customers are ignoring our male receptionist

A reader writes:

I am the co-owner of a small business which previously had two receptionists, Alice and Becky, both women. Recently, Becky has gone to part-time, and we have hired a new male receptionist, Charlie. The problem is, members of the public consistently fail to recognize that Charlie is the receptionist.

The receptionists work a staggered schedule so we usually have only one, but during busy times we will have two at the same desk. When both Charlie and Alice are working, customers most often approach Alice first, and usually will only go up to Charlie if Alice is already speaking with someone else. In several cases, they have started to form a line to wait for Alice unless Charlie waves them down and calls them over. When Charlie is alone, we have a much higher rate of people being unable to figure out who to speak to (this almost never happens when Alice and Becky are alone). In two cases, we had people walk past the desk into the back office area and approach the nearest woman for help.

Potentially relevant information:

* They are located at a desk across from the entrance, so in order to pass through the area people must pass by the desk.
* In addition to gender, Charlie is black and both Alice and Becky are white.
* The receptionists also do admin work and help with paperwork when they’re not assisting customers. Because the customers approach them inconsistently, Charlie ends up doing more of this work and less customer assistance despite having the same job title.
* The desk is labeled “Receptionist.” I moved the label to a more prominent position, but it hasn’t seemed to help.

Obviously I would like to prevent this, but am not sure where to start. Most of our customers are not regulars, so this isn’t something I can approach with them individually.

Yeah, people are socialized to see women as helpers and in support roles — but it’s pretty amazing that Charlie is right there behind the receptionist desk and people are still queuing up to wait for a woman or can’t figure out where to seek help at all. Charlie’s situation is the inverse of the women who are assumed to be support staff when they aren’t! It would almost be funny if it weren’t so exhausting.

As is so often the case with sexism, you’re going to have to look for work-arounds. The two that seem likely to have the most impact:

1. How big is your Receptionist sign? If it’s a small nameplate (like the sort that sits atop a desk), can you get much larger signage — something measured in feet, not inches — that says “help desk” or “please check in here” or similar? “Help desk” might even be a useful switch in language because “receptionist” is still female-coded in a lot of brains.

2. Talk to Charlie about what you’re seeing and ask for his ideas. At a minimum — and this will probably do more than anything else will — you should ask him to be more assertive about saying “I can help you over here” or “I can help the next person in line” or “good morning, how can I help?” and so forth. But he might have other ideas too, and it’ll be good to enlist him in helping to solve the problem.

I wouldn’t be surprised if race is playing a role too — with people finding white women more approachable than a black man, subconsciously or otherwise — and hopefully the above strategies will help there as well.

{ 311 comments… read them below }

  1. NTCRedhead*

    This is so aggravating. A sign on the door, before entering, might be helpful: “Please see our receptionist, Charlie, for assistance.”

    1. Pink Candyfloss*

      But don’t leave Alice out!
      Maybe a sign with photos of both of them so people know before they enter.

      1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

        do NOT put photos out of the receptionists. maybe I listen to too much true crime but this is a great way to show any old creeper who works there and where to find them during working hours.

        1. Antilles*

          Maybe, though by definition, a creeper who identifies you based on a physical sign located outside your (probably glass) front door can already tell who’s working there and where to find you since…well, he’s standing right there and could just glance through the door or walk in pretending to be lost or whatever.

          1. jasmine*

            Tbh I’ve read enough about bad people coming and posing as a “friendly uncle” or something to ask when someone’s shifts are or whether they’re still working there so yeah… Do not recommend putting photos up.

          2. Baby Yoda*

            How about a small “receptionist” sign in front of both of them. Otherwise I like the Help Desk idea.

            1. Jellyfish Catcher*

              I prefer “Reception,” more gender neutral, or “Check In Here.”

              Also , can you angle the reception desk, so Charlie is the closer
              person, so people will approach him more often.

              1. PlainJane*

                …. I’m not sure what you mean about gender neutral. “Receptionist” is a gender neutral term. Reception is what the person does. “-ist” refers to the person doing it. It’s no different from from novelist or artist or archaeologist or zoologist. Are you thinking of “-ess”?

                1. Sloanicota*

                  Well, “administrative assistant” is also gender neutral but I would guess most people have an image in their mind of who that role is, just like “dental hygienist” or “nurse.” Receptionist is the same.

                2. fhqwhgads*

                  It’s basically just a mind-trick. People are seeing a “Receptionist” sign and thinking “woman”, thus gravitating toward the woman (we know based on the line forming when Charlie’s there with one of the other two). Changing it to “reception” doesn’t put an image of a human in their minds. It just tells them that’s the desk they want to be at. So what you’re describing is the intended effect: “reception is what the person does”. The sign indicates where to go for the doing. It circumvents the internalized bias that has people looking for their assumption of what person should be there.

              1. ScruffyInternHerder*


                Said as a female (in a male dominated space, where women are just not found outside of administrative activities often) who was asked by a PM when I started “why did they put your desk all the way back here, makes it hard for you to answer the phone doesn’t it?” when my name and title were on a nameplate on my cube. There is nothing to do with administration in my title folks, nothing. And no, the PM is NOT old enough to use the “back in my day we never saw women in any technical roles, my bad” excuse as he’s younger than me by half a decade!

          3. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

            and yikes, i missed the the original comment that these would be outside the business, not in the front lobby – definitely no photos then!

        2. HR Friend*

          But the receptionists are literally already sitting there, facing the public? How does adding photos of the humans at the desk add danger?

          1. Shrimp Emplaced*

            Adding the names might be the issue, especially since people don’t have to go inside (aka patronize the business) to see the names.

            1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

              yeah i didnt catch in the first comment that these would be outside the business, not in the lobby!

          2. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

            when i worked retail it was a HUGE no-no to answer any kind of “does soandso still work here?” “when is soandso’s next shift?” it’s generally understood in a public-facing environment that you dont ever acknowledge that a person is employed somewhere unless they are actually on the premises for their own safety. this is the same kind of thing.

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

          Yeah, not so much for the true crime, but this just seems super bizarre. And what if both Becky and Charlie are out and they have someone else from the office covering?

          1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

            they arent at work 24/7. reposting my comment above here but- when i worked retail it was a HUGE no-no to answer any kind of “does soandso still work here?” “when is soandso’s next shift?” it’s generally understood in a public-facing environment that you dont ever acknowledge that a person is employed somewhere unless they are actually on the premises for their own safety. this is the same kind of thing.

      2. GreenDoor*

        Sounds like there’s only one sign saying “receptionist.” Do you have enough room to give them each their own sign? People might form two lines if it’s made super obvious that both people behind the desk have the same role.

        1. K*

          Forming two lines is inefficient. They should form one line and then go to whichever receptionist is free when they reach the front.

          1. Yorick*

            That doesn’t matter. GreenDoor’s point was that they might understand they should talk to Charlie as well as Alice.

            1. Elsajeni*

              It’s not a bad point, though — is it possible to set up some kind of line control that funnels people into one line at the middle of the desk, instead of letting them form two separate lines? It is more efficient when multiple people are waiting, and it may help override the “I will line up in front of whoever looks more like a receptionist to me” behavior, by instead cueing people that this is a “multiple people can help you, go to whichever one is free” situation.

        2. Petty_Boop*

          The sign needs to either say “Reception” “Check in Here” “Information” or “Receptionists”. “Receptionist” is singular and implies there’s only one, and therefore people assume it MUST be Alice. Pluralize it or make it a generic title that doesn’t imply that. But, if Charlie is looking up and attentively at people as they enter and smiles and looks welcoming, people will also start heading there. If he’s head down doing “other admin work” while Alice is not, again assumptions will be made. This is a problem that needs to be handled a couple of ways: signage AND training Charlie “when you hear the door open, make eye contact with the person entering and ask, “May I help you?”

      3. Ellie*

        I’d go all three – have three pictures displayed prominently behind the desk with something like, ‘Our helpdesk team’ written under it to show that any of those three are the people to talk to. And get them name badges that say, ‘Happy to help’. Since you’re fighting sexism and racism together though, it might take a while to get through.

      4. Bazinga*

        How about signs with their names on it they put out when they’re working?
        Charlie, Help Desk (or reception or whatever phrase you want to use)
        Alice, Help Desk

      1. Silver Robin*

        glad I was not the only one who thought that. The lengths people’s brains will go to in order to make sure all data fits the default programming…

    2. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

      How about the bank model? A single line for all, maybe with a sign saying “Wait Here for Receptionist”, then the receptionist calls “next” when they’re ready.

      1. Arts Akimbo*

        That’s what they do at my doctor’s clinic, and they have male and female receptionists of diverse races. “I can help the next person in line” is our cue to move to the person who spoke, and it seems to work very well.

            1. Misty_Meaner*

              Oh I’m sure that’s what is INTENDED, but the former English teacher in me cringes every.single.time. Like how hard is it to say “I can help the next person”? Or “I can help whoever is next in line”? Or “Yo, next!” But the “I can help whose next” just… ugh and it’s SO COMMON EVERYWHERE.

      2. Gerri's Jaunty Hat*

        Those kinds of lines are great anyway since no one gets stuck in the “slow line”. The first time I went to Tesco when visiting London I loved that feature. It’s the most efficient way.

      3. Seeking Second Childhood*

        I love those lines – so much less stress on patrons and staff alike. I can’t imagine why anyone would NOT use them if they have the space.

        1. BlondeSpiders*

          I will never forget this from my college Operations class:

          Statistically speaking, a single line with multiple (2 or more) stations will always move quicker than multiple lines with multiple stations.

          I like to relay this fact when I won’t make a second line at the grocery store self-scan area, but people behind me don’t seem to appreciate it!

