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Let's assume I need to find an employee to act as a middleman/ link between two teams: IT and my team.

Whereas my team (and most of the company) is quite a nice place to work in in terms of diversity, cooperation and lack of hostility, the IT at my company is the nightmare:

  • There are no women there. I don't mean that women don't constitute 50% of the employees. I mean: there's literally no woman there. Not one.
  • The atmosphere is extremely "testosterony". Jokes are told that should never be told in the workplace
  • Women aren't treated seriously during discussions, their input is neglected.

I don't have any power over the other team and talks with their manager brought nothing so far. Their manager is part of the problem. I know them from projects we cooperated on. I've worked in enough places to say that the IT dept at my current company is worse in terms of sexism than... Probably all of them.

Now, I need to employ someone who will act as a link between the two teams.

I'm now about to interview a female candidate who seems smart and whose experience is ok. But I caught myself thinking: "If I employ a woman, it will be hell for her to work with the other team and the probability she will resign soon is high".

I know this thought is totally sexist, but I'm a woman myself and I know how super difficult it is to work in a team where everybody is against you just because you don't have the "right" reproductive organs and especially with this team.

So I'm wondering what the best way to deal with this situation would be. I know I could mention to the candidates that it's not an easy position and ask the how they tackled difficulties in the past, but I'm skeptical when it comes to their realisation of the potential difficulties of this position. It's just worse than what is accepted in most companies.

Please note that this person would need to work with both teams about 50-50% of the time.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Mar 1 at 15:35
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    Should... country? be listed? Culture and local laws I think would affect answers... – WernerCD Mar 2 at 19:39

13 Answers 13

311

Due to legal implications I would not let this factor into a hiring decision at all. I would, however, make sure that she knows that this should be a consideration in her accepting or declining. By not being open you would potentially set her up for a job she may be miserable at. Phrasing this is also kind of tricky so I'd suggest meeting both teams that she'd be working with as part of the hiring process.

You'll be spending about 50% of your time working in the IT team and 50% with my team. I'd like to book a couple hours of on-site time to meet with both to get a feeling for how well you'll click with them both. The teams have very different internal cultures and it's important to me that you are comfortable working with both.

This keeps you from saying anything that opens you up to legal issues while allowing her a chance for a peek behind the curtain.

Additionally, as per comments, it would be a good idea to extend this offer as a part of the hiring process regardless of gender of the applicant. Given the "time away from task" nature of this for the teams involved, I would only do this as a final check for your chosen candidate as a preliminary to offering the job. If that candidate falls through then the same offer should be extended to the next chosen candidate and continued until the position is filled.

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    Meeting the teams should be mandatory when interviewing someone to liaison between them. – l0b0 Mar 1 at 4:11
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    It's important to point out that this should be offered to all candidates, male or female, otherwise it could be (quite rightly) perceived as discrimination. – Pharap Mar 1 at 5:47
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    Instead of this answer, why not simply involve some IT manager and/or team manager (depending on size of IT department) in the hiring process? Would save doing a, paraphrased: "Hey, we're normal, but them nerds there are weird, but you'll get used to them or quit" before he/she has the chance to form their own opinion. – rkeet Mar 1 at 9:30
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    Doing the same for everyone isn't just a compliance issue either. The way the culture is described, some (perceived) male candidates would appreciate the heads-up as well - possibly not to an equivalent degree, but still. – cloudfeet Mar 1 at 9:36
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    @Pharap Very much this - I've turned down jobs because the culture was too brogrammer and I'm just not okay with that kind of bull. While the culture is probably worse for women, it's important to also give men the opportunity to run away from toxic culture. – David Rice Mar 1 at 15:32
103

First off, don't assume that the woman you intend to hire is too weak to handle herself.

We have two women working here, and I wouldn't want to take on either one in a verbal conflict. One of them could probably take me in a physical conflict too, and curses far more than I do. It could just be an environment that's a bit rough and tumble.

