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This Woman’s Work
I found a job I love after 15 years. I’ve been lucky enough to be on a relatively diverse, gender-balanced team. Despite this balance, the work itself does not feel fair. Within the project teams I’m a part of, it falls to women to take notes, organize their colleagues and make sure work gets done with regular check-ins and meetings.
I’ve done a few things to address this, including talking to a few senior (female) leaders. Their advice was (a) bring it up directly with group members not doing their fair share, or (b) let them fail. I tried both. When I had a direct conversation with a male colleague who is a particular offender, he simply did not agree and refused to acknowledge this might be happening.
I’m wondering if you have any advice. Do I have to just let this go to be successful?
— Anonymous, Bend, Ore.
First, who cares if your male colleague agrees with your assessment of his behavior? Get it together! He does not get to dictate reality in ways that enable his nonsense. Moving along. Research has long shown that in collaborative work settings, women shoulder the most responsibility. It’s frustrating, it’s complicated, and it absolutely contributes to burnout and women not having enough time or energy to do the work they need and/or want to prioritize. You have to work actively to make sure that you and the women you work with are not disproportionately responsible for administrative and emotional labor. You have to be willing to be perceived as “difficult” even though there is nothing difficult about establishing firm boundaries and sticking to them.
You do not have to let this go. You should not let this go. I teach, and because I am sensitive to women generally being relegated to note-taking and so on, I rotate the responsibility among all students, regardless of gender. You can do something similar. And you can also let these men fail. They are adults, and they can clean up their own professional messes. Secondary work responsibilities should be shared by everyone. If a natural, equitable system isn’t manifesting, assign people specific responsibilities. Stop assuming everything will fall apart if you don’t hold it together. Stop coddling grown men. Prioritize your own work and ambition more than you prioritize the man-babies you work with.
Are You Experienced?
I am the resident lawyer at a small legal nonprofit. Part of my job is to create plain-language legal content for our websites. It takes subject-matter expertise and writing ability, but my boss keeps suggesting I get a recent college graduate or a law student to help. I let him know it’s skilled work and not a good fit for people that inexperienced. It’s discouraging to defend something I do well, based on 20-plus years of writing practice and legal work. I feel undervalued, and need help to address his suggestions.
You are being undervalued. Your frustration is understandable. Explain to your boss what you do, and how your expertise enables that work. Make clear that you are a professional and you and your work product deserve to be respected as such. If that doesn’t work, ask him if a student or an intern can do his job. One probably could, but that’s neither here nor there.
Only Moderately Petty
Is it wrong to be thoroughly annoyed by people who reply all in an email thread when their reply isn’t necessary for all to see? It drives me nuts. Is that extremely petty? Am I crazy? Is it uncalled-for if I send a gentle reminder to those people that they have replied all?
— Demi, Brooklyn
We will have finally evolved as a species when people stop replying all unnecessarily. Reply to the sender if you need to communicate only with that person, or reply all to everyone if you need to communicate to the group. It’s not that hard.
I wish I knew why this was so elusive a skill. I guess most people are overwhelmed by professional emails, try to respond to them quickly and perfunctorily, and don’t take the time to reply carefully. That’s how you get trapped in endless email chains about topics irrelevant to your work, and just when you think you’re free from its clutches, someone who was on vacation will return and add to the conversation, triggering a new wave of replies, none of which should have ever arrived in your inbox.
Long story short, your sentiment here is not extremely petty. It’s only moderately petty. You are not crazy. This is one of those minor grievances that irritate most people, and there’s really nothing you can do about it but complain. Embrace that.
More Mandatory Fun
Our H.R. department is trying hard to get us to connect virtually while we are all out of the office. Unfortunately, these efforts involve online events that cover a pretty narrow range of interests. Virtual ugly sweater party. The online version of that game from summer camp where you need to figure out who is the spy. Zoom calligraphy lesson. The last one was mandatory: Every team needed to come up with a motto and make signs.
It looks like H.R. insists on continuing to mandate “fun” events. Do you have any ideas that I could suggest that are less twee?
As I’ve discussed previously, mandatory fun in person is unbearable. Mandatory fun via Zoom is even worse. But I also think we need to extend a little generosity to H.R. departments. They are doing their best to maintain collegial work environments with everyone working remotely. If this state of affairs goes on much longer, H.R. will adapt and, hopefully, realize that the kind of warm, fun work environment you can create in person might not be possible in a distributed, virtual workplace. And that’s probably OK.
If you’re going to suggest anything, ask for these events to be optional. You might also suggest they deploy a survey to ask employees their opinions on how to support strong connections and what kinds of activities would be more enjoyable. For better or worse, lots of activities have moved online. On a recent date night, my wife and I attended “Inside the Box,” a virtual magic show featuring David Kwong. It was so fun, and we enjoyed it far more than we expected to.
H.R. might look beyond your company for group activities the staff can enjoy. There are all kinds of shows and concerts and the like. It’s not all sweater contests out there. Treat yourself.
Roxane Gay is the author, most recently, of “Hunger” and a contributing opinion writer. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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