We have a new person in our office. She started yesterday and since she works right next to me I decided to pop in despite the fact that no one bothered to introduce us or even tell me that she was starting. Why didn’t anyone introduce us or let me know about her starting? Because she’s a few levels above me – whatever that means.

In any case, we’re neighbors so I popped in to say hi. I told her my name and that I was right next door if she needed anything in her first days.

She was nice and everything, but the first thing she asked me was, “What’s your title?”

I told her I was a marketing assistant and tried to move on. But then she asked who my manager was and then asked where my manager’s office was. I told her those things, too, but I was feeling smaller and smaller and quieter and quieter with every question. I tried to recover by asking her a few more… friendly… questions – we’re both from Boston, for example, and have that in common – but the entire atmosphere had changed and she was cold. Since then, she hasn’t as much as looked in my direction.  

Now, I don’t think this is a problem of this specific person, who may or may not be a nice person (I will perhaps never know, unless I get promoted and therefore suddenly materialize before her). But I do think that it’s an unforgivable problem in my workplace and in offices in general. Why must we treat people differently, depending on their title? Why can’t we talk to each other like equals? This woman is probably around the same age as me. She looks around the same in appearance. What separates us beside our paychecks?

I mean, I didn’t ask her how many degrees she had or where she’s been published. Or what her family tree looked like. I didn’t try to find out who had the richer creative or emotional life. I didn’t ask for her SAT scores or her pants size (obviously bigger than mine, I might add, just because I’m bitter). I just stopped by.

It reminded me of when I first started working here and one of the editors emailed me and asked me to sort an Excel file for him alphabetically since he didn’t know how. I called him and asked him to open the document and walked him through the process (the clicking of a single button, mind you) and then suggested that he take a tutorial on Excel (which my company offers) since we use the program so much. He seemed deeply offended, but why? Why shouldn’t I share my knowledge with him or make a (much needed) suggestion that would help the company as a whole? I certainly wasn’t mean or condescending about it. Is there just a general problem with me speaking my mind?

And I’m trying to walk the fine line between letting it show that this class/authority/title stuff bothers me and keeping it all knotted up inside. As much as I wanted to yell at that woman, “YOU DON’T KNOW ME!” or, “AM I SUPPOSED TO FEEL INTIMIDATED?” or, possibly, “ARE THOSE MATERNITY PANTS?” and stomp off, I guess I’ll be slightly more mature than that. I’m going to keep approaching her and talking to her like an equal. I hope it makes her as uncomfortable as she’s made me.

Is it necessary to treat people in the workplace according to their “status”? Does this happen in every workplace?

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