how do I say no to admin tasks that aren’t my job?

A reader writes:

How do I decline taking on tasks outside of my immediate roles and responsibilities without coming off as insubordinate or not a team player?

I work in a field where it’s pretty standard to take on some administrative burdens in addition to our core responsibilities. However, in my experience, these tasks seem to be disproportionately allocated to women. I’m eight years into my career path, upper middle management, with an advanced degree in a technical specialty. I started a new role last year that was a significant step up in both seniority and pay. I felt like I had finally accomplished something. Then, a few months after I started, our department admin unexpectedly resigned. My (female) manager’s manager proceeded to divvy up her responsibilities among me and the other managers at my tier. Being new and a people pleaser, I of course stepped up to the plate and took on the extra work with a smile. This went on for a few months until we were finally able to find a replacement. In hindsight, I realize that I was assigned the most demanding, time consuming, and asinine tasks. And of course now that I’m an expert on those tasks, any time our admin is out, you guessed it, I have to fill in for her.

Having reflected on my previous work experiences, I realize that this is a pattern for me. I do such a great job at these menial tasks that I become the point person for admin work. In my previous roles, I didn’t feel like I could say anything because I wasn’t senior enough, but now that I am, I don’t know how to put my foot down and say “respectfully, no.” I’m about to start looking for a new position and I want to make sure that I don’t fall into the same pattern and set the tone for the whole experience. At the end of the day, I’m being hired for my technical background and expertise … not to be a glorified administrative assistant. How do I respectfully decline requests for admin support when they’re coming from my superiors (as opposed to my peers)? One work-around that I’ve found so far is delegating the work to someone more junior under the guise of professional development – I still have to be involved and invest my time, but at least I’m not stuck with the majority of the work. In this most recent job, though, this wasn’t an option.

I don’t mind doing my fair share, but I also want to focus my time and effort on my actual job. I know that this issue will continue to come up as long as I stay in this industry.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 205 comments… read them below }

  1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    “Because of other priorities X, Y, and Z, I’m not going to have bandwidth to give that the attention it needs.” Repeat as necessary until the requests stop.

    1. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

      Make sure to emphasize that those other priorities are higher level. Also feel free to look/sound surprised and bemused that someone is asking a senior level upper management person to make copies, stock the breakroom, or run Fedex drop-offs.

    2. GopherMPH*

      Since those aren’t my responsibility, when can we get together to prioritize thise tasks so that I do not fall behind in my own job.

      and if they do this, then ask:

      When is the hard date for these extra tasks to end? I need to know when I’ll be done with them and get back to having all of my time to be able to organize my regular projects A and B.
      AND
      Who else is sharing Jane’s tasks while you look for a replacement? I will need to coordinate with them. .[this is the Q to determine who is getting stiffed..Only women? Only you?]

      1. Sparkle Llama*

        I once invited a boss to a meeting a few months in the future called “name will stop covering phones” got the point across and the problem was dealt with.

  2. bamcheeks*

    LW, I strongly recommend that you shift your mindset from “I am doing this because I’m kind and helpful” / “I should stop doing this because it’s not helpful to my career” to “I have am a resource for my organisation, my time is expensive, and it is part of my responsibility as a manager to use that resource effectively.”

    You are not fundamentally doing your company a favour by taking on an administrative task at a rate of $200 per hour when it could be done by someone on $100 an hour. You are costing them money. It might feel like an easy, quick, people-pleasing solution, but it’s fundamentally costing the company money because your time costs money.

    This isn’t personal, it’s not a favour you are doing to yourself, it’s a simple issue of allocating resources. And it is part of your job to do that effectively.

    1. Sad Desk Salad*

      This! Most recently I found myself in a pattern where an outside vendor, who was doing admin-level X for my company, kept messing up and I kept having to make corrections. While discussing how to deal with the vendor, I casually mentioned “this doesn’t seem like the best use of my time or Company’s money,” and my boss (if it helps, also a woman) immediately agreed. The next meeting with vendor, we addressed the situation and the roles we’re all in. The problem hasn’t been solved immediately, it’s an ongoing process, but it was immediately evident that my boss agreed that this was way below my pay grade and a huge waste of the money they’re spending on me to do the things they hired me for.

      1. mcds*

        I support using the economic argument with your boss, and really don’t have issue with this exact phrasing.

        That said, I’m going to do that thing that’s not actually helpful and tell a tangential story: in a former role I had where everyone was an individual contributor and we had to share admin tasks, we had one woman who would say “that isn’t a very good use of my time” multiple times a day to any task she didn’t want to do. It was really demeaning to everyone else on the team, who did those tasks because they had to be done. She also wasn’t delivering on any of her other tasks in a way that was visible to the team, so when I hear “that’s not a good use of my time” I cringe. That whole place was messed up though.

