update: my coworker sent a classist, racist email company-wide after a janitor won our Christmas contest

Remember the letter-writer whose coworker sent a classist, racist email company-wide after a janitor won their Christmas contest? The first update is here, and here’s the latest.

I’ll start with the good news: my spouse passed the bar and has a job. We started receiving Health Insurance through his job, so I started seriously looking for a new job! Gaston retired at the beginning of the year.

I carefully took note of all the suggestions here and rehearsed them at home with my poor husband. I’ve always been on the shy side, so I needed practice, but I did start to challenge Gaston. It didn’t work.

· “What do you mean by that?” and other similar statements were met by explanations about how people with low paying jobs are lazy and entitled and if they wanted more money they would get new jobs.

· “That sounds classist” and other explicit statements were brushed off as this was my first “real” job after college and unlike college the real world isn’t all about safe spaces and political correctness.

· He seemed happy to educate me and to brag about being willing to “speak truth to power” and “take a stand against wokism and cancel culture.” When I asked for specifics, I was assured that as I got older and more experienced I would be able to spot these things and I would get a feel for when things weren’t quite right.

He did say that after sending around the email he was scolded but stood his ground. He was very proud of that and how he was moved around for “taking a stand” in the past. According to Gaston he was able to stand up for people and against virtue signaling because he was going to retire soon and could fight back when others couldn’t. After a week of this a woman I work with pulled me aside and essentially said while she could tell what I was trying to do, he was never going to listen to a woman decades younger than him and if I wanted to help giving him a platform was not the way to do it.

I will say that the company is a big fan for “restorative justice.” That is instead of someone being punished they are supposed to be educated. So, when Gaston made loud comments in the past he was assigned online courses about diversity and inclusion, etc. while on the clock as opposed to disciplined. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a next step after “take course on inclusivity,” except, “move under another manager who can assign more/different courses and hope this time it works.” I don’t know if the company is bad at holding people accountable because they are truly sold on “everyone can change if you help them right” or if they don’t care (and secretly agree with the Gastons) and are using restorative justice as a cover to make it look like they are doing something.

Mostly I want to thank you and your readers for showing me where I worked. I genuinely thought I worked at a great company. When I asked in my last interview before I was hired they said they were a very diverse company and they do have a lot of policies on the books that are great. For example, there are rooms set aside for pumping and for daily prayer, different desks and computers for people to choose from depending on their physical needs, the office is decorated for pride month, black history, etc. While all those things were rolled out relatively recently, within the last five years, I was convinced I worked at a wonderful company with a few loud outliers. So when there was a lack of pushback to Gaston and moving him around instead of dealing with him I thought maybe I was overreacting or oversensitive. When I asked around and was told I would be labeled a troublemaker for making a fuss about him I thought I was the problem. I guess I am still reconciling, “we decorate for pride month but don’t slap down classist emails.”

On that final note, do your readers have any suggestions on how to find a good company to work for? I’m worried that my sense of normalcy has been damaged and that even if there are great policies on the surface the culture underneath might be rotten or with spineless upper management.

{ 193 comments… read them below }

  1. cabbagepants*

    Decorating for pride month while prioritizing giving a chaaaaaance to racists over stopping the harm they do is classic empty corporate DEI-washing. Sorry.

    1. BubbleTea*

      Yes, I think this is a good way to determine whether a company is actually good or not. Ask what they do to promote diversity and dismantle inequality, and if they answer “we put up banners” or “some of our customers are black” then you know it’s all mouth and no trousers.

        1. ladyesquiresc*

          My dad used to use the expression ” All hat and no cattle”. . .to mean the same thing.

        2. Sasha*

          “All fur coat and no knickers” is another – looks very classy on the outside but shoddy/tacky in reality.

          It actually isn’t as sexualised as it sounds! Can be used to describe any project giving itself undue airs and graces.

          1. linger*

            I’d avoid it because leaving out “coat” is both likely (matches rhythm of the two cited parallel phrases) and … risky.

            1. pandop*

              It’s a pretty common phrase in the UK, and no one ever misses out coat, it’s the point of the phrase.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      Yeah, how to spot a bad company: they bleat about everyone having the right to voice their opinions. In practice this means a lot of ‘well, we let you talk about how you’re LGBTQ so we have to let Bob talk to you about how you’re all freaks – it’s equal!’

      Paradox of tolerance illustrated.

      1. 42 towels*

        I recently saw something about how tolerance is a social contract, not a moral value. So anyone intolerant isn’t accepting that contract, and does not need to be tolerated.

    3. just another queer reader*

      Yeah, this sounds like my company lol. All “flags, food, and fun” and no action.

    4. goddessoftransitory*

      Yep, classic talking the talk while pretending walking is some insane, undoable concept.

      They deal with Gaston by not dealing with him, and allowing his garbage to become the company’s “real” normal, and everybody knows it.

    5. yala*

      Thinking about how I saw a Target employee wearing one of their “Take Pride” shirts yesterday. Good on her, color me a bit shocked they still let them wear them. In June they’d still use the slogan/logo, but this was after they completely axed almost all of their Pride items before the month even started. (Everything in the dollar spot was just straight up *removed.* It didn’t sell out, they just took it out. Slap bracelets, little flags, scrunchies, patches. Nope. All gone.)

    6. Samantha*

      Yes. It’s easy to slip into celebrating ideas, which are high status, while holding exclusive attitudes against people like janitors who do concrete physical work, which is low status. The company needed to stand up for the janitor and prevent a hostile work environment.

  2. Catwhisperer*

    Good for you on taking a stand, educating yourself, and growing in your allyship.

    This is also a great example of why “restorative justice” frameworks run by white people are very problematic. The people who stood by silently may have benefited from training on being better allies, but Gaston needed to face actual consequences.

    Re: finding a good company, my experience has been that no company over a certain size is going to be good and the best way to filter out the really bad ones is to look for the things you looked for. Beyond that, it’s about asking how DEI is handled within the individual team you’re interviewing for. Ask the manager how they incorporate DEI into the team on a regular basis and ask prospective teammates how they’ve seen it play out on the team.

    1. Academic Social Worker*

      Yeah, the description the letter-writer provides of the “restorative justice” the company uses is…. Not at all restorative justice. That’s just finding a way to sweep bad behavior under the rug and hoping it doesn’t happen in the future.

      1. meggus*

        I’m glad others noticed this too. What’s described isn’t “restorative justice”, which is a specific framework. I’m curious if the company or the LW labeled it as such.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          For all the restorative justice frameworks I’ve heard of, the perpetrator needs to take responsibility for the harm they’ve caused. As a prerequisite for the process, not a hoped-for end goal.

    2. Observer*

      This is also a great example of why “restorative justice” frameworks run by white people are very problematic.

      No it’s not. Because what the OP describes is about as related to restorative justice as “lemon seltzer” that (to use a memorable phrase I heard a while back) passed in front of a lemon is to fresh squeezed lemon juice.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        that’s the point. it’s “restorative justice” in name only, that’s why it’s problematic.

    3. cheapeats*

      Concur with asking about DEI approach, but IME companies of all sizes CAN be good if they choose to. I’m at a fairly good sized company (>10K). We had a guy make a very racist comment in a meeting and he was gone by the end of the day. There was no “let’s rehabilitate Bob” nonsense, just “get your stuff, Bob, you’re done.”

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, in my experience things have been much worse in tiny companies. Specifically, the ones that are too tiny for labor laws like ADA or FMLA to kick in.

        Big corporations usually at least follow anti-discrimination labor laws on paper (unless they’re a religious organization, which is its own can of worms).

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          Also, big corporations (even medium sized ones) have professional HR departments and written conduct policies. Not “we’ll play this by ear” and “The office manager doubles as our HR person.” This is one reason why tiny companies can be the most bananacrackers. (That and they are often some person’s “baby” and that works out just as well as you might expect many times.)

      2. JSP64*

        This. Asking about DEI would get you a list of programs, but the programs matter a lot less than ‘are people fired when they say racist stuff’. May be tough to figure out from an interview process but this is the #1 issue IMO.

    4. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I am at a large company (over 20,000 people) and honestly it has the best DEI I have seen. It’s not just the celebrate x-month stuff either. They have many ethics officers, many affinity groups (think multinational, veteran, disability, parents, etc.) a whole group dedicated to accomodations (including religious and ADA).

      it’s kinda awesome

    5. Celeste*

      I actually wouldn’t ask about ‘DEI’ specifically. In my experience, that often prompts people to rattle off a lot of things they’re supposed to say… but doesn’t actually give you a very good idea about how things really work within the company or team.

    6. Some dude*

      My work touches a lot of criminal justice reform orgs and I’m in an area where the concept of restorative justice is popular. I almost never see it applied well, even by BIPOC led orgs/departments. Very often it is not applied at all (such as in the local school district where instead of suspending kids who cause problems they use a nonexistent restorative justice framework, which means they effectively do nothing). It really seems to me to be a case where people agree that the current system is bad but don’t have a viable, realistic alternative.

