I am a 24 years old female. I started working as a developer in a small-medium software company a little while back. The CEO was very exited to get me on board, as I would be their first female developer since they started out back in the 80s. Moreover, young graduates are difficult to find in and the median age is well over 40.

The development team has a floor of their own, with their own bathroom area. There is a separate area for males and females. Before I joined the company when the male area was full, the males would sometimes use the female area. Female employees from other departments were aware of this. When I joined, it was made clear this was no longer accepted. I’ve noticed, very rarely, that this still gets done. Sometimes the door falls closed as I come around the corner to get tea or one of the stalls would be locked. The CEO/department head does not seem aware of it, but would certainly not agree with it.

I am not opposed to sharing bathrooms. It’s about the expectations. If I am under the impression that the bathroom is a “women only”-space, I’d like to be able to get changed for example after cycling through rain without a man unexpectedly barging in.

The bathroom layout is rather traditional: a door leading to the female area and a door to the male area. The female area is noticeably smaller than the male one. Both contain lockable stalls.

I’m not entirely sure who these people are. I’ve got suspicions, but I think accusing them could only be awkward. I could ask the CEO/department head what he thinks about it. I could also go to HR, but my gut says resolving it within the department is better.

What can I do?

  • 3
  • 2
    What’s with the downvotes though?
    – Belle
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:06
  • 3
    @belle - it seems to be a sensitive topic with some people? I'm not sure whether I've ever gotten a down-vote as quickly as this before either. Best of luck
    – AndreiROM
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:09
  • 2
    I don't know. I work at a multi-shift plant, and on first shift (~7 male co-workers) I have the women's bathroom all to myself. The off-shifts (~3 each on afternoon & night) use the women's, though - I find the toilet paper run out, or dirty glove prints on the wall, etc. The supervisor has talked to the offshifts about it multiple times and it doesn't seem to make any difference.
    – Lyrl
    Feb 6, 2018 at 21:33
  • 2
    Why don't you & Belle ask for a lock on the door and a key?
    – Mawg
    Feb 7, 2018 at 15:01

5 Answers 5


Approach your manager, and speak to him privately. Don't make a big deal out of it. Simply outline the scenario you described to us:

Hey boss, I just wanted to mention that some of the other team members are still using the female washroom from time to time. This doesn't bother me as such, but the other day I biked in and changed in the washroom, and I would hate to have someone walk in on me during such a situation.

Management will take things from there. The advantage to this approach is that you don't place yourself in an adversarial situation with your teammates. Putting up signs, or sending emails to everyone is probably going to be regarded as passive aggressive no matter how carefully you communicate your concerns.

Your manager will know how to best broach the topic with the team, and has the authority to be taken seriously by everyone involved.

  • 11
    She is the only female in the department. If suddenly the manager issues a reminder not to use the ladies room, do you really think the colleagues do not know where it´s coming from? Depending on how skilled the manager handles this, she could stick with the telltale stigma nonetheless.
    – Daniel
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:18
  • 8
    @Daniel - the channel of communication matters in these situations. As the new one on the team the OP has little authority. The manager, however, does. People know that they shouldn't be using that washroom. They also know that the OP has seen them use it. They were given the opportunity to follow the rules, and play nice. The OP asking them is not likely to change their minds, because they clearly don't care. However, when confronted by someone with authority, they'll likely understand that things need to change.
    – AndreiROM
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:40
  • This. If OP makes expresses herself as amicable as here then there shouldn't be a problem. Going to management might also unveil options like finding a different room for her to change.
    – Kempeth
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:46
  • @AndreiROM: Exactly, the channel matters. What would you react better to, your colleague asking you kindly not to create a problem for her, or the manager giving you a warning out of the blue?
    – Daniel
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:47
  • 1
    "It's not smart: it's politics." Pres. Roslin, Battlestar Galactica. Feb 7, 2018 at 21:58

Although this seems simple, it is not at all: in Belgium (which is a neighbour country of the Netherlands), it is also a habit to have separate bathrooms, and it's an act of decensy not to go in the bathroom which is not meant for your gender, but it is not enforcible by law: it goes even that far that separate bathrooms are a form of discrimination, based on gender, so when you call the police, they might be forced to say that your male colleagues are right!