I've worked in construction, where the male to female ration is much higher than in IT, and when women actually come to work on a crew, the men's behavior changes.

Second, don't assume the team will react poorly. There is such a thing as a self-fulfilling prophecy. As I've said, I've been in workplaces where it went from all male, to having women working with us. Behaviors change when teams go from all male to mixed. I've seen it personally.

Third, avoid any bias on your own part..... This line disturbs me a bit.

•The atmosphere is extremely "testosterony". Jokes are told that should never be told in the workplace

That could be perceived as a sexist point of view as it could imply that there's something inherently wrong with male hormones, and this team that you want to integrate may pick up on that. You don't want the send them the wrong message.

Look at it this way: if the behavior is unacceptable, why is it being accepted?

Honestly, if it's that bad, it should be addressed before hiring ANYONE, male or female, to that team until the problem is corrected

You need to step back, stop making this men vs women, and make it about building a healthy team. I know that it's hard to do, especially when you feel a kinship, having gone through things yourself. I tend to be overly defensive with regards to other people with autism, so I know I am biased towards "normal" people, and can be overly protective of people with autism, even to the point of being unnecessarily hostile to "normal" people. Try not to fall into that trap.

If you anticipate problems, you'll get them. IF you go in with the attitude that you're going to be building a healthy team, you will build a healthy team.

If any issues arise, address them as they arise, and don't accept nonsense.

Step back, reevaluate the situation, make changes that need to be made, correct behavior NOW and THEN introduce the new teammate. But do not allow your own biases to creep in. Hire the person, and deal with any issues that arise swiftly, and harshly, with trips to HR if necessary.

Try not to assume the worst, and put your best foot forward. Also, whenever ANYONE is introduced into a new team, there is a period of adjustment. This is not necessarily gender related, although it could be. When you're different in any way from the norm of an existing group, you're treated differently until they get to know you.

I've gone through this with my autism, and I've gone through this with my hearing. People didn't know what to make of me at first. Your new person may go through the same. Things may be rough at first, but that doesn't mean that things won't work themselves out.

Again, if there's anything that needs to be addressed with HR, don't hold back, but if it's just the normal feeling people out, don't worry about it, things will sort out.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mister Positive Feb 28 at 21:58
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    I agree with almost everything, in this answer, but the line That could be perceived as a sexist point of view as it could imply that there's something inherently wrong with male hormones seems a bit... off here. Sure, some more exact nomenclature could have been used by the OP - but is going the full reverse-sexist-men-vs-women thing helping this answer in any way? – fgysin reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 10:01
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    @fgysin Yes it is. And I would find such a comment by a work colleague sexist and offensive. – paulj Mar 4 at 15:12
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    @fgysin there is no reverse-sexism, only sexism. Using harmful stereotypes only causes unnecessary conflict in an already delicate situation which needs to be addressed and remedied, not exacerbated. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 15:15
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    @fgysin yeah, pretty much everything that attacks men in general is actually super toxic. I read those comments and thought the workplace sounded fun and I also didn't see why it should be assumed that all women would universally condemn the behavior and not want to work there or work there suffering through a silent hell for fear of saying anything. Lots of women are rough and tumble. Rough and tumble is fun most of the time. Plus, it's not like there aren't legal and professional ways to address unprofessional behavior that don't involve making men lest "testosterony". – user53651 Mar 4 at 18:32
52

If 50% of the recruit's work will be with a different team and function, then you need to have your recruits be interviewed by someone in that team as well. That could be by having 2 interviewers, or an extra interview stage.

In your case that has a huge benefit, because

  • if the other teams manager is going to be a jerk to them, the candidate will have a chance to find out.

  • if the candidate is endorsed by the other team's manager, they will be much more likely to back up their decision by not sabotaging it once a recruit begins work. Right now they have no motivation to do so. Having agency and a hand in a decision makes people feel more responsible for it, and more likely to be unsupportive of things that undermine it.