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            But… that’s why every single amusement park does it that way. Can you imagine waiting in line for a specific car on a ride?

            1. Petty_Boop*

              But, they start as a single line, and are then directed to stand behind a specific car in a smaller line. So, apples and oranges.

      4. Drago Cucina*

        I’ve done that in multiple libraries. Skeptical staff were thrilled that it kept people from crowding around the desk. I actually started with something simpler when I was a K-8 librarian. A carpet runner. The students learned to line up. It’s worked for adults as well.

        Follow the path…..

      5. Nightengale*

        I know this is better overall for the business’ but it is much harder for me as someone with processing issues. It is much easier for me to get into one line and then just follow the person in front of me. Plus this way (at the grocery) I can choose a slower line because I don’t do well being rushed with the conveyer belt. One line means I have to then be continually visually and auditorily scanning for who is free and they always seem impatient if I don’t find the free person and move towards them quickly enough.

    3. Artemesia*

      I like the ‘help desk’ sign idea. As a female in a largely male profession when I started, I have so often seen the one or two women, even in their own offices, sought out for directions and help, interrupting their work. No one ever interrupts the work of the male professional in the identical office. But when they are at the entrance, to have people walk to the back offices to find a ‘girl’ is appalling.

      I think Charlie is also going to have to be much more assertive — greeting each person who comes in rather than just sitting there and waiting for them to find him.

    4. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I thought name plates for both of them: Charles Smith, Customer Service Specialist and Alice Mayhew, Customer Service Specialist.

    5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I also came to comment that a sign, “Today you will be assisted by Charlie” would help a lot.
      And as I was reading comments, I realized that:
      I want to be a fly on the wall when the first person comes in and addresses Alice with, “Good morning, Charlie. What a unique name.”

  2. ZSD*

    I would vote against “Help Desk” as a label; with a man sitting there, people may assume this is where employees go for help with their computers. “Please check in here” might work.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I like Help Desk as an option but you’re right, it might be misinterpreted.

      What about “Check-in Desk,” “Front Desk,” or “Reception” (not Receptionist)? That puts the focus on the activity and not the person. Also, maybe add name plates for the two people working the desks.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        I’ve seen “Information Desk’ used pretty often and that wording usually seems to work okay.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      Reception rather than receptionist. Or even Reception Desk.

      This is playing into sexist and racist stereotypes, but also I’m not sure that I’ve ever walked into an office with multiple receptionist and it’s not been clear which I should approach. The one place I can think of is various medical offices, but all the receptionist are gathered together behind the same desk/clear germ wall and it’s just obvious you queue up to see the next available one. It sounds like this job may not be all reception all the time.

      1. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

        I know exactly what you mean by “clear germ wall” and I’m still choosing to interpret it as an invisible wall of germs.

        1. The Person from the Resume*

          The clear plexiglass that has gone up to protect folks mostly since COVID but some places like clinics has it before.

      2. Scarletb*

        Agreed re the suggestion! I think if I saw a sign that said “Receptionist” singular but a desk with two people, I’d second guess myself, but if it was “Reception” it would be clear it wasn’t referring to a person but the location and I’d assume I could talk to either person.

        My workplace used to have a reception-welcome desk and a desk beside it for people picking up access cards, borrowing laptops etc. The second one was right opposite the front door so people went to it all the time rather than checking in at the reception desk that was slightly to the right. Both people *could* help you, but it made for confusing queues.

      3. SongbirdT*

        +1 for “Reception Desk”

        Makes it really clear that whomever is behind the counter is able to get me checked in / find my meeting room / buzz the person I’m there to meet / yada yada.

    3. Zach*

      I agree- literally everywhere I’ve worked that has an IT department calls the front desk for IT the Help Desk. I’d absolutely assume that Charlie took in IT tickets if his desk was labeled that way.

        1. Em*

          Splitting hairs here, but help desks for internal IT issues (meaning a place for employees to stop by if they’re having a problem with wifi, printers, pcs, etc) is very normal in corporations of all types, and is usually located in a common area where it’s easy to access, which can easily be near to the reception. It’s not an IT org specific thing.

        2. PieAdmin*

          Maybe not, but we’re talking about people who literally walk past the man sitting up front at the reception desk to look for a receptionist.

    4. Jade*

      Yes. Help Desk definitely sounds tech related. And Charlie needs to pitch in to help the problem by saying next, etc.

      1. Yorick*

        Right, why is Charlie sitting there at the reception desk while people go to the back office area and bother the nearest woman?!

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

      But the problem isn’t with employees it’s with customers. Why would the employees go to the front of the office to get their computers worked on?

  3. Hills to Die on*

    I would like to say that this is just unbelievable. But it isn’t.
    Put the ‘receptionist’ sign in front of Charlie and maybe he will get 50% of the customers. Ugh.

    1. ferrina*

      I was going to suggest moving the sign to directly in front of Charlie. I’m a bit more optimistic- I think it will have more than half of people going to him.

      I would also make Charlie’s station more receptive than Alice’s. Maybe make a visual block in front of Alice’s situation or move her off to the side slightly so she can call people over as needed (rather than having Charlie call people over). That won’t solve the whole problem, but it will make it a little more burdensome for people to cling to their assumptions.

      1. Ms. Murchison*

        This is what I was thinking too. Analyze the traffic pattern and natural flow of people entering your office and make sure Charlie is instinctually the most natural to approach.

        1. Office Plant Queen*

          Except people have already demonstrated that they will walk past him! All the way to the back to find a random woman! Subtle positioning probably won’t do much

      1. MigraineMonth*

        As someone who works in a male-dominated field and was mistaken for a male coworker’s wife at our potluck this weekend, all I can say is:


        1. Moo*

          I was at a huge, international conference and at a dinner a contact of someone on my team, kept interrupting the actual conversation about the actual content of the conference to repeatedly insist if I wasn’t married to X, I must be married to Y. Even when I said ‘I’m here because I’m presenting at this session because I’m the lead of this work’, he kept on it. And was hugely confused when I said I wasn’t married to anyone.

          I don’t think he intended to be weird or sleazy, but he just couldn’t fathom why I could possibly be there. And my words telling him why I was there just didn’t compute.

          Afterwards it occurred to me that he probably moved to the assumption that I was having an affair with one of the men. sigh.

          1. BatManDan*

            It’s been my experience that once folks have an idea in their head, correctly or incorrectly, it takes a LOT to dislodge it. I think reasonable folks, the ones that are able to stop themselves from jumping to conclusions and are open to new information, underestimate the amount of new information other people have to receive in order to arrive at the correct understanding, and, as your comment shows, even then they want to cling to shards of the old (incorrect) belief. It always surprises my wife (who is a sharp and unjudgmental person) when she says “what should we do about x?” or “what do you think about y?” when I reply “I don’t know, we’re still collecting data.” I try to hold my mind open to any possibility and any new information as long as possible.

          2. Capybarely*

            That’s the sort of interaction where getting incredibly simple in replies is sometimes helpful. “I am a Widget Vice President for Gadget Tech. I am here because this is my job.”

            Don’t address the specific wrong-assumption question, ONLY offer the correct information. As soon as you give any air time to the incorrect content, you’re making that the focus. (This is really hard to do and takes a lot of practice!)

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I commented above, because I think you will get people asking when Charlie will be back at “her” desk, and asking Alice how she got a unique name like Charlie.

      1. Sebastian*

        I’m confused by this comment. Is it generally a male name in the US? I think all but one of the Charlies I’ve met have been genderqueer or female.

        1. CharlesFYI*

          It’s short for Charles, which hasn’t been a very popular name in the US in recent years (hence fewer masc Charlies), but is a male name. My grandpa went by Charlie.

  4. jane's nemesis*

    Incredibly frustrating.

    I think a LARGE “check in here” sign, as Allison suggested, would help a lot. Perhaps coaching Charlie to always look up and make “welcoming” eye contact when people walk in the door, too, (though he shouldn’t have to!) if he’s working on the other admin/paperwork.

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

      Similarly, if Becky is doing some of the other admin things and you want charlie to take the customers could they either have Becky work elsewhere OR have a sign that says Next window and an arrow to Charlie?

    2. Misty_Meaner*

      I disagree. I think ANY person in a reception role SHOULD look up and make eye contact and indicate they’re there to help with a smile or a “May I help you?” or whatever. Why should Charlie NOT have to?

  5. Helen_of_the_Midwest*

    I had a friend who transitioned to female in college and worked as an audio technician at campus venues. Before her transition, when she was working, people tended to assume she was the tech for the event. After her transition, there were multiple instances of men from visiting shows and performance acts who had conversations about their inability to locate the techs/how the techs must be late while my friend and other female technicians were right there at the technician booth. It’s so frustrating how people assume that certain jobs can only be performed by people of a specific gender!

    1. CommanderBanana*

      So true. I’ve read a number of fascinating* articles and interviews recently from people who have transitioned from being male-presenting to female-presenting and how differently they have been treated, even by people who knew them before they transitioned! One was even the CEO!


    2. Big Strong Man™ [citation needed]*

      This absolutely happens, and goes both ways — I got to experience it when I transitioned to male!

      Since physical changes take a few months to start and it’s usually a year or more before things plateau, you don’t notice the differences as much in the day to day, but there was a point where the way people talked to me just kind of… flipped? And situations where I’d be talked over or have my opinion disregarded suddenly people would listen to what I was saying and make space for me in a conversation, particularly if it was was technical or professional in some way. It was WILD.

      And man, when I actually grew a beard (shout-out to my spouse for encouraging me to do it) not only did this increase my Level of Authority™ but people took my gender as gospel to the point that I could literally dress up in a Sexy Peach costume and have get folks saying “Wow, you look so good in a dress for a guy, that’s crazy!” (Yes this actually happened for a work thing. I did indeed look fabulous.)