  3. Dust Bunny*

    He seemed happy to educate me and to brag about being willing to “speak truth to power” and “take a stand against wokism and cancel culture.”

    Well, this dude is a waste of time.

    Okay, I guess some people like this can reform, but I’ve yet to meet one. I hope you find a new job somewhere that doesn’t have its own office Gaston.

    1. reg*

      the only possibility of reform i see happening–and it’s an incredibly slim one–is if he or someone very close to him is impacted by discrimination, possibly when he retires and is forced to deal with social security, who make me wanna throw my phone against a wall sometimes, or is physically disabled. it’s far more likely he’ll just get bitter and blame everyone he considers undeserving.

      1. Boof*

        While anyone can change, this is basically reprogramming someone’s personality; basically would require a lot of people he respects consistently telling him this behavior is not ok. That’s probably the best chance, and it’s certainly not a guarantee. Doesn’t sound like his workplace is willing to do that.

        1. Erie*

          Yeah, and maybe he has different political beliefs from others around him. Why does anyone need “reprogramming” by their workplace? What he needs is to be told to shut the f*ck up about his offensive politics in the office or else he gets fired.

          Whatever comment section advice led LW to try debating politics with her coworker was misguided. It’s the same condescending impulse LW’s workplace had – that we can train people out of their deeply held convictions if we just show them the light. His racism and classism may have just as much personal experience and “data” behind it as any one of your convictions; we are all susceptible to coming to the wrong conclusions. If you can’t be workplace-trained out of your beliefs…

          1. It Actually Takes a Village*

            There is no amount of “personal experience” and “data” that actually validates or justifies bigotry. Deeply held beliefs and convictions can be objectively wrong. Come on.

          2. yala*

            I don’t think the advice was to debate him or try to change his mind about his bigotry magically like Alfie The Racist Dragon.

            When people just get to drop their bigotry unchallenged, it makes for a worse space for everyone. You don’t have to debate them to let them know what they said was Not Okay. (And in the case of the “What did you mean by that?” tactic–it’s less about a debate and more about just making someone decide if they want to say the quiet part out loud to explain themselves, or if maybe they want to shut up and watch what they say.)

            Dude can be whatever awful person he wants to, but he shouldn’t inflect his bigotry on the rest of the workplace.

            1. Erie*

              “What he needs is to be told to shut the f*ck up about his offensive politics in the office or else he gets fired.”

              I think we agree?

              1. yala*

                Well, OP can’t do that. But she can at least make it clear that SHE doesn’t find that behavior acceptable. As folks said downthread, it also helps the people around them to see his behavior challenged.

      2. Wendy Darling*

        I have an uncle who’s like this and when he had major health issues and became physically disabled he just decided that all OTHER disabled people are lazy and undeserving, that HIS personal experience was uniquely terrible, and that furthermore all those other lazy undeserving disabled people were ruining things for the Good Disabled People like him.

        Some people just won’t develop insight even if life leads them right up to it and sets it in front of them and waves at it.

        1. GreyjoyGardens*

          There are a not inconsiderable number of people like your uncle. They want disability and social benefits (of whatever kind) to be hard to get with a lot of hoops to jump through, because otherwise Those People will take advantage and mooch.

          And then something happens and HE becomes disabled, or his family has a stroke of bad luck and needs benefits, and all of a sudden it’s “why is disability so hard to get? Why are benefits so hard to get” shocked Pikachu.

          1. Irish Teacher*

            There’s a certain political leader in Ireland who, as Minister for Social Protection went on a “welfare cheats cheat us all” campaign, implying that people might be scamming social welfare, despite the people who actually work for the social welfare and whose job it is to investigate such claims, saying that such problems were minimal and there was no need for a “watch those poor people. They might be scamming.” (Of course, there was no such campaign about things like tax evasion from wealthy people.)

            Then covid started and as soon as middle class people started losing their incomes due to being on furlough or businesses having to close, this same political leader was suddenly, “we need a special covid benefit. You can’t expect people to live on €220 a week!”

            In his case, it didn’t affect him directly, but it likely started affecting people he knew personally and certainly started affecting his party’s supporters (his party would be more popular among the better-off in society) so suddenly instead of “oh, people are totally lying to get that money,” it was “nobody could live on that money. They deserve more.”

            1. Mister_L*

              I think he was worried other parties would point out he made welfare hard to get during the next election.

            2. Your Local Password Resetter*

              You see this with corporations in general too.
              They drive people into poverty with their exploitation and abuse? Not their problem, they’re just making money, those people need to work harder or something.
              Companies are falling over during a recession? Think of the economic problems, this will hurt people, we have to give them loads of free money immediately.

        2. Ally McBeal*

          Reminds me of all the “pro-life” women who get ab0rtions, some of whom tell their healthcare provider that they’re going to hell for performing the procedure. Rules for thee, not for me.

          1. Anonymous for This*

            I thought of this, too. Some of them actually go in or bring their daughter in for the procedure at the very clinic where they picket. Then they go back to picketing the next day.

            It’s the classic “that’s different”.

        3. goddessoftransitory*

          Yep. Their entire world view is constructed around “everything I deserve and never got” versus “all those lazy jerks who got what I should have.”

        4. Lily*

          “Some people just won’t develop insight even if life leads them right up to it and sets it in front of them and waves at it.”

          I work in healthcare. The number of times I’ve seen this…

    2. perstreperous*

      In my experience of dealing with every -ist at work, the classists are not for turning. They are intractable.

    3. MigraineMonth*

      Trying to change his beliefs is a waste of time. I think the OP standing up to him was still useful, if only by reminding her coworkers that there is a missing stair they’ve gotten used to jumping over.

    4. Chrissssss*

      “Funny” how such people are always pretending to be very tough(TM), but become whiny the second someone calls out their bigotry.

      The only advantage I see is that LW made is transparent that Gaston wasn’t being uninformed, his ideology is based on hate. I wish I had a suggestion on how to help him change for the better, but this is something he has to want to do.

    5. goddessoftransitory*

      And frankly, I am tired of being expected to invest any more time and energy into trying to do so, like the Gastons of the world listen to anyone or anything that isn’t their own braying mouth.

      If companies can’t be bothered to actually introduce consequences they are actively contributing to the problem. Not passively, actively. Gaston has clearly learned that he can indeed do and say whatever he wants, and I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if he was being tacitly or openly encouraged by at least some of the C suite.

    6. JenLP*

      I’ve been working on my family since high school (so decades – ugh) and while it’s been slow, it’s been working. Very incremental changes, lots of discussions to find common ground, and absolutely impacted by other forces, but I’ve seen it happen. It’s a lot of emotional labor and I would not be doing this for people outside of my family because it is exhausting. So large reform can happen – it’s just not something that typically will happen in a working relationship because who wants to spend their time doing that?

      I’m so happy that someone took her aside to help her see that he’s not worth her labor – he may be worth the labor to someone else, but not her and not at work.

    7. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      My mother was a racist bigot and my father used to spew the same stuff. After my mother died, my father started coming to visit me more often. So I wouldn’t keep the agenda clear to be with him, I just carried on with my life, with him in tow. He got to meet a whole load of my friends, of all colours and nationalities. I was overjoyed the day he said how nice they all were and “it just goes to show, we are all human”.

  4. Mike*

    No one’s racist like Gaston
    No one’s prejudiced like Gaston
    No one’s skin’s as incredibly thin as Gaston

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      The irony
      For all to see
      Gaston is the victim
      Fighting FOR patriarchy.

      (oh, Miss OP, don’t you worry. When you’re older, you will understand how my privilege is the best way. Trickle down justice.)

      1. Mister_L*

        From the creators of beloved “trickle down economics” their latest hit “trickle down justice”.

      2. Old Admin*

        I remember seeing cartoon in a liberal newspaper about “trickle down justice/economics”. A major politician and billionaire was p33ing on tiers of execs, workers, and poor folks.
        That’s what I constantly thought of here….

  5. Jaybeetee*

    Gaston sounds like a giant walking phallus, as well as a missing stair. Unfortunately, companies working around problematic senior employees is pretty common – sounds like TPTB figured waiting him out to retirement was easier than dealing with him, especially if they thought Gaston might get litigious.

    Unfortunately, I’m not sure there is a foolproof way to ensure a company walks the walk on DEI policies – it’s easy for an interviewer to *say* they do, but it’s not necessarily true. I think sadly, a lot of places are like your current workplace – big on promoting DEI, but big on ignoring those darn missing stairs.

    1. squirreltooth*

      I don’t think that’s fair—a phallus can be useful and bring pleasure to people if used correctly. Gaston is just a big ol’ oozing boil that no one’s treating.

