Recently, the team at the Etiquette Academy of New England faced the issue of gender and etiquette in a business setting. While presenting Fine Dining for Professionals, a group of young professionals expressed concern regarding greeting protocol. One of the rules they challenged involves the practice of men standing up when women return to the dining table. Our client went so far as to refer to this practice as “misogynistic.”
Proper business etiquette can be somewhat subjective, but in our teaching we adhere to the standards of official protocol relevant to 21st century royals and state departments. While the difference in gender treatment was considered to be offensive by this group, the official protocol of standing up to show respect remains relevant in today’s society. For example, when greeting a person who enters an office, one should always stand up to shake his or her hand, offer a seat, and refrain from taking a seat before the guest. This practice is considered a common courtesy and demonstrates respect.
In a social group setting such as a formal restaurant, both men and women should rise when greeting anyone coming to greet them. The only person a woman does not stand up is for her husband, partner or significant other. When a woman stands up to leave the table, gentlemen at the table should stand up (a mock stand up is enough) to acknowledge her. The partner stands up as she is leaving to help her with the chair or escort her to the restroom. When she returns to the table, men at the table should stand up (again, the mock stand), or at least her partner should stand up to help her with her chair. In fact, some state protocol dictates that men should rise for women in a meeting scenario. The U.S. Department of State writes in Protocol for the Modern Diplomat, “As they do when a woman enters the room, men should rise when being introduced to a woman.” This convention should be known to all men to consider themselves gentleman, and all women who consider themselves ladies. With that said, it is essential that business leaders know when to employ this practice and when to refrain from it. For example, if a woman expresses that she does not like anyone to stand up for her, then by all means – don’t.
As our community changes and opens our hearts (and minds) to individual gender preferences, this simple etiquette protocol is called into a question. Should a man stand up for his male partner or husband? Should a woman stand up for her partner or wife, or just keep sitting? Who helps a gay woman with a long dress? What is the decorum for a person or a couple that feels gender neutral? However etiquette rules may shift due to cultural changes, we hope that the protocol will be updated according to preferences from the LGBT community that will communicate respect. Maybe the new rule would be that everyone stands up as someone leaves the table (less likely), or that a significant other stands up for “their person”, regardless of gender (more likely).
While etiquette is constantly evolving as society changes, we believe there are certain behavioral norms that can be applicable in formal settings. The key is not only knowing what do to, but also knowing when to do it. We believe that standing for those entering a room or when greeting colleagues is predicated on showing the utmost respect for others. In certain business environments, it may be that women interpret this behavior as offensive or condescending, and colleagues should make an effort to interpret each scenario and act accordingly.
We would love to hear from you! Please email us with your thoughts.
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The team at the Etiquette Academy is dedicated to helping businesses strengthen their teams through effective communication, well-developed interpersonal skills, and knowledge of basic rules of etiquette.