        1. Green Beans*

          what if the problem wasn’t her saying no but the company refusing to adequately staff the team?

          I suspect if everyone had said no and just let those tasks – so important that they had to get done but not important enough to hire someone to do them? – not get done, an actual admin would have been hired rather quickly.

          1. mcds*

            You’re right – the staffing model for the org was pure chaos in that all of the work that *needed* to get done was a hot potato/not-it game. Her not willing to suffer with the rest of us felt less admirable because it directly affected the rest of our small team. But in any hypothetical situation, I would advise someone else to do the same. This uncharitable interpretation of boundary setting is just one symptom of many of an overall terrible work environment.

            1. Boof*

              It’s kind of like when people get mad at the person who is out sick a lot because they have to keep doing 1.5x work when the real problem is management for not redistributing the work better / hiring someone extra

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                The things that make me love the fact my boss leaves a extra coverage for sick time call outs when approving vacation leave. We don’t get swamped under terribly if somebody is sick while others are on vacation (with the exception of the day after the staff picnic when half the team got food poisoning from the bbq joint’s potato salad).

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          LOL, my cat interrupted me as I was reading your comment, so I got up to feed her (for the tenth time today) telling her “I’m the senior worker here, it’s not a good use of my time to be feeding you”. This manipulative manager won’t listen though.

    2. learnedthehardway*

      Exactly – the company is not paying their Sr. Manager to do admin work. They’re paying the Sr. Manager to do operations management and some level of strategic thinking, plus people management (usually).

      Put it that way, AND call out the inherent sexism.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      I once flat out said, “You realize that it will cost $300 in wages for me to make these copies and $100 for $JuniorMaleColleague to do it, are you sure this makes sense?”

      It didn’t. $JuniorMaleColleague did it and learned to use the copy machine that day

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        I said something similar, and got fired for not being a team player because I pointed out that it made more sense to have a (male) student intern at $X/hr make copies than me at $5X/hr. That and I “didn’t greet my coworkers in the morning”. Before I had coffee. Basically, because I didn’t perform people pleasing femininity to their satisfaction. A male would have been promoted as a “go getter”. The late 90s sucked.

  3. Meep*

    I played admin in addition to being an engineer for several years because my (female) boss didn’t want to hire an admin for various “reasons” that boiled down to her hating other women (“too old”, “too young”, “too smart”,”too pretty and ambitious”, etc. were all reasons given) and I was hired without her say.

    Just yesterday, my fellow engineers lamented about how small the trash can was and asked if I could get a larger one. I cheerily said, “I think [admin] is ordering one. You can take it up to her.” And then walked away. Sometimes breaking the habit of the entire office built-up is being the first one to do it.

    (For the record, our admin is smart, pretty, young, AND ambitious!)

    1. Kim*

      I so wish you would have said “why are you asking me?” but I understand it might not have been possible/wise.
      Good on you for declicing!

  4. Quickbeam*

    This is a HUGE issue and has been throughout my career. Once organizations began to eliminate admin staff, I have found that women are disproportionately utilized for admin tasks. I just retired after 50+ years of work and even at my last job….high degree expertise, licensed profession….people would come to me about a jammed copier or how to get their cube dusted. I have never volunteered and have pushed back but I am sad to say it was as bad at year 51 as it was year 1.

    I also hasten to say I have always been appreciative of admin help and was assertively thankful for it.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I have to do this in my family, so I am not at all surprised.

      My husband and kids are continually amazed that they TOO can do admin things….

    2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      My dad owned a copier repair and service company, so I spent a lot of time wrangling copiers as a kid. I know how to unblock basically anything, but if I get asked by someone who damned well ought to know how to do it, I say, “I dunno. Kick it?”

      1. dawbs*

        percussive maintenance. Always the answer. I unblocked one of the penny-press machines at work that way recently :).

        I did recently instruct my kid on the ‘don’t admit you know how to do admin tasks’ thing for after-school-club stuff.
        I will say, one of the perks of parenting kids w/ autism is that when someone says “kid, do x, other kid do y” the question of “why?” will IMMEDIATELY come out of her mouth. And she sees through sexist BS with a level of blunt matter-of-fact-ness that the rest of us just wish for.
        (cuts both ways though. When she is ‘excessively blunt’ she’s more likely to be labeled ‘rude’ and ‘bossy’ than her peers. And she is sometimes rude and boss. And sometimes, she just calls ’em like she sees ’em and we try to have her back)

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          Before computers became ubiquitous I would refuse to admit I knew at all how to type. If asked to type I would hunt and peck until the person got irritated and griped that I didn’t know how to type. My answer was always “I never said I could. Why would you think that I could?”

