Gender roles in a small business and overnight trips

I’m not trying to make this too personal and I am not looking for personal advice, so let’s assume all of the following is true, but some is not to protect the innocent:

I have a small law firm with only one paralegal. The previous paralegal was male. As part of my job I represent incarcerated people on their post-conviction matters. Our prisons are spread all across the state and a long drive away from home. To save on time and to fit these visits into the schedule, I typically leave after work, drive to the remote location, reserve a hotel/motel room near the prison and stay overnight. I visit the client early the next morning and get back in the late afternoon to take care of any fires which have arisen throughout the day.

Now, sometimes it is crunch time as we are approaching trial. Many times the clients are lying to me, but I am not sure, and many times I took the paralegal along to try to gauge the client, get a second opinion, and to simply make sure that I am not getting tunnel vision so I can be sure as to how the client will come across to the jury.

The previous male paralegal would come with me on these trips, have a few beverages at the local watering hole and come back to the hotel/motel. It started with separate rooms, but we got close enough (not in a sexual way) so that as long as we had two beds, then one room was fine. Drive back the next day, no hassle.

The new paralegal is female. Her husband is none too fond of these overnight trips, even with renting two rooms. My wife will be none too fond either. (We have not done this yet).

My random thoughts: Even though there is equality in the workplace, is this a line that should remain (no overnights with the opposite sex)?. Are our spouses being unreasonable? There is definitely no sexual relationship in play. Is it “asking for trouble” if at some point we are having relationship problems and we make a mistake (not happening yet, hopefully never).

In a more general sense, will this make me at least unconsciously want to fill this position with a male so that this conflict does not exist?

Further, I think having a female perform this one particular task enhances my ability as I can get a perspective on how female jurors may perceive the client.

This isn’t a trick question or a set up for a larger issue. This is a serious dilemma that I respectfully would like serious responses to. Many thanks in advance.

On the proviso that there are two rooms, which you point out would be the case, I personally think the respective spouses are being unreasonable. Having that discussion is, of course an entirely different kettle of fish.

I’m curious if you brought up the requirement for the occasional overnight trip as a requirement when doing the hiring interviews?

I concur that the spouses are unreasonable; but that doesn’t mean their wishes should be ignored. You have the most to lose if someone thinks you’ve so much as flirted w/ the paralegal, so if you can take your spouse I believe it’d make things more comfortable all around. If her husband hadn’t made it clear he didn’t like the idea I’d say there’s no worries. But he has, so that seed is planted and it’s a hard seed to unplant.
BTW, I take it your paralegal is who told you her husband isn’t fond of the idea?

Have you all gotten together socially yet? Maybe if your spouses meet you, they will be able to tell how much more you like your own spouses than your co-workers and they will be more confident about your abilities to stay professional.

I’m not sure what the question is, although I’ve had a few beers.

Does the question revolve around sharing a room, or booking two rooms on a business trip? Why would any spouse be upset about a business trip with separate rooms?

I’ve traveled often for business and sharing a room with anyone would be totally out of the question.

Yes, your spouses are being unreasonable. Every team with which I’ve worked “on location” for the last 18 years has been mixed gender (often I’m the only female). Should I be out of a job because somebody’s wife is insecure, or should he stop traveling for the same reason? And it’s not as if people need to be away from home to either screw or screw up: if either of you was going to, you wouldn’t need to travel.

They’re not being unreasonable, but Hollywood isn’t helping any: The vast majority of TV shows and movies where this situation has occurred has resulted in shenanigans. Makes for a good story. Doesn’t mean that’ll happen in real life. Boring business trips where nothing untoward occurs makes for a very boring TV show. That’s why we watch TV shows.

Spouses are unreasonable and if any boss of mine ever expected me to share a hotel room with him or her or indeed with anyone else that would be a very hard “Fuck NO.” I do not share rooms with people I work with. Ever. I’d also be wildly pissed off at any partner of mine who’d throw a fit about me travelling for business. If my job requires travel, there will be travel and my partner had better get used to that right off the bat. If I want to fuck around I can do it anywhere at any time with anyone, no business trip needed and either my partner trusts me or they’re outta the picture. I do not play the jealousy/insecurity game because it only has losers.

Put me down for another vote for unreasonable. I’ve traveled multiple times a year for a couple decades now. Sometimes solo, but more often in a mixed gender group and frequently with just a female coworker (I’m male). Domestically and internationally. Never been a problem for me or my wife, nor for the coworkers and their respective spouses as far as I know.

The good: one trip to southern China, I had to pass through the densest cloud of prostitutes imaginable on the way from one of the offices I was visiting and my hotel. The woman I was traveling with took charge and made sure we walked arm-in-arm through the area. She was my human shield and I am eternallly grateful for that.

The bad: I was on a mini road trip from Maine to Boston visiting multiple locations with 4, maybe 5 female coworkers. I was jammed in a minivan with them and never felt more out of place in my life. I mean, we had a good time, but the TMI factor was extreme.

In case I did not make it clear, we would not be sharing a room; there would be two rooms.

