Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Women Doing ‘Office Housework’
February 7, 2015 1:54 PM   Subscribe

"A man who doesn’t help is 'busy'; a woman is 'selfish'." Regardless of your opinion of the advice Sheryl Sandberg gives to women in this article, it has some interesting (and disheartening) statistics about how the majority of "office housework" is expected to fall to women:
In a study led by the New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman, participants evaluated the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help ... When men do help, they are more likely to do so in public, while women help more behind the scenes. Studies demonstrate that men are more likely to contribute with visible behaviors — like showing up at optional meetings — while women engage more privately in time-consuming activities like assisting others and mentoring colleagues. As the Simmons College management professor Joyce K. Fletcher noted, women’s communal contributions tend simply to “disappear.”
posted by Librarypt (81 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
 
This seems to be very common. At the company where I work, the women do probably 90% or more of the office housework, are usually the ones to take notes at meetings, order all the lunches, set up meetings, do all the administrative work, etc. I think the main problem at my particular company is that it's run by a board of old white men who are in their 60s or 70s, who treat women as if they are their own personal secretary. I keep hoping that one day soon, some younger folks will take the reins and try to fix things here. Even the select women (there's like, 2) who have made it to the executive level at my company, seem to make things worse for women. They go out of their way to act like the older men and to keep the status quo. It's all very sad.
posted by FireFountain at 2:15 PM on February 7, 2015 [8 favorites]


"By putting self-concern on par with concern for others, women may feel less altruistic, but they’re able to gain more influence and sustain more energy. Ultimately, they can actually give more."

This is a weird standard-- like it's sort of demanding women not only ultimately do MORE for others than they are currently doing but ALSO more for themselves!

I'm not sure the outcome will actually be as stated- sometimes prioritizing yourself means you do NOT do as much for others. It's nice if you can then do more later, but it's not an innate given. I don't know exactly what the intention behind that statement is, but I find myself a bit perplexed by it and like it's almost asking an even HIGHER standard of self sacrifice, you have to prioritize everyone higher than yourself, and ALSO take care of yourself for an even higher standard, for the sake of doing EVEN MORE for everyone else!

Like it's even more self sacrifice involved? Defending your own needs against institutions that are designed to break you down and dismantle your right to address your own needs is hard work- it's exhausting in itself-- managing to keep your job, reverse sexism, and make everyone happy and willing to keep you hired is really HARD WORK also with an emotional toll. Acting like all of this needs to fall ON WOMEN to fix is kind of.. part of the problem?

I am glad she used her status to point out the research done on this in the public spotlight more.
posted by xarnop at 2:18 PM on February 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Yeah, I very strongly disagree with the advice Sheryl Sandberg gives here, but I didn't want to focus on that.

My female colleagues and I have noticed this tendency for women to do the "housework" at our own workplace and we have a saying for it: "Bitch work is for bitches."
posted by Librarypt at 2:22 PM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


FireFountain, it does vary based on where you work, but I know what you mean. My office is generally pretty good, considering, but there was an uncomfortable conversation a few months ago among my group. The guys were suggesting that we make copies of the documents (that had already been sent electronically) for the attendees to our kickoff meetings. I had to speak up and say, look, people have every chance to make their own copies, for one, and for two, making them for them puts me in a secretarial role I don't want to encourage.

The guys were confused, understandably, (it's just being nice!) but the women were not. I am not an admin assistant (though I have been one, and I certainly don't look down on them). I don't make copies. Mostly because if I did, there's still too many men who would start treating me like their admin, because I'm female. For the same reason I never offer to fetch water or coffee for everyone. Because in a corporate work setting, that kind of niceness from a woman gets interpreted as weakness/subservience by a significant number of people.

I also refuse to arrange showers or birthday stuff for others (not violently, I just don't volunteer) because of that same fear. It's stupid; it's not like I think it's bad to offer to get someone a water bottle. But I've been burned before. Also, if that work needs to be done, it needs to be done by both men and women, and it never is.
posted by emjaybee at 2:26 PM on February 7, 2015 [81 favorites]


Oh! Is this a pet peeve of mine. Birthday Cake patrol, party planning, gift collections, all usually headed up by women. And it's a freaking joke! Men make fun of women doing this kind of stuff.

I'm so tired of being told to do more, help more, be more than the average schlub in the same job. I'm not taking meeting minutes (unless I'm the junior by two steps, and even then, I'm giving someone shit about it.) I'm not going to the Christmas Party and I'm for DAMN sure not leaving early to get my hair and nails done and changing into a ballgown for it.

I might clean out the refrigerator. But I'm doing it after hours, only because that shit skivves me out.

Women of the World, Unite, we have nothing to lose but our chains, and our buy 10 get one free sheet cakes!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2015 [18 favorites]


Any time that my partner gets asked to be on a committee or take on a new thing, I ask her to check if it is a variation on coffee making. That kind of unrewarding and disrespectful work somehow always gets routed to the women, and she has had to say no to quite a few of those "opportunities."
posted by Dip Flash at 2:52 PM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Bitch work is for bitches.

I understand where you're coming from and I'm not judging you but this sentiment and the fear that you might be perceived as weak is a major reason why men don't do office housework. Also, because this type of work is invisible and undervalued, doing it is sometimes associated with guilt, that you could be spending your time doing dealing with more pressing and impactful stuff.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [10 favorites]


I work in the art world where there's a pretty rigid ordering of the sexes. With exceptions, young women in galleries generally do admin and young men generally do hands-on exhibition work/ haul crates around.

