I had been working for a few months as a junior associate at an investment firm. The twenty-person team included just four women, including several investment analysts and admin staff. The team worked in an open pit and we communicated very closely throughout the day.
One afternoon, I walked over to ask my male colleague a question, but he was not at his desk. As I turned to leave, I caught a paper with a list of names out of the corner of my eye sitting on his desk. It was a ranked list of the women in the office by attractiveness.
How did you respond?
I cooly picked up the piece of paper and stood up straight, loudly announcing to the entire team, “What the fuck is this?” The room went still, I could see my male colleagues, including my manager, shrinking behind their desks. The colleague whose desk it was walked back into the room and froze. I repeated myself in a clear voice “What the fuck is this?” No one answered me. I continued “I know what this is, you are all wasting time fantasizing about your female colleagues rather than making sales. Do none of you have any work to do?”
I then took the piece of paper, crumpled it up, and threw it in the trash.
Later on my manager, who had witnessed my “declaration,” nervously called me in for a chat to see what he could do. “I’m fine,” I said, “These clowns clearly don’t have anything better to do.” I think he was relieved to hear that I wasn’t going to sue the firm. After that, the hot or not list came to an abrupt end in the office.
Reflections in hindsight?
Candor takes several forms. For me, it’s having ice run through my veins and being notoriously intolerant of bull shit. Make it known that harassing behavior will not fly in your boss bitch presence. My tact matched the culture I was at. Swearing and male-dominated chest pounding were common. For others, being frank might be a polite but firm response. It’s not about being easily offended. It’s about setting expectations early on that you’re there to do a great job, not to appease an obnoxious co-worker. If you see something, say something. In the moment. To someone’s face. Practice it in the mirror. People hate confrontation, but letting it fester and gather and bubble up only makes it worse. If you’re confident in your abilities, then be OK to call it like it is.
Some people would be mortified to do what I did, but for some reason, confrontation comes naturally to me when I see something that is clearly wrong happening in the office. I could have possibly been more polite in my speech to the team, but the drama certainly caught their attention and ended the behavior. My other option would have been to go to HR, which I think would have been far less effective than just letting everyone know in no uncertain terms that they were behaving badly and should be ashamed of their unprofessional conduct.
And in the end, I was the top biller that week. So while everyone else was easily distracted, I was busy slaying dragons.