    2. A Becky*

      Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a load-bearing employee saying something really racist…

  6. Chilipepper Attitude*

    I’m so impressed with all you tried and how you handled all this overall – including recognizing that the employer is not that great and why.

    I don’t have great advice for you about spotting this ahead of time but sometimes the company reputation is known in general and that can help. Glassdoor can help. Google searches too for a specific company and for tips to spot racism, anti-lgbtquia, etc.

    I think there are also modern, private “greenbooks” or equivalent to identify good places to work. If you know someone who knows, you might get information that way.

    1. AMT*

      GlassDoor has a tool where you can see the ratings people in different demographic categories gave a parti

      1. AMT*

        Accidentally pressed “submit” in the middle of my comment! I was going to say: GlassDoor has a tool that allows you to see the aggregate ratings that people in different demographic categories gave a particular employer (without forcing reviewers to out themselves individually). It can tell you a lot about a company’s internal problems when, say, only straight people or white people seem to enjoy working there.

    2. ferrina*

      Definitely check out Glassdoor. Ask about Glassdoor reviews in your interview. If the company gets offended that you looked at Glassdoor, run. If they address the concerns without excuses, that’s a good sign.

      Example: When interviewing at my current company, I asked directly “I’ve read the Glassdoor reviews about [COMPANY], and a recurring theme seems to be [ISSUE]. Can you speak to that a little bit?”
      My interviewers (it was a panel) were silent for a long moment, then openly acknowledged that [ISSUE] had been a historic problem, but that New CEO was actively working to change that; that so far he had done ABC, and the interviewer was cautiously optimistic but still had lingering concerns.
      One thing I loved was how open and honest the interviewers were. They didn’t try to spin it or cover it up. They acknowledged it, then spoke to what was being done about it. It reflected the way problems are acknowledged and addressed at the company.
      One interviewer said the question reflected well on me as a candidate. It showed I would do the research and ask the hard questions to get the results I needed. And since I knew what I was walking into, it boded well for retention.

      1. Lex Talionis*

        And don’t forget to leave your own Glass Door review about your current company. Save the next person the aggravation you had to endure.

    3. Emily S.*

      I also recommend GlassDoor. I used it to research my current company, and I found it very helpful.

  7. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I guess the good news is. You can speak up about Gaston as loudly as you want to and nothing will happen to you beyond some interesting training classes at worst.

    I’d speak up to your DEI person and ask them about the apparent conflict between their stated values and their values in action.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      Actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone speaking up about the bad behavior of a white man gets actual negative consequences for it. Kind of like how on Facebook, someone posting “why are white men such jerks?” gets their post taken down, but when someone saying actual racist, sexist, awful things gets reported, the person reporting gets a message saying “this post does not go against our community standards.”

      1. Boof*

        Umm, I think there’s a huge difference between “why are [group of people with a characteristic they are born to] such [negative thing]” and “this specific person’s behavior is a problem in this way”. I would say it IS wrong to disparage a group of people at least in part clearly related to their physical characteristics – the people can’t change a characteristic! Call out the bad behavior, the thing that can change. At most say “I feel like I see [behavior] most often from [group]” but keep the focus on the behavior, not the [group].

        1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

          I think you are missing the point that Wanton was trying to make. That if you say something that is not racist, but just general like “jerks” your post gets reported and taken down. But if you call out someone who is making actual hateful and racist comments, it is not taken down because of “community standards.” Like I made a comment on social media about how there were some A-holes making noise at 3 am and it was reported, but someone else on the same platform was able to make horribly offensive comments about our local unhoused community, including that they should be locked up. That was ok.

          1. Boof*

            Without haggling over the details, I get that the point was sometimes calling out bad behavior seems to get more blowback then the bad behavior itself, which is indeed infuriating. There can of course be nuance in HOW the bad behavior is called out (ie, calmly and goal oriented vs resorting to ad hominems and etc), and rank/social capital plays into it too. That being said, there is some logic in knowing when it’s because of conflict avoidant management => probably worth trying to be as squeaky a wheel as the bigot, and/or if someone knows they could probably land on their feet and find a new job without undue hardship in the worst case scenario deciding that any place that will edge them out over a bigot isn’t worth working at and going ahead with calling it out until it’s fixed or new job time. Potentially there are workplace protections for doing so and it would be risky for a company to overtly fire someone for that, though of course going the legal route is a huge headache / possible financial loss that many may not want to deal with in a worst case scenario*. *worst case scenario meaning job loss because of not tolerating a bigoted environment in the work place

      2. Student*

        Can confirm that organizations are still quite happy to punish the people who complain about bad behavior of white men, especially if the people complaining are not themselves white men.

    2. Ellis Bell*

      That would be my first temptation too, but you simply wouldn’t get the same response as “poor Gaston, who simply needed better training”. You would hear something like “Gaston’s comments were genuine confusion, and he doesn’t understand that women and brown employees are people! How could he when he has only had dozens of hours of click through online training on the matter! Whereas you do know better and were being knowingly disrespectful and insubordinate when you questioned how we handled this”. If an unreasonable person takes a pop at the janitor, they think: “Oh the janitor is reasonable, he will understand we can’t deal with unreasonable Gaston, who just doesn’t know how to behave”. If a reasonable person takes a pop at the company’s management they think: “This is outrageous, I really expect them to know better than this”.

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        I wonder if he even took the trainings. Wasn’t there something a while back either in the news or here, where someone had their assistant take the mandatory trainings?

  8. Fikly*

    For future jobs, look carefully for concrete actions, not words. For example, it’s easy to say they have a pumping room, or even make one. But can people actually use it if they need it? Is it set up well, are other people using it for other things, can people easily take the time out of their day to use it without getting pushback, either formally or informally?

    Anyone can have an ERG. But what has come from that ERG that has affected the life of an employee in a concrete way? Are they putting money into something that is actively giving opportunities to employees in under represented groups? Are employees in underrepresented groups having to disclose they are part of it to be eligible, and thus opening themselves up for discrimination and bias?

    If they want to hire more diversely, how are they trying to do that? Are they just hoping the applications come in, or are they actively posting their job openings in places that target the groups they are trying to hire? What do their job postings look like? Are there requirements, like education and experience that bias toward people with privilege?

    The list goes on and on, and sadly, the list of companies that are actually doing something is small. But at least you can go in eyes wide open.

  9. scandi*

    Decorating for pride month only requires some small amount of money. Same with setting aside a lactation room, offering DEI courses to offenders. None of the mentioned actions require serious culture change, or incentives for those creating an unwelcoming environment to change. Restorative justice doesn’t mean to do nothing, it means that the consequences should come from a perspective of making things right and preventing further offences rather than from a desire to inflict punishment. Actions up to and including firing can fit perfectly within a restorative justice framework, especially for repeat offenders.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Thank you for saying this; they’re using “restorative justice” kind of like a get out of jail free card, because I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a restorative justice solution that was just “please watch this DEI webinar.”

      1. Observer*

        Of course you haven’t. Because this isn’t even “education”. And to be honest restorative justice is not even about education per se.

    2. Sara without an H*

      This. Higher education is an industry that loves “progressive” initiatives that don’t change anything about the underlying culture. “Months” are cheap. Actually examining hiring and retention practices, setting goals and benchmarks, holding people accountable, …Nope.

  10. ferrina*

    I will say that the company is a big fan for “restorative justice.” That is instead of someone being punished they are supposed to be educated.

    Sometimes punishment is its own form of education. And talking to people only works if those people are listening (spoiler alert: people spewing racist, classist crap on a company-wide email aren’t listening). DEIJ is about more than hanging up some rainbows that no one will complain about- it’s about taking a stand when someone is complaining, making hard decisions, and withstanding blowback. That’s (theoretically) the reason why the company leaders make the big bucks. If DEIJ were an easy road to win a universal popularity contest, we would have solved all the -isms a long time ago.

    1. RVA Cat*

      This. When Gaston *doubled down* on his prejudice he should have been fired, or at the very least made his “retirement” effective immediately.

    2. Double A*

      Restorative Justice is also an iterative process where victim and perpetrator engage in a meaningfully facilitated process. You don’t just assign it to people and bam you’re doing restorative Justice. And not every offense nor is every perpetrator a good candidate for RJ.

  11. Elizabeth West*

    Gaston IS a racist, classist jackhole and this entire company is a missing stair. I’m glad you can get out of there, OP.

  12. Good Luck*

    Its hard to reccomend a good company without knowing your location or scope of work. However I will tell you some experiences I have had.

    This is my experience and I recognize that everyone’s is different!