It's very layered in terms of status. Art handling/preparator work can be dirty and menial, but there's a cowboy factor that many men like; we get to wear hoodies to work and play with scissor lifts and power tools, and frankly show off. To be honest, it's a boys club.

In contrast, gallery admin roles look more white-collar, but they often pay less and certainly require a lot more of the type of housework the author is talking about, particularly when it involves assisting the higher-ups.

I have balked at some of the things my boss has asked me to (muck around on the roof replacing HVAC filters, fix broken toilets) as these things were not in my job description. But when I see colleagues my own age who also have advanced degrees and impressive skills making cappuccino for the boss, I feel like a crybaby.
posted by ducky l'orange at 3:06 PM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Birthday Cake patrol, party planning, gift collections, all usually headed up by women.

My experience is that this stuff happens only because women think it's important and start doing it. I'm a man, and I couldn't care less about the birthday of anyone in the office, including my own. And yet a couple of women in the office, who have styled themselves our social directors, have taken it upon themselves to make everyone's birthday a big deal, as if we're all four years old. Honestly, I think most of this social crap in the office looks unprofessional and is a distraction, and I wish it would go away.

So maybe that's why women do more of this stuff: because they think it's important and want to do it, and the men generally think it it's irrelevant and don't give a damn.
posted by Leatherstocking at 3:11 PM on February 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


I work in a very male-dominated industry and my small company (~20 people) used to be exclusively male. We now have two women, both of whom are in support/administrative roles. They literally do the office housework, as in, when both of them were on vacation at the same time, our sink was overflowing with dirty dishes and mugs because nobody loaded the dishwasher. I had assumed the janitors were doing it after hours. I don't think this is actually in their job duties, and I'm sure if they sent out an e-mail or something saying "hey, put your used dishes in the dishwasher yourself" people would be responsive to it, but I guess they feel that because they are in support roles, they should be doing it? An unspoken duty?

And now I just thought of another story, from my previous job, which was again entirely male, except for the admin assistant, who was a middle-aged working class woman. Some brokers had sent a big package of frozen steaks as a Christmas gift to everyone on the desk. Our boss (think big bald white guy) stood up, took the package, and loudly proclaimed - within earshot of our admin assistant - "You guys can afford this stuff! I'm giving these to people who need them!", then offered her some steaks.
posted by karakumy at 3:11 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Oh, and by the way, I get asked to move boxes all the time, even though I have two master's degrees. So it cuts both ways.
posted by Leatherstocking at 3:13 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure if they sent out an e-mail or something saying "hey, put your used dishes in the dishwasher yourself" people would be responsive to it

Why don't you send that email? In fact, why didn't you send it at the time?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2015 [42 favorites]


At my old job, twice a year we would have a department retreat. The responsibility for organizing the retreat (securing the space, ordering the food) somehow always fell to a woman to do. I remember being excited when two new male staffers came on board because AT LAST maybe someone junior would be tasked with this! But no, I was pressured to organize the retreat once and I confessed that I did a half-assed job specifically so I wouldn't be asked to do it again.

I was also asked to be the relief receptionist at the front desk and I said HELL NO to that. I was their webmaster, I suspected they wouldn't dare ask a male web person to do it.

This was at an allegedly progressive, lefty Bay Area organization within the last 7 years, BTW.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 3:24 PM on February 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


My female colleagues and I have noticed this tendency for women to do the "housework" at our own workplace and we have a saying for it: "Bitch work is for bitches."

Wow that really made me wince. What is bitch work and who are the bitches who are lowly enough for it to be their job? I know it's tongue in cheek (I hope) but Jesus.

I'm sure if they sent out an e-mail or something saying "hey, put your used dishes in the dishwasher yourself" people would be responsive to it

You'd think. But despite working in at least one place where that email has gone out several times, it's still always a woman who cracks and does everyone's dishes while the men play used-mug Jenga.
posted by billiebee at 3:28 PM on February 7, 2015 [25 favorites]


I know it's tongue in cheek (I hope) but Jesus.

Sorry, I should have been more clear. When we use this phrase, we are referring to ourselves.

Oh, and by the way, I get asked to move boxes all the time, even though I have two master's degrees. So it cuts both ways.

The point is not that men never receive such requests. It's that men, on the whole, can say no to such requests without suffering consequences to their careers.
posted by Librarypt at 3:33 PM on February 7, 2015 [20 favorites]


The guys were confused, understandably, (it's just being nice!)

True! It is nice! And they ought to be down with doing the nice thing themselves, without making a big deal out of it. But they don't. That's how we know it's not "just nice" in a genderless kind of way.
posted by rtha at 3:34 PM on February 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


My aunt has a master's in CS and has worked in the field for 25 years. I'm a STEM student and female. I sat her down to pick her brain about what I could expect in terms of sexism.

She said that she's the only woman on her team and they asked HER to coordinate the potluck. She said she didn't mind but probably wouldn't do it again. On the positive side, she has always felt respected and been paid very well, and that was the only thing that came to mind for her.

I decided to make sure that when I get that tech/CS job I'm studying for, that my colleagues will know not to ask me for any extra admin or social jobs because everyone knows I'm either at the local hackerspace or working on my tech blogging when I'm not at work or asleep.

