I went to university to be a screenwriter and, as i’m sure you know, it’s not exactly an easy industry to break into (especially if you’re female – ‘old boys club’ indeed). A couple of years ago (late 2013-ish) I went to a casual networking event with a couple of classmates and met a television writer (let’s call him Dale) who’s at least in his early to mid 40s. I was 20 years old at the time.
Dale and I exchanged email addresses and I sent him a copy of the television pilot I’d written and then we met up for a late lunch/early dinner shortly after so I could get his notes/pick his brain about his career/networking etc.
Fast forward to 2015. We’ve met up maybe once or twice a year at most since then, always to talk about writing stuff. I was planning a trip to LA last year too so I asked him for some tips on networking etc because he spends a lot of time over there. He kept complimenting how I looked and offered (multiple times) to let me stay with him at his place in LA and one point even to fly me out on his own dime to stay with him when I jokingly complained about how expensive my trip was going to be. He’s also invited me to a number of parties with him and his and other middled aged male friends and has texted me subtly suggestive sexual things in the past(it’s always him initiating the conversation).
At the end of December, I asked to meet up with Dale one last time because I needed a professional reference letter for a program I was applying to.
We meet up, Dale stares at me really suggestively the entire time and makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable with some of his comments about my appearance and then when we leave (it’s night time by this point) he refuses to let me walk to the train station by myself and puts his arm around my shoulder and gets really close to me without asking. He did eventually take his arm away and finally left me alone when we reached the train station (not before getting into my space again and kissing me on the cheek).
I stupidly ignored my intuition and also because I figured it was worth putting up with a bit of creepiness if it meant i could get some solid career advice and a reference letter. I stopped replying to his emails and his texts and just the thought of seeing him again gives me intense anxiety. We both live in the same city and I’m terrified I’ll bump into him somewhere.
Dale still keeps contacting me and clearly cannot take a hint even though i have not replied to a single one of his messages since late December. He refused to respect my boundaries or even stop to consider that I, as a female in my early 20s, have no desire to sleep with or date someone his age (especially considering i’m not even interested in dating men period).
How do I get him to leave me alone? Every time I see a new message from him I feel sick to my stomach.
Majorly Creeped Out
“Dales” of the world….your sad, pathetic, disgusting tactics are showing, and the young women you try to “mentor” are figuring out that they are not alone.
Majorly Creeped Out, I hope you’ll tell some people you know what Dale did. I hope you don’t feel like you are the only one this has happened to, and I hope you won’t beat yourself up for being targeted by a sad creep with a standard playbook. You’re doing the right thing by not responding to his messages. He knows what he did, and he knows that it’s weird & desperate to keep texting you.
You could say, “Dale, please stop contacting me. Your ‘mentoring’ is no longer wanted.” He’ll never apologize for or admit what he did, so that message is more for you, so you can document that you asked him to leave you alone. Then skip directly to blocking Dale on all fronts: Block his number and his texts from your phone, block his social media profile, and either block his emails or filter them somewhere that bypasses your inbox where you can see them. He can send them into the ether forever and you’ll never answer, because you’ll never even see them.
You can make other inroads into the business. You’ll open better doors than Creepy Dale could ever open for you. Leave him far behind you.
I’m a white, straight dude in my mid-30s, working in an industry traditionally dominated by white, straight dudes. Further compounding my white, male privilege, I work in a developing country in Asia. It’s not Thailand, but for the sake of my anonymity, let’s say it’s Thailand.
Building a career in this industry these days is kind of complicated. There are lots of pitfalls, and mistakes you can make. Building a solid network of formal and informal mentors is a really great way to avoid some of the pitfalls, and can even be a source of job opportunities.
I’m at the point in my career now where I probably have coffee or lunch with 1-5 different junior people a month where I offer career advice.
The thing is… Most of the recipients of my mentoring are dudes. Thus goes the cycle of perpetual patriarchy.
As you’d be aware, white dudes in this part of the world have a reputation as inveterate horndogs. For good reason, really. A lot of them are just so gross. Ugh.. Fuck those guys. I’m not one of those guys. I’m really not. I’m very happily married, and–barring some sort of disaster–I have no plans on getting it on with anyone other than my wife for the rest of my life.
More random men than women reach out to me, and there’s probably not much I can do about that (though I’d be interested if you have any ideas on how I may be better able to make it clear to randoms that I’m an equal opportunity mentor), but I would like your advice on what I can do with my direct staff.
I have a new female Thai employee, Ang, that started today. I’m planning on going out for a drink with a senior guy, Steve, from another firm tonight.
Should I invite Ang to come out with Steve and me? If Ang was a guy, I totally would. In fact, I just invited Pai, a guy that used to work for me.
The thing is, Pai is pretty sure I’m not trying to get into his pants. And, when I turn up with Pai, I’m fairly sure that Steve isn’t going to try to get into Pai’s pants (I don’t know Steve that well, and you know what they say about white guys in this part of the world).
Inviting Ang along would almost certainly make her feel awkward because she doesn’t know whether to trust me or not. Then, even if she did trust me, she will definitely feel judged by people while we are out, and maybe even by our other colleagues who can’t be sure that I’m not a creepster.
Plus, I get judged when I’m out with a young Thai girl too. And I don’t like that…
It’s really so much easier just to mentor men, but, really? Like, surely that’s not the right thing to do here…
Thanks for your letter! It illustrates the way that women get left out of informal mentoring networks and social events that can help their careers. I don’t think you can single-handedly fix the culture, but I think there are a few things you can do to help the Angs you know get ahead.
I deliberately posted your letter with the previous letter because that offers a such a good blueprint for when supposed mentoring relationships are creepy. A red flag I noticed even before the unwanted touching and the staring and suggestive texts were that “Dale” always wanted to meet the LW alone or bring her into spaces with only other men. It’s one of the hallmarks of the Mentor Of Women Who Does Not Actually Like Women – he grooms a woman he wants to fuck by inviting her to be the sole woman “worthy” of his attention/his exalted company into spaces that are mostly populated by other men, like it’s some kind of special privilege, and puts subtle pressure on her to “go along to get along” if she wants to stay there. One thing you could do for your colleague Ang and others like her is to foster networking with other women (even if they are few) in the business – use your social capital and experience to include more professional women overall in social events, invite a young man and several women out for drinks, introduce Ang to women senior to her at the company and beyond as well as men. That might mean doing a little research and digging deeper than you currently do into your contacts list, but that is good for your career as well.
You mention being happily married, which is great. Is your wife in-country with you and will she help you out a little bit with this? When I was in my very early 20s I worked a lot internationally, sometimes in very patriarchal/traditional societies, and there was an unwritten code I went by when fielding social invitations from male colleagues. The magic words were “My wife and I would like to invite you….” (Or My sister and I, girlfriend and I, mother and I, female cousin and I, etc. for unmarried men) When the initial social invitation included a woman close to the colleague doing the inviting, it served as a code for “This is all above board and not a pretext to get you alone.” Once I met the family, solo invitations to talk shop were totally routine and fine and normal-seeming.
When male colleagues from the host countries invited me out solo for coffee or an excursion, without mentioning a fellow woman in the initial invitation, I would probe it a bit – “That sounds lovely, shall we also include (female staff member) and (staff member I felt really comfortable with)?” If the guy was open to the others being included, I could relax a bit. If he seemed very disappointed by not being alone with me, that was a sign that I might want to be very “busy” with work that day. I’m sure I refused some invitations that were perfectly above-board, but without that safety net of “The closest woman and I invite you…” I didn’t want to risk having Ivan from Accounting turn into Handsy Ivan from Accounting, or for one random after-work drink to turn into daily bad seduction poetry in my work email (true story, y’all). All this is to say, before you invite Ang for solo drinks or drinks with all dudes, is there a way for her to hang out socially with you and your wife or another female friend or colleague? There’s something about that that can break the ice without having to awkwardly say “I know Western dudes can be creeps but I swear I’m not objectifying you.” Someone familiar with the local culture about men, women, & friendship can probably guide you as to specifics here.
Another thing you can do is to set expectations with Steve. “Hey Steve, I’m inviting a few of my best and brightest to drinks tonight. There’s Pai, who used to work with me, and Ang, who just started recently but is already a crackerjack [whatever her skill or job title is]. See you at 8?” Introduce Ang (and other young women in your company) by making their job title and/or accomplishments and skills front and center in how you talk about them.
If Steve (or Pai, for that matter) act creepy or make “joking” comments, put a stop to it. Sexist boys clubs persist partly because the worst offenders think their behavior is accepted by their peers, and if their peers won’t make waves, then the behavior is being accepted. It’s great that you’re not one of Those dudes, but I think you also have a responsibility to speak up when Those Dudes tell jokes or brag about their exploits. Fuck “guy code” or “boys will be boys.” “Creepy, much?” coming from a respected dude has weight. Raise your voice to say it if it needs saying.
