office and the higher-up at the head office.

          I think it’s highly likely though that it can happen to women or minorities more. Thinking of an article a while back about how a man and a woman had to swap jobs and laptops for a short while, but without letting anyone know, so the man was using the woman’s email and signature etc and vice versa. The man was astounded at how much pushback he got when signing with his female colleagues name. People would question any and every instruction, information, request. The woman presumably found it much easier to do the man’s job.

  3. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    This is a great update. Wonderful job taking a thoughtful, measured approach, OP! I’m sorry that what you learned tarnished your view of the world a little, but it sounds like you learned just enough to see clearly without becoming jaded or overreactive. I bet your open mind and sincerity will serve you well. May we all be lucky enough to work with or for people like you!

    1. English Rose*

      Yes I agree, so reflective and constructive. OP admits still learning and is open to different viewpoints and options.

  4. bamcheeks*

    Wow! This is so detailed and interesting, LW. What a lot of growth in lots of different directions!

  5. I Love It Here*

    What a great update! I love it when writers come back and have so obviously used an opportunity to learn, AND apply that growth more generally to their job/career/position.

  6. SaffyTaffy*

    I am so, so happy for you, OP. And just as you’re learning that misogyny can be subtle, I hope you’ll learn that going to HR (or the cops, when it comes to that) nearly never results in “ruining” a man’s career, not even when it should.

    1. I am Emily's failing memory*

      Yeah, even if the company takes action to get rid of a problematic sexist or harasser, there are plenty of swamps that will still be willing to harbor that kind slime.

  7. Michelle Smith*

    One of the best updates I’ve ever seen. I’m so glad you shared this with us and that you’re doing well!!

  8. Student*

    After reading this and the original letter, I want to clue the LW in that Bill might be using a specific social technique on her that is common in my job field. It’s not necessarily sexist by itself. It is a jerk move, and it is often done disproportionately to women.

    Bill is trying to make you want to curry his favor by deliberately withholding approval finding fault, and publicly trying to shame you when it isn’t really warranted by the circumstances. He is trying to train you to walk on eggshells around him, trying to exert more power than he likely actually has, and trying to manipulate how you will respond to him. It’s a corporate version of negging, essentially. He likely knows this is what he is doing, and likely does it to most people under his level in the org. He probably suddenly behaves much more nicely to people who aren’t beneath him in the org chart – I bet he busts out all the charm with clients and senior leadership. And I bet they love his schmooze.

    When someone attacks you over something objectively minor, and does so repeatedly, you should have suspicions about them and their intentions. Either they have no sense of what is and isn’t important – which is possible, but unlikely for a VP – or they are trying to make sure you are always on defense, on your back foot, and unsteady around them. They get benefits from this – it makes other people look bad while making them look “good” in comparison, and it gives them a lot of control over a situation that otherwise is probably not theirs to control.

    Do his screeds happen more often when any of these situations come up? He might be at fault; he might need to make a difficult decision; he might otherwise need to share credit for good work; he’s been asked for more resources to do work; you have more independent authority over a project than he wants you to realize or exercise. If you see a correlation, then he’s using this technique of making a big fuss and putting you “in your place” unnecessarily to distract, delay, deny, or to push you to feel like you always need his approval. If there’s such no pattern, I could be wrong, and it could be a more run-of-the-mill flavor of bad management.

    1. Hannah Lee*

      Ugh, I’m having flashbacks to an awful co-worker who pulled some of that stuff.

      Thankfully, he was not in my food chain and I knew I was on solid ground with management, who are pretty matter of fact and have no time for the kind of nonsense he was trying. So after a few weeks around him I came to my senses and no longer responded to his criticisms or tried to appease him in any any way. Just stuck to doing my job and doing it well, as I always had. He tried to double down, but I just ignored him. Not surprisingly, the jerk was bad at his job and didn’t last a year. But it did give me valuable understanding of the level of malicious manipulation certain jerks will pull.

    2. Anon4this*

      Wow you perfectly captured my abusive ex, and how he “trained” his coworkers. By the end, they were picking up his hobbies and one even bought the exact same car.

