all the party planning in my office always falls to women

A reader writes:

I’ve noticed in my office that nearly all of the holiday planning responsibilities fall to women. This is in a traditionally male-dominated industry where there has been progress in hiring/promoting women, but we’re still generally underrepresented. However, in the party planning efforts, usually all, or all-but-one of the representatives are women.

This isn’t some vast management conspiracy. Usually what happens is a call for volunteers goes out, everyone ignores it, and each component organization either designates a representative or a woman volunteers. I don’t think it’s intentional in any way – however, I can’t help but be frustrated that these types or roles always seem to fall to women.

So my questions are:

1) Is this actually a problem?
2) Whose responsibility is it to ensure a diverse representation in these things?
3) How do they best do that?
4) How do I, as a low-level manager in this organization, approach it with my leadership?

The first thing to look at is the roles of the women who end up doing the party planning. If they’re all in junior-level, admin-type roles, and if no men are in those roles, it may make perfect sense that they’re the ones getting stuck with the planning. (However, if that’s the case, you probably have a totally different problem on your hands: the question of why those roles are exclusively filled by women. But that’s a different question than the one you’re posing, one that gets into much more deep-rooted societal challenges related to why our career paths still often tend to be gendered.)

But if that’s not the case — if the women in jobs where organizing parties doesn’t make particular sense or if there are men in the same roles who never end up with it — then yeah, your party planning systems are all mucked up with sexism.

To answer your first question about whether that’s really a problem: Yes. It’s a problem for everyone when women continue to be pegged into house-keeping/care-taking roles that aren’t inherent parts of their jobs. Too often, it’s the women in the office — especially younger women — who find themselves always being the ones to take notes at meetings, straighten up the kitchen, plan the parties, order lunch, and do other “care-taking” work, while the men in similar jobs get to focus on doing work that’s more highly valued. That can have long-lasting ramifications for who gets what projects, who gets what recognition, and who builds what reputation, and ultimately how their careers progress.

As for what you can do, one of the best things is to simply point it out. Not an accusatory, put-everyone-on-the defensive way — at least not yet — but in a “hey, I’ve noticed this work always falls to women; can we change that?” way.

As for whose responsibility it is to be noticing this, pointing it out, and addressing it, ideally that would be happening at a high level. Actually, ideally it would be happening throughout your culture. But since it’s not, it’s reasonable for anyone in your organization who notices this to say something. The fact that you’re in a management role, even although only a low-level one, gives you additional standing to bring it up.

{ 320 comments… read them below }

  1. LBK

    Are there any men in your office you think might be interested or at least willing to take it on? It may make it easier to raise if you have a guy ready to go as a sub-in for whichever woman has ended up most recently getting stuck with this. That way you don’t have to specifically send out a general call to men and make it a public office-wide issue. “I’ve noticed that we tend to always end up having women plan the parties – I think we should be mixing it up more and making sure everyone’s participating equally. For instance, I talked to Bob and he would be happy to take over planning the holiday party this year.”

    (This assumes you’re uncomfortable with a high level of visibility on an issue like this, which I think is what often leads people to not saying anything about it at all.)

  2. Adam

    I can see this being a tricky one to navigate. In my experience it’s very rare the person who actually wants to organize the office parties and it’s not fair for the duties to routinely fall to the same person, hence ours are usually volunteer committees of three to four people. It’s true that it’s mostly women who end up being on said committees, but the range of career levels who do is wide at least and for my department in particular the women outnumber the men by about three to one. They usually do manage to have one guy on the team as well, but it seems like he always has to be coaxed into doing so. I personally have never done it, and as a mentally (but not openly) committed short-timer I usually avoid going to these shindigs if I can.

  3. sprinkles!

    Ugh, I could have written this same letter. Every single jon I get, I am voluntold to be a part of their version of the party planning committee. I suspect this is because I’m very organized and known for getting things done. And of course because I’m a woman (though not a junior level employee).

    I have a new manager and when he appointed me to the party planning committee without asking if I was interested, I decided to be proactive and say something. I explained in a professional way that I would rather spend my working hours working on projects that would be more challenging and that would partner well with my long-term goals. I also explained that I have been a part of many similar committees in the past and would like to take a hiatus, if possible. He pretty much said, “nope..you are doing this.”

        1. Mickey

          “Voluntold” is an excellent phrase (even though accidental) for what actually happens in many of these cases. It’s when your boss tells you they need volunteers for something and you know that means you are supposed to volunteer. It’s an offer you can’t refuse. You didn’t volunteer. You were voluntold to do it.

        2. Kelly O

          “Voluntold” is one of my personal favorites.

          Sometimes I think it’s less being a woman, and more being organized and known for getting things done. It’s a hard distinction to make, and I wonder how much we read into it because of our preconceived notions about gender and what is expected of each.

          Although for me, if I’m being perfectly honest, I really do like organizing that sort of thing, so I guess I just don’t want to force the issue. If anyone doesn’t want to plan the party, then they really shouldn’t feel forced. There are usually plenty of people who like that kind of thing and want to be involved.

    1. lowercase holly

      maybe you should be the committee’s leader, assign tasks, and generally oversee. since you can’t get out of it and you’ve had a lot of prior experience. that would really free you up to do you regular work :)

    2. Windchime

      I’d be tempted to plan a really crappy party. So crappy, in fact, that nobody ever asks you to plan a party again.

  4. illini02

    If women are volunteering, then I don’t know that its really an issue, unless they feel pressured to do so. I kind of feel like you either have to take volunteers or assign people. It sounds like this is more the taking volunteers thing. I feel like assigning people to do something they have no interest in won’t necessarily pan out either. As a man, I don’t have a problem being on the party planning committee, but there are other committees in my office that I would hate to be on. If I was assigned to it, I probably would be not too into it and only really halfway participate. The same problem could come from putting a guy on that committee that doesn’t want to do it. If these women do enjoy doing it, then let them. Does everyone HAVE to be on some kind of extra committee? If not, then this becomes harder as some people just won’t ever volunteer.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It’s similar to the reason why it matters if you have gender disparities in the salaries on your staff because the men tended to negotiate more than the women did. That’s about people’s own, voluntary behavior, but it’s also about broader gender issues in society. You still need to care about what the result is in terms of equity on your staff. Same thing here — women tend to be more willing to volunteer for these roles than men do, but it doesn’t make it okay to chronically have only women in care-taking roles.

      1. YourCdnFriend

        Plus 1 to that! If the case is volunteering then it may be valuable to examine some deeper issues. Do men feel uncomfortable volunteering because it’s considered low value and thankless? Do women feel pressured to volunteer? asking those questions can lead you to develop a system that makes it more attractive to men or puts less pressure on women which ultimately leads to more diversity

      2. illini02

        I agree that you should care, I’m just saying I think its harder to do it if it is a volunteer based committee. I guess I never thought of party planning as a care taking role, since I don’t think I’m necessarily a care taker, but I enjoy planning a party.

        1. Katie the Fed

          It’s more the “things that make an office a nice place to work” type of roles. Morale committees. Fridge cleaning. Remembering birthdays. Things like that – everyone appreciates what gets done but most people don’t really want to do it. So someone (usually a woman) steps up.

          1. Academic Counselor

            I kind of feel like it’s up to the person who wants the thing done, to make sure it gets done. For example, I am usually the one to start the first pot of coffee in the morning – it’s not because I’m a woman, it’s because I want some coffee. Everyone else is happy to drink the coffee that I made, but if I don’t do it, it probably doesn’t get done. This arrangement doesn’t bother me.

            Similarly, I did not volunteer to be on our party planning committee or birthday committee, because I don’t care if we have a holiday party or if we celebrate birthdays. I assume that the people who are planning those things do care.

      3. Jen RO

        I agree with your assessment, but I don’t think it’s any company’s responsibility to solve society’s problems – whether they are disparities in pay or women planning parties. Not trying to lowball exclusively women? Yes. Offering a higher salary to a woman who asked for less? No. (Or – yes, *if* this is done for employees of all genders. My company does offer higher salaries to *everyone* who asks for too little.)

    2. Dan

      At my last job, the receptionist planned a lot of stuff because she enjoyed doing it.

      At my current job, there were *three* holiday parties: 1) Company wide (at least for this campus) 2) My organization (about 700 people) and 3) My department (about 60 people)

      Frankly, that’s a lot of parties. And if our admin person said “I need volunteers or we don’t have a party” I’d probably say “ok, no party.” I don’t want a third one bad enough to plan it, unless there’s a decent budget where we can get a good catered lunch or something.

    3. INTP

      The OP does mention people being assigned sometimes so there may not be sufficient volunteers. Also, women tend to feel increased pressure to volunteer for things like that and may even be judged more harshly than the men for not stepping up. To promote gender equality, if only women volunteer and some don’t want to do it, it might be necessary to move to an assigning system. In this case it might be better if one person or group does all the assigning because it’s easier for each team to justify picking a woman as their one delegate than it is for one central group to justify picking 20 women.

  5. sunny-dee

    Not to be all gendered, but guys generally don’t care. If it were left to guys, there would be no decorations and the food would be whatever pizza or taco place delivers that can handle a sizable order an hour before lunch. (This has happened, and it was tacos.)

    1. TOC

      You may have said “not to be all gendered” but then you were totally gendered. That’s not a fair allegation at all.

      1. Jamie

        No group can be painted with the same brush, but ime she’s not far off.

        I don’t do party planning because I hate it and I suck at it. And I’ve never been recruited just because I’m a woman. But the people who do the planning are women because they care how the parties go. Not all women care (me, for example) but usually the people who do care are women.

        I used to do it back when it was my job when dinosaurs roamed the earth and I hated it and it was awful – but the people who would go out of there way to contact me to make sure we were doing X or not doing Y or chiming in with ideas…they were invariably women.

        I don’t know why. Maybe some men care and aren’t socialized to insert themselves into this kind of thing – no idea – but interest does tend to fall along gender lines ime.

        I was asked my opinion about the holiday party once and my heartfelt and sincere suggestion was to not do one and either add the money to bonuses or to split it between departments so they had a pizza fund for lunch sometime in the year. I was deemed not party planning material and released.

        It’s probably just internalized socialization where people act without thinking – just like I (and some other women) grab plates and trash from a lunch meeting on our way out and a greater percentage of men leave their mess. I don’t do it because I’m a woman and I certainly am not asked to do so – just habit. Maybe when there is a party thing more women are in the habit of just doing it.

        The flip side of this is before company cookouts when loads of groceries and cases of pop are being brought in from the van men tend to pitch in by a far larger margin than women. I’ll help secure the door open or ask if they need me to call someone to bring up a dolly…but I’m not carrying in cases of pop unasked because it wouldn’t occur to me and I don’t want to.

        Some things fall along gender roles just because people act out of habit – it’s good to look at and make sure it’s never expected of the women and if assigned it’s assigned based on position and not gender. But for sunny-dee to say guys generally don’t care is true in my experience as well both in my personal and professional life. Valid observation from where I sit.

        1. TOC

          Sure, but my experience is that I know many guys (in both my personal and professional life) who do care about party planning and hosting and do a great job of it. Our experience doesn’t make it a universal fact that men or women do or don’t care about planning parties. People are free to share their personal experience, just as you and I have done, but sunny-dee just made a blanket statement that’s patently untrue. I’m not going to keep going on this, but I find her initial statement offensive.

          1. E.T.

            I don’t think I find her statement offensive. She says “generally”, so it isn’t a blanket statement, in my opinion. We often say women generally make less than men, but we probably all know individual examples of women who make as much or more than men; knowing those examples still does not invalidate the original statement that women generally earn less than men. Same here, I see this as sunny-dee sharing her observation, and while your experience may be different, it doesn’t necessarily invalidate her observation, especially since she uses the word “generally.”

            My experience, working in three different companies so far, is pretty much similar to what sunny-dee describes. For example, my current office has potlucks from time to time. I’ve noticed that the men don’t really care what they bring or eat, so they often bring things like bagels and cream cheese, supermarket pies, pre-made antipasto plates, etc. Only one man in our office ever brings in homemade food, and that is because his wife makes them, a point he always brings up when someone compliments him on the food. The women in our office, however, bring in things like homemade chili and cornbread, homemade lasagna, and one women even brings in her slow cooker on potluck days and warms homemade chicken soup.

            I personally never volunteer to help with the party planning and I never make anything homemade. I usually bring in cookies or soda, which I always have in my pantry. Not because I am taking a stand, but because I am inherently lazy. I love eating my coworkers’ food, but my logic is, if I have to make homemade food after hours, I better get paid for my time.

            1. Jamie

              Not because I am taking a stand, but because I am inherently lazy.

              I’m stealing this as my new motto and reason I do everything.

        2. some1

          I have planned office parties and had just as many men as women make suggestions and voice complaints.

          And, yes, it’s sexist to assume men can’t throw a party.

        3. Colette

          Yeah, I know a lot of men (and women) who would be there for the food and few men who care about decorations or other details.

          I’m happy to plan a party but I have made a deliberate decision not to volunteer (although I will share ideas when asked and help at the event).

        4. Adam

          I think that’s the key distinction here. As many have pointed out, party planning is a skill that can be learned same as any other; no specific chromosome pairing required.

