updates: we had to share our “shadow sides” and “be more vulnerable” at a meeting, and more

Here are three updates from past letter-writers.

1. We had to share our “shadow sides” and “be more vulnerable” at a meeting

After the uncomfortable offsite activity where we were asked to be vulnerable and share our “shadow sides,” I did end up giving feedback to our management team. I framed it as wanting our whole team to feel safe and included in the workplace; specifically said the mask activity felt inappropriate for the workplace, especially without the option to opt out; and explicitly asked that leaders vet activities ahead of time.

Responses from the management team varied, from “thanks for the feedback” to “what steps would you like to take to ensure everyone on the team feels safe and included?” I was a bit taken aback about being asked what steps I would like to take! I shared some information I’d read about psychological safety from Amy Edmonson, but emphasized that I wasn’t an expert in this area and said that the managers should additionally hear from people on the team who are different from me.

I was curious to see what would happen when the next offsite rolled around. The same junior employee planned an art activity again, but to my relief it was just neutral and simple. The employee did at one point mention to me “the creepy activity we did last time.”

In my kindest and most neutral tone, I replied: “Yeah, that was creepy!”

2. I’m afraid my coworkers will out me to my mother (#2 at the link)

I realize this is an update to a really recent letter, but there was a change, so I figured I’d send it. I recently changed my last name at work (I changed it legally when I got married a while back, but there were a few time-consuming extra hoops I had to jump through before I could submit the necessary paperwork to HR). Since that would mean a change in my email address, I blasted out an email to everyone stating that my name would be changing, then switched the pronouns in my signature about a week later, working under the logic that people will be too focused on the big change (my name) to notice the small change (my pronouns). So far, it’s been working out. Looking back, I think I put a bit too much weight on how hard people would be looking at email signatures.

And if it does get back to my mom, oh well. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but my parents have been pretty good about referring to the trans daughter of a family friend by her correct name and pronouns, so hopefully it wouldn’t go as horribly as my anxiety tries to tell me it would (or at least I’d have a foothold).

Thank you for running my letter, and for all the support in the comments :)

3. I have a great work history but nothing else to put on my resume (#5 at the link)

With your great advice in hand, I took a fresh look at my roles and results and made a few final tweaks to my resume. I reached out to several leaders in my company who I trusted to ask for candid and constructive feedback on it.

I got a few tips on making some minor adjustments. None of them mentioned anything about what I feared would be seen as shortcomings. What I heard most was how impressive my accomplishments were. It was a huge relief.

A few weeks later, a perfect fit for my skills opened up in an area of the company I’ve been trying to get into for more than 10 years. I submitted my freshly polished resume and following interviews through a very competitive process, I’m happy to report I started my new job this week!

Thank you for answering my letter and helping me reframe my thinking.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. sad transmasc*


    “Looking back, I think I put a bit too much weight on how hard people would be looking at email signatures.”

    This is an unfortunate reality of how pronouns in email signatures (at least in sane workplaces) work out 99% of the time. I’m still reeling at the students who would refer to me in emails as “Ms. Lastname” when I very clearly had they/he pronouns in my (very simple) email signature — not to mention I was an undergraduate teaching assistant, so I was maybe a year older than them, but the misgendering hit me a lot harder for sure.

    “And if it does get back to my mom, oh well. I hadn’t thought about it at the time, but my parents have been pretty good about referring to the trans daughter of a family friend by her correct name and pronouns, so hopefully it wouldn’t go as horribly as my anxiety tries to tell me it would (or at least I’d have a foothold).”

    I also want to mention that OP’s anxiety here is very understandable. It’s a hopeful foothold, but could easily not be more than that, as in my experience, parents tend to be very “it’s different when it’s my child!”

    1. Insert pun here*

      I think if you have a core group of people who work together a lot, email signatures overall just become background noise. Like “oh I know this person, what they do, and how to reach them—I don’t need to capture this information” sort of thing. I’ve definitely seen outside contacts pick up on a pronoun change via email sig faster than internal contacts.

      1. Adam*

        I’m not sure I’ve ever read an email signature except when I’ve gotten an email from someone whose name I don’t recognize and I’m trying to figure out who they are. If I know who the person is, I’m definitely not reading anything that’s not the body of the email.

        1. Anne of Green Gables*

          Agreed. I’ve also gone to a signature to double check a pronoun or a job title, but otherwise, if they are people I work with every day, I never even look at that part of the email.