    I had the best luck of experiencing a diverse and welcoming workforce at larger companies. I work for a very large company now and it is great. There are ERGs for several minority groups and several POC /women in leadership roles. I can tell the company has tried its best to improve these things, because the field I am in is notoriously known for being white male dominated. It maybe something to ask about in interviews. Ask about diversity, what they offer and who makes up their leadership teams.

    I also once worked at a women owned company. It was very diverse. It was a tech company so it helped that the workforce in general was younger with better attitudes about equality. The owners were also Gay and actively involved in the local LGBTQ+ community. They often hosted events at the office and several members of leadership were either LGTBQ+ or a POC. This was a mid-sized company. I really researched this company and really enjoyed working here. I left for other reasons none related to diversity .

    1. Justin*

      The leadership truly goes a long way. My company is a mix of ages, genders, locations, races (mostly Black leadership), and we really seem to hire for different viewpoints (but not in a “maybe also racism?” way).

    2. Hell Job Escapee*

      I think looking at the make up of the leadership of a company is a good factor in determining if a company is actually committed to DEI and not just for show.

      Does the company tout their commitment to diversity, but the leadership is all or mostly made up of white men? Or even if there are women in leadership, are they also mostly white? Definitely a factor to consider and maybe something to bring up in the interview.

    3. Some dude*

      I will say in my area several of the more toxic workplaces have very diverse leadership and are outwardly committed to DEI/racial equity/racial justice. In some places, that was a screen that allowed toxic practices to flourish, and in another staff figured out ways to weaponize DEI in toxic ways. There are also many amazing BIPOC/queer/femme led workplaces near me, but I would do more research before assuming diverse leadership = amazing place to work.

  13. Dawn*

    There’s no magic bullet to “finding a good company to work for” but going outside what the company has posted about themselves is the place to start in setting yourself up for success; read employee reviews from places like Glassdoor, talk to people who already work there off the clock if you can, go outside of the official channels to get a feel for what the company is really like.

    It doesn’t hurt to look for news articles pertaining to the company either, of course.

    1. Justin*

      And honestly, if you can find out the demos of the people who make decisions, it’s not perfect but it goes a long way if it truly is a very mixed groups (race, gender, ability, whatever).

      My company has a good gender mix and mostly Black leadership and they walk the walk.

  14. SunriseRuby*

    Sounds like now that Gaston is retired he’ll have even more time to attend Trump campaign rallies. Yay.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      I hope he donates every dime to that charlatan and ends up bitching about how hard it is to live on Social Security.

  15. Justin*

    1. Sometimes the most anti-racist act is retirement.
    2. That’s not what restorative justice is, company

  16. Ex-prof*

    Congrats on standing up for what’s right, letter writer. It seldom works out well because entrenched beliefs are… entrenched… but it’s worth doing anyway. Keeping the Overton window from shifting back to 1950 takes all of us. You’re not wrong and you won’t feel differently when you’re older.

    As for finding a good place to work, my advice would be: Look for people around you who seem happy with where they work.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “Congrats on standing up for what’s right, letter writer.”

      Agreed! Just because you couldn’t control the outcome doesn’t mean it was wrong to try. You had the courage to try, which counts for a lot.

      I wish I were Gaston’s boss. I would assign him janitorial duty for a few weeks, just to see how “easy” he finds it. It seems so crazy to me to call custodians “lazy and entitled” when they actually have the hardest jobs! If Gaston thinks it’s so easy, I’d just love to see him try.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Best idea yet! After all, Gaston has been moved around so much, there can’t be that many departments left!

    2. ferrina*

      Standing up to racism (or other harmful isms) is always a good thing. It helps:

      1) The marginalized people around you. You just signaled that you are a true ally. Lots of people try to do the ally-lite thing where they get credit without taking a stand. WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE. True allies take a stand. Even if the person you’re taking a stand for isn’t there- even if they never know. Even- and especially- if you have no stake in it. Even if nothing gets done, it still counts. You never know who is watching.

      2) The dominant group around you. You just showed them what it looks like to speak up. Lots of people are afraid to be the first, but if they see other people speaking up they’ll be more comfortable doing the same. They may not speak up just because they see one person do it, but at some point it will hit critical mass and speaking up will be normalized. Bonus- you never know who you will impress. I have gotten opportunities I didn’t know existed because my reputation preceded me.

      3) Yourself. It takes practice to stand up to racism/other-ism. Every time you do it, you get more experience. You reinforce those neural pathways in your brain. It becomes more normal and natural, until that becomes your first response.

      You might convince the person making the racist statement/action. It can happen sometimes. Maybe they grew up somewhere where racism was normalized and they are now inspired to reflect. Maybe they need critical mass of social pressure before they change, and you are one voice closer to them realizing that they need to change. Or maybe they’ll dig their heels in. Gaston probably wasn’t going to change. That’s why you don’t do it for him- you do it for everyone else.

    3. goddessoftransitory*

      I agree! Just because it was impossible to reform Gaston does NOT mean you were wrong, LW. You were 100% correct, and you used what you learned about that company to figure out what companies are doing vs. what they only say. That’s a valuable skill.

      It is never wrong to speak up on the side of the good.

  17. MissMeghan*

    Throwing this out there as an idea: Would it be good in interviews to ask for an example of when DEI policy/other on paper policy led to a positive impact in the company? If it’s more than lip service, this should be something the interviewer can speak to. I’ve never tried this so I don’t know how it would go over, but I’d be curious to try in my next job search.

    1. Fikly*

      I tried asking “Can you give me an example of when an employee experienced an inclusion problem and how it was addressed?” during a round of job searching. I got blank looks and confusion in response, or “but we’re too small to have an inclusion problem, everyone gets along!”

      1. I'm Just Here For The Cats!!*

        To be fair, the people in the interview might not know about an example.

        1. Fikly*

          That right there is a problem, because everyone has inclusion problems. If you aren’t able to see them, that’s a DEI issue. If you are seeing them, and they haven’t been addressed, that’s a DEI problem.

          For example, an inclusion problem is as simple and everyday as when an employee is out for the weekly team meeting for any reason, and there isn’t a system in place so that they can get any important information they missed. On the surface, this seems like a work issue. But if you dig a little, it’s actually an issue where people feel like if they aren’t in an important meeting, they are being excluded from what they need to know to do their job, and that’s a negative experience that builds up over time.

          A company that’s actually good about DEI understands this.

    2. Old and Cranky*

      I was going to offer a spin on this approach. Remember, you are not the only one being interviewed, you are also doing the interviewing. One of the things I teach my clients (employer side employment attorney here) is to ask questions that show you how people think/act. They can be specific, but also along the lines of “Tell me how you would handle a situation where you received a complaint about an employee making classist and racist comments.” “What programs do you have in place that would address these concerns and how do you implement them?” In other words, ask the hard questions that make it a bit more difficult for them to just give lip service. If they are willing to address the issues in the interview, then you may have found a company that is willing to address the issues in the workplace as well. If they just try to double talk around it without giving you some sort of answer – the red flag just popped up and is waiving mightily in the breeze.

      1. brjeau*

        This is really good advice! The key is to ask for specifics about they’ve handled a problem (and if their handling wasn’t ideal, what they learned from it and how they changed) rather than just what they have on paper or what kinds of DEI training/events they offer.

        And if they say they’ve never had an employee complaint or conflict around DEI issues, maybe ask why they think that is? (I’m thinking “oh we don’t have that problem here!” is a red flag, but there might be a better follow-up question)

  18. Lurker*

    That was not restorative justice. Restorative justice is being required to repair harm. It involves looping in the affected parties or community to see what would constitute repairing harm for them.

    We had a great example of restorative justice in our community. Teens defaced an anti-racism mural. At the request of the affected community, they were sentenced to community service, which included meeting with leaders of the affected community and helping to restore the mural.

    I’m horrified that the term is being co-opted as a synonym for weaksauce solutions. (Though in hindsight I shouldn’t be surprised.) When you think about it, it’s kind of a brilliant piece of cynicism. They get credit for being all DEI, *and* they help to undermine the concept of restorative justice. It’s sleight-of-hand and mockery rolled into one.

    1. ferrina*

      Restorative justice almost always (if not always) requires an admission of wrong doing. Dollars to doughnuts Gaston admitted no fault.

      Great use of restorative justice for the teens that defaced the mural! That’s beautiful!

    2. Femme Cassidy*

      I’m glad to see so many comments pushing back on the idea that this is what restorative justice looks like. It already has an uphill battle for legitimacy because our culture is so punishment/retribution-driven, and stuff like this just makes that harder.

  19. CozyDetective*

    Finding a good company requires research and self awareness. Self awareness being, what is your definition of good, and what values do you hold that you’re looking for in a company? Example being, is a good company one that contributes positively to the fabric of our world? Or could it be in any industry as long as workers are treated well? And when you think of workers being treated well, does that mean healthcare, PTO, regular raises, competitive salaries, opportunities for promotion, etc? Getting clarity on what you’re seeking will help to eliminate companies that aren’t aligned to your vision and values at the research stage.