          But as far as who actually CARES how these things turn out? It will always vary from individual to individual of course, but my anecdotal observances say it’s generally not the guys.

          I love to plan dinners in my off time, but that revolves around getting people under the same roof (who I actually like) at one time and preparing food (which I also enjoy). Decorations and themes are usually not involved unless it’s the holidays, in which case they were already up anyways because I’m a Christmas head.

          1. TL -

            I would disagree – I know a lot of men who’ll kevetch after it’s over, like “Oh, we always have pizza and it sucks” or “they didn’t have the good brand of beer” or whatever…it just doesn’t occur to them to check in before it happens.
            (And, in my experience, if you approach people w/that attitude with, “Hey, what do you want from the party? Okay, well, let’s do Y to get there,” it goes a lot better.)

            1. Adam

              My thing was more about decorations, themes, and other extraneous stuff. We guys want to have good food of course, but the level of interest in decor is generally much less.

        5. Cat

          Part of the reason many men don’t care (I agree, some wouldn’t regardless) is because they know there’s a high likelihood it will get done well without them doing something. That’s the dynamic I think it’s important to interrupt.

          1. illini02

            I think thats a bit harsh to guys. Its just that things like decorations, for many guys, aren’t a big deal. If I throw a party, I deal with logistics and stuff, but decorations are never on my list of things that I deem to be necessary. Now I will sometimes have a female friend ask if I need help decorating, to which my reply is that if she wants to help, great, but if there aren’t decorations it won’t matter to me.

            1. Adam

              This was my thing. I think it’s one thing if the office just considers parties where everyone gets together and has lunch from the same place.

              But my office LOVES its theme parties. We’re talking streamers and games and costumes even, and for a lot of people that is one big giant eye roll.

            2. Cat

              Yes, on the very specific issue of themed decorations at a party, sure. But there’s a huge category of other things that are similar and where this often applies.

            3. INTP

              But that illustrates the male privilege in this situation, in a sense. I don’t care about decorations. I don’t even care if there is a party. So many women don’t. However, as a woman I know that my personal feelings about what’s necessary are irrelevant to what’s expected of me and that I’m going to be judged as not doing what I’ve been assigned to do if I neglect stuff like that.

              1. Tau

                Yes! If you asked me to plan a party I would not have the first clue where to begin. However, I’d ask people who’d done it before and Google and generally read up on the subject in order to do a good job, because I’d been assigned the job and because it would reflect badly on me if I didn’t. This includes stuff like decorations even though I personally couldn’t care less about decorations, or figuring out appropriate food when I would be fine with just pizza. Why the hell should guys’ personal opinions excuse them from doing a good job when I’m not cut any slack?

              2. AnonyMouse

                Wow, SO much agreement with this! I’m a woman. I do not care about office parties, office decorations, if there’s food in the office or not – I take care of my own responsibilities and pick up after myself, but other than that I care about very little that happens in the office other than our actual work. Even so, if I express this sentiment, in my experience I’m much more likely to be judged as rude, lazy or unhelpful than a male coworker…because everyone assumes it’s just ‘normal’ for men not to care about that kind of thing, but if a woman doesn’t she’s either ‘not a team player’ or ‘thinks she’s too good to help out’.

                1. Anonymousse

                  Yeeeeeeeeeeeees. Heaven forfend we women shirk our appointed duties and NOT be an office Martha Stewart.

              3. Marc

                “But that illustrates the male privilege in this situation, in a sense. I don’t care about decorations. (…) However, as a woman I know that my personal feelings about what’s necessary are irrelevant to what’s expected of me.”

                If we have established that men (generally) don’t care about decorations or the fancier stuff, then who does that leave to judge you? Either yourself… or other women in the office. Honestly, most of the times “male privilege” is used, “female expectations” could just as easily be substituted.

                I normally am in sync with AAM, but this seems like a biased answer that focuses on gender instead of results.

          2. hermit crab

            “they know there’s a high likelihood it will get done well without them doing something”

            I think this is an important thing to think about, and not just for party planning or for gender roles in the office!

          3. neverjaunty

            Bingo. And that if they don’t volunteer or do a half-baked job, nobody will give them a hard time because “oh well, you know, guys don’t care about this stuff.”

            That’s not being harsh to the guys, it’s just reality.

          4. Bwmn

            Completely agree. And while we’re talking about men “not being able to organize parties” – that line never comes up when it’s a large conference or professional event.

            On our recent holiday social committee – I was pleasantly shocked to see how balanced our volunteers were in regards to level in the organization, gender, and age. Then put it all together that all of use were struggling to get attention from our new ED and hoping this would help as a way to be more visible. How this will work going forward – who knows – but it was clear that at least for this year, people saw the potential for genuine professional boost. And the turnout was diverse. Next year, who knows.

            1. Lizzy May

              Did they committee get facetime with the ED? Did the ED thank them at the party by name? Did the ED say in a speech of some sort that the work was appreciated? Because if the answer to those questions is yes, you will probably see good turn out next year. If the ED sees the value the committee members brought to the organization and recognizes them volunteers will always be plentiful and diverse. The moment leadership takes a committee like this for granted is the moment buy in will drop like a stone.

              1. Bwmn

                So far our ‘holiday festivities’ are still in process, but the ED has made note of the participants by name and a group thanks. Thus far no more specific face time, but I would say that for those of us who have participated it has felt like something that at least was visible and not something no one cared about.

        6. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

          I live in this bizarre alternate universe where my husband plans things at home and it is mostly guys who plan and organize things at work (very well).

          I understand I am not the norm but I don’t get how I attract such good luck. (I HATE party and event planning.)

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

            It might be because I don’t gap fill and I don’t get all “the streamers should face the other way”.

            See: I hate party and event planning.

    2. OhNo

      I think you and I have worked with very different guys.
      That said, you say that like it would be a bad thing. I would be all for a party where we ordered pizza or some other restaurant food instead of yet another potluck.

      1. sunny-dee

        No, what I’m saying is that the kind of party that requires a committee usually implies one with external food, music, decorations, and activities. Setting up a group lunch at a nearby restaurant does not require a planning committee — it requires one team lead with a corporate credit card.

        Setting up a group lunch or setting up something like a booth at a conference are simply not the same as a Christmas party. Guys, in general, do not care about putting up streamers that are color-coordinated with balloons — and if it’s done “wrong,” they don’t care. If anyone cares about it, it’s usually women.

        1. OhNo

          I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there is a significant portion of the female population out there (myself and all of my female friends included) that “do not care about putting up streamers that are color-coordinated with balloons — and if it’s done “wrong,” they don’t care”.

          Women, as a group, don’t care about that stuff any more than men do. It just so happens that when people DO care, you will be more inclined to notice the women who care, because that is what society has programmed us to see. Men who care about such things are seen as outliers; women who care about such things are seen as the norm. In reality, the number are more likely to be equal on both sides of the gender coin.

    3. AnotherAlison

      As a woman, I generally don’t care, either. I could give a rat’s ass about decorations or food.

      1. JC

        +1! I am a woman and I hate party planning. I don’t care at all how the party turns out. But I have also worked places where women got pressured or voluntold into these roles more often than men, including women like me who don’t want to do it.

      2. INTP

        I don’t care either. If I were voluntold to do it, however, I’d know I had to plan a nice party because no one is going to give me a pass based on my gender, while if a man half asses it, it’s often excused as normal male behavior.

        1. GOG11

          I was just about to post this.

          Once I was invited to two social events after work, each invitation coming from a different Department. The winner? The event that included food. I love me some good food.

      3. AvonLady Barksdale

        I would do nothing but food if I could. I care deeply about the food. The decorations? Feh. I am so un-crafty.

    4. Adam

      If I were voluntold to organize an office party this would be my natural inclination. Whatever required the minimal effort to get it done which would mainly involve getting appropriate food for everyone. I’d end up putting in more effort probably because I felt like I had to and because I would feel like this would be a way to make a good impression in regards to my actual work and mobility. (I’d probably be wrong about that, but still…)

      I suppose there is something to be said for “It’s a part of the job, so sometimes you’ve got to suck it up and just do it,” but in my experience most people don’t see occasional party planning as ever being part of the gig.

      1. Katie the Fed

        This is fine too. Our parties are pretty low-key but someone still has to collect the money, place the order, arrange pickup, etc. Someone has to do it!

    5. Kyrielle

      Women don’t necessarily care either.

      If people cared, they wouldn’t be being voluntold to do the thing in the first place, they’d actually be volunteering.

      1. Katie the Fed

        Yep. And as offices cut support staff to save money, more and more of these things fall to professionals whose jobs are other things. Ideally you’d have an admin assistant taking notes or ordering lunch, but with so few admin assistants (especially where I work) that’s not really happening.

      2. sunny-dee

        Yeah — I don’t care. But some people do, and those people tend to be women. Not in all places and not all women (or men), but as a trend.

      1. AcademicAnon

        We just had a Christmas party, which my spouse planned, since I’m not into decorating or cooking for a bunch of people. And I don’t think that came from his “equipment” either.

    6. Allison

      I’m a woman, and I would not be opposed to tacos at a company party. Especially if it’s Q’doba’s taco bar, heck yes! And I like pizza, so that works. Honestly, while I appreciated my company’s ultra fancy Christmas party, if it was a pizza party in the office at lunch I would’ve been happy with that too.

      1. Jillociraptor

        Qdoba taco bar is like the holy grail of catering. Any time I can use them, I do. It’s just so darn flexible: basically any dietary needs can be met, and people can choose how much or how little they eat. It is a weird thing to be this excited about, but picking food for big meetings is such a pain!

        1. Meg Murry

          Chipotle does a similar spread. I went to a casual wedding where there were a lot of food allergies/intolerances/preferences where they just did a Chipotle spread, and while it may not have been fancy, it was tasty and no one went hungry.

          1. TL -

            Chipotle is a godsend. It is literally the only restaurant where I a) don’t have to say anything about my allergies and b) never have a reaction.

    7. Sarah

      There can be a simple checklist of things that need to get done. They may not care i their personal lives, but if they are assigned the decorations item, they better be ready to decorate. Same for food. You could also make a “playbook” of recommended places to get food, decor, etc. Then NO ONE has an excuse.

      I’m a woman, and I generally don’t care either. But if I’m in charge of something at work, you can bet I’m going to do it and do it to the best of my ability. I would love guidance for the clueless!

      1. sunny-dee

        But the question isn’t being directed to do something — it’s asking for volunteers and having all those volunteers be women. At least, that was the OP’s issue.

        1. Sarah

          True. But lowering the barrier to volunteering is a good thing, and I was replying to the comment that said “if left to the men…”

    8. INTP

      This mentality is what allows men to get away with not being assigned these things – thus freeing them up to spend more time on work that might actually further their careers. Women don’t plan parties well because they care about the end result, many women don’t care but know it would be considered unacceptable if they half assed it. If sexist people would start judging men as harshly for not pulling this stuff off as they judge women, men would be just as reliable at doing it.

      1. Zillah

        +1000

        I know it’s not a universal truth, and I know it’s something that’s uncomfortable to hear, particularly if you’re a guy… But it’s very often true, and that’s why men need to hear it. You guys get to not care pretty much everywhere you go, and you get to not think about the stupid stuff. Women often aren’t afforded that luxury.

  6. BadPlanning

    The only thing I’ve done is volunteer once and then don’t volunteer again for awhile. If someone volun-tells me, I say I just did it (as in, it’s someone else’s turn). This has worked fairly well — although it doesn’t address the problem generally if it just falls to another woman.

    1. BadPlanning

      Of course, it means we basically have no parties and no cards, etc, except for things run at a higher management point. Everything food is a potluck. So, there are downsides if you want a “real” party. I’m fine with our current level of low key party-ness.

  7. AnotherAlison

    Here’s how this works in my company, just for another perspective/point of reference. I also work in a traditionally male industry (engineering). The admin staff makes up about 3% of the total company (1000 headcount total), and they are all female. Major parties, such as biannual company events, are planned by committee. Typically, there are a couple senior people heading the committee. These are often male, since only 10% of senior roles are filled by women. Similarly, there are junior non-admin people on the committee, who are male. I think this helps make sure the events are fun for everyone, all ages, genders, positions.

    Now, small department parties, like a holiday lunch, generally fall on the admin assistant to plan because it’s really part of their position’s duties, but they get input from team members. Not everything has to fall on admins, though. My coworker and I (a male and female PM) spearheaded the holiday charity for our group this year. Admin involvement wasn’t required.

    1. Katie the Fed

      That’s very helpful – thank you! It’s good to know how other offices have navigated these things.

  8. soitgoes

    There’s also the issue that if a bunch of inexperienced men are suddenly thrown into planning mode, there will be a lot of things that are overlooked or forgotten about. We don’t need to get into all of the reasons why women’s socialization makes them more natural at these kinds of things (or why they’re raised in ways that engender genuine enjoyment of these activities), but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you try to prove a point by making men do this, a woman might need to step in to make 11th-hour corrections anyway. And it sucks, but I don’t know how to solve this when we’re talking about a type event that usually happens once a year. This is why calls for volunteers don’t resolve this issue, as women always volunteer. Maybe make a standing list of necessary points to cover so that everyone will know how to cover all bases?

