Is Your Male Manager Sidelining You? (And How To Deal With It)

Posted: June 9, 2014

Given traditional Indian norms that prevent the genders from mixing freely, many male managers still treat female employees warily. How do you deal with a male manager sidelining you?

With the slowly rising awareness of sexual harassment at the workplace, a deep sense of worry and apprehension has also sown its seeds; be it the female employee who feels anxious each time she notes something different in a male colleague’s behavior or the male employee who is still unsure of what sexual harassment really is, and dreads how every action of his might be interpreted.

Office dynamics especially in India have always been subject to the perceptions of “others”. An orthodox and traditional outlook has drilled holes into potentially good-hearted friendships and easygoing behaviour. For women, the challenge is dual: while on the one hand, female employees are learning to handle (and fight) harassment and want to be safe, they also want to be part of the team, and be treated on the same level as a male colleague. And more often than not the alienation is stemming from their male bosses.

How bosses perceive women

A Project Manager, Radha has her work going really well for her. Managing multiple teams and project timelines, she faces no trouble whatsoever in her work. Her easy going nature has made her popular not only with her team but also with other Project Managers both male and female. Yet, she feels she falls short somewhere. Despite being with the department for over three years now, she has been unable to strike a rapport with her boss, Sudhir. Whenever he decides to have a tea break, he always invites the male PMs in their group but never her. She is called to join the group for lunch only if there are others along; the day they cannot make it, Sudhir ignores her completely.

While on one hand Radha is subject to this cold treatment from her boss, her friend Jyoti gets a taste of a completely different medicine. A friendly and sociable person, she has built a great rapport with her male colleagues. Her manager Ramesh perceives her behaviour to be ‘loose’ and out of line and alienates her entirely. If she compliments a male colleague on his attire, Ramesh ticks her off for it.

There are many such Radhas and Jyotis among us who get isolated within their teams purely due to the outlook their male managers hold. Such treatment often leaves us confused and demotivated.

Does being social mean we are ‘loose’? NO! Does being friendly mean we are crossing the line? NO!

Does being social mean we are ‘loose’? NO! Does being friendly mean we are crossing the line? NO! But that message fails to get understood by most managers and many women end up losing out on their overall performance at work.

How to tackle the cold-shouldering boss

Many might say you should speak to your boss, and that talking always resolves issues. But not this problem; not always. Bosses who hold such extreme mindsets will not be overcome by dialogue. If anything, it might just worsen their attitude towards you.

Some might even suggest involving HR. You could, but will it take away the problem? No. If anything, it could be termed as a harassment issue, which may not be the case.

Then what do you do? Just throw up your hands and give up? That wouldn’t solve the problem either. But a few simple moves could help ease up the tension and bring in a degree of comfort.

  • Leverage what you already have – your rapport with your male colleagues. They can help bridge the gap. Whenever your manager comes along to invite them for a cup of coffee, they can pull you in. Once in, you can work on breaking down the notions that the boss has built around you.
  • Do your research. Sometimes managers do not involve their female team members in offline activities because they are not accustomed to conversing with women beyond work. Understanding the topics that interest them and being able to hold conversations around those can help immensely. Does that mean you follow IPL and have a favourite between Arsenal and Man U? Not really. But being aware about current affairs and general topics that most discuss over coffee will help break the ice. Once they know you don’t just think about fashion and Bollywood (as many unfortunately think women do!), they might begin to shed their preset beliefs.
  • Take the initiative. Frankly, what stops us from inviting the team and the boss for a quick coffee in the cafeteria? Or for lunch? Sometimes unintentionally, we and our actions get interpreted differently. Thinking that we might not be as welcome, we wait to be invited but who knows, it might be getting perceived as being snooty and stiff by others. Right?
  • Treat everyone equally. Orthodox and conservative convictions are the hardest to wipe away. If you have a boss who holds such beliefs, try and get him to see how it’s not what he thinks. If you compliment a male colleague one day, ensure you do the same with the rest every now and then too, the female colleagues as well. When he sees that you behave the same with everyone, he might ease up a little. Mind you, a little is a lot when it comes to old-fashioned behaviour. It should be enough to get your way through.
  • Hold a dialogue. No, not you. That might not get you anywhere. But if there is anyone you know well, who is otherwise quite broadminded and just, and also shares a good equation with your boss, ask them to act as a facilitator. It might be tough to have such a person around, but if there is one, make the best of the opportunity.
  • And most importantly, understand how you are perceived by others around you, including your manager. It does not have to define you, but being aware and knowing how you come across to the world will help you interpret their behaviours towards you. When you are able to do that, it will be easier for you to define the perception you want them to walk away with.

A lot of these should help ease the indifference we get subject to for no fault of ours. While sometimes it does stem from old school thoughts, it could also be a result of a ‘playing safe’ policy adopted by male managers (given the misinformation prevalent about sexual harassment). While we cannot fit into their shoes and see things the way they do, we can surely acknowledge that the shoes are different and try and at least ease matters for our own good.

This issue is not one to go away easily; it’s best to gauge the person for what truly drives his behaviour and also understand where we could possibly do better and accordingly work on getting our point across. At the end of the day, it is about making our lives easier at the workplace!

Pic credit: Alan Light (Used under a CC license)

Seeta Bodke is a Business Consultant and Senior Manager from the IT sector. After spending

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Comments

8 Comments


  1. Makes a lot of sense.

  2. Yes, it is always a tricky situation to be in. Sometimes even the age difference can create a major gap in perception of what is right and what is wrong. I remember being very courteous and polite to the older managers and pally with the younger ones. But yes, I used to keep office friendships at arm’s length. Too many complications of perceptions and mindsets! Your inputs are good, worth trying for those in the situation.

    • Rachna, that’s an interesting perspective.. abut the age gap. I suppose in IT and services Industry we didn’t see it much but other areas might have this factor influencing the issue as well. Glad you found the inputs to be good enough to give a try 🙂

  3. True Seeta. A very valid point faced by a lot of women. Society mindsets play an important role in how one is perceived.I have realized that it’s best to be on safe grounds and talk about topics related to the corporate world or current affairs. Topics related to any personal problems should be talked about only after understanding a person’s nature and even then, comments about personal appearances are best avoided.

    • Thise societal mindsets were always there, now the shadow called harassment is looming large… it is rather unfortunate that a normal life cannot be led in the corporate world.. thanks for liking this piece Asha 🙂

  4. Well articulated and quite practical! A repertoire of sensible tips when facing an emotionally draining and unpleasant situation in the corporate world. Definitely worth a shot! Also, I have found that discussing such experiences with your support group works wonders for ones psyche just knowing its not imagined but an issue confronted and acknowledged by others.

    • That is a good idea as well Neeta. The problem I see in India is the lack of such groups but recently in through a few articles we posted here we realized that Employee Resource Groups for women are now becoming a reality 🙂

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