      2. Alex the Alchemist*

        Yes, this! I work in a small office and am the only nonbinary staff member. My cis colleagues in the office have been supportive but definitely took a bit more prodding than just the email signature, while our outside clients picked up the change very quickly.

    2. Lenora Rose*

      Re your last point; I’ve seen the opposite, where parents (and a grandma) who were kinda not sure about this trans thing were more accepting when they had to process it with their own child. (One of my cousins is trans; I figure with the number of cousins I have that’s distant enough not to count as outing her.)

      1. sad transmasc*

        This is a good point. It probably also has a lot to do with what kind of parents you have in the first place — the sample cases I have were controlling to begin with, whereas more reasonable parents would probably be pulled to the accepting side of the fence if their child comes out as trans.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Unfortunately I can definitely see both the risk and the reward sides. In the end, everyone knows their own family best.

    3. MidwestManager*

      I often default to a more formal address when I encounter new folks (just how I’m built, combined with the more formal work environments—-law and medicine—in which I’ve spent the majority of my adult life). I absolutely want and work to use people’s preferred pronouns, and honestly this never occurred to me until your comment, but—for someone who uses they/them, what IS the correct form of “something” last name address?

      1. Joron Twiner*

        Some people use Mx (pronounced Mix) but it’s not universally known or accepted in my experience.

      2. Calamity Janine*

        i admit my experience is only second hand, since i am cishet, but i would try and approach it so –

        1. Mx., though not standard, is a sign you’re trying. that is often enough to get people to volunteer what they prefer.

        2. be humorously, flagrantly wrong by addressing them as “Commodore” or similar, and use that as a smooth transition to inquiring what they prefer.

        tbh both approaches have you doing a dance that translates to “i’m trying to not be a jerk towards you! i am making an effort because i consider this important! i am a safe person to entrust your preferences with instead of just gritting your teeth at me getting it wrong!”, and really, if you think about it… you can summarize all politeness as doing that sort of social signaling to another person.

    4. Luna*

      I have yet to see an email signature where the pronouns were listed… perhaps such a thing is not common in Germany, or at least not in the places I have been working or applying to.

      I do recall one assistant I talked on the phone to having a very deep voice with a French accent in their German. When I met the person and recognized the voice, I eventually thought in my head, “Oh, they are a transgender woman, it seems.” But that was such a small thing, my main memory of them is still ‘French accent’. Also, ‘nice dyed haircolor’.

  2. ferrina*

    LW1- thanks for the follow up! Glad there hasn’t been a repeat, but it would be great if there was a process to just double-check. IME many managers/sr managers/upper leadership have no idea how to evaluate emotional/social activities or how to identify people that are experts in this, so they pass it along to whoever is interested. They were probably asking you because they genuinely had no idea where to start (and may have felt that the “touchy-feely stuff” isn’t a business concern…..but morale is inherently about emotional/social well-being).

    I’ve addressed this a couple times by doing some light research then putting together a Best Practice Guide. My role is highly entwined with morale, so I’ve got standing to do this and it makes sense for me to do on company time (also some experience with this, though not an expert).
    But yeah, this isn’t something they should be putting back on random employees.

    1. Nonprofit Escapee*

      It read to me as the classic “you identified the problem, now it’s yours to solve!” thing. Which is a big reason why I stopped giving feedback to my previous company. They would task whoever brought up a problem with finding the solution… even when it was nowhere near the position’s duties or expertise. A lot of these “touchy feely” things may be no one’s specific job, so speaking up means you must be interested in solving it, I guess.

  3. Cookie Monster*

    I’m confused by update #1. The same junior employee who came up with the mask activity last time now refers to it as the “creepy activity we did last time”?

      1. Random Dice*

        It’s almost like an apology, but without the apology.

        On the other hand, we’ve all been junior and made junior mistakes.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Not even necessarily. It may be that some of the shadow masks looked rather creepy to her…

    1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

      It sounds like she just didn’t have the experience to know what was and wasn’t appropriate for the workplace. After another year of experience (and probably seeing how people reacted to her chosen activity), she recognizes that it was not OK.

      1. sb51*

        Yeah, especially if she had a background in doing something similar for a group where it could be appropriate if done well (like a teen church group or something – we did a lot of things like that but they were a: opt-in and b: in a space in general where people WANTED to get vulnerable, that’s why they were at the retreat/whatever.)

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Let’s hope that’s the case! If anything seeing that a colleague was reduced to tears should have set her thinking.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      She probably just googled for activity ideas the first time and didn’t realize how weird it would be in practice until it was happening.