    For research, talk to folks at the company and folks who’ve recently left (but not on bad terms). Easiest way to do this is to identify who in your network knows someone at the place you’d like to work. Even better if they know of the department you’re interested in or sit on that team (or are adjacent to it). I like talking to people who’ve recently left (like less than 6 months out the door) and not on bad terms because sometimes they’re freer with sharing their opinion about the company, the team, what they did or didn’t like. Similarly, talking to current employees will provide you with the current state of working there. I also do some light LinkedIn creeping—doesn’t work for all criteria, but if a company says they highly value employees but you see they’ve just done layoffs, well, may not be the place for you. Similarly, if they say they promote frequently, check out the current and former team members (this will be dependent on them having a LinkedIn profile and it being up to date)—who was promoted and how quickly? What was their new title? What do you notice about trends—are people staying two years and then leaving? 5 years? Etc. I also read the news about the company—many Fortune 500s offer grants, scholarships and other programs to underserved communities. What’s the company’s level of involvement in these initiatives (they love to post about this stuff so it should be easy to see what’s being offered) and what else are they doing out there? If it’s an oil and gas company for example, they may do a lot of charitable contributions which looks good on the face of things, but they could also be getting actively sued for several oil spills that have destroyed ecosystems or sickened communities.

    Once again, I think it’s going to be down to what you’re looking for, and if the research you do aligns to the things you’re seeking.

  20. Falling Diphthong*

    When I asked for specifics, I was assured that as I got older and more experienced I would be able to spot these things.

    Heaven forfend anyone asked for specifics actually provide some.

    Someone had an observation re conspiracy theorists, that if someone has made their whole identity about being a flat earther (for example) there is no way they will abandon that identity for your silly little arguments. They’ll just gish gallop along tossing out new not-actually-true things and the occasional comment about the conspiracty against them. (This was in the context of not dedicating your energy to arguing with these people.)

    People do change! And sometimes realizing that they can’t point to the evidence causes them to reflect and change their position. But if that doesn’t work and this person’s ignorance matters (true at work, less so on twitter) you need a Step 2 other than saying “…. but I’m right, I told them the right thing, why are they doubling down and telling me the evidence is so obvious they don’t even need to tell me what the evidence is?”

    1. Aelfwynn*

      Yep. You can’t reason someone out of a belief that they did not come by rationally.

      1. metadata minion*

        At least, not one they’re committed to. I’ve been reasoned out of plenty of beliefs that I just kind of absorbed by cultural osmosis and hadn’t actually considered in any detail.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          I recall that for people who believe conspiracy theories, the reason was:
          a) It was new information–the first time they heard about Thing, someone told them Thing was explained by Conspiracy Theory.
          b) They were afraid of something, and the conspiracy helped them feel like they had more control.
          c) The conspiracy theory was important as a group identifier.
          d) They love the feeling of being part of the small group of superior thinkers who can discern the truth.

          People in (a) are often open to evidence; (c) and (d) much less so. (c) sometimes has an interesting flavor of “Yeah, if I looked at this closely I would see flaws–which is why I, a proud pastafarian who really enjoys the sense of community from our monthly barbecues, know not to do that.”

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Agreed. Rather than getting people to explain what they mean, it’s sometimes just better to say, “What a horrible thing to say!!”

      Being kind and polite and trying to lead people to enlightenment only works if people are open to being enlightened.

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        It reminds me of the Dorothy Parker short story “Lady with a Lamp,” where a woman is loudly stomping over her friend’s terrible romantic experience with a total shitheel. It’s written only with the woman’s dialogue, and meant to be funny and highlight how insensitive she is, but one thing she says to the friend is really, objectively true: “You have to stop worrying about him, Mona. The Lord knows, he’s not worrying about you.”

        People like Gaston don’t spend one inkling of their time worrying about how they hurt other people. You beat them by refusing to spend energy worrying about hurting them.

  21. Gwen Soul*

    Not sure if this is really applicable, but if I was interviewing someone and they asked to speak to a person in a minority group on my team I would have no problem setting that up, and if I didn’t have someone that says something as well. This could be a POC, LGBT person, disabled individual. But that could just be something that would not bother me but might be an issue with others or look more out of touch with entry level roles.

  22. DG*

    “Restorative justice” in a corporate setting is bizarre to me… it seems more like a way to avoid riling up problem employees and becoming a Tucker Carlson talking point than actually doing right by their staff.

    Maybe I’m jaded but I think the secret to “finding a good company” is lowering your expectations and separating your identity from your job/employer. Of course I try to work for places that aren’t directly making the world a worse place, or ran by openly villainous leaders, and where I’m mostly surrounded by decent people, but I learned a while ago not to look to my employer for moral leadership on social issues. Even the companies publicly supporting things like Pride Month or BLM are typically making a calculated PR move – one that doesn’t reflect how the company *actually* supports its staff and that they’ll actively walk back if they receive too much criticism.

    1. ferrina*

      You can also take a look at the people making those decisions. A company needs to make business decisions for the business. People have a habit of slipping their own values into that conversation.

      Our entire HR/personnel development team supports DEIJ, and they each have a habit of asking “Where are we supporting diversity and inclusion in this?” They won’t necessarily make bold statements (HR still exists to protect the company), but they’ll quietly incorporate DEIJ into processes like recruiting, onboarding, trainings, annual performance evaluations, etc. And if you come to them with a DEIJ suggestion, they don’t explain away why they can’t do that. They ask questions and genuinely think about your suggestion. It doesn’t move as fast as individuals do, but it moves continuously in the right direction

    2. Cedrus Libani*

      Agreed. My definition of a “good company” is one with the pragmatism to realize that it’s the 21st century and being an equal opportunity employer makes sound business sense. That’s all I want. If you can’t work with [insert protected class here], then you’re a liability, and you should be replaced with someone who isn’t.

      In my experience, large corporate employers are better about this, because they don’t think about their employees in personal terms. For better or worse, everyone is replaceable. Including Gaston.

  23. Otter L*

    I think something important to note is that speaking out and challenging racists isn’t about re-educating the racist to get them to stop being racist. Because the reality is, you probably won’t! Especially in a company with toothless, performative diversity policies. You’re not going to break down years of bigotry with a few well-placed questions and/or barbs.

    But what you WILL do is can show the people around him, who might have been shy and non-confrontational, that they’re not alone in being uncomfortable with him, and if THEY push back, there’s someone who will back them up. More often than not, no amount of shame is going to make a loud jerk stop being a loud jerk. And that’s okay! It’s not your job to teach him how to behave. Don’t be discouraged by that. There’s value in just pointing to him and saying, out loud, “This guy’s being a loud jerk.” It won’t stop him, but it might give other people the chance to think, “Oh thank God, somebody else noticed the loud jerk,” or “You know what? You’re right! He IS being a loud jerk!”

    Sometimes you just gotta say out loud that the emperor’s not wearing any clothes, you know?

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Yes! Because while it’s pretty impossible to reform a Gaston or magically fix the kind of toxic swamp that supports him, saying this isn’t okay! He isn’t okay! can be the truth that sounds like a pistol shot in the conspiracy of silence that grows around these situations.

  24. Keymaster of Gozer*

    My guidelines for spotting firms I do not want to work for:

    1. I google the firm to see if they’ve got any legal cases filed against them. A firm with a large amount of sexual harassment cases/claims? Ohh no.

    2. If I go in for an interview I take a look at the surrounding people. Is the receptionist beaten down? Is everyone in the office a white man? Do I hear shouting?

    3. Prior to an interview I ask about their disability accommodations (I can’t handle stairs and need a parking spot) and if they have a problem with that. Some firms have straight up said ‘ohhh nooo we can’t do that’ or have decided not to interview me. A couple of firms have said ‘well we’ve never had a disabled person come in but we’ll see what we can do’ which depends on the tone of voice they use.

    4. Any mention of ‘anti-woke’, ‘conservative values’ or similar things is an instant red flag.

    5. Lastly, if there are (decent) forums for your line of work then join them and see what others say about the firm. I’ve even warned off some truly horrific firms due to people on my technical forum.

  25. Michelle Smith*

    Yeah, so that’s not restorative justice at all, just to be clear. RJ is about accountability, which is not taking a couple of DEI courses to check a box for HR and then going back and continuing to perpetrate the harm. It’s deeply frustrating to me that this company is co-opting the name of a very real and productive field for their inaction and failure to manage. I am not an employment lawyer, so I have no idea if there would be liability for this kind of class-based bigotry (income/poverty is not a federally protected class), but it seems like this company should at least be aware that people use proxies (aka dog whistles) all the time. Whether it’s legal or not, it certainly isn’t something a company should permit.

