Harmless glance or red flag?
May 21, 2012 2:03 PM   Subscribe

My sister received a dream job offer but for one thing - the man who will be her direct supervisor was definitely looking at her boobs both times she went into the office for the interviews.

My sister is looking to get out of a toxic work situation and has recently received a job offer that is perfect in many ways. Great location, great salary, great learning opportunities. She would love to jump on this, but...

One thing is giving her pause - she went into the office twice for interviews, and the man who will be her supervisor checked her out pretty obviously both times. He was professional in every other way, but he was definitely looking at her boobs.

Situational details -

First Time

They were sitting across a table from each other, and she described it as, he was giving equal attention to looking at her face, then looking at her boobs, and then glancing at her resume.

My sister is in her mid-twenties. She is very attractive, and she has a good figure. She was completely covered up with no cleavage showing. She was wearing a button-down shirt and suit jacket, and she kept her jacket on. (Note - I'm NOT implying that inappropriate glances can be blamed on what the lady is wearing, just trying to give as detailed a picture as possible.)

The interviewer was the company VP, in his mid-fifties. Seemed professional aside from not being able to tear his eyes from her chest. This person would be working closely with her, training her for the first couple of months, and then she would report to him once she had the hang of things.

Second Time

Enough time has passed since the first interview that my sister had forgotten about the guy checking her out. She went in again, this time wearing a loose, non-form-hugging button down shirt. And she noticed this person checking out her boobs again.


Is this a red flag? Would you, in your professional experience, consider this a clumsy but harmless mistake on the part of the interviewer, or consider it a red flag?

Can y'all think of any way my sister could address this person before accepting/rejecting the job offer? She would be game to try talking to this person, but doesn't know how to do so tactfully.

Lastly, if anyone has constructive comments in general, she'd love to hear about how to deal with getting checked out in the workplace. Do you ignore it, call attention to it ("is there something on my shirt?") or deal with it in another way?
posted by pluot to Human Relations (32 answers total)

I have a bad habit of looking slightly down and to the left when thinking. I have to be conscious of where my eyes appear to be pointed, despite basically letting my eyes unfocus for a second when I listed to responses. Is it possibly something like this?
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:12 PM on May 21, 2012 [9 favorites]

If he was professional in every other way, I would let it go. I work with about half and half men and women. Two of the women in my office insist that two particular men look at their boobs - and the boobs of all women - all the time. I have absolutely never noticed the same thing (with respect to my own ample boobs or any other woman's boobs). So for one thing, perceptions can differ. For another, the dude might not even know he's doing it. Especially if she is wearing button down shirts, isn't it possible that's just where his eyes go?

If she's in a toxic work situation I wouldn't let this stop her.

If, after she's been in the job, if it continues, if it were me, I would subtly call attention to it "is there something on my shirt?" and if that doesn't work, and it is really and truly bothersome, you tell HR, and HR tells him to knock it the hell off. But it's possible that she'll get to know him and it will fall into the harmless mistake category.
posted by dpx.mfx at 2:13 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think it would be harder for your sister to find another "dream job" than for her to find a workplace environment free of at least one creepy middle aged boob-staring letch.
posted by mizrachi at 2:14 PM on May 21, 2012 [33 favorites]

I am a hetero female and I sometimes look at other people's chests for absolutely no reason. I have also worked with a guy that I never noticed always stared at my chest until a coworker complained about him doing it to her and then I noticed he did it to me too. Absolutely fine fellow to work with. I think some people just do this and it has not much if any meaning, if there are no other unprofessional behaviors.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 2:15 PM on May 21, 2012 [13 favorites]

I agree with the let it go and take the dream job folks. I also tend to stare at a persons core when I'm riffing on a topic that's sensitive or where I don't want to be confrontational. Not all guys are 100% all the time boob staring lecherous jerks. Sometimes we just need to look somewhere.
posted by chasles at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I (female) have a tendency to shift from looking at someone's eyes to their midsection, especially because I'm frequently asked questions when I'm sitting at my desk and they are standing in my cube entryway, so that's generally straight-ahead eye level for me. There are probably men here who wonder why I'm looking at their junk all the time! If the guy seems professional otherwise, I wouldn't worry about it. Some of us just can't do sustained eye contact.
posted by jabes at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

