stop doing the office housekeeping work

I’m quoted in this Refinery29 article (which was also reported on by the UK’s Daily Mail), talking about how taking on the office housekeeping work (planning parties, cleaning up the kitchen, ordering lunch) can hold you back. Here’s an excerpt:

“People don’t get high-profile projects, win promotions, or make a name in their field because they planned office parties or remembered all their coworkers’ birthdays,” says Alison Green, founder of Ask A Manager. “You only have so much energy and focus at work; spending on this sort of housekeeping means that you’re not spending it where it will actually benefit you. You want to be known as a great engineer / spokesperson / lawyer / whatever your job is — not as a great baker [unless that’s your job] or fill-in receptionist or office mom.”

“Too often, women find themselves always being the ones to take notes, clean up the kitchen, order lunch, and do other caretaking work, while their male colleagues in similar roles get to focus on doing work that’s more highly valued,” Green continues. “That can have very real and very long-lasting ramifications for who gets what projects, who gets what recognition, and who builds what reputation.”

…“One of the best things you can do…is to simply point it out,” she argues. “Speak up and say, ‘Hey, I’ve noticed that this work always falls to women. Can we change that?'”

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. Lionness

    I think this is true in many work places, but I have to say it is fundamentally untrue in my work place. We have a heavy emphasis on corporate culture and those people that are part of our “social and charity committee” tend to be highly viewed by top leadership. Yes, this work takes away from their day to day tasks, but contributing to these events is seen as buy-in to the company culture and building a stronger organization.

    1. Hellanon

      When it’s explicitly recognized by management, contributing to these efforts can be rewarding on a couple of levels. And in a smaller office, good managers *will* notice who’s doing these tasks. It’s conforming to unspoken expectations, generally with unrecognized and/or uncompensated efforts, that’s the pathway to resentment…

    2. Chriama

      Does that translate into better promotions and high profile projects for those folks? If not, recognition from senior management is just lip service. If it does have tangible benefits though, it’s still important to note which activities have a positive impact and which are irrelevant (e.g. organizing coworker birthdays vs. organizing corporate volunteer projects might have different weighting).

      1. neverjaunty

        Yes. Especially when all those people engaging in ‘social and charity’ extras just happen to be mostly women.

        1. Lionness

          I have to say, one of the best things about this company is their abject requirement that men and women participate equally. If there are unequal numbers of volunteers, a gender is drafted.

      2. Lionness

        In fact, it does. Participation in these committees is part of the company’s “Core Values” and being recognized for core values directly relates to higher pay, better projects and more rapid promotions. And, birthdays and volunteer projects are handled by the same committee so they have equal value.

        Admittedly, this is unique in my experience. Most companies i’ve worked for it is always women that do these tasks, and it is thankless and often results in being seen as to caretaker of the office. I’m glad my current company sees it differently.

        1. AnonyGoose

          My last company was the same way. Joining one of these committees almost assured that got you into the highest category for some goals when it came to your yearly eval.

    3. KarenT

      I’d still caution people to be careful. Even when it’s valued, it’s not always seen as essential. YMMV, of course, but we had a woman in my office who did it all–Christmas party, birthdays, social committee, charity committee, etc. It was valued. She was besties with the CEO and he had the company pay for her MBA–nor a privilege granted to many. She rose through the ranks quickly.
      Then, our industry started struggling, lay offs happened, and she was among the first to go. While she was seen as important to moral and culture, in a time of cutting expenses back, she wasn’t seen as essential.
      Of course I’m not saying this is what would happen to anyone in her situation, but rather that the risks with this kind of stuff aren’t always apparent.

      1. SevenSixOne

        And! Just because your current company culture values those kind of things doesn’t mean the next one will.

  2. M

    I don’t understand answer from a few days ago that conflicts with this. The receptionist/ administrative assistant wanted to push back from cleaning the refrigerator which had not been in her duties before. Everyone was focused on her wording regarding not wanting to do “scoop out food” instead of bigger point in this post that taking on those duties (which are not the same as straightening up common area) essentially will typecast the receptionist and will limit any possible upward movement. If receptionist was a man those duties would not have been tacked on and I disagree with all that said the OP was wrong to push back. Assignment of those duties was a sign of how that position is not valued in that organization. If they refuse to remove OP should look for another job.

    1. Knitting Cat Lady

      I think general office cleaning was part of that letter writer’s contract.

      1. Raine

        There was considerable difference of opinion whether emptying and washing out the personal tupperware containers of other office workers crossed a line. And I too immediately thought of that letter, because I truly cannot imagine this would have ever been asked of a man.