          Even now I type better on a computer keyboard than a typewriter, because typing was always classed a “girl skill” and I refused to be relegated to “girl jobs”, even before I started identifying as enby. Yes, I had typing in high school summer school. I sucked at it. I sure as hell didn’t want to be stuck doing it for a living.

          Coding and computer operation is different – using a keyboard is just a tool, not an end unto itself. I never have to transcribe handwritten text into a document, which is an abysmal task, IMO.

    3. misspiggy*

      Yes. Just the other week I had a male subordinate ask me to take notes in an upcoming meeting. It never stops.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        I’ve had that happen too, have used “you probably ought to ask someone who is scheduled to attend said meeting to be the note taker” with good results in the past.

    4. Reluctant Mezzo*

      We had one clerk next to the printer room who got stuck with all those tasks. I privately advised her to study the manual and then work for Big Printer Company as the Repair Person at ten times what she was already making. I don’t know if she ever did, but I wish she had.

  5. Sloanicota*

    I would also say, I take care not to be too good at “other tasks as assigned” and I make sure to spread it around while I’m in the duty pool so as *not* to become the go-to person. Do NOT become the expert check-logger or make it your job to train the new check logger. [My last org was really bad about this stuff; they had senior level staff doing everything from logging and scanning checks, making bank runs, and fetching lunches (nonprofit). It was an inefficient use of staff dollars – why are we paying someone $100/hr to go on a supply run?]

    1. All Het Up About It*

      I take care not to be too good at “other tasks as assigned”
      I like this!

      “Oh – I did cover for Alison once, but I don’t remember steps any more.”
      Then if forced – ask questions at every step, even if you know the answers. If you technically get the job done, but make it somewhat painful for other people that you are the one doing it, you are less likely to be asked again in the future.

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        weaponised incompetence! Men take secret crash courses in it, but they never let us sign up!

      2. Lizzianna*

        I have said this before, and when pushed (by someone who, while not my supervisor, was higher than me in seniority), I told him I didn’t really remember, but I would try to walk him through it. I stood at his computer, and asked him to google a bunch of stuff, then said, “Oh yeah, now I remember!” but we went down a couple of rabbit holes before we finally got it right. (That wasn’t fully intentional, it’s how I would have done it for myself, but it would have been a lot quicker because I wouldn’t have someone else navigating the computer while I talked).

        The next time, he called the help desk.

    2. L'étrangère*

      Coming here to say that.. Do as the guys do “Do you have to plug in the vacuum? How do you do that?”. Relentlessly. Don’t ever learn the most basic admin task. Make them have to train you every time, twice a day if necessary

  6. Mockingjay*

    “Boss, I was happy to help with admin tasks until New Hire came on board, but I can’t keep covering the admin duties when New Hire isn’t there. It’s interfering with Technical Tasks A and B. I really need to focus on A and B if we want to meet schedule.”

    I agree that nearly every role has some admin functions built in – I print my copies, make my own travel arrangements, update the shared calendar when something on my end changes. But that’s not the same as someone in a very different role providing routine coverage for another role. Different jobs, different skills, different priorities.

    I used Alison’s wording from a previous column to get out of a very similar situation. “Boss, does it make sense for someone in my role to be doing these things?” “Uh, no.” It’s not about willingness to be a team player; it’s that you were hired to do X, your skills are in X, and you want/expect to focus on X.

    1. All Het Up About It*

      I agree that nearly every role has some admin functions built in – I print my copies, make my own travel arrangements, update the shared calendar when something on my end changes. But that’s not the same as someone in a very different role providing routine coverage for another role.

      So true. I have a friend who is really struggling with her boss in this regard lately. Small team of three and she’s in a project manager role, moving over from an assistant to a C-suite person. Her director level boss, who does not have an admin assistant keeps looking at her to do admin things because when they were hired they stated they weren’t good at admin items. I want to drop kick so many people in that situation. Not everyone in middle management gets admin support! Book your own dang travel and shut up about it!

  7. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    If you get the response from your manager something along the lines of, “I know, but you’re the one best able to do the job and this particular task needs to be done today”, that’s the time to name the problem and to propose a solution for it — e.g., “I can train Jack and Pratt on X System, then there will be several people around who can step in when Admin is out”).

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        So make sure they get practice. Even better, make sure they take really good notes while they’re being trained. Tell them that their notes will become the SOP document after the admin check their notes for accuracy. Then the SOP will be available to Jack and Pratt when they need to fill in — and for anyone else who needs it.

