Amazing true facts about women at work

Photo: Pixabay

Based on the number of #MeToo posts in my social media feeds and the news I’m reading from Hollywood and Silicon Valley, some men have a problem. They seem to be grappling with a mystifying phenomenon: what are women doing in my workplace? Since this blog is all about helping you, the reader, I’ll do my best to explain.

This post is directed at men. If you are a woman, you already know this stuff — and most men do, too — but sometimes I just have to get back to the basics for the slower and more troglodytic members of my gender.

Here’s the main thing:

The women in your workplace are human beings with brains.

Yup. That’s an amazing true fact. Not only that, they are in the workplace is to use those brains to get work done. That’s the main reason they’re there. Wow, who knew?

Once you accept that, you can get to a whole bunch of other true facts.

  • A woman in the workplace is not a piece of meat. Because she is a human, you cannot grab her body parts. Ever. There are no exceptions. Your state of arousal is not an exception. It being at night at a conference is not an exception. Being drunk is not an exception. Putting aside the fact that ever since we outlawed slavery that people are supposed to control their own bodies, what are you thinking? Do you really believe groping people will lead to some sort of sexual encounter? When has that ever worked on any sentient creature? It’s wrong . . .  because women are human beings with brains.
  • The workplace is not a singles bar. The reason the women are there — the reason they were hired — is to do work. They might be creating financial plans, answering customer service calls, managing a department, or welding girders, but they’re there to work. They are not there for you to size up as dates and potential sexual partners. Wasting their time and yours treating the workplace as a singles bar demeans their contribution. Do not ask or talk about why they are single — whether you are talking with them or with others. This is not the secretarial pool on Mad Men (and even back then it was wrong). Get back to work. Because women are human beings with brains.
  • You should listen to women in the workplace because you may learn something. Because the women have brains, they are thinking. Sometimes they are talking. Sometimes their ideas are — yes, I know this is hard to get you head around — better than yours. But you’ll never know if you don’t let them finish their sentences. You’ll never know if you try to mansplain things they already know just because you’ve heard something on the same topic. And you’ll listen better if you actually look at their faces when they are talking. Because  . . . women are human beings with brains.
  • They’re women, not “girls.” Yes, even if they are in their twenties. Just as when you entered the workplace you were not a “boy,” you were (or wanted to be) called a “man.” Try it. Say things like “I was talking to a woman from accounting, and she explained that . . . ” or “When a woman chooses our product . . . ” Once you talk this way, it may change the way you think as well — because then you will be less likely to act like they are little girls. Because, just like you, women are human beings with brains.
  • Compliments get in the way. Yes, I know you were (probably) just trying to be nice. She has a new hairstyle — say you like the new hairstyle. She upgraded the way she dresses — say you appreciate her taste in clothes. But go on quickly to the next topic, which ought to be work. The more time you spend on her appearance, the more you are communicating that looks, not ability or work, are what matters in your relationship. Why not talk about how effective her marketing copy was or how her department seems to run like clockwork? Because (say it with me) women are human beings with brains.
  • These facts apply to all women, not just colleagues. You can apply every one of these rules with customers, suppliers, consultants, and all the other women you deal with on a day-to-day basis. Because, and this is true for all of them, women are human beings with brains.
  • Your power at work doesn’t change these facts. If you are a CEO or an SVP or a principal or a partner, good for you. There are so many ways you could express your power. You could micromanage people working for you. You could tilt the compensation so you get paid a lot. You could decide who to hire and fire and how much to pay them. You could even — odd as it might seem — inspire and lead people of all genders to accomplish a goal together. All of these things will feed your ego, which I know you need. Even the worst of these ideas are better than using your power to try to force women to do things in sexual situations. That will catch up to you and destroy your career (as well as damaging the psyches of some of the women you’re messing with — which is not only disgusting, but a waste of talent). Sure, you could use your power that way, but aren’t you better than that? You got to this level because you’re smart enough to recognize that, yes, women are human beings with brains.

About women in the workplace and me

I was raised in a household where both parents respected (and still respect) each other. My father worked in a university with plenty of women professors and administrators. And despite having a huge ego as I entered the workplace, I accepted without question that my first boss, a woman, knew more than I did about work, and I learned from her. My wife is also really smart, and I learn from her every day.

This post does not come from a sanctimonious place of superiority. Far from it. It comes from a man who made plenty of mistakes in interactions with women in the workplace (although, and it is absurd that it’s even necessary to say this, I never assaulted anyone). Luckily, women I’ve worked with, starting with that first boss, took a moment to explain to me what I was doing wrong (like calling them girls). I remain grateful for what I learned from those women, because they helped me to listen to, learn from, and sometimes manage other women in the workplace. One of the ways I gave back is to help women working for me and other colleagues to be successful, and looking back, that’s one of the best things I did. I was not easy on these women, but that had nothing to do with gender. I encouraged them to use their brains better, and they did.

Anyway, here’s the thing: if someone explains that you are causing a problem in your interactions with women, listen. You might learn something too.

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    1. A sincere compliment without a lot of flattery is always acceptable–for women, men, old people in the supermarket, etc. Women can tell the difference between a true compliment and a lecherous one. Saying, “Hey, you changed your hair, it looks great” and then moving on to the meeting agenda is fine. Saying, “Wow, I really love your new hair style. You are so gorgeous.” and then not changing the topic is not.

        1. If you are already not a jerk when dealing with a woman, my experience and preference is for a person (of any sex) to voice a sincere compliment. I would rather have people interact genuinely than feel constrained from saying nice things

  1. Thank you for this clear, simple primer for men working with women. I have a feeling that it won’t reach the men who need it most, but, hey, we need to keep trying.

