gender at work

She was nervous.  Thinking about it as she drove, she’d been to the office more than 20 times now.  It shouldn’t be a big deal.  But when you see your boss 3 or 4 times a year it can create a little anxiety.  The drive was a pleasant one.  Green sprawling land on either side, and the early morning sun rising as she drove.  She loved the morning.  Going from the dreamy darkness of 5 AM to the hyper color of 7 AM felt magical.  A transition she witnessed on many early morning jogs around the lake.  There’s anticipation in the sunrise.  Newness.

Her mind returned to work, imagining the interaction she might have with her boss.  He was more absent than usual recently.  Only the occasional email requesting a report.  In fact, the last interaction they had wasn’t a pleasant one.  On that phone call, he berated her for poorly managing her assistant.  Rather than nag IT to fix a phone, she chose to submit the request and let them get to it when they could.  It was conscious, frustrated passivity in the face of a notoriously inefficient IT department.  In fact, the entire culture of the corporate office was one that ignores a minimum of 3 emails before responding.  In her world though, “in the world of sales, you close quickly or not at all.”  That what her mentor would say.  She developed a keen ability to close sales since then.


The rolling Texas hills went from grey to emerald.  She reached for her sunglasses.  It wasn’t a bad drive from Austin to Dallas.  With the right book playing and a steamy cup of coffee, she welcomed 3 hours alone with her thoughts.   Thoughts that, once again, landed on work.  She wondered again if she would even see her boss.

Arriving at the office, she parked and touched up her makeup.  It was a warm day even for October, but the air still snapped a little, like a tree in autumn.  She took a few breaths, gathered her bag and walked up to the office door.  Kelly greeted her.  Kelly was the marketing manager.  Although it had been a bit of a rocky relationship to start, she’d grown to like her.  Even despite her regular dismay at Kelly’s inability to respond to any email, she was a very nice person.

Hugs and handshakes around the office and she settled into the little desk, setting up her computer.  Then she heard her boss.  Tanner was a loud talker all the time.  She supposed that to become the VP of operations in the restaurant world and to manage several dozen general managers and directors, one had to be slightly abrasive.

As he rounded the corner near where she stood, he saw her.

“Oh hey there, Alex!” he said, extending his hand.

“Hi Tanner!  How are you?”

“Good to see you! Glad you could make it in!”

She started to say something about her presentation thinking that he might want to talk about that.  Or thinking that he might want to schedule a meeting after her presentation.  And then he said, “You look great!”

“Oh,” she stammered, “well, I’m trying to lose a little weight.”

That was weird, she thought, why did I say that?

“I like your boots.  You look very hip.  Doesn’t she look hip, Kelly.  I really like them.  You look great.”

Shrugging, she awkwardly stuck out her leg looking down at her brown ankle boots.  Then she laughed and sat down.


This is a story about the most pervasive form of gender imbalance.  If the main character…if I…had been a man, I doubt that the first interaction with my superior would have been about my shoes.  It was weird.  But worse, it minimized me.  It minimized my importance as a contributing member of the company.  It reduced me to my appearance.

Maybe it was an innocent interaction.  I, by no means, felt sexually harassed or violated.  But I was certainly not expecting my shoes to be the forefront of my conversation with a supervisor I only see occasionally.  And I understand the argument that because we don’t see each other often is precisely why the shoes became the topic of conversation.  It was poorly chosen small talk.

But still, it begs the question in my mind, how would things be different between my boss and I if I was a man?  Would he respond to my emails quicker?  Would he take my requests more seriously?  I don’t know.  I do know, however, that it’s unlikely that the subject matter of small talk would have been shoes.  Maybe it would have been sports.  Talking about sports doesn’t naturally make the people in the conversation self-conscious.  His comments made me suddenly self-conscious.  It was an awful choice on his part, but it gets at the root of our expectations about women.  Women like to talk about shoes.  Women like to be complimented.

I wish it had gone differently.  I wish we could have talked about my sales over the past year.  I love to analyze numbers and make projections and budgets.  I wish we could have talked about the upcoming holiday party season.  It’s busy and I’m expecting to increase YOY sales by 20%.  Hell, I wish we could have talked about the weather.  Or maybe even sports.

Just not how I looked.


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