Men are hitting on my scheduling bot because it has a woman’s name

 A reader writes:

I have sort of a strange situation. I provide consulting services for (mostly) small business owners. This generally involves scheduling some meetings, and I have an email “Personal Assistant” bot that does this for me. It has a female name (which was the default), and does not announce that it is a bot (though I don’t think it’s hard to tell). It gives a standard salutation and signs off with “Thank you, <bot name>.” All it does is schedule meetings, and it’s not nearly to the level of an AI chat bot or anything. Any parts of an email that it receives that don’t seem related to scheduling just get ignored by the program. The emails show up in my inbox and I review them to make sure everything got added to my calendar correctly.

However, this complete lack of personal-type interaction has not stopped several of the men (not usually the actual owners of the client businesses) it is scheduling appointments with from asking it out on dates. Sometimes this happens within the same emails that were used to schedule meetings, and once a man sent an after-hours email from his personal address (which is somehow both creepier and also better work/life boundaries? I don’t know!). So far I have just ignored these incidents and gone on with the professional relationship like nothing happened.

Obviously, this would be inappropriate behavior if it was happening to an actual human assistant, and I would deal with it. However, since it’s happening to a bot, what am I supposed to do? Obviously the bot doesn’t have opinions about the issue, but if one of my employees was asking out women after a very basic scheduling email with absolutely no personal content, I’d probably want to know about it so I could address it, because it’s probably happening to real human assistants as well. What are your thoughts?

OMG, what?!

I am laughing but it might turn into sobs at any moment.

If anyone ever doubted that some men will take any opportunity to ask out a female-appearing person, absent any signs of her personality or any signs of interest from her … and in this case absent any clues about her whatsoever other than that her name signals she is equipped with female genitalia … here you go.

Men, heal thyself.

As for what to do … if you just want it to stop, the easiest answer is to change the name to a very male-sounding one. I will personally pay you thousands of dollars if changing the bot’s name to Wayne doesn’t put an immediate end to this.

Alternately, though, you could use these emails as a useful early character indicator about these guys. If the men responding were your actual clients, it would definitely be useful background info that should factor into how you see them — but the fact that they’re usually not your clients makes that idea less helpful. A different option is to reply as yourself once the messages reach you (“FYI, Ron, this was a scheduling bot, not an actual woman — please reconsider your life choices”).

But you’re absolutely right when you say, “If one of my employees was asking out women after a very basic scheduling email with absolutely no personal content, I’d probably want to know about it so I could address it.” And given that, I do think there’s room to flag it to your client — like forwarding the email with, “This is awkward, but I’d want to know if one of my employees were asking out women after a very basic scheduling email so I’m passing on the below to you. In this case, ‘Emily’ is a scheduling bot — making this all the odder — but seems like a flag it may be happening to actual human assistants as well.” (Also, I think from your email that you’re a man, and there can be particular power in men calling this stuff out.)

All that said, I admit I am hoping for an alternate version of this story where it turns out the romance attempter is a bot himself, recognizes a kindred soul in “Emily,” and what you are witnessing is bot-on-bot love, in which case you can and should simply stand back and watch what unfolds.

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