(Also, I really am hopeless when it comes to those sorts of things and I'm not kidding).
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 3:37 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Also, if you're a woman and you send out the "please do your own damn dishes, because it's not my job" email, then you get slotted into the bitchy/ nagging/ mom, etc role, and that's not really a career-benefiting way to be viewed by one's co-workers.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2015 [67 favorites]


This isn't just about "housework" of the office. If you read the article, it sounds like they are also talking about things like taking roles in collaborative cross-team initiatives, mentoring, documenting things, etc. That is, all the things that are absolutely necessary for a functioning organization. Men get lots of credit when they do them. Women are penalized if they are seen to refuse wrongly (and don't get as much credit when they do perform them). This is huge (and consistent with other results). In my organization, a lot of these types of tasks are actually considered critical for promotion because they demonstrate leadership. However, if women aren't being given as much credit for doing the same collaborative tasks, then that means they are rated lower as leaders which means lower promotions.

In other words, this isn't just about who takes notes in meetings, schedules team events, etc. which are all relatively easy things to fix (just rotate them around the team).
posted by R343L at 3:41 PM on February 7, 2015 [49 favorites]


Also, if you're a woman and you send out the "please do your own damn dishes, because it's not my job" email, then you get slotted into the bitchy/ nagging/ mom, etc role, and that's not really a career-benefiting way to be viewed by one's co-workers.

This.

Also, the person who sends out the "please do your own damn dishes, because it's not my job" email is seen to have assumed responsibility for the dishes, if only in a supervisory role, which is why men generally won't even do that much.
posted by Etrigan at 3:47 PM on February 7, 2015 [17 favorites]


"Not long ago, a female senior executive we know was sitting at a board meeting next to several more junior male colleagues when the board chairman asked her to fetch him a soda."
This happened to me last winter, and I turned to the male jr. worker and told him to fetch Our Boss a soda. Worked fine. I never suspected that Mr. Boss wanted me to be a waitress--he just wanted a soda.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:51 PM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Do businesses no longer have administrative support personnel who have responsibilities that fall under the traditionally female bailiwick? (Not rhetorical, I am genuinely wondering).
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 3:52 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


So maybe that's why women do more of this stuff: because they think it's important and want to do it, and the men generally think it it's irrelevant and don't give a damn.

Maybe those women who "think it's important" think it's important because somebody higher up on the ladder than you said "we need to have this" and somehow the only people around happened to be women.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2015 [15 favorites]


In my experience businesses still have administrative support people, called things like "executive assistant" and such like. They aren't, however, always present in meetings with their bosses though they are, in my experience, overwhelmingly women (though I've known some really spectacular men in the role). Every company I've worked at would utterly fall apart without the EAs.
posted by R343L at 3:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Do businesses no longer have administrative support personnel who have responsibilities that fall under the traditionally female bailiwick?

It's a category that's really easy to eliminate. Especially when everyone else (or at least the other women) will pick up the slack piecemeal.
posted by asperity at 3:55 PM on February 7, 2015


Do businesses no longer have administrative support personnel who have responsibilities that fall under the traditionally female bailiwick?

They do. However,

1.) lots of times if a woman is in the room people will assume she IS the administrative support person, and
2.) this article is actually not even about those kind of responsibilities in the first place.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:55 PM on February 7, 2015 [27 favorites]


So maybe that's why women do more of this stuff: because they think it's important and want to do it, and the men generally think it it's irrelevant and don't give a damn.

Women get a LOT of social pressure at the workplace and elsehwere to do this kind of stuff. I've never enjoyed it but have planned many office baby showers and birthday surprises and activities. It's expected, and often men will say things like, "thankfully there are women around, we men would never even think of it, we're so gosh darn stupid!" I have actually gotten emails to that effect. Of course they're not stupid about the actual work, though. So too stupid to order cake but not too stupid to lead a project. But they still expect the cake, so someone has to make it happen.
posted by zutalors! at 3:59 PM on February 7, 2015 [27 favorites]


Maybe those women who "think it's important" think it's important because somebody higher up on the ladder than you said "we need to have this" and somehow the only people around happened to be women.

Not in my experience. I had never seen an in-office birthday party until a couple of women who started working in the office and quickly became friends decided it would be fun to compile a list of everyone's birthday and make a big deal out of it. Nobody higher on the ladder ever saw it as a priority, and I've been waiting for years for someone to tell them to stop, but the management doesn't seem to care either way even though it irritates the hell out of several staff members.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:00 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


"She had already spent the entire day meeting with junior colleagues who were seeking career advice, even though they weren’t on her team."

This is probably not meant as a literal thing but it's either disingenuous or careless writing, and either way devalues what comes after.
posted by StephenF at 4:04 PM on February 7, 2015


This reminds me of a conversation I recently had with an academic friend. During a meeting, she pointed out their department's dismal lack of participation in their university's anti-sexism initiatives. Her colleagues (mostly male) all expressed agreement that anti-sexism intiatives were important and apologized for having been too busy to attend such events. They then--wait for it--suggested that she and another female colleague organize an anti-sexism event for their department. *headdesk*
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 4:09 PM on February 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


The point is not that men never receive such requests. It's that men, on the whole, can say no to such requests without suffering consequences to their careers.