It's also possible he has Asperger Syndrome (and maybe hasn't been diagnosed) and it's part of the atypical eye contact that is associated with AS. My boyfriend with AS tries to be very conscious about this.
posted by radioaction at 2:27 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Boob starers are ubiquitous, sexual harassers less so. I know that's small consolation but I have found that to be the case in my own experience, for what little that is worth.

Can y'all think of any way my sister could address this person before accepting/rejecting the job offer?

I'm seriously but sadly going to have to go with No. Doing so is highly likely to flag your sister as a potential law suit waiting to happen and result in the offer being retracted.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:31 PM on May 21, 2012 [8 favorites]

I work with someone who stares at my chest. I do not wear girlie clothes, nor am I generally attractive to straight men. The fellow in question is progressive and not a sexist jerk. He definitely does stare at my chest, though. I put it down to some weird little tick or nervous gesture.

But the deciding thing for me is that he basically does not make me uncomfortable in any other way. How did this interviewer come across? Was he appropriate? Was there a good, normal vibe? I'd say that a positive vibe plus a little potential chest-staring would be okay, but a neutral or negative vibe would not.

Also, is this an industry that routinely condones a lot of creepy behavior? If your sister is starting out as a young attractive woman in real estate or finance, then yes, chest-staring is likely to be a bad sign of what's to come. (I used to temp and I saw what went on, although thank god I never needed to have a permanent job in those places.)
posted by Frowner at 2:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

He doesn't have to have aspergers (diagnosed or otherwise), he could just be shy/socially awkward. I rarely look at people's faces when I talk to them - its not that I can't, it just seems weird and uncomfortable to me.
You can never really tell what someone is looking at, only where their eyes are pointing. In drama class a (slight crazy/attention seeking) classmate accused me of putting a spell on her - from her perspective I was staring at her and muttering. From my perspective I was just sat on the opposite side of the room, learning my lines. I wasn't staring at her, I was not looking down at my script.
posted by missmagenta at 2:38 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am able to understand and process others' speech much better when I watch their mouth as they talk. I have been admonished for staring at breasts a couple of times when doing this. Let it go, take the job.
posted by txmon at 2:48 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had a boss like this. His behavior got worse after he had a massive stroke, but that was also what took him out of the office completely.

I had several coping mechanisms. First, I talked to the other boss in the office and told him to ask the guy to stop staring at the girls.

Second, if he had persisted - which he didn't - I would have reminded him that "I haven't taught them to speak yet" so he would need to speak to my face instead.

For your sister, I would recommend option 1 over option 2. But, option 2 would be very entertaining.
posted by Leezie at 2:56 PM on May 21, 2012

They were sitting across a table from each other, and she described it as, he was giving equal attention to looking at her face, then looking at her boobs, and then glancing at her resume.

That is fairly red flaggish to me. That he is her direct supervisor is also a problem. There are people who do it without really noticing that they're doing it, and then there are people who'll hire you on the basis that you let them do it to you in the interview.
posted by mleigh at 3:00 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've got great boobs. No, really. They're pretty fantastic. Sometimes men (and women) look at them. If this guy is otherwise professional, she should take the job. If the leering becomes uncomfortable, she can certainly take him aside after developing a professional relationship with him and tell her that his staring makes her uncomfortable. If he's truly a professional, he'll stop. And what mizrachi said.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 3:02 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Embarrassingly, the number of times I've felt like I was looking at a woman's chest and found out a way to come out to her rather than seeming like a lech is greater than zero. In fact, the number of times this has happened in a job interview setting isn't even zero.

