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I recently spent two weeks at my company's offices in Budapest, Hungary. However in the open-floor office of forty or so people, there are two prominently displayed posters of models happily taking off their clothes (not showing anything, but they're half naked). Personally, I find this really uncomfortable because I think it's objectifying women and it doesn't seem to reflect well on the professional nature of the company. Plus it's a male-dominated company (only two women out of forty in that office) and I'm concerned that it may discourage women from working with us if that's the first thing they see.

That said, there are several factors that are making me hesitant to talk about it with HR:

  • I'm a man. I feel like if I were a woman, I could say that I felt like I was being objectified and thus the office was an uncomfortable workplace. I don't think they would take it seriously if I, being a man, say it. Sad but true.
  • I'm the first full-time American employee in the company and this is a European office. I've heard the stereotype that Americans are too "prudish" and are too uptight about nudity compared to Europeans, which I suppose could be the reason I'm uncomfortable about it (although I would say it's for other reasons). Although I'd like to think that a company would respect the cultural differences of all employees, I'm concerned that being the only American among 40 Hungarians will mean that it will be seen as an unreasonable request because to them it is perfectly normal and that I'm just a "prudish American."
  • It's not my permanent office. I have worked a total of three weeks in that office over the past four months. Although it was "my office" during that time, it's not mine for the other three months that I wasn't there. I'm not sure if it's appropriate to request that they take down a poster they often see, but I rarely see.
  • It's a poster from one of our clients. Our company has maybe a dozen of them from a variety of retail industries, such as home decor, winter clothing, and general merchandise. These two posters are from our only fashion client. We don't have posters, or indeed any publicly displayed memorabilia, from any of our other clients. It seems to me that they are there solely for the sex appeal with the rationale that it was from a client. I'm concerned that this rationale, weak as it may be, will justify its presence over my concern.

Although my situation may be somewhat unique, I'm hoping that the reasons behind my indecision are general enough that I can get a good answer. For a variety of cultural reasons, plus the fact that I'm not a regular in the office, I'm not sure if I have the right to bring up that a part of the office environment makes me uncomfortable, or if I would be taken seriously if I did (whether that fear is legitimate or not). Should I bring it to HR anyway or would it be better to live with the status quo of those who regularly work at the office?

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    While the posters are distasteful, if it's acceptable in Hungrary, raising it would be effectively 'dissing' their culture as a prudish, know-it-all American criticising them, in their country. The Hungarians would have a ton of issues about Americans they don't like, and you're just opening a can of worms. There's no way to raise it without tension, so you have to weigh up whether you can do what you think is the right thing at the expense of your reputation, or to just go with the flow. Them's the breaks: the world doesn't conform to American standards I'm afraid. – Pete855217 Jan 17 '14 at 11:11
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    I rarely voted to close because most questions seem to be valid to me as long as they about work places. I feel that I must vote to close this one since it is too much opinion oriented. There is a big issue inside the question, the OP is a foreigner unfamiliar with the culture in the place. The poster is from one of the clients. It is not a workplace issue to the OP at all. – scaaahu Jan 17 '14 at 11:22
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    IMHO Americans often don't distinguish between "artistic" nudity and "porn" nudity. In Europe these are different, and the rules about where and how they can exist differ as well. If the photos are from a fashion client, I am inclined to say that the OP is facing a cultural barrier. – MrFox Jan 17 '14 at 14:36
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    Just because the office is in Europe does not mean that it's "anything goes". Gender inequality and discrimination are still problems in Europe. It's better to risk being seen as "prudish" and raise the question than let something potentially unacceptable continue unquestioned. – Eric Dec 18 '14 at 16:11
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    I've read accounts of how millennials today are hyper-sensitized about exposure to anything that they don't agree with. Is this an example of that? See theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/… – teego1967 Nov 21 '15 at 12:35
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First thing you need to do is find out whether this is just a cultural mismatch or whether some real discrimination, sexism, or bias is going on. I've worked for many years in Europe and Asia and things are different over there. If you walk down the street and see many advertisements or public poster that look more or less the same as the ones in your office, then it's probably considered perfectly normal.

A few examples of "cultural mismatches": Germany has public Saunas where everyone is naked regardless of age and gender (including kids, teens and grandparents). Going out in China for lunch means that everyone uses their personal chop sticks to dig into communal dishes that can include chicken feet, pigs brain, blood, raw sea urchins and other rather interesting animal parts. These things can make Americans very "uncomfortable" but are considered perfectly normal in the local country.

Working in a different country requires a bit of judgement. You do NOT want to criticize other people's cultural norms. On the other hand you don't want to accept clear misbehavior either.

Things you can do:

  1. Find a local that you trust or are good friends with. Just ask them, "Hey, that poster would be considered pretty racy in the US. Is this normal here?"
  2. Walk through the streets with open eyes. Get to know the local customs and norms. Hang out at a local bar for a bit (NOT at the hotel though). You will get a much better feeling of the culture.
  3. Do some research on local culture: find a book, browse a few websites etc.
  4. If you have a good relationship with one of the women at the office, you can sit and talk a bit and see if you pick up on any signs of potential gender discrimination going on.

Once you have figured out whether it's cultural or actual discrimination you can think about the next step.