Yeah, 11 years in the same job here and I (and most others on staff except for the most adamant ass-kissers, male or female) have never gotten a raise, so go ahead and tell me how well I'm making out in the working world because I'm a man. Of course, I do everything that's asked of me and more (including moving boxes), and it's never paid off. Fact is that for most men except for the ones at the very top, work sucks as badly as it does for women, with wage stagnation, increasingly demeaning requests from management, longer hours, lousy workspaces, reduced vacation, and the rest. Sorry, but the idea that women have some special claim to being crapped on in the workplace, well, I'm not buying it. Work sucks. Join the club.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:09 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


How exactly can you know what happens in other places if you've been at the same job for 11 years? Your experience is hardly some sort of universal one.
posted by Jalliah at 4:13 PM on February 7, 2015 [30 favorites]


I guess everyone commenting here has had some kind of "universal experience" that makes them qualified to comment.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:15 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Why don't you send that email? In fact, why didn't you send it at the time?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 3:19 PM on February 7 [3 favorites +] [!]


Because I'm not the one who's been loading the dishwasher, and it's not my place to intervene on their behalf if it's something they've decided to do.
posted by karakumy at 4:17 PM on February 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sorry, but the idea that women have some special claim to being crapped on in the workplace, well, I'm not buying it.

From the post, because apparently you missed it:
For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.
You may not believe it, but it's there.
posted by Etrigan at 4:18 PM on February 7, 2015 [83 favorites]


I'm not sure the outcome will actually be as stated

It's not about actually doing good, it's about assuaging guilt.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 4:18 PM on February 7, 2015


So maybe that's why women do more of this stuff: because they think it's important and want to do it, and the men generally think it it's irrelevant and don't give a damn.

On the other hand, I remember my mother complaining about a fellow who asked her, one of the two women in their IT office, to plan his own office baby shower. She said no on that occasion--like emjaybee, she's told me she is very careful to not sign up for that crap--and as I recall, the other woman in the office wound up pressured into doing it.

I have noticed in my own lab that my male supervisor expects much more out of the female grad students in terms of organizing service stuff than he does out of his male students, and that if they say "this is not my job" or shirk he gets much more upset than he does when male students shirk work. He is a liberal dude who certainly does not intend to be sexist and would probably apologize if called on it or say "well, the women are just so much more responsible than the men are, so I expect more out of them" but it's a definite pattern--and it's pretty pronounced when he starts trying to recruit students to help with planning department social events.

I am pretty sure that there is more social pressure on women to facilitate this kind of social stuff than you are aware of. And unless you're actively pushing back on that shit, you find yourself doing it anyway without realizing how it happened, or volunteering because it's better than getting volunteered.
posted by sciatrix at 4:20 PM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]



Sorry maybe I should make myself more clear, "You made a universial 'I don't believe it' statement' using your own job experience (at the same place for some time) as evidence for you conclusion.

I'm asking why you think your lone experience dismisses everyone elses as not being true.

Why if you don't see it at your job does it mean it doesn't happen at other jobs?
posted by Jalliah at 4:23 PM on February 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.

And what I'm saying is, all this is happening in a world where people actually get promotions, which, for more and more of us, male or female, since the recession (and going back even further), is simply not happening. I mean, Sheryl Sandberg finishes her piece with an anecdote about attending a meeting of 30 chief executives, where Richard Branson was taking notes. This is not reality for most people.
posted by Leatherstocking at 4:26 PM on February 7, 2015


Fine. Translate "get promotions" to "get to keep your job through layoffs in this shitty economy" if it makes you feel better. The terrible double standards apply to women either way.
posted by sciatrix at 4:29 PM on February 7, 2015 [16 favorites]


the comments here are from a lot of people not working at Branson/Sandberg level but still have noticed these patterns of behavior.
posted by zutalors! at 4:30 PM on February 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


Maybe those women who "think it's important" think it's important because somebody higher up on the ladder than you said "we need to have this" and somehow the only people around happened to be women.

Not in my experience. I had never seen an in-office birthday party until a couple of women who started working in the office and quickly became friends decided it would be fun to compile a list of everyone's birthday and make a big deal out of it. Nobody higher on the ladder ever saw it as a priority, and I've been waiting for years for someone to tell them to stop, but the management doesn't seem to care either way even though it irritates the hell out of several staff members.

So, here's a central question: Is it important? Do workplaces actually function better, and do organizations and all kinds of communities function better, when housekeeping and/or social events are better attended to?

If so, why are people's attitudes toward those who facilitate this stuff so condescending? Is it just because they have seen so much condescension aroung these issues?

In other words, maybe the people who "think it's important" are right, and the people who think it's a waste of time are wrong. They may assume it's not important because, in their past experience, these things have a way of taking care of themselves -- but in actuality, they've been taken care of invisibly (and still are, to a lesser extent). If this stuff isn't done, maybe what we get is subtly increasing chaos and alienation.
posted by amtho at 4:30 PM on February 7, 2015 [26 favorites]


And what I'm saying is, all this is happening in a world where people actually get promotions,

That's not actually what you were saying. You were saying that the extra stuff women do is dumb anyway so why do they do it. Which has nothing to do with the article which is not really about planning birthday parties. Even if you don't read the article and only what's in the post, what it mentions are functions that are vital to an organization such as mentoring.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:32 PM on February 7, 2015 [24 favorites]




Well I guess if Richard Branson takes notes at meetings this whole issue is moot then.