That's not to say I -- and this guy -- shouldn't be more conscious of where we are looking, especially if someone is made uncomfortable. But it's not necessarily an intentional -- or even conscious -- thing. I find that job interviews -- or any one on one discussion at close range -- can cause this sort of accidental misreading of cues. Meeting somebody's gaze is what you're supposed to do as you talk to them, but it's surprising how few people actually feel comfortable doing this -- and then what do you do?

I agree with Frowner that the whole experience should be put in a context before any decision is made. If it hadn't happened the second time, would she remembered anyway? If there were three interviews, and it didn't happen at the second one, but then again at the third, how would she feel? Does it feel like the kind of place where, if this behavior continued after she was hired, she would feel empowered to do something about it? I'd weigh all that and more before making the decision, but would probably fall into the "don't punish yourself for somebody else's bad behavior" camp (even though I realize that, as a dude, I can talk that talk a lot easier than living with it might be)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 3:03 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

The fact that it happened multiple times and seemed deliberate is a red flag. I've had this happen and the job was a horror show. It was awful and degrading. I would hate for her to move from one toxic workplace to another. If he weren't going to be training or supervising her I'd say maybe, but she's going to have to spend a lot of one-on-one time with him.

She'll have to weigh the pros and cons, but I do think it's a red flag.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:07 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

This to me doesn't sound like lecherous behavior and should not be a barrier to accepting her dream job and escaping a toxic work environment. As many above have said, he could have just been shifting his gaze. I am mostly persuaded because he gave equal attention to her face and resume and came across as perfectly professional in every way. If he couldn't tear his eyes away from her chest or seemed to be initiating some sort of sexual advance via looking and making sure she noticed that's what he was doing, my answer would be totally different. The fact that she completely forgot about it until the follow-up interview makes it seem even more benign. If there was malicious or creepy intent there, no amount of time would erase that detail. If in her gut she is sensing danger, however, she should listen to her instincts.

I myself am rather well-endowed, so I know what it's like to have people fixate on your chest, but the vast majority of people make eye contact with me and talk to my face, not my boobs. That isn't to say they don't notice them, a lot of times they do, but it's all a part of taking in someone's entire appearance. They aren't trying to be sketchy or come onto me. Also, it would be just as creepy if someone made consistent unflinching eye contact and never shifted his gaze at all. That said, if this behavior grows into something else, she should get herself to HR stat, but it doesn't sound like that's likely here.

One last thought, since she was in interview dress, was she wearing jewelry by any chance? If so, did that include a necklace or pendant? Those tend to fall in the same area and catch people's attention, but it's something that may not occur to us when it's just part of our normal professional dress. Best of luck to your sister, and, regardless of what she decides, congrats on the job offer!
posted by katemcd at 3:29 PM on May 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

This would really freak me out, to the point of considering not taking the job. I find that many women, including me, tend to give men the benefit of the doubt about things like this at first. So if it bothered your sister enough for her to mention it, I would bet that it really was blatant. Only she can make the final decision, of course, but I don't think it's a trivial consideration.
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:35 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am female and also tend to look at chins, chests and at the ground when I'm talking to strangers.

There was also a time when a guy was obviously staring at my chest at a party. A few minutes later my friend let me know that one of my buttons had come undone.
Also, did she happen to be wearing a long necklace?
posted by KogeLiz at 3:58 PM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't care. It's a job in thid economy! If the guy crosses a line later I'd deal with it. But I know I can deal with creepers with my eyes closed, I am 100% confident I could handle a dude like this without any negative consequences to me. If your sister is worried that she can't or doesn't know what to do then some pre-emptive role playing is in order.
posted by fshgrl at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

I have to agree that if this is the only thing that made her uncomfortable, it's probably fine.

Just in case, she might want to verify that there are a good number of women employees (at least a third or so), who tend to stay for a decent amount of time, and at least some in higher up positions.

If all of those things are true, then it's likely that either this guy is just one of those otherwise fine well-meaning men who does this one thing, or that she'll have allies and support in dealing with his inappropriateness, if he's not.