    In my office, a man was assigned the job of planning the party, and all of his ideas (basically restaurants whose menus wouldn’t have accommodated our Jewish boss’ dietary restrictions) weren’t working. He didn’t have any ideas for activities or sense of venue/atmosphere either. The task ended up falling on the one woman who’s married, as she planned her own wedding and knows how to get this kind of thing done.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I resent the assumption that because I have a pair of ovaries I’m better at this kind of thing. I’ve also been told I’m really good at taking notes in meetings, so I should be the one doing it. I also make great coffee and am really good at cleaning out the refrigerator.

      Anyone CAN do these things – they just take a bit of effort and care. But if you use the “some people are just better at this stuff” argument then it absolves everyone else (and often an entire class of people) of responsibility.

      1. beyonce pad thai

        Reminds me of that episode of the office re: cleaning out the microwave

        Ryan: Yeah, it’s crazy. But, I guess the thing is at some point, notes or no notes, someone’s gonna have to just get there and clean it up.
        Pam: I guess that’s why we have a temp, huh?
        Ryan: Ah ha ha, oh no, trust me. I would just make it worse.
        Pam: How would wiping it with a paper towel make it worse?
        Ryan: I— I would find a way.
        Pam: You’ve seen things cleaned before though, right?
        Ryan: I— Pam, I am hopeless at that stuff I… I, uh…

      2. soitgoes

        You know, I grow tired of making the appropriate caveats and still having my comments read to infer malice. There’s value in talking about experiential knowledge, and I made it clear where mine comes from.

        1. TL -

          Let them fail. Or better yet, hand them a paper with requirements on it and walk away. That’s what I’ve done with my incompetent friends/coworkers and it’s surprising how much can get done once you make it clear what the standards are.

          If Bob throws a sucky party, let Bob deal with the consequences.

          1. Heather

            Yep. And hopefully Bob will see what went wrong and try to avoid that happening next time. Which, believe it or not, is also how women learn to do things.

          2. A Cita

            Yep. Completely agree. Nobody has to come in at the 11th hour and save the day. If it’s going to be a crappy party, let it be a crappy party. nn

          3. Audrey

            And the consequences should not include that Bob gets out of it next time. Too often people deliberately fail at things like this when there is no perceived impact on their career.

        2. KerryOwl

          We don’t need to get into all of the reasons why women’s socialization makes them more natural at these kinds of things (or why they’re raised in ways that engender genuine enjoyment of these activities), but I think it’s worth mentioning.

          That’s not experiential knowledge. That’s “women be plannin’! LOL.”

        3. Pushy penguin

          I think you can’t really erase the malice of statements that mean “women are just better ” with caveats. It means something that is demeaning and perpertuates the culture that leads people to say it in the first place.

          1. Pushy penguin

            whoops – erased part of that response somehow – should read “women are just better at this menial task I hate doing”

          2. soitgoes

            Except that wasn’t the intent of my comment at all. I was talking about how, if the task were sprung upon a group of men, it realistically might not get done in a way that was up to previous standards. The people who don’t care will always fail to care. Men are socialized to not care about things like party decorations and making sure that there’s a gluten-free option. I don’t understand the point of having this discussion if we’re going to act like the gender divide doesn’t exist in the workplace. Instead of opining that women should be treated as equals to men, I find it more useful to suss out and then eliminate the reasons why they’re not considered equals to begin with.

            1. A Cita

              Yes, but as Heather points out above, then if they fail, they fail, deal with the consequences, and learn to do better the next time….exactly how women have learned to do it. That’s the solution. Let men fail at it. Let it be a crappy party. Don’t have some woman save it at the 11th hour. Even if the man in question never learns/improves, then the years he’s on rotation just means it’s a crappy party year, not that women have to do it instead. It’s not the end of the world to have a crappy party.

        4. Elsajeni

          For what it’s worth, I thought it was clear that you were talking about this as something that results from gender socialization and gendered expectations, rather than some magical inborn quality. And I think it’s true — girls and women are encouraged toward “caretaking” behaviors (which shows up in party planning as “making sure everyone has a good time” and “making sure everyone’s needs are accommodated”) more than boys and men are, and girls and women are also judged more harshly on whether they succeed at those caretaking tasks. Which means that a) most women have more practice at any given caretaking task than most men do, because they’ve been encouraged to take those tasks on since childhood, and b) most women will care more about whether they succeed at a caretaking task than most men will. I don’t think that’s an argument for just throwing in the towel and letting the men off the party-planning hook, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re trying to get more men involved in the party-planning committee, so that you can take steps to avoid the “We tried, and our party just wasn’t as good as the ones Jane plans, so we think Jane should go back to always being the planner” situation.

      3. AnonyMouse

        Yes! I really hate the idea that someone – usually a woman – is *naturally* better at these kinds of general tasks and thus should always be the one to do them (unless, of course, this is being divided up by actual job responsibilities – that makes sense). Maybe they’re naturally slightly better or maybe not, but either way making coffee is really not difficult, so that’s still no excuse for other people never, ever helping out! People should have to strive for some normal level of competence at these basic skills (cleaning, note-taking etc), even if it’s not their *natural* strength.

        1. A Cita

          Right. The only way to become good at it is by doing. So let the men do it and with practice, get good at it (or not..whatever). But that’s the solution.

      4. Marc

        Ahem:

        “(…) as she planned her own wedding and knows how to get this kind of thing done.”

        So a person with relevent experience should be overlooked to satisfy one gender’s preferred social convention? Shouldn’t the goal of a business be to get tasks completed in an efficient manner, regardless of gender?

    2. Cat

      I actually have found this not to be limited to party planning in the workplace, and I don’t think it’s a trivial issue. Men with professional jobs often ignore details to focus on fun, big picture tasks and assume someone else will pick them up; someone else usually does, it’s usually a woman at the same level as them, and she usually doesn’t get any credit for making things run smoothly while her male colleague does for being a “big picture” thinker. I don’t really know how to deal with it other than to hold your male subordinates responsible for the details on their own projects (which I think people in my office are usually pretty good about doing and it makes for a noticeably different atmosphere than some places I’ve been.)

      But it does still show up where I work in the more “social” aspects of the job, for sure.

      1. Cat

        And let me clarify, this is not because women are naturally better at this stuff; it’s learned helplessness that society sanctions.

        1. Collarbone High

          While reading through this thread, I’ve been thinking about how learned helplessness by women is such a negative trope in our culture, while we ignore or laugh it off when it’s done by men. Think of all the “the little lady can’t change a tire, she’ll break a nail!” jokes, but nobody ever mocks a man by saying “the little guy can’t mop the floor, he’ll miss the football game!”

      2. the_scientist

        Yes, this. It’s learned incompetence perpetuated by stereotypes- the same reason why women are “better” at cleaning, laundry, housework, decorating, cooking and childcare. We’re not actually better at it, we’re just assigned to these roles because of cultural assumptions about gender strengths and therefore have more practice. We’re also often pigeonholed into these types of caretake-ing roles because male coworkers and others have grown up hearing about 1) women’s work (and that men are pussies if they partake in this sort of work) and 2) reinforcement that someone will come along and clean up their messes for them (often, their mother, which carries over into the workplace and their relationships).

        I can’t tell you, in my days of online dating how many young professional men I met who still got their mothers to do their laundry because they “didn’t know how”. No, you just never bothered to learn and got away with letting someone else do it for you.

        1. Jean

          Ayyup. Some of us got so darn good at multitasking the household stuff only b/c we’re the only person doing it b/c we really, really, really don’t like living or working in squalor and/or overlooking the good & bad life events of our coworkers… But what can we do except diligently keep on chipping away at this problem so that at some point in the future everybody attends to “domestic/caretaking” details because these matters are gender-free parts of adulthood?

        2. Jamie

          Learned helplessness is infuriating – and both sides do it. But sometimes it’s just lack of awareness and not learned helplessness.

          I have no idea what air pressure my tires need, or how to fix a clogged drain, or how to start the lawnmower, or what it is people do with storm windows…but there is no doubt I’d figure it all out fast if I had to.

          It’s learned helplessness if someone uses it as an excuse to get someone else to do their work for them. But in personal life oftentimes (ime) tasks are divided up pretty much along gender lines because people split the work based on who is more comfortable/happier doing different tasks. In those cases it isn’t learned helplessness as much as “you play to your strengths and do the chores you hate less, I’ll do the same and stuff gets done.”

          In your example if the men have their mothers doing their laundry because they are pretending they can’t learn and shoving off work – then that’s wrong. But if she does their laundry because they cut her lawn, shovel her driveway, or so other things for her so she doesn’t have to that’s a deal they struck and everyone wins.

          Sure – it makes it tougher to learn stuff when you’re suddenly on your own so the big major stuff like paying taxes, how to change a tire, how to file an insurance claim everyone should know. But for the lower level stuff where the stakes aren’t that high people figure it out when they have to.

          That said I was referring to personal life – work is about what tasks make sense for which position and gender shouldn’t ever factor in. Just because someone’s mom cleans his microwave doesn’t mean I’m doing it for him here and people need to understand that their comfort zones and deals they strike in their personal lives gets dropped at the door when they enter work.

                1. KerryOwl

                  No, tire pressure is determined by the car itself, less so than the tires. Don’t go by what the tires say, go by what’s written on the inside of the door.

                2. Snork Maiden

                  What KerryOwl said, above. Only go by the numbers on the tire if you’re airing up bike tires. The inside of the driver’s door is the rule for cars.

                  Also (pet peeve) check your bicycle tires once a week and your car tires once a week, or before you go on trips. Bike tires deflate much quicker than car tires and you can’t always tell if a car tire is flat from looking. (sincerely, Snork Maiden, who drove 350 miles on a tire at 10 psi, surprisingly without incident).

              1. Clerica

                I have an even bigger scoop for you–the drain unclogs with lye. (Drano won’t dissolve hair, but lye will).

          1. jhhj

            The problem with some of the chore separations you mentioned — laundry is an endless task. You don’t have to mow THAT often. You have to shovel even less than that. So there’s a time imbalance which is a major factor.

            1. Jamie

              Laundry is more frequent, but less work. I toss a load in the washer and go so something else. I move it to the dryer, go do something else. I hang fold and put into baskets for family to put away which I do while I watch TV from the comfort of my own couch.

              And lawn mowing spring-fall is weekly but a solid 2.5 hours of policing the lawn before starting, pushing the mower, bagging the grass, edging around the sidewalk, weed-whacking around fences, tress, etc.

              There may be a time imbalance but I’ll take laundry inside which I can do while sitting on my couch over heavy work that takes up the lions share of a weekend day when it’s done anytime.

              Then again I’d scrub someone’s floors by hand daily to never have to use the snowblower…so maybe I just really put a high premium on not having to go outside.

              1. Student

                Mmm, I think you have a strange view of mowing the lawn. When I mowed the lawn for my parents regularly as a kid, it was substantially less work than laundry for the same household (or laundry for my current, smaller household of two). Edging isn’t really something you do once a week, much like you don’t trim the hedges once a week. It was more of a 2-3 times a year thing, in the biggest growing period of the spring, at most – some years it wasn’t done at all. Bagging lawn clippings is probably a regional thing, but in many places it is not necessary or a quick task like raking leaves. Lawn mowing also decreases in frequency if the weather is bad.

                Laundry also becomes more complicated with more people in the household. Laundry for yourself is relatively easy. Laundry for two people can be more than twice the burden. Laundry for people who need a mix of washer/dryer, special delicate settings, special hangers for some clothes, and some dry cleaning, is a logistics nightmare (which I try to avoid by buying clothes with similar, simple cleaning requirements).

                1. David

                  Your lawn mowing methods are unsatisfactory in my book. I was the same way when I mowed my parents lawn. Now that I have my own home, what you describe as lawn care wouldn’t cut it.

                  (see what I did there?)

            2. Colette

              But outside of work, that’s up to the people involved.

              Bringing the garbage cans back to the house after garbage day takes 2 minutes – but I hate it, and would happily do a load of laundry if someone else would take care of that.

              1. fposte

                Ha, I don’t mind that, but I share in the wide-ranging hatred of putting away the clean dishes when the dishwasher is through. And I don’t really even understand that one myself–I just know I find it a hideously pointless task.

                1. Anx

                  It is my least favorite daily chore.

                  For me, it’s because we don’t have enough storage space for our things and haven’t yet found a place for everything since we moved in several years ago. So there’s always that mental labor of trying to find a place for everything that I find very annoying/

                2. Diet Coke Addict

                  I thought I was the only person who loathed this task! I cannot explain it. I don’t mind any other kitchen task (or really, any chore)–even washing the dishes by hand–as much as I hate putting away clean dishes. I hate it beyond measure. I have no idea why.

                3. Windchime

                  I hate unloading the dishwasher, too. I would much rather load it with dirty dishes than take the clean ones out and put them away. It doesn’t make sense to me, but that’s how it is.

                4. Jamie

                  So weird – me too! I’d much rather load it with dirty dishes than put away. I never understood my hatred of a pretty minor and quick task – so glad to know others don’t understand it either.

