I recently started working doing CAD tasks for a more experienced engineer. I work in Europe.

I am 26, male. The engineer appears to be in his mid-to-late thirties, also male. He is highly experienced and respected by his own superiors and colleagues throughout the company.

However I have noticed that when we started working together he makes disrespectful comments to me. A particular one that really annoys me is that he approaches me by saying "hey girl" instead of addressing me by name. I don't like this and feel disrespected every time it happens. I respect women and am not sexist, but this has nothing to do with it. I am all too aware that these types of comments are designed to distract, and if they are supposed to be funny I don't find them to be so.

Since I don't like it, I feel like I must address it. I have 4 real choices, all with positive and negative consequences

Take the "high" road and ignore it I could ignore it/divert the conversation. This would help avoid conflict, and enable me to get back to work with minimal distraction. Unfortunately, it could also cause the behavior to recur and escalate. It could send the message that I don't mind such comments and cause the person to try more provocative statements. This would have a negative toll on my emotional/mental health and self esteem, and ultimately job performance.

Report to HR I could take the problem up with HR. If they take my claim seriously they could have the power to truly threaten this individual and have him immediately stop. The risk also exists that they would not take it seriously. If this happened, I would feel insecure at this company, since such behavior (which I find unacceptable in a professional setting) is tolerated by most in the company. What's worse they could have a non-threatening word with him which would make him aware I reported it and further exacerbate working relations.

Respond by employing similar language What I mean here is responding using a phrase like "Hey gorgeous" or "hey lovely woman" or something along these lines. I.e feminize the individual just like he is trying to feminize me. I have already used this strategy with this person. Positive consequences are that it immediately mirrors the behavior and the person is put on the spot, it shows the person that you are not afraid to retort with disrespectful language if you are disrespected, and in my experience it has mitigated the behavior somewhat. Finally it also is a sort of 'light' way to deal with the situation and avoids major conflict. However there are negative consequences. I was not raised to find such language or sense of humor to be acceptable and so it heavily distracts me from work if I have to succumb to the same (and what I consider to be low) comments. Ultimately I don't feel like I am being the best version of myself if I am disrespecting a colleague.

Respond firmly to the situation I could also respond to the situation by saying something loud and clear like "Did you just call me 'Miss'? Please don't ever use that kind of language with me again, OK? I am not your wife or your girlfriend, you don't call me 'miss'. I have a name, you use my name when you want to address me". Preferably this has to be done with other employees around so that there are witnesses. Positive consequences are that I am dealing with the problem firsthand without resorting to HR, and staying true to myself by not succumbing to similar disrespectful behavior. Negative consequences are that the individual might not take me seriously (since there are no consequences to my threat, being a junior employee). Others may find that I don't have a sense of humor or worse that I have anger management issues. Also I might be alone when the individual approaches me and if I respond then it will surely have no effect, or outright amuse the person. If my threat is not taken seriously it will be quite humiliating later on, might even inflate the joke to something everyone uses.

How can I deal with this situation with as much tact as possible? I'm seriously afraid that it might become an ongoing joke, and will take a toll on my future plans with the company.

  • 4
    Have you considered talking to your manager instead of going directly to HR? Sep 1, 2018 at 10:04
  • 1
    I have, but the manager would most likely tell me to suck it up since the other employee is a much more necessary asset to the company than I am
    – user32882
    Sep 1, 2018 at 12:28
  • 1
    You might point out to him that while the senior employee is more important to the company than a single junior employee, a constant turnover of junior employees who leave because they won't that that BS would be detrimental to the company. Then polish your CV and find a good nickname for the other guy
    – Mawg
    Sep 3, 2018 at 6:36
  • 1
    have you asked him why he calls your "girl"? That seems abnormal and the responses here seem to assume a lot about that. It seems reasonable that, even after some time, you can simply ask him, "why is it that your refer to me as 'girl'?" His response will probably be very informative. Any attempt to diminish your question or concern can be handled, like "what, does that make you uncomfortable? haha!" with "no, it just seems inappropriate, and I see you as experienced so it is confusing." (as suggested in your selected answer) but maybe he has a better answer or reason for the "nickname"
    – Jim
    Sep 3, 2018 at 8:28
  • 1
    It is most definitely abnormal in my opinion also, but I don't really why I would go digging for the reason why he does it. To me it is quite clear why, 1) either he comes from a background where to assert your masculinity/dominance you have to feminize other men 2) or he is actually homosexual. I have a tendency to think it is the first case. It is really not so complicated...
    – user32882
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:06

8 Answers 8


Inform them once that you believe that their manner of addressing you is inappropriate. Should it persist, go to HR. Do not discuss the matter more than once with this senior; you would have given them the benefit of the doubt with a single warning. Especially do not respond in kind with similar language, as this will likely land you in hot water with HR.

