I quit my job of 5 years after enduring years of overwork and sexism. In the past year, 7 women quit under similar circumstances and an additional one was forced out. Three of us had work-stress-related medical problems that caused us to seek medical care. The common cause of this was a toxic combination of:

  • high workloads for women
  • women not being listened to, particularly when discussing boundaries on their workloads
  • a culture of public blame if the work was not finished well, on time, and on budget
  • women often having to route decisions through peer male colleagues in order to get project work done.

It was awful.

Still, I spent five years of my career there, often did good work (conditions not-withstanding), and I like my boss as a person. In my exit interviews, I did not hold back but I also protected my boss by not mentioning him even though he is somewhat, but by no means solely, at fault for the conditions that affected me.

This workplace also suffers from exceptionalism. It is internationally well-known, generally well-regarded, and can do no wrong. When people quit, even though they are often very frank about their reasons, upper management often finds something to blame them for that makes it seem as though they weren't a good fit. For example, one woman was severely overworked and endured the conditions mentioned above. All her reports were as well, and they were depressed. She developed related physical medical problems, took a leave of absence, and quit shortly after. The response among upper management was that she was a problem because she was not collaborative enough in her decision-making.

My boss and I are having a final meeting. Because of the conflict between liking him as a person and wanting to wish him well vs. the mixed emotions of anger and shame I am experiencing as a result of working there, I don't know how to approach this meeting. From a self-preservation point of view, I need to get a good recommendation from him for future job opportunities. In terms of the recommendation, I am afraid he will resort to the culture of blame that permeates the institution and I will be disadvantaged in the job search and/or the salary I am able to ask for in the future.

To make matters worse, before I left I handed off one project to a co-worker. It is a challenging technical project that I worked very hard on. On my way out the door, I noticed that he was making technical mistakes. I will likely be blamed for these because he is a male with a swagger, and the common perception is that he is technically brilliant. The funny thing is that this is not true. Still, I will take the hit.

My teenage daughter told me to talk about 1. what a great manager he is, and 2. all the good projects I've done. Does anyone else have good advice for this final meeting?

  • 3
    I know this is not an exit interview, but these answers might be helpful: How much should I say in an exit interview?
    – mcknz
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 3:07
  • TonyEnnis is exactly right. "My boss and I are having a final meeting." @angela actually why structurally is this meeting happening? Who called it and who organized it?
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 19:02
  • @TonyEnnis I do not have a new job. In fact, I've been laid out coping with stress-related health problems that make my days a bit dysfunctional.
    – angela
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 21:02
  • @Fattie We decided on this meeting together when I announced my resignation. I had a lot of work to do to finish the multiple projects I was on and roles I held, so we agreed to have it when all was said and done. I already had two exit interviews: one with HR and one with a higher-up executive. This isn't meant to be an exit interview. The tone is more of a friendly good-bye.
    – angela
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 21:08
  • 1
    @angela I understand your feelings. But there is nothing you can do to protect your reputation more than being positive in this meeting. There is approximately a 0% chance that any other approach will be superior.
    – David
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 21:32

5 Answers 5


Don't try and fix anything - you've resigned, it's about to be in your past. Leave it there and focus on the future.

Since you want to maintain a good relationship with this manager in the future, just have a nice relaxing chat with him. Maybe reminice about good times or wins you've had together over the last five years.

Don't worry about "taking a hit" reputationally after you've left. It's not going to happen. Even if people around the office blame you for things after you've left, who cares? You're long gone, and anything they say won't follow you on some kind of permanant record - you'll get a fresh start with your new employer.

  • Yes, focus on where your life is going, this place and people are already old news. Just get out as smoothly as possible.
    – Kilisi
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 4:01
  • 2
    One tiny caution, don't "reminisce" or engage in anything, at all, which is personal or emotional. If you can't cancel this strange meeting, pop your head in the door, say "I'm off, bye!" and leave. If you must talk for a few minutes, stick to completely empty smalltalk, and leave.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 13:20
  • Having thought about this more, and noticing TonyEnnis comment, I would strongly recommend do not go to this meeting. (1) it's plain weird that you are having such a meeting (2) there has to be some, probably nefarious, reason the company wants you to have this meeting - they are "up to something". (3) literally nothing good can come of such a strange meeting. either OP will give away information they do not need to know, or OP will be drawn in to "emotional BS", or OP will be "faked in to a foul" - which would be disastrous. Do not go to this meeting, it is ALL downside.
    – Fattie
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 19:04
  • Or if you go to this meeting, record it.
    – David R
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 0:43

The workplace you describe has a number of serious problems. If things continue in this fashion, I would not be surprised if they found themselves at the wrong end of a discrimination lawsuit within the next few years. In fact, it's possible that you might have a claim against them for constructive dismissal, depending on the specific circumstances, exactly how much of the abuse you have documented, and your local labor laws; from the tone of your question, I assume that you are not interested in pursuing it. Regardless...