                5. Clerica

                  Diet Coke Addict, I’ll come over and put your dishes away if you’ll fill up my tires. I know how, unlike Jamie above :) but there are no words for how I loathe it. I used to drive to my father’s and make him do it, but his wife would always come out and want to talk to me. Now there was a conundrum. I decided a flat would be the lesser of the two evils.

                6. Natalie Anne Lanoville

                  Em…pty?

                  I thought the dishwasher is where clean dishes are stored.

                  Dirty dishes are stored in the sink…

                  And the cat in the dish cupboard.*

                  ;-)

                  *so called because it’s where cats sit to overlook their food dishes so they’ll know immediately when they are filled.

          2. illini02

            I agree with this. In my office, yes, sometimes it turns out that women unload the dishwasher more (although we do have more women here). However guys take the garbage to the dumpster, put the new water jugs in the cooler, and other “physical” chores. I mean sure, I could say “I put in the water jug last time, its Jane’s turn”, but I’d look like a jerk for doing that. I get that this isn’t necessarily a perfect system, but if things get done that way and everyone is happy, why does it matter? If Jane would much rather empty the dishwasher than carry a large bag out to the dumpster in winter, but I don’t mind that, why is it a problem?

            1. Heather

              It’s not a problem – until Jill starts working there and someone concludes that since Jane preferred emptying the dishwasher to taking out the trash, and Jill and Jane are both women, Jill must also prefer emptying the dishwasher – and they don’t ask Jill her preferences in the matter.

        3. NoPantsFridays

          My brother had our mom do his laundry because he “didn’t know how”. Funny how fast he learned when he moved into an apartment with 3 of his friends (all male), who laughed at him when he said he asks his mommy to do his laundry. (I think his friends taught him how to use their laundry machines. They even have in-unit laundry!)

          1. Adonday Veeah

            I, on the other hand, learned how to do laundry as soon as I was tall enough to reach the controlls on the machines. Being a short child, my mother bought me a stool. My mom was the quintessential delegator.

            1. Helka

              I learned to do my own laundry very quickly when I discovered that my 5’1 stepmother had no concept that cotton shirts shouldn’t go in the dryer. Suddenly every shirt I owned became an inappropriate-for-school midriff shirt on my 5’8-at-15 self.

    3. beyonce pad thai

      These men have jobs, too, though, so supposedly they possess the capacity to order a cake and throw up some tinsel?

      Not being able to look up one restaurant that would accommodate the boss’ diet sounds more like willful ignorance than actual incompetence. As in, ‘if I put no effort in this whatsoever, someone else will take over, and I won’t be stuck with it next year’ (I should know, that was my strategy forever to avoid becoming responsible for my old team’s intranet site ;)

      1. JB

        Exactly this. In offices I’ve been in where this has happened, I’ve heard men talk about how they aren’t good at this kind of thing so they shouldn’t be on those committees. But women aren’t born knowing how to do it, they learn by doing. And plenty of those mean eschewing work social planning were perfectly competent at planning parties in their personal life. It’s really code for “I don’t want to have to do it.” I don’t want to do it either, and I’m not good at it, but hey, that’s what this new thing called the internet is for.

        1. Jamie

          Thanks to this here internet I learned how to properly fold a fitted sheet, put a duvet cover on a king-sized duvet in under 2 minutes, replace a belt on a washing machine, and repair my fridge – the latter two saving a good couple hundy in service calls.

          There is nothing you can’t learn how to do if you google properly.

    4. Sarahnova

      …I am really not a fan of treating men’s theoretical learned helplessness at “feminine” tasks as a law of nature.

      I didn’t even enjoy planning my own wedding; I do not have any “inherent” enjoyment or skill at planning parties. And if any man can’t figure out how to plan an office party if it becomes a work task of his, he should have to deal with the consequences, same as anyone.

        1. Jamie

          Ditto – wedding planning was a nightmare – I’d have been so happy if someone had wanted to elope with me.

        2. JC

          Oh my God, yes to this!! I hated wedding planning. It took us a good 6 months to even set a wedding date just because we both hated wedding planning so much. And we only had 35 guests, so there wasn’t even a whole lot for us to do.

          My husband doesn’t like this stuff either, so we split up the wedding planning drudgery (as we do when we have similar planning tasks now).

          Kind of off-topic, but my husband is naturally more inclined at cooking than me (to use other language from the comments on this post), so he does 100% of the cooking. It drives me nuts that my family constantly tells me how lucky I am that he cooks. My father never cooks, but I don’t think anyone ever told him that he was lucky that my mother cooks!

        1. Kay

          My husband helped with a lot of things with our wedding. We discussed decisions together. He did a lot of the vendor contact stuff and I took on more of the decor stuff because I had stronger opinions about those things. We planned the menu and the playlists together. When there were things that neither of us cared about, I still included him in the decision making process because the decisions still had to be made (ie. What color napkins do you want? Neither of us care, but we need napkins and they have to have a color.)

      1. Heather

        I did most of our wedding planning simply because my job at the time involved long stretches of sitting in front of the computer with nothing to do, and my husband’s involved 8 hours of running around and jumping when people said jump. So I didn’t mind, primarily because it gave me something to do when I was bored and because I like doing a ridiculous amount of research before I buy things.

        But I knew exactly jack shit about wedding planning when we got engaged. I learned about it from the internet, not from a secret reservoir of party-planning knowledge residing on the second X chromosome.

      2. Lia

        My husband and I had a courthouse wedding largely due to my strong distaste of party planning. Well, that and saving money for a down payment.

        We do lunches out here for holiday parties, which generally end with an early dismissal. The only downside is about half of the staff are super picky eaters so we wind up at the same handful of boring places every time. Oh well, small complaint for free lunch and shortened days. Although if we did a Chipotle lunch buffet…omg, that would be amazing.

      3. soitgoes

        I never said she enjoyed planning her wedding, just that she had done it and already knew certain tips and phone numbers that elude people who have never planned a large event before. Seriously, where are people seeing that I’m claiming women ENJOY these things? I specifically wrote that, due to lifelong socialized training, women have those skills that men never even realize they’re missing.

        1. TL -

          So the guy would’ve found out the phone numbers and tips by planning, just like she did. Or, he could’ve asked her for input briefly. (Hey, Jana, I know you planned your wedding recently- do you have a number for a florist?)

      4. CA Admin

        I hated planning my wedding, which is why I gave up and let my husband do it. Not that he liked it any better, but he cared more, so I let him deal with the stress.

      5. A Cita

        Your avatar is boggling my mind. Is that a…fox, leaping among the…uh, waves? Like at the ocean? It’s sort of all my favorite things mixed together in a way not physically possible…unless with magicks. So, those aren’t muggle foxes.

      6. Adonday Veeah

        If I ever get married again, I’m going to take a long lunch hour and go visit the Justice of the Peace.

    5. Sam

      The way “inexperienced men” become experienced is by letting them take their turn a few times and letting it be OK to make a mistake or have it not be “perfect” (read: the way it was done last year, or last month)

      1. Lizzy May

        This +1! I run a charity auction through work once and year and every time I’ve planned an event I’ve learned things about how to do it better. I learn new processes for organizing and for managing my resources/staff. I also screw some things up, but next time I remember where I went wrong and get better. If I can learn from my experiences I trust that any of my coworkers can too.

    6. HR Manager

      You clearly have never seen me try to plan a party for an office. Female here, and I hate party-planning, and no one ever likes my ideas. Even after having been voluntold to participate in several occasions, I really suck at it. My tastes and interests are eclectic to say the least, I don’t drink alcohol, and I pretty much am a food snob, so 98% of the people in my office would hate anything I would ever plan. I am happy to lend a hand with party, but planning…ugh.

      1. A Cita

        Heh, me too. I’m a woman and if I was asked to organize the office Christmas party, I’d set up the projector, pop in The Hobbit dvd, open a beer and say: “This is how I celebrate Christmas, so here you go. Happy Festivus.”

    7. A Teacher

      Wait, what? In all the sociology courses I took, minor plus hours in college and teaching of a section of it this year to high school students, that’s actually not true.

      In all honesty, at the school where I teach, the male staff actually does more of the planning–our secretaries will order the food and whatnot but the janitorial staff, football coaches, and one of the male assistant principals actually like to plan that stuff and will do the cooking/grilling for the event. Its not that the female staff doesn’t bring in food when we all have to bring something but usually its the male staff that spearheads it.

    8. jhhj

      Socialisation makes women not more natural at this but more comfortable with it. The genuine enjoyment stuff is not true either; lots of women don’t enjoy party planning for office parties (or weddings, or whatever).

      There’s no simple solution to this problem, but even pointing it out this year means it will be part of the planning for next year.

    9. Lizzy May

      I plan a major fundraiser through my job every year. I just did my sixth one last week. I forgot stuff, I left items out of the program, I made changes to compensate on the fly? If men who have never planned a party before get put I charge and forget some things, so what?

      The truth is most of these events aren’t that important. A Christmas party, a company picnic, a retirement aren’t the end of the world and if the planning committee forgets something the actual work will still be there after. I’ve never seen an event where everything goes right so using the possibility that something could go wrong doesn’t fly with me.

      1. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)

        BINGO! Honestly, I don’t need a party at work. Ever. At all. I especially do not need to be assigned to do the team pumpkin, or decorate, or bake a cake and drag it in. I don’t even do that stuff at home.

    10. neverjaunty

      You wouldn’t accept this excuse from an employee for other job-related tasks. If Wakeen said he couldn’t handle doing a task because he wasn’t “socialized” to do it or had little experience, you’d expect him to get up to speed, or you’d make training available to him.

      So why does the attitude suddenly become different when it’s work-related social planning?

      1. Snork Maiden

        This. You can learn how to party plan. Have a checklist, preferred vendors, consult prior documentation, solicit feedback during or after the event, and accept no more excuses.

      2. Formerly Bee

        This. If it’s part of a job, a man should be able to do it.

        Side note – most of the things I’m “naturally” good at came with a lot of practice. The other few were learned from YouTube videos. It is possible to pick these things up. :)

    11. Student

      Sometimes the best way to learn is to fail at a task. If the office party is a “failure” one year, the consequences are pretty low and life goes on, but the person in charge of the party learns a valuable lesson for next time. And gets some valuable perspective on how much work the task actually requires.

    12. AcademicAnon

      Men can learn how to do those all those things just as well as women can and from the same place: other women and men who learned how to do it. Spouse was the one who organized, decorated and hosted our Christmas party; he learned how to from his parents and especially his grandmother and is much better at it than I am. I guess I just failed the female socialization test there.

    13. Kas

      “In my office, a man was assigned the job of planning the party, and all of his ideas (basically restaurants whose menus wouldn’t have accommodated our Jewish boss’ dietary restrictions) weren’t working.”

      But that’s not because he was a man. That’s because he was ignorant of the need to take specific factors (like the boss’ needs) into consideration.

      We can debate back and forth all day about *why* he was ignorant (newsflash: a uterus doesn’t come bundled with religious awareness and an encyclopedic knowledge of the local restaurants’ menus), but it can be fixed in the moment by educating the person on what is required.

  9. Elizabeth

    I can really appreciate the way my husband’s office select each year’s planning committee. At the current year’s party, the current committee has some trivial “thing” at each table. Whoever wins the centerpiece/sits in the green chair instead of the white chairs/has the red plastic silverware rather than the white/etc at each table is on the committee for the next year. Since spouses are usually invited, if a spouse get the “thing”, the employee is elected. It means that the same people don’t end up on the planning committee each time, and new ideas for what to do for the party get added to the mix.

    No gender bias, no “I don’t know how to plan a party”. Just luck of the draw.

    1. Gene

      I would seriously be looking at “one of these things is not like the others” before I sat down at one of his company’s soirees. I already to that at workshops put on by some of our suppliers, because those suppliers use this to do give-aways.

    2. Elizabeth the Ginger

      That reminds me of the tradition of a king cake, a New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition. The cake (which is, IMO, quite tasty) has a little toy baby hidden inside it. Whoever gets the baby in their slice is “king” or “queen” for the rest of the party, but has the obligation of throwing the next Mardi Gras party.

  10. Gene

    and each component organization either designates a representative or a woman volunteers.

    You may have an issue here where someone is designated, but if the volunteers are truly volunteers and are also women you don’t. They are not being forced into the roles because they lack a Y chromosome. Maybe some of them truly enjoy the process and that’s why they volunteer.

    If they are volunteering because of the “I really don’t want to, but if I don’t, it won’t get done right and the party will fail.” mindset, it’s time to pull on their big girl panties and let it fail (if it does without the distaff touch).

    1. beyonce pad thai

      The OP describes it as an either/or, though: The representatives are designated or they volunteer. So if they’re all women, not all of them volunteered, … and that puts kind of a bad taste in my mouth if they’re all women every year.

      (Side note, I kind of cringe at ‘pulling on their big girl panties’ being used to refer to professional adults).