There's another point: you mention that you are using the bathroom to change clothes (which is something I've never done in a bathroom and which I have never seen somebody do), so this is a different ballgame. It is normal to have some kind of "one-person change rooms", accessible for men and women (not together, of course) where you can change, and maybe there are some lockers where you can keep your clothes (that's something to discuss with your manager).

In general, I'd advise you to talk with your manager about this, but proceed with caution: as far as the bathroom is concerned, you might have the law against you.


How about writing a friendly reminder to your team like, in your words from above:

Dear Collegues. I noticed some of you are still using the ladies room. I was under the impression this should no longer be the case. I am not generally opposed to sharing bathrooms. It’s about the expectations. If I am under the impression that the bathroom is a “women only”-space, I’d like to be able to get changed for example after cycling through rain without a man unexpectedly barging in. So please, if it is urgent, knock so there are no awkward surprises

That way you are singling no one out but they are probably gonna stop using this bathroom altogether. They are probably using it out of habit and this knocking is a little bit awkward in itself so it will break the habit. Also this does not come across as wanting special treatment, so you won´t stress your standing with the male colleagues.

Of course, only do this if you really don´t mind!

  • 15
    I disagree that this will encourage people to stop. In my mind the last line will make it more likely that some people will use the women's bathroom. Those people who thought it was no longer allowed are now being told that it is allowed, so long as they knock first. That's okay if that's the outcome you want, but I think the last line could be rephrased to be less permissive.
    – David K
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:04
  • @David K: I do not see a permission in there anywhere, and I think she should not issue one as it would be overstepping her competence, if the CEO explicitly disallowed it. It´s more a kind of I want to stay out of the game, I just want to know what I´m dealing with kind of statement. Of course if OP was not honest about not minding this is not the right approach. notice my last sentence?
    – Daniel
    Feb 6, 2018 at 14:12
  • I think this is sound advice, if the last sentence is removed / rewritten. And, TBH I'd also avoid "women-only"-space as a word. It reminds me of these ridiculous demands of "safe spaces". I'd just flatly state that "sometime we change clothes in there. Please don't use it"
    – Stian
    Feb 7, 2018 at 12:52

Request the door be locked where you have to enter a numerical code to get in, and only you and other women are provided the passcode. Problem solved.

  • 16
    This seems very extreme
    – Belle
    Feb 6, 2018 at 15:56
  • 3
    Although this approach does solve the immediate problem, it also sends a certain message: you are, all of you, not to be trusted. And suddenly, people who might otherwise not have cared, or gotten involved, may be quite insulted. Personally, that's not the sort of message I'd want to send to the people I work alongside with day in and day out.
    – AndreiROM
    Feb 6, 2018 at 16:03
  • 3
    @AndreiROM, If you lock people out of a floor of your office, or certain other areas, then I could see your point, but this is the women's bathroom we're talking about. I as a male would not feel the slightest bit of concern if suddenly a keypad locked popped up on the women's bathroom in my office. I'd probably think "well, there must have been a problem", but since I don't need to be in there it doesn't matter to me.
    – Jay
    Feb 6, 2018 at 16:09
  • 7
    @raterus - some people will indeed react as you describe. I would, for example. But I know many, many others, whose instant reaction would be: "No other washroom in the building has a lock on it, but she's been here all of 2 months, and now there's a key-pad on this one? What a snow-flake!". Overall, I don't think the situation warrants such a slap in everyone's faces just yet.
    – AndreiROM
    Feb 6, 2018 at 16:14
  • 4
    Have to agree with with Andrei - this screams passive-agressive
    – Daniel
    Feb 7, 2018 at 7:23

Tell him not to do it again, like you said maybe its just an habit... if he continues: talk with your manager.

If he continues (your manager doesn't take you seriously): call the police. period.

this is not funny at all.

  • 2
    I feel that your answer would improve if you provided an example of how to address this with the Manager, as well as an example of how you suggest OP tells this to the Male colleagues
    – DarkCygnus
    Feb 18, 2019 at 17:59

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .