When I was in grad school, I was looking for a part time job. I didn’t have any success finding full time employment so I decided to get my master’s degree in the hopes that it would “get my resume through the filters.” (That’s another discussion for another time.) I tried several different options and finally got an in-person interview with a technology company as the office administrator.
It took an hour to get there. The pay was for 20 hours a week so compared to what I was making at my last job it was a 75 percent pay cut. Yikes. My husband and I were fortunate to not need another salary but I wanted to at least cover my student loans. (Topic 2 for another time.) However, as I met the boss and a couple of engineers, I really liked them. They were doing cool work and were so friendly.
As we discussed the role and what they needed, I mentioned my background and the manager got really excited about me being able to help him with presentations and other types of external-facing documents. If I could handle basic tasks like ordering supplies, answering the phone, AND help him with communication things, he would LOVE to hire me.
AWESOME. We walked around the office and he showed me where everything was. I had a small amount of 5S experience and told him I could help them get organized. And then…
“Yeah, and what we really need is someone to order cake. Like for birthdays and stuff. Just be able to handle that would be a huge help.”
Some clarification: the role was absolutely as office administrator and buying cake was within that realm. Any of the other work was bonus to them…but not to ME. And the way he lit up when he mentioned buying cake made me realize that I would be doing mostly that. I couldn’t shoehorn my way into a role here that they didn’t want (or know that they needed) and it was just going to cause more frustration and angst.
In my attempt to sell my skills I lost sight of what the manager was looking for and call it pride (probably) or ego (DEFINITELY) but I didn’t want to do it. I left feeling so deflated and when the recruiter called to offer me the position the next day, I was sad when I declined. I told her the commute would be too much. I wasn’t even honest about why I declined, which is another reason to unpack another time. (I am full of side topics today.)
BUT how many other times have women been put in the position of cake-buyer or phone-answerer without any change in role or pay? We are just assumed to do it and while it makes you more “likable” it actually doesn’t influence your performance review in a positive way.
As the workforce grapples with what they are willing to accept in light of the atrocious past 15 months of pandemic, we need to look not only at work schedules but also work BEHAVIORS. Are we going to keep asking people to do the emotional office work without compensation or recognition? I hope not.
A Facebook memory popped up a few days ago where I wrote “I remember when suits were for international trade shows and not cleaning the office refrigerator.” I haven’t worked in an office for seven years now and we are still grappling with this.
I think back to my coworker who was in charge of the Water Club. We paid extra to have bottled water delivered and she had to collect the money from us and pay the invoice. I sat in the same cube set with her and got to witness what a huge pain it was. Reminding people to pay, collecting the money, putting the extra balance toward the next week, yadda yadda yadda. Time-wise it wasn’t that much but again the emotional labor was ridiculous. And as salaried employees it wasn’t like she got any financial benefit from it – she was just being NICE. Ugh, nice. What every good girl is expected to do.
Are we going to be brave enough to let go of EVERYTHING that no longer serves us in order to let everyone thrive? Can we stop expecting certain groups and employees to just do things or at least give them the professional advantages and pay to do it?
If you eat the cake, maybe take a turn to buy the damn cake.
Kate Zaranek is the Director of Communications for Hera Aviation Group. She has a bunch of paper on her office wall that allows her to work in aviation and communications. Mother to two sweet but wild Goons, she lives with them and her husband wherever the U.S. Army feels like sending them.