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My sister recently accepted a high-paying job offer as office administrator in a local firm in our hometown in India, run by a divorced middle aged financial consultant. She is due to join next week but has now been informed by very reliable parties with direct experience that this person, her future boss, is a habitual womanizer who makes subtle advances upon female employees to start an 'office romance' (euphemism for an illicit affair.)

My sister doesn't need the money but says that any future boss could be a womanizer we don't know of, and does not want to give up the job just for that reason. However she feels that if the boss makes an improper advance and she rejects it (even gently yet firmly) it could poison the atmosphere at the workplace. Although the person might possibly tolerate her firm but gentle rejection of his proposition, she would surely lose the job as a result, or else feel obliged to resign.

Goal: She is determined not to accept any proposition from him for an illicit liaison even if she loses the job as a result. How can she convey her unwillingness even before he thinks of making the typical 'romantic' overture? Actually talking about it with the boss is culturally impossible and would be considered a great insult here in the entire South Asian region, so her goal is to proactively prevent any such proposal by making it clear by her body language and general behavior that she is not 'available' even though she is an unmarried young person.

Is this even possible to convey through body language and general behavior and if so, how can she achieve this aim?

Note: these advances by the boss may very possibly be construed as sexual harassment at the workplace but she has no direct experience or evidence of it at this point and filing a complaint after rejecting an improper proposition is not my sister's goal here. She is not going to be a member of Stack Exchange at present but she will read the answers posted. I am familiar enough with the details to make any necessary clarifications. The interpersonal talent of our members is urgently needed here!

51

I hope to have this answer surpassed by others with a better grasp of the localized environment. Until that time, this is my take on it.

From the described reputation of the future boss, I'd say that her body language and general behavior can make it clear to everyone, except the boss. I say that based on the description of the boss, which suggests that he's going to "read" anything the way he wants to read it, not the way everyone else would read it. If he's chosen to violate social norms, as the question suggests do exist against workplace sexual harassment, then he's not going to acknowledge less explicit clues in her behavior.

She can attempt to minimize her odds of being noticed by denying her own femininity. Wearing very unrevealing clothes, not styling her hair, and other measures to reduce her visual appeal. All in the hopes that he will look elsewhere for victims. In doing so, however, she has no real assurance of success and is abusing herself, and her spirit, to avoid his abuse. If he has already exhausted the current workforce in search of conquests, then he'll "notice" her, regardless of such counter-measures.

From what little I think I know about the culture in question, the only measures I can think of are not interpersonal in nature. A responsible male family member could speak in her behalf to the boss and "draw the line" that he should know better than to cross. Raising the specter of "family honor" might cause him to avoid the consequences (maybe).

The other alternative, which seems to be counter to the culture, is to openly express, verbally and with witnesses, that any office romance is out of the question. She need not single out the boss in doing so, rather include all male employees, from janitor to boss, in the statements. The hope here is that the boss will realize his reputation has been exposed, and avoid the issue himself. Having the power to terminate her employment without consequences limits his inducement to behave and reduces her chance of success using any measures.

24

After putting up this personally important question, I was motivated by the answers to think a bit about what strategies Indian women actually use in these situations, and recollected something a famous Bollywood heroine said in an interview a few years ago, citing the "best advice her mother gave her when she joined the film industry" about how to greet unknown men she would be working with for an upcoming movie:

Mother told me to greet them respectfully and ask for their blessing, saying "you are like my father/ brother" (depending on the age of the person) -- almost all of them were consequently extremely well behaved with me throughout the acquaintance,

she said.

If a young newbie said this on first meeting a non-Indian High Reputation Member on Stack Exchange the member might well get a terrific shock (as in WTF? She doesn't even know me, how dare she!) but this approach to an unrelated male is culturally sanctified by history and tradition, especially in North India where the concept of "social family" -- we are all one family, with all the attendant ethical responsibilities -- is well established among all 'god fearing' persons with a sense of community.

It can be devastating for an Indian man to be addressed by a girl or young woman as father/ brother with the implicit expectation of honorable behavior and many an Indian male's libido has crumbled to dust as a consequence, which is exactly why the actress' mother and hundreds of generations of Indian women have used this method to anticipatively pour cold water upon any possible "unwanted attention" from known or unknown men.

The only reason I hesitate to recommend this approach to my sister is that this is South India not North (where the emotional appeal of a "social family" statement is strongest) and there are some persons in our home state who are heartless, godless and perverse enough to privately disregard or openly ridicule even this pure and pristine sentiment.

  • I'm sorry to comment on an old question, but I really think this answer is incorrect. Can you cite "many an Indian male's libido has crumbled to dust..."? A man who is going to disrespect a woman's boundaries doesn't care what she thinks of him as. That being said, I'm south Indian and your ' pure and pristine sentiment' is nowhere to be found in urban areas. 'Social family' only works with people you already know, and maybe the very young/old, in my experience. – tryin Aug 1 at 9:13
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Is this even possible to convey through body language and general behavior and if so, how can she achieve this aim?