      The fun part about it though is you get to weaponize your masculinity for the feminine folks in your life. I go with my spouse to appointments and repeat the same things they’re saying so the doctors actually listen, during work meetings I can strong-arm conversations back to my female coworkers when they’re getting talked over or dismissed, and — my personal favorite — I can ferret out sexist trashweasels in both professional and social spaces when they decide to espouse their garbage thoughts to a Fellow Man (which happens with somewhat depressing frequency).

      It’s like being a secret agent or something, it’s great! 10/10, would appropriate male privilege again.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Cis woman in IT and I had a version of the latter happen to me once (probably more than once, but this is the only time I remembered really well). I did a code review of a change one of our consultants had made. We had a checklist we had to follow for our code reviews and I found a bunch of things in his code that didn’t pass the checklist and needed to be changed. Sent it back with comments and obviously with my name on it. He came into our aisle and headed straight to the guy sitting next to me, saying he had questions about his code review and was looking for someone who knew (language) to explain things to him. My neighbor said he was busy, pointed at me, and said I would be able to assist, whereupon Consultant went to the next guy in our aisle with the same question, then the next. They all sent him to me, and he kept going through them, until he ran out of guys. He then stood in the middle of our aisle, threw his hands up, and said he didn’t know what to do now. I looked him in the eye and asked “Are you looking for someone male?” THEN he finally came to me with his questions. Got his answers within five minutes and left happy. but i was far from happy by that point. WILL THIS CRAP EVER END!

  6. Pink Candyfloss*

    Do the staff wear uniforms? Trying to think if maybe having reception in the same type of shirt/coat/hat/ski pants or whatever would make people figure it out faster, but given that this seems to be a deeper rooted issue, maybe not.

    One place (medical care) I go to has a rotating staff of receptionists but they have their photos prominently displayed at the front of the office with their title under it (Taylor is billing, Bobbie is appointments, Hunter is prescriptions, etc). Maybe when people first walk in if you have a prominently visible sign with their smiling head shots that say “Please see Alice or Charlie at reception for assistance” that could help? It seems like you might need to gently lead the confused in the direction you need them to go.

    1. Katydid*

      I came in to make the same suggestion regarding uniforms. Shirts with the company logo, or at the very least, reasonably prominent name tags (ideally with job title) worn on shirts.

      Your idea about the photos sounds good to me!

    2. Rose*

      I would be very, very annoyed if my employer made me start wearing a uniform to work in an office where I didn’t need to be wearing an uniform, just to avoid putting up adequate signage/ asking my coworker to say “I can help you over here.”

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Same. I would at least hope they provide and pay for it. It’s beyond annoying to have to buy your own branded uniform, which you cannot then use for anything else.

  7. The Taking of Official Notice*

    I wonder at the customer makeup as well. As a corollary (inversely?) to women traditionally seen as helpers, women are conditioned not to interrupt men. Spitballing, of course.

    1. Artemesia*

      Which is why Charlie needs to greet people as they come in with ‘May I help you’ or similar so they don’t have to ‘interrupt him’ while he is doing paperwork.

      1. Raisin Walking to the Moon*

        I was thinking that it’s worth making sure that Charlie has his head up, makes eye contact, and shows approachability with his body language. I’m a woman and work at a front desk, and I’ve noticed that eye contact and holding my head upright make a big difference in people coming up to me.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I don’t think he has to be part of the problem to be part of the solution. It sounds like his behavior might be identical to the other receptionists, but people treat him differently based on his gender (and possibly race).

          It’s as dumb that he needs to actively solicit people who need a receptionist as it does that I have to introduce myself with my tech role to avoid being mistaken for the project manager. Nevertheless, here we are, and it’s what works for me.

          1. Lurker Cat*

            If Charlie is actively trying to engage with customers and they are ignoring him then it is racist/sexist and not his fault. Also not something that LW can fix except to refuse service to customers who do so.

            If Charlie looks busy and is not indicating to customers that he can help them then a line forming for Alice is probably not deliberately racist behavior on the part of the customers. Probably still unconsciously racist or sexist but a situation that can be improved on.

            1. Yorick*

              Right, if I see two desks in the lobby and there’s a line in front of one where people are checking in, I’m gonna assume that’s the check-in desk and line up there. Some customers are avoiding Charlie because they assume he’s not a receptionist (IMO this is more gender based than race based), but other people are basing their actions on other customers. And Charlie definitely needs to do more to fix this problem. The best interpretation of some of these stories is that Charlie’s so engrossed in his secondary work that he’s not noticing people walking past him into the back office area to find help. Sure, people are conditioned to not think a man is the receptionist and look for a woman, but they’re also conditioned to listen to a man when he says “I can help you over here” rather than ignoring him and going into an unauthorized area anyway.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, assuming they’re in view of the door, I’d tell Charlie to look up the minute the door opens and greet the person with “hi, can I help you?” or similar.

      3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Yeah honestly, even though I’m feeling mad on Charlie’s behalf after reading the letter, you are making a valid point. Now that I think of it, I don’t approach a receptionist unless they make eye contact and say something like “May I help you?” because there were so many times when I approached someone without waiting for that and was asked to step back in the line as they were busy and could not help me.

    2. Syfy Geek*

      I am guilty of this. Last week I went to the dentist and there was a man in scrubs I’d never seen behind the reception desk next to the woman who I remembered from before and who was also wearing scrubs. She was on the phone, so I was just sort of standing there, and the man made eye contact, smiled and asked how he could help me. He was a new front desk person, and yet my brain had categorized him as “man in scrubs behind check in desk, must be a dentist”.

      2 people, wearing the same type of clothing, sitting behind a counter where people check in, and I assumed the man was not doing the same job.

  8. Sockster*

    During times when Charlie is working at the desk at the same time as the other receptionist, is it possible to put him in the seat that is more visible, or closest to the door, or similar? Obviously that doesn’t change the underlying problem, but it might help with the current problem of the other receptionist getting less of her admin work done if she’s positioned as the second/overflow receptionist.

    1. HR Exec Popping In*

      I like the idea of each having name plates. You could also give them name badges with their titles to wear.

      1. Jamjari*

        I was wondering about name tags. People are definitely conditioned to view woman in certain roles, but there’s a miniscule bit of conditioning to view people with name tags as helpers.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          We had a similar issue that was aggravated by a nonstandard reception desk that looked more like a normal desk. Name tags helped a ton.

    2. WoodswomanWrites*

      I came here to make the same suggestion. Each receptionist gets their own nameplate and title. That the situation exists at all is infuriating.

      I like the idea of involving Charlie directly in the conversation about adding the individual name signs. I suggest involving both people who sit together at the front desk in the conversation as a reception challenge that doesn’t single out Charlie.

  9. t-vex*

    I think Alison’s point about asking Charlie to invite people over to him is probably the best bet. I worked at a 7-11 a million years ago and we were trained to make eye contact and verbally greet customers within their first 3 steps in the store. If the receptionists (including Charlie) engage with people immediately they don’t have the chance to wonder who they need to talk to.

    1. Rook Thomas*

      I agree — I have told my teams, “Please be motion-activated,” which means: Please look for people approaching, make eye contact, smile and say hello (may I help you, etc etc).

    2. HR Exec Popping In*

      Agreed, and it will also show Charlie you are aware of the bias and aren’t ignoring it – regardless of the cause (gender/race). It is exhausting seeing bias and not having anyone else acknowledge it. By engaging Charlie, you will likely get some good ideas and engage him in helping solve the issue but maybe even more importantly you are demonstrating leadership by acknowledging what is going on and not shying away from what could be an awkward conversation. He sees this too – actually he experiences it first hand – and it will help him to know that you aren’t ignoring it.

    3. Jojo*

      I was thinking along these lines as well. Can he give nonverbal signs that he’s there to help? Like eye contact and a smile, or a motion for them to approach him. It’s so ingrained in me from retail that I still do it in the office when people appear to be walking up to my desk.

    4. Venus*

      I’ve worked Reception when I was young and I was told to look toward each person entering through the door and to greet them with some variation of the generic “Good morning! How can I help you?” I find that body language is a big factor, and if someone is busy with paperwork or otherwise ignoring me then I will probably wait for them to respond but if that doesn’t happen within a minute then I would likely look elsewhere for assistance.

      Racism and sexism are very likely big factors in this situation, so I don’t want to make excuses and suggest that Charlie isn’t friendly and social. I do think that a potential solution is for Charlie to be more proactive in greeting people. Where I worked years ago it would be considered a big security failure on my part if someone ever walked past me so I’m a bit surprised that people are able to walk past Charlie to ask someone else for help. I also have very little info about circumstances, so it might have been when Charlie was busy with someone else and that would be very understandable, but it might require Charlie to take more initiative by greeting everyone as they enter even if it means a brief interruption to the current conversation.

      1. kiki*

        Right, I also don’t want to diminish the role of gender and race (I think that is majorly at play here), but being more proactive about calling clients over is probably a good, actionable next step regardless of the cause o the issue. Because if a queue is forming behind one receptionist, even if there’s another person behind the desk, I as a customer am going to assume other customers have tried to ask him for help and he’s not available. It’s a compounding issue that could be quickly resolved if Charlie were to beckon somebody over as soon as a line starts forming.

        1. Warrior Princess Xena*

          That’s a good point – herd mentality might be coming into play on top of internalized bias.

          All my sympathies to Charlie! This must an incredibly frustrating situation for him.

        2. Me...Just Me*

          I was wondering about this, too. Is Charlie actively engaging people who enter? I find it hard to believe that a line is forming in front of Alice while Charlie is actively asking people if they need help. Probably, he’s just not asserting himself and needs to be – obviously, gender and race go into why people automatically queue up in front of the ladies, but Charlie needs to be actively greeting people and offering his assistance. If he’s just sitting there but isn’t engaging, there’s an additional hurdle that isn’t helping the situation.