Their problems are not your problems.

Keep the discussion light and do not waste your time trying to "fix" the company which you are about to leave. Tell your former manager that you wanted to take your career in a new direction. If you already have a new job, emphasize the opportunity you will be taking on there. You can also say it feels like it will be a "better culture fit" or similar euphemisms. If you don't yet have a job, it will be a little more difficult, but you can emphasize the need for a change, or the desire to "move on with your career" (this excuse works especially well if they have failed to promote you adequately). You can also cite "cultural differences" or "personal reasons" without going into specifics ("I'm sorry, but I don't feel comfortable discussing it").

It's possible your manager will give into the company's blameful culture and disparage you in the future. However, on the one hand, you probably can't stop this from happening, and on the other, one former manager saying vaguely nasty things about you is not going to kill your career. So don't worry about it, and instead focus on your next job (or on finding your next job).

Finally: If you are interested in pursuing a constructive dismissal claim, you should not take advice from strangers on the internet; consult an attorney and do exactly as they say. It is very likely that your attorney will tell you to answer no questions other than confirming your final date, paycheck details, etc. If you tell the company that "everything was fine" and then turn around and sue them, they will use it against you.

  • I would definitely not say "cultural differences". Just say that it's time for you to move on to your next adventure. You aren't obligated to say where you're going or why. Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 16:20

I have had a similar experience, although the workplace I left wasn’t quite as toxic as the one you described. While I left because of the toxicity, I was really sad because before it went bad, it was a really great team to work on.

My approach when talking with my direct manager and his boss was to only talk about the positive reasons for my departure. My new job was much closer to my family, so that became the primary reason I was leaving. That way I could talk about my excitement about the new opportunity and say goodbye to the people I was going to miss without having to talk about how the bad work environment was ruining my health.

My direct manager knew that wasn’t the whole story, but didn’t press the issue. They quit along with a number of others after I did. It’s better for everyone if you just make a clean break and leave on as positive a note as you can.


My advice:

  1. Wish him well and say goodbye, offer nothing of substance.

  2. See a lawyer and save any documentation you currently have before losing access.

If you have a case, then you can make things better for other women that currently work there and will work there in the future. You seemed convinced of this company's invulnerability and that they will bad mouth your efforts. Why not do what you can to fight that?

The meeting will result in nothing. A lawsuit might result in many things that you seem to desire: a more equitable position for women and attention brought to the company's poor employment practices.

As you state you are not the only one. There is only one thing you can do to bring about change.


After some thought I have added these comments:

Would strongly recommend do not go to this meeting.

  1. It's plain weird that to have such a meeting.

  2. There has to be some, probably nefarious, reason the company wants you to have this meeting - they are "up to something". Nobody arranged this meeting "for no reason" or "just socially".

  3. Literally nothing good can come of such a strange meeting. Either

  • OP will give away information the company should not know, or
  • OP will be drawn in to "emotional BS", or
  • OP will be "faked in to a foul" - which would be disastrous.

Do not go to this strange meeting, it is ALL downside.

My boss and I are having a final meeting.

There would seem to be three issues here,

  1. If at all possible, simply don't have the meeting. Send an extremely short email, "I'm busy so won't be at that talk at 10, thanks again for the five years, bye." Another clever approach is "pop your head in the door" and "Saying bye, I'm off" and then simply don't go to this "meeting".

This is someone you will never see again in your life, and who will never think about you or utter your name once you walk out the door. The meeting is wholly fatuous.

  1. If you do have the meeting, say nothing of substance. Small talk only. Have a target length of two minutes absolute max and then excuse yourself. You have nothing, whatsoever, to gain from this meeting and anything you say or do can only work against you.

  2. Have to absolutely subtract the personal and emotional. The question refers often to the Boss in a personal level. It's not high school, it's a workplace. 30 seconds after you walk out the door, the boss in question won't remember the name of the employe, and will likely never utter it again. Absolutely subtract these misplaced personal aspects.

Imagine for some reason you're having a short meeting with, say, a local politician named Jane Smith. You'd meet, discuss the matter at hand politely, say goodbye and leave. This is exactly the attitude you must have in this odd short meeting (which shouldn't happen anyway).

OP mentions issues such as "getting a good recommendation". There is absolutely nothing which can be done one way or the other about such issues this at this stage. The oddball meeting will achieve absolutely nothing regarding such issues, either way.

The idea that this meeting "matters" is unfortunately just emphasizing the misguided emotional/personal aspect. Eliminate it at a stroke by not going.

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