Nothing to see here folks, it's all just one big misinterpretation.
posted by Jalliah at 4:33 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, 11 years in the same job here and I (and most others on staff except for the most adamant ass-kissers, male or female) have never gotten a raise, so go ahead and tell me how well I'm making out in the working world because I'm a man. Of course, I do everything that's asked of me and more (including moving boxes), and it's never paid off.

So you have a crappy job, and if this were a discussion about crappy jobs, believe me, I'd be right here with you complaining. The thing is, that you and I are two guys working for a small handful of companies. Or stories aren't proof for or against systemic problems that women face simply by being women.

The study that's quoted up top does include proof of a systemic bias against women. That diminish how crappy your experience is. It just says that other people get crapped on in a different way than you.
posted by Gygesringtone at 4:36 PM on February 7, 2015 [31 favorites]


This article is really making me appreciate my workplace. We rotate a lot of these duties, including planning recurring meetings, bringing food for events, and mentoring new employees. For the holiday type stuff, we have a dedicated committee. It's recognized that they will have to take time out of their regular job to work on those things.

We also have a more diverse staff than is typical for our industry. Not sure if that's a cause or an effect or unrelated.
posted by tofu_crouton at 4:44 PM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Not in my experience.
many rigorous scientific papers disagree with you.

Oh, and by the way, I get asked to move boxes all the time
this might surprise you - as a woman with broad shoulders and standing at just about 5'10, i'm asked to get things off shelves and carry boxes quite often
posted by nadawi at 4:46 PM on February 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


In Branson's recent business book he talks about the power of taking notes to (a) make sure you are paying attention and (b) have a specific record of what people have promised. So I wonder if his note-taking here is sending the signal that Sheryl thinks it is.
posted by StephenF at 4:49 PM on February 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think it's interesting that you refer to them as "Branson" and "Sheryl," StephenF.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [55 favorites]


I don't think I've ever heard moving boxes and other things that men might get asked to do every now and again just because they're men as being "irritating" or "unprofessional" in the eyes of others, in the same way you've described women who have taken on housekeeping or other roles that are traditionally women's roles. It's almost as if we devalue "women's" work on a deep, probably unconscious level just by the virtue of it being work that women traditionally do.
posted by triggerfinger at 4:54 PM on February 7, 2015 [22 favorites]


I think it's interesting that you refer to them as "Branson" and "Sheryl," StephenF.

Noted, and apologies; pure carelessness. I admire them both. 'Sheryl' is somewhat known to me very distantly and always called by her first name.
posted by StephenF at 4:57 PM on February 7, 2015


INoted, and apologies; pure carelessness. I admire them both. 'Sheryl' is somewhat known to me very distantly and always called by her first name.

This sort of thing is something that I also do unconsciously and it's so annoying. It's one of those social patterns that has gotten ground itself ground in. I was going to write something about 'Sheryl' to my Branson comment as well.

It is interesting and I get so irked with myself when I realize I've done it.
posted by Jalliah at 5:02 PM on February 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


this thread reminds me of a recent comment from metatalk about a man noticing the snacks issue and fixing it.
posted by nadawi at 5:07 PM on February 7, 2015 [30 favorites]


I love that story.
posted by rtha at 5:09 PM on February 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Now add to this equation the workplace trend for 360 peer evaluation and maybe consider the plight of female academics who are also systemically discriminated against by students when they do teaching evaluations.

Curiously, despite there being ample evidence of this discrimination and a pretty good sense of its magnitude nobody systematically bumps the evaluations of the unfairly discriminated against. The collective response is just an "Ouch that sucks" at best and denial on average and any attempt ever made to redress this is met with the howling fury of the systematically advantaged.
posted by srboisvert at 5:16 PM on February 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


What I have found in my 25+ career is that women are expected to take on ancillary work and men are not. I can't tell you how many committees I've been asked to be on that are just time wasters. Mentoring junior folks, being 'acting-manager' while someone's on vacation, or while they conduct a search for a replacement. Once I did MY job AND the job of a co-worker on mat leave. In my defense, I was about 24 at the time. Trust and believe that would not happen today.

The point is that people expect women to 'help' and if they don't, it's seen as being uncooperative or not being a team player (FUCK that BTW.)

Men typically can offer a, "I don't have the bandwidth," and it's taken on faith that it's true.

Institutionalized sexism exists. And for women, it's damned if you do, and damned if you don't. That being the case, I choose not to.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:28 PM on February 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


So, here's a central question: Is it important? Do workplaces actually function better, and do organizations and all kinds of communities function better, when housekeeping and/or social events are better attended to?

I think workplaces (and families, and social groups) absolutely function better when all of the details described in the article are attended to. It's unfortunate that some of those details are given such low status (or more precisely, are given low status particularly when a woman takes care of them), because it all has to happen for the entire organization to function well.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:42 PM on February 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


I know this isn't the sort of housework the article is talking about, but since other people have mentioned it in this thread already...

A male professor I know recently went way up in my estimation when he tacked a schedule above the sink in the work kitchen with "kitchen cleaning roster" on it and a list of upcoming weeks. He had put his own name in for one week in four. It's a nice solution to the work kitchen cleaning problem that doesn't rely on (a) unrealistic expectations that everyone will pitch in without being asked (b) annoying "your mum doesn't live here" signs, which don't work anyway or (c) an expectation that the women will cave in before the men do and just clean up after the oblivious.