If down the road, Ang or another female colleague doesn’t want to associate with someone who is sexist and gross, curb any impulse toward playing Devil’s Advocate and believe the women. No “Well, what did he say, like, exactly?” or “I’m sure he didn’t mean it.” Chances are “he” meant it, and chances are the woman only told you about it with great anxiety about risking her own status & job. Believe women, and use your greater status and power to shield them from gross people who want to take advantage of them. Remember on Mad Men when a client sexually harassed Sal the Art Director and he went to Don for protection and Don threw him to the wolves? Don’t do that. Do the right thing – aka – “That was inappropriate and I am sorry. You won’t have to deal with that person anymore.”
Seek out women to appear on panels and be speakers at public-facing events. Raise the visibility of the women in your organization. When you are on panels or doing public work, raise the profile of the women on the panel with you. Make sure they aren’t talked over.
Two final things I can think of are Pay Equity and Job Status Equity. Make sure your Angs are paid as much as your Pais from the minute they start working for you. Even if they don’t negotiate the same salary, negotiate for them within your company! Give them ammunition to negotiate salaries better in the future. They don’t have perfect information about what the salaries are, but you do, so use it on behalf of women! Don’t make your non-administrative female employees unduly responsible for note-taking or event planning or client handholding unless you also ask the men to do the same types of work, and make sure that you publicly recognize their contributions to your team and accomplishments.
Readers, what else can male supervisors due to make sure that their female mentees aren’t creeped on or left behind?
117 thoughts on “#852 & #853 Goofus and Gallant Attempt Mentoring Young Women”
Be a voice against the norm of women doing all the emotional and social labor in the workplace. Be the person (or one of the people) who keeps track of people’s birthdays, buys cards, makes reservations to take people out to lunch on their first or last day, takes up a collection for flowers when someone’s relative passes away, etc.
Also, it can make a huge difference to simply say that you are aware sexism exists and that they can talk to you if there is a problem and you will listen.
This has been the case pretty much everywhere I work, and it fucking sucks to be the one stuck at the office until 8 at night planning a “fun!” “party!” for someone when 1. that is NOT YOUR JOB 2. you are ALWAYS the person who plans it and 3. you are the only woman.
It is fucking bullshit. I don’t even like parties.
You are very welcome. It’s work that is generally unpaid (in fact I have often known women to be putting up their own money for the personally important cards and flowers and baby gifts and not be reimbursed), unofficial, low-status, and doesn’t go on your resume. Coincidence? The feminist in me thinks not.
Wow, I would fail miserably at the party planning, even if in private I identify as genderqueer I am more likely than not to always be read as female, as in the only way I could convincingly “pass” as a grown man would be if I actually took testosterone (it’s just not my cup of T *ba dum pist*, okay, I’m done); but seriously, my party planning skills are pretty bad, my gift giving skills are on that same level, add the ADHD which makes me forget stuff easily and the fact that I’m bad with dates and punctuality in general; in a few words, I do not like and should not be in charge of the party committee, ask me for drinks, food, I’ll draw flowers and fuzzy woodland creatures on things you want me to, but if you’re expecting some spontaneous celebration on my part this will be my answer:
– I don’t remember cake, I eat cake
I think I have generally managed to avoid it because I am never the only person in a workplace who is read as female by colleagues, and outside that I exude enough eccentricity to preemptively signal that I would be The Worst Social Stuff Planner.
Even if I were a more or less competent Social Stuff Planner, it would still be unfair and sexist to saddle me with that task every time in an otherwise all-male workplace — not to mention the whole “not reimbursed” thing! Time spent, I get it’s somewhat harder to pin down, but money spent is pretty darn unambiguous ffs.
Or stop all of that entirely, because work is not a social club or a family, and digging into people’s outside lives in professional settings is invasive and creepy to some of us.
I would say it should be up to personal preference. To many, work is part of their social life in that they consider their colleagues their friends, and maybe they don’t have much time or energy for socialising outside of work. There is nothing wrong with that. Of course it should be personal preference, though. I am an administrator at my office which means I know information about why someone is off work, so I know medical details, bereavements etc. This information is kept highly confidential. But I am a newcomer to a close knit and small office and so I leave it up to my colleagues who know everyone better to judge when are the times to buy flowers, throw a birthday buffet or send a get well card. They often know things like birthdays and absence information even though they are not administrators because they have been confided in by their colleague friends. I trust their judgement on who would be offended if this was done, and who would feel forgotten if it was not. To nix the whole thing feels unnecessary as long as there is tact and care, and everything is explicitly ‘opt in’ rather than ‘opt out’.
And bostoncandy’s observation certainly applies to my office, it’s always the women who organise these things!
I agree on the personal preference thing. I think if it’s not your preference to participate, that is totally fine, and not all offices do it anyway. But of all the offices I’ve known that did it, 100% of the time the work and planning was done by women and they weren’t compensated for it. And I think that’s a problem, and it’s one that men can change, if they want to. Either by being part of the process that makes that happen, or by setting policy that stops it from happening, or by making it an official part of the job with reimbursement and paid overtime and whatnot.
It can be invasive for some situations. But First Day/Last Day celebrations are about the job. And if hospitalization or the death of a family is requiring the employee to take time off, flowers are appropriate.
I say this as the person who has to arrange these things. I don’t want to know your personal details. But if your mother died, I’ll send an arrangement from the company with a “With our Sympathies” card. I don’t need to know how she died, or what your relationship with her was.
Major difference: I’m the office manager, so it is my job (I do this on the clock, I am recognized for doing the work). And I don’t have to collect money from everyone. It’s from the company, it’s on the company credit card. So I am not announcing to everyone “SO-AND-SO is having hernia surgery.” I get the time-off request form and I send some flowers.
Just wanted to say that I loved both the second letter and CA’s response. As a woman who worked for years in a male-dominated profession (a creative industry, too, so there were Don-Draper-types!), I feel this so hard.
I especially second the advice about salary. As women we’re groomed not to advocate “aggressively” for ourselves, and many young professionals, regardless of gender, are never really taught how to negotiate (I wasn’t, and a dozen year later, as the owner of my own tiny company, I *still* am crap at negotiating). Add that to the general air of mystery around competitive abd comparative salaries, and it’s the perfect recipe for Ang to be at a disadvantage. If you can advocate for her and set a standard for equal pay at your company, and help Ang learn how to navigate the financial eddies herself, as well, you’ll be doing a lot of good, both now and for the future. Thank you for being a ray of hope for women in your profession.
Totally echo bringing your wife/girlfriend/other female colleagues whenever possible. I worked as the aide to an Irish politician so he liked to strategize over a beer with me but ALWAYS brought his wife along, too, so that the general public couldn’t gossip that we were wink-wink nudge-nudge “strategizing” in a seedy bar.
And yes please! to shutting down the crude comments and off-color jokes.
In some cultures, bringing SOs and the like to work events is a non-starter.
Depending on the LWs field and actual country, inviting the wife along may make it even weirder rather than normalizing the meeting.
Do some research before implementing this strategy, or just stick with inviting women colleagues at your level.
From the letter it sounded like he wants to invite her to a non-work event where she’d get the chance to meet people in her field that could help her career. It’s possible that the culture where the LW is means it would still be awkward to invite his wife along but it seems likely to be significantly less weird than inviting her to a official work event.
Yeah, it definitely varies and it is something to check before inviting anyone to anything, especially since as mentioned in other comments LW will get a pass for things as a foreigner and dude, so going by reactions isn’t always reliable.
Check First, is all.
Hah… I actually hit upon the solution of inviting my wife just after sending the email. I invited her, and another senior woman, and confirmed they could attend before inviting Ang. She came, and equal opportunity potentially professionally important socialising was had by all.
This is meant to go under Little Help (LW2).
Do more stuff with female colleagues? Ask them how you can help and REMEMBER what they tell you.
For LW 853, please listen to the Captain’s advice. I currently work for the best manager I’ve ever had (I’m a cis woman, he’s a cis man). We work in a field related to the armed forces, and the culture there is very Macho Heterosexual Young Male (lots of innuendo, lots of one-upsmanship). On the third day my manager worked for us, he refused to let a sexually suggestive comment pass as appropriate conversation during an informal stand-up meeting. He called the speaker out by stating, “hey, that’s unprofessional, let’s not do that anymore” and then continued running the meeting. Since I was the target of the comment, after the meeting he had an immediate follow-up conversation with me to make sure that a) I was comfortable with him speaking up instead of me in that situation, b) that I understood why the situation was inappropriate (because I honestly was so inured to the culture at that point that it didn’t register that it WAS inappropriate – really messed up), and c) that we could think about how to handle such situations moving forward. He then had a follow-up conversation with two other female employees in the meeting and discussed the same information. He then had a final conversation with the men in the meeting, to make sure that they understood why the comment was inappropriate and why such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated going forward.
Some employees continue to test this boundary, but it makes a world of difference to me that my manager is willing and does go to bat for female employees. I have a lot of political capital at this office, but addressing issues of inappropriate behavior myself freaked me out – I *knew* I would spend all of the capital if I ever addressed behavior that upset me. Having someone who can step between or back me up has made me so much confident in my work environment and that confidence has translated into a 30% improvement in my efficiency. I win, the company wins, the gross male employees have to behave or GTFO.
