Let’s meet over coffee. (Or is that creepy?)
Last week, one of our followers contacted us for advice. We’ll call him R. A few days later, he got back in touch with an update. And it was somewhat surprising. Here’s what unfolded:
Dear @betterallies — I’ve started leading a new team at a new company, and I want to have a 1-on-1 chat with each of my team members. We don’t have enough meeting rooms, so I was thinking of taking them out to coffee. However, I don’t want to make any of the members on my team uncomfortable, especially the women. Do you have advice on how I should broach the subject? — R
Dear R — It’s good to be sensitive to how your team will feel about an out-of-office meeting. Coffee shops tend to be safe spaces, especially during normal working hours. What if you let everyone know ahead of time that you want to have 1–1s with each person, and that you want to meet in a local coffee shop because of the lack of conference rooms. And if anyone would prefer to stay in the office for the meeting, you’ll do your best to find a room. How does that sound?
Stepping back, it’s important to treat everyone the same. And offer options so they feel comfortable. Gender is only one aspect to consider. Someone could have hearing loss, and can’t hear well in a coffee shop. (For example.)
Let us know how it goes! — @betterallies
Dear @betterallies — Cool that was what I was planning on doing so it’s good to hear it mirrored back to me. Thanks! — R
A few days later, R got back in touch with us. He said the responses were great, and that he’ll be grabbing a coffee with each of the female employees. You read that right…only the women wanted to go out to the coffee shop. Turns out the men on his team don’t drink coffee, and they all preferred to meet at the office.
In his words, “providing the options ahead of time helped individuals make a choice and not feel forced into anything.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Yet, how many of us would have predicted that outcome? Or, did you think like R did? Expecting that his female team members may not feel comfortable meeting him for a coffee?
Here’s the thing. We shouldn’t assume we know what others want. Or how they will react when given a choice. Like R, we should give our employees options whenever possible.
But that’s not all.
We shouldn’t exclude members of the opposite sex from invitations to out-of-the-office activities. Doing so could all too easily propagate a boy’s club workplace culture.
In a recent Atlantic interview, Kim Elsesser, a psychology and gender professor at UCLA, shared an example which caught our attention:
“A boss has season tickets to see a baseball team. He generally invites men from work to join him — not because of discrimination, but because he’s worried about how the invitation would be perceived if he extended it to a woman. So he invites male coworkers to the baseball game, and they discuss work — clients and upcoming projects. The boss hears these male employees’ ideas, and that gives them an advantage in the workplace. As time goes by, he gives them opportunities the women just don’t get.
Over time, men get to know other men much better and women get to know other women much better. Men run most of our companies, and therefore they tend to be the most valuable mentors. When a promotion or a new job opportunity comes up, the man chooses the person that he knows slightly better — the person he had that beer with. Over time, this can have major repercussions.”
Allies, we encourage you to take a quick tally. Over the past 3 months, count the number of co-workers you’ve hung out with outside of the office. Meals. Coffees. Drinks. Baseball games. Rounds of golf. Poker nights. Then count the number of women and underrepresented minorities from your company at these gatherings.
If you’re not happy with your ratio, we’re counting on you to improve it.
Becoming an ally is a journey. Want to join us?
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