          1. Mad Harry Crewe*

            Yup. A lot of people will hesitate to interrupt someone who looks busy, and a still-significant number of people will hesitate to interrupt someone at all, so if they don’t get a smile/nod/wave/”welcome!”/”what can I do for you today?”/etc, they won’t interact. I’m confident some of this is racism and sexism. I would also put good money on some of this being how Charlie is (or isn’t) engaging with people who walk in the door.

          2. Chirpy*

            People are also far more likely to interrupt a woman who looks busy than a man who looks busy. I’ve had so many customers interrupt me while I’m helping another customer even if a male coworker is standing right there.

        3. Rose*

          Thank you. Totally agree face and gender are likely to be at at but I’m really confused what is happening that Charlie is passively sitting there as a line forms in-frontline of his female coworkers? Like what on earth is going on in his mind? Is there a general lack of clarity around what happens when a customer comes in while you’re already doing another task?

    5. A*

      This! Sometimes I walk into an office and there are like 3 people standing around and I have no idea who’s free to help. It’s really great when the receptionist gives you that verbal cue and wave.

  10. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Two thoughts.

    1) Would “reception” (or “check-in” or “customer check-in”) be better on the sign? Maybe people are gendering the word “receptionist”.

    2) Dress code – is Charlie dressed up/down significantly compared to Alice & Becky? Do people think he’s behind the desk because he’s getting help from the receptionists/admins (he’s higher in the perceived hierarchy) or he’s performing work for them (he’s lower)?

    1. bamcheeks*

      Yeah, I think the word “receptionist” is particularly gendered, and I’d work with Charlie and Alice to think of alternatives and how or where to use them. “Please check-in with our Front Desk staff” “Registration Clerk” “Patient Journey Specialist” “Welcome Clerk” etc. Look at lots of different settings and see what they use.

      It seems a bit ridiculous, but I think a title that makes people go, “what’s one of them then” breaks the gendered association that a lot of people will have with Receptionist.

      1. Gerri's Jaunty Hat*

        I do think that with terms like “receptionist” that are culturally but not inherently gendered (as opposed to “stewardess” which is gendered in the word itself), instead of giving up on the word and caving, it’s more useful to try to diffuse the gendered connotations by still applying it to male and female receptionists equally.

      2. PlainJane*

        How is it gendered? The receptionist is the person who is doing the reception, that’s all it means. There’s nothing wrong with putting up a sign saying “reception” in the reception area, but the people who work there are receptionists, not receptions.

        1. bamcheeks*

          I don’t mean it’s formally linguistically gendered, but connotatively. I think if you say, “our receptionist”, people are more likely to think of a woman, and if you say, “our front desk staff”, they’re more likely to think of a mixed group of people. “Please check in with our front desk staff” primes people to think of a mixed group of people and they’re therefore more likely to recognise Charlie as one of those people; “speak to our receptionist” primes people to think of a woman and look for people who fit that image.

      3. Em*

        Is it? I don’t have that connotation, personally. Maybe this is a generational thing where it was so in the past, but I view being a receptionist as a starting job for young people or a part time job for students, gender notwithstanding. And if I think of my job, or hotels I’ve been to recently, or my dentist’s office, etc- there are a lot of male receptionists out there, at least in my neck of the woods!

    2. ina*

      Yeah, I think the gendered nature of the word “receptionist” might be the culprit along with race. I think “Check-In” would address this issue a lot.

    3. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      When I first moved from retail to administrative assistant, I was a receptionist. However, the trend at the time was to call receptionists “Director of First Impressions.” I told my boss I definitely wanted to be called the DOFI. (I was never called the DOFI.)

    4. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I was also going to suggest using the word Reception. I was thinking like a big sign that says it on the whole desk to mark the area, rather than the people… and maybe start calling them both Reception Specialists or something.

  11. Statler von Waldorf*

    I’ve worked as a male receptionist, and in two years there I never once had this issue. If anything is was the opposite, as the little old ladies especially seemed to love me more than my female co-workers.

    However, I’m a white dude. I strongly suspect this situation is more about race than gender.

    1. lazuli*

      Intersectionality means that both are always going to be at play. They’re responding to him not just as a man without race or as a Black person without gender, but as a Black man.

      1. LiberryPie*

        I was actually a little confused by this question until I read that Charlie was Black. Then I thought, “oh! People think he’s the security guard.”

        1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

          I think this is a good insight. That said, I’ve been in plenty of places where someone who was clearly security was also greeting people who came in, so I’d say, encourage Charlie to make eye contact and greet people audibly.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Yeah, I doubt a black woman would be having this issue, or at least to this extent. I believe black women are coded as “helpers” and “assistants” at least as much as white women.

    2. Dawn*

      I also, based on the facts as presented, suspect this one is likely a lot more about race than gender presentation, and that there’s probably only so much OP can do to mitigate that.

      1. Me...Just Me*

        I think if Alice was black, she’d still get folks coming to her versus Charlie. It’s gender and race, probably along with Charlie not actively putting himself forward.

    3. Sage*

      Sadly, I also assumed racism is part of the problem here. Unfortunately I have no suggestions on what the OP can do.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Years ago I was the secretary for a director. My desk was directly outside his door and slightly behind me was the desk of our assistant. People often ignored me and walked pass my desk to hand things to her or ask a question. I usually said, “I’m Director’s secretary, can I help you?” That stopped most people but it was irritating. I knew all the other secretaries and none of them had that problem. I was also the only Black secretary and our assistant was White, I think race was a factor as in this case.

  12. Goldenrod*

    Ugh, this is maddening!

    I will say this – which *may* be a factor and may not. One time I worked in an office where I was supposed to be the secondary receptionist. The main receptionist sat closer to the door and presumably would be the “first line” to help. I’ll add that we are both women.

    One thing that sort of drove me crazy – but that I never figured out a solution to – is that the main receptionist happened to have a very slow response time. So in the time it would take her to notice that someone had walked in, and for her to finally look up and be ready to greet them, the person would already have walked over to me.

    They would definitely look at her first, but because she was slow to respond, they’d move to me. This all happened in milliseconds, but I noticed it.

    The thing is, I KNOW she wasn’t doing it on purpose. People have different internal rhythms, and she just happened to be “set” slower.

    So…this is a possible factor? Although, clearly, this reeks of sexism, so not likely the main cause.

    1. Yeah...*

      This had to be annoying. The image image of the main secretary slowly raising her eyes putting don’t whatever she was working on, taking a deep breath in preparation to speak, and leaning back in her chair while the customer walks past her is is absurd.

  13. OperationsLady*

    Totally frustrating but the general public is weird – without fail. My suggestion would be to give both Alice and Charlie their own nameplates that have their name on the first line and their role or title on the second line. This will let people know that Charlie is there because it’s his role, not because he’s there for some other reason, like working and IT fix at the desk and is only there temporarily.

  14. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I hesitate to tell OP to buy furniture, but would the kind of bulked-up window stuff you find at banks, along with some velvet ropes & stands, help? Maybe obvious & clear “open”/”closed” signs for each person?

    1. ShineyPenny*

      I was thinking velvet ropes, too. If you set it up to channel foot traffic toward the reception desk, and had a large sign on a pedestal in the middle of the roped off span, it would be a bigger clue for the public.
      And “Reception Desk” on the sign, instead of “Receptionist.” Or, “Please Check In Here.” I agree that the word “receptionist” has a lot of historic gender baggage.

      1. Crackers and oral rehydration drink*

        How about (large) signs at each desk that say “Reception 1” and “Reception 2”? I am thinking of the checkin desks at the phlebotomist/lab I go to. Makes it clear that both serve the exact same function. This won’t solve the obvious and appalling racism and sexism, of course.

    2. MigraineMonth*

      Maybe one of those “please wait here for the next available [role]” signs you see at doctors offices or pharmacies? I assume the main reason is to protect the patient’s privacy, but it also might help manage traffic flow (or at least stop people from wandering past into the back room).

  15. DJ Abbott*

    My first thought is to put up a joke sign, like “Yes really, see him”, or “Go ahead, he won’t bite :D” …but that’s probably inappropriate.

    1. BubbleTea*

      This wouldn’t be effective if people are making assumptions subconsciously, and actually might backfire because it would raise the question of why the disclaimer is needed at all.

  16. Keener*

    I don’t know if this is too subtle, but what if you had customized name plates for each person at reception with their name and title, such as Charlie, Receptionist and Alice, Receptionist: I am not sure whether seeing a male name associated with the receptionist title will help people realize that Charlie is the receptionist rather than something like an IT person temporarily occupying the desk to fix a computer.

    1. Helewise*

      I think this is a good idea. It shouldn’t be necessary to clarify this sort of thing, but it is – accommodating the world as it is rather than we want it to be makes sense.

    1. Dawn*

      I strongly suspect the same people who are ignoring Charlie now will also assume that Charlie is one of the women in this case, as the name is not gender-specific.

  17. Michelle Smith*

    How many receptionist signs are there? I’d put a second one if there is only one – one in front of each chair, so that it’s clear both seats are for the receptionists.

    1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

      came here to say this – put an identical sign at each of the spots where A/B/C sit.

  18. No Longer Working*

    I would get a queue line rope with a sign at the end that says “Wait here for assistance”. Then Charlie or Alice would call out “Next!” when they are available to help the next person. They have these at many banks and stores and it’s fairest to those waiting as people are helped in the order they came in.

    1. queuing queen*

      Came to say this – set up a queuing system.

      Rope line and sign with something like an arrow and “Please wait for assistance. Queue this way” with Charlie’s end as the place the arrow points .

