I was standing in the doorway of my office leaning against the door jamb. In front of me, just at the edge of the social-personal space that surrounds women, was one of my staff and she was one of MY staff: one of my hires, unlike the 22 other staff I had inherited.
We were discussing a serious issue and I was being all business-management-like when she interrupted with, “If you don’t stop talking I’m going to kiss you.”
My mind registered 17 different responses none of which I expressed. Instead, with a slight tilt of my head, an extreme arch in my raised eyebrow and a cooling in my eye I kept talking, not losing a beat as I shifted gears to give her direction for the project.
She blushed then. My meaning was very clear.
Do NOT get me wrong. She was an exceptionally bright, very attractive, cheeky, East Asian woman. IF I wasn’t seeing someone, IF she were not my employee and IF she were gay, goodness knows where her comment would have landed us.
As a manager, at least in the organizations I have worked in, you’re held to a higher standard of behaviour. As one of the few out lesbian managers I felt — or created — an obligation to be beyond reproach. To my mind, I laid it out like this: people could get me on the quality of work, my cheekiness, my insistence at maintaining a personal aloofness and my demand for adult behaviour by people who are supposedly, at least in age, adults. People could complain about they wanted to about the work, my management or leadership, really, but I’d be damned if anyone would ever have a reason to call me on anything to do with me being either a woman or being gay.
I was angry. Had I said that to her, even as a joke, she could have hit me with a sexual harassment complaint and utterly ruined my career. I suspect she’d have laughed it off, but that’s not the point.
I pondered the situation for a bit, cooled down, and called her to come to my office.
When she arrived I got up from my desk and closed the door behind her
“I apologize,” she said. She hadn’t even sat down yet.
“For what?” I asked, returning to my chair behind the desk.
“I was really inappropriate with you earlier,” she answered.
I nodded. I laced my fingers together on desk, my forearms resting on the desk blotter.
“Yes, you were.” I looked directly into her eyes. “Some things just aren’t up for teasing; not by you and certainly not be me.” I took a breath.
“Are we clear?”
She turned red and nodded.
I felt awful: my heart was pounding and my mouth was dry. Why oh why couldn’t we just be talking about a report that had to be done over?
I smiled the warmest smile I could muster. “Good.” And then I smiled more. “That is the only thing off limits, you know, because I’d hate to think that you or me have to stop being our cheeky selves.”
She smiled a bit, relaxing. “I’m really sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
I relaxed a bit too. “It’s done now,” I said, and steered the conversation to another topic.
We managed to safely navigate that situation and maintain a productive, honest and warm professional relationship. She’s married now, lives in a country far, far away. Every once in a while I get an email from her with a picture of her and her son and a wee update, letting me know she’s safe. And still very, very attractive.