  • You can throw things into the interview which will be picked up by the other team's manager and may, given the context, be taken a bit more seriously, even though they are completely normal things to say. For example, "The culture in our teams vary. John here is best places to describe that for his team, do you want to say a few words, John?" Or "If we make an offer after the interview process, John will be your liaison for integration with and working within his team, won't you, John?"

Right now it sounds like the other team will just get whoever is recruited, foisted on them. They have zero motivation because they don't have a say in (or any kind of part ownership of) the process.

So this recruit will be an "outsider" to them... and a part of what you're describing is going to be related to the subtle walls and hostility of an entrenched insular clique brushing off and ripping down outsiders. In that context, anything that can be seized on, will be. By making the shared ownership of the decision explicit, that frame gets challenged.

As an aside, if their manager says "no way, has wrong body parts" or "I'm afraid they wouldn't fit in", that gives you a perfect opportunity to point to the technical and other merits, and begin a process where they can start to see the problem, or the issue becomes made explicit between you so it can finally be escalated to HR or someone senior, in a useful manner.

At the least, you get a chance to explain the problem in a context where it needs to be raised (and can legitimately be raised again if you feel they are acting wrongly and exposing the company to risk) instead of over 10 minutes lunch when it can be forgotten soon after.

At a pinch, if still not happy they are doing right, or they're fudging their replies or minimising the issue, you could even follow up by email, "John, I'm far from happy with our conversation about the recruitment shortlist. As you will recall..." and set it out, including their responses, and "Because of the concern of legal exposure if we do this wrongly, I have CCed this to/I'd like input from..." (HR, someone senior, legal team if you have one?) to force the issue, and again, its legitimate and effective, but you couldn't do it over a casual lunchtime chat so easily.

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    Great answer (the only +1 I gave). I'd also point out that having technical knowledge might be necessary for this role and the lack of it might be the real reason the IT team is cooperating so poorly. Maybe having some basic IT knowledge should be part of the requirements? That would definitely need an IT person to be involved in the selection. – Rad80 Mar 1 at 10:29
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If you're in the US, you are in very murky waters if you start treating applicants differently because of their perceived sex. According to the EEOC, that includes formal inquiries as well as informal. From the EEOC's list of prohibited practices:

Although state and federal equal opportunity laws do not clearly forbid employers from making pre-employment inquiries that relate to, or disproportionately screen out members based on race, color, sex, national origin, religion, or age, such inquiries may be used as evidence of an employer's intent to discriminate unless the questions asked can be justified by some business purpose.

I am not a lawyer, but I have some experience with laws around discrimination in housing, which are similar. In housing, having different pointed conversations with people according to a protected category is generally a giant waving red flag that you are running afoul of US law.

As someone who has been a woman in tech, though, it's a frustrating, no-win situation to be hiring people into a hostile workplace. So, what to do?

  • Continue to ask your questions about how the interviewee dealt with challenging work situations in the past.
  • If your HR department is halfway decent, they'll want to know about this behavior. If your IT department is so bad that you're considering not hiring women, they are likely creating a hostile work environment, which opens your company to a lot of liability. The HR department also may have ideas for how to conduct interviews without discrimination.
  • On that note, ask experts in maintaining diversity in bad situations. AAUW, Hire More Women in Tech, and many other groups have come up with excellent suggestions for just this scenario.

But, again, the assumptions you're making are unfortunately explicitly prohibited by the EEOC. You cannot base employment decisions on assumptions that are based on someone's sex, race, national origin, age, and other protected categories. Even if your heart is in the right place.

