What Trump’s Paris visit can teach us about what NOT to say to your co-workers
President Trump was criticized on social media for telling Brigitte Macron, the wife of the French President, ‘You’re in such good shape. She’s in such good physical shape. Beautiful.’
President Donald Trump might have been trying to pay a compliment when he told French First Lady Brigitte Macron, “You’re in such good shape. She’s in such good physical shape. Beautiful.” But it was seen as inappropriate and an objectification of the French President’s wife by many people on social media.
The president made his remark while on the job and had he made that comment in a more typical workplace, he would likely have been marched up to the human resources department.
Trump tells the First Lady of France, Brigitte Macron: “You’re in such good shape … beautiful”pic.twitter.com/tKCzX15cPl
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) July 13, 2017
It became one of the most memorable moments of the president’s whirlwind trip to Paris to meet with recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron and celebrate Bastille Day in France last week. On Twitter, some commentators saw Trump’s remarks to Brigitte Macron as part of a pattern of lewd comments Trump has previously made about and to women (and subsequently apologized for during his presidential campaign last year and dismissed by his wife Melania as locker room “boy talk”):
The NY Times attacked Trump for telling Brigitte Macron she was in “good shape”. My God. What a monster. Who’s he gonna compliment next?
— Oliver Hackett (@OliverHackett) July 14, 2017
— Richard Czarnecki (@richczar) July 14, 2017
There’s a workplace lesson therein no matter the level of professional stature. Think twice before giving compliments to a co-worker, or especially making jokes, experts say.
“The motive of the person matters little, what matters is the conduct,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and chief executive officer of the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit women’s advocacy group in Washington, D.C. An employer has to respond to any allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior to ensure the workplace is one where everyone can thrive, she said.
Whether it’s a man or a woman, think carefully before complimenting someone on their physique, said Denise Dudley, author of “Work It! Get In, Get Noticed, Get Promoted.” Friendly co-workers may exchange compliments about their clothes and physical appearance, but comments about a person’s looks are exactly the kind of thing that are often cited in sexual harassment lawsuits.
Here’s what NOT to say to your colleagues:
‘Do you and your wife go to church?’
Some topics, like a person’s religion, sexuality and marital status, are best avoided in the workplace. A colleague may not want to be invited to church on Sunday and may have their own place of worship or may also be an atheist. If in doubt, leave it out, Dudley said. Don’t always assume a man is married to a woman or a woman is married to a man, she said. Swap “wife” and “husband” for “significant other” or “partner,” Dudley added.
‘You’re having a ‘blonde’ moment!’
“It just a joke” just doesn’t cut it. “There are a number of cases which focus on the off-handed comments made in the workplace,” Robert Gregg, a lawyer with Boardman & Clark in Madison, Wis., writes on his blog. “These comments have, in fact, come back as evidence of discriminatory intent or harassment by a manager. Almost all harassers in such cases claim that they were ‘just joking.’” Gregg cites a manager who made jokes like “you’re being a blonde again.”
‘Are you going to have more kids?’
Even if this exchange happened between a female manager and her direct report, it could be interpreted as a judgment on taking maternity leave. For some people, that might sound like being overly cautious, but perhaps not when seen in a larger context. Nearly two-thirds of American workers don’t take paid paternity leave, research shows. Some mothers-to-be or those trying to get pregnant may get nervous their job will be in jeopardy.
‘You’re lucky you don’t want a family’
Similarly, it’s not appropriate to assume that a colleague — a gay man or woman, or even a single or married man or woman without children — is happy not to raise a family. An estimated 37% of LGBT-identified adults have had a child at some time in their lives and some 6 million American children and adults have an LGBT parent, according to studies by the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy at the University of California.
‘You’re just being a fuddy duddy’
Age discrimination is rife in the workplace, studies show, and using terms like “an old fuddy duddy,” “slow,” “sluggish” and “not culturally fit” don’t help, as happened in this 2010 case in Wisconsin when a 50-something manager who was terminated by an executive 20 years younger who had used these phrases. Even casual or “stray” remarks made by an employee who was not a hiring manager, “may be used to bolster claims of discrimination,” according to the law firm Reed Smith.