  4. Goldenrod*

    It read to me as the classic “you identified the problem, now it’s yours to solve!” thing.

    Me too! Which is b.s. Not everyone who flags a problem should be tasked with solving it. A friend of mine has a terrible boss who for some reason, asked for anonymous feedback from her team and (unsurprisingly) got the overwhelming feedback that she is perceived by her team as “unfair.”

    Now she is tasking them with explaining to her specifically what she can do to be more fair! Which of course would not feel very safe to an employee who explicitly does not trust her to be fair…

    1. Quality Girl*

      Yep, a previous supervisor of mine used to do this for everything you brought to her. It was definitely an excuse for her to not have to do anything. Incredibly frustrating.

    2. ferrina*

      Yes! This attitude sucks if you’re the person pointing out the problem, and if you’re the person who is actually in charge of the thing!

      Early in my career my boss would respond to any identification of problems with “you should solve that!” So I would do my best. Only to find out that it was actually the purview of another department and I shouldn’t have been interfering. Thankfully nothing to egregious, but I wasted a lot of people’s time and created a lot of confusion. Now any time I’m solving something, step 1 is: Identify and Speak to Owners/Subject Matter Experts.

    3. Boof*

      it’s nice to have a suggestion (particularly useful if there is actually something you want to make sure that gets stated) but yeah, “oh as my supervisor, I wanted to know what you’d recommend” maybe to return it right back to them?

  5. Michelle Smith*

    LW2: I’m sure you already know this, but you don’t have to have any conversations with your mom that you don’t want to have, period the end, regardless of whether she tries to initiate them or not. If she starts an argument, you don’t have to participate. You can in fact let her know that your pronouns and gender identity are not up for discussion or debate and hang up or walk away.

    I’m in a similar boat as you, in that I use they/them pronouns and am queer but am not out to my bigoted parents. I opted not to put my pronouns in my email signature, but it’s something I think about a lot. Right now, I’ve just decided on using my pronouns when referring to myself and not correcting my parents when they get it wrong since they don’t actually know what I use. If they ever ask me, I won’t lie but I won’t argue/debate with them either. It’s my life and my choice.

    Anyway, I’m glad you are doing well and that the worst case scenario is unlikely to happen for you. Wishing you continued professional success and personal peace.

    1. LW2*

      I’m both fortunate and unfortunate when it comes to interactions with my parents: fortunate in that I’m perfectly fine with being referred to by the pronouns they use for me, and unfortunate in that I’m in a situation where having some degree of relationship with them is, at the moment, pretty much impossible to avoid. I also had an upbringing that left me with a case of surveillance paranoia, so I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a part of me that’s borderline gleeful at having this important part of my identity that my parents will never know.

    2. Anon for this*

      I’m a bi woman who’s married to a man, so it’s a very different thing than being trans/NB… but with similar parents, my family coming-out plan is:

      1) Tell the family members who are safe (2, done)

      2) Not tell my parents ever – they’re very old and getting deeper down the Fox hole every day; there is no world in which they don’t make unkind remarks that stick with me forever, and the chance of me cutting them off is high

      3) Tell the rest of my family once my parents die

      I have another family member struggling with this same issue, and I thought about coming out just to help them – but realized that them seeing me be mistreated wouldn’t exactly help them after all.

      It sucks, but like LW said, my parents don’t have a right to our private info — that’s earned, and they’re just not safe with that kind of info.

  6. Tree*

    LW2 – I hope if they hear about it, your parents do surprise you by being accepting. If not, they don’t deserve your awesomeness in their life. And congrats on your marriage!

  7. AnnoyedbyBrene*

    #1 is a brene brown activity she specifically markets for the workplace, so that might be where Jr employee pulled it from. I think most of her stuff is super inappropriate for coworkers and comes from a really privileged point of view. but it might explain why the junior employee pulled such a creepy activity and thought it was ok! thank god you are off this path as a team.

  8. Zarniwoop*

    “The same junior employee planned an art activity again.”
    Weird how this activity is important enough to spend a bunch of high level people’s time on, but isn’t important enough to hire someone qualified to plan it.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Yes, companies often have a very weird way of distributing money. Like they’ll spend money on having a specialist write the texts for their brochure and website, but then they’ll ask the admin whose boyfriend spent six months in London working in a pub to translate it all into English. It basically boils down to not realising that doing it right involves a few skills, the kind of skills that are often branded as “soft” and therefore “feminine” and therefore “insignificant”. But that might be my bias speaking!

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