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(David De Lossy/Getty Images)
(David De Lossy/Getty Images)

How come my female co-workers get gifts and I don't? Add to ...

The question

I recently got married. At my workplace, I received a congratulatory mention at a Monday meeting and some token treats shared by all. I was happy with this situation and didn't need or expect more. Fast-forward six months: One co-worker has announced a pregnancy and another has got engaged. In these cases, there are schemes to collect cash for a baby gift and a wedding gift, financed by the rest of us. I will admit I am disjointed that these two events spawned a gift-giving movement, whereas mine was a thoughtful, yet relatively inexpensive venture. I don't want to appear unsupportive, but I imagine they feel the same way, yet did not act. Is it gender-related (the other two are female)? Should I be worried about my status in the workplace? Should I even contribute to a gift?

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The answer

The language of this question is a little odd in spots. And here and there, as Mr. Bennet says to Mrs. Bennet in my favourite line from Pride and Prejudice: "I have not the pleasure of understanding you ... Of what are you talking?"

But basically what I think you're saying is: You're feeling irked, miffed, if not downright ticked ("disjointed" = your "nose got out of joint," I'm thinking) that more of a fuss was made, and money spent, over one co-worker's wedding and another's pregnancy than over your own nuptials - possibly because your colleagues are female and you're male.

Let's address that last aspect first. You ask: Is it gender-related? I'm going to go ahead and court controversy here by saying: possibly.

Yes, it's possible a double standard exists within office culture, and our culture in general, when it comes to marriage, pregnancy and childbirth.

When my first son, Nicholas, was born, I was working as a radio producer in an office full of women. (I was the only man, in fact.) Nick was born on a Thursday night. I took the Friday off (my "paternity leave") and was back on the job Monday.

When I got to work, no one even said anything. Bupkes. And they all knew. But it was business as usual that day: morning meeting, fan out, work phones.

Late in the day, as a form of hint, I mentioned to my (female) boss that I'd been "pretty tired" the last few days.

"Really? Why?" she asked.

"Well, my wife and I just had a kid Thursday night."

"Oh, right. Uh, yes, and, uh, congratulations on that by the way."

But of course, later, when a couple of women in the office got pregnant and subsequently had kids, it was all presents and office collections and little booties and jammies and onesies and diaper genies and "Oooh, let's see pictures," and "Oooh, he's so cute."

Now, I'm going to further court controversy by saying I came to realize that's probably the way it ought to be - in the workplace and in society in general.

Yes, we're coming a long way in terms of paternity leave, men are getting more involved in raising kids, some offices do make a big deal of new daddies, and yadda yadda yadda. But ultimately weddings are a bigger deal for the bride than the groom and giving birth is a bigger deal for the mother than the father.

Maybe I was a little hurt that more fuss wasn't made vis-à-vis my seismic paradigm shift from "guy" to "dad," but the truth is that too much fuss would have worn thin quickly too.

You say you were congratulated in a meeting, then someone passed around "token treats, shared by all." That actually sounds quite thoughtful. Someone had to put in time and effort to get those treats and to remember to mention you in the meeting.

I'm not sure the workplace is the proper venue to make a big fuss about personal stuff, anyway. To me, the best approach is: Quickly acknowledge whatever it is, then back to the grindstone/salt mines. That's why they call it "the workplace." Leave it to your friends and family to whip up a froth of festivities in your free time.

The good news about the bad news is if there is indeed a form of reverse sexism at work, at your work, then the answer to your question "Should I be worried about my status in the workplace?" is "Probably not."

So shake it off, suck it up and put your contribution in the collection envelope when it comes around.

Be genuinely happy for your colleagues and their milestones. Don't stew and steam in your cubicle, nursing grudges and refusing to chip in. That's not a good look for you, sir. Before all this other hubbub, you say, "I was happy with the situation and did not need or expect more." Try to rewind to that state of mind.

If it helps, may I say: Congratulations on getting hitched. That's a big step, fella! Next time you're in (my) town, contact me via The Globe and Mail and your friendly, neighbourhood advice columnist will buy you a big, fat drink and we can smoke a cigar together.

Would that make you feel a little better?

David Eddie is the author of Chump Change, Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad and Damage Control, the book.

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Editor's Note: In Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Bennet says to Mrs. Bennet, 'I have not the pleasure of understanding you.' Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.

 

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