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    I think the way to apply this answer is to consider that it can very easily be uncomfortable for men to work in places where jokes that shouldn't be told are told, even if those jokes aren't about men. Have the same pointed conversation with every candidate about the culture of the team that's being liased with. – Erin Anne Mar 1 at 0:19
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    "You cannot base employment decisions on assumptions that are based on someone's sex, race, national origin, age, and other protected categories." - You can. It's even in your quote at the beginning. But you can discriminate only if it is "justified by some business purpose". There are several cases where you can legitimately base your hiring on "protected categories". (As the most obvious example, if you hire an actor to play Napoleon, you can legally restrict the applicants to middle-aged white men). It just so happens that IT jobs don't fulfill this criteria. – Val Mar 1 at 5:39
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    @ErinAnne I think that could be an answer itself. – Notts90 Mar 1 at 10:53
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You want to make the situation clear when you offer the position (if not in the interview before). There are some women who will decide the job isn't for them. But there are others who would be willing to take the job and that situation. You want to know before hiring this candidate which one she thinks she is, and let her decide if this is a good job for her.

If she decides this is a job she wants to take on, then you offer support and ways for her to mitigate the problem, perhaps by going above their manager when necessary. (As a women in tech, I still believe that most of the most sub-human of co-workers can learn to respect competence.) But for the actual figuring out how to make that happen - that will have to be up to the person you hire. They just need to know going in that that is part of the job, perhaps the biggest part.

If the best person for this job is a woman, you absolutely want to hire her. Because as long as the only people they need to respect and work with are men, and their manager supports them in that, they will continue their present behavior. If they must work with a woman, there is some hope that the right hire can start changing that dynamic.

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    I wrote this in my answer, but if you're in the US, if you make the situation clear to women, you must also make it clear to men. – RCA Feb 28 at 19:23
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    @RCA Does that still apply if you make the situation clear after you present an offer? I would only ever bring it up with someone after we had decided we want to hire them. – David K Feb 28 at 19:26
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    @DavidK Interesting question - I don't know, but my guess is that if your practice systematically causes some protected class of people to not accept a job offer, that's illegal. – RCA Feb 28 at 19:27
  • @RCA Wait—but in this situation, giving the same explanation to all applicants of all genders would also likely result in a protected class of people being much less likely to accept the job offer. The explanation is the same, but it has vastly different consequences depending on the applicant's gender. – Wowfunhappy Feb 28 at 22:29
  • Wowfunhappy - I dunno. I do think that the answer @RCA made is probably the better one. – thursdaysgeek Feb 28 at 23:17
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I agree with @RichardU's answer, but I want to add something.

Actually having a woman on the team could have a large impact on how the team behaves. I'm a woman in an all male team and I have noticed how my team changed. Sure, at first they were kind of testing me out and being harsh, but as soon as they got to know me and saw that I can stand my ground and have the skills needed for the job, everything changed for the better.

My manager has also told me the group dynamics have changed and the atmosphere in the team has improved. Now I guess this is not all because I am a woman, but sometimes it can 'soften things up' a lot. You don't have to be one of the guys to get along with the guys, is my experience.

Bottomline: It can hugely benefit a team to have some more diversity, but you need to figure out if the woman you are interviewing would be an OK fit for the team.

3

If you are anticipating your potential new hires having problems, Take a few measures to give them a helping hand.

Let your new employee know the procedures for dealing with anything untoward (not just the inevitable problems) and be prepared to back them up if need be. Let them know your complaints procedure. This should really be part of your onboarding procedure for anyone.

Also: why are you only dealing with this now? And why are you only trying to deal with your new employee adapting to the problem rather than the problem itself?

You do mention that it's not your team and that you have no control over their behaviour. You also don't mention how far their behaviour goes so I'm going to assume they're incel-y but no (known) sexual harrassment.

Why have you not gone to HR about these creating a hostile work environment? This team sounds like the kind of lawsuit/#metoo ticking time bomb that HR is made to deal with. You have women in your company having problems with these guys right now. Your company could potentially be one lawsuit or hashtag away from being buried.

In summary:

You need to go to HR about this team. Now.