    As far as finding a company that isn’t toxic, try and think of toxicity as a scale rather than an either/or concept. I work for a place that has leadership I don’t fully respect, but my immediate bosses shield us from a lot of the worst impacts of that and I love working on my team. At my last job, the toxicity ran all the way down to my immediate managers who were unable to shield our team from the effects of that toxicity and unwilling to do the things my previous manager had done to mitigate the impact. Most places aren’t all or nothing. Talk to people who used to work there (informational interviews) while you’re in the interview process and get a sense for what it’s really like. Ask detailed questions in your interviews about turnover, growth, expectations, management style, etc. and listen carefully for what is behind the words. For example, I had an interview experience where in multiple conversations with different people I was asked questions to determine my comfort level with having my work edited and my writing attributed to someone else. No one outright said it to me, but I got the impression that the manager who would need to approve my work was a micromanager who would extensively redline anything I wrote and then ultimately get all the credit for the finished product. I checked that gut feeling with a couple of informational interviews and a person who had recently left the company was adamant that this hiring manager is indeed a heavy micromanager. I decided that wouldn’t be a good environment for me, so I pulled out of the process and went somewhere that said they wanted people who could take initiative from the beginning and lead their own projects with minimal oversight. And what do you know – my boss is too busy to micromanage me.

    The last thing I’ll say is that you should not blame yourself if you end up in another job where there is a coworker, manager, or leadership that are toxic in some way. You are not to blame. You’ll do the best you can to vet future opportunities, but sometimes there is a bait and switch you can’t predict. I absolutely LOVED my last job and my first manager. I didn’t care that my commute was 1.5 hours each way. I felt like I was making a difference and I felt supported and valued. I could not have predicted that she would quit 2 years into my time there. I could not have predicted the pandemic and a quarter of the organization also quitting, adding unrelated responsibilities onto my team’s workload. I couldn’t have predicted that the person who got transferred over from a different department to be one of our new managers would be a petty, vindictive nightmare who worked 24/7, had no personal life, and expected her employees to be the same. Things change, sometimes from day 1 and sometimes once you’re really settled in and feeling happy. Rather than agonizing on finding the exact perfect environment where nothing bad will ever happen and no one horrible will ever be your problem again, resolve to make the best choices you can with the information you have at the time and pivot as often as necessary to maintain your personal mental health. And don’t blame yourself for not having the perfect ability to predict everything.

  26. Boof*

    It’s pretty clear Gaston sucks and isn’t going to change. Kudos for trying the “please elaborate” Response and letting us know how it didn’t work in this case. I think the best thing to do would be to give a short call back every time he did some thing and then walk away. Like “wow that sounds bigoted” and walk away/ refuse to engage further. Every time. Though, since he’s retired, sounds like it at least won’t be an issue with that particular individual again. Good luck on the job hunt! I imagine part of finding a better environment will be looking to see if they actually have hired an inclusive workforce, especially at upper levels of power

  27. Purely Allegorical*

    On how to find a good company —

    I have found that this is all about tradeoffs. You will never find a company that is ‘good’ at everything, so you need to prioritize what is most important to you at any given time and look really hard at companies who can do well at those things. And understand that your priorities will change over time.

    For instance, for a long time finding unlimited leave policies was my priority, but over time those companies revealed to not have the greatest cultures. So for my latest job switch, I looked for a company with progressive values where people seem to actually like each other and like coming to work.

  28. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Something to think about. If the company knew he was retiring, they might have been treading lightly knowing he was about to leave on his own. It sounds like this guy would be the type to sue just for the love of “sticking it” to someone if he were fired. I know that can come off cowardly, but many times a company has to consider all the risks involved.

    1. Observer*

      Given the behavior in question and how long it went on, this just doesn’t fly. He was allowed to spend YEARS making bigoted statements in highly public ways. That’s abhorrent. And also, risky because anyone could have sued – and still could use this if they sue in the next year or two.

      1. Capt. Liam Shaw*

        And yet he was never really disciplined… so how abhorrent was it really? That is what a plaintiff’s attorney is going to say. I am not disagreeing with you about how problematic the guy was. I just have lived too long and seen too many problematic employees not disciplined. I have been told to “keep documenting” and “well they are close to retirement” and all sorts of excuses. Companies are truly scared to do the right thing because someone will sue.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          Wait, how is it “doing the right thing” to let a bigoted employee slide for years? And then for the company to throw up its hands and say, well, we can’t do anything NOW because it looks bad and he might file a nuisance lawsuit, so we just have to hope he goes away on his own? (Funny how the company isn’t worried about a GENUINE lawsuit from the people Gaston is harassing.)

          This isn’t being scared to do the right thing, it’s incompetence compounded by cowardice.

        2. Observer*

          And yet he was never really disciplined… so how abhorrent was it really?

          That’s not what a plaintiff’s lawyer us going to ask. What they will ask is “So how much did you really care about basic decency?”

      2. Zarniwoop*

        One of the earlier posts say he was expert at going right up to the line of what policy allowed without going over, and was constantly threatening to sue on the grounds that any action against him was due to a protected class he was in.

  29. CommanderBanana*

    Yep, my last org paid a LOT of lip service to DEI. Everyone (in a 100+ person org in a large metropolitan city) in a leadership position with the exception of HR was a white man. Only white men got promoted; minorities and women were edged out.

    They also talked a lot about having a no-tolerance policy for harassment and then actively protected members who assaulted staff at events and retaliated against staff who reported harassment or, in at least one instance I know about, an actual assault.

  30. Momma Bear*

    Re: finding a good company, try your network. Reach out to old colleagues and ask them if their company is hiring, what the culture is like, etc. A large number of people at my company know someone from a previous role. It’s like a big reunion. Let friends know you are looking . See if anyone has any tips or leads for you.

  31. BellyButton*

    The best way to tell if a company is actually doing DEI things or its just lip service is to take a look at leadership from mid-level managers on up. Is there diversity in leadership? Is it all white men of similar ages and the only women VPs are HR and/or Legal? Then their DEI “efforts” are crap.

    1. Prospect Gone Bad*

      I mean, people online always comment on these things like they are these stark black/white situations. I’ve been in corporate America since 2000 and the amount of women who want to work in HR always boggled my mind. I work in software engineering and no matter what company I work at and where they post, applicants skew heavily male. So if I see an all-female HR Dept, I am not wondering if there is discrimination going on. I’m not claiming to understand it but to pretend it goes against DEI seems a bit disingenuous. I once took over from an Analyst with a great high-paying career path ahead of her who switched to HR because she loved the idea of it and seemed happier doing it. Some people are wired differently

      1. Lellow*

        The point being made isn’t about HR skewing female, but that it’s a problem if the *only* highly paid women in the company are in HR, while all the rest of leadership is male.

        (And come on, it’s 2023, please don’t pretend the idea of sexist pressures, overt or not, steering women towards HR and other “soft skill” roles is a controversial one. Your single anecdote aside.)

  32. Trying again*

    I had an experience of a Gaston reacting badly to comments similar to yours. A white man at a party used a derogatory term and I thought, “I’m not going to just let that slide. I’m going to do the right thing.” I made a fairly mild statement to him that the term is offensive and he went OFF. Doubled down. Verbal attack. I’ve since read some Captain Awkward posts where she predicts and helps you prepare for the verbal attacks/rationalizations/aren’t you precious little girl statements. It helped to know to expect major pushback. And as a commentator above noted, I may not change the racist but there is value on calling it out. I now am more prepared and have a few more tools for the blowback.

    1. Aelfwynn*

      I’d be interested in reading those Captain Awkward posts — are there any ones in particular that you recommend?

      1. Trying again*

        Really good question. Much of her advice on any topic includes a section on what blowback to expect when you set any kind of boundary. I’d Google the following:

        – Captain Awkward archives
        – Captain Awkward How to deal with blowback
        – Captain Awkward #395
        – Captain Awkward how to deal with racists
        – Captain Awkward extinction burst
        And also:
        – YouTube: Jay Smooth racists

  33. Observer*

    OP, I have a couple of thoughts.

    The first is to echo all the people who said that the company is misusing the term “restorative justice.” Their official definition is incorrect, and on top of that, they are not actually doing what they claim to be doing. Clearly Gaston is not being educated, nor is anyone else from what I can see.

    The other thing is that some of what you see as apparent markers of a “great company” is actually a company that is spending a few dollars to avoid expressly breaking the law. Lactation rooms and different physical set ups to accommodate physical needs are *required by law*. This is so basic, that this is one flag you can keep your eyes out for. If a company *boast* about their wonderful amenities such as pumping rooms and that they actually allow people to have computers, desks and chairs that they can actually be reasonably comfortable in, then that tells you that SOMEONE has a bad attitude. This stuff is basic.