Of course an even better solution would be for the workplace to pay a janitor, thereby providing a solution that provides jobs to extra people and doesn't have professors being paid like $100 an hour to wipe out the microwave. But who am I kidding, that isn't going to happen.
posted by lollusc at 8:36 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe those women who "think it's important" think it's important because somebody higher up on the ladder than you said "we need to have this" and somehow the only people around happened to be women.

This isn't about birthday planning and the like. Many of us have been through the indignity of workplace performance evaluations, and they frequently ask us to "step up" and "take the lead" and "show leadership." And for women this means getting threatened with losing their job unless they pad their workday with membership on the XYZ committee of organizing the required annual community service event which allows them to keep their evaluation at "meets expectations" but isn't respected in the same way that ancillary duties demanded of men are. And if women refuse to go along with these activities, they are accused of "not being a team player" while a bunch of barriers are put up against them when they try to insert themselves into the more high-value opportunities.
posted by deanc at 9:01 PM on February 7, 2015 [23 favorites]


I don't especially have this as an issue where I work because we have very few men in my area of the office in the first place, usually somewhere between 0-5 full timers, and most of them are just here temporarily and aren't exactly socializing with anyone. But I read this...

"Men typically can offer a, "I don't have the bandwidth," and it's taken on faith that it's true. "

Hah, yeah! We're having disputes with the head of a tech team because he says they're all overloaded and can't possibly take on any more work. His way of stalling is to say he won't do anything unless they have a meeting about it, and then he mostly gets his way unless it's super urgent. But can we say "no, we can't take on anyone else's crap" and have it respected? PROBABLY NOT. Which is to say that even if we and my boss say no, and we did (though in all honesty, I could have found the time to help sometimes--I just don't want another load being my responsibility and it'll be that if I say I can help) I'm pretty much expecting to get another person's workload thrown onto my pile anyway soon. No doesn't matter, and it's not like I can say it anyway.

I generally like that it's a mostly-female space, mind you, and the few dudes we have are mellow and chill ones. I don't tend to run into this sort of thing. But...yeah, the no not getting respected IS a point.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:56 PM on February 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


Again, I'll recommend the book "Nice Girls Don't Get The Corner Office," which has whole sections on items like "It's not your job to feed the team." I don't think the book is even 10 years old yet, but bootstrappy-we-don't-need-no-stinkin'-feminism gurus like Sheryl Sandburg have the media spotlight right now. So we have to counter them. ;-)

This business of leaving the "housework" to women is definitely an issue of sexism. However, in general, I've found that people don't know how to or are afraid to fend off inappropriate delegation -- or they think that such work will get them ahead.

In the absence of institutional safeguards against low-status work getting dumped in my lap because I'm a gur-rrrul, I think I would refer to my supervisor any "request" for work that's not directly related to my job function. "Do you want me doing work like this? Main job duty Y will likely be delayed if I do." (That of course has to be somewhat honest.) Going forward, when B.S. requests come in and I know I have my supervisor's support: "Sorry, I'm full up, I can't take that on."

If it's my SUPERVISOR who's making the requests? Welp, then I have to do the work, but maybe it's time to get the resume together. And hopefully I've spent most of my job time improving the skills for which I'll be compensated.

One last comment (and here I'm probably going to start to sound like Sandburg): making the workplace heymish should be the job of every single person there regardless of status or gender. The provision of food and neatening the workplace (other than heavy janitorial work) is a wonderful opportunity for fellowship and nurturing. You'll see this cooperative attitude at places like Zen centers. The American workplace? Not so much... unless managers foster it.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 5:07 AM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


This was a really interesting article and though I was aware of the "party planning" issues with women at work (and have managed to avoid that trap) I didn't think about all of the other committee and mentoring activities I do and how gendered they are.

BUT this kind of "solution" induces my rage at Sheryl Sandberg:

In the consulting firm, the female manager who was passed over for a promotion found more efficient ways to help. Instead of meeting one-on-one with dozens of junior colleagues, she began inviting mentees for group lunches. This saved her time and created a support network for them to help one another. Rather than handling questions reactively in time-consuming phone calls, she wrote a manual of F.A.Q.s and shared it with colleagues. And when clients made unreasonable requests, instead of saying she was too busy, she explained that it would stretch her team past the breaking point. By explaining that she was protecting others, she was able to say no but still seem giving and caring. After making these changes, she was promoted to partner.

The thread in her advice is always "Just do this one simple thing and you will overcome stereotypes and be promoted!" As if women aren't trying as hard as possible already.

Sandberg is an insanely accomplished person. She is evidently someone who radiates ambition, charisma and intelligence in person. Those people - regardless of gender and race - seem to do incredibly well in the corporate world from my experience. The challenge is that most people are not exceptional, and what works for Sandberg likely isn't working for your typical person.

At a women's leadership event once a speaker said that equality will be when mediocre women are as successful as mediocre men. We are very far from that standard.
posted by rainydayfilms at 5:36 AM on February 8, 2015 [18 favorites]


They think that such work will get them ahead.

And THAT is the endemic issue. The real problem with all of this. Women have been sold a bill of goods about what things to do to get ahead.

At a women's leadership event once a speaker said that equality will be when mediocre women are as successful as mediocre men. We are very far from that standard.

The sad fact is that guys have been promoted for doing a regular job, and women have to do twice as much to be considered as qualified. In the past, it was de rigueur for managers to encourage women to get more training/education, sit on pointless committees, mentor, show leadership by taking on more responsibility without compensation, all in the name of being promotable. Because to make a case for a raise or promotion, a manager had to have all these specific things to point to. Ask me about my MBA.