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    OP already said they’ve tried dealing with the problem through official means. – Notts90 Mar 1 at 10:57
  • @Notts90 Right. I didn't see that in the question – 520 says Reinstate Monica Mar 1 at 16:50
  • @Notts90 They said they went through official means, but in my mind, that might not have included HR. They could have gone up the management chain of the IT department, and that IT dept manager might have responded poorly, hence "the manager is part of the problem". – Edwin Buck Mar 4 at 5:14
  • @EdwinBuck yeah I'm not going to count an informal discussion with the manager as 'official'. Official, in my mind, starts with things being put on record. – 520 says Reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 6:58
2

Being a link between departments is one of the most difficult jobs you can imagine, especially if the person has no authority over either.

As a job it is just a shifting of responsibility off the shoulders of the people who really should be communicating - the managers.

Who do they go to coffee with? They are neither fish nor fowl.

Whether a man or a woman, they will have to be tough and have an exceptional ability to handle people of all types and all genders - not by dominating but by having a great sense of humour and innate likeability. Think of the school-teacher who could take charge just by walking into the room.

You have to explain this to any candidate and make sure they have the experience and self-belief to cope. Otherwise you are sending them into a snake-pit. They will become the target for all grievances between the two departments.

Part of the interview should be a simulation of dealing with a difficult person/negotiation, just as they do with airline stewards and customer support people in stores.

Example: Department X wants IT to revise their website but IT say they are already working to capacity and anyway the website is fine. How do you deal with this? (Word to the wise - IT departments always want to be developing new stuff not maintaining or improving old stuff.)

0

Seems like one way to deal with it is to ignore the actual sexism part, and simply interview candidates with the caveat that one of the teams simply is difficult to work with. You should ask the candidates how they work with difficult teams, how they handle communication issues, etc. Difficult teams exist all over the place. It just so happens that this IT team expresses their difficulties with off-color jokes and lack of gender diversity.

Aside from that, sexist and/or bullying behavior is a problem for any company and it should be addressed ASAP. If it's a known issue at your company that one team is difficult to work with, that sounds like a productivity and efficiency issue that is costing your company money. I don't know why this isn't taken more seriously and corrected. Maybe no one knows? This should be a management priority, if it's causing other issues that impact work.

0

Boy, so many answers that either don’t take sexism seriously (“I’m sure they’ll change”) or uses EEO as a reason to not recognize and take reasonable steps to prepare someone to deal with sexism. I guess that’s why it persists so tenaciously.

You are completely right to want to prepare the candidate for their working environment. You don’t want to poison them against it, and you also want to prepare others (a man going into that role who was against sexism would probably immediately get angry and have issues as well).

Here’s how I do it (not just for sexist environments, but difficult environments in general). For example, yesterday I was interviewing a compliance candidate who was going to need to work with engineering groups. At least one of those dev managers is... blunt, possibly to the point of being considered feral. So I was straight with him and used it as an interview question. “Not all teams understand and value compliance activities. There’s a real chance you will bring something to them and some team manager will look you in the eye and tell you ‘That’s stupid and we’re not going to do that. Go away.’ He might even yell at you. How have youu handled similar disagreements before?” So I am not only a) warning him that this isn’t going to be all peaches and cream and management isn’t going to fix that all the time, and b) I am gauging his response to see if I think he’ll be successful in that position. I didn’t name the specific manager or dwell on it (he’ll find out soon enough, since he passed the interview).

Now, this is a little more fraught, because if you just ask “So let’s say you went over to a client team and they were playing “pin the nipple on the inflatable sex doll” or whatever it is those guys get up to, there’s a real concern on the interviewee’s part that you’re trying to detect and weed out narcs. You are a woman but of course many members of underrepresented groups turn into vigorous gatekeepers themselves so the candidate can’t assume you’re safe. but if you ask a question about “how would you deal with a client group that’s completely dismissive of you” or the like, white males will answer blussfilly oblivious to the subtext, but others will get what you’re saying between the lines and both answer and get the lay of the land. Then make sure you give them an opportunity to ask questions.

