Q: I've recently discovered that my manager is a misogynist, which is surprising considering he has hired so many women on his team. There's always been a low level of sexism in the places I've worked, which I don't really get hung up on, and this company has been no different. But I've overheard him at industry events saying some pretty negative and hurtful things about working with women, which is making the women on the team pretty pissed off. Should I confront him?
Jeremy says: I'm not sure that confronting anyone is ever a good idea; though perhaps if you find a man in a striped shirt and an eye-mask kneeling in front of your safe, a spot of confrontation could be forgiven. The very word 'confront' invites a guarded response: hackles up, on the defensive; the worst possible way to open up a conversation likely to touch on sensitive matters.
So, 'Why are you such a miserable misogynist, Tony?' may not be your most fruitful opener.
Start by trying to work out why he hires so many women if he really is a misogynist. My guess is that he's not a misogynist at all, and would be truly mystified if you made that suggestion. I suspect he's one of those men (and I think it's more common in men than in women) who finds it difficult to understand any individual who differs in style and manner from himself. Henry Higgins summed it up in My Fair Lady: 'Why can't a woman be more like a man?'
So your starting assumption should be that your manager probably quite likes women (or anyway, the idea of women) and rates them highly enough to hire them, but is then baffled by much of their behaviour, which he sees as inexplicably unmasculine. Those negative and hurtful remarks you've heard him make at conferences were probably the product not of misogyny but of empathy-deficiency. In which case, you're in a position to help.
Don't confront him with anything: just offer to be his unofficial guide to the foreign world of women. Enter into a benign conspiracy. Become his interpreter. And, in return, simply suggest that he keeps any doubts he still has to himself.
Jeremy Bullmore is a former creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London. His book Another Bad Day at the Office? is published by Penguin at £6.99. Address your problem to Jeremy Bullmore at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.