I am female. I was hired at exactly the same time another employee who is a man (and we started on the same day). I have significantly more experience than he does. We are the newest hires.

We are in the same general group but on different teams. Currently, we both sit in (seperate) bench-like areas. Everyone is moving to a new building so there's a new seating arrangement. I am in a bench area.

The rest of the group, which includes the team I am on and the other team (including the man I was hired with) all have dedicated cubicles. No one else from the group will be in the bench area with me.

Now... to be honest, I really don't care where I work from. However, it does bother me that he got his own cube and I am in the bench area but in no way do I want to take his cube or anyone else's. Although I feel that no one did this intentionally because I am female, I also believe that it would definitely be different if we were both males. It does kind of affect the way I feel that the company sees me. No one got to make any requests on the new seating arrangement.

Am I allowed to ask how the seating arrangement was made? (meaning, I also don't know how it was made)

I have very good work relationships with my direct supervisor and the man I was hired with.

How should I handle this?

I asked my direct supervisor. He asked someone else (unknown). Turns out, the guy technically started sooner... down to the timestamp. Then he kept trying to figure out how I could get a cube or would be in line next for a cube... I really don't care about the actual cube. I just wanted to know that there was some acceptable, rational reason behind all of it. He also said I was welcome to join him or kick him out of his cube on occasion if I wanted. I also gave the guy I was hired with a heads up that I had this conversation and made note that in no way do I want or was trying to take his cube (just in case if something comes of this later). So... all is well.

  • 9
    Then honestly, I don't see how it's a gender issue. Having said that, start with your supervisor. Even though it's (probably) not military, some people are stickler's for the whole "chain of command" thing. – Chris E Oct 31 '14 at 19:00
  • 2
    He may have asked specifically for a cube, too. – enderland Oct 31 '14 at 19:23
  • 4
    Or he may have just been in first that morning. Or maybe they flipped a coin. Or maybe the leader of his team was the one allocating the places.... etc etc etc. – Jon Story Oct 31 '14 at 19:42
  • 2
    If that happened to me I would have immediately demanded "Why the f*** aren't I in the cubicles with the rest of the team?" Your response is to post online asking whether you're allowed to complain. That's probably why you. You need to be more assertive here. – TheMathemagician Oct 31 '14 at 20:56
  • 1
    It sounds to me like they were trying to be as diplomatic as possible. If I were management in this situation and had two people and only 1 spot left (completely ignoring gender) then I likely would have flipped a coin in the presence of an HR person to see who got the perk. – NotMe Oct 31 '14 at 21:05

This is a tough issue. On one hand, there's no overt discrimination. Other women have gotten cubicles, all of them but you. And yet there must have been some criteria to determine who didn't get one, especially since it's not a seniority question either.

I think you need to tread lightly. Obviously, you don't want to have anyone thinking that you believe it's because you're a woman (regardless of whether or not that is actually the case).

There are a number of ways you can handle it but the gentlest (and least likely to cause friction, in my opinion) is to approach your direct supervisor informally and say something like, "So when do I get my cubicle?"

If you can frame it as an issue of equality among peers rather than even giving a hint as far as gender suspicions (again, whether you have them or not) then I think you'll go further toward getting what you want, which I assume is actual equality rather than just lip-service. I would make sure that you ask it as a serious question, with expectation.

Asking "when" before "why me" gives them the benefit of the doubt. "Well, of course you meant to get us all cubicles, because I know you're fair" and can lead into the possible discussion about how the others were selected and not you.

  • No... so... I'm on the bench alone. I don't know any of the people I am sitting near and I am away from my team. There is no "Sam" to include in my question. – gloomy.penguin Oct 31 '14 at 19:19
  • Also - just to add, I have a really good rapport with my direct supervisor. However, if it were to be discussed with anyone but him - I would tread very carefully. – gloomy.penguin Oct 31 '14 at 19:21
  • 5
    By bringing it up this way, you serve notice that you want a cube and that you expect to be the next person to get one. If you keep quiet people hired after you with less experience will get the cubes as they come available. – HLGEM Oct 31 '14 at 19:43
  • 1
    @Andy A new person will force finding a seat for them, possibly causing others to move around to make space for them. Reseating someone who is apparently OK with her current location depends on someone proactively identifying that something needs to be changed and making changes. It all depends on who is involved, but I can easily imagine a scenario where the others are moved to make room for the new person to be able to sit with the team as they ramp up and then no one revisits the decision. – Eric Nov 3 '14 at 0:14
  • 2
    @Andy 35+ years of observation of how things work in the workplace. If they think she is Ok with the seating, they will give any future openings to people who are not. – HLGEM Nov 3 '14 at 14:13

