Stay neutral on co-worker

Dear Joan:
I work for a large manufacturing company that is male dominated. I'm one of 20 management trainees that are recruited each year out of college and rotated around to different areas for development and exposure in the company.

My group is composed of half men and half women with only two of us being white females. I get along well with my boss and co-workers and the assignments I've been given I've gotten good reviews on, including a healthy bonus.

The problem I'm struggling with is centered on the other white female in my group. She is extremely immature. She uses baby talk and acts like the stereotypical "dumb blonde" (even though I cringe when I say this). She is a "toucher" with peers and upper management; touching people, standing close, flipping her hair, etc. At first I thought it was just me but I have recently discovered that the entire group feels the same way about her and is very embarrassed about her. As far as I know, her job performance is just fine.

First of all, I find myself getting angry and disgusted when she is around and I'm starting to let critical comments slip. I feel like I'm protecting myself by putting her down. I don't want to be seen as a back-stabber but I'm concerned that I will be grouped with her because I'm also blonde. Since this is an "old boy's" culture with very few women in management to begin with, I'm not sure which way to act.

I'm concerned that she is reinforcing the anti-female stereotype just when we were starting to make some progress in the company. Do you have any suggestions? Should I share my thoughts with my friend in the human resources department, so she can talk to her to help her career? Should I ignore her (which might be perceived as either acceptance or arrogance)?

Answer:
No doubt your co-worker has caused this reaction because you are all trying to distinguish yourselves as mature, talented employees. Because you are on display as potential management candidates, her behavior is embarrassing.

Here is the irony: if you over-react to her behavior and try too obviously to "distance" yourself from her, you may actually do yourself more harm. Think of it like clique behavior in junior high school. If the group actively ostracizes her, it brings the whole group down. You may be perceived as insecure and "catty."

Instead, worry about your own performance and don't even acknowledge that anyone could-or would-lump you all together. In other words diffuse the stereotype by ignoring it.

If other people make negative remarks or ask a question about her, search for neutral words to describe her and try to keep the discussion focused on her work. However, there is no need to protect her or defend her, either. It's not your job to save her career. There is no need to go to human resources; I'm sure her behavior is obvious to your friend. In addition, if it is hindering her career, it's up to her manager to tell her.

The composition of your management trainee group suggests that your company is encouraging more cultural diversity. However, acceptance of females and other minorities comes about slowly. Your best bet is to stop thinking of yourself as a female who represents all women and concentrate instead on being a great performer and team player who also happens to have hair that is...hmm, let's see, oh yeah: blonde.


Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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