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Yup – the second time you ask me how to do something I start with, let’s go back to your desk where your note taking supplies are, so you can take notes and not have to keep asking us for help the next time (I can only get away with this because I’ve been explicitly told to do it with two of my coworkers who refuse to learn, and the task is one that everybody in the office including the manager has to do, so no excuses).

  8. Green great dragon*

    You shouldn’t have to wrap anything up as ‘professional development’ to delegate (and if it’s unconvincing, that’s going to be more irritating). Can’t you just delegate to Joe because you’re very busy right now, and Joe is more junior? And if at all possible, you delegate the whole thing to Joe with any supervision coming from his regular manager or the original requestor.

  9. Richard Hershberger*

    My White hetero cis male privileged strategy is to be really, really bad at stuff like this: to be good at my actual job and to never refuse to do this stuff, but to aim for a “loveable klutz” reputation for stuff not actually my job. This comes in particularly handy for “team building” stuff. You want me to sing? OK, but you’ll regret it. (The trick is to go with atonal mumbling, not amusingly awful loudness.) Company basketball game? I’m there! Pass me the ball and see how far into the weeds I put it. This is trickier for stuff that, while not my job, are actual job functions. That takes more nuance, like asking endless stupid questions of the person who assigned the task and proving incapable of unjamming the copier.. And yes, I absolutely recognize that my White hetero cis maleness totally comes into play.

    1. Nesprin*

      God that must be nice. I screw up on admin-not-my-job-thing-X and people are confused I can’t handle said thing and try to train me how to do thing X better.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I do also think for women and/or POC and/or any marginalized identity there’s a wider habit of incompetence anywhere marking them as incompetent everywhere, where as white men get to do the Eccentric Genius bit and still receive a lot of grace.

        1. Nesprin*

          Yup. I’ve got a PhD in engineering and my admin was seriously concerned about my inability to put new toner in the copy machine.

          It also feeds into the culture of discrimination- female mock incompetence is a reason I’ve heard brought up for why we can’t bring on more women. There’s even an XKCD on man does a thing badly: “wow you’re bad at this” vs. woman does a thing badly: “wow women are bad at this”

          1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

            I love that comic!

            And yes, there is an entire culture of white cis men feigning incompetence to perpetuate their positions of power while woman and people of color pick up the slack. I respect addressing the issue more directly so that the systemic issues can be corrected.

      2. Artemesia*

        This is why the ‘no’ needs to come up front; I don’t have time because I need to get this important thing done.

      3. mcds*

        Right? I was at a meeting a couple weeks ago that I was equally in charge of with my male colleague. Guess who had to put the sandwiches on the table? Me, because if I didn’t, no one else would have, and they all would have wondered why I was so bad at “my” job.

        1. Jen*

          “Me, because if I didn’t, no one else would have”

          That’s where one has to say to oneself. “I can totally live with it if this doesn’t get done.”

          My wife simply can’t do that.
          I can.
          Guess who is happier at work?

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Couldn’t you say “here Fergus, I’m just ducking out to the loo, could you deal with the sandwiches?”

      4. Meep*

        I am amazed that he is basically describing “weaponized incompetence” and doesn’t understand he can get away with it because of his gender.

        1. No Longer Looking*

          He literally acknowledged in his comment that he gets away with it because of his gender, Meep.

          1. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

            Agreed! In this case, it appears that he recognizes his privilege and doesn’t care about others having to pick up the slack.

      5. Not Tom, Just Petty*

        Absolutely. It’s the difference between
        “oh, Richard, You are so bad at X”
        and
        Oh, wow, all women are bad at X
        or
        But all women are great at X

    2. Sloanicota*

      I’ve learned a lot from male colleagues about how to add friction to a task they don’t want to do, which both a) calls attention to the fact that I’m still doing the task, as when women do it seamlessly, it disappears from view and b) makes it more pressing to find someone appropriate for the task because I’m doing a so-so job at it, asking questions each time, taking too long etc. Don’t do a *bad* job, because you want to be viewed as competent, but just do a fish-out-of-water-act so it’s clear that you, a senior level strategist, are not the right person to be making coffee. I originally noticed this from a male subordinate I tried to have make coffee for a meeting.

      1. MissM*

        I think friction may be the in the moment best strategy to go with, since it allows people who might be unthinkingingly asking the woman to do it to think twice about their actions, and hopefully be more conscious going forward. I don’t really take notes for myself in meetings, ergo why would I do it for the team? Why are you asking me to do UAT testing on a change I’m not involved in and don’t really do on a day to day basis? Oh I’ll do it if I’m the only person available but we’re going to have a meeting and I’m going to be in your Teams

    3. Dr. Doll*

      Ah, you and Richard Feynmann. Singing, basketball, sure, be bad at it.