    2. Katie the Fed

      I’m not even sure the volunteer argument is a good one. Because a lot of the time what we see is something like this:

      – The fridge really needs to get cleaned (or whatever crappy task nobody wants to do that makes the office a nicer place to work but it’s nobody’s actual job).
      – Everyone knows the fridge needs to get cleaned
      – People start complaining about it and saying someone needs to clean it
      – Someone FINALLY steps up and voluntarily cleans it. In my experience, 90% of the time that’s a woman. Just because it’s voluntary doesn’t make it the best way to do things. Yes, they should stop volunteering then but it’s kind of hard for people to shake off some of those traditional gender roles, and management can/should step in there.

      1. TL -

        Our fridges are gross and I am steadfastly refusing to touch them. :) But I have made it clear that if someone else wants to organize/spearhead, I will be a cheerful participant.

      2. Heather

        Your last sentence nails it. I mean, women should also ask for raises more often, but if the company culture punishes them for doing so, you need someone with the power to alter the culture to step in, rather than putting all the blame on the women for being reluctant to stick out their necks.

  11. Snarkus Ariellius

    A couple of thoughts…

    These parties are clearly not important.  They’re not anyway, in my world, but that’s clearly the case here.  If they were important, you’d have a lot more people volunteering when asked, and I bet more men would be participating. 

    What’s the point in having them, when there’s clearly a lack of interest?

    To foster collaboration, productivity, and relationship building?  There are numerous other ways to do that that don’t involve trust falls, motivational speakers, a sheet cake, or begrudgingly singing Happy Birthday.  The lack of volunteers is a good barometer.  

    My second point is to remind women, particularly young women, to cease volunteering for such tasks as party planning, making coffee, note taking, etc., especially if these women are not in an administrative/support role.  If you get called on to do it, a good response is, “I did it last time.  Perhaps [male worker of equal status] can do it?”  Resist the urge to complete lower level tasks when someone needs help.    (Take it from me, in all my years of remaining silent, there is always someone who will volunteer.)

    Like the LW, it’s probably not a conscious thing.  I know I naturally gravitate to people to do things that I know they’ve done before, but that’s how this gendered cycle perpetuates itself.

    1. Cat

      I generally agree, but there’s a subset of tasks that do actually need to get done but that can break down on gendered lines. E.g., attorneys at a law firm organizing gifts for support staff absolutely ends up with the women playing “office mommy,” but it’s not acceptable to just say “fine, no gifts this year.” That’s where someone with power needs to step in to allocate appropriately. The same is true where a party actually does matter (say, it’s used to hobnob with clients, not just for staff to socialize).

    2. ProductiveDyslexic

      If they were important, you’d have a lot more people volunteering when asked, and I bet more men would be participating.

      Um, so men inherently have a better idea of what is important in the workplace?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I read that as saying that it’s clear to everyone that it’s not a particularly important task, but women tend to be socialized to help with this stuff. Men, who haven’t been socialized to do it, don’t.

        1. ProductiveDyslexic

          Indeed. I thought it may well mean this too.

          I suppose it just annoys me that the onus is on young women to correct the way in which they were socialized, and that it is always wrong and will harm their career. Young men should also think on this.

          I also think that Cat made a good point when she said that some of this stuff IS important. Therefore everyone should learn how to do it well.

          My own example would be the office attached to the lab I used to work in. The terrible pig-sty state it was in did not affect the productivity and work output of its occupants in a direct way. However, when our boss used to bring round important visitors it was hugely embarrassing for him. Several of those visitors were possible collaborators or sat on funding committees that judged his grant proposals. So, in an indirect way, keeping your own little bit of office space clean, tidy, and organized is the correct professional instinct.

          Perhaps I’m just jaded because this was never said to the young men who caused the mess and never cleaned it up. I also realize it’s different to the party-planning discussion.

      2. Snarkus Ariellius

        What AAM said, but I’d like to expand. 

        I have seen CEOs, CFOs, etc. and the men AND women in those positions care about dinners, receptions, centerpieces, and other festivities.  You know why?  Because those events were usually for the Board of Directors or politicians or something that was highly visible and critical to the organization.  (I even worked closely with one 1950s stereotypical CEO on picking out entrees for a board dinner.  Even the lower level male employees wanted to see the menu.)

        I take my cues from the higher ups as I imagine a lot of non-volunteering people do.  If the higher ups don’t care about Brad in accounting’s birthday party, which it sounds like that’s what the LW is talking about, then no I’m not going to volunteer because it’s not important.  I also assume that if we ceased to have parties, like Brad’s birthday party, then not that many people would care anyway.  Why have them at all, especially when no one wants to do the work to plan it?

        My comment about more men showing interest was in direct reference to LW’s situation.

        I also want people to question why some celebrations are held year after year.  One former coworker would only say that we HAD to have a Secret Santa because that’s what was always done.  Maybe it’s time to give up some of these things not just in the interest of money but because the lack of volunteers demonstrates that no one wants to anyway.

    3. beyonce pad thai

      Yes!

      When I’m the only woman in a meeting of similarly experienced men, and someone asks “uh, so who’s going to take notes”? I just don’t look up anymore. After a second or so, they realise their heads automatically swiveled towards me, and someone shame-volunteers to do it.

      1. HM in Atlanta

        THIS! At about 25 I realized that the silence would speak for itself. The instances where it was assumed I would do the administrative/support task (or assigned it multiple times), I dealt with directly. “Let’s let John take notes this week and rotate to James next meeting.” “I’m happy to manage the vendor for the party, who will that be?” [Note – there never was a vendor, I was making a point.]

        For young people entering the workforce, there’s a difference between a work ethic/being a team player and always taking on the thankless tasks. You might get recognition at the time, but they won’t have the same impact that taking that time to do something important to your actual job will.

      2. Aardvark

        +1! Unless I am the most junior person in the room (which is pretty rare these days unless it’s me and a bunch of executives), I just don’t speak up for notetaking, party planning, or anything similar. It works.

        1. Jamie

          A woman in upper management pulled me aside years ago and told me not to clear the table after a meeting. She said it would set a tone and I was to ignore their mess (although I was allowed to throw my own trash away since she wasn’t putting a moratorium on manners.)

          After the meeting she cleaned up and I asked her about it, since she outranked me by orders of magnitude – she explained she already earned her respect, I was new, and now she could do as she damn well pleased since she could fire anyone who thought otherwise. :)

          I loved her for that.

          I’ve pulled women aside who were just starting to go to higher level meetings telling them not to volunteer for things like formatting flowcharts, making documents, etc. No one will volunteer and I wanted them to get comfy with that awkward silence rather than fill it by trying to be helpful.

          I want to know when flowcharts and being able to format in Word and Visio became a woman thing? I guess it’s an extension of what would have been secretarial duties back when companies like ours had admin staff.

          I do that to help them and also to help me – because if there is someone willing to do it I have end users who won’t learn and that’s super irritating.

          1. AVP

            In addition to the formatting flowcharts, when I worked in a more corporate environment it always seemed to be woman in charge of making Powerpoints. That definitely came out of what had been the admin workflow / secretarial staff when it existed.

      3. Anonicorn

        I don’t understand having a specific note-taker. It’s possible we aren’t the most highly efficient group, but everyone at my job takes their own notes and the person who coordinated the meeting reviews the major points at the end. I guess I don’t understand the point of one person taking notes when everyone in the meeting should be responsible for the information.

        1. Jamie

          That’s how it should be for most things, imo, but for instance we have 2 meetings a year which are mandatory and require a specific agenda to be followed and detailed minutes to be taken which show that each agenda item was addressed and action items assigned. We are audited on this by an external auditor so those notes show we did what we needed to do.

          I think what people are talking about are notes for things like this, or which are the official summary and action item list going forward for projects which will be the basis of the project flow, etc.

    4. Katie the Fed

      But here is always where it gets tricky: ” (Take it from me, in all my years of remaining silent, there is always someone who will volunteer.)”

      Because if it’s always women who volunteer, then should management start allocating those things to ensure equality in who does them? In a way it seems a little paternalistic – protecting women from themselves so they don’t feel it necessary to volunteer for these things, but it IS important to break the cycle. That’s where I get hung up.

      1. ProductiveDyslexic

        Assuming you have a situation where all meeting attendees are present to participate in the meeting, I think it’s better management to rotate the note-taking duty among the most junior participants.

        You help both to those that always note-take and those that never do in doing this. Each extreme can learn something — the typical note-taking volunteer is probably much more likely to need pushing to be a more active meeting participant, while the average never-volunteers-to-take-notes may well learn something by having to observe more, listen carefully, and write things down in a meaningful way.

        1. Jamie

          I have a tip for this. When note taking is critical (for mandatory meetings on which you are being audited, for example) you need someone who is competent to do it.

          So if you have someone who insists they won’t be good at it you don’t let them off the hook – you make them take the notes anyway even if you have someone you know is good doing it as well. Then it’s a project of going over their notes vs the good notes and learning – and they do it until competent.

          You can still have accountability even if you need someone else to bat cleanup. Then you make sure the person who shouldn’t have had to do it doesn’t feel punished for their competence by making sure there is something in it for them.

          1. Ann O'Nemity

            One of my previous co-workers used to get out of note-taking because he claimed he was bad at it. When he tried that with a brand new manager she surprised us all by making him the designated note-taker – to give him plenty of practice! She also suggested he review copies of the previous meeting minutes and do some internet research on good note-taking techniques. You should have seen the look on his face, haha.

      2. Blue_eyes

        I think it’s important here to distinguish true volunteering from reluctantly agreeing to do something because no one actually wants to do it. If an email goes out asking for a party planning committee and 3 women reply within the hour that they can help plan, I don’t see much of a problem there. But if they keep calling for volunteers for the party planning committee and no one steps up, and eventually 3 women agree to do it, then management needs to find a more equitable way choose people for party planning.

      3. Academic Counselor

        I think we should differentiate between tasks that are necessary and work-related versus fun and nice-to-have. If note-taking must be done in order for the workplace to function and it’s not a designated task for anyone, then absolutely everyone should have to take turns and should have to learn the skill. However, in my experience, holiday parties and birthday celebrations are optional. Not having a party, or not having a good one, wouldn’t affect my ability to do my job well. I don’t mind doing menial tasks that help everyone else do their work better, but I would object mightily to being ordered to spend my time organizing a party for funsies. I think that whoever is making the decision to have the party (i.e. management) should be responsible for organizing it, or it should be a written part of someone’s job description that they are aware of when they accept the job offer.

        1. Snarkus Ariellius

          Is it obvious I have an agenda here?  ;)   I don’t think personal celebrations should occur in the workplace.  I’m also against holiday parties — take whatever cash you’d spend on the party, divvy it up equally, and give everyone the day off.  (People aren’t going to be working regardless.)

          If work-related duties like note taking are important enough, then make it part of someone’s job description.  If management insists on a holiday party, then make it part of someone’s job description.

          I could go on, but when I see chronic low-level tasks that are perceived to be a “must” but aren’t in anyone’s job description, I assume there’s no critical need beyond doing it just because it has always been this way.  That’s a terrible reason to keep doing something.

          Here’s a good rule: if you ever question whether something “has to be” done, leave it undone, if you can, and see what happens.  As I said to one very nosy and anxious coworker when I intentionally kept my birthday top secret, “As you can see, the world didn’t end, no one got fired, and management didn’t care.”

          1. Anonicorn

            I wish I could take both this and the previous comment and nail them to our managers’ doors. Reformation!

  12. Sarah

    We just had our office party which was mostly planned by women but I didn’t really see it as a problem because it’s organized by volunteers only and the ones who take it on are ones who like planning parties. No one was drafted, myself and the other women who volunteered were enthusiastic about doing so.

    In our office, the guys always seem quieter and the girls more out-going. But I think it’s more personality than sexism.

  13. YourCdnFriend

    There is a reason I have avoided the party planning committee. I am a young woman in a male dominated industry and I work hard to be seen with respect. I love parties but I avoid those committees the same way I avoid cleaning up meeting rooms or taking notes because I want to avoid creating the perception that I am less than.

    I hate that this is my reality but unfortunately, it is.

    1. Katie the Fed

      Yep! And as much as I love to bake and share treats, it’ll be a cold day in hell before I bake brownies for the office just because.

      1. Sarah

        I don’t get this. Why are you not doing something you enjoy doing? I bake a lot and always share with my co-workers. It’s always appreciated, certainly never expected, and I’ve never gotten a sexist comment for doing so, just thanks. And if something ever did get said, I’d take it to my supervisor who I know would back me up.

        1. Blue_eyes

          Not to speak for Katie the Fed, but I doubt she’s afraid of obviously sexist comments so much as the on-going perception of women as caretakers. Baking and providing food for coworkers is a definitely a nurturing act, and women may choose to actively not engage in those acts in order to not be seen as caretakers because that might subconsciously lower their status in the eyes of their coworkers.

          (That said, I’m also a woman and I love baking and I often bring treats for my coworkers because I enjoy it when people like my food. I’ve mostly worked in schools though, with mostly female employees, so I’m not sure how my feelings about it would change in a male-dominated office/industry).

        2. Katie the Fed

          In some offices, it might be fine. I’m in an organization with a long tradition of being a boys club. I am literally one of 3 female managers I know in the entire organization. I want to be known as a great manager, not a great baker. It’s not about people making comments, it’s about the image I want to project.

          I have made things for my team on special occasions (this week I’ll bake Christmas cookies) but it’s few and far between and never just because I felt like sharing with my colleagues.

