Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot.
December 22, 2009 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Social etiquette guidelines for (professional) women?

I would like some books, blogs and general-concensus ideas & recommendations on how to be a well-mannered, gracious lady in a modern, professional setting. I've come across lots of older books on etiquette, mostly geared towards gentlemen or housewives fifty years ago. Many of the ideas are timeless, sure, but etiquette for women (in business, today) seems to be a little trickier to pin down.

Many things could be done in a more graceful manner, but it's not always clear to me. For instance, when a guy opens a door for you to be polite (or even chivalrous), but there is another door right after that (double set of doors), what do you do? Open the next door yourself and walk through first? Open and hold the door for him?

What other situations have you come across like this, and what do you think is the best solution?

For a little background, I'm a Canadian process engineer in a mostly male environment. I work in a newly opened office for a large consulting firm, so we're small but business is picking up fast. This means my work group is getting lots of face time with clients and contractors (both local and international), attention from upper management and interaction with other offices.

This was brought on partially from spending time with some well-bred british friends and coming to realize that, though I'm not an embarassment, there must be some finer points to etiquette of which I am unaware. That and Mad Men...

posted by lizbunny to Human Relations (18 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Any generic business etiquette book will do, and books that discuss body language are even better.

In your case, it's better to ignore gender differences in the workplace, and focus more on personality. If you feel like holding the door open for someone, do so. If it's awkward, don't. A lot of this depends on personality type. Some people like to lead, so it's better to let them lead (as long as they don't lead you off a cliff).

I think women *can* have an advantage because of their sex in a male-dominated industry, but for the most part women have to put up with a lot of outdated thinking, which is why it is better to focus on your individual role, and what you do for the company or client in a specific situation.

It's really unprofessional for others to expect different etiquette simply because you are a woman.
posted by KokuRyu at 2:35 PM on December 22, 2009 [8 favorites]

For instance, when a guy opens a door for you to be polite (or even chivalrous), but there is another door right after that (double set of doors), what do you do? Open the next door yourself and walk through first? Open and hold the door for him?

For what it's worth, I'm a guy and often try to do the "chivalrous" thing with the first door. After that it gets awkward. I'm sure 100 years ago you would be expected to patiently wait for me to open the next door for you, but that's silly. I'm thrilled when the woman opens the second door, because then (1) there's no awkward shuffle and (2) we're even on the whole door-opening thing.
posted by Garak at 2:38 PM on December 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

The polite thing to do when someone opens a door for you to walk through, and your arms are not otherwise encumbered, is to walk through the next set of doors, holding it open until the person behind you can easily grasp the handle/bar.

Don't turn the whole thing into an Alphonse-and-Gaston ballet, just hold the door open after you've gone through it.

This is not gender-specific, either.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:46 PM on December 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

There are lots of business etiquette books available--but I think the best thing is to observe the culture of your workplace and practice the golden rule. Treat everyone well and equally from top to bottom--don't be polite to the boss and treat her admin assistant like dirt. It is very telling how a person treats someone who might be considered subordinate to them--in my social life, I won't go on a 2nd date w/someone who treats waitstaff like dirt no matter how charming they are to me.

With doors/guys I tend to let position dictate who gets the door--i.e. if I'm ahead I'll grab the door, if he's ahead or my hands are full, I'll let him grab the door. Whoever gets the door should get a "Thanks."

I don't expect (or get) any of the old-fashioned stuff--i.e. men standing when I enter a room, someone holding my chair out at a restaurant, etc. That's just silly and a time-waster. However, if someone were to choose to do that, I wouldn't take that time to enlighten him, I'd just say, "Thank you," and move on.

In general, treat people the way you want to be treated and don't worry about gender roles, etc.
posted by agatha_magatha at 2:54 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: fwiw KokuRyu, I kind of do like the gender differences on most occasions, and I can honestly say it has rarely come up in a negative, insulting fashion as a result of outdated thinking. On that rare occasion, it's not hard to take the offender down a peg or two in a dignified way or brush it off. And it's quite apparent that most guys I know don't approve of mistreating a woman that way.

There's etiquette and then there's sexism, but I don't want to get into a debate here about that. If I offer to get someone a cup of tea, that's being polite. No one's slapping me on the butt saying "honey, get the man a drink and let the boys do the talking".
posted by lizbunny at 2:57 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

fwiw KokuRyu, I kind of do like the gender differences on most occasions

Chivalry is the consolation prize awarded in a sexist society. I would prefer equal pay and equal access to opportunity myself. I also prefer gender-neutral courtesy myself.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:02 PM on December 22, 2009 [18 favorites]

Best answer: I think Miss Manners does the best job of dealing with the crossroads of manners and modern life.
posted by theora55 at 3:17 PM on December 22, 2009

Best answer: I also work in a largely-male dominated engineering consultancy, though over in the UK.