      Committee work, mentoring students, service that actually supports the community but is boring and you think Large Brain should be doing Other Things so you *feign incompetence*? Hm. Did you think *I’m* stupid?

      You’re SPOT ON, Mr. Hershberger, about the cis-white-male-privilege-ness of this entire strategy, and that it offloads burdens onto others who are not cis-white-males. Please be an ally instead. (Actually, I know that you personally probably are an ally, which I appreciate, I just hope you’ll step it up.)

      I have a serious bone to pick with Cal Newport on this, too.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        The way to be an ally is not to use this as a technique to foist these tasks on the gals, God love ’em, but to get proper staffing so that everyone has only their actual work.

        The difference with the Feynmann items is that these were in fact part of his job: just the parts he didn’t enjoy. That is another matter entirely.

        1. Gerry Keay*

          Maybe don’t refer to the women you work with as “the gals, god love em.” What is this, Mad Men? Not winning yourself any points here.

          1. Richard Hershberger*

            Ironic use of the language of those only too happy to foist these tasks on the women. Irony is hard, alas.

            1. Nesprin*

              I think you’re getting a lot of push back because you’re using weaponized incompetence to not do things, which usually foists those tasks onto women/other marginalized persons.

            2. Dr. Doll*

              Community support and maintenance — mentoring, committees, whatever it is in your industry — IS EVERYONE’S JOB. It was not different for Feynmann.

              I only partially agree that the fix is to get proper staffing so that everyone has only to do their own work. There will never be enough staffing so that nobody who doesn’t want to do so has to serve on the boring-but-necessary committee, take notes, calendar things, work with unpleasant clients, chase down procurement orders, teach the lower-div classes, and so forth.

              The culture needs to change so that men step up and do their part of the maintenance and support work. I’d love it if that could happen without them getting a bunch of extra pay and cooing thanks for it, too, but I’d be content if there would be extra pay and promotion for women doing it as well.

            3. Gerry Keay*

              “Satire requires a clarity of purpose and target lest it be mistaken for and contribute to that which it intends to criticize.”

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                although a simple /s might have clarified what tone of voice or a wink would normally have conveyed.

                As a frequent reader/commenter here, I took Richard’s remarks exactly in the spirit in which he made them.

        2. Nesprin*

          I think you’re missing that some tasks are assumed to be part of the job duties of certain people due to characteristics of the people, not the nature of the jobs.

          i.e. if I don’t fix the copier, it’s because I’m bad at my job (which is supposed to be curing cancer), even though my job has nothing to do with copier maintenance.

          Some ways to be a good ally:
          -take on fixing the copier if office management is in your job scope, and to define job scope so that fixing the copier is assigned to a job not a person.

          -if there’s a task that couldn’t be assigned to a job (say, setting up sandwiches at a lunch), to notice and step up or assign to the work equally, and recognize if Susan always does the sandwich setup, and Sam steps up when Susan’s out of town, to recognize that Sam’s contribution was good but not greater than Susan’s, and lastly, come performance appraisal time, to recognize that Susan was a ‘proactive leader’ and not ‘helpful and nice’.

        3. Mf*

          Yes, advocate for proper staffing but if you see a female colleague being saddle with the admin work, step up and say out loud in front of other coworkers, “Susie, I notice you’ve been doing a disproportionate amount of the work. Let’s split the work here to make it more equitable.”

        4. The OTHER Other*

          OR, if tasks really need to be done while someone is out, or until someone is brought on to do them, or if there just isn’t enough of them to justify a dedicated person, how about coming up with a plan to SHARE the tasks?

          As a team leader (one of five teams), I got stuck doing several bits of busywork for all five teams, it just became assumed that the OTHER Other would do them. It took me away from higher duties (including managerial responsibilities and sales opportunities). No one did them while I was on vacation, nor did our manager delegate them, and when I came back I demanded we share this burden. From then on we had a rotating “manager of the week” who would handle this stuff.

          In retrospect I should have suggested we put this in place from the get go, but the tasks piled up from small favors to increasingly frequent and time-consuming stuff. As is probably very common.

    4. CharlieBrown*

      So the way to counter white male cishet privilege is with more white male cishet privilege that will mark anyone who’s not white, male, or cishet as incompetent?

      This comment makes me physically ill.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, read the room… now is not the time to unabashedly brag about how your privilege makes it easy to pull off what women struggle to balance their whole careers, often. Like, we know, but ugh! Thanks for rubbing it in on WHY it so often falls to women to do this stuff, because men have mastered the art of weaponized incompetence :/

      2. Meep*

        I said it above, but his entire post could’ve been summed up as “weaponized incompetence”.