The only reason it turned into one room with the previous guy was that we would always stay up late talking and having a few drinks in one or the other’s room anyways and he suggested that it was a waste of money to get two rooms as we knew each other sufficiently well and we were only staying overnight for one night.

But there were damn sure two beds in the room. I would not expect, suggest, or even consider sharing one room with a female paralegal.

The cultural differences are amazing. Everyone around here sides with the spouses. But as others have said, if we were going to cheat, we would have plenty of opportunities to do so without the need for going out of town.

To answer the other questions: 1) Spouses have met and we get along great, have dinner together and everything. I think that has made the jealousy worse for the spouses. I think the idea is that since we get along so great, why wouldn’t something happen if things started going bad at home? 2) I am studiously aware of the modern sexual harassment laws and would not think of making any type of comment that could be taken the wrong way, and 3) Spouses have been invited to go, but they both have jobs that they have to be at in the morning and even if they took a personal day they would not be permitted inside the prisons so they would have to find something else to do for several hours in Bumblefuck Mountain, WV.

I missed a couple of questions:

  1. No, I did not say upfront that this was a job requirement, and it really is not. This is such a small part of what a paralegal does in my office that if he/she said that he/she could not come on these overnight trips, then that would not be a disqualifier. Maybe I should have said it, and I will chew out the HR manager (who is me. :slight_smile: ) tomorrow for not doing so.

  2. Yes, the paralegal told me her husband did not like the idea, but said so while telling me how pissed off she was that he was being that way. I told her explicitly that she did not have to go and that it was not a job requirement and that upsetting her home environment was not worth her going on these trips.

She responded much like posters here. She is a female in a male dominated profession and doesn’t want to be treated differently or held back.

As I think about it, the meetings between the spouses have made it worse. Both of our spouses support us, but as it pertains to the work we do, they are not like us. I have always busted my ass for clients, especially poor criminal clients, even the guilty ones, to make sure that they get a fair shake. I have a passion for the human element in what I do, being in the courtroom, trying to tell a guy that he needs to take this plea deal, putting a hand on his shoulder and telling him we are going to fight the good fight, gonna take it to the State, etc. This new paralegal shares that passion.

At our get togethers, we talk about these cases and I and the paralegal get animated while the spouses show support, you can tell that they are in a different area with it. It’s not that they don’t support my (her) work, they do, but I think that seeing a common bond between us (and again I have to keep saying nothing sexual) makes them jealous because we connect in an area that us and our spouses do not. That does not mean that we will fuck each other at the first opportunity.

So, I guess it is not quite like going to Chicago for a sales meeting in the sense that these cases many times draw out raw emotions that the spouses are not a part of. All I want to do is keep both my marriage (first) and my law practice intact, but I do have a little chip on my shoulder about how, yes, (and I’m turning in my conservative card over this) the spouses are treating her differently because she is a woman and hampering her career.

You have done nothing improper.


…is the fundamental issue. Why is there mistrust?

I totally agree with you, the spouses are being unreasonable and how on earth are women ever supposed to get on in business when they still have spouses behaving in such a way.

However, I also think you have been very appropriate in your response (in not making it a job requirement).

To be fair, as the OP has stated his own spouse is not thrilled with the idea, even with separate rooms, HE is also being treated differently because the paralegal is now a woman instead of a man.

I agree that the spouses in this case appear unreasonable as mixed-gender groups on business trips have been the norm for decades now. But if it’s not a job requirement and disruptive to the home environment (whether for reasonable or unreasonable reasons) then it’s the paralegal’s call. Yes, it can hamper her career. I’ve also known men who wouldn’t travel on business, either, and that can hamper their careers.

Then the answer is simple: you respect your wife’s opinion and don’t do it.

Would it make a difference if you booked rooms in separate hotels?

I dunno - this whole thing seems silly to me, but then I know my husband wouldn’t screw around if he was on travel with a female coworker. Tho it’s a moot point since he’s retired, but still…

One minor observation:
There’s an aspect to these trips that is different than most business trips: there are no other people involved except the “couple” of you.
So it sort of looks like a private trip–i.e. a more personal occasion.
You aren’t, for example, part of a team attending a convention.
(And I’m guessing that the spouses would also feel less upset about you travelling to a convention in a big city, instead of an isolated motel in a rural area.)

But those are the facts…
And how you deal with this, well,…I dunno.
Is it possible to add a third person to your trip? maybe a law student?

Spouses are being unreasonable. Business trips are business trips, gender of the participants isn’t really relevant.

Well, if this is part of what you need from your employee and, if she can’t or won’t get with the program because of the fact she is a woman, then she needs to be replaced by a man.

Obviously, I’m all for gender equality, but it’s a two way street. A woman can’t say that she should be hired because she is every bit as good as a male counterpart and then turn around and say that she can’t fulfill certain aspects of the job because she is a woman.

No, this employee should be replaced by someone who can do the job, regardless of gender. If the OP can’t have a woman fill this role because of his wife being uncomfortable with him traveling with a female, then he needs to figure out a way to structure the job so gender isn’t a problem.