Wow, your manager is amazing.
This is the kind of thing I tell the bosses of my bisses about. I mean it’s the kind of thing that EVERY DUDE should be doing ALREADY but to hear it from people working under this guy, and to realise that you probably speak to people who may apply for jobs there someday or to clients, could help higher ups realise the worth of having non sexist managers. Not that they should need more reasons of worth. But you know.
Very happy to read a story like this!
Thank you for the suggestion! I have a meeting with boss’s boss this week – I’ll make sure to bring it up.
Once upon a time I worked for a startup with six employees, four of them white men who all lived in the same fraternity in college, the male founder who went to b-school with one of the frat boys, and me. We were all out celebrating closing a big account, and one of the men started complaining about his valentine’s day date. “I took her to [fancy expensive bigname restaurant] and bought her the fancy fifteen dollar martinis she wanted and she didn’t even–” and at that point the founder stomped on mouthy guy’s foot and glared at him. Mouthy guy looked at the founder, looked at me, looked back at the founder, turned bright red, and finished with “–pay for the cab ride.” That was more than ten years ago and I still remember it like yesterday, and in those ten plus years, I have gone to great lengths to do favors for the founder whenever I’m able (not just for this–he was a pretty great boss all around).
I worked at a small hot dog joint one summer in college, and the usual setup was just one cook and one cashier. The owner was a 75-year old cranky asshole who hung around a lot, and one day he said something about how I should wear tighter shirts if I want more tips, because “that’s how it works, right?”
The 30-ish male cook, without missing a beat, stepped right in with a joke about how he’d try, but he wasn’t exactly Justin Timberlake. He deflected the comment away from me just like that, probably without even thinking, in a situation where complaining the higher-ups wasn’t really an option. The whole thing happened so quickly that I didn’t fully process it for a day or two. It was such a small thing, but I still remember it and I still want to thank him.
That cook is a rare breed in the restaurant biz, and kudos to him. This anecdote made my day.
My mom worked in a medical office in the 70s and the Dr/owner of practice instituted a dress code of skirts only for the women on staff. So mom became the ringleader of a no leg shaving movement and the uniform policy changed back 😉 I always loved that story as a kid.
My first thought was ‘utilikilt’…
LW1, I wish I had good news about the film/screenwriting industry, but my experience was that it was filled with Dale types. As you’ve probably noticed, the male/female split of screenwriters tilts heavily male, so you’ll stand out as a younger woman. I had good luck with wearing an engagement ring when I went to mixers. That cut way down on the guys who were looking for dates. But I still felt like I was treated differently than my male peers. I had a lot if guess insinuate that I would only get ahead because I was young and cute. Older guys sometimes looked at me like a pet project. Some people generally took me less seriously. Now, there were also plenty of people who treated me well– I don’t want to scare you off screenwriting– but I definitely got the most attention when I made a point of branding myself as writing about women.
Eventually, I got tired by the lack of respect and lack of interest in my preferred genres (romance and romantic comedy) and left to write romance novels full time. Of course, that comes with a whole other set of issues and expectations.
On one hand, it drives me totally up the wall that demonstrating “ownership” by another man is a surefire way to get most creeps to leave you alone. I mean, patriarchy is some serious bullshit. On the other hand, holy shit, an engagement ring works SO WELL as a creeper deterrent. When I got creeped on at a bar a few weeks after getting engaged, I was positively GIDDY about switching my beer to my left hand and taking a big, obnoxious swig while looking him right in the eye. It’s fucked that it works, but damn, does it (usually) work.
(I keep saying usually because some creepers will never be deterred by anything you say or do or wear. Grrrrr.)
It sucks that it works so well! I know it helped me turn off that inner anxiety of OMG does he want to talk to me about work or is he just looking for a date? I had the ring, so I knew I could assume things were professional. I was in a serious relationship at the time (we eventually got married), so I didn’t have to deal with the issue of navigating dating vs. networking. But the “I have a bf thing” never worked for me. I still had guys who were happy to “friendzone” themselves. I used to have shitty boundaries when it came to friends.
To LW 853: please note that if you go the route of inviting your wife (which you should!), you should know that if she bows out at the last minute, or can’t make it, after you have included her on the invitation, you need to CANCEL THE EVENT, full stop.
Whatever you do, do not suddenly sprint it on Ang after she’s accepted your invite that “oh, by the way, my wife is bailing to watch her favorite drama, so it’ll be just us guys after all!” It will feel like a trap, and she will feel extremely gross an anxious. Better to call the whole thing off than try to make it work.
Absolutely. The “Do you want to come with [group] to [social event]? Whoops actually it’s just you and me!” thing has happened to me a couple of times. The guys in question didn’t do anything disrespectful, and for all I know they were telling the truth about the other guests cancelling at the last minute, but it was still uncomfortable and made me trust them less.
This is a really great point to bring up, and one that the LW might not have thought of.
This entire comment section comment illustrates how fraught networking can be for women in a male-dominated profession. A big shout-out to the LW for wanting to make it a bit easier for the women he manages.
If it’s the second or later hangout, and she got along with the wife, I’d suggest communicating it to her as a bummer. “My wife can’t make it, I’m sorry, she was looking forward to seeing you. Do you still fancy coming out if it’s just me, or shall I try to rearrange a time that works for all?” (Possibly adding “my behaviour toward you will be the same as if she were with us”)
It needs the subtext that the wife’s unavailability makes the outing less appealing cos the wife is so lovely, which gives the invitee a graceful opportunity to say no thanks.
Whether acknowledging that a behaviour change when the wife’s out of eyeshot is “possible but not something I’d inflict upon you” increases or decreases trust, I dunno.
Myself, I trust a guy more if he acknowledges standard creepy dude behaviours… initially. If he can’t go five minutes without saying “lol, imagine if I were a creepy dude and put my hand down your top lol” obviously that circles back to creepy.
Another possible way for dealing with that kind of situation is to ask Ang how she wants to deal with it.
“Hey, I just found out from [my wife/other female coworker] that they’re not going to be able to make it tonight. Would you rather reschedule, or go ahead with just the two of us?”
I personally hate having my plans be derailed at the last moment, and there are lots of men that I wouldn’t mind being alone with, so long as it’s not a surprise. There are also men that I would mind being alone with, but asking also gives me the chance to back out.
I’ve only ever been me tired by older men in an academic setting, and I was never creeped on. Here’s how:
1: My mentors never talked or asked about anything personal. We talked about creative endeavors and occasionally TV shows or current events. That’s it. When I couldn’t make a meeting or whatever because of a death in the family, I’d tell them that and condolences would be given and that was that.
2: I wasn’t FB friends with any of them until after I graduated, and while we had each others’ numbers, we never ever texted. Social media and texting can absolutely be used to be professional. But, they can also be creepy, plausible deniability-allowing flirtation alleyways.
3: I only ever met with these men in public, or in their offices. When I met in their offices, the door was open unless *I* closed it (which I only ever did once).
4: There was never any unwanted touching. No shoulder or elbow touches, or unwanted back rubs. Handshakes was about as physically intimate I got with these men.
I’m sure there are other things I am missing, but basically treat Ang the way you would any other male-identifying employee to her face while being her best feminist ally friggin’ everywhere.
Oh, and publicly calling out gross and sexist behavior that happens to Ang in front of you will go a long long way in changing the standards in the culture of your job. Ang would be sure to mention to other professional women about how awesome her boss is if you maintain actual awesomeness.
Cool story, bro.
It reads a lot like you think YOUR behaviour is what kept creepers away, and by implication suggests any woman who does get creeped on is at fault? I hope that’s not what you think, and if so you may want to read through the archives on this topic a bit more.
YOU got lucky in never having a mentor turn creepy. They never touched you, good for you. Not everyone is as lucky as you.
While I don’t want to speak for Somniorun, I’d like to say that that was not my takeaway from her post. It seemed to me that the list of behaviours was how her mentors treated her, preventing her from feeling creeped on, more than things she did to prevent having creepy mentors, which is useful advice for the second letter writer. Particularly the latter two paragraphs suggest that this was the intent.
This is exactly what I was trying to communicate, and clearly failed at.
My post was aimed at the second LW of this post.
OK. I’m very glad I misread your comment!
As Somniorun is addressing this to the second LW, I assume this is supposed to be a code of conduct for him. So I do not agree, without any confirmation by Somniorun, that this is supposed to be a “do this [female-read person] and you will not be creeped on.”
If it was, yes, that would be victim blaming.
It definitely was intended to be a code of contact for the LW asking about what else he could do to behave professionally in the presence of Ang and how else to protect* her from the potrntial harassment of others.
* I am sure that Ang does not necessarily need a Big Strong Man to protect her, here I mean being a strong advocate for her in the work place.
* conduct, not contact
I give up, no more internet today
I get why you read this comment that way, because Somniorum described everything in ‘I’ terms. But I think what she[? I’m assuming from context] was doing was llustrating the kinds of interactions that had made her feel comfortable and that this is they kind of behavior LW2 should be modelling himself on.
