Combating prejudice on the Helpdesk

We had a caller who would describe himself as "Old School." One of the young women on the help desk took the call and was very brusquely asked to put him through to a "proper" engineer.

Whether it was her female voice or her Caribbean accent that he didn't like wasn't immediately clear, but she assured him that she was perfectly capable of dealing with his request.

At such times it was our normal practice to listen in to such calls, so that we could confirm what actually happened if the incident led to disciplinary proceedings.

I logged in to her line just in time to hear him say:

"I won't tell you again, I told you to put me through to a proper engineer!"

I indicated that I would take the call and she put him through.

"Yes, what can we do to help you?"

"Thank God for that, I hate talking to the monkey when the organ grinder is around!"

This isn't a racist comment as it sounds, there is an English saying which goes along the lines of "Don't deal with the monkey when you can deal with the organ grinder" which means that rather than deal with the assistant you deal with the boss, a reference to the days when people played barrel organs in the street and often had a small monkey that danced and held out the cup for coins.

"I can assure you that J—— is perfectly competent to deal with your query."

I left him enough room to incriminate himself further, but he didn't, he gave me the details of his problem which was not particularly difficult. I couldn't resist telling him that I wasn't completely sure of the answer but would check with a team member who was better trained than I.

Accidentally on purpose forgetting to press the "hold" button I called across the room:

"J——, can you tell me how to adjust this caller's display settings please?"

"Yes Jeff, quite simple, you right click on a blank area of the desktop and choose 'properties.'"

"Thanks, J——, I see it now!"

I'm not sure whether this pantomime registered with the caller or not. I hope it did. What I really wanted was for him to say something derogatory to me so that I could log it as a racist or sexist incident, at the time there was less tolerance of the female and coloured workers than today but it was becoming an issue with the more progressive employers. Just one racist or sexist word would have been enough to start the ball rolling. There's no place for such attitudes in the workplace.

Have you experienced intolerance, racism or plain old fashioned attitudes whilst working on the helpdesk? Let me know.

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