I work at a fast-growing tech startup where most employees are between 25 and 35, so the culture is very young and casual.

A department that works closely with my team recently hired an intern. She is very attractive and sensual (almost flirty) when communicates with other male coworkers. She gets many work-related favors done by others even though they are not documented or agreed processes. Her manager left the company and she somehow managed to get all her responsibilities, which left other more experienced members of her team quite disappointed. I have also noticed how she is now showing a bossy attitude towards them.

A few days ago she had asked some favors from some of my all-male team members, and they offered to help her even though they usually don't have time to give favors to other teams (and they normally don't just agree to do a favor to someone). I reprimanded my subordinates and told them not to spend any second helping her unless I approve it.

I am a young man as well, but try to be egalitarian in the way I manage my team and processes. On the one hand I don't want to favor someone just because they are more sensual and attractive (regardless of their gender of course), and I especially don't want such behaviors to affect processes. But on the other hand I am also afraid of creating a rift with the rising star of the company who is popular in this male-dominated, somewhat testosterone-driven startup environment.

On paper, I have everything to prove that I am right to force her into the official channels, but given our company size and culture, I am no longer sure whether that is the right approach from a political point of view.

And as a manager, I must worry about politics, so my question is how to handle this situation.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 7, 2015 at 17:18

5 Answers 5


The first part of @gnasher's answer is absolutely correct. But what you need to address as a manager is your team, meeting your goals and managing your risks.

If this person is causing issues to your team, then you absolutely need to address that. Get her to go through the proper channels by talking to your team and make sure that it's clearly understood that they need to direct any requests to you, and to her that she needs to do the same or she is putting your team's work at risk.

Beyond that, it's really not your issue or responsibility. You can encourage them, but let the other managers manage their own risks, and ensure that you and your team are following process and meeting your targets.

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    I would just add that, if made through proper channels, her requests should be handled on exactly the same basis as any request from another group. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:07
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    @PatriciaShanahan Completely agree. Stay professional, do your job, manage your team :)
    – Jane S
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:08
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    @samarasa - That's not an ego problem. A manager is responsible for the productivity of the team they manage. If an external request is made outside of the manager's approval, then that is improper. There is no "ego" about it. A manager should set and enforce clear expectations of work assignments and the procedures for accepting them as a department. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 17:43
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    All conjectures wrong - the actual problem is I have a strong value/moral aversion against her type of behavior in the workplace (using sex or sexuality to get work done) and that it directly affects my team and the company I work in. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 19:25
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    @aRarerError - Personally, I agree with you. Practically, it happens. I've seen it happen too often. Two pieces of advice I can share with you: 1) Use procedure to stymie her manipulations of your team. 2) It is truly gratifying to watch the train wreck when their looks fade. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 19:47

The problem in my opinion is not how she's subverting the process, but that you and your team are allowing it to happen. I've worked at a number of smaller firms, and the attitude that any type of process is bad because it makes you inflexible ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Work with your team to create a reasonable process to prioritize and assign tasks, then communicate that process and its benefits to the rest of the organization. Whatever process you have now doesn't have the support of your team, or they wouldn't be going around it. Either they don't understand the benefit or they aren't very clear about what the process is or the process is just too burdensome.

When someone tries to go around the process, your team should refer them to you for an exception. They can offer to help move the request through the process if they want to be extra helpful, but you have to be the only one that can allow someone to bypass the normal work flow. This is so that you can manage your team's workload and make sure the right resources are being applied to the right project at the right time.

It's not going to be fun at first. I think if your team starts experiencing predictable workloads and can get things completed without being pulled in seven different directions at once, they'll start helping ensure the process is followed. If your process isn't benefiting them in some way, they will be willing to go around it for an attractive person's attention no matter what you do.

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    Best answer here. The others are too confrontational. You highlight the emphasis the OP should have in a good way: "I need to manage my team's workload. We have a process to do that." And as you say, it doesn't have to be an onerous process. It can be simple and lightweight. As long as it means that the OP hears and can deny requests from other teams, it does it's job. One thing to add: don't be antagonistic to the problem person over this. If they have a legitimate need for your team to do something, then it's to the company's benefit that you arrange for it.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 9:21
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    @jpmc26 Thanks, while the alleged behavior of the woman annoys me to no end, I don't think it's productive to address it directly. When it stops working for her, she'll stop doing it.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 12:16
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    @aRarerError That's your problem in a nutshell - there are no processes. I understand the resistance the folks in start-ups have to creating them, but if you don't, you can't manage the work effectively and stuff like this happens. You can create a process that your team will buy into if you involve them in its creation.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 0:10
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    @aRarerError How can you being effective at managing your workload hamper other teams? It sounds like the processes you're thinking of are too onerous. It doesn't have to be complicated, just documented.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 0:26
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    @aRarerError Wow she's really intimidated you. If you don't believe that you are working with rational people that will recognize good management practices then maybe you should look for another position.If this is a startup and the management is going to punish you for being effective because it annoys one woman, they aren't going to be successful.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Aug 3, 2015 at 12:21