    2. Artemesia

      I thought that particular task was completely out of line for the receptionist additional cleaning duties; it is like expecting her to clean and arrange purses or wash underwear of colleagues BUT housekeeping is part of the role of an admin or receptionist — doing it is not holding them back from career advancement. An AA who does a great job with office social events is likely to be valued as a great AA. This does not apply to women who are lawyers, professors, accountants, research associates or in other professional positions where providing administrative support is not part of the job and is advice well taken. Noone ever got tenure because they spent a lot of time on support committees (affirmative action, student services etc etc) or because they brought in cookies and organized the potluck; in fact, this sort of thing will subconsciously communicate a lack of seriousness and commitment to job 1 which is research. No one made partner in a law firm because they spent otherwise billable hours organizing social events.

      1. FiveWheels

        I’m on the two-person party planning committee in my law firm – the other person is a senior partner. While I agree it doesn’t help to spend billable hours on event planning, if you can throw a great party while also keeping your bills high, that does help. It can give you the reputation of being able to get anything done that needs doing, whether it’s fee earning or not.

        If party planning means billing nothing for a week, that’s not going to help your career. On the other hand if it means working closely with the boss to do something the whole firm enjoys, improving office morale, getting a name for yourself as a project organiser and hitting your billing targets… That’s a different matter.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      When you’re an admin, your duties often include the kind of housekeeping work the article is taking about (taking notes, ordering lunch, cleaning up the kitchen, etc.). I’m talking about jobs where that’s not part of the role.

      1. UKAnon

        A distinction which seems to have been sadly lost on some of the Daily Mail commentators. I always feel the urge to apologise to humanity for my fellow citizens when I see some of the things written on there.

          1. Merry and Bright

            And me. It’s just not worth the raised blood pressure. The ignorance and venom on the paper’s comments blogs are almost unbelievable on most stuff.

        1. Ruth (UK)

          Speaking of daily mail commenters… While it’s a great quote from Alison, it’s a shame it’s in the daily mail, a paper many people regard as a joke. When they’re not posting scare mongery stories or celeb gossip, they’re probably attacking the most convenient minority group or claiming something will give you cancer. There used to be a facebook page dedicated to listing everything the mail claimed would give you cancer and prevent cancer. Spoiler: Lots of overlap…

          1. Merry and Bright

            Spot on, Ruth. I love it when The Mail features in the Fancy That section of Private Eye.

        2. UK HR bod

          Agree. I was reluctant to look at the article simply because it gave the Daily Hate one more click. And I’m not entirely up for seeing pictures of young girls splashed across the place and accused of ‘flaunting’ their legs, arms, whatever body part. It was though a relatively reasonable article for the Hate – probably because they were ‘borrowing’ someone else’s report!

      2. MsChanandlerBong

        But cleaning up the kitchen shouldn’t mean cleaning the dishes your coworkers brought from home. It should include washing the community coffee pot, wiping the table and counters in the break room, cleaning up after meetings, ordering lunch, etc. Having to empty and clean people’s dishes because they can’t be bothered is just ridiculous.

        1. M

          I don’t understand why so many refuse to see this distinction. Her other duties were outlined prior to taking job. This addition is not in line with her other duties.

          (My annoyance is colored because I’ve also seen where when men were hired in certain positions the “housekeeping” duties suddenly became unnecessary. The assignment is absolutely is gender based.)

          1. themmases

            I agree. I used to have a job that was part technical, part support staff, and it was incredible what ridiculous, undermining stuff would get added to my tasks. Even after moving somewhere more positive, the experience of being constantly devalued and loaded down with demeaning clerical tasks and being told they’re just my job now continues to hurt my confidence, work performance, and even mental health. These work dynamics don’t just depend on women’s social training– they *are* social training in themselves.

            I get what many commenters and Alison have said that your options change when the direction is coming from your boss. But I think some of the commenters come close to saying that because something was added to your job description, handed down by your boss, or plausibly related to your main job, it can’t be gendered and it’s unreasonable to complain– even if the main job is itself gendered, which many support roles are.

            Not everything is about what complaints would stand up if you reported an employer to EEOC. Sometimes people just need validation that something isn’t standard and it’s OK to push back, look for a new job, or just move on without internalizing this experience.

          2. Lizzy May

            I’ve seen this. In an old job one of my duties was making coffee for clients. When I left and was replaced by a man, the company immediately bought a Kuerig so clients could make their own. Ugh!

          3. Ad Astra

            I just realized that I’ve literally never seen male support staff clean anything, anywhere. The only men I’ve ever seen clean at work are janitors. And they didn’t bring in cookies or wash the mugs in the breakroom.

            1. SpottedTheUnicorn

              I see our receptionist washing others’ dishes/putting them on a regular basis. Our receptionist is male. Very rare, but it can happen.

  3. Sy

    Between this and earlier this week telling people to stop calling women girls – what an inspiring blog. So many blogs and websites and WORKPLACES don’t take on these very real issues.

    Speaking of dealing with subtle sexism in the workplace, in an interview this week I was asked who my favorite Disney Princess was. There were a few other ‘quirky’ questions such as what is your favorite YouTube right now but I just can’t imagine them asking a man who their favorite princess is. For a customer support job.

