I am a 26 year old male working in a British bank in India. When a female boss flirts in the presence of male subordinates, would it be considered professional? By flirting I mean twirling hair, biting lips, looking deeply into the man’s eyes, fondling earrings etc. Is this flirting by a female boss considered acceptable and professional?
Frustrated by a Flirt
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. JOHN BURTON
Dear Frustrated by a Flirt,
My own image of appropriate behaviour in a British bank would not include what you have described. What I think is not really the issue, however.
The underlying question that arises for me is the impact of this behaviour on you and on others in the workplace. If it creates difficulty in conducting business or carries the risk of leading to difficulty then it may be wise to address it. Since you describe the person involved as your boss, however, you are in a difficult spot. You may not be in a position to raise your concerns with your boss directly without offending her and creating the tension you wish to avoid.
You are working in an environment where cross cultural communication is a real challenge. Traditional Indian understandings of morality and behaviour are intersecting with modern Western expectations and with the culture of British banks. I know too little about the environment that you are working in to feel confident in offering advice about how to proceed, if the matter does need to be addressed.
What I would suggest is that you seek the advice of someone familiar with those cultural realities and ask them for help in devising a strategy that might bring to your boss an awareness of how her behaviour is perceived by others, without offending her. The person I would look for would be an elder who has experience working within a business organization, preferably but not necessarily a bank. I would also want that person to be familiar with the tensions that arise as a traditional culture adjusts to the modern global culture where the understanding of the relations between the sexes is undergoing significant change.
Perhaps there is someone in your extended family, or a teacher you trust from school who could provide some guidance.
I hope that you can find such a person and that they can guide you through this situation.
Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.
Dr. John Burton LL.B. M.B.A. M.Div. Ph.D. is an ethicist, mediator, lawyer and theologian. He teaches Personal and Corporate Social Responsibility in the Faculty of Management at the University of British Columbia in the Okanagan. John has also taught alternative dispute resolution at Queen’s Law School and Ethics at the Schulich School of Business. John holds a very special place on the Office-Politics Advisory Board. John was the very first Office-Politics Adviser and has answered letters since 2002. His contribution made the CTV national news in 2003 for answering ‘difficult and thorny issues’ that are sent in to the site. Some things never change!