I'd say this is very simple. You see one of your team members helping her, which comes out of your work budget, so you walk up to both of them, ask your team member what he is doing, why he is doing it, then you ask him whether you told him to do this, and when he says "No", you say "Ok then. You stop right now, go back to your work, and when Mrs. Princess wants any favours done, you send your straight to me. Understood? " And to Mrs. Princess: "If you want work done for you by my team, you come to me. Understood?"

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    You had me until your edit to include your second paragraph. What you do is you encourage the others to also make sure their staff account for their time appropriately. Don't try to undermine someone, or it will backfire on you. Play it by the book, and encourage other managers to make her do the same. If she's a rising star, she'll still shine. If not, well, that will become apparent too :)
    – Jane S
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 12:12
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    As a less confrontational alternative to the first paragraph, remind your team in general of the need to refer requests from other teams through proper channels. That can be done by e-mail or during a team meeting. Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 13:10
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    First paragraph isn't so bad. Second paragraph is disgusting Commented Aug 4, 2015 at 14:56
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    Calling someone "Mrs. Princess" in the workplace is inappropriate. And admonishing a subordinate in front of a person they supposedly like may get them to become defensive. If you want your subordinate to follow your directions, be as respectful as possible in your request, phrase your request in the positive, and if you're worried about your subordinate deviating again in the future, wait until you're alone with him to fully address the breach in protocol. The same goes with the woman in question. Making a coworker lose face in front of another coworker can really backfire on you. Commented Apr 9, 2016 at 3:12

I was with you until this sentence:

I reprimanded my subordinates and told them not to spend any second helping her unless I approve it.

This means you retaliated against Tara (she needs a name for this story that isn't "the attractive woman") for asking your reports for help. This sounds like very ad hoc procedure and it's very poor procedure for these reasons:

No cause is objective, except for gender: Flirty and physical attractiveness are not objective. The only objective thing is gender, which is protected from discrimination. That's exactly the situation you don't want to be in if you don't like being sued.

The sole remedy was to limit Tara's equity: Tara can no longer seek help which limits her equity. Flip this around: Tara can not do anything to un-limit her equity. She is not allowed to work with your team, and she has no remedy. You mentioned this is a small company? This dooms her career. And it's of course discriminatory given the previous bullet. Fortunately other answers cover equity-positive solutions, but you have caused some new problems besides the old problem.

You were not discreet: your reports now know about the conflict you have started with Tara. That was not necessary and it does not help anything. I venture to think your reports are just pissed at you right now and have told Tara everything. If Tara has lawyered up, she knows more about your retaliation, than even you do.

So this is a serious situation you created. At a high level, you should do two things: not increase your own liability, and look for an opening to rectify things. You probably need to escalate this to your boss or to your HR for both these reasons.


I would agree that there appear to be several diversity issues happening within your company, and the approach needs to be revamped.

  • Looking at the population of your company, “most employees are between 25 and 35.” Are there age-based issues in hiring practices?
  • Your technical team is all male. Why aren’t female technical staff being hired on your team?
  • There is some contact with a token female employee, and your first perception is that she is attractive and acting sensually. This sets off red flags regarding gender discrimination. You have not listed any of the acts that she performs that are sensual and attractive. If she is being attractive, she might just be a woman who showed up for the job.

She is also an intern, new to the working world and new to applying software technology to the job. She probably does not understand business process or change control yet, which is normal. Usually, junior developers do not fully understand these ideas until about two years of experience. She is also in the early stages of developing her professional skills in communications. Treat her as an entry/junior level employee and give her some training.

I agree with the others about setting up a process for everyone to follow. Granted, I would not specify that this one employee’s requests need to be approved by you. Perhaps all departmental requests should go through you instead, to ensure equity. When you focus only on her, from her perspective, you look like a sexist male who is putting obstacles in the way of a woman doing her job.

A few recommendations would be

  1. Ensure that you are treating her with equality.
  2. Since she is new to the working world, when she commits a gaff, give her some training rather than having the level of expectation appropriate for a senior-level employee.
  3. I agree with the others here that a business process should be set up for all requestors to follow, and enforcing the process through your team.
  4. Get some training on diversity for yourself and your company about how to interact with diverse groups. Just from the description that is provided here, hiring shows a lack of representation, plus interactions on the job need some improvement.

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