    1. StarHopper

      Out of curiosity, how did you answer?

      I think Mulan and Tiana both had the best work ethic!

      1. Sy

        I said Merida from Brave because she’s strong and doesn’t take any gruff.

        I was a little too shocked to answer how I really felt about that question (honestly I have a 7 year old daughter and I do my best to keep Disney Princess stuff out of our house, we don’t have barbies, etc.) but…I really need a job right now and I didn’t want to disqualify myself on such a dumb question.

        1. Hellanon

          Laughing at this a bit because I have a friend who works at Disney & his job basically involves making sure that all princess-branded products go out to the stores “in character” – which has meant in the past, that he’s had to pull up the skirts on dolls to ensure that they’re not anatomically correct, so to speak. Which one prototype apparently was…

          1. Avocado

            Whaa…? How does that even happen? Did someone on the doll assembly line get fired and decide to go out with a bang?

          2. Sarahnova

            It’s “out of character” for a woman to have female body parts? That is seriously disturbing and depressing to me.

            Although your friend’s job sounds equal parts fun and surreal.

        2. Alexa

          I would’ve said: I am not interested in Disney princesses. I am more of a superhero fan. lol

      2. A Bug!

        Disney owns Marvel now, so Thor. As far as I’m concerned, she’s as much a Disney Princess as Mulan.

        (And I suspect the interviewer’s reaction to my answer would tell me an awful lot about the work environment.)

        1. Felicia

          I know a comedian who wrote a song about how Luke Skywalker fits the old fashioned definition of what a Disney Princess is so now that Disney owned Star Wars he should be a new Disney Princess.

      3. Felicia

        Although she is technically a queen , I pick Elsa, because she doesn’t have a love interest and also cool ice powers :) Merida is awesome too, but although Disney now owns Pixar, i still don’t count her as a Disney princess because it was a Pixar movie :)

        1. Oryx

          Disney bought Pixar in 2006 — long before Brave was made and even before they were bought, all Pixar films were released under the Disney banner.

    2. Artemesia

      I have a small granddaughter, so I can actually name the princesses in Frozen, but until this moment I literally would not have been able to answer that question and the expression on my face if asked would have probably lost me the job (either that or me screaming ‘what kind of question is that you f@#$#@g a@#$^%e?)

    3. UKAnon

      “Thomas the Tank Engine.”

      Seriously, I couldn’t name any Disney Princesses. I was a Thomas fan all the way. What a bizarre question.

      1. Merry and Bright

        For me it was The Clangers but I saw the other day they are making a comeback.

      2. SpottedTheUnicorn

        I’d probably say, “Imperator Furiosa. Oh, she’s not a Disney Princess? Not even a Disney character? Too bad, she’s still my favorite.”

      1. Artemesia

        You know what really sucks. Go to a Disney store and try to buy your granddaughter Princess Leia stuff. They have a whole section of glittery ick for girls and a whole section of cool Star Wars costumes and toys for boys — no Leia. Little girls are wild about Star Wars and Leia — Disney would rather keep the sexism alive than meet that market.

    4. Ad Astra

      Mine was always Belle, but I think that says more about me being a brunette child of the ’90s who liked to read than it does about my work style.

    5. steve g

      What a dumb question….I literally don’t know one unless cinderella or sleeping beauty count. there were many awesome non-disney things in the late 80s/early 90s when I would have been into kiddie movies

    6. UK HR bod

      The only ones I know aren’t Disney. Even the Grimms were borrowing from earlier stories, although the kind of muppet that asks that sort of stupid question would probably get confused if you said Ashputtle.

    7. newlyhr

      I wouldn’t even know how to answer either of those questions–I don’t even watch Disney or YouTube. Would I flunk the interview?

  4. Alistair

    This is sort of an article in two halves, it seems. I fully agree that women should not be automatically the housekeepers in the office. When you say that, I cheer you on!

    But the first part seems to be talking to all genders. So that raises the question: if everyone in the office, of any gender, is there to be the best lawyer, engineer, whatever, then who DOES do the cleaning? At some point, stuff needs to be cleaned. Do you hire someone just for your cleaning?

    The above feels a bit disjointed and rambling as I type it, but it hits home for me. If I didn’t take out trash, do dishes, clean the microwave, break down cardboard, and such, it would never get done. I’ve seen it (not) happen, such as when I’ve come back from a week or 10 days in the field to see the same mugs and silverware still in the sink, or discovering just how fast mold can form on old coffee left in a mug on a desk.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      As a woman, you leave it to others (like most men do) until you see that it’s actually being evenly distributed among men and women. Ultimately you want to end up in a situation where both sexes split that kind of work, at least roughly. The issue is when it always or nearly always falls to women, just by virtue of them being women (and either stepping up for it because they’ve been socially trained to do it or having it assigned to them because they’re seen as having nurturing/house-keeping tendencies).

