It's happened to me twice. Once I had just launched a new project after a couple of months and it was a big success. My (male) boss hugged me. The second time was when I accepted a lateral job offer in the same company. My new (male) boss, who also happened to be a friend, hugged me.
The hugs were disconcerting to me not because I think they were sexual come-ons. They were disconcerting because
- I am not a hugger
- They would not have hugged me had I been a man
On Point A: I am SO not a hugger. (Unless the hug comes from a loved one or a child, it's really disconcerting to me.) Picture me as the horrified cat that Pepe LePew embraces in those Warner Brothers cartoons. I don't even like it when people lean in close to talk to me. It's like I'm surrounded by a metaphysical moat.
On Point B: Those guys apparently (and probably subconsciously) thought that hugging was an appropriate response because I'm a woman. I know this because it is virtually impossible for me to picture the following scenario:
Jim: Hey Bill, congratulations on getting your project in under budget!
Bill: Thanks, Jim!
Jim: So, how about a hug?
Not likely, right? I know it's a small thing and it's not frighteningly objectionable. In other words, I'd be a little more likely to march over to HR if these guys had congratulated me by punching me in the face or calling me "Toots." Maybe I'm naïve but I think they meant well. However, I think it's still an example of some deeply embedded thinking that affects workplace dynamics.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.