  19. Ticotac*

    It may also be useful to think of a way to tackle the queue situation; I can see how clients would enter, see a line, and assume that there clearly must be a reason why everybody is lining up to talk to the same person even thought there’s somebody else at the desk. Which isn’t to say that this isn’t a race/gender issue, of course, but if lines happen often enough to be noteworthy, then I think those are exacerbating the problem.

    I guess a question there is, does the line exist exclusively because people refuse to see Charlie, or does the reception get crowded enough that, if all things were normal, you would have two shorter lines? I don’t know what could be done in the first case, but in the second case perhaps a way to sidestep the issue would be to have the clients take a number when they come in and have the receptionists call them over when their turn comes.

    1. ariel*

      Yes, this almost feels like a queue/room flow problem? Or at least that’s a possibility to explore. Have people had trouble recognizing that there were two free receptionists in the past? Making the queue obvious and making sure that, when they are staffing the desk, that the workers are being welcoming (if they are free) may go a long way.

    2. NotARealManager*

      Yes, if I were coming in and saw a line of people waiting for Alice, I would assume she’s the person to talk to and that Charlie is not, particularly if he’s doing other paper work at the time.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I am strongly of the opinion that something can be both at the same time. (Because at this point, I’m so tired of it all that if I don’t laugh at it I’m going to cry.)

    1. Freya*

      Yes, this is my suggestion too.

      Get them both a name sign that they can put up when they are working with their name and title.

  20. rayray*

    What about name plates where it would have Charlie or Alice in bigger letters, with Receptionist underneath their names?

  21. Miss Muffet*

    And if you don’t think that female “Alexa”, “Siri”, and whatever other AI/Chatbot things are out there that are named after women is contributing to calcifying this “woman=secretary” thing….

        1. Menace to Sobriety*

          Is that seriously an option?? I had the options to use “Echo” “Alexa” or “Amazon” for my Alexa when I bought it… has that changed?

          My Siri is an Australian Male voice and the number of people (almost always male) who absolutely HATE it surprises me. My brother shouts “CHANGE THAT BACK” every time. It is so weird!

  22. Airy*

    I wonder if it would help if the sign said “Receptionists,” plural. The singular “Receptionist” sign could lead people to think “There is one receptionist at the desk, I have to decide which of those people it is,” (and then they tend to choose the woman for the reasons aforementioned). The plural sign indicates “Both people at this desk are receptionists.”

    On the other hand, I may be giving the general public too much credit for reading signs. There are a lot of people whose literacy isn’t strong enough to pick up distinctions like that, and there are also a lot of people who CAN easily read signs and just… don’t.

    1. Ole Pammy's Getting What She Wants*

      you’re definitely giving people too much credit, lol – if only it were that simple1

      1. AnonForThis*

        Yeah, I think people are being overly optimistic about the ability of signs to solve this problem. I think people have a tendency to ignore signs. I backup the front desk person in our office. My office is attached to the waiting area, but I can’t see who is in the waiting area unless I physically leave my office. There is a *clearly visible* sign on the front desk telling people to ring the *clearly visible* bell for assistance, that way if the front desk person is away from her desk I or another staff person can assist (I can’t go by the sound of the front door opening/closing because we rent a suite in a shared office space and the bathrooms are down the hall, so staff are frequently coming in and out, and if I jumped up whenever I heard the door I would not get anything done). However, there have been many times when people have not rung the bell, and have just stood there until the front desk person returns, or I or someone else notices them and helps them. However, the most annoying thing is when (instead of ringing the bell) they feel entitled to just walk into my office (unsurprisingly, it’s usually men who feel entitled to do this). I do think the best solution to OP’s problem is for Charlie to be more assertive. “Hi, I can help you over here.” (I think phrasing it as a statement rather than a question is important because it gives people who are subscribing (consciously or unconciously) to racist/sexist ideas less of an opportunity to always go to the female receptionist. It’s not 100% fool proof, but I think it may help. It’s the same reason I tell people “I am transferring you to SoandSo’s voicemail” if the person they are calling for is not available. Because if I say, “Can I transfer you to SoandSo’s voicemail”, They reply “Oh you can just take a message”, which is actually more complicated and time consuming (and means they’ll call back and get mad at me if the person they called for does not return their call even though I did pass on the message), or they expect me to be able to answer what they are calling about, which I am usually unable to do.

        1. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

          Yes. The person I took a message for didn’t get around to returning the call, prioritized other things, got waylaid with something more time critical, was waiting for other information before making the call, didn’t want to speak to the caller right now or at all, or simply forgot.

          But it was easier to assume that I hadn’t passed the message along…

  23. Thatoneoverthere*

    Is the front desk area large enough that you could put those Line Stanchions out. You could have them form 2 lines. One to Alice and one to Charlie. You could also put a sign that says, something about either Front Desk Attendant being able to assist them.

  24. Free Meerkats*

    In two cases, we had people walk past the desk into the back office area and approach the nearest woman for help.

    Put a buzz-through lock on the door.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      That was my thought too. Clients should not be able to just walk into the back office area. Buzz-through lock and badge readers would solve that particular issue nicely.

    2. Random Bystander*

      That makes a lot of sense. People shouldn’t be able to just wander into the back offices without an employee escort, for all kinds of reasons (business and security). Add the queue line and deliberate “May I help you?” or “Next” as appropriate, and that should settle the problem.

  25. Rebe*

    Charlie and Alice probably need some training on handling this as a team. Tricks like “you take one I take one” can be a good rule of thumb to follow (with flexibility) where if Alice helps someone, both Charlie and Alice know he will get the next patron, then Alice, then Charlie. Obviously it can’t be perfect – maybe one interaction takes longer or someone calls and so Alice gets 2 in a row or whatever but it helps both staff members know the expectations.

    Are they immediately greeting people when they enter the space? If not, that also needs to change. When it’s Charlie’s “turn” to take a patron, he needs to immediately look up when someone enters the space and immediately greet them and ask how he can help them. This should be enough to pull the average person his way instead of Alice’s. There really shouldn’t be a need for a line to form if he is available and not working with someone so is he proactively talking to your patrons to see what they need help with?

    When we’ve had patrons that play favorites we’ve done tricks like the other staff member greets them and the favorite person quietly walks away for a quick errand (getting a stapler/putting something away). This short errand forces the patron to interact with the other staff member, and shares the responsibility. Alice almost certainly doesn’t want to have to be the “on” person all day.

    While I agree it’s probably (unfortunately) more a race than a gender thing, both Alice and Charlie clearly need some training in how to work with your patrons to make sure the shared responsibility of their jobs is truly shared. Good luck!

  26. Apple Pharmer*

    A sign at/behind the desk titled “Reception Team” or similar, with photos and names of all three receptionists. It will *hopefully* make this clear without singling out any particular member of staff…

  27. Elle Woods*

    I am female attorney who had a male assistant for while. It always amazed me how many times I was mistaken for his secretary! (I do have a gender neutral name, but, for the last few decades at least, it has been a predominately feminine name and his happened even with other attorneys who had met/spoken to me before.)

    But I was more amazed about how many people made comments about us being the firm with a “male secretary.” It was so hard for people to comprehend that a man would want to admin work for a couple of females.

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, a few jobs back I worked on a small team with a male Editorial Assistant. I had so much trouble trying to get authors to speak to me as a first option, rather than defaulting to immediately contacting Fergus. We’d have a kick-off meeting where we’d introduce the team to a new author, explain what our roles were, etc (and my job title was clearly Editor while his was Editorial Assistant) and they’d go away happy, and then I’d find out they’d been emailing Fergus and asking him questions that he had no business trying to answer. So infuriating.

      1. BatManDan*

        Maybe it’s the fact that I grew up with a mom as a school teacher, and a grandmother as as, specifically high-school English teacher, but the word “editor” conjures a woman to my mind, not a man (in the absence of any other identifying details).

    2. waffles*

      yes, it’s always a good indicator of how genuine a company is about diversity, in my view. Rather than just saying it employs x% women, how many of those women are in senior roles? How many men are in support roles?

  28. Umami*

    Wow, I’m curious about what business this is, because if you have a clear reception area, then anyone wanting service is going to the available person, regardless of gender (i.e. hotel check-in, airport check-in etc.) I would say make sure it’s clear that both people are check-in people, and no one would question sex or race, this shouldn’t seem this weird.

  29. Not Your Sweetheart*

    Don’t discount racism.
    I used to work front desk at a downtown hotel. Back when ownership/management actually cared about guest service, we had 3 people at the desk in the evenings (2nd shift). Myself (a white woman) and my coworkers (a black woman and a black man). I liked to be constantly busy, so would clean. Guests would ignore my coworkers’ greetings and lean over the desk to talk to me. I was sitting on the floor wearing yellow dish gloves with rags and cleaner next to me. Never failed that guests would approach me even though I was busy. and my coworkers greeted them. Irritated all 3 of us.

  30. DaniCalifornia*

    Can you email your customers on a mailing list and update them on staffing? Like a “We’d like to welcome Charlie to our reception staff” I always pushed for this at a previous job because our clients were so used to dealing with one. specific. person. that we had similar issues. Boss never did it but I tried.

  31. LucyGoosy*

    Saw this at a previous job (it was a school. We often had students working at the front, many of whom happened to be male). If it helps, you can:
    -Adjust the front desk so it’s extremely obvious that Charlie is the first person to talk to.
    -Give slightly different roles/responsibilities to each receptionist so that certain customers/clients ONLY talk to Charlie (ex. at OldJob, it was very clear that Fergus could provide information in Portuguese and Jane could provide information in Spanish–anyone who may have had reservations about going to Fergus would jump to it if they saw he was the Portuguese speaker and that was their native language).
    -If necessary, put Charlie closer to the front and coach him on being especially proactive about talking to people who are coming in.