Having them also interview with the manager or members of the other team is good, but usually people can put on a good face for a half hour so unless they open the interview with “how’s it going little lady” it may or may not really be effective for this purpose (but could be effective for other reasons, I mean I always have customers interview my candidates just for buyin/fit, but I have to take their feedback with a grain of salt if I think it’s biased).

0

There's a lot of good answers already; I can only add a little bit.

Make sure that, whoever you end up hiring, a woman, a man, or a little green Martian with antennae and polka dots, actually has skills for the job.

Related to this - what actually is your IT team? I have seen companies where "IT" means essentially server administrators, simple hardware maintenance, basically, internal computer support; this kind of a job is reasonably simple. I have also seen companies that call their software development teams "IT" - which is wrong, but that's what they call them.

The second case requires much more skill and experience.

It would be good that someone from each team with which this person will need to cooperate, participates in the interviews, and also tests the skills of this person in practice. At least, with software, testing someone's skills is an unbiased way - the code works or it doesn't, and if it does, then you check for clarity, organization, documentation, reusability, all such stuff.

I have known women who actually had skills at their IT jobs.... and had no problems with their colleagues. I have also known women who were diversity hires, hired for a job way above their skills, and didn't even bother to learn it, but counted on that the company will always keep them employed. While it might have kept them employed, it's not a way to get respect.

If you hire a person with actual skills and good attitude, you will have done your part of the job. If the other teams have problem with it... it's their fault.

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My assumption is that you are in the US and therefore have lawyers and no British sense of humour.

However, if you were in the UK you could broach the topic of the sexism that is at issue by impersonating one of the uncouth sexist beasts in the other department, doing so straight off the bat to get this out of the way. It does sound like you do need help with the diversity and that is a major part of the role/dynamics of what is going on in your inter-team situation.

I overheard the opening line of an interview in an all-male warehouse where a French lady turned up. My legs turned to jelly as I could not believe what I heard. It was literally a question about whether she had any plans for getting pregnant any time soon. It got worse after that. I was shocked, deeply so.

Since you are female then you could open with your best impersonation of one of your sexist male team mates, pop some awful question, e.g. the plans for pregnancy, then cut that conversation off so she doesn't have to answer. In so doing you can get on to some denouement whilst also being honest about how some of your colleagues are.

People have nerves at an interview situation, so if you play it like a scene out of The Office for a brief moment, you will be able to openly joke about the uncouth ones in the other team. If you were male then you would not be able to pull this off, but female and in the UK, then you could.

In the denouement phase you can explain that you expect Team Testosterone to take a few weeks to get used to having someone female on their team. You can explain your goals for diversity and that you would very much like it to work. There is also a probationary period with most work in the UK and you can explain that if Team Testosterone refuse to grow up then you new female hire can make an amicable departure.

It might also help if your new hire had the boss in Team Testoterone as some type of manager. Managers are supposed to look out for their staff an support them. This can change the dynamic considerably, she may report to you for some things but be administratively in the other team. This can break down the us and them aspect. The truth is that a lot of last-bastions-of-male-chauvinism prefer having women in the team even and change their ways albeit not totally. There is also the matter of your fears regarding how it is to work out, but, if you can joke about the sexism and say that if it is a problem then there will be some convenient probationary period way of resolving things.

In the US you can't drop through these registers of off-kilter British humour to make a joke about a serious situation and then to a frank chat as it goes against cultural norms. Hence things like the US version of The Office.

-5

I would do the interview as normal and if a woman is the best candidate then I would hire her. If the situation is as you say it could be the beginning of the end of the IT team or their behavior.

Sometimes you need to stir the pot to get to a better place. If it goes as bad is you think it might then the woman might even appreciate, in hindsight, the chance to live through two months of hell and end up with a million dollar sexual harassment settlement.

Honestly with you being a woman you could have made something happen by filing harassment claims to HR and your local equivalent of a labor board. I believe I would have if I was a woman in that situation.

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