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I don't know Hungary (or your company, obviously) but it seems entirely possible that HR would not be particularly receptive to this complaint or that going to HR with any problem of this kind (as opposed to discussing it directly or accepting the group's consensus without “going over their head”) would in itself be perceived very negatively by your coworkers.

You should probably ask yourself whether reporting it is likely to have any positive impact or if you are well placed to enact change in gender relations in this workplace. I would not only worry about being perceived as “prudish” (perhaps not the way you see yourself but not really all that bad) but as “the arrogant foreigner making trouble”. That's not necessarily a reason to swallow anything or stay quiet but that's a risk you should take into account.

Personally, I have been living and working outside my country of origin for most of my life and I would not bring up such things myself out of the blue but certainly not stay quiet if they somehow became an issue or topic of discussion. I do the same outside of the workplace, incidentally. I feel it's a good way to respect the local culture and my place as an outsider while not condoning things I regard as unjust but I don't have any strong reason to suggest that this is the right course of action in general.

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Before you do or say anything about the posters in an office which you admit is not your regular place of work you should probably ask yourself a few questions:

  1. What am I trying to achieve/what are my goals in asking about or commenting upon the posters? - Do you want them to be taken down? Did you want to start a dialogue about them where your views receive equal weight as the views of the people in the office? Are you perhaps morally offended by the depictions of the posters? Having a clear idea as to what you are trying to achieve or what goals you have will make your framing of this matter to others clearer and easily understandable to them. Perhaps not accepted, but at least understood.
  2. Are you prepared for any negative feedback which may come from your actions? - Perhaps there are others in the office who also don't care for the posters but who are loyal to the group. Are your comments going to be seen by them to be alienating? Do you know the people in the office well enough that you feel that your opinion (which is what this is) and not the posters will be viewed as being the "problem?
  3. You stated that one of the posters was provided by a customer - Would you be willing to offend a customer of the business by removing advertising for their product or service? After all, in the battle of employees vs. customers, it's rare when the employee wins out. If they had to choose between offending a loyal provider of earnings and someone who they are paying...well, most companies will err on the side of the entity which is adding to the bottom line.
  4. Are you a good employee otherwise? - This isn't fair, but if you aren't a "rainmaker" (a person who brings in business or who is exceptional), if you are a frequent complainer, if you aren't normally seen as a team player or if your performance is sub-optimal, then your concerns will likely be ignored. The posters won't be seen to be the problem:you will be. And attracting additional attention yourself in such a situation might not productive or "career progressive" for you.

If the posters are clearly vulgar and offensive, then you should probably contact your company's personnel department and express your concerns. If they are simply archaic holdovers from earlier times, then it might be prudent to hold your opinions and allow the progression of time to assist in their removal

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Since you rarely visit the office, I a am assuming that this means the office often has people visiting from outside. So the option exist to send a email anonymously, from a throw-away Hotmail account or similar saying: "I recently visited your office… I would like to remain anonymous. Kind regards."

Or since it isn't your permanent office, perhaps you could complain to HR at your office, and get them to pass the message on. (again gaining you anonymity)

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•I'm a man. I feel like if I were a woman, I could say that I felt like I was being objectified and thus the office was an uncomfortable workplace. I don't think they would take it seriously if I, being a man, say it. Sad but true.

I just want to address this tidbit as an aside. Assuming you are working for an American company and you saw the same thing, on the contrary your HR is likely to take it more seriously coming from a man. Especially in a male dominated field. By older/more traditional male managers, women are often perceived as 'too sensitive'. I have seen legit sexual harassment complaints about a man get ignored from multiple women, but when some of the men began to complain the comments were making them uncomfortable, something finally happened. Keep it mind it may not be great for your personal career to complain about such things, just that HR is likely to take you more seriously than a woman and your female colleagues will appreciate you standing up on their behalf most times.

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You need to be aware that what you are seeing is happening in a different culture, and you may not be interpreting things that you see in the same way that the local employees see them.

As a result, if you complain then you may be seen by everyone in that office as a stupid foreigner who interferes with things that they don't understand. Including by women who may dislike what's happening and are working on changes, which may be totally undermined by your complaining.

What you can do is go and talk to someone in the local HR, and say something along the lines of "I noticed XYZ, and in our office in New York you couldn't do this because ... . How do people here view this? " And depending on what you noticed and where you are, you will get an answer anywhere from "They are doing WHAT? I'm going to stop that immediately" to "Don't worry about that, that is absolutely normal and totally acceptable in this country".

On the other hand, if something is so far from your company's guidelines that you think a local branch would be told to change things by their headquarters, or that something is so much out of order that you find it unacceptable, no matter what the local customs are, then you should complain to HR.

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I think there are wiser ways for that you can use in bringing up the matter and carefully analyzing their views about the Poster(If based on Fashion or just Corrupt minds).

You therefore have to develop a open minded friendship with them at first not letting them know your intents, Or more so, Get the view of one of your closest colleague in the Office about the Poster.

Knowing their views will very much help you in knowing how to pass the message across in a way of respect, humility and truth.

The HR's reaction might likely be from a personal perspective unless the HR is matured enough to take it objectively.

I also like what @Oxinbox said about passing the message anonymously, you can also use a Post letter.

All the Best.

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