  32. pally*

    Why not have the receptionists take the lead and greet the customer- as soon as possible as they enter the establishment? That would be before customer had made it far enough into the room to reach the reception desk and make a choice as to whom they will engage.

    Something like a warm “Welcome to [company]. My name is Charlie and I’m here to assist you. What may I do for you today?” accompanied by a smile.

    This way the choice is made for them. If there’s greater than two customers, Charlie might greet the newcomer and assure them they will be right with them.

    1. Anonymous badger*

      This was my first thought. This is what we were trained to do when I worked at a front-desk type position. It takes all the guesswork out of it for the customer.


    Once, I had to pick up a sample from the main UCSF campus and deliver it to a satellite site in San Francisco’s Sunset district. I waited to return on an inter campus shuttle clad in lab coat with prominent name tag showing my title. An impatient looking medical resident came up to me and asked when is the shuttle leaving angrily. I told her that I didn’t know but the driver should be here soon. She gave me a startled angry look and stalked away. I looked down at my name tag and coat and then realized the driver and I were the only Black men in the area and there was nothing I could wear or do that the resident wouldn’t ignore.
    I’m not sure any signage or rearranging will change the situation.

    1. ucsf alum*

      ugh, I’m so sorry that happened to you… I wish I was surprised, but unfortunately it fits right in with stories I heard from black students in my program.

  34. CanRelate*

    Charlie might have to look, smile, and call people over to get past this dumb bias, which sucks that the onus is on him, but its hard to direct the general public to correct any behavior. I’m black as well and will sometimes need to turn on the overly friendly, resting smile to work around this kind of thing.

    I think a big “check in here” sign might help, but I would keep in mind (as a person who has worked both in retail and in customer support in general) people dont read at all, in general. You might have to make it more obnoxious than you’d like to really grab people

    For this though:

    “In two cases, we had people walk past the desk into the back office area and approach the nearest woman for help.”

    It does feel like that shouldn’t be able to happen so easily, just security wise. I know that some buildings are less of a funnel than others, but I would just consider that there are downsides to this being possible that go beyond a little confusion.

    1. umami*

      It’s so true that signage is not as helpful as one might think. I sat in a meeting today with a bunch of people telling me that we needed SIGNAGE. WITH ARROWS! to direct folks to a certain building, and I didn’t even bother telling them we have both signage, with arrows, doing EXACTLY THAT. Even our staff don’t notice the signage in precisely the spots they are saying the signage is needed. *sigh*

    2. amoeba*

      Yeah, it does suck if only Charlie has to do that – so maybe instruct all of them to greet customers that way (taking turns)? I do think it would help.

  35. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    In case it’s not something OP thought of:
    Is it possible that there’s something additional playing into this that is controllable, like if the setup is such that most people will see Alice or end up closer to her, even if it’s just because people will walk to the right (in the US) more often than the left? If so, that might be a target to change.

    I mention this because a place I worked had a desk you had to walk by with two Receptionists. I got to know the one who sat on the right side because… I always entered on that side of the lobby and there was usually a small line to badge past the desk. Exiting had no line, so I never really knew the person on the other side. The desk was in the exact middle of the room.l and you technically could go in or out either side, but most people followed my pattern it seemed.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      This is very true. But it seems less influenced by the architecture and more by the architypes. People line up to be helped by Alice. People have walked THROUGH reception when Charlie is working alone.
      This is not people looking for the natural flow of the building, this is people looking for someone who looks like their image of a receptionist.

      1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

        Agreed. I just thought maybe they can consider contributing factors that might be within their control. That’s just how my brain works – everything is a multi-pronged approach!

  36. Peon*

    When I worked in a book store, people would walk right up to the information desk (Right under the sign that said Information in 2ft high letters) and ask where information was. I lost a lot of faith in the general public in that job.

    1. Goldenrod*

      Yeah, I can relate strongly to this!

      My experience working at a book store, as well as offices in schools and hospitals, all taught me the hard way that no matter how many signs you put up…and no matter how big and colorful they are…there are some people who will just. never. notice. the sign.

    2. Lisa Simpson*

      When I was a lifeguard, people would walk into the pool area and say to me, “Is this the pool?”

      No we just keep a cement hole with 50,000 gallons of water in it for decoration.

    3. nnn*

      When I was in university, a practical joke that was trending was to walk up to information desks and say “Is this the information desk?” and when they say yes, say “Thanks!” and walk away.

    4. iiii*

      I once worked in a sandwich joint that had a neon sign that said ORDER HERE with a lovely glowing arrow. People still went to the other end of the counter and asked where to order.

      Some folks just aren’t going to read the room right, no matter how clearly it’s labeled.

  37. LawBee*

    Alice can also direct people to Charlie, especially when a line is forming. It shouldn’t be entirely on him, and it’s part of providing customer service.

    1. Mf*

      This was my thought too. It shouldn’t be solely on Charlie to deal with a situation caused by racism and sexism. Alice should be proactive about saying, “My colleague Charlie can help you out!”

  38. Throwaway Account*

    Public librarian here, we have a u-shaped desk with staff on each side of the “legs.”
    No idea why, but patrons would always line up on one side while the librarian on the other has no one. We had to stand up and ask them to come to our side.

    We found no pattern for race or gender (tho most of us are yt women).

    I am sure, however, that in the OP’s case, race and gender are playing a role. I really like the idea to ask Charlie what he wants to do.

    1. umami*

      And some of it has to do with natural queuing. We recently had a large-scale event, and we set up two (TWO!) buffet lines, and for some reason, people kept joining the one with the line instead of the one where .. no one was lined up! I actually went to the line and started letting people know there was another buffet line. With no line. Right next to where they had lined up.

      1. Guin*

        That also happens when there is one buffet, and you can go down EITHER side, and yet no one will actually move over to the other side of the tables. I get really strange looks when I’m the only one on the other side of the table, like I’m doing something against the rules. :D

      2. Tiny Soprano*

        There’s a really good episode of I think it might be the Stuff To Blow Your Mind podcast where they discuss the psychology of queuing. Fascinating stuff.

  39. Annalyn*

    I wonder where the office entry is in proximity to Alice’s and Charlie’s seats. Is Alice the first person they see or pass? While I don’t necessarily think it’s the reason they’re choosing to see Alice over Charlie, having them swap seats so that they’d be forced to pass Charlie to speak with Alice might help. Also, adding a note to the reception sign that says, “Please see the first available attendant” could help people to understand that either person can help them.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      I’m glad I’m not the only one. I legitimately had an image of Mrs. Landingham (as Alice) and Charlie manning the desk!

  40. Sara without an H*

    Hi, LW — I know this is frustrating for you and for Charlie. Several upstream commenters have suggested alternatives to “receptionist.” I’d like to suggest “Customer Service.”

    But you also might want to take a look at the way the space is laid out. As CanRelate just pointed out, your present layout allows customers to wander past the check-in point and into the back office, which you don’t want for a lot of reasons. Is there another way to configure the space, so that customers are funneled straight to the “customer service” desk and have no option of getting into the back office without an escort? It can be hard to take a fresh look at space you’ve been occupying for a while, but it seems to me that you’ll have more success with rearranging the space than with trying to retrain your customers.

    1. Mf*

      I like the “Customer Service.” “Reception” strikes me as still very gendered whereas Customer Service is less so.

      1. This_is_Todays_Name*

        But “Customer Service” also has its own connotations. For example, when I hear “customer service” I think of retail, returns, complaints, basic service, etc… Whereas if this is a professional office and people are checking in as clients, patients, visitors … Reception is (to me) the more appropriate term.

  41. hi there*

    My recommendation is having a large sign/message board that has the photos of the on-duty Receptionist. That way Charlie’s name and smiling face are clearly identified as the person they need to go to. It sucks, but this is a resocialization effort so… (I always advise to ask Charlie, Alice, and the others to explain why you’re asking and make adjustments to their comfort.)

    Visual is KEY here – most people are immune to words, because we process so many of them on any given day.

    Seconding other ideas in this thread related to training for the white women to redirect folks to Charlie, and the “Wait for Receptionist Here” sign to give Charlie a chance to use his “How can I help?” language.

  42. empanadasconqueso*

    If this is the sort of place that has lines forming at reception, I might say you should consider taking the lead from other businesses that also have long lines (I’m thinking something like Trader Joe’s or airlines). Have a “Line forms here” or “Please wait here until called forward” sign and a physical marker, such as either a line on the floor or stanchions. It gives the customers a rubric and creates an equitable workload for your staff.

  43. Van Wilder*

    I have no advice but this is fascinating. I wish a group from a local business school would do an operations management project to address this problem or something. I would love to read the case study.

  44. Delta Delta*

    What if there wasn’t a sign? Is there a way to configure the front office – maybe move some desks around – so it’s apparent to visitors they need to stop at the desk? And then they’d have to talk to whichever person is at the desk. Also, if there’s a way to make some sort of gentle physical barrier so people have to stop when they come in, they’d be more apt to talk to the person they see rather than wander in and chat up whomever.

  45. jlv*

    I think the word “Receptionist” is inherently sexist and that’s the problem we have here. That association that women are always receptionists.

    Perhaps change it to ‘Reception’ or something more specific like, Customer Service, Front Desk, Service Desk. There needs to be some kind of cultural shift that has you steering away from historically gendered language.

    1. BubbleTea*

      “ist” isn’t a gendered suffix. Pianists are not all women. Phlebotomists are not all women. The issue is a sexist stereotype about admin and assistance roles, and that’s true even if you call the job “Lord Captain of the Helpfulness Cooperative”.

      1. There You Are*

        “Secretary” isn’t a gendered word, and yet the vast majority of Americans will immediately picture a woman when they hear that word.