Yeup! This is exactly what I was going for. And I do indeed identify as female and use female pronouns. I am just not that awesome at writing.
I posted before consuming caffeine and taking my anti-brain-fog medication and the lesson I learned here was: Never do that, ever, or Bad Assumptions Shall Be Made.
Eh, your comment was fine. I get the sense it maybe touched on a hot button issue for Nanani which is why it came across wrong. it’s the nature of these conversations that we all miscommunicate / misread sometimes (and sorry to Nanani too if you are feeling a bit piled on now – when I left my comment the others addressing this weren’t showing up, and I suspect that is true for other people too).
This is absolutely what I get for posting so soon after waking up.
Yes, this was for the second LW of this post. Hence the mention of the employee-who-is-a-woman, Ang. I was informing this second LW what these men did for me to avoid creeping on me.
I have been predated on, by a rapist abusive ex and an incestuous father and a molesting babysitter. I’m sorry I wasn’t clear about who I was addressing, but there is no reason to assume that I have no idea what it’s like to be turned on.
Your post was fine — in this case it happens that there are two letters being addressed and unfortunately, your quite reasonable response to #2 just happened to read like a victim-blaming response to #1.
Yeah girl, you’re fine. I think most folks read your comment in the way you intended it, and for those who didn’t, you clarified.
And I agree with your advice for the second LW. If he puts your advice into practice, it will go a long way toward allowing his female mentees to feel safe and comfortable in their interactions.
Unnecessarily rude. Maybe frame your future comments in a less condescending way in case you’re the one who has misunderstood.
uh, I read her post as more a guide for male would-be mentors in how not to be creepy. . .
Dear Majorly Creeped Out —
Ugh. YUCK. I hear you. When I was about your age I had a similar situation with an academic of about your creepy old creepster’s age, and I ended up getting daily emails from him for about 6 months, the subject lines of which alternated between ‘YOU B***H I HATE YOU’ and ‘I’M SO SORRY OH GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE’. He also started sending expensive gifts to the university department in which I was a student, which I picked up with great embarrassment and posted straight back to him. It was AWFUL.
So — First, you’ve done 100% the right thing in listening to your instincts and cutting contact with this insensitive oldster, and Captain Awkward’s advice is on point, as usual. Based on my own experience — of Creepy McNoThankYouSir, above, and another guy who started lurking around outside my workplace — I’d just suggest that you could send a single short email response: ‘I realise you want a closer relationship, and since that’s not something I’d like to pursue I would feel more comfortable if you didn’t contact me again. This will be my last email to you. I wish you well.’
The reason I say this is that if there’s a chance you may bump into him in work situations you might feel less anxious and more able to stand your ground if you’ve already sent a clear message. In my experience, it’s incredibly easy to fall into an attitude of guilt for having ignored someone when you bump into them and they’re all ‘hey, how come you stopped replying to my messages, I’m not a bad guy!’. It always makes me — quite wrongly!!! — feel that I have to justify myself there and then, and if there are other people around, listening, and I’m off guard and it looks to everyone nearby as though I’ve been rude, that’s incredibly hard for me to do. Replying ‘I’ve already explained my position, so let’s leave it there’, with a firm but amicable tone, on the other hand, feels controlled and puts the onus on HIM to take the conversation further, which he’s not very likely to do in a professional setting.
Needless to say, if you do write to him, divert his emails to a folder you do not ever look at. You could get a pal to check the folder just to see what he’s said and assess whether it’s worth your consumption. If this guy is only an insensitive older dude who had hoped for more than he was ever going to get, but isn’t actually a Coercive Beast Man, you might get an apology and an offer to be of no-strings-attached professional use to you if ever you’d feel comfortable with it. I’ve seen that happen a few times, and though I’d NEVER advise taking the guy up on such an offer, were it extended, that kind of response might ease your anxiety about it.
Good luck. xx
This is great advice. I would add that when calling out creepy behavior, it is really common for Creepy Guy to respond with something like “Oh, it’s just a joke. Ang doesn’t mind, do you Ang?”
Chances are Ang has been socialized to “go along to get along”, or is shy, or is worried about blowback on her career, and will agree that yes, it’s just a joke and she doesn’t mind. She minds. She minds a lot. (This is true whether it is Ang from Thailand, Christie from NYC, Rose from the UK, etc).
What you can respond in this situation is “I don’t care. *I* mind. *I* think it’s creepy and inappropriate, so cut it out.” This takes pressure off Ang, and redirects the possible anger of Creepy Guy away from her to you, where you are in a much better position to deal with it.
I’ve been in this situation several times. When the nice guys in the room accepted the “joke” even when I was visibly uncomfortable, it made me feel invisible and helpless. When the nice guys called out the guy on my behalf (i.e. “She obviously doesn’t like it”) it actually made me feel like I had to double down on lying about being okay. When the nice guys called him out on their own terms, I felt supported, as though everyone in the room agreed with me that it was not okay, and it made it more possible for me to speak up on my own.
Yes to all of this!
I had the good fortune when I was much younger to work with a more senior member of my team (not a mentor per se, but someone with more experience/authority, and in a male-dominated industry) who did a brilliant job of this. When someone said something gross or suggestive or made an inappropriate joke or etc., he’d say, “Hey dude, not cool,” or “that’s not funny, knock it off.” It was said in a level and calm tone of voice, but without a trace of a smile, with not even a hint of wink-wink-nudge-nudge-not-in-front-of-the-ladies. If the offender said something like, “I was just joking” or “lighten up,” he’d say, “Well, I don’t appreciate it, so stop, okay?”
I appreciated this for many reasons. One of course was that I wasn’t put in the position of having to make the calculus of whether it was worth my telling them to knock it off myself (which often I would not have, simply because I was fairly new to the team). It was safer for him to shoulder that burden, and I appreciated that he did. But the way he did it was also very helpful. Because he framed it as him not finding it funny and not appreciating it, I wasn’t drawn into a “Turtle doesn’t mind, do you Turtle?” where I’d feel pressure to be the Chill Girl or the Easygoing One and laugh it off. Because he framed it as uncool or inappropriate in general, as opposed to a ‘not in front of the ladies’ phrasing, it didn’t contribute to a dichotomy where guys can relax and have fun as long as the uptight wimminfolk aren’t there. And because he wasn’t speaking for me–he was expressing his own discomfort and unwillingness to tolerate it, not saying it on my behalf–I didn’t feel patronized or spoken over.
I have always appreciated it, and I hope to pay forward by performing the same service for other people.
This is also why it’s important to call out creepy/sexist behavior even if there are no women present. Same with racist behavior when there are no members of that race present, etc. It sets a precedent that this behavior is unacceptable around you, full stop. Also leaves you less open to “you’re just trying to impress him/her/them” type accusations.
“What you can respond in this situation is “I don’t care. *I* mind. *I* think it’s creepy and inappropriate, so cut it out.” This takes pressure off Ang, and redirects the possible anger of Creepy Guy away from her to you, where you are in a much better position to deal with it.”
This. You’re not leaving the marginalized party without support, and you’re also not presuming to speak for zir in any way. “I” statements are a powerful tool in a number of contexts.
I also second omj’s comment; I’ve found it more difficult to call out sexist behavior when it’s only a group of men* because it’s more likely I’ll be the only person with an objection, but I think it’s even MORE important to push back against this when no members of the targeted group are present, because it reinforces the idea that the problem is not subjective “offense” of those present, but systemic discrimination.
*plus me; I identify as phenotypically male and am usually read as a man, so I generally benefit from masculine privilege, but I object to the concept of social gender, full stop, and my gender identity is “none”
I think the second letter is a great example of how men who really want to help just don’t know how to help. The inclination is almost to not get near those situations, but then that’s actually worse, and excludes women from important informal work events. The advice CA gave is outstanding, and you sound like someone who can be a really valuable mentor to some young women if you use it, plus a bit of common sense.
If you have more than one female working for you, you might try inviting out a mixed group of both men and women, or if you have female colleagues in other companies or internal departments, ask if they would be interested in lunch or other outside-of-work social event that you can then also invite Ang to. Captain is right, she will feel much safer not being the only female in the group.
As a 50-something female in a heavily male-dominated industry (manufacturing/logistics) I still find the boy’s network incredibly difficult to break into. I’m not invited to golf events or other social events where men and their wives have been, even though I’m married. Several of the managerial level women in my company have made a pact to include one another, to speak up in support of one another in meetings and to make sure that the other women get included in meeting invites that they have been inadvertently left off from.
I just have to say this is perfect! Some mentors will be creeps and you can ditch them and know there are better ones out there waiting for you to reach out.
Keep an eye open for opportunities that are specifically geared toward women. Help develop/champion such opportunities, and signal boost them. These can be professional societies, networking events, scholarships, internships, training programs, funding, formal mentoring programs, whatever. They do exist but often are overlooked, ignored, dismissed, particularly by men in positions of power. By advocating for such targeted opportunities, you signal that you support more opportunities for women specifically, not just being fair and treating men and women the same as if it were a level playing field (ie, gender blindness comparable to color blindness in terms of racism).