      1. Zahra

        Yup, we have a roster at work. Each week a new person is “responsible” for housecleaning duties (making sure the coffee machine has enough water and coffee grains, dishwasher running, etc.). You don’t have to do all that stuff, but it’s your job to make sure it gets done. In practical terms, it means that most people will pitch in: if the dishwasher is full and clean, they’ll put everything away. If the sink is full, they’ll transfer that to the dishwasher (and start it if needed). And so on and so forth. There’s a list of things to be done and everything needs to be done by Friday EOD. I like this system, because it means that people do help, but if you’ve been taking care of all the dishwashing duty for weeks, you can, with a clear conscience, not do it at all (provided it’s not your week). Or, you know, you can decide not to do it at all unless it’s your week.

        1. Snarkus Aurelius

          What about the people, like me, who intentionally do not use these communal resources? I’d be pushing back if it was expected of me.

          1. Felicia

            I am also one of these people (i don’t drink coffee at all in general). I would specifically be annoyed with anything having to do with the coffee maker, because I never use coffee. Most places I work it’s more of a clean up after yourself thing, which has fortunately worked out really well

      2. Alistair

        I agree on the idea of the even split. If we had a woman on staff, I absolutely would not expect her to clean up after me. I suppose my problem is expecting other people to clean up after themselves, and my dislike of a sink full of dirty dishes.

      3. steve g

        I tend to agree, as a guy I’ve definitely seen women get pidgeon holed into this stuff, and then they have to defend it with a “oh I don’t mind doing it,”….but as a guy, when I do the same crap, I got thanked, like it was a big deal I was helping.

      4. UK HR bod

        I think there’s probably something as well about these sort of roles falling more usually into admin roles, which tend to be more female-heavy (they do in the UK anyway). That’s a tough one, because it’s reasonalbe in the remit of the role, but reinforces the gender stereotype.

    2. MK

      I think that either the company will have to hire a cleaning service (say weekly or bi-weekly) or there will have to be a definite decision about how to handle things. For example, if there can be no cleaning service , there should be a formal rota of people taking turns to do it.

      And here is the thing: stuff does NOT absolutely have to be cleaned. People say that because they are grossed out by the mess, but there is no law against having a month’s worth of dishes in the sink or a dusty office, not is it really as big a health hazzard as many make out. Don’t do anything, except clean up after yourself and your area. Let the mold grow as it will. Stop using the facilities. As long as someone is disgusted enough to do the cleaning for everyone else, there is zero insentive for the company to take steps.

      1. Apollo Warbucks

        That’s what happened at a house share I lived in, one of my roomies couldn’t stand the mess a couple f others made so cleaned it up. The place was such a mess when they moved out and no one else cleanse up

      2. Alistair

        Thanks MK and Cristina, you two are right, I should just clean my own stuff and let theirs get gross. It’s not my responsibility. That will be quite hard, I’ll have to write in some day to let you know how it goes.

        1. Sketchee

          Exactly, this is not your house. It’s someone else’s. It belongs to the company and its up to them to make decisions. =)

      3. Ad Astra

        When it comes to ignoring a mess, the only person I can’t wait out is my husband. He is willing to live in some truly disgusting conditions to avoid cleaning the bathroom.

        1. Artemesia

          Only solution to that is for you to clean bathrooms and him to do some specific other things he is willing to do. My husband doesn’t clean bathrooms; I don’t mind. He does laundry, cooks, did his share of child care etc etc — so we have arranged things so we each do what we are glad to do as long as each of us has roughly the same personal time. When we were both working and had kids, this was the standard — protecting equal amounts of free time for each of us. Now that we are retired it is just not an issue but we have gotten used to sharing responsibilities for 40+ years so it is not difficult to adjust and adapt.

          1. Ad Astra

            Not sure if you’ll ever see this, but I had to add something: Yesterday, without any prompting or request, my husband decided to clean the bathroom “because it needed to be done.” The bathtub isn’t really up to my standards, but it’s closer than it was. It was like a small miracle.

    3. Cristina in England

      Agree with AAM and MK. By voluntarily taking on the cleaning you are choosing to make the cleaning your problem, not everyone’s problem. It is not your problem to solve unless you are the manager or it is part of your job duties.

    4. Merry and Bright

      This rings so true with me. I once replaced the only woman on an otherwise all-male team. From the start I figured that grown men were capable of doing their cleaning so I did my own stuff. Nobody ever spoke to me about it. To cut a long story short, I wish phones had cameras back then… The sight of all the mould and gunge made my stomach turn. The lazy scruffs just bought cardboard plates! In the end I could take no more and put the filthy crockery in a kitchen cupboard. It was still there when my secondment ended. I would so love to know what happened in the end.

    5. Artemesia

      As a professional this should NOT BE YOUR PROBLEM. One of the problems is that women are willing to agree that it is their problem. I expect the AA or other support staff to do these tasks; those that are outside the scope of AA work (like washing out people’s personal lunch boxes and dishes) are the work of whomever needs the task done.

