I never thought I’d have to write this column.

I’ve written about workplace bias before — about racism (for example “The uselessness of race,” InfoWorld, 5/27/2002), and about male/female workplace issues (last week; “A tale of two genders,” Keep the Joint Running, 8/14/2017).

Always, when writing about bias, I assumed that its workplace expression would be limited to inappropriate word choices, tasteless jokes, and ignorant race, ethnicity, or gender-based assumptions about various colleagues’ abilities and contributions.

Speaking as someone whose ethnic heritage includes Kristallnacht, I don’t think we can look at images of a torch-bearing crowd of American Nazis and Klansmen and continue to consider the American workplace safe from bigotry-induced violence. And yes, I do include violence against women in my thinking; in groups like this misogyny is never far from the surface.

As a business manager you have a legal responsibility to your employees, to make sure they don’t in any way experience anything they might reasonably construe to be threatening or harassing based on their race, ethnicity, religion, sex, or, for that matter, anything else. Threats and harassment should have no place in your managerial domain.

What Charlottesville changed for all of us is what a reasonable person might find threatening or harassing. Take, for example, something you might discover in an employee’s cubicle: A small Confederate battle flag.

In the early 1980s, when the Duke brothers of Hazzard, Georgia put a decal of the Confederate battle flag on the roof of their car, it was largely considered cute and innocuous. There are those now who oppose its removal from public places, along with the removal of statues of prominent Confederacy leaders, as an attempt to sanitize history.

But we don’t erect statues, or display flags, or name streets and lakes because we think they teach history. If we did, Hawaii would have statues of Tojo and Hirohito near the Pearl Harbor museum.

Statues, flags and so on aren’t mere historical markers. They state who we admire and what we aspire to.

Before Charlottesville, an employee who displayed a Confederate battle flag might have thought it was Dukes-of-Hazzard cute.

No more. After Charlottesville, a Confederate battle flag or other such symbol of the antebellum South is no different from what displaying a Nazi swastika meant all along (Aztec and Buddhist swastikas are mirror images and are square, not diagonal). The person displaying it is communicating his affinity and affiliation with groups that have an explicit goal of suppressing, denying equality to, and inflicting violence on anyone who isn’t a heterosexual Aryan male.

Charlottesville has upped the ante for workplace management: What once might have been considered harmless looks, in Charlottesville’s aftermath, more like threats and incitement.

If you think that’s too strong, it’s certainly parallel to using one of the many ethnic, racial, sex-, or religion-based pejoratives that were at one time in broad use. Just as those who utter such repulsive phrases gripe about political correctness and excuse their behavior with some variation on the theme of “I didn’t mean anything by it,” so those who display symbols of hostility pretend, in public, that there’s no hostility implied to anyone. In private? There’s plenty of hostility to go around.

As a manager, your own attitudes and beliefs don’t much matter. You might be as certain as certain can be that Aryans are the pinnacle of evolution (although probably not; those who wave the Confederate battle flag are among those least likely to accept Darwin’s theory). Be as certain as you like. Your obligation to your employer is to make sure nobody is creating a hostile or threatening work environment.

So if you see any of these symbols in anyone’s cubicle, insist their owners remove them to more suitable environments, which is to say, places they’re only observable when the employee is acting as a private individual, and isn’t easily associated with the company that employs them.

Count me as a proponent of the idea that our Constitution’s First Amendment only matters if it protects speech we find objectionable. There are, however, boundaries even to this principle. Incitement to violence is one of them.

After Charlottesville, when symbols of Nazi-ism and the Klan are displayed, you must assume the displayer’s intention is to express hostility and encourage violence.

“How about women?” my correspondent asked.

Her question was in response to last week’s re-run, in which I said, “While discrimination based on race and ethnicity still happens (and is inexcusable) far more comes from distrusting people with different thought patterns than skin color.”

My response was an eloquent “Uh …”

Google “gender gap in IT” (or, self-referentially, “gender gap at Google”) and you’ll find plenty to chew on. This is current events, not a historical debate. If you work in IT, look around you. I suspect you’ll find fewer than 50% of your professional colleagues are women.

We can debate causes. As is true of so many effects, I suspect this one stems from multivariate causation.

Here’s one cause I’ve never seen discussed. I have no studies to back it up, just my own experience watching male colleagues and hearing them talking in unguarded moments, some mediated by one conversational lubricant or another.

What it is: For one reason or another, many males who landed in technical professions experienced high school as the place other guys got dates. Perhaps they chose a technical career path out of self-defense. Possibly social awkwardness is correlated with an engineering mindset. One way or another I think it’s fair to say that many male technical professionals aren’t entirely comfortable interacting with women on any level, not just a professional one.

I don’t mean this as a stereotype. Stereotypes are worse than wrong. They’re misleading.

What I’m talking about is a correlation. Statistical tendencies have statistical effects, which is what we’re dealing with here.

And as long as I’m digging myself a hole, I might as well make it deeper. Again, based on my unscientific information gathering there are two separate issues in play, not one: (1) The male technical folks I’m talking about are intimidated by interactions with attractive women, in particular when they feel an attraction and have absolutely no idea what to do about it; and (2) being egalitarian by instinct they feel guilty about not being attracted to female colleagues who they find less than pretty; that being the case they find these interactions intimidating as well.

Which leaves a very narrow range of female attractiveness these technical professionals don’t find intimidating.

Attractive women working in environments populated to significant extents by engineers who fit the above description will experience male colleagues who avoid them. Unattractive women working in environments populated by these self-same engineers will also experience male colleagues who avoid them.

Which makes for what appears to be a workplace that’s hostile to women. And sometimes it actually is hostile. Men don’t like to feel intimidated any more than women do; for many men introspection isn’t a popular pastime; as a result, when they feel intimidated they blame the person they’re intimidated by.

Leading to feelings of hostility.

What to do about this?

If you’re a manager there’s a limit to what you can do. You can coach any employee whose behavior crosses the line separating creation of discomfort from outright hostility. You must involve HR if anyone’s behavior crosses the next line. You personally should treat female and male colleagues as if they are all genderless, on the grounds that their gender has no bearing on their abilities.

If you’re a female technical professional, you have no professional obligation to put up with any of this. And yet, dealing with it effectively is, in most circumstances, a better career move than challenging it.

The secret is to convert yourself from a personal appearance to a person. You do this by approaching various male colleagues who seem to be avoiding you, starting a conversation about a professional topic — ideally one in which your colleague can offer you some help. As the source of the problem is that the colleague in question doesn’t know how to talk to you, you solve the problem for him by providing a topic.

And if you’re one of the offending males? First (please forgive me for being direct about this) pay attention to where your eyeballs are pointing. Look your female colleagues in the eye — about 40% of the time when you’re talking; 80% when you’re listening; off to the side the rest of the time.

Second, accept this as a fact: None of your female colleagues are having romantic thoughts about you. The odds are long they never will; longer if you avoid contact.

There remains that small coterie who “think” women have less aptitude for technical fields than men, often based on clap-trappy evolutionary pseudo-theories. If you’re one of them: I studied evolution at the graduate level for several years. Your theory?

It’s wrong.