You want to signal that you are a safe person and that you make spaces safe for women. This is where actions, large and small, build that far more than any disclaimer you could speak. Make the default attitude of your work environment (within your spheres of influence) that of course women are present, important, involved, engaged, valued and expected instead of rare, exceptional, token, easily dismissed, etc. Model what is expected in terms of both attitudes and behaviors.
Regarding bringing your wife along; I’ve been to networking events where “the wives” all hang out in one group while the men talk shop in another group, and my female colleagues and I all somehow ended up in the wives group and didn’t actually get to network at all. It’s weirdly difficult to break into the men’s group, even when they’re discussing something that it is literally your job to know about.
LW, make sure Ang doesn’t spend the whole night talking to your wife while you and Pai and Steve talk about work, unless your wife is also part of your industry.
Yes, I was going to say this. I think that bringing other women is a good idea, and bringing a wife/girlfriend is not a bad way to do it necessarily, but (assuming your wife is not in the same industry; ignore this if she is) you have to be super vigilant that it doesn’t turn into “work networking for the men while Ang is in the corner talking about non-work things with women not in the industry.” And by super vigilant I mean you may need to actively, consistently draw Ang into the work conversations.
(This also means that if you are doing things well, your wife may be stuck listening to shop talk about an industry she’s not in all night, which may not be a long-term tenable thing to ask of her, depending.)
(This also means that if you are doing things well, your wife may be stuck listening to shop talk about an industry she’s not in all night, which may not be a long-term tenable thing to ask of her, depending.)
Having been the wife invited along to my spouse’s work-related events (for an industry I’m not part of) fairly often, I’m glad you brought this up. In my case I have a husband who just feels more socially competent/confident when I’m there, which is nice, but sure leads to a boring night out for me. It’s not something I’d be up for regularly.
Wasn’t there a CA about this recently – “my boyfriend invites me to his work drinks and then talks shop all night” ?
I have been in this exact situation. I’ve even had “the wives” *physically pull me away* from the men and the “boring” conversation, notably leaving my husband with the men.
For this reason, I am generally not a fan of male professionals in male dominated industries inviting their wives to things as a dynamic. To me, it reinforces the fact that as a women, I’m an outsider. It doesn’t make me feel more safe or like I’ll be taken more seriously. It makes me think that they think I’d rather talk to other women, rather than men who I have more in common with. It emphases the fact that “men” do the work, and women socialize.
I do, however, recommend inviting women to group events, even if there’s just one other person and even if that one other person is male. This DOES make me feel safer.
Of course, plenty of people feel differently. But tread lightly with inviting wives to events to make female colleagues more comfortable. It may do just the opposite.
The physically being pulled away from an interesting work-related conversation has happened to me as well. Same person who once introduced the mixed group as “Oh, they’re the [heavily male-dominated profession that I share with my husband] and we’re their wives.” (Husband and I are at different companies).
But, while this is something to keep an eye out for, especially long-term, I think the dynamics of the situation for LW2 are a bit different, both because of the country involved, and due to the mentorship relationship. To me, what’s being proposed is making this more like having a Professor invite a student over for dinner, rather than a bunch of colleagues on (relatively) equal footing/age groups hanging out together. That being the case, I would definitely encourage looking at the feasibility of getting another woman involved, even if she’s outside the company, at least until a baseline of support/comfort can be established.
And looking into options for socialising outside of work that involve things other than going out for an alcoholic drink could be good as well.
As a biostatistician in the “mentee” portion of her career, I heartily second everything CA says above. I’d also add, for LW2, to apply some critical thinking if/when you have a direct discussion about the challenges women face in your field. I’ve had several mentors who were otherwise great but who still, through offhand comments, made it clear that I wasn’t in a 100% woman-friendly space. As a mentor, it’s definitely possible to be entirely well-meaning and still say something unfortunate based on the stereotypes and attitudes pervading the culture of the industry.
Examples from my life include:
-“It should be easy to get research done while on maternity leave, you can work while the baby sleeps!”
-“I don’t understand why universities don’t hire more women, they’re so good at serving on committees!”
-“Well, women just need to negotiate better terms when they’re hired – it’s not that hard, I did it!”
-“Ugh, [woman facutly member] keeps taking sick time when [her infant child] is sick, it makes it so hard to get ahold of her” (context: her husband, [male faculty member in the same department] took the same number of sick days with zero comment
Don’t sweat this too much! CA has laid out a great path for you in terms of creating positive mentoring relationship with women, and your actions are the most important part of all of this. But, if you want to move from “good guy” to “ally,” it’s worth taking the time to think about this stuff as well.
My female mentor (who is the bomb dot com) had a male colleague tell her to “enjoy her vacation” as she was about to start maternity leave. I’m not sure what kind of vacation involves being woken at 3 am (and 4 am, and 5 am, and 6 am…) but a crying infant, but I hope Expedia allows refunds for that sort of thing.
Perhaps stop thinking / speaking in stereotypes in general?
“… you know what they say about white guys in this part of the world).” No, I really don’t?
“… white dudes in this part of the world have a reputation as inveterate horndogs. For good reason, really.” Maybe if that weren’t the assumption going in, you might be surprised by who you meet?
I mean, seeing everyone as an individual — women, men, everyone — might be a start.
Sure, let’s pretend patterns of exploitation and persistent privilege imbalances don’t exist and they’ll go away!
Right! Thanks for this comment.
I’m a Thai person. I cordially invite people who do not believe that there’s a power imbalance to google forums for white expats in Thailand, like Teakdoor or Thai visa, and have a read. The situation is very similar across Asia. It’s more than a few bad apples, it’s a whole rotten structure. Comments like ~But we’re all individuals~ are unhelpful derails. OP is doing a decent job of seeing things for what they are.
Not only does the *fingers in ears* “LA LA LA LA LA I can’t hear you” school of problem management never actually work, but the way I understood the second letter, LW 2 brought that up to explain the specific problem he’s having with trying to include women who have justified concerns about white guys inviting them out for creepy creeper reasons. That specific dynamic is a really important part of the problem. And you know, even if the stereotype wasn’t justified, LW 2 would still need to work around it to make female mentees feel safe coming out and networking/getting advice.
Also, Ginger, “what they say” is that a disproportionate number of them are looking either for “submissive” Asian women, or for actual children, to have sex with. So now do you do know. It would be nice if this was a preposterous notion plucked out of a fever dream “they” had, but it simply isn’t. No, of course this does not follow that assuming every individual white guy out there is a predator is sensible but *no one in the LW’s situation is doing that*. He doesn’t need to be “surprised by who [he] meets” — he’s clearly got colleagues and friends already. LW doesn’t have a problem with Steve. Ang doesn’t have a problem with LW. There are no misunderstood white men in the situation who need to be discovered and seen for the diamonds in the rough they are. But LW knows he’s looking at a situation where an effort to include and help Ang *could look* like exactly what a creepy predator would do, scaring Ang off from receiving the hand up he wants to offer. Advising that LW should forget any reason women like Ang could possibly have to be wary basically amounts to: “stop trying to empathise with Ang, and render yourself less likely to notice bad behaviour you may witness in future.” It doesn’t help him handle this situation, and certainly does not help Ang.
I hope I’ll manage to express my point coherently: Phospherocity, Pear, you are right. Exploitation works in patterns and color-blinding the issue doesn’t help anyone. However, I think it’s really important to question those patterns, to see them as wrong and to call attention to them. A good way to do so can be assuming that people are decent and expecting them to behave decently, as well as letting them know clearly when they’ve overstepped a boundary.
I think this teaches people change is possible *and* expected, and also creates a space in which it can be implemented.
LW 2: Could you find a blog by a young female Thai profesional in which she describes her experiences in dealing with white male colleagues? A “how not to be a creep” tutorial aimed to white men and written by an Asian woman? Somewhere where feminist Asian women vent about the racial and gender power dynamics?
The captain’s advice is really great, but I think there’s a whole set of cultural expectations at play here on top of the gender&professional issues. Is Ang allowed to accept an invitation from a man without losing status, for example? I think it would be a good idea for you to do some research and reading about how race and culture intersect with gender roles in a professional setting. The more data you have, the more confident you’ll feel about navigating this.
Possible keywords to feed Google: intersectionality, Asian feminist blogger, creepy white dudes (for the “how not to be” folder), faux passes Americans[/white people/tourists] make in [your location], intercultural mediation…
Good luck! Going against the flow takes hard work, but the results are worth it 🙂
I agree with most of your post (especially the great advice about seeking out a blog post written by a young female professional), but I wanted to push back a little against this portion of your statement.
The LW lives and works in this culture, and I’m sure he has a pretty good idea of how white men are perceived and why they are perceived that way (he mentioned that he knows of actual, specific behaviors by other white dudes that have disgusted him). I also think that his generalizations are helpful because they are probably the generalizations that any women he tries to mentor is working from – especially if she is a non-white, native of the country. Women who are native to these countries don’t really have the luxury of “assuming that people are decent and expecting them to behave decently”, not if those people are white men in a country where white men have been flagrantly abusing the power structure. I actually think it’s a good thing that the LW is aware of the perceptions of white men in this country, since it helps him to realize where his potential female mentees are coming from.