      How the University, Law Firm, Medical Office, Accounting Firm, Plant arranges to get these tasks accomplished is not my problem but a problem of management and should not be met by expecting women professionals to take them on because it is women’s work.

  5. Cristina in England

    Off topic, but are you experimenting with different mobile site themes? When I loaded this page a minute ago it looked totally different! The comments looked different too, instead of being blue, Alison, your comments said “post author” next to them. I liked it and it loaded easily on my 6 year old phone, FWIW. It looks normal now after I reloaded it.

      1. Claire (Scotland)

        Yeah, I got a hideous cluttered layout on the iPad, with a really intrusive floating iPad tab on the side that managed to severely piss me off in the whole minute and a half I gave it before I closed out of the site. *shudders*

  6. Amber Rose

    I have a minor frustration regarding this. I always end up with the filing backlog. Filing is in my duties, but this is the shipping filing. The shipper never does it, so it gets piled on my desk.

    And when I say backlog, I don’t mean a couple hours. I mean it takes me three solid days to sort, hole punch and put away. I have a literal foot of paper on my desk right now. Filing is in my job, but it’s technically in everyone’s job, so it’s like… Ugh. Someone else wanna take 3 or 4 inches?!

    1. Lucky

      I swear I read a comment from someone here once saying that when a coworker would leave filing on her desk, she would just put it back on his. Eventually, she just started throwing it away.

    2. A Bug!

      Gross. Sure, filing is your job. Your filing is your job. His filing is his job. Assuming that the shipper is male, anyway. Alter pronouns as necessary.

      1. Amber Rose

        I don’t even mind helping with filing when I’m asked. The problem is, the shipping filing gets hidden for a few weeks, until it builds up so that it can’t be disguised anymore and has to be dealt with. I’d rather do 5 or 10 minutes a day than three days a month. -_-

      1. Amber Rose

        Oh yeah. Anyone dealing with law/government, or international shipment of dangerous goods, is gonna generate tons.

        1. the gold digger

          Thank you for using paper. I need my former employer to survive so I can get a pension big enough to pay my phone bill some day.

          (I told a friend who works for the US government and plans to retire when she is 54 that I hope that my pension would still be worth something by the time I was 65. She was genuinely puzzled – why 65? I had to explain that in the private sector, you can stop working at 54 as well, but nobody will give you a pension until you are 65.)

          1. Judy

            The one pension I still have would allow me to start drawing at 55. But, it’s reduced 5% per early year. So at 55, 10 years early, it would be 50% less than if I wait until 65.

            The others I’ve been able to roll into an IRA.

  7. Lucky

    Along these same lines, I advise young women lawyers/law students going into private practice to avoid serving on stereotypically “feminine” committees. In all my time in private practice, I never saw a man head up the event planning, staff relations or hiring committees. What those committees do is valuable, but won’t help you build your career in the way that the new business, marketing or compensation groups will.

    1. fposte

      Though I think there’s some circularity there–they’re not valued because they’re usually women-staffed, not because staff relations or hiring are less important than marketing. (I can’t put event-planning up there, though.)

      1. Zatchmort

        Fortunately, the solution is the same – as long as there’s sexism, if men start doing those things, they’ll become more valued. And if we get rid of sexism, it won’t matter. :D

    2. ace

      Hiring committee has always been one of the more important committees at my firms (and typically headed by a male partner). I do agree about event planning summer associate program, etc.

  8. AnonToday

    I was recently promoted and find the male hired in my former position won’t do the clerical work I did in that position. So, I feel like by doing my own, my role hasn’t changed much, but he’s Free to do solely higher level work garnering a lot of attention. Any advice??

    1. UKAnon

      Would it be feasible to explain to him that this is one of the job’s roles and you need him to do it? If you are his manager do you have authority to enforce that? If not to either of those things, can you explain to whomever does that you need him to take on that task to enable you to do your role?

      1. AnonToday

        I don’t want to appear “whiny” about it. Our mutual boss is new and I think requires less traditional clerical support, but there are still tasks of that nature we both need.

        1. AnonToday

          I agree I would likely feel better addressing it- just not are best way to handle.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          How about directly saying to him, “Bob, I need you to do X and Y. Can you do that?”

          I get that you’re not his boss, but if you’re above him and he’s in the role you used to have, there’s a decent chance it’ll work.

    2. Basiorana

      Did the actual JD change? If you’re his manager, explain that he needs to do the work. If you aren’t his manager, go to his manager and politely point out that he needs to do that work. Or have your boss do it.

      I was having the same problem– I moved up but had taken on a lot of duties in my old role so we had a woman doing it with minimal experience, and she felt some of the gross or DIY stuff, like throwing out abandoned gym towels and installing new door knobs, was beneath her (she was always complaining about it). She made a lateral move and we hired a new woman fresh out of school who seems very competent so far, and my boss went to my old boss and was like “Look, I get that this needs to be done, and Jane wasn’t doing it, but now you have June and June will do it so please have her do it so I can have Basiorana do her new job.”

