I’m a female engineer (E5) at a Big Tech company. I worked closely with a male colleague on the same team for a while. He’s also E5. After our team’s manager resigned, there was a re-org and we ended up on different teams. His team had some attrition, so he recently asked if I would like to join his team. I’m happy with my current team, so I said no.
Over time, there’s been a growing undercurrent of very personal questions and crossing of professional boundaries.
Some questions he had asked me (he asked these very aggressively and kept pushing for answers when I gave hand-wavy responses to some of them):
Moreover, he keeps asking me to meet him in-person. Back when we were on the same team, I had skipped our in-person offsites due to COVID worries. I’ve never met him in-person, and am now extremely hesitant to. My spidey senses are going off.
He also asked me to communicate via WhatsApp instead of our company slack. Then he sent me a TikTok video with a sexual innuendo. When he recently asked me to use a non-company Zoom account to zoom, I declined and said that I don’t want any more sexual jokes. When he asked me if I’ll report him to HR, I asked him to keep things professional.
We’re in the same org, so I may need to work with him at some point. How do I enforce professional boundaries here? I don't want to go to HR unless absolutely necessary.
Very sorry you’re experiencing this! Except for last few things that sound especially uncomfortable, I was struggling with a similar situation a few months back... Unenthusiastic replies nor delaying them seemed to work, and even when clearly expressing that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing some information I would still receive long, animated responses and more random personal questions- which I couldn’t tell was out of obliviousness. I think most of the time I just wanted to tell them to stop but struggled to come up with a way to communicate it professional/assertively.
My unhelpful response (mainly out of empathy!) is that I began to only give timely replies if it was code-related and if we absolutely had to converse I would not react much at all; just dry yes/no replies, no emotive reactions. And anytime the conversation felt like it was skewing into a topic that was not work-related/off-topic, I did my best to redirect us and ignore the invitation to go there.
I remember this was an issue that really weighed on me for some months, so I can’t imagine how it might be for you. Hopefully there will be better answers after me and that you will not have to involve HR 🙏.
I'm so sorry to hear this - My heart sank as the actions and questions this coworker did got more and more inappropriate... Unfortunately, this happens so often to female engineers, way more than many people (especially men) think. Almost every woman in tech I know has gone through this. 😔
Here's my thoughts:
Here's ChatGPT's advice:
Setting professional boundaries with a male colleague is an important step in establishing a healthy and productive working relationship. Here are some tips to help you set professional boundaries:
- Be clear and direct: When communicating with your male colleague, be clear and direct about what you are and are not comfortable with. Use assertive language and avoid beating around the bush.
- Use "I" statements: Instead of blaming or accusing your colleague, use "I" statements to express your needs and feelings. For example, "I feel uncomfortable when you make comments about my appearance."
- Define your limits: Decide what behaviors and interactions are acceptable to you and communicate them clearly to your male colleague. For example, you may not be comfortable with physical touch, or you may want to avoid discussing personal topics.
- Maintain a professional tone: Keep your interactions with your male colleague professional and avoid getting too personal. If your colleague attempts to cross a boundary, gently redirect the conversation back to work-related topics.
- Enforce your boundaries: If your male colleague continues to cross your boundaries, be firm and assertive in enforcing them. You may need to involve a manager or HR representative if the behavior persists.
Remember, setting professional boundaries is important for maintaining a respectful and productive work environment. Don't be afraid to advocate for yourself and your needs in the workplace.
😔 not cool...
I hope the best for your situation.