As LW2, I can confirm that this is where I’m coming from.
Yes, it’s unfair to tar all white men in Thailand with the creepy brush, but my guess is that to do so as a young Thai woman is probably going to get you into less trouble than assuming that all white men in Thailand have only the progression of your career in mind.
There are much bigger victims of the guilty-until-proven-innocent assumption in the world than white guys in SE Asia…
Given that I am LW2, I can confirm that I have a pretty good idea of how white men are perceived here and why they are perceived that way.
I’m pretty sure I could not, in good conscience, recommend a young Thai woman assume that white men are decent and expect them to behave decently. The baseline level of grossness is sufficiently high that assuming good faith is likely to put her in uncomfortable situations, and as a junior woman, it’s not always easy to tell people when they’ve overstepped a boundary (hell, it’s even sometimes difficult to realise when the boundaries are overstepped).
So, thank you, B and Ginger for defending me and my kind. I don’t particularly like being creepy-until-proven-innocent, but I take solace in the fact that there are much greater victims of the guilty-until-proven-innocent assumption in the world than white men in SE Asia.
As far as feminist Asian bloggers, I’m married to one, so I have some experience in spotting them, and I suspect Ang may actually be one herself, though I haven’t yet pried. I’ll keep an eye out for blogs on this topic, but I suspect she’ll know about them before I will.
sorry for the double post… I didn’t realise comment moderation was a thing… First time commenter here.
“Women who are native to these countries don’t really have the luxury of “assuming that people are decent and expecting them to behave decently”, not if those people are white men in a country where white men have been flagrantly abusing the power structure”
Right? The problem here isn’t that everyone assumes the worst of white men: it’s that white men assume other white men are probably good dudes even when they’re not, and as a result women have to be constantly on guard because they know that if they are victimised, they won’t receive adequate support from their white man colleagues. The ability to assume that someone is a safe person is something you have only if you are privileged enough to know that even if you’re wrong, that won’t lead to you being harassed, stalked or sexually assaulted.
In short, if you want to support women in your industry, worry as much about creepsters and inappropriate sexual behaviour as women do.
That’s what I’m trying to do, but I don’t want to exclude women from events/networking opportunities.
I think an obvious tactic is that where I create events where there are networking opportunities, I should create them in safe spaces (breakfasts, larger events with other women, as suggested by other commenters).
In this particular case, Steve created the opportunity, and he created it in a space that could be borderline: a bar. In this situation, worrying about creepsters and inappropriate sexual behaviour as I do, do I exclude Ang (patronising her and not giving her the networking opportunity), or bring her along and potentially expose her to this behaviour?
In this instance, I hit upon a solution (in fact, the one CA recommended) and a fine night was had by all, but it’s striking how much more effort it takes to provide equity of opportunities for junior women than it is for men.
The big takeaway for me is that, if I consider myself an ally, and an equal opportunity mentor, I have to do that work.
I have discussed this problem with male and female colleagues in my industry before, but only ever in fairly small groups. I’ve been on the lookout, and I’ve never actually read anything remotely so practical and comprehensive as CA’s advice, and the stories and recommendations from all the commenters here on the topic…
Most articles are, like, “hey, this exists“, then have two sentences on how it’s important to create equality of opportunity. Then all the comments are arguing about whether it exists or not…
So, uh, thanks…
I’m pretty sure it would make Ang feel weird if I were to send it to her though… I might give it a year…
I totally agree, including another woman always helps. Or actively seek out to make these networking “drinks” slightly larger group events – ideally with some of Ang’s colleagues (better if they are women too of course, but I think it’s fine if they’re men too). Also, the more casual and off-the-cuff it sounds, the less it’s going to seem like this is a Big Deal to you (speaking as a woman, the more rehearsed/practiced an invite seems, the more offputting it is, because it makes me wonder why they’re so nervous). For instance, if you’re just passing by her desk at the end of the day and you say, “Oh by the way, I’m meeting up with Steve who is such-and-such at This Firm for drinks tonight – you’d be more than welcome to join if you like!” And then let her decide if she’s uncomfortable or not.
On a somewhat-related note, I found this letter really interesting because lately I’ve been wondering about this dynamic in my workplace, from Ang’s perspective. I often get the sense that I’m getting left out of casual social invites in my male-dominated field because I think some of the men feel like they’d be perceived as creepy if they invited me along for drinks to their all-male gatherings. It’s funny because in a way I appreciate them not wanting to seem like a creep, but I want to be included! Does anyone have any suggestions for how I can signal to them that I want to be included and wouldn’t be uncomfortable?
Maybe you could send an invitation of your own? How about you approach (or shoot a quick group email to) two-three of your nicer colleagues and say something like “there’s this new place I wanna check for a drink after work, any of you folks want to come with?”?
In my experience, dudes not wanting to be creepy wait for the women to take the first step, and since women are socialised never to take the first step…
This sounds like a use your words situation. Rather than signalling, could you try asking directly, as in ‘Hey Dan, I heard you guys [did social activity] last week after the [work thing that happened], let me know when you’re going again I’d love to join’ or whatever. Or suggest a social event yourself, which could be as simple as saying ‘Pub after work? Bring people’ Team emails simply saying ‘Pub?’ were standard at the last office I worked at, or you could pick a significant occasion of some kind, like a work anniversary or a birthday and make more of a deliberate plan. If there is a person you get on with who is in the loop, tell them you want in and tag along with them next time.
Keep it breezy and refuse to pick up on hints, if they have a legitimate reason to not invite you (e.g. it’s a non work-related, actual-friends-only social event) they will say something, and if they don’t then you can go along and use your judgement from there. If it’s that weird or awkward you can always leave after one drink or remember a reason to dash off, and most decent people will politely forget any awkwardness.
Two small ones see if there are any networking/ industry groups for women in you area these groups offer are looking for senior men to help out in a number of areas and once you are known too be part of these you will find more women approaching you.
Also breakfast and daytime coffee sessions, as a white woman who worked in a more developing country I liked breakfast catch ups as it was clear that it was not going to be one of those meetings and once I was comfortable after a couple of meetings I felt happier to do the drinks after work thing. If someone turns you down for drinks offer these as an option. I also found breakfasts can be more inclusive of those that don’t drink or have family obligations.
Pick venues carefully. It’s very easy for creeps to use alcohol, for example, as an excuse, so maybe hold your mentorship meetings by going out for coffee instead of booze, or something like that. Also keep in mind proximity to public transportation or whatever people are using – do NOT let creeps use “let me drive you!” as an excuse to creep on your mentees.
And of course, quantity. Mentor as many women as you can, since as you say, it’s so much easier for dudes to mentor dudes and women get left without mentorship.
Also, make sure your mentoring is equal – adapt to the individual, but don’t give “girl” mentorship to women.
What I mean by that is a common pitfall hazard for the women in a male-dominated industry involves getting assigned tasks like picking out the colour scheme instead of coding the app (which their male co-mentees get to do), calling/emailing clients instead of filling the order (which their male co-mentees get to do), and so on.
You are mentoring a $jobtitle, not a LADY$jobtitle.
Forgot to mention that was for the second letter.
As for the first, I’m so sorry this happened to you.
I hope you have a strong team-you and colleagues who will believe you if you choose to share your experience.
You may want to speak up about Dale’s mentoring being useless, even if you don’t go into detail about his creepiness.
Chances are he has already told his network, directly or by insinuation, that he wants into your pants and there may be an impression that you were seeing him romantically even if that’s not true.
Publicly and loudly telling people in your field that he was just giving you advice AND that it has been bad for your carreer AND that you are moving on and away from him may help.
These are good suggestions, but I make a small sad face around how a lot of work is expected of women to solve this stuff. His wife has to buffer work meetings? (As a wife, I have my own career and having to chaperone my husband’s work meetings sounds awful. Less awful than women feeling threatened, but still pretty bad) The few women in the industry need to be called in to mentor every other woman? They have jobs/lives too and expecting them to be all things to all people is … more of the same, honestly, but still unfair.
I do think that people with power and privilege should speak up to defend their own standards of behavior. I had a boss who earned my undying admiration for his ability to stomp on people who piped up with great!new!ideas! that someone else had already come up with. He was a shark about attribution, no one got away with brushing off someone’s idea (usually feminine) and then bubbling over with enthusiasm for the same idea later in the conversation, when it comes out of the mouth of a dude. Defending attribution never cost him anything, but I always felt listened to and valued working with him. Speak up, friends, and keep it about your standards and holding other people to them, not about protecting the helpless girl.
Good points! The “invite your wife” has a VERY specific context in that I was outside the US on a work assignment in a “traditional” culture. So it was a way for my male colleagues to indicate an invitation that was “safe” for me to accept. Wives were not necessary accessories at all work meetings, just at the first social meeting outside of work hours. If the LW is in a culture where young women have few acceptable avenues for socializing with men, “my family invites you” can be an indicator that this is safe & social and not romantic/sexual.
