My department has 8 people + 1 boss. No one likes the boss. They either try not to care or they heavily dislike her. Most fail even trying to not care. Apparently there have been many episodes in the past. I'm fairly new (4 months) and am starting to see a pattern:

  • She doesn't trust us (controlling behaviour)
  • She can be very dominating
  • She can yell and psych people out during a confrontation
  • She is submissive towards other bosses, other bosses at her level dominate her. Our department suffers from this. We recently lost our coffee space:(
  • Her loyalty goes upwards, not downwards
  • She takes criticism personally and immediately defends herself if people disagree with her
  • She doesn't listen and has trouble respecting other people's opinion

This was highlighted today when I got pulled out of office only to get yelled at for 30 minutes because I sent an email to everyone in the group that had a joke in it. Everyone laughed, except her -- she felt it was way too offensive (it had a sexist joke, but our group jokes around A LOT).

She didn't yell but raised her voice every time I spoke and didn't seem to have any desire to learn my side of the story. I was shocked by this because she seems to laugh whenever someone jokes around like this. Maybe she just wanted to test the waters on me a bit? My coworkers were shocked from what they saw.

Do I just wait until I've reached a boiling point with these things and then confront her about it? Should she be confronted, and how? All the other coworkers have tried at some point, but "lost the battle" so to speak. She psychs them out, she never gives up.

Do I try politics game above her level? e.g. talk to her boss and come out in a way where her boss covers my back, and I hers?

Do I try not to care? It's difficult and frustrating, but possible.

  • @JoeStrazzere Maybe talking in person might help (before escalating and/or resigning) :)
    – Dawny33
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 12:40
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    Maybe the situation is not as cut and dry as you think. Try to talk to her and get her pespective on the matter.
    – Magisch
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 12:43
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    You said you got yelled at for 30 minutes but then say that she didn't yell. Which was it? (Either she did yell the whole time, yelled for some of the time, or didn't yell at all.) Contradictions like that can hurt credibility to my mind.
    – JB King
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:39
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    @wood Is everyone in your department male, except your boss? Yes or No? Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:40
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    it's very uncommon for me to downvote, but sending sexist jokes is a no-go. Please hide under a pile of dirt for a few days, and apologize. Most men underestimate how violent sexist jokes can be for women. I've seen female colleagues in tears - or worse - after a serie of sexist jokes. She may be a bad manager, but in the current situation, you are the problem. And others who send sexist jokes also. The whole team seems dysfunctional to me.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 16:15

5 Answers 5


You sent a sexist joke by email to the entire office and thus created a paper trail that can be used as evidence in a hostile workplace suit, and you think the manager is the problem here? The only thing you should have been saying in that conversation is that you made an error in judgement and that it won't happen again. You don't have a side in that story.

You could very well have an incompetent boss or be working in a dysfunctional department but based on your description the only one mishandling this particular situation was you. Given your view of her interactions with the department and the fact that you're openly sharing sexist jokes, I can't really blame her for potentially overreacting.

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    Yelling at someone for 30 minutes is not acceptable, no matter what caused it. There's fault on both sides here. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 13:03
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    @PhilipKendall "She didn't yell but raised her voice every time I spoke". No yelling. If the OP had immediately responded with an apology and promise of no repeats, I would agree. If the OP kept trying to defend the indefensible, I can see the attempted reprimand taking longer. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 13:11
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    @PhilipKendall She yelled at him for writing offensive emails. I have to side with the boss on this one. I'm a bit surprised she didn't fire him on the spot if he didn't apologized.
    – Dan
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 13:19
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    Tbh offensive emails are enough for her to sue the company over. Im actually surprised that he faced no repercussions rather then a 30 minute verbal derision.
    – Magisch
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 13:41
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    @PhilipKendall Certainly true but as Patricia said the OP didn't mention actual yelling. I could have added a lot more to this post about the apparently dysfunctional relationship between management and the OP's department but I didn't want the question and answers to veer even more off-topic and decided to stick to answering the main question.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 14:00

(it had a sexist joke, but our group jokes around ALOT with it).

Im gonna stop you right there. So not only do you admit to making sexist jokes in the general email, you admit that your team is doing it all the time. And you are surprised why your female manager isn't more friendly to you? Why do you think she doesn't like your team that much? Would you if they constantly made derogatory jokes about you?

I suggest you apologize and be thankful that you didn't get terminated for generating a hostile environment (something she can actually sue your company for, btw, and your emails are prime written evidence).

For future reference, offensive jokes are not something you should make at work, especially not if you know they are offensive. Doubly not via email.

Try to work out things with your colleagues first, if what you are saying is true, and really noone likes her in that team, take a meeting with your colleagues to find out why exactly this is, and try to work towards solving it.