    3. A Bug!

      If those clerical duties have always been a part of the duties of your former position, then I don’t think you need to be bossy or whiny to tell him as much. The fact of the matter is that he was hired into a role that provides clerical support to your role and your boss’s role. You’ve been kind enough to handle some of his duties for him while he got settled into his job, but he’s obviously ready now to take over those duties, so that you can focus on your own.

      “Bob, I’m glad to see you’re settled in well enough that you’ve been looking for extra stuff to do. I don’t think you need me to cover your clerical duties anymore, so can we start the transition today or do you need some training?”

    4. shellbell

      If it is part of job, he should be counseled to do it. If he won’t, he’ll need to be let go. Clerical work isn’t voluntary duty that you do when you feel like it. If it is part of the job, it’s part of the job. If you aren’t his boss, it isn’t your problem to deal with. However, don’t do the work for him. That will turn it into your job and your problem.

      1. A Bug!

        Agreed. If part of his job is to provide clerical support for you, then it’s absolutely reasonable for you to expect him to do it.

        Whatever part of his job he’s not doing, assume he’s not doing it because he doesn’t understand that it’s his responsibility. It’ll help you manage your tone, and honestly, it might be right, since you’ve been handling this stuff for him since he started.

    5. Beezus

      I dealt with something similar years ago. I was in a two-person team where both team members had been female for ages. It was maybe 50/50 clerical vs. high level work. My teammate left and I got a male teammate. He hated the clerical work and did not do it well, which bugged me SO much. I was naive and didn’t see that the clerical work was lower level and less likely to move my career forward – I just knew that it was important to have it done and have it done correctly – so I volunteered to take on some of his clerical jobs in addition to mine. He had time to do more high-level work. A year later, they decided to update our titles and give some Teapot Analysts a Senior Teapot Analyst title instead, as part of an effort to outline a clearer career progression path for people in our field. He got the Senior title over me, because he was doing more high-level work, despite the fact that I had 3 more years of experience. Never again.

    6. Sketchee

      Talking to someone’s boss about their duties is not whiny. There was a post about this the other day, about how people are afraid to set boundaries for fear that people wont like them. If people don’t respect you for setting your limits, they’re the wrong people

  9. Linda

    Haha! Yesterday there was cake and snacks in one of the meeting rooms because of a coworker’s birthday. People wandered in, grabbed a plate, and wandered out again. I was one of the last people in there and almost picked up the empty boxes to put away, but stopped (not only am I a woman working in IT, but I’m the youngest in my dept by several years). And in the end someone else, a dude, came and cleaned it all up!

    1. Apollo Warbucks

      I would have thought the person who took the last cake could have put the empty box in the bin.

        1. ExceptionToTheRule

          YES! If you take the last piece of cake, you toss the box – regardless of gender.

      1. Merry and Bright

        Sounds like the person who puts an empty milk carton back in the fridge. Just why ?!

  10. Ad Astra

    Most of these “caretaking” tasks are not at all instinctual for me, so I don’t have to fight the urge to clean up after my colleagues just to get the mess to go away. It sounds like this has worked to my advantage in the workplace, even if it means every home I’ve lived in has been a disaster.

  11. Dr. Doll

    Unless you ARE the boss, as I am. Then feel free to do the cleaning – as I do. (If it ever got bad, I’d create a new solution, but everyone is quite responsible so I don’t mind being the main putter-awayer.)

  12. Panda Mom

    My last corporate job was male-dominated (engineering/construction). The kitchen was stocked with Styrofoam cups for the water cooler and coffee. Because there were people literally working out of the facility 24/7, coffee was made by whoever came in and saw that it needed to be made or wanted some fresh. While not good for the environment, I rarely saw a real mug so the sink stayed clean. Plastic utensils, paper plates and napkins were also stocked so there was very little mess leftover from mealtimes; everyone simply put their own waste in the bins. The company had hired a weekly commercial cleaning service to come in and vacuum, empty wastebaskets, clean the bathrooms, etc. It made for a far less stressful work environment because everyone could serve themselves as needed and no one was left being the office scapegoat for housekeeping.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      See, for me, part of the problem is that I much prefer this approach…although with bamboo stirrers, and everyone having their own personal mug and/or utensils, for environmental reasons. And while I like talking to my coworkers and socializing somewhat outside of work, I’m not that fond of social events at work that require a lot of planning, whether I’m doing the planning or not. I’d prefer something simple, so if it’s simple sometimes I will volunteer, but if people talk about organizing an event that takes a lot of planning, I’d prefer not to do it, and if it were up to me, I’d organize something simpler, but by the time someone has suggested something complicated, they usually get upset if someone suggests something else instead.

  13. Anx

    I have a hard with this one.

    I find messy workplaces extremely distracting and difficult to work in. It’s so hard to filter it out, but sometimes at better at it than others.