    What I’m trying to say is that anyone who thinks that “we follow the law and treat our staff reasonably” is a sign of how “enlightened” they are is most definitely NOT “enlightened”.

    1. CommanderBanana*

      ^^ This is a great point. “We’re not actively breaking the law!” isn’t the flex some companies think it is.

    2. Observer*

      If you want to understand why some of us are having such conniptions about the whole “restorative justice” sham – and what the company is doing IS a sham, to be kinder than they deserve, give a look at this page which provides an overview of the concept:


      Note that there is a list of guiding principles including:

      3) the first priority of justice processes is to assist victims; 4) the second priority is to restore the community, to the degree possible; 5) the offender has personal responsibility to victims and to the community for crimes committed;

      Yes, the last guiding principle is the idea that the process should enable the offender to “improved competency and understanding”. But that’s the last item and only works in the context of all of the other pieces. And the people who are meant to benefit are the victims, their families, their communities and people in the administration of the criminal justice system. Interestingly, it’s not especially meant to benefit the criminal.

      Substitute “wrong doer” and you’ll see why what your company is doing is a sham and a travesty.

      The last principle

    3. Goldenrod*

      “What I’m trying to say is that anyone who thinks that “we follow the law and treat our staff reasonably” is a sign of how “enlightened” they are is most definitely NOT “enlightened”.”


      At my company, leadership professes to care a LOT about types of harassment that are illegal, i.e. based on race or gender. They can sometimes actually sound like they truly do care, when you hear them talking so eloquently about it, i.e. “We will NOT tolerate workplace bullying of any kind” (“as long as that form of bullying is illegal” is the part they don’t say out loud.)

      If you are doing LEGAL bullying, however – managers bullying subordinates along the same race/gender lines….Good luck getting anyone in leadership to care or do anything about it.

      That’s their calculation and it is what it is….but it is NOT enlightened or ethical, it’s just following the letter of the law, and that’s all.

    4. Astor*

      I’m agreeing with you, but also pointing out that one way you can tell culture is by HOW they run those lactation rooms and arrange for different physical set ups to accommodate physical needs.

      Having a lactation room on its own doesn’t tell you anything, but are they spacious and well-ventilated? Do they have sinks, running water, a fridge, and a microwave for sterilizing? Do they have comfortable chairs? Do they have multiple rooms? A good place won’t necessarily have all of those, but place that has a particularly great lactation room set-up is signalling something about how they support people who are lactating.

      Similarly, how do they arrange for different physical set ups to accommodate physical needs? Do they keep footstools in their supply closet, along with trackballs and left-handed mice (or at least make it easy for you to order those things if you need them)? Do they have monitors on arms, a few chairs to pick from, and automatically assign everyone a desk with mechanical raising/lowering ability? Will they spend a few extra hundred dollars on an individual set-up without requiring medical paperwork? Again, a good place won’t necessarily do all that, but a place that makes it very easy to get your physical needs met without requiring a doctor’s note is signalling something about how they support people who have differing physical needs.

      This is similar to how to look at all their DEI initiatives. The part to look at isn’t that they say they have them, the part to look at is what they’re doing with them. Same with how your current company says they take a “restorative justice” approach, but they clearly don’t understand what that is. Giving employees extra support via education on to behave appropriately can be a reasonable approach to take, but instead they’re letting Gaston continue with his past behaviour.

  34. Thank God (or something) I no longer work there*

    I’m 60ish and if anything more woke than 10 years ago. Age really has very little to do with it. I worked in a male dominated field and 25 year olds at the time I left 5 years ago were more openly misogynistic than 60 year olds in 1990. I worked in an environment where lots of lip service was paid to diversity but it was all on the surface. In about 2010 I was told there was nothing that could be done about misogyny except I could “look in my heart and see if I could do something different”. Um, I’m not the department head suggesting that I slept my way to the top. Wish I had some advice other than continue speaking up or it will never stop. Though I understand this writer doesn’t have as much space as I did.

    1. OldBag*

      I’m sorry what on EARTH did they think you were going to look in your heart and find?! Was this some sort of “just ignore the bullies” garbage??? ugggh…

      1. DJ Abbott*

        It sounds like a religious thing. I grew up in a fundamentalist area, and it echoes some of the things I heard. They routinely blamed the victim for any type of harassment or discrimination, and said things like “look in your heart and see what you’re doing to bring this on yourself.” Because that wouldn’t happen to a good, submissive woman. Blech.

  35. Healthcare Manager*

    For next time OP, sometimes you can’t trick people into understanding what they’re saying is wrong, and giving a platform to hear their own voice can be reinforcing, unfortunately.

    A different tactic is to just flat out say ‘no that’s classist and wrong, and I’m not going to listen to you say things like that’

    I do wish there was a polite way to say ‘you’re old and out of date with reality’ but there isn’t really in a work setting is instead you’ve got to focus on not giving it oxygen and make sure others around hear you shut it down.

  36. Ladycrim*

    “Workers in low-paying jobs are lazy.” I guarantee Gaston wouldn’t last a week doing the janitor’s job.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      Seriously. One of the most glorious things I saw when I worked at a law firm was a senior partner dressing down some snotty, born-on-third first-year associate who made similarly derogatory comments about our mailroom team, who could probably run a USPS office seamlessly, if they had to. Takes some gall to call the folks zipping around the office and back and forth to the post office “lazy” when you’re sitting behind a desk trying to figure out how all that book-learning theory from law school actually translates into real, revenue-generating work.

    2. PlainJane*

      Hmm, that sounds like a good alternative. If he keeps getting moved around to avoid problems anyway, move him to janitorial for a couple of weeks. Should give him a whole new perspective on life.

    3. Heffalump*

      Even if every worker on the planet were smart, industrious, and highly skilled, someone would still need to do the janitor’s job.

      Some years ago at my then job, the unionized employees, including the janitor, went on strike. We non-unionized office staff had to do things like empty the wastebaskets, refill the paper-towel dispensers, and so on. I don’t think anyone at this company had Gaston’s attitude, or if they did, they were smart enough to zip their lip. But this made us appreciate the janitor that much more.

  37. New HR Lady*

    How do you right a policy that encompasses that behaviour (walking right up to the line but not crossing it) that also can’t be exploited for other behaviors?

    1. Lellow*

      “The line” stops where people let it. A good company will back up a manager sitting down with Gaston and saying, none of us were born yesterday, trying to be plausibly deniable in your shittiness is still creating a shitty environment and you need to stop it right now or there will be real consequences.

  38. hewhosaysfish*

    Thank God we’ve got people like Gaston out there “speaking the truth to power”.
    All of those *checks notes* minimum-wage janitors have been pushing people around for too long.

    What level of double-think is required to look down on someone else while simultaneously casting yourself as the underdog?

    1. Greenpat*

      Schrödinger’s Immigrant. People who immigrate to my country are both lazy people wanting to live off benefits and stealing jobs from citizens of my country. At the same time.

  39. GarlicBreadAfficianado*

    I had a coworker kinda like that. I did two things. I downloaded circus music on my phone. When he started up, I played it. When he finally caught on that I played it when he was going on one of his rants and “called me out on it” I said well when clowns are performing, they need their background music.

    One time he came for me directly. I looked him dead in the eye, and said “Gaston, if I wanted to hear you speak I’d wave a snausage over your nose” and then I turned and walked away.

    1. Heffalump*

      “If I want your opinion, I’ll pull your chain.”

      “If I want your opinion, I’ll rattle your cage.”

      “If I want bullshit from you, I’ll squeeze your head.”

  40. Iworktheretoo*

    a I’ve spotted a bit of a problem in your post or at least something that is not clear. did you actually go to HR and file a complaint? did you go to HR and file a complaint about his bigotry in ageism in his comments back to you? you say that you asked around and it would be frowned upon if you continue to pursue this but who told you that? I’m often seen coworkers make up reasons like that when they weren’t true and when things were escalated to HR the company acted appropriately. It’s unclear whether you told anyone in a management capacity about this ongoing issue in his response to you. if you haven’t been you’re assuming perhaps incorrectly that they won’t act on this issue.

  41. NotAnotherManager!*

    Gaston doesn’t seem to understand that his version of being “anti-woke” and “against cancel culture” is really more of a “big risk issue for his employer” and, rather than everyone else cottoning onto his thinking as they gain experience, they’re more likely to realize what a poor role model he was an use him as a cautionary tale.

    I don’t love repeatedly moving him around and assigning him videos to watch. Maybe give the retraining one fair shake along with some really specific expectations, but there’s no reason to rinse-lather-repeat with people like him.

  42. Prospect Gone Bad*

    uh, Sillicon Valley Bank wasn’t crooks. They weren’t psychic and didn’t predict that the Federal Reserve was lying in 2021 when they said no rate hikes until 2023 or 2024. So they bought 1% bonds because that’s all that was available and who expects treasury bonds to crash, since they never crash? Then “OMG the bank is gonna crash” trended and people took out money which made the problem worse, aka a bank run.

