Q: I work at a blue-collar job, and I am one of four women in a crew of 40. The guys never touch or harass me, or any of the women, as far as I know.
They do, however, constantly hug and grab and bump each other in a friendly way. It’s not unusual for one of the guys to go through a whole short meeting (a stand-up “huddle”) with an arm around another guy’s shoulder.
No one ever touches me, and it’s not that I want anyone to. That would be weird. But I almost feel left out. Should I let this “bro contact” bother me?
A: It can be irritating or even troubling to feel left out at work – even if whatever you’re being left out of doesn’t appeal to you.
“There are a lot of ways to feel excluded,” said Eden King, a psychology professor at Rice University. “And a lot of them are non-verbal.”
Informal social rituals such as happy-hour gatherings and the office Oscar pool can improve an office’s culture – unless they leave some people feeling that they just don’t fit in. At worst, this can become a “coded way of excluding people,” said Dr. King, who directs a workplace diversity research group at Rice. “’We don’t want people like you because you don’t fit our culture’ can turn out to mean ‘you’re not our race, or our gender.’”
The classic example is golf: If you don’t play and your boss bonds in career-shaping ways on the links, that can be a problem.
The good news is that it doesn’t seem as if your colleagues are trying to exclude you. In fact, they seem to be behaving respectfully, and they probably don’t suspect their “bro contact” might be bothersome, and almost certainly don’t intend it to be.
Think about whether it might help to look for other ways to feel comfortably included. Since you’ve described a sociable workplace, consider conversational or topical gambits: joking, shared hobbies or interests, talk of sports or family or whatever feels right. Don’t consider this an obligation, but rather an approach that might make your days more enjoyable.
Any worker should be tuned in to the office culture and if some element of that culture interferes with her job, she should talk to a manager. But if that’s not the case right now, it’s better to focus on connection and inclusion. “If she can find other ways of being friendly with her co-workers, that’s going to serve her well,” Dr. King said.