8

I recently started a job at a medium-large corporate HQ. I don't think the job or industry are relevant as this is more about the confusion I have with workplace politics. The job is in the USA and I did not grow up within the States so some of my confusions may stem from my background.

During my first few weeks of work, I was invited to join workshops and employee resource groups that were provided. Many of these resource groups are held during my lunch break so I attend many different ones frequently. My favorite ones provide donuts. Some of these groups are for certain minority groups that I am not a part of but there has never been an issue with me joining them as there are plenty of other regular members who do not match the descriptions of the groups.

However, last week my office held a menopause workshop. I am a biological man, but I was interested in joining this workshop out of curiosity and interest in the matter as I'm uninformed on the subject.

I was the only man who attending the meeting which surprised me as most workshops were very diverse. I also arrived a few minutes late which made it awkward when I joined the meeting. I quickly went to the front and grabbed a few donuts before taking a seat with the others. This workshop was led by an employee who shared her experience with menopause invited all the attendees to ask questions or share afterwards.

Genuinely, I really enjoyed my time at the workshop. Menopause was something new to me as that type of education was never provided to me in my home country growing up, something as trivial as this was new and fascinating to me.

I believe I made a faux pas at the meeting during the time for questions. I asked how I could tell if a Woman is experiencing menopause, that way I could offer my support or help to them if they ever needed it due to their menopause symptoms. For the past twenty minutes I heard stories about how difficult of a time it is for Women. What was meant to be an innocuous question led to a palpable change of spirit in the room. The proctor let me know that it isn't really my concern when my coworkers are experiencing menopause. This made sense to me, but I could still feel everyone else in the room looking at me, so I apologized for the question and pleaded for the proctor to share more stories about her menopause to get the attention off of me. This did not help either as I was asked to leave the room, and I immediately complied.

This meeting was last Friday and this Monday I was called into a meeting with HR right away. It was me, and HR rep, and the proctor of the meeting. I profusely apologized and explained my intent for going to the meeting. However, the proctor insisted that I attended the meeting just to eat their pastries and make sexist remarks. HR assigned me weekly sensitivity training that I don't mind at all.

My problem now resides in the day-to-day office experience. This week all the Women and most of the men have been very cold and short with me. What can I do to resolve the tensions with my coworkers?

3
  • 2
    Apologizing for misunderstanding is always a good start
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 4:06
  • 1
    Was the meeting advertised as something like a "women's networking event"?
    – nick012000
    Commented Mar 4, 2023 at 14:23
  • 2
    @nick012000 no, it was an awareness workshop for menopause
    – StuckInBed
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 19:32

4 Answers 4

9

There were so many faux pas in one session that I suspect someone started to suspect you'd crashed the session in order to be provocative.

At the very least, you gave a masterclass in insensitivity - it reads like a farcical sitcom!

I don't think there can be any objection to your attendance if it was driven by a serious and reflective curiosity about women's issues.

But you confess that your main drive seems to be a hunger for desserts during your lunch break. A further implied agenda seems to be a desire for novelty and light entertainment, a mentality which is probably at odds with how other attendees view the particular issue, and which has led to the backlash against the whimsical questions and remarks which arose from that mentality.

I think the best you can do now is let the issue die down, attend the sensitivity training as a mea culpa, and ensure that you look glum if the episode is ever mentioned again.

2
  • Thank you, Steve. I find this very helpful. Do you have any insight into a timeline I can expected until tensions may ease up? Things are already improved since over the weekend, but I know things like this take time till things return to normal.
    – StuckInBed
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 15:30
  • @StuckInBed, well I wouldn't think people will hold it against you for long - I would think it would blow over in a matter of weeks, especially as you settle in and interact with people more.
    – Steve
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:56
25

I know this already happened but here are some things that were out of line, inappropriate or with room for misinterpretation, so we (you) can learn and not repeat it.

I also arrived a few minutes late which made it awkward when I joined the meeting. I quickly went to the front and grabbed a few donuts before taking a seat with the others.

This surely looked bad. A man, on a menopause workshop (intrinsically female, andropause is for us males), arriving late, going to the front of the room, grabbing doughnuts and sitting down...

Basic things to learn from this: (1) if you arrive late, do it quietly and sit on the back, (2) wait for a pause or break to go for refreshments or food, to avoid interrupting others, and perhaps (3) reading the room. If you were the only male then that would have triggered my spidey-senses to me and make me think that perhaps I am out of line or that this workshop is not aimed for me.

I believe I made a faux pas at the meeting during the time for questions. I asked how I could tell if a Woman is experiencing menopause, that way I could offer my support or help to them if they ever needed it due to their menopause symptoms [...] The proctor let me know that it isn't really my concern when my coworkers are experiencing menopause.

Yes, this isn't your concern. You were out of line in asking that. You remark can easily been perceived as sexist, as it conveys the message "menopause is a disability and I want to help woman with it"... I can see why the proctor took it as sexist, although your intentions were good.

This made sense to me, but I could still feel everyone else in the room looking at me, so I apologized for the question and pleaded for the proctor to share more stories about her menopause to get the attention off of me.

The moment you felt everyone staring at you that's the moment you should go quiet and avoid worsening things. Try to be more aware and read the room next time. Asking that question to the proctor was again out of line (even more given she just told you it's none of your business).

This meeting was last Friday and this Monday I was called into a meeting with HR right away. It was me, and HR rep, and the proctor of the meeting. I profusely apologized and explained my intent for going to the meeting. However, the proctor insisted that I attended the meeting just to eat their pastries and make sexist remarks.

Given all the points stated before, it is understandable that the proctor saw this as you going for free food and making inappropriate comments. You did good in apologizing and expressing your intentions.

