18

Background: I work for a small software company, about 40 employees. My workplace is very male-dominated; only two employees outside of HR are female. I might as well mention that I'm a white male.

Management recently offered a position to a female candidate, and she accepted. As usual, news about the hire trickles down to everyone else. What's concerning me is the way this particular hire is discussed.

Every time I've heard it mentioned that we're hiring a woman, the immediate response from someone is "Is she cute?". Today, after that, the followup question was about her ethnicity, and the response to the answer was along the lines of "Ooo, that's a good one." Then two of my coworkers looked her up on Facebook and discussed her looks.

I could totally understand coworkers having this conversation outside of work, but it seems inappropriate in the office and makes me uncomfortable. I'm also concerned that this will turn into a bigger problem (sexual harassment) once the new hire starts working here.

Is there anything I can or should do in this situation?

11

First of all, have you spoken up and talked to them about their objectifying behaviors and how you feel uncomfortable with their language? That might be the simplest step.

I think what you should assess is whether or not there's already a pattern of your co-workers talking about other women or other ethnic groups in the same way. If there is a pattern, what is happening now might be a problem that will not stop once she's hired. On the other hand, if there isn't a pattern, it may just be their poor choice of words in wanting to learn more about a new coworker. You might need to speak up anyway and remind them they're at work. People will be curious. Maybe a good way to overcome this is to try and plan some positive team building social activities.

10

Your attempt to protect the little woman from the scary male coworkers is every bit as sexist as what they said. If she has been hired, she is an adult. If there is inappropriate behavior towards her once she is there, it is her decision as to how she wants to handle it. Women, like men, do not need outsiders to get involved to protect them unless they ask for help.

Some women even like to flirt and have male coworkers flirt with them. Some do not. Some flirting is over the line and some is not. some comments are over the line and some are not and the line is drawn in different places for different women. I personally tolerate very little of that type of thing, but now that I am in my sixties I don't have to deal with it every day like I did in my twenties. But I have worked with many women who were flattered not insulted at that sort of thing.

  • 7
    "I don't have to deal with it every day like I did in my twenties" Wouldn't it be nice if we worked towards a workplace culture where this wasn't the norm? – Andrew Whatever Jan 22 '16 at 18:55
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    +1 for the womans perspective. I have actually heard the same sorts of comments made by women speaking amongst themselves about a male hire. (When I first came here, people did not know I understood the local language) – Kilisi Jan 22 '16 at 19:06
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    +1 Discussing the hotness of the new hire, if there is any to discuss, is perfectly normal (and, incidentally, unisex) behaviour. – rath Jan 22 '16 at 19:16
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    This answer seems to be hitting a nerve with people, however it's missing the point. The OP is asking about about workplace behavior, and how uncomfortable it makes him feel. It's implied, but his question is not about how to protect a new employee, or whether or not women like to flirt with male-coworkers. It is true that the new employee can act if she feels uncomfortable once she's in the office. However it's also true that a current employee, even though he's a "stereotypical" white male, can be made to feel uncomfortable by behavior he feels is inappropriate. – user70848 Jan 23 '16 at 21:04
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    I have to agree with @user70848 - the OP said "it seems inappropriate in the office and makes me uncomfortable". He's not white knighting, he's asking for a way to deal with a situation that makes him uncomfortable. I've had the same situation happen with a gaggle of women gossiping about a new male hire. This sort of behavior is not sexist so much as unprofessional. They aren't saying the new hire is incompetent because of their gender. I wish folks we be more careful tossing around "sexist". It's gotten diluted to the point where it doesn't mean anything more than "he noticed her gender". – ColleenV parted ways Jan 23 '16 at 21:48
8

It's just harmless at this point. Unless you're in charge of these employees, don't get involved. Personally I would tell them they're getting a bit obnoxious if I thought they were. But that's as far as I would go. Extrapolating to sexual harassment is a bit hasty.

Many men make these sorts of comments, even married men. But normally they're gentlemen in their personal interactions. It's just their way of being macho. To me it's just a sign of people with too much time on their hands during working hours. And I've heard some terrible conversations in my time, but they were only conversations and nothing malicious or worse was ever meant.

Being a white male makes no difference that I can think of either.

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    boggles the mind that this got so many downvotes so quickly... is it my spelling? :-) – Kilisi Jan 22 '16 at 20:55
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    The part about him being a white male...people are talking about other ethnic groups and women in front of him because they think he's "safe", or that he's "one of us". – user70848 Jan 23 '16 at 21:06
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    If that were the case, namely if the colleagues thought he was "one of us", it would imply that the colleagues themselves are white males. The race of the new hire is left unspecified; depending on that factor there could be different interpretations of the non-issue, if one is so inclined to do. Anyway, being "one of us" still makes no difference if the "one of us" mentality applies. What's important is the race/sex being the same, not being specifically white male. Of course this comment is nothing but me surfing the web late at night having absolutely nothing better to do with my time. – rath Jan 23 '16 at 23:31
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    @Kilisi You are right that white males do not have a monopoly on this sort of behavior. However, white males do have a monopoly on being the majority demographic of software companies, such as the OPs. Engaging in unprofessional behavior that objectifies a new type of employee by discussing her physical traits emphasizes her differences. Making such comments to a coworker who is deemed "safe" demonstrates that the majority mindset is that she is "unsafe" or, in other words, unwelcome. The more it goes on, the more unwelcome she becomes. May not be their intention, but that is the consequence. – user70848 Jan 24 '16 at 2:49
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    Most of the places I have worked the majority were white males, but I never had any overt repercussions for being a brown boy. It just meant they didn't talk certain topics around me. They weren't planning on ambushing me in the toilets and beating me up that I know of. The conversation is harmless, the woman isn't even there yet. It's the OP that has a problem with it at this point. If it's a big issue for him he should just tell them to desist. – Kilisi Jan 24 '16 at 3:46
7