        “Doctor” isn’t a gendered word, and yet the vast majority of Americans will immediately picture a man when they hear that word.

        And even though the suffix “ist” isn’t inherently gendered, the vast majority of Americans will not stop to parse the word “Receptionist” and say to themselves, “Ah, there are male and female pianists and phlebotomists, so clearly there are male and female receptionists.”

        Sorry, but their brains short-circuit the same way as when they hear “Secretary” and default to female automatically.

        “Receptionist” to the vast, vast majority of Americans means “woman at a desk who will help me.”

    2. Ginger Cat Lady*

      It’s only coded that way in your head. It doesn’t have any of the usual diminutives that are coded female like -ess or -ette etc. If *you* only see women when you hear the word, that’s on you.
      Is “biologist” inherently sexist? What about “orthopedist” “violinist” “artist” etc.? They follow the same pattern of specialty + -ist so why is “receptionist” inherently female, and therefore sexist, to you?

      1. Not This Again!*

        You’re hair splitting. Communication is more than just the technical meaning of a word. Many people have never or maybe rarely seen a male receptionist, me included. Just like if a woman plumber shows up at your door, there’s a moment of being startled because the truth is most plumbers are men. Come on, you’re being disingenuous.

        The solution is to have one line with people served in order by whomever is available. Signs, greetings, none of that matters.

    3. Guin*

      Agreed, my suggestion would be Front Desk, largely displayed on both stations. I might also suggest Concierge, but it would depend on what kind of business it is. That probably wouldn’t sound right if it was a bank or something.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you mean people have sexist ideas about who does receptionist work, but the word itself isn’t sexist. Similarly, people also have sexist ideas about who they picture when they hear the word “president” but “president” isn’t a sexist word.

    5. Ellis Bell*

      I have honestly never considered the word receptionist to refer exclusively to a woman! I get what people say when they talk about nurses needing the adjective of “male” for clarity, even though that shouldn’t be a thing, but the receptionist is just whoever happens to be on reception. (surely a security guard would be in uniform and stationed elsewhere if they were not available?) Anyway, if the word “receptionist” means female helper, then “reception” would still mean “place where the female helpers are, please ignore any dudes”. People will not get used to men on receptionist duty if you go to such lengths to reframe and rename what they’re doing. Go the other way and give him a receptionist badge!

  46. Former Retail Manager*

    2 solutions: Create a queue line (with a sign) and when it is the next person’s turn, they go to whomever is open and frankly, Charlie needs to speak up. “I can help the next person right over here” is perfectly sufficient. If he sees people standing in a line at his co-worker’s desk, I don’t understand why he isn’t speaking up. If they see the same customers over and over (not sure if that’s the case) then eventually return customers will realize that Charlie is part of reception and be happy to have him assist them.

    Also, does Charlie look unapproachable? Could that be a factor. I say this as a white lady with RBF who is often told I look angry and unapproachable. While I now work in an office, when I worked retail, I was always very conscious of my facial expressions and made an effort to look more approachable by trying to smile slightly or at least not have RBF so that customers felt comfortable approaching me. I learned this after years of customers periodically telling other employees that I “looked like I was concentrating/busy/working intently” which was a nice way of saying I looked unapproachable.

    1. Broadway Duchess*

      I’m sure you don’t mean anything by the unapproachable comment, but so many POC (especially Black POC) are judged to be inherently unapproachable just for, y’know, Existing While Black. You got told that you looked as though you were concentrating; Black people don’t generally get that sugar-coated message. If LW though that Charlie changing his expression could help, I think it would have been mentioned. Charlie shouldn’t be responsible for changing hearts and minds here.

      1. amoeba*

        Yeah, that’s why I’d tell both of them to proactively look up and greet people as soon as they walk in. (Taking turns, obviously, they shouldn’t start talking at the same time!)
        Shouldn’t just be on Charlie to change his behaviour.

    2. Not This Again!*

      Please leave Charlie’s face alone. We black folks are deemed unfriendly and unapproachable unless actively fawning. Racism for sure.

  47. mrs. peanutbutter*

    I am skeptical of a larger sign doing much. I had the same problem in reverse working tech support in college at the computer lab. We had a HUGE sign and a specific corral that we sat it. People always went to my male colleagues first.

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

      I had a similar situation. our campus IT has a “help desk” but its actually an entire room. The room is sort of fish-bowly with glass windows but it doesn’t look like something like a computer lab. There is a giant sign that says help desk but when I worked in that building so many students would come to me for help, because I was 1. the first office from the entrance and 2 at a reception desk (for unrelated department).

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

    I have a few thoughts
    1. Are the people who seem lost or only go to Becky repeat customers that have come in throughout the years? Like maybe they are used to seeking Becky so their brain is hardwired to think Becky = the person who helps me.

    2. Beyond a new “help desk” sign, can you get a sign or something that says “Please form line here” so if people start to queue up, it’s not directly in front of Becky’s desk but rather in the middle, so it’s more obvious that there is a second person there. Think like how you go to a doctor’s office there’s usually a sign that says wait here for the next available person.

    3. Can you update the desk somehow? Even painting in a new color might shock people’s brains to realize that they can’t just go to Becky if they are used to doing so.

    4. Also, how visible is his side of the desk from the door? Is his spot the closest to the door? I think there is something about people naturally gravitate to the desk closest to the entrance. Or the closest one to the right. Can you some how make it look like he should be the first one to go to?

  49. Raida*

    Also check if the two staff on reception would be comfortable assigning the other tasks not “when you aren’t with customers” but instead alternating by hour, or task type, day of the week, morning/afternoon.

    One person definitively looking down and the other greeting people as they arrive is a very clear indicator.

    Obviously then both people working when there’s more customers.

    While it *shouldn’t* be necessary, and I wouldn’t want your staff to feel like a Greeter in a in box store, having someone making eye contact, smiling, and greeting people as they arrive is pleasant plus draws customers to that person to ask a question. We were trained in this in retail – don’t go up to customers immediately and offer help or ask questions, just make eye contact and smile and say “Good Morning”. The customers were far more likely to ask for help

    1. Guin*

      I feel terrible for those big box store Greeters, especially the store that starts with W. I always look them in the eye and say Thank you, how are you doing? because face it, that is one of the crappiest jobs in the universe.

  50. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    Customers should be warmly greeted with a smile and offered assistance as they enter the area. They shouldn’t have to read signs or guess who is there to assist them.

    I worked for many years in award winning public libraries. We did studies and found that when offered assistance, the customers would often shyly decline, and then come back, search the friendly greeter out, wait for them if even if others were available, and ask that specific person for help.

    There is no substitute for high quality customer service. It’s expensive but worth every penny.

    1. third sarah*

      And when racism and sexism are in play? It sounds like you’re blaming Charlie for customers’ biases.

      1. tmp*

        We don’t know what is happening here but it is very true that people will gravitate to the receptionist who greets them vs the one who is head down doing other tasks. Could be racism but it also could be that Charlie needs a little more training on the position to understand that greeting and generally acknowledging customers will signal to them that he is available to answer questions.

        1. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

          Since the OP did not mention that, let’s assume that is not the place. It seems to be about race and gender and it sucks.

          1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

            Why do you make that assumption? It may be racism, or it may be Charlie may simply needs more training and appropriate supervision. OP doesn’t know what motive people have for not approaching him and neither do you.

            1. Not This Again!*

              Just form one line, solution is so simple. It doesn’t matter why people are not approaching him. Know that black men are one of the most feared groups of people in America, even when wearing a suit and tie. Please stop it.

              1. Cat's Paw for Cats*

                I am well aware. I have successfully managed libraries in the deep south and dealt with racism and a lot of other isms on a regular basis. We know how to do this.

  51. Magenta Sky*

    Would it be practical to put a visible “wait here” line on the floor, some distance back from the reception desk, so that *both* receptionists have to call for the next person, and customers will expect that and pay attention?

  52. All Outrage, All The Time*

    Receptionist is such an outdated and gendered term. I would change the signage to “Customer Service” or “Concierge” or “Service Desk” or some such.

  53. AnonForThis*

    Not serious:

    Maybes people would recognize him as a receptionist if he had some eyeliner, lipstick, and a skirt?

  54. tmp*

    I have to wonder if Charlie is being assertive in greeting customers. If he is head down with other work they may assume he is not to be interrupted. If you enter a business and the person at the desk greets you or at least makes eye contact and smiles then you feel comfortable approaching them. If you enter a business and the person is head down and does not acknowledge your presence it leaves you wondering if they are the appropriate person approach with questions.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      You would have to be hiding under the desk for it to be reasonable to walk past reception and into the offices looking for the nearest woman.

  55. stokes*

    I might change that last line to “ with *white* people finding white women more approachable than a black man.

  56. Green*

    At the risk of exposing my own sexist view point I admit if I walked into a business and saw a man and woman sitting behind a desk that was labeled “reception” I would assume the woman was the receptionist and the man was a security guard. I would therefore try to not bother him or distract him from his job by asking the woman to help. If he appeared to be looking at his computer I would assume he was monitoring CCTV or something similar.

    All that to say no matter how big you make the sign, it wouldn’t help me because I would just assume it was referring to one person not both. For idiots like me having two signs, one in front of each of them, would be more helpful. Also helpful would be name badges with the person’s name and the word, “receptionist”

    1. Heather*

      Thank you for admitting it! Most of the commenters here are definitely throwing stones about everyone else’s subconscious biases…

      I think better signage will help. I might put identical BIG signs with their names. ALICE and CHARLIE. So it is obvious at a glance that they’re doing the same job. And of course, asking Charlie to be pushy about greeting people.

  57. Peanut Hamper*

    Please stop using the word “Receptionist” regardless of who is doing it. It is incredibly gendered.