      I couldn’t put my finger on why it made me so uneasy, or why it felt like an insight into how he was treating me.

      You really captured it well.

    3. NB*

      Wow, this describes a former grandboss of mine to a T! Definitely a kiss up, kick down situation with interactions with him 98% negging then 2% weirdly nice if he happened to think about it. It made me so angry and demoralized at the time, but I hadn’t thought of it in these terms. Thank you

    4. AW*

      I am going to save this comment because it captured a former supervisor of mine perfectly, and in a way that I could never have articulated on my own. Thank you.

  9. higheredadmin*

    Gloria Steinem wrote (and I’m paraphrasing here) that it is only once a woman is older and gets life experience under her belt that she realizes the sexism that is all around her. I just really felt that in reading your letter OP.

    1. Distracted Librarian*

      I feel this comment in my soul. Also, when we talk to other women about our experiences, we learn that what we took as a one-off is actually a pattern… a sexist pattern.

    2. AnotherLibrarian*

      Yes, I totally think this is true. There’s something that happens as you grow up and start really coming into your own self that you start noticing these things. I notice sexism WAY more now that I’m in my 30s than I did when I was in my 20s.

      1. Lizzo*

        Just wait until you reach your 40s when you become furiously outspoken about sexist BS and give zero Fs about others’ opinions. It’s the best part of “getting old”.

        1. A person*

          I’ve got one more year!

          I was also surprised that I notice it more as I age and am way less patient about it which actually just seems to make it worse… because now I’m “dramatic”.

        2. Relentlessly Socratic*

          And then you hit your 50s and it’s time to burn the patriarchy to the ground…

        3. Anonynonybooboo*

          Just wait until you reach your 40s when you become furiously outspoken about sexist BS and give zero Fs about others’ opinions. It’s the best part of “getting old”.

          Can confirm, zero f’s given and wow, do I say things out loud when I see it happening now.

          I gotta say had I known how powerful I’d feel in my 40s back when I was in my 20s, I wouldn’t have dreaded getting older at.all.

      2. Orange You Glad*

        I feel like I started noticing it the most around when I turned 30. Interactions before then may be been sexist but may also have been reactions to my age and inexperience. Now that I’m in my 30s, I have all the experience and expertise, but I still feel the infantilism in the way I am treated in some business settings.

    3. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      oooh yes. My nephew’s wife breezily told me she had never experienced sexism. I was flabbergasted and have now realised that she hasn’t yet twigged. I mean, I’ve seen my nephew behaving in a very controlling way towards her, babying her, not considering that she knows what she needs to do to ensure her own safety. I expect she thought he was being kind and considerate, I’m sure I would have bristled at being told not to go out at night in a foreign country when fluent in that country’s language, but she didn’t.
      In the moment, I just said something about sexism being disguised as gallantry, especially when being sexist to pretty young blondes. I looked pointedly at her pregnancy bump and said she would shortly come to understand.

    4. WantonSeedStitch*

      Yeah, the whole “red pill” metaphor has gotten a bad rap because of all the sexist men who use the term (not realizing, I guess, that it was created by trans women, quite likely as an allegory for realizing one’s transgender identity), but it’s a good metaphor for that phenomenon. Once you start seeing the sexism, you see more and more of it. Not because you’re LOOKING for it necessarily (no, we aren’t “trying to be offended) but because you see the patterns more easily, even when they’re subtle.

    5. NeedRain47*

      I’m finding that I noticed it all along, but the older I get the more I can accurately pinpoint and describe specific problems/incidents. I work in a women-dominant profession so it really sticks out to me that men still do the things they do like take all the forks from the break room and never wash them, or write a dismissive email that no female colleague would have ever written.

    6. ceiswyn*

      I still remember the moment I realised how much of my underestimation of my own abilities was due to sexism.

      It was when I was correcting a trainer, shortly after starting work. (My training was a little delayed so I had actually worked on some of the things I was supposedly being trained in). I explained it to him three times and he stared at me like I was talking in Martian. Then one of the men in the training repeated what I had said in *exactly the same words* and suddenly he understood. And told me I should have explained it like that.