Recommendation:

If I were in your shoes, I would want to do something.

Why:

  • I try to take opportunities to promote a better workplace for myself and others.
  • I feel a workplace that values its members for their task completion talents and people skills, not their appearance or race, where employees of all genders feel equally welcome because they are judged by equal criteria in their performance is something everyone should work towards regardless of religious belief, background, or other personal preferences.
  • I feel that the actions of your coworkers work against this common goal and thus disapproving consequential actions are warranted.

What:

  • Even though disapproval is warranted, the out of line coworkers still deserve to be treated with kindness and dignity. To this end, I would:
    • Respond gently with a remark like "Hey y'all, I don't feel like our actions right now are going to make [incoming coworker] feel welcome. Does anyone know what her skills are? What cool stuff did she do at her last workplace? Did she discuss any hobbies in her interview?"
    • If similar behavior continues after your verbal clues, either for the incoming coworker in question, other current coworkers, or other incoming coworkers, talk with the offending coworker's manager about how you feel that the offending coworker's actions are harming the team's atmosphere and ask if they could discuss the goal of a good team atmosphere with the offending coworker.
    • Make a point in the future of complimenting coworkers of all genders on their achievements and people skills, not on their appearance.
6

Like any potential case of harassment, if you are offended by their behavior, you should speak up. When they make comments that sound unprofessional, call them on it. Tell them that you would prefer they not talk like that around you. (And be prepared for them to start doing it more around you.) If they don't cool it, then you can escalate to your manager. There are ways to approach this that will make it much worse, so keep that in mind. A casual "wow, not cool" and then going on with your work might be the right level.

It's not your responsibility to take care of her: she's an adult, and should be able to fend for herself. But it is your responsibility to speak up too, if this continues after she arrives, because listening without objecting looks a lot like agreement. Your objection should be because you don't want to hear it, not that you're protecting her.

In the meantime, you can work on making your own interactions with women coworkers more professional. Unless you are hiring children, none of them are girls (or boys). If you refer to your coworkers as guys or men, then the others are not females, they are women. If you refer to them as males, then female is also fine. In other words, your language should keep people on an equal basis.

4

That behaviour is childish and more than a bit creepy. These guys should also consider that they might encounter (a) a woman who is badly affected by that kind of behaviour which could turn into bullying and being fired, or (b) a woman who will rip their head off and play football with it if she finds out. I've met both kinds.

  • But what should the OP do about it? Right now this doesn't seem to answer the question. – Monica Cellio Aug 14 '16 at 19:20
4

I don't think that things you have seen so far are a strong indicator for bigger problems later. It's just jokes at this point. A single "Is she cute?" is not a basis for a sexual harassment lawsuit. Of course, you can tell your colleagues you don't appreciate such jokes, but apart from expressing your opinion, there's nothing you can do that other people wouldn't consider over-reacting.

I believe these jokes will die out once your new colleague starts working. Consider yourself: do you ever make jokes about anyone (americans? europeans? asians? your boss?) Now, would you enjoy telling those jokes in front of people concerned? I don't think so. I expect the same thing to happen in your case: joking about your female colleague will feel much less comfortable and funny once she is around, so these jokes will disappear before spoiling anyone's life.

-1

It's a warning. Situation can degenerate quickly in that kind of situation. For now, well, she's not here yet, so there is no sexual harassment. But I'd keep an eye on what's happening.

I remember a female colleague of mine being in tears after a serie of machist jokes. I later tolf the "joker" his behaviour was no appropriate, but he shielded himself saying "but noooo, it's just a joke, she was not shocked!!!". I left soon after(unrelated : my consulting time there did finish), so I have no clue how it finished.

If it does not reach this level, well, you are just a too sensitive well-educated gentleman. If it reaches that level, though, be sure to warn people one way or another, before it's meat for legal actions. In my case, it was not yet to that level(maybe because laws in France are not as strict as in the USA. Still, if it had became an habit, it could have finished legal). Now, the best way to warn people completely depends on the local situation. I was rather a friend with the guy, and he was alone launching the machist jokes, so I could have a 1-to-1 with him on the topic. If your situation is different, then maybe asking advice to the hierarchy is a good idea(but only if you are sure the hierarchy is not part of the bully).

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    Hi Gazz, please could you do a spell check on your answer and perhaps answer with a bit more towards an objective answer and not a "this thing happened once" – Dansmith Jan 22 '16 at 12:55

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