  • What if HR does not take you seriously and tells you to just deal with it? Are you in the US or another country?
    – user32882
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:34
  • I reside in the US. You raise a good point about HR not taking the matter seriously, but this is where the paper trail begins - if you have to, document the times that HR ignores your complaints. When the list grows sufficiently long enough (e.g. you've decided to quit and find a better place), you can use said list as justification for leaving.
    – Makoto
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:37
  • It would be really a shame to use such a minor (and hopefully temporary) work interaction to jeopardize working at such a great company.... but I see your point. I don't like the idea of letting one individual jeopardize my ability to stay employed though....
    – user32882
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:43
  • 1
    HR will decide based on their policies if it's "minor" or not. Since you'd be raising a complaint after you requested the behavior to stop, they may take that more seriously. I hate to have to tell you this, but stop thinking this is minor - it's seriously enough that you're taking some kind of umbrage to it.
    – Makoto
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:56
  • 3
    Step 1: Ask him to stop calling you that name. Step 2: ... Don't plan a step two until learn from step 1
    – Peter
    Sep 4, 2018 at 19:16

I think there are other options you haven't listed.

A direct look at him with a 3-5 second pause, and then a short response like 'Really?' or a flat, emotionless 'Wow' often works wonders here. You aren't playing his game, and you aren't making a big deal out of it, but you're communicating that his behavior is unprofessional and unwelcome.

  • 5
    @user32882 where in Europe? I'm in Europe and I'm pretty sure this would make your disapproval really clear where I'm at.
    – Erik
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:32
  • 2
    I used this technique in France ('vraiment?') successfully.
    – John Feltz
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:33
  • 1
    @user32882 It all comes down to the tone you say it in. A surprized "wow" has a rise in voice right at the middle. If you want to communicate your lack of appreciation, keep the tone low throughout the whole word without the slightest rise. Also speak it slightly shorter than you would a surprised "wow".
    – Elmy
    Sep 1, 2018 at 6:26
  • 2
    Pretty sure it would be difficult to pull off if you've already been called it several times. Sep 3, 2018 at 6:00
  • 3
    it then becomes "wow really AGAIN"
    – WendyG
    Sep 3, 2018 at 11:15

Here's another choice, or a modification of one of your choices.

Respond to him, but in a pedantic manner, instead of a firm manner. So, when he says 'hey girl' your reply (as long-winded as you can):

Calling a man a 'girl' is a form of disrespect, both because you are calling the person a child, and even worse, a female child. But why has it been considered a negative characteristic for a man to be woman-like, and yet it has been fine for a woman to be man-like? That's only true if you still believe women are less than men. So, by calling me a girl in the context of being dismissive, you are actually saying that you are aligning yourself with the sexist old men of yesteryear, the ones that keep getting in trouble with HR because they are incapable of learning that men and women are now treated equally in the workplace. I feel no need to play these childish put-down games.

So, you are warning him (obliquely) that you are willing to go to HR if he continues, because he's being sexist. And, with any luck, you're boring him so much that he'll quit, just so he doesn't have to listen to the explanations of what he is doing.

  • I like this one too. Pretty funny in a stealthy way (; Of course he actually might be a bit of a misogynist so the threat with HR may hit home. Aug 31, 2018 at 22:47
  • Its pretty good but it carries a dimension of threat which I am not willing to display at this point. I'd rather, like @Makoto states, give him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he means no harm but just has a garbage sense of humor. If, however, the behavior persists after having spoken to him, I think it might justify taking more drastic measures...
    – user32882
    Sep 3, 2018 at 19:09

If he addresses you as "hey girl", just ask him why he does that. If his explanation is rather lame (as it seemingly will be), then tell him, "Your explanation is silly. Don't do that again."

If he does it again (which you seem to think he will), then redirect him to the earlier conversation, saying, "I told you not to address me that way, It is offensive. Could we just focus on the task at hand?"