          Your mileage may vary, but I know I’ve worked really hard to be taken seriously at my level in my particular organization and I don’t want to undermine that.

          1. Jamie

            Yes – this is a ymmv issue. I wouldn’t have done it early on when people were still forming opinions about me, but now I don’t think twice about bringing in some stuff if I was baking. I don’t do it often, but on occasion. And I do bring in a batch of kolachkis every Christmas to buy goodwill from the engineering team. :) (Kidding – just do it because I want to and the world can never have too many homemade kolachkis.)

            For me it feels more caregivery when it’s personal – like the person who knows everyone’s favorite treats and makes them for birthdays – or who brings something in as a workplace thank you. That is line-blurring to me in a way or at least it conflates personal care and attention with workplace relationships. Where as “here – I was baking and have extra – if anyone wants some they are in the kitchen’ is neutral to me.

            1. AVP

              It never occurred to me that kolachkis were things that could be made at home. Weekend project happening.

              I love to bake and sometimes bring the extras in to my office, mostly because there’s one person here who’s a human garbage disposal and will eat anything, even if I think it’s sort of a failure. It assuages my guilt over letting things go to waste if I don’t want to spend the calories on cookies that aren’t great.

          2. Nerdling

            I think it also depends on your level within your organization. I have no plans to move into management, and I’ve proven my competence at my job, so when I bake for an event, I bring my leftovers to the office. Or occasionally I bake just for the office. When I was taking cake decorating classes, they loved it because I was baking at least once every two weeks.

            However, if I were going into management or were earlier in my career? Nope. I’m not only female in a male-dominated organization, but I’m support staff in a law enforcement setting. With some people, it would cement the idea that I don’t care if I’m taken seriously. (I am and do, but I don’t currently support anyone who thinks that way, thankfully.) We’re also a tiny off-site, so I have a different rapport with the folks here than if we were all in the big headquarters building, which makes a difference, too.

      2. KTM

        This is out of curiosity, not meant to to be an accusatory question – do you think less of or judge women who do? I ask because I am a young female engineer in a male dominated field and office. I would say I am well-respected for my technical capabilities and am seen as a member of the team. I love to bake and cook so I frequently bring in treats for the office (sometimes for birthdays, sometimes just because). From this comment thread I’m now semi-questioning myself that (even though it’s not because I’m forced to) I’m somehow contributing to stereo-type reinforcing…

        1. Blue_eyes

          I think you should bring in food if you enjoy doing it. I’m the same way (see my reply above), but this thread has me questioning it a bit too! I would just watch out for how you’re positioning yourself otherwise and try to avoid doing other “caretaking” tasks that are not a part of your job duties.

        2. Katie the Fed

          I don’t at all! But sometimes I cringe when I see younger women in the office doing this stuff constantly, or volunteering to do all the menial tasks. I want them to know they don’t have to do those things, they don’t have to be liked by everyone, etc. But if you’re good at your job and have the respect of colleagues, you’re not hurting anyone.

          I will admit I bring a little baggage to this because in my younger years I was the only woman in my office at one point and it was expected that I make the coffee, take the notes, etc. I’ve seen this stuff in action and it’s insidious and obnoxious.

          1. Anx

            What about women who are not particularly high-skilled?

            If you aren’t going to earn the respect of your coworkers by being the best in the room, is there any place for helpfulness in helping you fill out a role in an organization?

            1. Katie the Fed

              I’m not sure I completely understand your question, to be honest. But in my experience, you earn respect not by being helpful to everyone, but by being competent at your job. You don’t have to be the best, but you have to be hard-working and competent at a minimum. All the cookies and notetaking in the world aren’t going to compensate for being fundamentally bad at your job.

          1. Blue_eyes

            Thanks! It’s a really interesting discussion and one I hadn’t really thought about before. I like baking stuff, and I like it when people appreciate my skills as a baker/cook, and I like eating treats at work, so I bring food to share at the office. I’ve mostly worked in schools though so I’ve had a very nurturing set of mostly female coworkers and I haven’t worried about how baking would affect people’s perception of me. I’m looking for more office type jobs now though so I will definitely think carefully about how/when I bring food to my next job.

          2. KTM

            Thanks for the link! I would describe my situation very similarly to yours Alison (as far as how I am perceived in the office, with typically “masculine” professional traits) and I 100% agree with your response to the question. I highly doubt any one in the office would think of me as a caregiver or default to me for picking up after an office shin-dig. They just know I love to bake and don’t really want all the calories to myself haha. I can absolutely see that happening though to a couple other females in the office… so I think the effect probably varies greatly from person to person

        3. YourCdnFriend

          I try really hard not to but sometimes the judgement slips in, if I’m being completely honest. I don’t always catch it but if I really think critically about it, it’s sometimes there.

          It’s probably there because I’ve been so conscious to avoid that role myself. I’ve seen colleagues who have, in my perception only, hurt themselves with these types of actions (e.g. One colleague always bakes and does the “caregiver” things and people very obviously take advantage of her.) so sometimes I judge in a way that “why would you put yourself in this position.”

          I know without a doubt that it’s not the woman’s fault for any of that and most of the time, I look on favourably at such actions but I’d be lying if I said I was never judgemental (even though it hurts and is shameful to admit it).

        4. AnotherAlison

          Reflecting on my 15 yrs in the engineering industry, I cannot think of a time when female engineers brought in home-baked treats. There was an entry-level project controls woman who did this regularly.

          I never did anything like this because when I was a young engineer, I had a small child at home, a husband starting a new business, and I was getting my MBA. If I was going to use my precious time to bake something, it was for my own family.

          To me, the biggest risk is that it could put assumptions about your life goals into your coworkers’ and managements’ heads. I’d say this even if it was a man in your shoes. People become engineers who are not that into engineering. Some people become engineers because they *are* engineers deep down and could do nothing else. I want people working for me who really love it and can’t imagine doing anything else, not someone who is here for the j-o-b and really rather open a cupcake shop. (I know it’s a big leap, but know what I mean? Someone who spends free time studying for the PE exam or an EMan degree is probably looked upon more favorably than someone who is super-into baking. . .or CrossFit. . .or photography.)

          1. A Consultant

            So it’s not possible to be an engineer deep down and, I dunno, have hobbies that aren’t about work?

            I’m not sure this is a healthy attitude to have as an employer or an employee. Being highly invested in your career path and demonstrably having outside interests aren’t things that should be mutually exclusive. Male or female, some of the most passionate and productive people in my field are ones who have obvious outside hobbies. Sometimes they bring the fruits of their hobbies to work – whether it’s homemade beer or cupcakes – but it never calls their dedication to their career or professional development into question. The people who only appear to be about work and career advancement, well, those are the ones we see as a burnout risk – anywhere that thinks that an ideal employee is about their career 24/7 needs to take stock of their expectations about work/life balance.

            People who really love what they do and are good at it don’t come off poorly for having a life. It’s the ones who really aren’t invested whose outside interests attract scrutiny.

            1. Natalie Anne Lanoville

              I sooooo agree! I have 3 professional engineers in my life, and my anecdata is that a single-minded focus on engineering goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues.

              OTOH, my grandfather was a world-renowned professional engineer, a strong family man who did all the renos and major house upkeep, was an accomplished woodworker and a professional musician.

        5. Nerdling

          I don’t, but I also don’t go out of my way to bake something specifically for the office if there isn’t a special occasion. I will bring in my leftovers (I have cupcakes on the table as I type), but it’s rare that I bake something specifically “just because” I want to treat my coworkers outside of a holiday.

        6. Snarkus Ariellius

          Let me put it this way.  I don’t judge women who bake, but I do roll my eyes when those same women complain about being overwhelmed and busy.  In my experience, the women who tend to be the office bakers also tend to be the office mommy, the office matchmaker, the office therapist, the office news distributor, and/or the office volunteer for anything and everything.  They literally never say no.

          A former coworker once stayed up until 3 AM making a three layer, gourmet, German chocolate cake because it “had” to be homemade and it “couldn’t” come from a box.  (Why…I don’t know.)

          Baking by itself isn’t wrong.  Baking as a way to ingratiate yourself or take care of other people is very, very wrong because you’re sending the message that that’s how you should be valued.

          1. kozinskey

            What?! This is crazy. I love to bake, and it’s something that helps me work through stress. Then I take what I baked to work because I would eat the whole batch myself if left to my own devices. This in no way makes me an “office mommy” or anything else you said there, but now you have me worried that if I mention I’ve been stressed within a week of bringing in treats that someone like you will be rolling their eyes at me.

            1. Snarkus Ariellius

              If it helps, I’ve only ever met ONE person who had all those self-assigned roles.

              And I don’t always roll my eyes at the baking. I’ll never do it at a woman who bakes as long as I know: she can say no, she doesn’t always volunteer/work on pink ghetto-level stuff, she is confident in herself, she’s not afraid to make waves, and doesn’t let anyone waste her time. Most importantly, I can overlook baking when a woman knows and understands that the little things CAN be left undone.

              For example, I was at a meeting my department hosted today and yet another person didn’t clean up after himself. I refused to do it. I have no idea who did, but as long as it wasn’t me, I’m fine with that.

              Like I said. There’s nothing wrong with baking. There’s plenty wrong with it when it’s done in certain contexts.

        7. neverjaunty

          I think it’s a little harsh to say that you bear all the responsibility for how your colleagues see you. But yes, unless you are very senior and established, I would save home baked treats for friends outside the office.

    2. Soharaz

      I did this at my old job as an admin. Because making the teas and coffees wasn’t a part of my job, I refused to make rounds of tea and coffees for the all male team. This was partly because I didn’t drink tea or coffee and partly because I didn’t want that to become my job because I was the female admin. After a month or so on the job I started upping my caffeine intake and started making drinks for the team, but that was because they also made rounds as well. I’m convinced that if I had stepped up to all their tea-making expectations when I started it would have been my new task, but holding out made it more of a rotating team activity.

  14. Allison

    I’d like to debunk the idea that just because a woman volunteers, it means she loves planning parties and genuinely wants to take on that responsibility.

    Growing up, girls are taught what it means to be a “good girl.” A good girl WANTS to help, a good girl WANTS to make sure everyone is happy and has what they need. A good girl WANTS to clean the whole house and make sure there’s lots of different snacks at her party so all her friends have a great time. Many of these “good girls” grow up to feel personally responsible for the happiness of those around them, even complete strangers.

    1. Sarah

      That’s a really broad statement. Among everyone I know, there are plenty of women who don’t like planning parties and plenty of men who do. And everyone, whatever the gender, who likes planning parties does so with much enthusiasm, nothing forced whatsoever.

      1. Blue_eyes

        I think you misinterpreted Allison’s comment. She was just countering the commenters who said “Only women volunteer to plan the parties, so it’s fine because they must like it.” Women are often socialized to try to please others and may take on nurturing duties or responsibilities because of the way they were socialized, not because they naturally want to do it.

        1. Sarah

          That idea that women are socialized or taught that growing up is what I’m having a problem with because, again, that’s a really broad statement that is just as sexist as the comments above that men don’t care about party planning, and would do fine with just pizza and video games.

          1. Allison

            Okay, let me try to explain this.

            Saying that a lot of women are socialized to feel responsible for other people’s happiness is not sexist, it’s a fast – this is, in fact, how many women are raised. It’s not gender essentialism to point out a trend in how many parents are still raising their daughters. Saying that women should take on certain roles in the workplace, or assuming that a certain role will be taken on by women, or assuming that certain women will be happy to do something because so many women are raised this way *is* sexist, because it’s using a social trend to justify outdated and sexist expectations of women. Do you see the difference?

            While we’re at it, you’re right that it’s not fair to assume that any man planning a party will half-ass some thrown-together pizza party at lunch. It is fair to say that very few men are raised with party planning skills, and many men are socialized to avoid traditionally feminine tasks, or to simply not bother with them if there’s a woman who can do it for them.

            Observing and pointing out social trends relating to gender isn’t necessarily sexist, but it’s sexist to assume that a specific person or group of people will be willing to do something, unwilling to do something, good at something, or bad at something, based on their gender.

            1. soitgoes

              I agree with you 100%. I don’t know why so many commenters are being deliberately obtuse on this one. It doesn’t make you sexist to admit to the realities of the sexist world, especially if you’re identifying problems to fix.

    2. NoPantsFridays

      While not universal, I think there’s some truth to this. Around this time of year I know some people (mostly women) throwing parties they don’t like, for people they don’t like, whose happiness they don’t really care about but feel obligated to care about — because they feel a social obligation to do it. They volunteer to host a party not because they like hosting parties or even attending parties, but because they feel this ingrained obligation. Personally I did not quite receive this conditioning as my parents were not very social (their idea of hosting a big party was inviting another couple/family over, for a grand total of 4-8 people including us), and for some reason I’ve grown up caring very little (almost disturbingly little) about others’ happiness…but I’ve known enough people who report basically what you describe.

      1. Collarbone High

        This is true. I’m really broke right now — I spent a lot of the year unemployed — and I just decided to opt out of Christmas altogether this year. It’s so freeing, and I don’t miss any of it (the one exception: I have a sister and a couple of friends’ kids who I genuinely enjoy shopping for). But the rest of it? The cards, the baking, the obligatory gifts, the decorating? I’m realizing that I did all that stuff because my upbringing and/or women’s magazines told me I should.

