After a recent exchange, I’ve been thinking about my preferred strategy for handling inappropriate/sexist comments from male colleagues/clients: making a joke that disarms the offender while sending a message about boundaries and respect. What are your thoughts on this strategy? Here’s my recent example:
Greeting the team pre-meeting, client looks at my shoulder and says “remind me when we’re done – I have a great Louis Vuitton story for you!! Don’t let me forget!!” Post-meeting (where per the usual I am the only woman in the room), client remembers & proceeds to tell this great “story” to me. And the team. “I’d never been in the store before and went to find a purse for my wife. I’m looking at this bag and can’t find the price anywhere, I finally find it – $2500! For a purse! I guess we know where those legal fees are going.” Another male team member seems particularly amused.
Me, looking at their wrists: “So, I see that you’re both wearing Rolexes. This is my Rolex.”
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this since Reader O sent it in, and I can’t quite pin down my thoughts. We’ve talked about sexist clients and sexist coworkers, but I’m not sure the advice there totally applies here. Here’s what I know: I’m pissed on Reader O’s behalf. But I’m also not sure she handled it well, considering this was a client. More specifically:
- I squirmed a bit at the Rolex response from reader O. After thought I haven’t come up with anything better, and looking back I think it was fine and even pretty clever for an off-the-cuff response. Still, my gut reaction was, “that tone was far too defensive to use with a client.” Reader O didn’t say how senior she is and whether this is HER client (or her boss’s client) — if it’s her relationship she can talk however she likes. If this is NOT her client, though… I’m not sure it was appropriate, particularly given that this guy could just be a bumbling idiot who didn’t intend any harm, and given that it’s always possible that O is misreading the culture at her office (and, for example, those were not $10K+ watches, but rather cheap imitations thereof).
- That said: I get angrier and angrier the more I think about this. What was this guy (or your charming, bemused male coworker) implying — that you’re just Playing Lawyer until you can join the cast of the Real Housewives of ____? That you’re high maintenance? “Expensive”?
I’m kicking this one to the readers — what do you think, ladies? What should Reader O have done in this particular circumstance? In general, do you have to take a “laugh it off” mentality with clients? If this had been a male coworker (instead of a client), would your response be different? Would anyone, based on this experience, ask to avoid working with this client (or drop him as a client)?
Pictured: Vintage Louis Vuitton Multi Monogram Speedy Bag, available at ShopBop for $2,950.
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