Jennifer and Gentlemen

I’ve moved jobs lately, and my predecessor was male. I’ve noticed that many of the emails that he sent me to get me up to speed with things were originally addressed to “Gentlemen”. Very early on, one of my frequent correspondents sent me an email addressed to “Jennifer and Gentlemen”. I think he thought I was over-reacting when I asked him not to send things like that. He’s a nice guy, and was genuinely seeking information when he asked me what I would prefer.

And maybe I was over-reacting. But early on in my career, I was promoted to a management team where I was the only woman of about 15 people. We had a monthly, incredibly formal meeting, which the very important senior executive running it invariably started by saying “Jennifer and Gentlemen”. It really annoyed me, but I was never quite sure why. The most annoying thing, though, was when after a year another woman joined the team. He never opened the meeting formally again – just started with the first agenda item.

After reflection, I realised that what annoyed me was the pointedness of it. It wasn’t enough that I was (very obviously) the only woman in the group. The pompous senior executive had to point out the weirdness of it at every meeting, in a subtle way that nobody could take issue with. He probably wouldn’t have realised that that’s what he was doing, but he was clearly quite taken aback with having a woman on his team.

I’m pretty sure my current colleague was genuinely just moving on from addressing his emails to “gentlemen” (he’s english and wears three piece suits in summer, so he has eccentric formality on his side as an excuse). But I’m glad I asked him to stop. I just asked him to figure out a greeting that didn’t single me out. Hopefully that request will make him think next time.

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Now that I’m catching up on my blog reading, I’ve remembered that yesterday (International Women’s Day) was blog against sexism day. I’ve been really stressed about work lately, so I forgot, but it is still (just) March 8th somewhere in the world (maybe Hawaii??). This post is probably a bit frivolous, but contains one of my most annoying sexism at work stories, so thought I’d put it in anyway.

  3 comments for “Jennifer and Gentlemen

  1. March 10, 2006 at 10:41 am

    The pebble in the sneaker, the grit in the oyster, etc.

    I guess apart from drawing attention to your ‘oddity’ as a woman, you weren’t as accorded as formal a status, therefore suggesting your status as a woman was lower. No doubt they meant to be polite and inclusive in some way.

  2. March 11, 2006 at 11:11 am

    Yes–it would’ve been different (though still annoying) if he’d said “Ms. Smith and Gentlemen.” Calling you by your first name is subtly degrading in that context, though that probably wasn’t their purpose.

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