    5. DameB*

      Not sure I would brag about that if I were you. To be a good ally, instead, you’d use that privilege to help less cishetwhitedudes around you.

    6. Susan+Ivanova*

      Yep, tactical incompetence. It helps that meeting scheduling software was designed by people who have never scheduled a meeting – “I have to ‘invite’ the room? Then why does it have a room-selection UI?!”

      1. Sloanicota*

        I really think there’s a line here. I remember not that long ago we had a male commenter admit that he never schedules zoom meetings, just waits until women on his team do it. Under further questioning, he admitted he didn’t know how to schedule zoom meetings, though he was midcareer. There’s a difference between “always ask how to scan the checks which isn’t supposed to be my job until they hire a proper office manager” and “make my female colleagues pick up my own work admin tasks in addition to theirs.”

        1. MissM*

          +1
          Also that discussion made me more conscious of who is scheduling stuff, or maybe more specifically who is asking who to schedule stuff. As someone who needs other people to do/not do stuff regularly, I tend to be the scheduler but also my hands aren’t broken, I can look at your availability & hit send just as well as you can, so why would I ask you to do it?

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        I didn’t even need to hear a newsflash that white males use weaponized incompetence and get away with it — we all already knew that. “Try being a white cis male and applying the traditional strategies” isn’t helping me.

        I think the comment was [perhaps] cluelessly well-meant, but it hits too close to home to be anything other than more of the same irritant that we’ve already been experiencing.

    7. Gerry Keay*

      And I guess just screw the rest of us who don’t have that privilege, huh. Very cool to see that cis white hetero men are using weaponized incompetence at work as well as.

      Like, you realize you’re intentionally, knowingly using your unjust, unearned social privilege to make your life easier at the expense of others, right? You realize that’s bad, and that acknowledging your privilege doesn’t make it okay, right?? Right?!?

      1. Sloanicota*

        I think the question is, what happens to the work left undone. Does it a) not get done at all, which may in fact be fine for some admin tasks like “organizing office parties” b) become everybody/nobody’s job, like cleaning up after meetings, which is fine as long as it doesn’t become Jane’s job c) make the higher-ups realize they need to hire appropriate support staff, the best outcome and least likely in my experience, or d) fall to marginalized colleagues. Note that the original example was team building exercises, he’s not the guy saying he can’t set up his own zoom meetings.

        1. Richard Hershberger*

          We can divide these things into three categories: (1) BS stuff like teambuilding exercises. If they don’t get done, that is a net win as it leaves more time for useful work. (2) Real stuff that needs to get done and should have someone whose real job is to do it. Someone taking this on as extra work simply provides cover to management for not having someone whose real job is to do it. Then there is (3) Real stuff that comes up and has to be dealt with. I don’t do the incompetence routine for that. That would be a dick move. Need the copier unjammed? I do it routinely. Upon reflection, I think much of the discussion has lacked clarity about which category is at issue. The OP seems pretty solidly in category (2).

          1. Gerry Keay*

            I don’t think the issue is a lack of clarity here, the issue is you bragging about your ability to get away with doing less work that others because of your gender and race.

            Like, are you encouraging the women, queer people, and people of color you work with to also not do those tasks? Are you having meetings with management where you use all that cis white hetero male privilege to advocate for better staffing, knowing that the rest of us are much more likely to get penalized for speaking up? Or is “I’m not doing this” the beginning and end of your so-called allyship?

            Because you’re not sticking it to management by not chipping in for bucket 2 unless you’re actively organizing for collective bargaining power and increased staff with your fellow coworkers — you’re just taking advantage of a sexist society while the rest of us pick up the slack.

          2. The OTHER Other*

            Category 4: stuff that needs to get done but lacks the volume needed to hire a dedicated person. In a small office, someone needs to answer the phone but there’s not enough calls to have a receptionist. Don’t pretend you don’t know how to answer a phone and leave it to Jane.

    8. Reality Check*

      The thing of it is, Richard, you’re not fooling anyone. It’s the oldest trick in the book.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, like… what was the point of this comment? We all know, that’s why this stuff so often ends up on women, because men are thrilled to use this strategy to shirk. Thanks for rubbing it in, I guess?

      2. Richard Hershberger*

        I’m not trying to fool anyone (though I am legitimately bad at basketball). I am trying to discourage them from doing it again.

