what can I do about a coworker who never wears a bra?

A reader writes:

I work at a busy nonprofit with about 30 staff members on site. I don’t see everyone each day; I’m in a pretty small department. I have a coworker (different department) who I rarely see, but EVERY time I see her, she isn’t wearing a bra. Not only that, but her shirts are typically clingy knits that show EVERYTHING. No one else seems to notice or care. I find it pretty gross and inappropriate, and I have a hard time taking her seriously.

I should add, this is a very professional office in a large city. We often host meetings for other nonprofits, high-level executives, The Chamber of Commerce, etc. At any time we could have a tour come in from a large foundation or other grantee. We occasionally have media here as well.

What can I do?

I wrote back and asked for more information on the letter-writer’s role relative to this employee, as well as about the gender makeup of the organization’s management. The answer:

I’m not management. I’m on the same level as her, though she has been here longer.

The human resources manager is a woman. She generally avoids conflict, but she is great otherwise. The offending coworker’s manager is male, and the CEO is male.

Unfortunately, I don’t think you can do anything about this.

If you were in a management role yourself, even though you’re not her manager, it would be reasonable to bring this to someone’s attention (probably HR, in this case) and ask them to speak with her discreetly. But as a peer, it’s really not in your purview.

I asked about the gender makeup of the management, because it’s much, much easier for a female manager to address an issue like this than a male manager. It’s already going to be awkward enough to do as a woman. In any case, it sounds like the HR person would be the logical choice to talk to her, but you noted that she generally avoids conflict, which often goes hand in hand with avoiding awkward conversations, so it’s not surprising that she hasn’t addressed it. But ideally she’d take it upon herslef to talk to her privately and tell her that part of looking professional is wearing a bra to work (or at least a supportive camisole or tank top under her shirt), but if she’s not doing it, I don’t see any opening for you to suggest she do so.

Ultimately, the people who should care about this and be addressing it aren’t. So I think you’re stuck just averting your eyes as much as possible.

Anyone have a different take?

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