Generational perceptions of dating your boss

Jul 08 2014 Published by under Uncategorized

horrific story on the web about ugly goings on in the leadership of Tinder (a dating company) is the latest in the tech industry treats women like dirt. The gist of it:

Wolfe's lawsuit, filed Monday, listed a series of alleged incidents of harassment over roughly 18 months starting in late 2012. Among the allegations: that Chief Executive Officer Sean Rad and the company's chief marketing officer, Justin Mateen, removed her title as co-founder because of her gender; and that Mateen publicly insulted her, including calling her a whore at a company party, while Rad ignored her complaints.

The article details the outrageous behavior, and it sounds like there are lots of emails to back it up. The marketing officer has been suspended, pending an investigation (but will likely find a good job when it is all over, anyway).

This is probably one of what will be a string of these incidents. As they come to light, more women will be able to come forward and say "this crap happened to me, too".

The thing that got my attention, and the thing with which I struggle is part of the story buried deeper:

The lawsuit says Wolfe became romantically involved with Mateen, her boss, who joined the company in late 2012.

and then:

"As her romance broke down, the suit says, Mateen called her “a desperate loser” ....”  [more about bad post-break-up behavior on the part of Mateen].

I've had this discussion not quite a billion, but certainly more than a million, times with my GenX and Millenial female friends. In my generation, you just did not have an affair with a boss, or even someone close to being a peer. Not if you wanted to be taken seriously. If you did, you were always perceived as fucking your way to the top. It didn't matter how much it was "true love". You would be tainted in the eyes of the other (few as they were) women around.

That has changed. A clinical/researcher colleague, a female PhD Gen-X-er had an affair, and then married an older MD-researcher in the same field (they met while she did a postdoc in his dept, though not with him). I like this woman, I have mentored her, I have helped her with grantsmanship. But she is totally clueless as to why she is resented by the older women in the field. The two views: "I am free to have an affair with whomever I wish, and it is none of your business" vs. "she screwed her way to a job" and "look at all the stuff she does because she is now married to Dr. BSD".  I am not defending her, or the other women. This is just a dynamic that exists. Whether she is really not as good, or whether it is internalized sexism on the part of my generation, she is not going to get a totally neutral assessment.

So when I read that the Tinder situation involved a failed romance between two high-ranking employees with some sort of power/supervisory/professional relationship, I shake my head.  Would the bad situation been avoided had they not been involved? (and to be honest... the questions that my cohort would ask are: would she have had the job, the authority, the status if they had not been involved?). The world is complex, and not a ceteris paribus experiment.

My Gen-X friends say that anyone should be allowed to have affairs with whomever they please, to fall in love with whomever they please, and the world should just shut the fuck up. But the world is a complex  place. And some may see their reactions as prejudices to be resisted, others believe that their perception is correct and someone has made a choice that reflects their underlying lack of seriousness about the profession. Does that mean Gen-Xers should be careful about who they sleep with? Where is the burden of responsibility here?

Everyone needs to determine their own priorities. And to do so in as full as possible knowledge of the world.  And understand that there are consequences, and you either have to decide the consequences don't matter to you, or they do. What I don't want to hear is your irritation at the consequences for the choices you've made.



19 responses so far

  • becca says:

    Rape is endemic on college campuses, sexual harassment is endemic in tech, and you choose to berate the youngster women for having the audacity to express irritation over the "consequences" of their "choices"? Really?

    Having an internal locus of control for YOURSELF in terms of YOUR interactions with men in the workplace is splendid. Jolly good for you and all that. But if you honestly think women can escape being called "whores" by brogrammers, through the simple method of not sleeping with the wrong person, you simply aren't paying any fucking attention.

    TLDR: dating your boss is a terrible idea. So is not dating your boss. Anyone under 30 gets a pass for not understanding how horrible the choice is. Anyone over 30 judging anyone for their choice? Has Patriarchy Terrorist Stockholm Disorder.

    • mistressoftheanimals says:

      I am sorry if you don't think what I chose to write on is worthy enough for your consideration and approval. This is not about women programmers. This is not about campus rape. This is about understanding consequences of voluntary choices.

      • becca says:

        Well, the next time you voluntarily choose to be sexually harassed, I'll be sure to blame it on your being a Boomer.

        • mistressoftheanimals says:

          this isn't just apples and oranges, this is vacuum cleaners and chocolate cake. what the hell are you talking about?

  • mytchondria says:

    Quick question many female PIs/CEOs do you know that have banged someone that works for them?

    That's what I thought.

  • Anonymous says:

    Speaking as a GenXer, I agree with your friends ... but I definitely understand the perception that s.o. might have slept their way to the top. My own idea is that true love is true love, and no job is worth sacrificing that. O.c., how you know that at the beginning of a relationship is the tricky part. 🙂 So, for me, dating my boss would not be totally out of the question, but I'd have to think damn highly of him and the potential of the relationship for me to risk it.

  • Anonymous says:

    Oh, and I should ad that if/when the relationship got "serious," I'd have to switch jobs (or he would) because he could obviously not continue being my boss. I worked somewhere where one of the managers was dating the head of the co, and we all had to pretend that she was "just another manager." It was ... not good. Kind of ridiculous, really.

  • Dr Becca says:

    Dibs on Patriarchy Terrorist Stockholm Disorder for my next band name.

  • But if your job requires you to work long and hard and have very little time outside the lab/workplace, then where are you supposed to find your spouse (or even someone to have an affair with)? I am certainly not surprised if people date in the lab. I recognize the feeling that if people date their superior it makes you wonder why they get favors and what not. I don't know if there is so much a generational difference there...

  • chall says:

    I wonder how much it is a "genereational issue" and one that is "age dependant"? There are a number of my younger friends and people I mentor who have various perception about this and other things, when I ask my fellow age and older female collegues we see a rift pretty much around 30-35. Some might call it "when you have a baby" but since even I and others who don't have children see things the same now when we have crossed the age barrier...

    I mean, surely even these people who think that it shouldn't matter if you have an affair with your boss realise that in this day and age especially "what people think of you" is real and as long as the 'older'[other] people have the power - even if you think they are 'wrong' in their assumptions - you need to adapt to the current rules in order to get ahead.

    That said, I find it fairly naive to think that it won't matter for your future. I think it would be safe to say to anyone starting an affair with an older (in the field/work space) collegue - "as long sa you realise that they are more important for the company than you so in case it goes sour, you're paying the price". Up front and clear. I won't even go into the ethics of it all....[power/'rights' etc]

    /one of the 'old people according to this definition"

  • Independent of the merits of such relationships, you are delusional to think that this is some kind of newly prevalent thing. Hideous asshole d00d PIs have been marrying their captive grad students and post-docs since forfuckenever. Middle-aged scientists all know of numerous such relationships going back to the 80s and 90s.

  • JustaTech says:

    In the specific case of Tinder, the woman in the case was at the company first, so it would be unlikely that she was internally percieved as having "slept her way to the top". In that case it's more of an issue of having asshole co-workers use your poor choice in romantic partners as an excuse to get rid of you.

    I've seen lab romances go well and terribly, and it can be very awkward when things go bad, but that's what being an adult is all about.

    The real quesiton for me is why is the advice "don't sleep with your boss" and not "don't sleep with your subordinates"? Isn't that the way this power differential is going anyway?

    • mistressoftheanimals says:

      oh, it is also do not sleep with your subordinates. Its just that anyone who needs to hear that message, is not listening, and doesn't think they need to hear it.

  • […] the current arguments painful, because this is also part of a generation gap among women, which I have written about here, although that post is far more minor than who gets to be a […]

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