This week all the Women and most of the men have been very cold and short with me. What can I do to resolve the tensions with my coworkers?

Basically, nothing. You kinda screwed up, so now only time will help you fade this incident away.

What you can do is to improve on the things mentioned before, regarding etiquette when arriving late, reading the room, knowing when it is appropriate to say certain things and also, knowing what workshops are NOT for you. If you want to learn about menopause I am sure that there are tons of resources on the internet to check.

Like my mother used to say (translating from Spanish): "Don't do good things that look like bad things"

4
  • 13
    And from now on, do the sensitivity training, avoid those non-mandatory meetings, and buy your own donuts. At least, that's what I would do in your shoes. Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 23:21
  • 8
    Taking "a few donuts" from the start seems like a significant problem that makes others think the asker is just there for the free food too. Unless there are always, without exception, donuts left over at the end taking multiple at the start is denying other people their treat and will rightfully be seen as greedy.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 9:17
  • @EricNolan I don't see why everyone is focusing on the donuts, that was surely not the spark that ignited the flame. Also, I was late and there were more donuts than attendees, so I stand by the number of donuts I had. I may be glutenous, but never greedy.
    – StuckInBed
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 16:13
  • 3
    @StuckInBed if everyone is focusing on that perhaps it's an indication that your actions regarding the doughnuts did have something to do... it's not the taking a doughnut act itself, it's the taking it while an active speaker was talking, going all the way to the front of the room, on a woman-focused workshop... surely not the "spark" but that added to the questions and comments you made after were a recipe for what happened.
    – DarkCygnus
    Commented Mar 7, 2023 at 18:17
16

The line that jumped out at me was this line:

I asked how I could tell if a Woman is experiencing menopause, that way I could offer my support or help to them if they ever needed it due to their menopause symptoms.

Woah Boy.

You may as well have thrown a live Hand Grenade and screamed 'Long Live the Patriarchy'.

Now, for your reference, I'm not what you would call 'Politically correct' - I'm generally opposed to any variant of Collectivized Activism - Even I think you really screwed up.

Let's first talk Cultural issues - If you have grown up in a culture that didn't discuss these sort of things, I think it's somewhat safe to assume you didn't grow up in a progressive western culture. That means on some issues, you aren't going to get the benefit of the doubt (not that people raised in a progressive western culture get much either...).

Your question, regardless of how well intentioned would have been heard by everyone in that room like this:

"Poor Weak Women need big strong man to help them with Women problems"

If you wanted to ask a question like that - there would be 3 options:

1: Don't. I'm not joking, you are stepping into a minefield and the only winning move is not to play.

2: Speak to the Proctor afterwards 1:1 - open with your cultural background "This is the first time I've really heard about this - it's not a subject that's really discussed in my culture" - and then ask your question - but even then...

3: If you really must - I'd have tried to frame it purely from a support PoV - I can't even word that question though, because it sounds condescending.

Next up you have history of Sexism.

There is more nuance in this subject that I have time or space to write about - but suffice to say there are two-sides - there is genuine Sexism that still exists and that women are subjected to (and sometimes take advantage of), there is also perceived sexism that Women think they experience, suffer the psychological effects of, but wasn't quite what they thought.

Regardless of either - Women in the workplace are sensitive about being perceived as 'less than men' - and so any issue that uniquely affects women that doesn't effect men is a really exposed Nerve.

By asking the first part 'How can I tell' - you are hitting that exposed nerve with a sledgehammer.

Think of it like Cancer - you don't ask how you can tell if someone has Cancer, you treat them the same as you treat everyone else...

Until they come to you and confide in you that they have a medical issue and they need special accommodations because of that, then you deal with it then

You wait to be told and then you work with them.

In terms of where you go from here - I think you really screwed the pooch on this one. Best advice is to lay low for a bit, let the heat wear off and just focus on treating everybody equally.

3
  • 2
    This is just rubbing it but not really helping in any way form or shape.
    – Hilmar
    Commented Mar 2, 2023 at 23:27
  • 11
    @Hilmar: I disagree. This answer may come too late to help StuckInBed but it highlights the trigger point for the rest of us. Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 5:38
  • 1
    And it explains what the mistakes were, which is valuable.
    – keshlam
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 14:44
4

I totally understand your intention and why you did that. It is cultural-sensitivity as it is tagged. In my culture (of course, not based on USA), your actions are normal and entirely acceptable. Be it

I was the only man who attending the meeting which surprised me as most workshops were very diverse.

I also arrived a few minutes late which made it awkward when I joined the meeting.

I quickly went to the front and grabbed a few donuts before taking a seat with the others.

I asked how I could tell if a Woman is experiencing menopause, that way I could offer my support or help to them if they ever needed it due to their menopause symptoms.

Even though all of these actions in our culture (me and you) are acceptable, it does not mean that these actions is acceptable elsewhere. You do need to study and understand the culture where you work. You should at least know what you should not do in the culture you are in currently; so that your actions do not cause conflict with the others (and it will make you clueless because you don't know why they hate it either).

Since you already did that inappropriate actions in that culture, my advice is that you put more effort into studying the culture where you are in (in this case USA) to know which actions are acceptable and which are not. So that, the history does not repeat. After that, you keep some space from other people that are not close to you. Be kind and respect other people as you would normally do. Time will tell other people that you are a good person who does mistakes like normal people. Some people will hate you forever, some for some time, some not for so long, and some will give you a second chance. There are many people and different personality. Find someone you can keep your friendship after the incident. Tell them your honest side of the story. They will understand. You don't have to fix this whole at once. Keep living as a good person and things will get better.

You must log in to answer this question.

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