    I know I’m doing myself a disservice if I clean, but I also know I’m doing a disservice by working with such a mental distraction. Or I know I need a clean workspace to get better results, improve my workflow, or boost my confidence, depending on the context. I’ve grown used to using cleaning as a meditation in some jobs, while I’ve worked others that encouraged it. Using my downtime waitressing to clean and organize throughout my shifts didn’t protect me from being laid off, but I know it helped demonstrate a work ethic that my manager really respected.

    If anyone has successfully been able to try to tune out the messes, I’d love some tips. Likewise, I’d appreciate suggestions for what to do instead when you need to clear your head for a little bit.

    I still think a large part of my issue with this is that in some environments (labs, restaurants) I see clutter, dust, and unsanitary work areas as fire hazards, workflow obstacles, and potential sources of contamination.

    1. Anx

      (obviously this post title refers to offices and not labs or restaurants, but habits are hard to break and a lab is a de facto office)

  14. AvonLady Barksdale

    My office is very small and mostly women, so one would think our housekeeping duties would just naturally fall to one of us. My boss, however, is the least gendered guy I’ve ever met. He hates mess and clutter, so he cleans. He usually takes out the trash. He makes sure the dishes are all clean.

    I’ve kind of always been the office nurturer, though, so yeah, I do some of these things. Last week I put away the dishes because I was sick of seeing them in the drying rack. And this weekend I took home the office coffee pot so I could give it a thorough cleaning. But I do this because I’m the second most senior person in our office and because I want coffee and I want it made in a clean pot.

  15. Snarkus Aurelius

    This is exactly why I haven’t volunteered for an Office Mom job since 1999. What’s amazing is how many times a woman will step up if no one else does. I admit my lack of participation in baking or party planning works out great for me, but I’m so disheartened to see the same faces do this work over and over again. If you stop volunteering, people will stop asking!

    Stop it, ladies!

  16. Anyonymous

    But I like baking.

    Two jobs ago, I started a subscription service where coworkers paid me $20 a month to get one baked good a week delivered to their desk. I cleaned up on that.

    1. amadeus

      That’s fine, as long as you recognise the likely impact on how you are seen professionally and the resulting limitations on your career that typically follow. And as long as you don’t mind the contribution you are making to reinforcing systemic sexist attitudes in the workplace.

      If Office Mom is the height of your ambition, have at it.

      1. AvonLady Barksdale

        Whoa, that is harsh. And unnecessary. While many of us agree with many of the things Alison is saying, I also think it’s very much a “know your audience”. I like to make certain foods on certain holidays; I always brought them in, people came to expect them, and I rose to be a respected director on my team. I was the “go-to” person for men and women alike, of all levels, and no one ever figuratively patted me on the head and thought I was a “nice little lady”. I was always praised for my assertiveness (and probably a little feared for it, too).

        I really don’t think someone making bank off of people’s sweet tooth is reinforcing sexist attitudes in the workplace.

        1. catsAreCool

          I agree with AvonLady Barksdale, that was harsh.

          Anonymous isn’t bringing in food for free, which would be more office-mom like. This is a side business.

      2. Anyonymous

        How do you know what gender I am?

        I actually don’t really have super high work ambitions. In that particular company, there was nowhere higher for me to go unless my own supervisor left, and even then I was the newest person in my department, so several other people would have been promoted to supervisor before me. If I had ever been made supervisor, that would have been it in terms of advancement.
        And I don’t think bringing in pie or cupcakes would have hindered me being made supervisor.

        1. AvonLady Barksdale

          Heh, your first question makes a VERY good point. For what it’s worth, I admire your enterprise.

    2. MK

      Do you absolutely have to bake for your coworkers, though? It sounds as if you are sort-of running a side bussiness, but in most prefessional roles being seen as the person who delivers muffins every morning will affect how you are perceived by your colleagues. It might be snobbery, but it’s how it is.

      1. Anyonymous

        I’ve never worked anywhere where you had to take your work home with you. You do your job, then you go home and do other things. My jobs have nearly always included monthly potlucks, a ton of Christmas cookies, occasional donut runs and usually a bottle of whiskey stashed somewhere for celebrations/meltdowns. Me bringing in baked goods was never seen as anything less than awesome.

        1. Sketchee

          Personal I love the baked goods and at the same time, someone who comes in and is focused more on work than selling personal products is more likely to have me asking for their resume when I’m looking for a colleague to recommend to my network. No doubt I’ll give the Baker all the kudos and think of them as a great friend.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius

      I’m a huge anti-baking in there office person, but I have no problem with this. You’re not doing it to make people like you or because you feel responsible for other people’s feelings. You’re doing it for profit.

      That makes a big difference.