In this economy, though, I think I'd just take the job and figure out the best method for dealing with this after I have a contract of employment. Unless there was something else that made her uncomfortable, or the workplace skews really heavily male with absolutely no women in positions of power. That would give me enough pause to do some more research before accepting.
posted by Salamandrous at 4:19 PM on May 21, 2012

Ugh. I feel for your sister, it is SUCH an unsettling feeling. I think if it has all the positives plus the workplace looks like a good fit for her, she might give it a shot. I had a male friend who used to drive me crazy with his boob glances. But, he has all kinds of funky quirks so I started to pay attention to see if he looked at other women's boobs. He does. Men, too. He looks at men's chests as well! Now, I can't be certain that he wasn't always checking out my girls but I think that's just where he put his nervous gaze. Some people have weird eye contact issues.
posted by amanda at 5:10 PM on May 21, 2012

Take the dream job.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:13 PM on May 21, 2012

If her gut says he's slimy, she should stay away -- there are lots of jobs out there.

To the first part, yeah, gotta go with your gut, really. To the second... um? There are not lots of jobs out there. Well, at least, there aren't lots of jobs out here so, YMMV.
posted by amanda at 7:52 PM on May 21, 2012

Whenever I am making strong eye contact, people ask me if there's something wrong with their hair, or if I am distracted by something on their head (is it a bug?!?!?!).

Apparently, there is something wrong with my eyes or something.
This could be an extension of the same...
posted by vivid postcard at 8:24 PM on May 21, 2012

I would tend to let it go if that was the only behavior of his that could be considered creepy. As a woman with a large chest that gets looked at/stared at sometimes, I will definitely give the person looking a break about it if they display no other creepy behaviors. Reason being, to be honest, is that breasts are attractive and eye-catching and sometimes people don't do it on purpose. I also think it's a behavior that demonstrates general physical attraction (eyes lingering over the body).

Of course, it's not appropriate if it's constant or long-lasting, and most people know this so they usually look for half a second, and then look away. If that's what he was doing I'd say it's not that big of a deal (for me).
posted by bearette at 12:33 AM on May 22, 2012

I have ADHD and my eyes are all over the place, inevitably meaning they will sometimes glance boobwards irrespective of gender. That said, if I'm a professional situation I'll do my utmost to make sure this doesn't happen, with varying degrees of success. This guy needs to try harder.
posted by Quantum's Deadly Fist at 2:10 AM on May 22, 2012

I have a habit of looking at a person's lips when they are talking. I have to remind myself to make eye contact. So depending on the angle it could appear that I am looking at someone's chest rather than their lips...
posted by Gungho at 5:58 AM on May 22, 2012

As A male , and being honest , we are programmed to look at things like that. If thats all that he is doing I would ignore it. Its awfully hard for a man to stop himself from doing it since we are prgrammed to do it and if not thinking tend to look at a womans chest subconsciously.

Any guy who tells you differently is lying.
posted by majortom1981 at 6:16 AM on May 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

I agree with majortom1981 (and surprise, I'm a guy!). Unless it approaches 'leering' and makes your sister uncomfortable then an occasional glance at a nice rack isn't hurting anyone. And if she gets the job and the behavior continues then it's perfectly within her right to politely ask that he stop, and if it continues she can file a complaint with HR -- that's one of their major roles at any company.
posted by imagineerit at 7:26 AM on May 22, 2012

I'm a guy, and I can think of four possibilities here:

- He's a jerk.
- He has a social deficit of some sort.
- He thinks that no one is noticing what he is doing. (I guess this might be a social deficit too.)
- He's doing it accidentally or because he is distracted.

What your sister should do next depends on which of these it is, I suppose.

I would agree with the male posters above who state that the natural instinct is to look, and men have to consciously remind themselves not to, as it's inappropriate in a workplace. (There might be men who don't even have the impulse to look, I suppose.)
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 10:16 AM on May 22, 2012

Response by poster: Hi all, thanks for weighing in on this - my sister found this thread very helpful. She scheduled one last informal interview at the office to double check the situation, and accepted the job. Thanks!
posted by pluot at 8:15 PM on May 23, 2012

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