A+++ for the Goofus and Gallant reference.
Both letters! So topical! Ugh. I’m so sorry, LW 852. You owe him squat and I hope you have a good Team You to back you up and validate your choices.
LW 853: I work in IT in the Southeastern US. I’ve worked IT in DC and Chicago as well. It has always been a dudefest. I am the only young (20something) unmarried woman (one of…four women total?) on my current team. My advice? Make it clear to Ang that you take her seriously. Don’t joke about the culture, women, whatever–even if she is Cool Employee, down with the boys’ club atmosphere and not fussy about ‘political correctness’ (barf). My Chicago manager was a pretty conservative dude, but he never made jokes about women As A Whole. (His wife, however…) He knew I was a young woman in a dude-dominated field and he knew what the workplace could be like, so he explicitly instructed me to bring any harassment complaints or just vague creepiness to him directly.
I wish my current manager had done that, so that I could tell him his direct report uses Facebook to look for when I might be feeling ‘vulnerable’ (I could block him but then he’d NOTICE and uuuugh, screw me for thinking male coworkers almost 30 years my senior could be FRIENDLY) and then makes veiled, can’t-get-fired-for-this advances. So that I could tell him about the married manager of another team who told me we were going to a business lunch, then turned it into a date/audition for a new sexyladyfriend on the side while also casually referencing his sniper experience and how he doesn’t ‘ask for permission to do things’ and making sure I knew just how Well Connected he was so I’d basically be an idiot to report this.
If Ang feels like she can trust you, like you would back her up if things got Creeptastic elsewhere in the workplace, that would be incredible. Shut down any creepiness you see/hear take place, take her seriously as a person and coworker and acknowledge that the safety and comfort of women in the workplace has a ways to go still. Be friendly but maintain professional boundaries.
I could tell him his direct report uses Facebook to look for when I might be feeling ‘vulnerable’ (I could block him but then he’d NOTICE and uuuugh, screw me for thinking male coworkers almost 30 years my senior could be FRIENDLY)
Ughhhhhhh I’m so sorry to hear about this. One thing you can do with Facebook is fiddle with your privacy settings so that certain groups of people can only see a certain level of your facebook, but more personal posts by default are only visible to a more select group of friends. My default posts are set to Custom (Friends; NOT [group], where [group] contains all my acquaintances and ForwardsFromGrandma-posting relatives) so that only close friends see my shitposts. If I post something that I feel enhances my FB profile, like a science/tech article, I change the privacy to “Friends”.
This way Weird Professor only sees a limited stream of activity, but doesn’t appear to be blocked, just that my FB activity is slower than it was. Your creeper might know this but it gives you so much more plausible deniability. “Oh, I’m just using FB a lot less lately.”
Damn, that is some creeptastic behavior. I hope it’ll get better at some point!
Tangential, but I am a (cis white, to check my privilege) woman and am in the mentor stage of my career.
So similar to the advice the second LW asks for, is there anything people particularly want to see from women in senior management roles?
I’ve had some older female mentors who perpetuated sexist stereotypes, victim-blaming, unequal pay, etc. because they’d had to become “one of the guys” to get ahead, and now they didn’t really know how to stop. So if that’s a path you had to take to get to where you are, expect that you’ll need to do some unlearning in order to fully support younger women, especially if they’re fighting against the system that you’re a part of.
Mentor trans and queer people, who are shut out of a lot of opportunities (not least because predatory older men who “mentor” will dismiss them as viable targets of predation).
Be an advocate for inclusive language in your company’s communications, internal and external. “Partner” instead of “spouse” or “wife/husband”, singular “they” instead of “he or she”, all of that.
Sorry, why not spouse? Is that a typo or is there something I’m not getting?
I assume Rose means that not everyone is married to their partner (s)?
Not everyone can get married, and poly people may have more than one partner and not want to designate one of them the “spouse”. I like “partner” better as a universal as it describes the more important part of the relationship, the partnership, rather than the potentially problematic legal situation.
Can’t speak for Rose Fox, but the thing that jumps to mind is that in some places same-sex marriage is still illegal/looked down on, so “spouse” is homophobic because it excludes people who aren’t (can’t be) married. And unmarried people in general, who are still perfectly capable of being in loving, committed relationships.
Ah, I see several others have gotten here first 🙂
My favorite coworker and mentor was a woman about 20 years my senior. She always encouraged me to attend professional events and even set it up as a quarterly goal so I could have something to attain for bonus time.
She would urge me to ask for raises and fight for things I wanted at a job. Just having a woman I respected give me some support and advice was one of the best things that ever happened for my growth at a company. Not even in a specific position, but it gave me a vision of what I could attain as I got older – I could be the mentor who taught another woman that fighting for herself was important while maintaining good relationships with my coworkers.
Does that answer a little of what you were looking for?
Katepreach, thanks for asking what women might seek from women mentors. When I was a mentee, the males were all Dales, and it was a relief to be matched with women mentors by management at a couple of one-year assignments. Unfortunately both seemed to think their selection meant “tell this newbie your life story.”
Each one used almost all our limited time together to tell me about her experiences and philosophies and sometimes to rant about her colleagues. It was hard to get a word in. One also had a strong pseudoscientific/ religious interest in my educational specialty and insisted on loaning me books full of nonsense so we could discuss them at a later meeting. I had enough to do already and nowhere near enough time!
Worst of all, neither “mentor” asked me how things were going professionally, which projects or task forces I was working on, what my goals were, or even if I had any questions or concerns. That is what I wanted and needed: someone who took a little time to listen and get to know me professionally, asked some informed questions, and then offered suggestions based on her greater knowledge of the field as a whole and the local bureaucracy and its personalities.
An occasional “when I was a rookie” story can be helpful if it has a point like fostering bonding through shared suffering or a warning like “don’t make this disastrous mistake I made.” But don’t make every meeting all about you. A good mentor also should make time to learn enough about the mentee to offer some guidance relevant to the mentee’s interests and situation.
So here’s an issue I’m having as a woman in a male dominated field. It feels like networking events and the like are either 1) 90+% men or 2) specifically about talking about sexism in the field. I find myself wishing there was a place I could just be around women who are doing Cool Tech Things and talk about those things. It’s not that I want people to stop talking about sexism, but I don’t want it to be the ONLY thing women are talking about.
Can you try to have some gatherings where the focus or goal is to talk about a work thing that isn’t specifically gender focused, and invite mostly women to attend (and present if relevant)? Ideally in a way that doesn’t create extra work (emotional or otherwise) for those attending.
Seconding Rose, even though I assume if you read CA, you will not be guilty of this: Do not make “women are like this, men are like that” jokes at work.
Also if that’s something you can do, help female(-read) employees with concrete strategies to be more assertive/what (not) to do, if it seems they could use the help.
(This is my first time commenting here, but I’ve gone through the archive and love everything. If I’ve said anything weird, please let me know.)
LW2, as a white person who reads as female who has experience working in Asia, the thing that stood out to me is that you should definitely take a look at what is considered culturally appropriate. In the developing country I worked in, inviting a woman out with an all-male group was highly inappropriate and often caused negative social issues for the woman involved. Even if my male co-workers invited me out, it was weird. It was a lot worse for host country nationals, who didn’t have the ‘foreigner pass’. By inviting Ang out to a guys night, however well-meaning your intention, you might be setting her up for ridicule. It would be a lot better to invite Ang AND another woman in the company, and make sure both know that the other is invited. I don’t know how much cultural training your company gives you, but it might be worthwhile to talk to your language teacher (if you have one) or a trusted host country national friend about the norms for this sort of thing. As a white dude (and great job recognizing the usual gross-ness of expat white guys in Asia- that was definitely the worst part of working there for me!) you’ll get a lot of passes for doing things that Ang and even Pai won’t have.
Also, you may want to take a look at the culture around drinking. In the country I was in, women who drank were looked down upon a lot. There might be negative cultural connotations to inviting a woman to a meeting in a drinking establishment, and I’m willing to bet Ang won’t feel comfortable in one if that is the case. (Of course, everyone is different and it might not even be an issue in your country.) The whole double standard is icky, but you should at least know what the cultural attitude is.
As for being judged, there is no way to avoid that unfortunately. I know what the thought was when I saw a young girl from the country out with an older white dude, and until the exploitation of young Asian women by gross people ends, that thought will usually take precedence to one of “look at the cool gal and her coworker”. Just do your best by Ang and hopefully the people who matter will know what’s really up. If you are truly concerned by how it looks, make sure there is always another woman with you two. Or better yet, meet up in a non-bar-like atmosphere. I’m sure there are coffee shops of some sort you could go to. With the alcohol out of the picture, Ang will likely feel more at ease meeting up with you and Pai and Steve. It would still be best to have another woman there, like Cap said, you could invite your wife if she is willing to come.
I hope it works out for you and for Ang. It sounds like you’re trying hard to be a good ally to the women in your life, and that’s wonderful.
tl:dr- consider the culture you are in, and what negative social consequences might happen to Ang if you invite her to a drinking establishment.