    3. Jamie

      I get that – and I agree to a point, and I believe this affects men as well in different ways.

      Does every guy who has offered to walk me to my car when we were the last two leaving after dark personally care about protecting me? Or when they leave before I do ask if I’m okay alone – do they care or is it that they were socialized that it’s their moral duty to make sure they aren’t leaving a woman or child in a vulnerable situation.

      And if someone were to get physically aggressive with a woman at work I guarantee there would be social fallout for the men who stood by and didn’t intervene and no one would even ask the women why they didn’t jump in to do anything except call security.

      I can go in the back right now and pick up one of the old heavy Dell towers and walk to my office and I promise you I’d have no less than 5 guys come up and offer to carry it to my office for me.

      We don’t grow up feeling less than if we allow someone else to carry their own heavy thing or if we didn’t physically protect them.

      As tone can be hard to read I’m not being snarky at all and I do agree with you – and the stuff on the other side I’m bringing up isn’t relevant to the OP’s question. I just think sometimes it can read a little one sided that woman have all these social niceties we’re programmed to obey and men can be themselves and have less responsibility because it’s not less (in fact, I’d argue it’s more pressure on them) but it’s different.

      None of it makes it right – just saying that we should all make a point to not carry this with us into the workplace no matter how we live our personal lives.

      1. Cat

        Men absolutely have social niceties they’re supposed to obey and in a work setting, we should be conscious of those too. I carry my own stuff around the office (unless it’s legitimately too heavy for me to manage because practicalities) and I make sure both the male and female employees I’m supervising know they can and should take a cab and charge it to the firm when they’re working late, but I’m sure there’s other stuff I’m not conscious of and should be. How I work my personal life is my own business of course, but I don’t think we get a free pass on ignoring gendered socialization in the office from either direction.

        1. Cat

          (And to clarify, I know I’m not disagreeing with you – I just wanted to talk about those specific things.)

    4. JC

      I’m a woman who hates to party plan and be a “helper” or “nurturer” in general, but I definitely believe this. Women as a group can be socialized in ways that don’t end up impacting each individual woman in the same way (or necessarily at all). FWIW, in my personal experience, I think I’m generally a people-pleaser and conflict-avoider at work, in very stereotypically female ways, even though I don’t give a crap about the particular kinds of good girl behaviors that Allison discusses in her post.

  15. Christian Troy

    I think this topic is very interesting. When I was working in an academic environment, about six months into my job, my manager left, there was no plan to replace her, so they promoted an office manager to absorb some of the tasks. The office manager wanted to plan parties and have cake and all sorts of “homey” kind of activities and a few other research assistants and myself were not really feeling it. I think we were not really feeling it because we wanted to be taken seriously as research professionals and not start falling into the cooking/cleaning tasks in the office.

    My personal feeling is that if no one wants to plan these parties, then maybe it’s time to stop having them, or plan on something more general (maybe go out to dinner as a group or get Chipotle catering like someone else mentioned above) and leave it at that. Stop making it a “thing” that requires serious planning.

    1. Blue_eyes

      Just because no one wants to plan the parties doesn’t mean no one wants to attend them. I think plenty of people are perfectly happy to attend company parties (and get the free food and booze), but would never want to plan them.

      1. Jamie

        I agree plenty of people are perfectly happy to attend, but if most of these people were tasked with either joining the planning or discontinuing the parties many would be fine with no more parties.

      2. TL -

        Harumph. If you want to be a part of a community, you have an obligation to put some effort into building it. If you’re not willing to do that, you don’t want it to happen that badly.

        At least, that’s my viewpoint.

      3. Colette

        If people don’t want to plan events, the logical consequence is that there will be no events. There’s nothing wrong with that.

        I think a lot of people are happy to attend company parties but won’t really care if they stop – at least not enough to plan the events themselves.

    2. NoPantsFridays

      Yes, I think most people are eager to attend but can’t be assed to plan it. They’re glad to reap the rewards of someone else’s work, but would not actually do the work themselves if they had to. They know that if they leave it, someone else will take over and do it. Personally I would much prefer no parties as I don’t even like attending, but that’s a different post.

      1. Blue_eyes

        Exactly. Somehow your wording made me think of the Little Red Hen. Which it totally is. People are happy to have someone else do the work but then get to enjoy the fruits of the labor. (Also, probably not coincidence that that story is the Little Red HEN. The Little Red Rooster would likely be a very different tale).

  16. AnotherHRPro

    One way address this issue is to stop volunteering and individual manager designation. We identify people to work on various projects (including meeting and party planning) as development opportunities for individuals. What can you get out of planning an event? Project management skills, leading without authority, vendor management, budget, presenting to senior leaders.

    When you think about it, event planning can build a great deal of capability. And letting individuals know that this is a development opportunity makes sure that they take the assignment seriously.

    1. Bwmn

      That’s how it appears to be functioning at where I currently work and is definitely represented in who’s volunteering. I work for a nonprofit that employs more women than men (as is the case in many nonprofits) but the balance on the holiday committee at this time is 50/50. Additionally, the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of the holiday events has also been incorporated into the process. One of the holiday activities was a mini tree decorating contest that came with prizes – and management was ultimately very happy with the volunteer committee and how enthusiastic office staff was in participation.

      If things like holiday activities and parties are genuinely part of management’s strategy to boost employee morale, then treat the activities and their result like they manner. I’m not saying that anyone is put on a PIP for planning a subpar White Elephant – but hearing “this planned activity was very popular and achieved our holiday committee goals” or “maybe next year let’s rethink the Secret Santa” – helps in terms of feeling like your efforts have been noted in a professional context.

  17. Lizzy May

    Somewhere along the way I realized that a female friend and I had become the workplace social committee because we were the only ones who ever bought going away cards or planned parties. She recently left and I realized while planning her party that when I leave that I’d probably have to plan my own. So I just stopped. We had one short term employee leave since with no card. It kind of sucks but I’m done carrying a thankless job. If the managers here think that sort of thing is important for employee moral then it needs to be valued not just something “the girls do for fun.”

  18. Amtelope

    If nobody actually wants to plan the parties, what are the chances that the problem is really that nobody wants to have the parties? Or, at least, that everyone would be happy with a significantly scaled-back party (“Let’s order lunch/snacks/whatever for the office and then give everyone the rest of the afternoon off!”) that could be planned by one admin person who could actually have this as a job responsibility?

    It just seems to me that a lot of offices waste a lot of people’s time planning decorations and entertainment and time-consuming parties when the employees in question, male and female, would just as soon eat some pizza, listen to one mercifully short “You all did a great job this year!” speech from the boss, and get to go home early. And that nobody cares about things like whether the napkins are the same color as the plates — no one is even going to look at the plates — except the people who get drafted to do party planning, who then feel that they have to “succeed” at throwing the party by obsessing about ridiculous details.

    1. dT

      “If nobody actually wants to plan the parties, what are the chances that the problem is really that nobody wants to have the parties? ”

      This.

  19. Student

    I think the biggest thing you can do to fix this as a low-level manager is to encourage your own women employees to focus their time and effort in places that matter and avoid time-wasters like “party planning committee”. Tell them that they ought to be volunteering for the committees that have higher prestige and more important business impact, even if they really like planning parties. Encourage them to turn down committee roles that will waste their professional time or make them look frivolous to upper management. In my field, “diversity committees” and “social event committees” are also a pink ghetto that professional women are well-advised to avoid getting involved in. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the ideas behind the committees, but in practice they are all huge wastes of time with no empowerment to do anything serious.

    For your own part, delegate party planning to employees with roles on the lowest end of the career ladder. Encourage the party planning committee to do simpler parties that don’t take up a load of time to plan, too (simple can be plenty of fun). Appoint men to the role, if there are any at the appropriate career level, to help introduce some diversity. Consider casting a wider net to get some men involved – maybe you don’t have any male admins, but there might be male junior shipping/receiving employees, male janitors, male machine shop employees (a big source of male party planning perspective at one of my former jobs), or similar.

    1. Clever Username

      This. When we got a new employee in my department, she was considering what committees to volunteer for. I pointed out to her that “Computer Usage Committee” looks better on one’s resume than “Beautification Committee” (which, yes, is a real committee that coordinates our office decor & furniture arrangement).

  20. Serin

    At my first office job, the office was about half support people and half forest rangers. All the support people were women. All the rangers were men — except one, whose name was Jane.

    The sending-cards-around, picking-up-donuts, wiping-breakroom-tables committee included all the support people, and also included academy-graduated, certified Forest Ranger Jane.

    That was infuriating. But it was also more than thirty years ago; I doubt very many people would be that clueless now.

  21. Mike E

    Sort of a cleaning up after the party comment…

    A few years ago the ladies in my office spent almost a week putting up a massive Christmas tree and decorating it to the hilt. It was giant and beautiful and extremely ornate.

    Then after the season, they picked me, junior employee and male to clean up the whole artificial Christmas tree and spend almost a week pulling the whole thing apart while they watched me from their cubes. I was to pull everything off the tree, put all the ornaments back into boxes, wrap and put the lights away, put each strand of tinsel in the trash, dismantle the tree and put the pieces in boxes and then put all the boxes on dollies and cart it all off.

    I surprised them when I threw a giant bag over the top of the decorated tree, tied it off at the bottom and with one other person brought it to the basement. Total cleanup time: 15 minutes.

    1. neverjaunty

      So if I am understanding you correctly, you were instructed to do a task with specific and detailed sub-tasks. You ignored those instructions, failed to do any of the sub-tasks and addressed the larger task in a way that was much faster for you personally, but almost certainly meant somebody else would have to do the sub-tasks – that is, you created more work for others.

      If your goal was to passive-aggressively demonstrate your contempt for the task, bravo. If your job was to annoy your supervisor with your refusal to follow instructions, manage tasks or work cooperatively with others, well, bravo too, I guess.

      1. Katie the Fed

        I *think* his point was that some people also take these things really, really seriously when there’s no need. For example, he can do as effective of a job in 15 minutes versus 2 weeks, so maybe we need to lower our standards are bit.

        1. Steve

          Yes! With one exception. I found a much more efficient way to do it.

          We had a similar yet unrelated team building exercise at some point. The object was to get a pile of sponged from one end of a table to the other and make sure that everyone on the team touched every sponge. The other group set up an assembly line where a person at one end handed each sponge to the person next to them who handed it to the person next to them until all 10 team members got the sponges to the other end of the table. It took them about two minutes to move all the sponges.

          My team figured out that if everyone except one person stood on one side of the table and we all laid a single finger out next to each other in a tight 8″ wide row, then the remaining person could be on the other side of the table and could hold all the sponges at once and simply swipe all the sponges across all our grouped fingers while running from one end of the table to the other. It took us about two seconds to move all the sponges.

          1. TotesMaGoats

            I must remember this. Someone needs to compile a book of all the “ways to finish team building projects quickly”. That would sell like hotcakes.

        2. neverjaunty

          I know. The flip side of his point, though, is somebody who ignored instructions and jumped to the fast and easy way without wondering whether maybe there was a reason for those instructions.

          1. dT

            I wonder about people who take party details – like tree set-up and break-down – very seriously.

            Just get it done.

          2. Snarkus Ariellius

            If the end result is the same, then what difference does it made how it gets done?

            I think you’re missing the larger point: don’t create way more work for yourself than you absolutely have to, especially on a meaningless task.

      2. Colette

        That’s it, though – the task was to get rid of the decorated Christmas tree, which he did. It doesn’t sound like it needed to be done in any particular way, although the people who put the tree up had expectations about how it would be done.

        One of the keys in getting other people to do the work is to let them do it their way, as long as the key objectives are met.

        1. neverjaunty

          According to the commenter, the tasks included carefully undoing the tree-decorating and properly putting away the ornaments, and so forth. He didn’t do those tasks despite being instructed to do them, according to his comment. And when you think about it, they are not unimportant. Sticking a tree (presumably artificial) in a bag for a year means you’re risking lights getting tangled, ornaments breaking, tinsel getting everywhere, and more importantly, from the commenter’s description, the process of decorating is part of the point. So somebody else is going to have to go back and do what he was told to do but didn’t.

          I mean, I get that this is probably apocryphical – I’ve heard this story before as a parable about getting the job done faster by thinking outside the box etc etc – but it always struck me as a very poor example of the point it was trying to make. Especially if you’ve ever been a manager who asked that steps A, B and C get done as part of getting to point Z, and then somebody who thinks they’re super clever jumps right to point Z, when those other steps were actually integral to the overall result.

          1. Colette

            If the person who decorated the tree is his manager and this is a work task, then yes, he should have done it as directed. If not, and they care about whether they get to decorate it again next year, they should be the ones to take it down the way they want. (They can, after all, move things around next year without having to go through the whole exercise from scratch.)

            I don’t think there’s a practical reason to undecorate, especially in a work environment where you’re paying people for the time they spend on these activities, and I really doubt management cares about how the tree disappears, just that it disappears.