You can also throw in that if you are an assertive woman that you are repeatedly told to tone it down, be nicer, smile more and other indignities. I had a manager tell me he was going to polish my rough edges.

So no, I'm not buying that if I do more, if I PROVE that I'm worthy, that a promotion, raise or whatever is in the offing. Mostly, managers are trying to play me for a chump. I'll do more, try harder and when they promote the kid with the haircut, I can always be told, "He has leadership qualities."

Leadership qualities = Penis
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:44 AM on February 8, 2015 [14 favorites]


I start a new job tomorrow as project manager in an overwhelmingly male (IT) department, and you best believe I am setting ground rules from day one that I will not do any kind of admin duties for others. A well-meaning male friend suggested I bring donuts on my first day, and I told him absolutely not. It sets the wrong tone. I do have a bad feeling that my (female) predecessor is a "mom" type (she was present during my interview) and I seriously hope that isn't expected of me. I've known lots of other women who box themselves into a corner by being too eager to please, and any later attempts to set boundaries are seen as aggressive.

It's really hard to draw the line between being seen as confident/assertive and being seen as bitchy/demanding, and I have been called both. I am very polite and diplomatic at work, but I am not here to get people to like me. I am not a Type A ladder-climber but I am concerned about not being respected just because I am female. It is so fucking depressing that so much is out of my control just because of my body.
posted by desjardins at 8:45 AM on February 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


My experience is that this stuff happens only because women think it's important and start doing it. I'm a man, and I couldn't care less about the birthday of anyone in the office, including my own. And yet a couple of women in the office, who have styled themselves our social directors, have taken it upon themselves to make everyone's birthday a big deal, as if we're all four years old. Honestly, I think most of this social crap in the office looks unprofessional and is a distraction, and I wish it would go away.

As a woman who was tasked with this sort of stuff as part of an office morale team at a previous job, I feel like this is all more complex than your disdain acknowledges. It's good to acknowledge people's birthdays. I know for a fact that a lot of people feel hurt when they work like hell for an organization and then don't have that simplest part of their humanity recognized. What's just an annoying social custom to you can dramatically change how someone feels about the company when it's neglected. It's in the same bucket, to me, as providing feedback on employees' work performance—those little things you do if you want to show your team you value them as human beings, not just cogs in some grinding machine. Maybe you feel like a cog and prefer that, but that doesn't mean everyone else wants to feel that way.

Anyway, others have spoken to how your comments don't really address what's in the article anyway, but I just wanted to speak to the larger operational importance, in my view, of doing something like posting birthdays that I didn't really want to be doing, either. I think that's more important than you think, and it's a duty I shared with a male colleague.
posted by limeonaire at 9:10 AM on February 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


The best kitchen note I've seen, posted by an older male co-worker, was "Leopards! Clean your Spots!" by the sink. But this is in the non-profit world with small teams, so I don't think it really applies to traditional offices.
posted by kittensofthenight at 4:34 PM on February 8, 2015


oh man, the back kitchen area at my old job used to always get super gross, and eventually we made a sign that said "dishes left for more than a day will be disposed of", and then I'd even be nice and give it 2-3 days, and then I just started throwing shit away.

Mugs, thermoses, nice looking tupperware?? I've chucked it all. It was so liberating to go from feeling like I was being "the bitch" for policing the kitchen or cleaning it up to just throwing it away. No one has ever confronted me about it. People like to use serving plates for small meetings for snacks, and then leave the dirty plates back there. At first I fretted about what will happen when people need snacks and there aren't any plates??? Now, FUCK IT! Should have cleaned it up!! Enjoy using cheapo napkins for your snacks.
posted by nakedmolerats at 8:33 PM on February 8, 2015 [8 favorites]


Sandberg is an insanely accomplished person. She is evidently someone who radiates ambition, charisma and intelligence in person. Those people - regardless of gender and race - seem to do incredibly well in the corporate world from my experience. The challenge is that most people are not exceptional, and what works for Sandberg likely isn't working for your typical person.

This really gets to the heart of it imo. Her advice often seems like a glib joke because it only makes sense if you're already someone who would be successful anyways. It's like a "how to start a company" book that you realize 1 chapter in assumes you inherited millions from your grandparents.

People who this advice would work for aren't people who need this advice. And to everyone else, it's just "how to feed a family of 4 on minimum wage, Step 1: turn on your replicator".

It only really crosses in to toxicity when it becomes "you are the problem". Until that point, it's just "heh, they can't even see past their own nose".

I've known people like this, and their attitude in general seems to be something like it wasn't all that hard for me to get where i am, wow, everyone must have not fucking tried at all jeeze.
posted by emptythought at 11:57 PM on February 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I see that things have not changed much since 1990, when on my first day as an editor for an environmental consulting company I was put in charge of cleaning out the coffee maker at the end of every day, even though I don't drink coffee.
posted by JanetLand at 8:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a man, and I couldn't care less about the birthday of anyone in the office, including my own. And yet a couple of women in the office, who have styled themselves our social directors, have taken it upon themselves to make everyone's birthday a big deal, as if we're all four years old.