  17. Girasol

    Last article I recall on the subject of bringing cookies, it seemed like the discussion was leaning to “it’s fine for women to bring homemade cookies.” I see that as all tied up with this discussion: that the cookie bringer is casting herself briefly in the role of office mom rather than decisive manager, tough lawyer, logical analyst, or whatever. Are the cookies still outside of the realm of housekeeping? I’m asking because my team loves cookies, they deserve a treat after what they did this week, and I happen to bake great cookies, but I’m the project manager. I have little formal authority and can’t afford to waste the respect that I need to be effective.

    1. OOF

      I think the answer here depends highly on context. Does the team respect you, follow your directives and take you seriously when you need to course correct? Then the occasional cookie is probably fine. I do a small bit of feeding etc for my team, but that’s because I know that I first gained enough authority in their perception that it would be safe. No one would confuse me for an office mom.

  18. ReanaZ

    It’s amazing how deep these kinds of gendered expectations run. In otherwise healthy work environments, I’ve had pretty good success politely pointing it out.

    Most recent success story: I work in IT for a large nonprofit. No one on my team likes taking meeting minutes, and there’s no structured rotation or assigned role of who should do it, so it falls to whoever get hassled into it during the meeting. I’d ended up taking them 3-4 times in a row (although I did run a couple of those meetings in my boss’s absence, and I don’t mind taking the minutes if I’m running the meeting–different vibe) earlier this year. As we were leaving the meeting, I said I’d send out the minutes and joked that it would be the last time I’d do that for a long while. My boss said, “Oh, okay. Next time we’ll get Tanya to do it.” Tayna is the only other woman in my entire department, not even just my team. Unthinkingly, I replied, “You know that always being made to take notes and do other administrative tasks is a super gendered thing that happens to women in IT, right?”

    His eyes got wide and he said “Oh. I guess I will take the minutes next time.” And then he did. And then he made another dude do it the following time (even though said dude whined like child about it).

    I haven’t been asked to take notes again yet, and while I don’t mind to take my fair turn doing something everyone hates, I’m pretty much on strike until all the dude on my team have taken minutes at least once.

  19. TracyT

    I think the bigger issue here is why a woman can’t advance in her career when she takes the initiative to keep the office clean or be a leader by heading up a party or charity committee? When did going above and beyond one’s job responsibilities become a detriment to a woman’s career advancement? And, even more importantly, why do we marginalize or disregard tasks that are often deemed “women’s work,” as if they are negative or demeaning in some way?

    1. Justin

      Because you’re spending a lot of time and effort on these non-essential activities. Anyone who can spend time planning parties that no one really wants to go to is not a real go getter or essential.

  20. Justin

    No woman should ever be expected to do housekeeping tasks if they are not part of her job role, or if men with her same job aren’t also expected to. Any man who expects this should have his head examined.

    But what I’ve also seen often in my career are women voluntarily taking on such duties, or even inventing tasks that don’t really need to be done. How important or necessary is your job if you spent half a day making laminated signs telling people to wash their dishes? How ambitious are you as a young accounts manager if you’re planning game days or pot lucks that no one really wants to have that badly?

    A potluck or “free day” that employees form organically are great, but too often I see people (usually women) who invent these semi-required events and getc everyone else to go. If management wants to order pizza or take everyone to a baseball game, great, but an employee who makes up these events could probably find other ways to go above and beyond that actually make the company more successful.

    At a previous job we had a great receptionist/admin who was promoted to be one if the coordinators of our custom development department. As a receptionist, she often planned fun events and spent time talking to whoever came by her desk on their break. She was great at her job and had time to do so, and it was a semi-formal part of her job description. But after she was promoted, she continued to spend a lot of her time and energy on office game events and potlucks and gossiping and whatnot instead of throwing herself into her new role, which not only had more responsibility but involved learning a lot of new things since she didn’t have much background in software development.

    People still liked her, but she wasn’t really adding any value to the company. When the head of the division that her department was part of decided they had over hired and had to make cuts, she ended up losing her job instead of her (also female) counterpart, who had experience with custom development.

    Now, obviously there could have been other factors at play, but putting more than 1 percent of your workday towards social events and such is just not a great idea.

  21. OldAdmin

    Here’s what happened to me once:
    I was a new addition to a group that looked down a bit on my work, even though it was technical, too, but not as highly qualified in their eyes. They were developers, I was not, thus not quite “one of them”.
    I tried to cook/bake my way into popularity, and my apple pie and burritos were popular indeed.
    Months later, we had an event with team building games. One of them was to draw a random group member name from a hat, and on the spot say something positive about the person. I was confident, because I had worked very hard on learning and catching up on my tasks. Everybody could name strengths, talents, skills, recent achievements of others.
    The developer (yes, the only other woman) drew my name – and she hemmed and hawed. Then she spluttered “Oh yes, OldAdmin is a – great baker!”
    My heart sank and I knew I had lost any standing in the group, if they couldn’t recall any of my work.
    I immediately stopped any baking. When it was requested from me by one of the process managers for the release wokshop, I flatly refused.
    I transferred to a different group later.

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