Or perhaps let Ang know that as a senior person in the field, you are interested in giving good career advice to junior people, and that you would like to offer mentorship? But you’re also aware that there are some disadvantages that women face that men do not. And you’re aware that sometimes things that would be acceptable for you as a white man are not acceptable for her, and that you are not an expert on how to balance good for career and culturally acceptable. If you can figure out some way to say that you’d like to offer her the same level of mentorship that you would a man, but you’re open to her guidance on how to not make things more difficult for her, that might let her feel more comfortable to suggest modifications that would reduce or eliminate the possibility of negative social consequences.
LW2 – I second CA’s advice, but also, watch Ang’s body language and react appropriately. I was a research assistant for a professor. He, another (male) student, and I went to the woods to set up the experiment. I made a joke, Prof laughed and touched my shoulder. Having not-good history with men, especially men in positions of power, I stiffened and kinda smiled awkwardly. And then…he never touched me again. He kept touching the other assistants’ arms when they made him laugh and he was close (I think casual touch is a bit more accepted in his home country?), but he recognized that I didn’t like it and made an effort to not do it again. That’s the sort of thing, at least in my experience, that separates the creeps from the honest people: creeps would see I was uncomfortable and take advantage, but people who actively want me around make an effort. (Some people really are clueless with body language/social mores in general, but it can be learned.) Basically, just keep notes on what she doesn’t like and avoid those behaviors. Stick up for her if someone does something inappropriate. A good boss is a shield for his employees, so be that shield.
Also, seconding the idea that at least the first time there’s a second woman along. Or maybe you could have regularly-scheduled meetings in the office?
“Thank you for your time, but I am no longer comfortable with our interactions, please do not try to contact me again.” Keep a record of this in case he tries stalking, so you have a very clear “I told him not to come near me or talk to me’ for the authorities, just in case.
For the second guy…yeesh, that’s a tough one. It’s hard to try and honestly not be ‘that guy’ without possibly coming across like you’re trying to be a Nice Guy for her attentions. I’d say that for her career’s sake, she should definitely be included, and if any of the guys in the group start hitting on her or doing anything that makes her uncomfortable, call them out on it. Don’t let them chase her out of a career she’s working so hard for.
In the case of LW2, are there other times of day that co-workers could go out together and not be seen as socializing with a capital S? Perhaps lunch, even breakfast, might be seen as more of a work thing than going out for drinks at night?
LW2, maybe instead of drinks after work, go to a place where the focus isn’t on alcohol. You mention coffee and lunch during work hours, which are great things to invite your women coworkers and staff along to! After work, if it’s still a work-ish event, avoid places that are dark, loud, and boozy. Also, maybe avoid places that are at the higher end of the price scale? I once got invited to a ‘friendly work dinner’ and had to turn down the invitation because I couldn’t afford anything on the menu AND a cab home (and I wasn’t going out with no way to get home).
Be mindful of how people disperse after work-ish events – some kick on to less professional venues, and cement their friendships in the adventures that follow! If you don’t want/can’t attend that leg, then it can literally feel like getting left behind.
I’ve always worked in female-dominated fields and am now in business school. This post is super useful to me in being prepared for my own future and what to expect from my future male colleagues.
LW2, it is has just occurred to me that Pai might be able to help you out if he also knows Ang? I don’t know anything about the culture of the country you’re working in, or even the wider area, but I do know that if, as a graduate student, I had been invited out for drinks with two older male members of staff, I would have been anxious. In fact, there’s almost no way I’d have gone. If I’d been invited to go to the same drinks by a guy my own age who was also looking to network and learn, and who vouched for the event as being of that kind, I’d have felt a lot better. And then, if one of the senior staff members had behaved with impeccable professionalism (as I’m 100% sure you will) and shut down any attempts by the other staff member to change that tone (which again, I’m sure you will), I’d know that all was basically well. It might also look less…uh…suggestive to onlookers if the middle aged white guys are balanced out by a young Asian guy, and all involved are dressed in work gear?
Anyway, you know Pai, so you know whether he’s someone you could discuss this with or not. It’s possible that he might have really useful advice about how to navigate these waters. I’m also a firm believer that young men follow the example of the bosses and business leaders they respect, so enlisting his help might have the knock-on effect of inspiring him to be more aware of the challenges his female colleagues face, and more inclined actively to help them.
I think the most important thing you can do LW2 is LISTEN to women. It sounds like “duh, of course I listen to women” but seriously, it is something that is rare than men really listen to us and don’t dismiss things we say, talk over us, etc. Even folks who generally don’t will do it occasionally. And speaking up against sexism and other bigotry so the folks it is said against don’t have to is also HUGE. I always appreciate when men, especially white men, do this when I’m in a white-male-dominated space (which is always at work, I’m an mechanical engineer). The few women and POC and the very few women POC should not always have to be the ones doing the work of calling this BS out and make no doubt about it, it is WORK and it is much harder work to do when you aren’t in a privileged position.
Also, work to amplify women’s voices without taking over their ideas. I always, always appreciate men who do this. You don’t know how funny-sad-enraging it is to say something as a woman and no one really takes to it until a (probably white) man says the exact same thing then everyone is on board, ugh!!!!
And yes, do everything you can to promote groups that have as many women in them as you can find. Trust me, I know how hard this can be in certain fields, I look around at each event I go to and am just floored by how white and male the participants are, it really sucks. So try and foster groups that always invite a lot of women AND make them feel welcome! Shut down even the most innocuous sexism, really, don’t let that stuff pass. If someone is being creepy, shut it down and kick them out of the event if necessary and don’t be afraid to exclude them in the future either.
LW1, you did everything right and I’m so glad you are avoiding Dale. Sorry you had to go through that 😦
To the woman mentor trying to best mentor other women, I’m reading this advice too as while I haven’t had much opportunity, I’m eager to be a good mentor to women especially too. One thing I would say is don’t perpetuate the “exceptional woman” stereotype, that you are one of the guys, that you aren’t like those other women, etc. I bought into this for a long time and still slip into it on occasion. Steer clear of this!
LW1, can you focus on building relationships with other screenwriters in your city, especially awesome women? Once you’ve met people, I would make a point of casually mentioning Dale’s behavior whenever you think of it, in whatever (non-jokey) terms you prefer. My guess is that he’s a known problem that people find it easier to avoid talking about. Most importantly, please reach out to other young, female new screenwriters in your city, especially if you see them with Dale, and let them know that he’s been known for bad behavior in the past, **but that you trust their instincts** and btw do they want to get coffee sometime and talk about writing.
(It shouldn’t be your job to fix the Dale Problem, obviously; that being said, I had a bad experience with someone widely known to be a predator in my community, and I felt totally hung out to dry. I so wish someone had done more than make awkward jokes to me about him.)
LW2, the advice on signaling safety to Ang is good. I would also say: consciously go out of your way to promote her career. Both to make up for subconscious misogyny, and because she’s probably been subtly undercut and slow-tracked for a long time, and could probably use some help making up that distance. Take risks on her, multiple times (because part of a risk is that talented/skilled people fail sometimes). Ask her what her ambitions are, and help her make connections. If she has a promotion/interview/event coming up, offer to help her prepare. Take her advice on work things and give her credit if they go well. Complement her work-related skills where lots of people can hear. Make it known that you trust her, including to criticize or contradict other people.
I have to second the wife or other female colleagues thing and unfortunately not just to side step the “im not a creepy dude” thing but also side step rumors in the company that your female coworker is sleeping her way to the top. I know i have had to be really careful or my “reputation” when i worked in more conservative envs. Work socializing has so many more nuances for women than men
I’ve just started my first professional job in a very small team, with a female colleague and a male supervisor. The supervisor’s really nice – he’s really good at explaining stuff about the job to me, pointing out what I did well and what needs improving, asking if there’s anything he can do to help and any adjustments I need for my disability. It’s all really good mentoring stuff. Another thing I liked was that soon after I started my female colleague was complaining about a man they met at an industry event who was sending her e-mails asking for a date, and the boss immediately said ‘You shouldn’t have to deal with that, let me know if you need me to speak to him.’ Just seeing first-hand how seriously he took harassment made me feel really good and safe working there.
LW2: Since it’s an Asian country, I’ll go on step further than the Captain’s “Don’t make your non-administrative female employees unduly responsible for note-taking or event planning or client handholding unless you also ask the men to do the same types of work” and say don’t treat them or let others treat them like maids/servants. As an example, male employees are also perfectly capable of making and carrying coffee/tea/whatever for guests.
In a previous job, a manager described a new client as “basically Peter Stringfellow” (major “adult” nightclub owner to non-brits)
I flat-out told my team, in front of this manager, (mostly straight from college young girls) that my rule of no lone working went double for this client.
I am very grateful this manager gave us the heads-up, and in hindsight, he did it on purpose to let the whole team know of a potential risky client.
(My team’s response was “who’s Peter Stringfellow?”, I said I you’re too young to know who he is, that’s _exactly_ why I’m not letting you deal with him on your own…)
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