At work:

  • wear unisex business clothing if possible; otherwise dress conservatively
  • don't share personal information
  • be professional but aloof
  • observe how other woman at work have avoided being harassed; be like them

Around boss:

  • appear confident but distracted/disinterested
  • avoid prolonged eye contact; look over his head or scan room; look at other people, look out window, etc.
  • practice a poker face; show no emotion
  • cross arms and legs
  • don't smile
  • don't lean in; always keep distance between her and boss; if he leans in lean away or angle away subtly; or start standing
  • don't flirt with hair
  • don't adjust clothing
  • don't point feet or legs toward him
  • don't ask boss personal questions, show no interest in him in any way
  • if he shares personal information, ignore it; never remember anything personal about him if he asks
  • don't date or show any interest in any other man at work
  • don't wear perfume
  • if he does make an advance, don't reject it verbally; just ignore it completely like it didn't happen; show complete disinterest and move on if he stops (this way, she gives him an out... and hopefully he'll be confused and just stop and never do it again)

More extreme measures:

  • get male friend to pose as fake boyfriend
  • I don't know about your culture, but if there a way she could appear to be unavailable due to religious reasons?
  • could she appear to be gay? or at least asexual?
  • eat food that gives her bad breath
  • if he is short, tall, fat, skinny, bald, old, etc.; let it be know through the office rumorville (that will get back to him) that she only likes man that are the opposite
  • maybe she could find some dirt on him early, as protection? this may be extreme
  • subtly hint that you have some very rough, violent or powerful people in her family or fake boyfriend's family (has to be done in way that is not illegal or a threat)
  • find out something he hates in his "interests" and do it to become unattractive to him

Final thoughts:

In this situation, she has a lot less power than him. Her best course of action is to start searching for a new job and have a backup plan in case the worst happens.

9

How close-knit are your residential and work communities? If your sister has enough privacy in the town, she can pretend to have a boyfriend. Does she have a guy friend that's willing to pretend to be dating her? She can occasionally call him using the office phone, while her boss is near her, and say stuff like

... hey, busy day at work. Can we watch that new movie, X, tonight?

and also mention him during small talk with her new boss, e.g.

... oh yeah, this weekend, I'm going to restaurant X with my boyfriend, John! ...

and hopefully he gets the point.

Another option is for her to talk with him directly, when he makes his move on her.

If her boss hits on her, she should tell him that she's not interested. It’s possible for her to be respectful while making her position clear. Appropriate responses include,

I’m sorry if you got the wrong impression, but I want to keep our relationship professional.

or,

I’m just starting this job. I would like to have a great work relationship with you. However, one of the rules I’ve set for myself is that I don’t get personally involved with people at work. That’s not about you, it’s just my rule.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2013/06/25/when-the-boss-hits-on-you-3/#26c3234f5cd8

3

Keep it professional.

Since a direct confrontation seems not to be possible, I suggest her to gloss over and cut short on every non-professional interaction between them. Simply don't give any sign of getting the sexual subtext to her boss approaches. She should be firm and polite: she's acting well within workplace limits.

Some possible behaviours would be:

  • If he starts a conversation not about business, she could cut short and redirect it to professional discussion instead.

  • If he wants her to answer personal questions, she could give an absent-minded and vague answer without returning it.

  • As soon as he starts talking about things unrelated to business, she could excuse herself and tell him she must go back to work.

  • If he insists on this behaviour during breaks, instead, she should go away telling him she has other things to do. No need to make up plans: he doesn't need to know them to let her go.

  • She should try to be alone with him as little as possible. However, I know that this depends mostly on him.

  • She should refrain from starting a friendship with him through instant messages. However, if he explicitly asks her to join him on chat, I'm not sure about how she could refuse. If this happens, behave as suggested in my second point.

Also, if it's possible, she should tell her coworkers about this and ask for collaboration, so that if he starts harassing her, one of them could call her for some "urgent business question".


Disclaimer: I'm not from south Asia, therefore I'm not sure this will be an useful answer.

2

Especially if you sister can afford losing her job, there's no need to resort to body language or similar tricks. She should just say "NO" to her boss when he makes his advances. Unless, of course, there's a chance of being raped regardless, at which point she simply shouldn't go near this person. Trying to protect oneself with body language in a situation like that is dangerously silly.

1

Before I provide my answer, I'd like to point out that this question is potentially offensive because it suggests women control men, which we don't.

To answer your question - your sister can pretend to be married, say she's working on being a nun, wear very conservative clothing, and at the end of the day the manager's going to interpret that however he wants - maybe she's just hard to get. There's nothing she can do to stop him. Depending on how reliable these reports are, maybe she shouldn't accept that job. Even if she does accept this job, and does nothing with this manager, her reputation may suffer because of the assumptions others make. At the end of the day, it is not her responsibility, it's on him. Her only choice is whether this is a wise risk to take.

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