One of my seniors is female, and highly respected by all. One reason 'Sally' is great as a colleague is that she doesn't try to use her gender to get ahead. Just gets the job done, which is what one needs in the workplace.

The most telling thing for me is that when describing 'Sally' the fact she is female would not be in the first 9 or 10 things I would mention.

I imagine most 'rules' would apply to both male and females. The big ones for me is people remembering names, delivering on promises and being on-time for appointments. On those I apply the same standard to male or female.
posted by 92_elements at 4:12 PM on December 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

I think you're overanalysing this. Be guided by the culture in your firm and the personality of the people you're with. Personally my ideal would be my colleagues or clients describing me and listing any number of characteristics before they mention my gender.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:41 PM on December 22, 2009

Door-wise, I was going to say what Sidhedevil did. Seems to be the most comfortable and natural way to deal with the situation.
posted by you're a kitty! at 4:49 PM on December 22, 2009

Working in the oil and gas industry, I wish that I could have gotten up the wherewithal to care about sports. Particularly college basketball. It was the politically correct fodder for the water cooler and getting to know the clients.

Being unable to relate to clients in this particular way definitely hurt me.

Now I work in the cosmetic industry, and I love that nobody has asked my opinion on sports during the last three month.
posted by politikitty at 5:21 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ignore the gender of the people and just be gracious?
posted by gjc at 5:45 PM on December 22, 2009

Erum, I mean gracious as acting with grace, friendliness and mutual respect. Not gracious in the sexist way the 1950s primers might mean it.
posted by gjc at 5:47 PM on December 22, 2009

Best answer: Well, for books, here's a good Amazon topics page on "etiquette for women." Here's that search reproduced on instead of the .com.

Please note that it's highly likely that some of these books address the disagreements above about whether etiquette should be divided by gender at all; I express no opinion here by linking to them.

Also, I find the blog Corporette to be super helpful when it comes to professional women's etiquette, clothes, and more. She's a lawyer at a BigLaw firm in the US, but I find that many of her posts are universal. She does focus on clothes, but there's plenty in the archives on etiquette.
posted by librarylis at 6:12 PM on December 22, 2009

For instance, when a guy opens a door for you to be polite (or even chivalrous), but there is another door right after that (double set of doors), what do you do? Open the next door yourself and walk through first? Open and hold the door for him?

This one's easy, and depends entirely on the distance between the two doors.

If there is a very short distance between the doors, less than five steps: step through, pause for a moment as if you see something interesting (such that you're not blocking the guy) and see if he moves past you. If he does, great, and if he doesn't move to do so, open the door yourself.

If there is a longer distance between the doors, simply walk slowly (but not ridiculously so) to the next set. If he wants to hold them for you, he'll walk quickly around you, and if he doesn't, he'll walk slowly, too.

Finally: if there's so little distance between the two sets of doors that you can't pause for a moment without blocking his entrance, just open the second set yourself.

Oh, and in all cases, if you've opened the second set, hold the door for him.
posted by davejay at 6:26 PM on December 22, 2009

Oh, and in all cases, if you've opened the second set, hold the door for him.

Actually, I just realized that I've never witnessed this, ever. The woman opening the second set never holds it to let the man through, they simply push the door open wide enough as they go through that the man doesn't have to re-open it after.
posted by davejay at 6:27 PM on December 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

The main gender etiquette thing I've noticed in my male-dominated job (I am the only female in my department) is my coworkers' insistence that I ride in the front passenger seat whenever we all go somewhere. I used to try to sit in the back because I was smaller/shorter, or to rotate whose turn it was to sit up front, etc., but after a while I figured out that if I sat in the back seat it made them all intensely uncomfortable* so now I just take the front seat by default.

(*I'm not sure if this is because of some rule of etiquette being violated or because Girls Have Cooties Eeeeew Don't Touch Them!!!!)

Everyone holds doors for everyone else -- whoever goes through first holds the door until everyone else in the group (or anyone within reasonable range) is through.
posted by Jacqueline at 6:45 PM on December 22, 2009

Best answer: Actually, I just realized that I've never witnessed this, ever

My workplace has a set of double doors at the entrance to every building that demands this exact response (about 2m apart). Person who gets there first opens the first door and holds it. Person who walks through the first door gets to the second door and holds it. In my experience this goes for any mix of genders.
posted by jacalata at 10:14 PM on December 22, 2009

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