Managing Men Who Don’t Understand How They Offend Female Colleagues

“Hey, should you be bothering the help?”

The minute I overheard this phrase slip out of one our sales manager’s mouth, I knew that it was going to be a long day. He was speaking to a salesman, who happened to be in the middle of a conversation with one of our female assistants. I looked up quick enough to see this woman’s eyebrow arch and lips purse in a a dangerous expression of controlled fury. The manager had absolutely no idea that he’d said something remotely offensive and chuckled at his funny little joke as he walked on. After a few minutes, once the office had returned to it’s normal pace, I walked into the man’s office, shut the door and said, “Are you freaking kidding me? The help?” “Oh, she knows it was just a joke,” he assured me. I tried not to sound exasperated as I reminded him, “Just because you think it’s a joke doesn’t mean that anyone else finds it amusing.”

This was just a daily interaction with one of our more thoughtless and chauvinistic managers. I wish I could tell you that ended at random inappropriate comments to employees that barely knew him. It didn’t. I’m embarrassed to admit that this man, who I work with on a day-to-day basis, once told me that he couldn’t hire an attractive female for a certain position in our company because, “the guys will end up doing her work for her.” He’s warned women on his sales team not to wear too much make-up because he wants “to be taken seriously, not like we’re sending in some girl to seduce the accounts.”

Alright, I know this is horrible. In fact, it’s not just horrible, it’s illegal. For that reason, our company doesn’t let this man do the hiring, at least not on his own. But, he is still an employee and he’s still a manager. And since it’s not my company and I can’t fire him, my only course of action is to try to communicate with him on a daily basis about the importance of treating women fairly. I try to make a good impression and demonstrate to him that his antiquated notions have no place in a business setting.

Unfortunately, setting a good example is not always enough and it doesn’t make it up to the employees that get treated unfairly by our barbaric boss. So every woman in our office who has become familiar with this man’s proclivity for inappropriateness has made it a point to undo as much of the damage as possible. We make sure to thank and compliment the assistants who become victims of his “wit.” We sit in on his interviews and share our opinions with the owners about his hiring prospects. And we try, oh we try, to explain to him the error of his ways.

In a perfect world, these types of managers don’t exist. But in real businesses, you can always find a couple people who are out-of-line. Sometimes, all you can do is work with the co-workers you’re given and that includes trying to make up for their lack of sensitivity or downright prejudice. It’s not perfect, but we’re doing the best we can. Someday our sales manager might cross the line and lose his job. Or he’ll just retire and hopefully leave a more accepting and fair replacement. Either way, I’ll continue to keep my ears open and try to help everyone understand just why equality in the workplace is so important.

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    • christina

      Great advice. Making him aware and undoing the bad! I also have a great response for guys that don’t realize what they are saying is totally chauvinistic or just plain bad taste. Just say ” that is sooooo inappropriate” in a way that assumes of course that they are joking. It can be followed with an “I can’t believe you said that”. This often embarrasses them into realizing it’s just not cool.