Am I allowed to ask how the seating arrangement was made? (meaning, I also don't know how it was made)

Certainly. In almost every company, you are allowed to ask anything.

I have very good work relationships with my direct supervisor and the man I was hired with.

How should I handle this?

You should just have a friendly chat with your direct supervisor.

One phrase that has stood me well over the years - Assume positive intent.

Rather than assuming you are being singled out, or going in with an attitude of "gender bias", just assume there was an innocent reason for your being left out of a cubical until you know for sure that harm was intended.

  • Innocents until proven guilty, I agree. there's really no better way to face these situations than with a clear and open mind. – Areks Oct 31 '14 at 21:28

I would ask.

This doesn't have to be confrontational. This doesn't have to be a big deal. This just needs to be a laid back conversations that occurs when you're having your regular one-on-ones with your supervisor. (You are having those right? If not I would recommend starting.) During that conversation just bring it up casually. "Hey, I noticed that was moved into a cubical and I'm out on a bench. Was there a specific reason for that?"

I totally understand the focus that turns this into a gender issue. Women, perhaps especially in tech jobs, are often discriminated(even unintentionally) in ways that are very subtle. It can be as simple as expecting the woman on the team to make everyone else cupcakes on their birthday(or expecting a woman on the team to take meeting minutes). That's not a big, bad discrimination but it stings. But, if I were you, I would be more miffed that two employees that started on the same day(fairly recently) were being treated differently. At least unless there are other subtle differences in how you are treated.

  • 1
    Women are expected to make cakes on people's birthday? I thought the rule was you bring in cakes on your OWN birthday? – Jon Story Oct 31 '14 at 20:58

I would most likely not take this as discrimination as they had to chose someone if there weren't enough cubes to go around. What I would take it as is a signal that I need to do a better job of learning how to influence decisions so that I get what I want. Did you ask for a cube? Did you express any interest one way or the other about work space? The squeaky wheel gets the grease. When they came up one cube short, they probably picked out the person they thought least likely to complain. I would observe how your co-worker who got the cube handles his interactions and expresses his needs and desires and see if you are being less assertive than you should be to get what you want.

Sure a cube seems relatively unimportant, but these types of things are what you can practice assertiveness on so that you are skilled when it comes times for the really big things. And a cube may be a bigger deal than you think. Seating is a highly political thing and it indicates who has influence and who does not. Not so big a deal at the lowest levels, a problem for anyone above a trainee to be viewed as not having influence. This really can affect how others see you and how well they listen to your input. Women have trouble being heard anyway (I'd be rich if I had a dollar for every time my words were ignored in a meeting and then accepted when a man said the same thing minutes later. They don't do that any more though because I have learned to play politics.), you don't need to add looking like the least important person to that.

  • they thought least likely to complain -> this is what I initially thought. Also, he is seated next to his direct supervisor and because he has very little experience, he needs more help. I am completely fine left on my own. But it concerns me, because maybe his placement (on the team, not in the company - my employment is definitely solid) is more permanent than mine is. – gloomy.penguin Oct 31 '14 at 19:45
  • He is going to have more visibility which can be good or bad. More visible is less desirable if you aren't up-to-speed with everyone else. You are right to be concerned but it isn't serious at this point. I would speak up to let them know you don't want to be treated as second best in everything. And make sure the next time something is being discussed that affects you that you put in your two cents worth up front and don't wait until after the choice is made. You might also consider asking for something you would like to have as compensation for drawing the short straw on the cubicle. – HLGEM Oct 31 '14 at 20:04

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.