      And at that moment, I saw it. And wondered how many times I’d gone away from an interaction thinking I wasn’t good at explaining, or that I just fundamentally didn’t understand something, when actually the only problem I had was that the person I’d been talking to didn’t believe that intelligence or expertise could come from a woman.

  10. Meep*

    Thanks for the update. And yes, Bill is sexist if you have to question it. It can be subconscious/unconscious, but those sexist biases exist in everyone whether we like it or not. We were taught at a young age that women are inferior and have to combat it. It is sadly, the way of the world and is as integrated as institutional racism.

    I am glad you are learning and growing from this experience.

  11. Free Meerkats*

    “Bill is just gonna Bill” sounds like a good replacement for “Your boss sucks and that isn’t going to change.”

    1. Hannah Lee*

      It’s the workplace equivalent of The Missing Stair dynamic.

      “Bill is just gonna Bill” means that the people who should and could address the issue aren’t bothering to do so, leaving everyone else to have to work around and deal with all the “Bill” wafting around the place

      1. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        To be fair it’s possible that Jane and Melinda were trying to deal with it in the quashed sexual harassment complaint. It can be hard to fire people, especially people who have entrenched themselves in senior leadership, and those kinds of complaints are one way to do so. Especially if they start to add up. I’m not saying LW was wrong to quash the complaint (if she didn’t feel harassed that’s her business), but if Jane and/or Melinda are aware of a pattern that LW doesn’t see yet, it’s possible they’re trying to run as many cases as possible through HR.

        1. Hannah Lee*

          Oh yeah, you’re right in this case. There may well be stuff going on out of LW’s view.

          I wasn’t very clear in my comment, but I meant more generally that phrasing like that is like the kind of stuff that goes on in Missing Stair situations. Like the “oh, just so you know, folks in our game club try not to let Bill play one one on one with new young members, so if you see him trying to start up a game with someone like that and you’re not actively in a game already, feel free to sit in or flag it to another member … reason being: Bill is just gonna Bill.”

  12. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

    This is one of my favourite updates ever! I recently became a people manager after 15 years in academia and the kind of learning you’re describing is so familiar. I’m really happy to see you enjoying the chance to learn & grow, and delighted that you have three mentors of very different kinds – Melinda, Jane and your coach! Good luck!

  13. Zarniwoop*

    “As for Bill — is he sexist? I don’t know… What I HAVE learned about Bill is that he is an extreme micromanager.”

    It was mentioned in a comment on another post that sometimes people get accused of discrimination but are cleared by an investigation that concludes that they treat everyone equally badly.
    Even if they’re not discriminating they still suck.

  14. DisneyChannelThis*

    I’m dealing with something similar at work. I work in an office doing computer type tasks for research. Guy I work with is on the bench side, only at a computer for emails/presentations/zoom calls, rest of the time working at a bench. Without fail every single time I’m going to be in a meeting with him, he treats me like an admin and asks me to schedule it and send the zoom and outlook invites. The charitable take is he’s not at a computer much and wants to rush back to his bench work. The less charitable take is he’s being sexist. There’s not a good way in the moment to push back, it’s usually things like slack messaging chat with 5 people agreeing on a time to meet, then without fail TFGuy send “Disney can you schedule this” as a slack message. I’m the only woman in these groups.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Is there someone else involved in these group chats who is at a computer often and could do it? If so, maybe you could try pushing back with “I’m a bit tied up at the moment–maybe Wakeen or Fergus could do it?”

      1. NB*

        Yes, try this tactic. It would take him as much time to schedule it as to ask you to do it in Slack! So say you’re busy and see if someone else offers instead. Don’t step in to save it.

    2. Snell*

      I don’t think the charitable/less charitable takes preclude the other. Maybe he does want to get back to work, but it’s sexist to prioritize your own workload with disregard to your coworker’s because she’s a woman and you think her efforts are worth less than yours, so it’s okay to dump all the tasks you want on her (“every single time”). You know, since the assumption is the stuff you need done is more important? (NO.)