If he persists in this, continue to respond in like manner, and then tell your boss, "I cannot get my work done because so-and-so insists on engaging me by calling me names. I tried being professional and telling him to just focus on the work, but he debates with me about why he can't call me names. Could you do something to make him behave professionally?"

There is no need to get upset or call HR. Just make it purely a "this guy is bothering me and stopping me from doing work" matter to your boss. If you are a large enough organization to have an HR arm, your boss will handle this for you.

  • This is also a good answer in my opinion
    – user32882
    Sep 3, 2018 at 13:01

First of all find out what is his intention of calling you hey girl. Is it an intended or a stupid macho thing? Or does he think it's innocent and funny?

Going to HR or telling him seriously or in front of others is the hard way. Don't expect things will be the same after that except he stops calling you girl. This should be a serious matter to think about. Even if it is the appropriate way to go, you have to work with him after that and thus should be prepared for the new situation. Are you?

A softer thing that only involves you two could be to make a nameplate and put it on your desk. If he starts again with hey girl you can mention something like, here I made that for you to remember my name.
Or something similar to show him in a humorous way that he isn't as funny as he thinks but you still give him a chance to change.


It sounds like you don't want to make some sort of formal action out of this, but would like it to stop.

I'd guess that the "hey girl" might just be a pop-culture reference, that he thinks is funny being used outside of it's more obvious context. So, while, perhaps not intentionally trying to disrespect or feminize you, it can still come across that way, mainly because it's not especially clever or witty, so it's easy for people to miss why he'd be so enamored by that greeting.

Not to date myself too much, but when I was a young person, people loved to parrot whatever Saturday Night Live lines were popular.... ad nauseum. Not funny, and when person "A" would say "Isn't that special," someone who didn't know they were doing their very unfunny riff on the Church Lady character might think they were insulting whatever the other person was saying, as opposed to trying to advertise how brilliantly clever they were by repeating (with zero similar context) a punch line from that week's show.

So, it might be something as benignly-intentioned as that, but, still, irritating and never-ending.

Co-worker is same gender as you, but older and in a position of more authority...... so, "grandma" seems to fit. Every "hey girl" should be met with "what's up, grandma?" (or "nanna," or whatever term of female grandparent affection is common for you). If he asks why you say that, reply that "girl" doesn't seem to fit for him.

The main advantage of this is it protects you from claims of being thin-skinned, or confrontational, you're merely joshing with him in the same spirit, but your response is definitely less respectful, but in the same vein, as his.

I think it will stop soon.

If his ego is bruised and he feels some idiot urge to escalate, then I'd go with a more serious option along the lines of "okay, enough" as suggested by others.

  • This wouldn't have been so bad, but I've decided I don't really care if others (especially this senior) think I'm thin skinned.... yes ... whatever ... I am thin skinned, I am easily distracted. Whatever you need to tell yourself to stop the behavior is fine by me. But thanks for your response... I like the grandma idea lol
    – user32882
    Sep 5, 2018 at 5:57
  • 1
    @user32882 - I have no problem, myself, with being viewed as "direct" or even confrontational, so more power to you. Hope your co-worker decides to be an adult and knock it off, in any case. Sep 5, 2018 at 15:59

How can I deal with this situation with as much tact as possible?

You don't need to tell him you find it offensive, he already knows it's offensive, he's not doing it by accident. You should have nipped it in the bud the first time.

Next time just tell him it's not funny and move forwards from his reply.

Either he realises his joke is stale or you can escalate if you feel the need. Or if it was me I'd just tell him to 'Stop being a duckhead mate, I don't go around calling you a bitch in front of everyone'.

  • 1
    Yeah you're right that I should have nipped it in the bud. But I think the strategy of calmly and firmly talking to him face to face is also good. He knows I don't like it and that he's playing with fire if he does it again.
    – user32882
    Sep 5, 2018 at 15:23
  • 1
    Direct is best, if it's just a joke then he knows you don't appreciate it and will stop. If it's more malicious at least you know, you can then decide what to do.
    – Kilisi
    Sep 5, 2018 at 16:26

Judging by your reactions and comments (not only to my answer) it is obvious, you're very uncomfortable with the situation and my suggestion in particular.
It was actually one of your options you listed, so I'm surprised by the complete dismissal

It seems you're overwhelmed by the situation, not seeing the relation to the work you're there to do (it indeed is most likely unrelated, on an inter personal level).
So I now recommend the second option I mentioned.
Have a candid, calm but assertive chat with him.
Tell him that his behavior offended (or puzzled/confused or hurt) you and you wish him to stop as it is inappropriate for work.
(in my opinion this could quite possibly alienate him more than you intend but I don't think you want to or could pull off what I recommended)

(It is also an answer which was already given and my intentions were to present an alternative that I know from experience is less awkward / confrontational and has good chances of stopping his behavior.)

