Q: I’m a single woman in my late 20s. I’ve recently joined a company and it has been a great career move. Unfortunately, however, many of my male colleagues are constantly “checking me out” and it makes me feel uncomfortable. What can I do?
A: By “checking me out,” you mean they are looking at you in such a way that causes you to feel objectified as a woman. Your reaction is understandable and it is not surprising you are feeling uncomfortable.
Males, as you will know, are extremely visual and this will explain in part why much of what passes today as entertainment appeals to men because of its graphic relation to the senses.
Unfortunately, some men may lack the discipline or the sense of propriety in a social setting — such as an office — to be able to control their conduct. You are regrettably experiencing this behaviour.
As an aside, it should be acknowledged that it can be appropriate for a man to appreciate a woman’s appearance, but it needs to be done with respect. Some women will value this kind of attention more than others, but no one enjoys being an object of imagined intimacy.
To some extent, this issue could represent the culture of your office. Your uneasiness may be more pervasive than you realize and longer-serving employees may be somewhat more accepting of this conduct.
Taken to the extreme, you could potentially become a victim of sexual harassment. Comments that are intended to stimulate lewd conversation are unacceptable at any time and you will need to be especially aware of perpetrators who exhibit a pattern of making such remarks.
As a single woman, you may sadly be seen as a target for attention because of your potential availability as other women are presumed to be less susceptible because they are married or in long-term relationships.
You will need to be assertive to eliminate or at least reduce the annoyance. As mentioned, you don’t want to see the current situation escalate into something even more troubling.
Speak confidentially with someone in your HR department — if you have one — or a senior departmental manager. Outline your concerns and, if possible, use specific examples as opposed to generalizations that can’t easily be quantified. You may be surprised to learn that others have shared similar anxieties.
Evaluate your dress and conduct as you reflect on the way some co-workers have “checked you out.”
Can you dress more modestly? Have some of your frivolous remarks been taken the wrong way?
You have every right to make a case for a dramatic change in office culture. Being treated as an object for the attention for male co-workers us unprofessional and demeaning. Pursue the matter with HR and management and be confident in knowing you are likely speaking for other female colleagues.
Submit your confidential questions relating to work and office life to firstname.lastname@example.org