      1. Hannah Lee*

        I had a co-worker who would do this with everything he could, to anyone he could. His thing was trying to never pick up an action item and if there was ever a monkey aiming towards HIS back, he’d bat it back onto someone else’s.

        The number of times there was something in workflow requiring him to do something, even something simple like click either “yes” or “no” where he’d come up with something that needed to be done instead or first by someone else was amazing. I’d put up with it sometimes, because of his role in the department. But sometimes I’d be very good about doing whatever was genuinely my part and then batting it back to him for some action (final review, adding details of his particular focus area, etc) … and then not follow up unless it was something that was a roadblock to me. Because if you ever followed up with him on his action items, he’d invariably find a way to turf them back at you.

    3. Hannah Lee*

      I wonder if this is a situation where some strategic incompetence is useful. Like, unless that meeting is needed to move YOUR work forward, you fail to see his message or respond to it (you were really busy, swamped that day, it weirdly went spam, etc) And then mention it to him the next time you happen to see him at the computer …”Oh, hey Guy … I never saw an invite come through for that meeting you were talking about … did you get a chance to schedule something? No? Oh, well since you’re at the computer anyway, why don’t you do it now so it’s all set.” And you can even be like a co-worker I used to work with who when he’d do stuff like that would come over and stand next to you and wait for you to do the thing. With helpful prompts like “if you click that icon, it will pull up my calendar so you can check availability”

      Obviously, adjust the approach, wording for the dynamics in your workplace (and your role may give him wiggle room to have innocently assumed that’s what you do) but sometimes just dropping the rope while focusing on your actual work and just calmly acting like *of course* *naturally* the other person can/should do the simple thing in a situation where it would be awkward for them to not can allow you to confirm whether your benefit of the doubt is accurate here or if he’s purposely trying to dump down on you.

  15. Alan*

    Re “Bill is just gonna Bill”, one of the things that I’ve realized over decades is that very little is personal. That guy who’s a glassbowl to me is also a glassbowl to other people. But everyone thinks it’s them. So many times I’ve commented that “Joe is kind of a jerk” and people I’m talking to are all like “He is *such* a jerk. Let me tell you what he did today.” It’s super cathartic. Really, it’s not all about you. People just are the way they are.

    1. NeedRain47*

      Yes! I’ve quietly stewed over a coworker or managers irritating characteristics for *years* before finding out everyone else thinks the exact same thing. Recently I mentioned someone I’m not a fan of and the other party yelled “That guy is a fraud!” Yikes, even worse than I thought.

  16. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    > I tend to assume the best of people and maybe see the world through slightly rose-colored glasses, so when someone behaves toward me in a way that I don’t feel good about, I usually assume it’s my fault.

    This is exactly where “the personal is political” came from. In the 60’s, sooo many women saw their struggles within their own marriages as personal situations that they had to address as individuals. Learning to see the larger pattern of sexism in society in general, and how it influences the way individual people behave — that’s what 2nd wave feminism brought us. (And yes, this also applies to other isms.)

    I grew up with that phrase and idea and it’s baked into me to the point that I always surprised when others aren’t familiar with the idea, so it’s nice that I can share this Wikipedia article that lays it out so clearly: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_personal_is_political

  17. Posilutely*

    You’re every kind of awesome, OP. I really like that you’re so self-aware about how you want to be, what obstacles you could encounter and how you’re going to overcome them.

    “This was part of a more general pattern of nearly constant anxiety for the first few months of this job because I felt so unsure of what to do and out of my league. But I’ve learned to be more patient with myself now – I may have a PhD and years of experience in my scientific area, but I’ve never managed people before so of course I’m not going to know what I’m doing right away!”

    On a more personal note, I’m in those early stages of a new role (new both to me and to my department) and am very much in a state of constant anxiety. Thank-you for providing a hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

  18. Lurker variable*

    Love this update and wish there were more CEOs like Melinda!

    I’m late to this, but encourage the LW to see if her company would support her going to a women’s leadership course. Most good business schools have them as part of their executive education, and they have elements of identifying and dealing with bias, supporting other women, as well as general leadership skill training. With your role and learning from the experience you described it could be really useful.

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