            1. Jamie

              I disagree that if a company decides it’s part of their business at the holidays to put up a tree and they assign the task to someone it should be done properly.

              There is no way that bag is coming off the tree next year without some/many broken/damaged ornaments. You undecorate and store properly to avoid breakage.

              Besides a tree small enough to toss on bag over the top and tie at the bottom would take > an hour to put everything away properly. Even if it were huge and cathedral ceiling high and every branch had an ornament it couldn’t take a week unless there were a lot of napping involved.

              If I had a bunch of files going to long term storage I just want them to disappear, too. But if instead of getting a box, labeling it, and putting it away as most would expect they shoved them all in a hefty bag and tossed them in …well technically they put the files away. But in a smartass way and the contempt shown would be a conversation.

              Not knowing is one thing – but knowing it’s expected to be done in an organized way and bagging it…definitely seeing that as an attitude problem.

              1. Colette

                To me, it all depends who expected it to be done that way (and how the tree was decorated in the first place – if there are glass ornaments, some will get broken – if they’re Styrofoam, just pick up the ones that drop). If it’s a business tree & it’s part of the job to decorate/undecorate, I agree it should be done properly. If it’s a tree people put up because they like it (and then left it for someone else to put away), I have limited sympathy for doing it the way they’d prefer.

              2. neverjaunty

                Exactly. It spoils the punchline of the story, of course, but that’s the thing about apocryphal stories: they aren’t as good when you poke them. Why not ask “can’t we just put the whole tree downstairs, and bring it up next year”? Why is the junior person being assigned this task, and by what authority? Is there a reason to do the smaller tasks instead of just putting the tree away?

                Also, there’s more than a little bit of an ugly undertone of the no-nonsense guy showing those frivolous fussbudget ladies they can’t stick him with their crappy clean-up.

    2. Beezus

      Right or wrong, people with this attitude rarely get assigned unimportant thankless soft tasks, and when they do, they don’t lose a lot of time on them. There is no career advantage in investing time and energy doing – and WORSE, getting a reputation for “being good at” or “liking” to do – things no one really cares about in the big picture.

      Which ending do you think belongs with this story?

      A. “The ladies complained to my manager, who wrote me up for doing such a bad job putting the tree away, and made me get it all back out and do it correctly.”

      OR

      B. “My manager, who rolled his eyes when he gave me the task in the first place, was glad that I got it checked off my list quickly and did not care how it was done. I spent the week working on the Prestige Project instead, which wound up being one of the star points on my performance review that year, and I was not asked to help with the tree the next year.”

      I can tell you that in my company, it would be B, without a doubt, assuming the person in the story is a low-level career-track professional with other value-added work to do. Gender would NOT directly matter in the outcome.

      1. neverjaunty

        Well, if we’re going to add facts to the story (like the eye-rolling manager) and make up our own endings, why stop there? How about:

        C. Septima gets called in by her manager to re-do the tree dismantling because when Wakeen was asked to do it, he just stuffed it into a garbage bag and, well, men just don’t care much about decorating, right? Plus Wakeen’s manager hates confrontation.

        D. The ladies who were responsible for all the tree decorating decide Wakeen is a jerk, and stop doing any more than the required minimum for helping him.

        E. Next year when everybody tries to find the bagged tree, it’s vanished along with all the lights and ornaments because somebody saw the tree bag and assumed it was supposed to be recycled.

        1. Beezus

          My point was that there is often little risk involved in taking the quick and less painstaking route in completing soft tasks that aren’t business-critical like the one in the story. In my experience, people who do them exceptionally well and appear to enjoy doing them generally wind up on career paths where they get to continue doing them, and people who get them over with as quickly and painlessly as possible and then shift their focus back to their core work get different results. Focus your over-and-above level of effort on tasks that reflect where you want your career to go.

  22. Steve

    Why has nobody yet mentioned Steven Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” with his 2×2 matrix for importance and urgency? These above activities above fall squarely into Quadrant 4 which is the area that he says we should stay as far away from as possible.

  23. oleander

    I really appreciate AMA’s note that “That can have long-lasting ramifications for who gets what projects, who gets what recognition, and who builds what reputation, and ultimately how their careers progress.”

    To me, this is what’s really important, and it goes way beyond party planning. My previous long-term workplace was a progressive non-profit with about 100 employees and 5 IT staff — generally, a good place to work. Women were a majority of the staff, but only one of the IT staff. After I got to know the one IT woman, I learned that she was sincerely frustrated by the fact that whenever the IT dept. was required to do “people” work — like introduce a new policy to a different department, or smooth over ruffled feathers, or teach new skills to non-tech-savvy manager — the tasks got pushed to her because “Jane, you’re so GOOD at it. And we’re so terrible at it!”

    It’s true — everyone liked Jane because she is friendly and funny and easy to talk to — but being the trainer/diplomat/liaison was not part of her job description, and the fact that those tasks always got pushed to her meant that her peers got to spend more time on actual tech skills, while she had to expend a lot of emotional and mental energy just dealing with other people’s issues from around the organization.

    It takes a good manager in a situation like this to step in and say something like “People skills are a required part of everyone’s job. If yours aren’t very strong, you need to spend MORE time practicing them, not less. And I’m going to hold you accountable to improving them. You’re not allowed to alienate staff in other departments just so they don’t want to talk with you any more!”

  24. Emmy Rae

    I am the only admin in my office so I get stuck with all the crap jobs, and I plan basically all of the group events. My main issue with it, (besides the assumption that women should be responsible for it – if anyone helps or takes over for me it is always a woman) is that while this is definitely something people value, they don’t want to stick their necks out and try it. People can very critical of an event that supposedly doesn’t matter – order lunch for everyone, and you get a bunch of feedback about so-and-so’s likes and dislikes of food. Make up a fun game, and you have to spend 30 minutes arguing rules. Don’t plan a fun event for a while, and everyone wonders (aloud, to me) why we aren’t having more fun!

    1. Shortie

      Agreed, Emmy Rae. I have noticed this as well and am not sure what happened to etiquette/manners around thanking the person who did the work and not voicing minor complaints. I would never dream of asking the person who did all the work why they didn’t order this type of sandwich or that type of drink, but I see it happening all the time. It is very rude, in my opinion. I hate party planning, but greatly appreciate those who like it, so it is a personal rule to never offer opinions and always offer thanks. I figure if I can’t find something that I like or that works with my diet du jour, then I should have volunteered to help and been part of the solution. *stepping off soapbox now*

  25. Marie

    I saw a Columbia University professor give a talk once on “Organizational Citizenship Behaviors” which included the activities OP references, and argue that these are gendered, and that they are not valued or rewarded in the workplace adequately for what they are. Her name was Caryn Block (http://www.tc.columbia.edu/academics/index.htm?facid=cjb17)
    And there is more about the term, which is used in organizational psychology, here:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organizational_citizenship_behavior

  26. LongTimeFan

    I work in a smaller office and the way we work birthdays it that the previous birthday person plans the party for the next birthday person.

    In larger officers, maybe you could split this up by birth months? Those who have a birthday in January help plan the ones for February, etc.

  27. Nerd Girl

    The last company I worked for had two “big” events every year. The Holiday luncheon and an employee appreciation picnic. They were usually events that involved food, some kind of activity that allowed us to work with people outside of our normal teams, and a speech or two. Our department manager created a team that had a 6 month seat (so if you were on the committee for the Holiday luncheon, you weren’t for the picnic) and you couldn’t apply or be recruited (if nobody applied) to be on the committee for a year after your seat was up. I think knowing that it was only 6 months and there was that one year window of no obligation of helping made people okay with being part of the planning. It was kind of fun. I was actually the only female on the committee the year I helped plan the Holiday Luncheon…and let me tell you – the stuff those three guys came up with made that luncheon fun! One of them put together a Winter Jeopardy game and we broke into teams to answer the questions (jeopardy style!) about activities, holidays, and famous storms that occured in Winter. I lived in Northern New England where Winter seems to last forever so people got excited about this and got a little cut throat!!! It was a riot. And to be honest, I was sad when my time on the committee was over. I’ve never felt that way about party planning committees before or since.

  28. Preston

    Okay last time I started a post with ” I hate to say this” it blew up…. but I hate to say this:
    The problem isn’t women doing the jobs, the problem is the leadership isn’t taking charge of these parties. Every place I have worked the leadership really got into planning and putting events on. So, to me that really is the problem. Management who put on good events generally appreciate their workers.

      1. Preston

        I can only say from my experience, but when management puts on events it shows that they appreciate the employees. To me underlings, female or not, shouldn’t be volunteered into doing these kinds of events. I think the frustration the woman feels is a very valid concern. That the management puts this on the junior employees who are women really shows what kind of company and management it is. Gender of the junior employees is just a compounding factor.

        1. Collarbone High

          Good point. This reminds me of something my dad would do when I was a kid. He’d tell my mom (who did all the cooking), “That was a great meal, thanks, why don’t you relax and I’ll take care of cleaning up the kitchen.” Then he’d order my sister and me to clean the kitchen.

          It’s kind of the same principle — “I’m going to show my staff I appreciate all their hard work by … forcing other members of the staff to work as unpaid caterers.”

    1. beyonce pad thai

      This comment you posted right here was innocuous and contributed to the discussion.

      That particular thread you’re referring to blew up because what you were saying was problematic.

  29. Zillah

    This stuff always enrages me. It enrages me in my personal life, and it enrages me in the workplace.

    Let’s cut the nonsense: while not universal, this is a very, very widespread phenomenon. And it’s a huge problem. That men are rarely involved is indicative of gendered expectations in our society and privilege – privilege that men know that they won’t be criticized for not volunteering or for doing a poor job. Women, on the other hand, often will be. It’s a sexist and toxic dynamic at its core – whether or not you like event planning. Because while some women do, many do not, and they’re going to be conscripted, too.

    It’s uncomfortable to think about. Deal with the discomfort and keep it in mind going forward.

    1. Preston

      If you looking at this from gender,I would agree with you. From an employment perspective I don’t think it is the underlings, no matter gender, to be putting events on.

    2. Snarkus Ariellius

      Depends. I think if a woman has a history of always doing this stuff and then starts saying no, she gets the criticism. After having learned my lesson of volunteering too much, I’ve set boundaries for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever volunteered for anything like that in the past ten years. I don’t get grief about it but that’s because I’ve already established I won’t do it unless specifically asked.

      This really is the seedy underbelly of maintaining others’ expectations.

    3. Shortie

      I get really irritated by this, too, Zillah. When my social group (mostly couples) gets together at someone’s house, it’s always the women who are asked to help plan, show up early to prepare food, or clean up while the men are chatting or having fun. All of the other women go along with it and gladly pitch in, so when I refuse to because none of the men are helping, I look like a jerk. I’m asking that people don’t get out of sharing the load just because they have different anatomy, but I’M the jerk. I’ve given up and just do all the expected crap now because I’m tired of everyone thinking I’m rude. I realize that giving up makes me part of the problem, but I’m so tired of people’s stupidity around this topic that I simply don’t have it in me to give the speech anymore. Extremely frustrating.

  30. young female attorney

    Storytime: I’m a recent law grad and about six months after starting my job, I was told by one of my section’s assistants that I needed to replace her in our office’s party planning committee. While I’m normally all about helping in whatever way I can, this really got to me as all of the people on that committee are young, female, and assistants / support staff. No attorneys on the committee. I wrestled with that decision for a long time before ultimately deciding that this would in no way help my career or my image at work, and there were plenty of other new attorneys she could ask (who all happen to be male). After weeks of her pestering me, I finally told her no in my most stern voice, and she let it go. I haven’t heard who’s joining the committee since and I’m not asking.

    1. Snarkus Ariellius

      What great timing! This is a fantastic example of what I was talking about in the response I made a few minutes ago.

      If you establish yourself as not doing stereotypical female tasks, you won’t get bugged about it again AND you won’t get pegged for similar situations.

  31. RO

    I love planning parties and have held a job where twice a year I had to plan parties (external), I just do not have it in me to plan internal departmental work parties with zero budget, limited resources, and people’s annoying demands.

  32. Cassie

    We have a few dept-wide events each year (holiday party, graduation party, new school year party) and it’s always women planning them – simply because the people in the positions organizing these events (dept manager, admin assistant, and some of the student affairs officers) are female. The holiday party used to be a potluck (years ago) and the other two events didn’t exist. Hmmm, I’d even go out on a limb and say that these other two events only started because of the female staff members who filled the vacant positions. They were the ones who wanted to have some kind of party to celebrate something (boost morale, get credit for planning the shindig, whatever).

    I’d guess that most of the other people, staff/faculty/students, don’t care if these events happen or not. I mean, sure, free food is free food (especially for poor grad students), but people are not going to line up to volunteer. I definitely wouldn’t.

  33. J_Mo

    Late to the party. I love this blog so much, I save the posts and come back and read them when I have time.

    I do not like organizing these things. I really don’t like GOING to them all that much. When I interview for jobs, I ask up front about this. If it’s something that is a condition of taking a given position, I take a pass. It’s not part of my personality. I don’t like doing it, and I don’t think it’s fair that people are TOLD they have to do it. I think it should be strictly voluntary and up to those who are interested in the events. I won’t play.

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