        1. elodie*

          But with work tasks, “they’re” not going to just throw up their hands and get rid of the task, no matter how much you convince yourself that you’re doing this for the benefit of all. Someone else will have to do it, and if it’s never you, your “lovable klutziness” isn’t especially likable… and it isn’t going to fool the people who end up doing the work.

        2. Nina*

          I have a colleague. He (cishet white male) has a PhD in his subject field and is one of three people in the company capable of doing what he does. I (visibly queer white female) have a MSc in my subject field and am the only person in the company capable of doing what I do. Neither of us is an admin.

          Dr. PhD doesn’t know how to mail parcels. Under the unusual circumstances when this incident happened, it was critical to the project that an object in Dr. PhD’s possession got mailed as a parcel. I got to spend two hours explaining to Dr. PhD how to mail a parcel, and then when that failed, generating and emailing the mailing label and booking the courier pickup for him.

          Dr. PhD’s weaponized incompetence did not make the task go away, or become less critical, or reflect badly on him (everyone who has heard this story has gone ‘aw well PhDs, what can you do, he’s great at his job though’). Everyone has been very thoroughly discouraged from asking Dr. PhD to mail anything or do any kind of admin task. The tasks do not go away. The tasks just go to people less willing or less able to be visibly incompetent at basic tasks.

      3. My+Useless+2+Cents*

        He’d probably fool me, I’m very gullible. However, I also don’t pick up on hints very well so my solution, were I his manager, would be additional training and practice so that he could improve and requiring him to keep at it until the job is done right so he can feel that accomplishment. Weaponized incompetency is not something people try on me more than once ;) (I usually do figure it out afterward, just not when in the thick of it.)

        1. Nonym*

          Really? You’d make a senior accountant go through singing or basketball or receptionist or printer-troubleshooting training and practice? I can’t imagine that would go well. I would seriously push back and feel alienated if my manager required that I get training and keep practicing until I could do *someone else’s* job right because the company couldn’t be bothered or failed to hire enough admin staff. A job that isn’t the one I signed up for, that I have no interest in, and that’s well below my pay grade/not utilizing the specialized skillet I worked hard to acquire to boot. I don’t have time for that.

          And I would start wondering how often and how long they are going to expect me to do it. I actually don’t mind lending a hand in a pinch but taking the trouble of giving me training would signal that they intend to regularly foist this task on me. Depending on other factors, I might end up taking the actual skillet I was hired for elsewhere.

    9. KH*

      This is called weaponized incompetence, and it plays a big part in why women/femme-presenting folks are often saddled with these tasks. Please stop.

    10. snarkfox*

      I did this, albeit unintentionally. Our receptionist is out of the office on maternity leave. But my ADHD makes me uniquely unsuited for receptionist work because I cannot multitask and I get really easily overwhelmed by having a lot of tasks to do at the same time.

      I did such a terrible job doing scheduling last time that no one has asked me to fill in again…. I feel a little guilty about it, but also, it’s not my job, and there are five other people in the office who could also step in. Just because I’m female doesn’t mean I have to take on admin work….

  10. hbc*

    “One work-around that I’ve found so far is delegating the work to someone more junior under the guise of professional development….” Why lie about it? You know the work is more about getting things done for the business than developing a marketable skill, so don’t try to dress it up. Everyone understands that sometimes you’ve got to fill in, and you’re in a great position to distribute it more fairly.

    If it’s so much extra work that you’re squeamish about passing it down, that’s a sign to talk bigger picture with whoever is assigning this from above.

    1. coffee*

      I HATE it when people try to pass off work as professional development or a stretch goal or a favour they’re giving me, when they’re actually giving me a headache.

  11. Dr. Doll*

    Please, immediately read the excellent new book, “The No Club: Putting An End to Women’s Dead-End Work.”

  12. Joanna*

    Total sympathy. I walked into a luncheon last week and asked the only woman in the room if she had set everything up. When she said “no”, I was like “OMG, men can set out sandwiches?” No, I don’t have 20 years of pent up bitterness, why do you ask?

    As for “One work-around that I’ve found so far is delegating the work to someone more junior under the guise of professional development”. I just want to say that we all know this line is complete BS when we hear it. My current manager, who is otherwise great, pulls this crap. You know what, you are the boss, you have the authority to assign people work, own it. The, “I’m helping you by offering you a chance for professional development.” is so manipulative. No, you just really don’t want someone junior to you think you are mean for delegating work you are responsible for delegating. Just delegate the work, don’t try an make me think you are doing it out of my best interests.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      To your second point, many years ago when I was a department manager (i.e. hourly worker with a slightly higher pay rate and responsible for a couple aisles) in a Walmart, I had a terrific assistant manager above me. Part of what made him so great was that he didn’t pull this sort of BS on me. If he was going to pull me off my own department (which absolutely did not get me off the hook for it) he would walk up to me and say “Richard, I’m going to screw you over today.” I loved that guy.