    The bank didn’t do anything bad. In fact, it’s a textbook case of how government policy in this country creates bubbles and then crashes, so I don’t know how it fits into any example in the rest of your comment or this thread

  43. Jessica*

    >I’m worried that my sense of normalcy has been damaged and that even if there are great policies on the surface the culture underneath might be rotten or with spineless upper management.

    Oh man, do I feel you. I’ve worked a lot of abusive places and my calibration for what is and isn’t healthy is brutalized.

    I frequently turn to a friend who’s worked in a boring but relatively chill (like, a normal level of corporate toxicity? no one’s been worked to literal death, there are lots of eye-roll-y things but it doesn’t appear to be giving anyone who works there PTSD?) corporate environment for her entire career.

    I run both stuff that’s happening at my job by her for her read on whether it’s normal or something I should speak up about, and stuff that I plan to do/say for whether it’s a normal response.

    Some of the red flags she’s helped me see, or I’ve learned from painful experience, are:

    -“Family” or “team player” language: red flag for exploitation
    -Responsibility/accountability without equivalent authority: you shouldn’t be held accountable for things you can’t control
    -Lack of clarity presented as freedom/perks: “unlimited” PTO, no deadlines, “we don’t do performance reviews!”
    -Focus on workplace amenities that have nothing to do with work: good lunch options? great. a video game lounge? why? I know I’m not going to be doing that on the clock, so why are you trying to get me to stay at the office?
    -A lot of “authentic self” language: it’s one thing to try to create an environment in which employees–BY THEIR CHOICE–are comfortable being their “authentic selves,” that is, an environment that doesn’t discriminate, doesn’t Other people, and accommodates the different needs of people from different backgrounds. But the moment the company moves past “we want to make sure you’re comfortable and supported” to “we want you to bring your authentic self to work” I get nervous. You’re not paying me for 100% of myself. You’re paying me for my skills related to this particular job. I don’t want you trying to figure out how you can profit off my identity.
    -Lack of professional standards for office behavior/too casual a workplace: Look, I like wearing jeans and t-shirts, I like addressing people by their first names, and I swear like a sailor. I’m not saying a lot of formality is a good thing in a work place. But there needs to be *some.* Workplaces in which anything goes are also usually hotbeds of sexual harassment, tacit norms set by the most powerful (and often most problematic) people, etc. Authenticity is nice, but I’ll take collegiality and courtesy, even if it’s somewhat artificial, over having a workplace that accepts abusive behavior.

    None of these are “if you see any single one of these, RUN!”

    But they are things that if I see them in a potential job, I want to talk off-the-record to someone who works there.

    1. Observer*

      Authenticity is nice, but I’ll take collegiality and courtesy, even if it’s somewhat artificial, over having a workplace that accepts abusive behavior.


  44. Seashell*

    Too bad Gaston wasn’t sent to do the janitor’s job for the day. It might have made him rethink the whole “lazy” thing.

  45. Festively Dressed Earl*

    OP, what are the rest of your coworkers like? A workforce that is (a) actually diverse AND (b) in a range of positions instead of clustered at lower paying jobs AND (b) seems comfortable and happy working there is the best sign that a company walks the walk instead of just talking the talk. The fact that people told you not to bother with Gaston is a yellow flag depending on why they told you not to waste your time. Have they already had their own go-rounds with Gaston in the past and are trying to spare you a migraine, or are they just spouting advice without ever having tried to solve the Gaston problem?

  46. Consultant*

    I posted under a different pseudonym above, but I keep thinking about the “good company” question. There are a number of companies out there who have diverse leadership, impactful corporate DEIJ programs, supportive communities for traditionally underrepresented groups, generous parental leave policies, etc., but who still…

    -Retaliate against retail/warehouse workers who want to unionize
    -Use illegal labor practices overseas (sweatshops, child labor, etc.) and in their home country
    -Wreak havoc on the environment (accidentally or as a byproduct of an intentional process – like fracking or apparel manufacturing)
    -Actively lobby against living wages, environmental regulations, labor protections, etc. while strong-arming local governments into providing significant tax breaks
    -Engage in unethical use of consumer/user data

    tl;dr – a company that is “good” to its corporate HQ employees is often remarkably “bad” to its low wage staff, local tax base, customers, the people who live downstream from their factories, etc.

  47. Cherries Jubilee*

    The “let’s give multiple chances to awful employees on the offchance that they see the error of their ways” people are prioritizing hypothetical benefits over actual harms. Also, this company refusing to take a firm stand against racism by their staff is by definition taking the opposite stand. There is no neutral point of view; not acting is just as much of a choice.

  48. You Know Who You Are*

    No, there is no way to know if your chosen company will be a good one. I retired from a Fortune 100 company whose Chief HR Officer was an outright bully. The CEO selected an outside law firm to investigate the complaints, and recommended following the investigation that the complaints were supported and that s/he be fired. Instead they recommended him/her for executive coaching , and then the bullying continued, and the bully continued to get outrageous rewards and praise from the Board. Good people quit, others endured, and the sycophants were rewarded. All the while marketing their diversity and inclusion initiatives and using this for recruitment. So, no, I really think that most companies are dysfunctional, and that there is almost nothing to do about this when it comes from the top, because one hand washes another and that’s the way it is.

    1. Old Admin*

      I agree, a golden boy bully in my company was completely untouched after he publicly called coworkers the worst names and suggested NSFW acts. Company wide DEI training was instituted, and he carried on unaffected.
      Other bullies refused to share important work relevant data – nothing happened. They left the company when they felt like it, blasting and name calling coworkers in widespread emails. Nothing happened.
      I have never worked in a company, large or small, that didn’t have some or all of the following prblems: favoritism, discrimination, drug use, bullying, overwork, incompetent leadership.

  49. SB*

    Restorative Justice works both ways remember…feel free to say whatever you like about Gaston & enjoy the downtime while you do the on the clock empathy education.

  50. Chickaletta*

    I have been working for a great company for the past six years, have been on the interviewee and interviewer side both at this company and here’s my advice:

    – Reputation means something. Do lots of people in your community want to work for this company? Do people generally stay once they’re in? Or, if they move on, are they at least moving up? (as opposed to laterally or into unemployment or temp jobs) (note: there will be exceptions to this rule. Layoffs are a thing in this economy, and a bad apple can sometimes be the loudest. Be wise about this).
    – Do they walk the talk? Look at your interview panel – are they diverse? Or is it a bunch of ivy league white people telling you they’re diverse? Dig into examples if they claim diversity, for example, if they claim to have a pumping room or prayer room, ask who’s used it and what they think of it. If your question is met by ums and uhs, there’s your answer. (They might not have used those personally, but hopefully someone can respond with something like “oh, Sara our Secretary used the maternity room last year and she said it worked great. From what I understand, was able to implement a couple of ideas to make it even more user friendly”.
    – Are they doing due diligence on their end to hire good people? I.e. – are you the only interview candidate (run). Are they asking easy, thoughtless questions? (think twice) Is your only interview with the manager/president/owner and nobody you’ll actually be working alongside? (move on). The interview process doesn’t have to be Google-level, but you should feel like they’re really trying to figure out whether you’re qualified and a good fit – you should feel a little nervous and challenged! If you’re sliding by, there’s a reason for that, and it’s probably not because of you.
    – Do they respond thoughtfully to your questions?
    – Do the people interviewing you like their jobs? I flat-out ask people this in the peer interviews. How they respond will tell you everything.

  51. Lizzo*

    Re: finding a good place to work, tap into your network (or start building a network if you don’t have one). Take people to coffee and talk about their experiences with their employers. If there isn’t a job on the line, i.e. it’s not a formal interview setting, you should be able to ask very direct questions and get a clear and honest answer. You can also plant the seed with these folks that you’re job searching, and could they please keep you in mind if they hear of any opportunities?

    For that last part, the more specific you can be about the jobs you’re looking for–title, responsibilities, remote or not, and SALARY–the more they can be helpful to you when considering what job postings to send to you.

    And don’t let the mindset of “I don’t have anything to offer” deter you from networking and asking for help. You’ll have an opportunity to pay it forward eventually.

  52. Heffalump*

    In her original post, the poster said Gaston had been moved around from team to team. When bad teachers are moved around in a school district, it’s called “the dance of the lemons.”

  53. You Get A Car... Maybe*

    But do they still do the sweepstakes? People like Gaston typically ruin these kinds of things for others in such the company won’t want to risk the hassle by jealous people who didn’t win.

  54. Pups & Politics*

    Unfortunately, one of the issues with restorative justice/rehabilitation is that when it doesn’t work, it lacks another recourse. Sometimes, punishment is the only course of action left to modify or prevent behavior.

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