If he was a "little more" than just joking around (i.e. still amicable but with ulterior motives,conscientiously or not) he'll most likely deflect and may or may not stop for a while or find other ways to tease you.
This is when you'll have to escalate the situation to HR and / or superiors.

If you're lucky, depending on his intentions on why he did it and his personality there always is a chance that he'll apologize, stop and you can put this behind you.

I leave my original answer up for others who may be inclined to follow it.
(it started as just a few lines but during the discussion I felt, more clarifying language would facilitate understanding my recommendation, so apologies for the TL;DR)

If you're a male by birth and heterosexual:
(see at end if you're transgender or homosexual)

This is still quite usual banter in Europe among male friends and colleagues in male dominated industries and you have only few options.
Confront, ignore or play along. Pick your poison

  • If you pick play along (my recommendation):
    Ask him "your place or mine babe".

  • Or, if you want to play along in a more playful manner:
    Reply by calling him sweetie, darling, girlfriend or the like

As you mentioned, I had similar banter or witnessed it and responding in kind usually has the most success.

Make fun of him and signal at the same time by going way beyond his level of "joke" that he is being ridiculous.

Both above approaches show that you don't acknowledge his possible attempt at asserting dominance over you (he Tarzan, you Jane) and shows him that you regard him as equal and are not bothered by his misgendering you.
However the first is more overtly demonstrating your displeasure with being called a girl.

He'll either find it funny in which case he might or might not continue, be appalled by your homosexual advances and stop calling you girl (or start slandering you, in which case HR is your friend) or answer with a location.

In which case you know he was hitting on you and you didn't get his obvious signals (;

According to your sexualitiy and your interest in him you may now enjoy your new relationship or tell him that you're flattered but not actually interested or heterosexual.

  • As a serious note though, if you really think it is too much, put on a stern look and have a serious word with him, so that he understands from your body language alone that you won't tolerate it anymore.

He should stop, unless he is a bully, in which case go to HR.

Don't let it bother you that much that it distracts you from your work.
He might be picking up on that and use it to entertain himself.
I've been misgendered by accident on the phone and in person on purpose.
It never even remotely bothered me because I understood that it was in an attempt at humor (be it a dismal one at best).

Make sure to recognize if he is being malicious or amicable in a joking manner.

Depending on his character confrontation could be encouraging him much more than playing along and signaling that it's getting old and boring.
If he is malicious, make him understand you won't have any of it and if that doesn't help, go to HR.

If you're transgender or homosexual this has very different implications and he is offending you either on purpose or out of ignorance and you need to communicate to him that his behavior is inacceptable.

If he persists talk to HR.

Oh and if you both are homosexual or bi, he still might be coming on to you by calling you girl, but I wager if you were gay, you probably would have picked up on that.

P.S.: sorry for the TL;DR but thanks to the downvotes I felt the need to explain more than I thought would be required to understand what I was getting at.

I almost went into explaining why certain male archetypes feel the need to reassert their masculinity and which means they employ in doing so (including feminizing another male which they may perceive as a potential competitor or threat) but I think this is way beyond the scope of an answer on a Q&A website like this (;
... if anything it would belong to pshychology or social studies.

  • 1
    This only further exacerbates what is already an unpleasant work interaction.
    – Makoto
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:41
  • nah, it doesn't. Unless he is absolutely malignant, in which case HR is the correct place to go. Aug 31, 2018 at 20:48
  • Maybe it doesn't but it definitely distracts from what we should all be focused on, which is work. Instead of thinking about delivering my job in the best possible manner Im now busy thinking about witty comments to throw back at him...
    – user32882
    Aug 31, 2018 at 20:51
  • It is still quite usual banter among male friends and colleagues and you have only few options. Confront, ignore or play along. Pick your poison Aug 31, 2018 at 20:54
  • 1
    no problem. I appreciate your input. But the fact is we are not at war, we are trying to be a productive team at a workplace. He is not an opponent, but rather someone I should learn to work with and build trust with
    – user32882
    Sep 4, 2018 at 3:37

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