    “Step One”

    1. PlainJane*

      It is not a remotely gendered term. Where are people getting that? Is “artist” also gendered? “Archaeologist”? “Anesthesiologist”?

      1. Observer*

        It’s not gendered in the way something with an “esse” suffix is. But for some reason, it’s seen as female in the way that “nurse” is seen as female. Like people talk about nurses and male nurses, but you never hear people talking about female nurses, because “female” is just assumes. Much the same seems to be true of “receptionist”.

        1. Peanut Hamper*

          Exactly. It’s even in the title of this post: “People are ignoring our male receptionist”.

          You would never see a title like “People are ignoring our female receptionist” if the roles were reversed.

          1. Zarniwoop*

            “People are ignoring our female attorney/bricklayer/bouncer/electrician/data analyst.”
            The problem’s not a gendered term that needs to replaced, it’s the public’s assumptions about who does what jobs, and a name change won’t fix it.

          2. Pop Aficionado*

            It’s in the title because the male receptionist is the one people are ignoring, not the female receptionist. It’s for clarification for the readers of this site. I doubt the LW refers to Charlie as a male receptionist.

        2. umami*

          Heh. My husband is a nurse, and he does home health. He visited a patient several times to admit them and also followed up on wound care. About two weeks into this, he learned that the family was upset and claiming to the agency that a nurse hadn’t been visiting. He wAs there with the patient while the family was making the call. He said, wait, I am the nurse, I’ve been coming these past two weeks. They were very hand-wavy about it because to them man =/= nurse. It took some convincing for them to realize he was not a traveling doctor but was actually the NURSE.

    2. Heather*

      “receptionist” isn’t gendered any more than “nurse” is gendered. We didn’t rename nursing when men started doing it in large numbers.

        1. Not This Again!*

          Yeah, these commenters are ridiculous and just being unhelpfully contrarian. Preschool teacher is not a gendered term but male ones areas rare as hens teeth.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        But we did. You often hear “male nurse” but never hear “female nurse”.

        Certain job titles (and nurse is a profession, not a job title) have traditionally been held by women and are still considered in many quarters to be women-only jobs: hence LW’s letter.

  58. PlainJane*

    Is it possible that it’s something as simple as a sight-line issue? Is Charlie’s desk not in a direct line from the door? Are there germ screens up blocking the view? Try coming in through the front door with a customer’s eye and seeing what you see first.

    That said, it sounds to me like yes, people are assuming Charlie is doing something else. Particularly if a line is forming, it sounds like there needs to be a system for getting people moving over to the other receptionists.

  59. Marcella*

    Many years ago I hired a male administrative assistant. Philip was young, smart, and good-looking (this is relevant.) He worked for an IT department that was basically a cubicle farm, and the other admin was female. I knew people would have trouble adjusting; what I didn’t expect was:

    ~ A guy giving me a look of disgust and saying, “What am I, gay?” when told Philip was his new admin. (Yes, he was that blatant about sexualizing admins,)

    ~ Women saying, “Oh, awesome. I wonder what he REALLY wants to do.” They never assumed the female admins had different career aspirations.

    ~ My boss sneering at him whenever he came to our office. One time he told me that he was convinced Philip liked me romantically and it was inappropriate, when in fact he just dotted line reported to me and already had a girlfriend.

    ~ Most men taking all of their admin requests to the female admin.

    ~ A lot of women taking their admin tasks to the female admin but bringing Philip baked goods, takeout lunches, and at least twice, gifts from their vacations.

    I didn’t know how to tackle what seemed like a huge cultural problem, other than reminding people to bring their tasks to him too. The whole thing was so bizarre. I think everyone was relieved when he resigned.

  60. Kr*

    I wonder if you could structure the desk so there are clearly 2 different spaces to go – I know a register isn’t the right word but there are certain things that make a register or counter feel legit, like a cup of pens, a monitor that swivels, a sign gently informing – a “Window 1” “Window 2” feel. I think with the right framing & layout this could be helped. Another option is if your workplace does any type of newsletter or all hands, you could include reception in a shout out or a highlight introducing all of the members and their positions, and what they do. Best of luck.

  61. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    It is disheartening how many commenters assume that Charlie must be unfriendly or unapproachable when what Charlie is doing is existing at work while Black and male.

    Kudos to everyone who called people out for that.

    1. Mill Miker*

      People attempting to walk past Charlie into the back office, people going to Alice/Becky first, and people starting to queue in front of the ladies are easy to attribute to this kind of bias.

      People actually getting into the back rooms without being stopped, and a queue being able to form in front of one receptionist while the other is helping no-one, are signs that the receptionist needs to be a little more pro-active in their duties.

      Also, an unfortunate part of front-line customer service work is that you can’t “fix” the general public’s biases. It’s not fair, but if people are biased to see Charlie as unapproachable, the only way to “fix” that is for Charlie to be extra-approachable to compensate. Especially since most of the suggestions here are well within the realm of an average receptionist’s duties.

  62. Username required*

    If Charlie is working at his desk and not actively showing he is available to help then I’d likely stay queuing for Alice – but I’m English so queuing is in my dna lol.

    Sounds like Alice and Charlie both need to be more pro active. Alice can redirect people from her queue to Charlie and Charlie can offer to help the next in line.

  63. K*

    I wouldn’t immediately assume this is sexism or racism. Quite often when I enter a business as a customer and there are two people at a desk I don’t know who to approach. It’s awkward and I wish there would either be a sign or for the receptionist to say something to me. Try to make it clear what you actually want people to do.

    1. Not This Again!*

      I just wait for somebody to call me over, I’m not a mind reader. Poor reception areas are rampant though,people not stopping to acknowledge you, unpleasant people, ugh.

  64. Busybody*

    I second changing the sign from receptionist to reception or check-in. it sounds less gendered and less like there is a single receptionist when you have two people at the desk. I also think it could help if Charlie actively greets everyone who walks in with something like ” can I help you”. In fact this is something everyone working reception could get in the habit of doing.

  65. Jo*

    I’m sorry to suggest this, but I’d try a different label, like: customer service coordinator, guest service coordinator, front desk coordinator. Make new signs with a different phrase and see if that helps.

  66. Pop Aficionado*

    Some other signage and an adjustment to terminology might be helpful. A placquard or poster or other sign saying “reception” might be better than “receptionist”. The latter is female-coded, the former has more the ring of a fancy hotel check-in area. Or, possibly, depending on the type of business, “guest services”, “client intake”, or just simply “check-in”.

    Other options for titles: front desk attendant, front desk agent, customer assistance coordinator, information clerk, information assistant, check-in agent, etc.

  67. Anallamadingdong*

    At any receptionist or front desk jobs that I have had, it was always standard to “Greet within 10 Feet”, so before someone would even line up, they were being asked “May I help you?” It depends on the layout/distance of the desk from the door, but generally, automatic greeting of visitors as soon as they enter the area could cut down on the confusion.

  68. A*

    What if you added a little queue sign in the lobby that says “line starts here” and people can line up there. Then the two receptionists have responsibility to wave the next customer up to them.

  69. Ellis Bell*

    I think the post office style, single line for all help points, roped barriers set-up is the best bet here. (spaced tightly so there is no room for people to decide they want to queue at just one station). I’d also be really tempted to question the people who are barging past Charlie into offices looking for female help. “What exactly made Constance seem more approachable than our receptionist Charlie here? She was in a meeting out back while he was here waiting out front” But, probably best to just get them in line.

    1. Misty_Meaner*

      I think that works if there are several people entering at once to be helped, but I kinda get the idea it’s a onesie twosie kinda thing since they have time to “perform other duties” in between assisting, so it doesn’t sound like it’s the type of environment (say, a bank) where one line for the next assistant is needed and we don’t know how much space the lobby has for that kind of set up. I liked what someone else suggested: a sign simply saying “Check in Here” or “Reception” and then both Alice AND Charlie looking up attentively whenever someone walks in is the best way to “train” the public that “Oh Charlie is also an initial point of contact here.”

  70. inkognyto*

    Can you arrange how the desks are?

    It sounds like it’s side by side area facing front.
    If they are movable desks you change this by forcing a 60 or greater degree angle with desks on the side.

    This forces people into a single line and then Charlie is standing right there facing their back, can engage them when they come up.

    It makes a funnel and also “Service Desk or Help Desk” is also a very good/neutral signage.

    The other thing experiment with is put down tape or markers on floor which shows this arrows to both desks. It’s silly but people are sheep.

  71. DontUseHelpDesk*

    Don’t call it a help desk. That implies technical support. If I entered an office and encountered a help desk I’d ignore it and go sit in a waiting area until the person I was there to see came out (if there was one) or lean against a wall or something if there wasn’t. I’d assume the building security notified that person I was there (which us pretty standard anyway) and if they didn’t come get me after a while I’d probably call them directly. Further, if someone sitting at a help desk asked me if they could help me I’d say no as I wasn’t looking for tech support. I might eventually approach and apologetically ask if they knew if the person I was meeting was around after a while (and make some comment like I know it’s not your job to tell them I’m here). It would be awkward and I’d feel weird after I found out they were reception, but I’d also be really annoyed at the company for being deliberately misleading (which would be my impression).

    So just don’t.

  72. WheresMyPen*

    I wonder if the queue barriers with elastic tape that you get at airports, clinics etc would help to funnel people to both sides of the desk?

  73. ElliottRook*

    If it isn’t feasible to add giant “Reception” or “Check in here” signage as has been suggested, the next solution is for all three receptionists to have a nameplate, with their title attached (Charlie Lastname, Receptionist), that they set out whenever they get settled at their work station (or leave in place if applicable, but I’m working under the assumption that the stations are shared between the three).

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