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How can I stop my boss from using my nickname?

A bad boss condescends to his employee while the Governess looks on disapprovingly

Antony Hare

Ever since I was a kid, people have called me by a shortened version of my name. I don't mind it from friends, but when my boss uses it, it feels condescending if not downright sexist. How do I complain about this without sounding like a shrill, crazy lady?  —"Bella," Markham, Ontario

It's tempting to pull a De Niro—"You talkin' to me?" But don't assume he means to be condescending. Business culture today calls for first names from the CEO down. It's supposed to remove barriers, even if the CEO is making 900 times your salary. (It doesn't work, but what else is new?)

You should discuss the issue with your boss, but be careful; if other colleagues who are "friends" call you Bella at work, your complaint could seem spiteful. Playing favourites isn't nice. Don't use this as a ruse to stick it to a boss you don't like.

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It would be better to just choose a private moment and politely say, "I prefer to be called Isabella"—or whatever—"at the office." The key to not sounding like a crazy person is to keep emotion out of it. Stay cool. There's no need to justify your choice, but if he asks, simply answer, "because it's my name." You don't want a debate.

If he forgets your proper name—or persists in teasing you—just ignore him until he gets it right. It's like training a small animal: Sometimes the most effective response is none at all.

We're working on a big infrastructure project that is going to affect the community pretty drastically, and I'm afraid that my immediate superiors are cutting corners in a way that could really harm the local economy and the environment. Should I blow the whistle? And how? —Smith, Toronto

According to my research, there's precious little legal protection for whistle-blowers in Canada, so be warned and be brave. Depending on the seriousness of the wrongdoing, you'll be risking your credibility and possibly your safety, so ask yourself, are the movie rights worth it? More importantly, who would play you? Julia Roberts made Erin Brockovich look good, but in All the President's Men, Deep Throat got nothing but bad lighting in underground parking lots.

Should you decide to go ahead, you'll need concrete proof. Photocopying documents leaves fewer digital fingerprints, but it's time-consuming, and an ally in IT might be more practical. Then, you have three choices: Talk to senior leaders within your organization (which may get you fired); go to regulators or the law, which means disclosing your identity (which may get you fired); or leak the story anonymously to the media (which definitely will get you fired if your cover is blown).

Going to an outside agency (police or the media) is safer than it used to be, given the numerous WikiLeaks-type options available on the Internet. If you choose to raise the alarm within the company, I'd go straight to the top. Sometimes higher-ups conveniently find a conscience when they risk having their leadership thrust under scrutiny. Either way, good luck—you'll need it.

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