  • 6
    As a side point - verbal and email communication are very different. On this one - the boss may appear to smile or laugh when a joke is presented verbally, because she either feels she has to seem to join in, or it just works better for her delivered verbally. In email, most of the time the reader will hear a monotone that can make jokes not very funny, and also written words have a harsher impact. Either way - it's not the listener's job to understand your presentation your way, it's your job to figure out how to present it in a way the listener can consume. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:34

Normally I don't adovocate taking gender into account. But on this one -> female boss + sexist jokes - I think I've got to.

Some questions to ask yourself about your workplace:

  • Are all the boss's direct reports male?
  • If there are women, are any of the people making sexist jokes women?
  • Does the boss make any sexist, offensive or demeaning jokes, or are you gleaning that she enjoys them simply because she's laughing?
  • On many of the other behaviors - would you be similarly offended if a man did the same thing in a way that you found non-threatening?

If most or all of your answers are "no" then you have a case where your workplace really has no good pattern for how to work with women in the workplace, and I gotta say, it's not the female's problem.

Some points to consider:

  • "Because everyone does it" is never a good excuse. I understand that serious mocking is part of the job and that jokes can get quite weirdly offensive without anyone being offended. But when someone is offended, it's time to stop.
  • Verbal delivery and email delivery are massively different:

    • Verbal delivery to a crowd enforces group think and peer pressure. Someone who laughs in a group could easily be cringing on the inside. And not just the female in the group.
    • Email delivery is best considered to be read in a monotone (I'd call this the "robot voice" except robots are getting way better at inflection). Most jokes are not funny and some are even more offensive when read this way. It's not within your purview to insist that she read your email with comedic delivery in mind.
      • Email delivery puts a document somewhat provably delivered by you through corporate resources into someone else's hands where it can be read, reread and used against you at a later time.
      • Email delivery has no feedback system for the writer - you can't tell if someone is still reading your email, and whether or not they are kindly disposed to you.
  • Women bosses in a man's world is often a case of stereotype mismatch. When say she's "dominating" towards you and her other people, a man using the same words, gestures and deeds may not seem dominating. Or at least not "dominating" in a bad way. Let's face it - many of the women in positions of fame and power come across as stone cold bitches. But my counter question is - what mannerisms would work for a stern, serious, contemplative female who's got serious responsibility who needs to lead others that wouldn't risk her seeming bitchy?

  • Loyalty upwards and downwards - If you think there are lots of bosses who will be more loyal to the team that works for them than the people they report to - think again. Your team is here because your boss has convinced her boss that you deliver value. If she looses that faith and trust, you loose a job. And I'm not sure a lost coffee space is the best metric. Sadly, you probably will never know what she got for you instead or the places you've been shielded.

  • Controlling behavior and defensiveness are more of a problem in anyone - it's probably worth talking to her and asking why she does the things she does and what you could do to get her to stop it. That's likely a one on one conversation and it doesn't start with direct feedback on your part (ie, don't say "I see you are very controlling, how can I get you to stop that?"), it's more like "What actions would help for me to tell you that I've got XYZ task under control. I that it's important, since you check in about it so much - I'd much rather send you an update when warranted than have you need to take time each day to check - what would work?".

  • Defensiveness - I'd be defensive too, if demeaning jokes about my gender were shot back and forth on a daily basis. That said, I don't think it's the most positive thing for her to be doing, but I'm not sure you can change it - defensiveness comes from insecurity. Security has to come from inside the individual. You can't necessarily be her therapist.


You've only been there for 4 months, you just shot yourself in the foot big time, and you now want to confront your boss? That's a recipe for disaster, and there is a very good chance you'll lose your job. And rightfully so.

If you want to call out your boss, you better have a stellar reputation for leadership, quality, and good behavior. You had better be extremely professional. From your post, I strongly suspect that you don't have enough of those qualities to be taken seriously.


Do I try politics game above her level?

I would advise against it. It would only increase the hate between you too. You must talk with her over coffee or in a brief, personal meeting. Make sure you put forward the point politely.

Just ask her for about 15 mins of her time, and have a nice talk, inform her that her yelling makes you uncomfortable, and also ask what you can do to make yourself more productive and do what she considers impressive work.

If she straight away refuses to meet, or behaves badly in the meeting too; then you can escalate the problem to the higher management, as it is depreciating the work environment, which can have a negative impact on the productivity of the employees.

So, first talk with her.

  • 3
    This is a good theoretical approach, but frankly the OP just blew all his credibility. Any attempt to confront the boss, even in the nicest and most polite way, will be seen as an attempt to get back at her for calling him out on his offensive behaviour. The OP needs to let things cool for a substantial period. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:44
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    Absolutely at the least the OP needs to start any meeting by apologizing profusely for the sexist email, and promise not to do it again. Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 15:50
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    indeed. current situation is warfare-like, and the first who wants to negotiate has to wave a white flag before speaking. Though +1 for the "do impressive work" part. That's the bare minimum, in the situation.
    – gazzz0x2z
    Commented Dec 8, 2015 at 17:16

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