Q. You have dealt with many complaints by women about how men treat them at work. How would you react to a sign in a co-worker's office that proclaims, for all visitors to see, that "The Best Man for the Job Is a Woman"?
The situation is compounded because the person in question is my boss.
A. It's a tasteless and tired old joke. You might retaliate by making up a sign for your office that says something like, "What's Inappropriate for the Gander Is Inappropriate for the Goose." But I think it would just make a bad joke worse.
I think everyone will be better off if you simply ignore the sign. Women have enough of a history of disadvantage in the workplace to be entitled to a few wisecracks.
Read on ...
A reader comments:
"After 13 years with my company and an excellent record as a supervisor and manager, I was thrilled to be approached by a vice president about a program manager's position. All went well until I was asked about my child-care arrangements. This question was asked of a woman who has accumulated almost four months of sick leave and more than seven weeks of vacation.
"I subtly took a deep breath and answered, with a smile, that the company would have no problems in that area -- my record is excellent and the company could expect more of the same. Later in the conversation, at an appropriate time, I volunteered that my husband and I shared child-care responsibilities and that he was very supportive of my career.
"I got the job.
"Discrimination still exists in the workplace. The company would never have asked a father that question. Yet I also realize that my executive's main concern was that the company put people who can discharge their responsibilities in key positions. On top of that, sometimes male managers just don't know how to deal with women.
"I decided to work with them instead of against them and that when I become a vice president, I will do my best to be a part of the solution."
Q. In a recent column, you gave some advice on how to handle wordy subordinates in a staff meeting. The directness of talking to the employee about the problem is commendable, but telling your employee, in effect, to "shut up" defeats the purpose of the staff meeting.
Many subordinates have not yet learned the skills of concise communication. The staff meetings must be viewed as a place for them to learn how to communicate properly.
There are many things the supervisor can do. For one thing, he should run a well-organized, well-disciplined meeting -- nothing invites excessive chatter more than the appearance of a glorified bull session.
The supervisor can also politely cut the discussion by moving to the next item on the agenda or by such techniques as asking a vociferous member to summarize his or her point in just a few words.
Everybody is part of the problem of a verbal free-for-all; everybody needs to be part of the solution.
A. This all sounds nice -- too nice.
The fact is that the other people at the meeting are there for a purpose, too. They have a job to do, and they, too, need to perfect their communications skills. They can't do either if one employee monopolizes air time at the meeting.
Where the compulsive chatter of one employee prevents all the others from achieving their objectives and where the supervisor has made reasonable efforts to correct the situation with no effect, it's time for the more drastic act I suggested.
Q. I am a first-level supervisor (a woman) in a small company.
Just as in the case you dealt with in your column, my boss holds periodic meetings for our entire department. At these meetings, he focuses a lot of his attention on one of my subordinates. I might even say that the meetings revolve around his exchanges with her -- both business and non-business kinds.
More than that, my boss treats her as if she reports directly to him and she responds in a similar fashion. How can I handle this?
A. Your problem is much bigger than what takes place at the meetings. You are caught between a boss and a subordinate who have developed a special relationship. Ignoring it will simply make it worse.
Talk to your boss and your subordinate, one at a time. Tell them that the close relationship between them is beginning to make your job as a supervisor difficult, and ask if they could separate work issues from their personal relationship.
If the answer is not reassuring, ask your boss to assume direct responsibility for the supervision of your employee.
Andrew Grove is chief executive officer of Intel Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif. Send questions to him in care of the San Jose Mercury News, Business News Department, 750 Ridder Park Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95190.