Hi. I'm a lady, but I worked in the incredibly male-dominated profession as soldier for several years. During that time, squad leaders, of both genders, often made the effort to remember and celebrate their squad members' birthdays, not because of some supposed 'inclination towards social directing' but because it had quantifiable, measurable results in increasing unit cohesion. Unit, or team cohesion, has strong effects outside the military world as well - it makes civilian workers more likely to cooperate on projects and less likely to engage in infighting.

The fact that you don't care about these things doesn't make you cool. It makes you a worse leader and manager.
posted by corb at 10:45 AM on February 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


Not to pile on, but it bears repeating: the option of "not caring" about such thing as taking notes during meetings, getting people coffee, cleaning up messes or getting the fucking birthday cakes is the actual privilege at issue here. Women, regardless of their individual propensities towards nurturing and administrative tasks, don't generally have the option of not caring about them because of 1) the pressure put squarely on us to perform when those tasks present themselves and 2) the consequences that arise when we fail to. That's what those stats in the article are all about, man.

Another birthday data point: when I joined a game dev company, the only other woman in my department was in charge of the fucking cakes. When she left, all eyes turned to me, even though I'm incapable of remembering the birthdays of my closest loved ones, let alone these assholes. So after a few birthdays went uncelebrated, with a chorus of whining directed at me each time, they started planning them in an ad hoc way. The guys who were friends organized lunches and gift pools for each other, and those who didn't have someone who cared enough went unfeted. Guess what effect that had on team cohesion? Also, guess who never got any fucking cake?
posted by Freyja at 12:02 PM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


The guys who were friends organized lunches and gift pools for each other, and those who didn't have someone who cared enough went unfeted. Guess what effect that had on team cohesion? Also, guess who never got any fucking cake?

Oh yeah! Guys I've worked with are very organized when organizing lunches out and football pools, etc, that they "forget" to invite women to. At one office all the guys stood up once and left for lunch, leaving me and the one other woman just sitting there. And I liked all those guys, one was a friend already from outside the office. On my most recent team, all the men would just talk openly about the activities they'd organized without inviting any of the women. I liked those guys too. I dunno what the deal is but it sucks to be consistently excluded, at least at the annoying mandated cake things it's somewhat fair.
posted by zutalors! at 12:11 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I once worked in a team of mostly women, and three men who were all married. The whole team was lovely and really friendly and we hung out together out of work hours. But the guys had a thing where they'd go for lunches and drinks and the women weren't invited. They called it the "Married Men's Club" and the ringleader claimed it was because sometimes they just needed some "man time". Just...yeah.
posted by billiebee at 12:33 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I understand where all the pro birthday comments are coming from and I totally get why it is important to some folks. But I HATE it. I do not want my birthday recognised office wide. I do not want feel pressured to feel appreciative of something that I don't give a shit about.

That said, i know that people feel slighted and minimized when their bday is not acknowledged. Whatever. I just wish I could opt out somehow. I don't want the attention and it makes me feel fake and uncomfortable when I have to act appreciative. NO THANKS.
posted by futz at 10:30 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


But I HATE it. I do not want my birthday recognised office wide. I do not want feel pressured to feel appreciative of something that I don't give a shit about.

That's valid, and done right there needs to be a low-key way for people to opt out of the things like birthday parties, while also creating a much fairer balance of work and expectations for things like note taking or ensuring that things are functioning smoothly.

I'm working right now at a place that (for a long list of reasons) does very poorly at acknowledging people -- birthdays, promotions, etc, just aren't celebrated and the results on morale are tangible. Working here has made me go from being opposed to those things as irritating to seeing the value (again, if done right).
posted by Dip Flash at 6:16 AM on February 10, 2015


The only people who know my birthday around here is HR. Is this birthday celebration crap an American thing?
posted by brokkr at 7:49 AM on February 11, 2015


In my office, the tradition is that you bring in a treat for the office on your own birthday. There's nothing making you do it, and I don't think anyone would ever notice if you didn't. It doesn't particularly bother me, and I haven't noticed any gender differences in how people participate. I generally am not a huge fan of enforced office social stuff, but the birthday thing is basically just that you go to the breakroom and get some cake or bread and cheese, and then when you see the person you can wish them a happy birthday. Honestly, I find the holiday parties (plural, because that's how we roll around here) more annoying.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:18 AM on February 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


> Is this birthday celebration crap an American thing?

Hugely variable. Some places make them a thing, some don't. Some places make them office-wide, some are team/department-only.
posted by rtha at 10:46 AM on February 11, 2015


Is this birthday celebration crap an American thing?

Not exclusively. In one of my workplaces there's a list of birthdays on the fridge in the kitchen. When your special day rolls around there's a card that everyone signs, at some point in the day you're summoned to the main office where everyone watches as you're presented with a cake - with candles you have to blow out - as they play a song that you like. You then cut the cake and give everyone a piece. It is hell.

(And fwiw the person who checks the list and buys the card and cake is a man)
posted by billiebee at 12:16 PM on February 11, 2015


as they play a song that you like.

oh man, I would have a really good time with this.
posted by desjardins at 7:12 PM on February 11, 2015


billiebee: "In one of my workplaces there's a list of birthdays on the fridge in the kitchen. When your special day rolls around there's a card that everyone signs, at some point in the day you're summoned to the main office where everyone watches as you're presented with a cake - with candles you have to blow out - as they play a song that you like. You then cut the cake and give everyone a piece. It is hell."
Jeesus fucking christ, that's torture.
posted by brokkr at 5:02 AM on February 12, 2015


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