  2. Never ask a woman on a date, EVER. Even if it not a work place, she might be interpreting the social event as a professional networking opportunity. So this will give her a great #metoo opportunity.

    Never open a door for a woman, or give up seat on bus or train.

    Never engage in romance.


    Nice Job Josh. You have joined the “hate men” 24/7 crowd.

    JOSH! If you really want to be helpful, how about helping us DISTINGUISH WHEN IT IS OK TO TREAT A WOMAN LIKE A WOMAN. Someone special, precious and wonderful. This is getting lost in the crowd of nasty finger-wagging..

    1. You’ve misquoted me. You seemed to have missed the AT WORK part.

      I didn’t suggest you shouldn’t compliment a woman, just not to overdo it AT WORK.

      I didn’t suggest not asking a woman out. I did suggest not making it an uncomfortable part of a work relationship, or treating work as a smorgasbord for finding dates.

      I didn’t say anything about opening doors or giving up seats on buses or trains. This is about women at your work.

      At work is NOT the place to treat a woman as special, precious, and wonderful. It is a place to treat her as an intelligent colleague.

      I don’t hate men. I just respect women. Especially at work.

      1. Ok, so we are not at work. We are co-workers who meet on the subway on the way home, by accident.
        Or at an art fair on the weekend. But we are co-workers.
        Or we meet at an art fair and she works for a client. We are not co-workers.
        Or she used to work for a client and that’s how I know her.

        ULTIMATELY what we really need now is a male guide as to when it is ok to attempt to socialize with a woman. I don’t think you realize that your post simply piling onto an existing public conversation that has already gone overboard and is stifling male behavior rather than constructing engaging it.

        This situation was initially infuriating because of Harvey Weinstein’s monstrous behavior, then it became sad and even more infuriating to realize how widespread this problem is, but now it’s gone overboard and leaving men with no openings at all to socialize with women. Ok, maybe online dating web sites are fair game. I think. Am I am exaggerating? Try to imaging a social situation that cannot be construed as a business networking opportunity.

        In addition, it is likely that a lot of women find themselves fending off unwanted advances in situations other than work. With people who are not co-workers. This might be the REAL elephant in the room.

        Give it some thought Josh. You are an ideal candidate, with your expertise in communication, to help guys sort out this mess.

        1. There is, of course, the option of talking to the woman involved in these situations, listening, and offering clarity to avoid being misunderstood. Doesn’t that seem fair?

  3. For the first 18-years of my professional life, I worked in an office run by a executive woman, with 3 women editors, a woman for an office manager, and many other women in supportive positions. I lived in this environment and learned from some great women and—as an act of silly kindness—they voted me “honorary woman” for being a white man they could all respect. In a way, however, I was so insulated from the realities of sexism in the workplace that when I left that job I was dumbfounded by what I encountered. Not only did I finally understand the realities that I’d only heard of about how women were not treated equally or with respect, I found myself being stereotyped as a “typical man” in the workplace simply by looking male. I’ve worked hard with the women I work with to not be that guy. I’ve found that I can reverse their perception simply by showing respect. If I just make it clear that I respect the jobs that they do, and I show that respect by acknowledging great work when it happens—and, yes, save the dating vocabulary for actual dates—then that can go a long way toward establishing credibility with my women co-workers. The same can be said for working with my colleagues who are people of color. Of course, now that I’ve said this, I need to get some of my co-workers to read this to make sure that I’m deluding myself.

  4. “We met at work” used to be so common among married couples that it was a cliche. Power couples who met at work include the writers Joan Didion / John Gregory Dunne, and reporters Sally Quinn / editor Ben Bradlee of Washington Post. That’s just off the top of my head. But it’s all just history of course, right? Now the idea of finding romance at work is toxic? Human beings turn into robots the moment they enter the work place? Something urgent is missing from Josh’s prescription above. YOU KNOW IT. How would YOU phrase it? Is there a politically correct way to suggest that romance can flourish with association, even in the work place?

    1. You seem determined to misunderstand the post and the points it’s making. People can “find romance at work” if they’re both interested in each other. The key is for whoever is making the first move to be respectful. If you want to ask a woman out, then you can. I imagine something along the lines of “Hey, how about a drink after work sometime?” If she says no, then nothing needs to change. Assuming you had a friendly rapport at work, you can–and should–continue that! What you can’t do is ask her out again and pester her. Or accuse her of being a lesbian. Or talk poorly about her to your coworkers. Or slag her off and say you thought she was kind of fat anyway. Basically, DON’T BE A JERK. That, if you need a primer, is the basic point of Josh’s post. Woman don’t mind men being interested in them. They mind when men can’t take no for an answer. They mind being objectified, treated rudely, treated like idiots, demeaned, interrupted, etc. Probably the same way men do, but it so happens that it happens to women so much more often.

      1. Your post makes sense but I dont think it is consistent with Josh’s adminitions nor the current political atmosphere. Example: You might think she is being genuinely friendly and ask her out but then she is offended because in her mind she was being polite, not friendly ….

  5. I have a solution; zero tolerance for any gender-based activity. Let’s start with the elimination of Valentine’s Day. Flowers, gifts, and dinners-out go next (down with sexism). Vacations and houses; Dutch treat all the way. Equal opportunity to work long hours and work overtime: absolutely. Pre-nuptual agreements will be required for all marriages. Let’s do this right. Each instance of an utterance of a verbal insult by either gender, or repeated nagging will be a misdemeanor.