Stigma at work

Posted Sat 12 Sep 2020 5.16am by Tonocon

Hi, I am wondering how others would handle this situation. I am in a workplace and a new senior person came onboard about 8 months ago. Due to the virus we worked from home a lot but we came back to the office recently. The new senior person that came on board was very nice to me at the start but then once he got established and we went back to the office briefly he started staring at my hair all the time. It feels like he's doing it on purpose. He also seems to talk about going to the barbers a lot when he talks to me. It seems to be his favourite topic. He even brings it up when others are around me. It really feels like he's subtly targeting me and trying to make me feel bad. I have mild scalp psoriasis and I have also lost a good bit of hair. I go to the barbers about once per month anyway, but he has shaven his head and I believe he thinks I should also have a shaven head. I cannot do this because of psoriasis. I believe he discreetly likes to target others also based on their vulnerabilities. He appears to need to feel superior to people. He is very discreet in how he does this though and I don't think many people notice, particularly around me. I have told others on our team about my condition and they seem really nice about it, and have no issues with my hair or me. I try to just act professionally all the time in the work place. Most people seem to be fine with how I look and have no issues.

I am wondering if people could offer advice on how I should act on this. I have mentioned psoriasis to this guy before I believe, but, maybe it was either loud and he didn't hear or he truly gets a kick out of hurting others in a subtle way. Fortunately, my director has placed me in a very independent role for the next 6 months, which means I will just need to be in that office for one afternoon per week and I will rarely need to interact with that senior manager. He may well review me in a few months time for my work, but my work quality is extremely good and he has already reviewed me in an online setting and given me good results and the director thinks extremely highly of me so the senior person can't affect me badly from a professional point of view.

I am wondering about people's thoughts on the best way to deal with the situation. I will have an opportunity in a month or so to also offer feedback to the business in an online survey. I will mention something to do with psoriasis in this and how I feel about certain discussions relating to my hair. I am unsure if I should say anything before this though as this senior manager seems quite cunning and can easily deny his behaviour.

Has anyone any advice on the best way to deal with this. I have faced harassment on a much greater scale in previous workplaces that I left. I am reluctant to leave this job as I'm in a location I like and the vast majority of people seem fine with my condition and the visual ramifications of my hairstyle because of it. I can't seem to find any good advice from anyone I know on this topic so I was hoping someone here might help. I do find the interactions with him quite distressing, unless it's related to my work directly.

Posted Sat 12 Sep 2020 6.55am by FairyDust

Hi Antonocon

Well done for putting this question out here.

Seems like your colleague has some insucurities if their own if he feels he has the right to indirect or directly knock you for your skin condition. I would definitely think about raising this with him directly first maybe during a face to face catch up as an off the cuff question At the end.as I believe you need to address this directly with him first to let him know you he is making you feel they you do. He needs to operate inclusively and without discrimination. Give him the opportunity to respond to you direct. If he just doesn’t get it or is in denial give it benefit of the doubt and monitor the situation. At least you have raised it with him. If he continues this behaviour then speak to your HR team as you should not under any circumstances let anyone make you feel a way at work. It has to stop and the only way it will stop is by raising it.

I hope this is of use. Please don’t put up with it and please let us know how you get on.

Posted Sat 12 Sep 2020 9.48am by Mac

Hi Antonocon.

This seems to happen a lot, my daughter was getting the same sort of sly treatment from her supervisor, for her nystagmus. I was looking to go have a yarn with him, but this seemed to freak her out even more for some strange reason.

Very good advise from FairyDust. I told my daughter, next time they do it just pull them on it see what they have to say, and even better if it's being witnessed. Bullies don't like getting challenged. Let them know your uncomfortable with the situation, and aren't afraid to push back.

Good luck Antonocon.

Posted Sat 12 Sep 2020 12.58pm by mike andrews

I had a very similar problem at work, so I invited the person for an after work drink. Told them that they were upsetting me. They apologised and all was sorted.

I was also armed with The Psoriasis Association leaflet on Scalp Psoriasis, but wasn't needed

Good Luck,

Mike

Posted Thu 17 Sep 2020 1.48pm by Tonocon (edited Thu 17 Sep 2020 1.51pm by Tonocon)

Thanks for all the responses they were very helpful. One thing Mike, I actually had lunch with someone from a previous workplace when I was still there. When I tried to explain the psoriasis to them they said I had it because I was just unhealthy. I can do a 25 Min 5K and have an under 60 heartbeat. I didn't stay there long and I left that career. A very superficial one in any case.

As an update on this current situation. I got a haircut and the guy brought up haircuts again today. He was being somewhat polite this time, but it's the only thing he talks about with me and also in front of groups so I was quite ready to discuss it with him. I had wanted to get him by himself this week but it was difficult as we were just one day in the office. When he was saying it, i mentioned to him again, that I have medical issue called psoriasis and that I'll never be able to have a very good haircut or be able to shave it like him. He didn't respond in any way to this information again. He then went on to talk about other people's haircuts in the room for a few minutes. He shaves his hair so I find it quite unusual that he just talks about barbers locations and haircuts to me all the time. The Director had come into the room 2 minutes before he brought up the topic though, and when that guy sat down again the director asked him to come out of the room. When he came back in, for the rest of the afternoon he just mentioned nice topics to me. I also mentioned to him on a work communications platform 2 hours later that I had psoriasis and I sent him a link to an information website. He was quite busy today in fairness to him, he didn't get back to me for about 3.5 hours. He told me that he knew about psoriasis as he had a bit of it in the military and it was caused by stress and I would get over it. I told him, that I had actually done a postgraduate in science that partially looked into these things and I explained the science of it to him and that I've had it most of my life.. He then came back with a much nicer message and said he was impressed with my insight. I then talked about how people can often be stigmatised who have this disorder but 2% of people are affected globally. He then responded in a very nice way to me and thanked me for all of my information and for sharing and said that he was not aware of all these facts.

I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. If he does go on about haircuts and barbers again now to me as a main topic, or in my presence, I'll message him again or talk to him about how it makes me feel quite uncomfortable. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt for the moment. He seemed to be decent at the end of our message exchange. He was the most outspoken in our discrimination training a few weeks so I definitely feel he would not want to be considered to be known as stigmatising someone at work. Again, the first month I was around him he never made me feel uncomfortable in relation to my hair in any way, so it feels unusual that there was such a big change. I'll see how it goes now.

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