    2. Hydrangea*

      “One work-around that I’ve found so far is delegating the work to someone more junior under the guise of professional development”.

      I just want to say that we all know this line is complete BS when we hear it.

      Yeah, no sh!t. And they grab that work right back as soon as the boring parts are over and it’s time to present the results to higher ups. I know that game.

    3. The OTHER Other*

      Yeah, ordering the lunch and office supplies and cleaning up the conference room is not “professional development”.

  13. Artemesia*

    I mostly avoided this in my career although I began it in the 70s when sexist assignment of admin tasks to professional women was the norm. The key is to have that look. And to refuse the first couple of times you are asked — ‘I am on deadline and can’t take that on right now, but have you asked Peter.’ You develop a sort of persona that doesn’t take crap. Works very well. You will not be viewed as professional if you are just so nice and aspire to be office Mom. Because it is fair to share the work, be careful to volunteer for the things that will build your professional reputation not your reputation as office maid. e.g. don’t organize the luncheon, but agree to draft the proposal for approval of the new program, or to pull together a team to discuss the grant proposal or contract proposal.

    1. Artemesia*

      let me add that people will still walk into the office and walk by 4 offices with men working away or 4 cubes until they come to you, a woman, to ask where the boss is or for assistance. This is where you cultivate total ignorance: ‘I have no idea’. As soon as you become very helpful, you are the office receptionist.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        This, plus 30 years of office living gives one a natural RBF that scares away many without a word.

  14. Irishgal*

    Have checkpoints with your line manager where you inform … “hey I’m spending x hours/x % of my time on tasks normally performed at admin level. I’m not sure this is the most effective use of my time and am concerned it is impacting the deliver of my xxx core role tasks” then ask questions does it make sense for me to keep doing this? Who can we get to cover also.

    As others have mentioned, you need to be really disciplined about filling the void when work is thrown out and no one takes it on, also when something is assigned don’t get too good at doing it, do the bare minimum to complete the task and certainly do not suggest any improvements.

  15. Smithy*

    I think another part of this is to pay attention to what admin tasks are in fact volunteered for by everyone and which ones you see others at your level or higher talk about being “bad” at.

    In my industry being in certain meetings often correlates to advanced opportunities – therefore taking notes at meetings is a task that I’ve very senior staff volunteer to do. To the point where if it’s known that the notes from XYZ important meeting are critical, certain staff will be flown half way around the world. However data entry – not associated with our immediate advancement and all sorts of jokes around who does it worse.

    All to say, I think that there are ways to be specifically thoughtful about this for your career path.

    1. Mid*

      I’d be curious about how volunteering to take notes is seen by gender in your workplace/field. Are men taking notes getting more opportunities, while women taking notes are assumed to be secretaries/admin? Because the other side of the “shoving admin work onto women” coin is that when a man does the same tasks, it can be seen as exceptional and remarkable and is rewarded as such. Like how when men take their own children to the park, it’s seen as “babysitting” or a favor to the mother, instead of an equal part of parenting.

      Obviously, this isn’t universal, and is changing slowly over time. But I still see that women refusing to do admin tasks can be seen as a -1, while a man doing those tasks is a +1, and women doing the tasks is 0 while men refusing is a 0, if that makes sense.

      1. Smithy*

        I’m sure this is very specific from field to field, but in my sector the note taking I’m referring to is for external meetings and has that Hamilton dynamic of “being in the room where it happened”.

        How this plays out in seeking/avoiding tasks is that for those external meetings – it’s the observation how it would be beneficial for the CEO or Senior Staff member to be “staffed” for note taking. Being in the room at all is considered a value add in the moment and to someone’s career, and not viewed as secretarial across gender lines. Both your observations of the meeting and being able to accurately record notes/next steps all fit into that. So truly, in no way an exceptional gendered stepping up but rather an administrative task that gets you into bigger/better positions.

        However….taking notes for internal meetings has all of the normal baggage that you hear about across “declining administrative tasks”. The difference here is no one would say they’re bad at taking notes – and so the declining is more along the lines of not volunteering, being too busy, having to join the meeting ten minutes late, etc. Whereas data entry is where you get the posturing around someone being so bad at our data entry process that they could never ever train a new hire on the system.

        For those of us in “middle senior” roles – the reality is that having administrative support is more and more rare in many fields until you’re very senior. And so the OP’s experience of more advanced staff members is you do get asked to step in on those administrative tasks. Declining tasks is one thing, but I also think it’s valuable to see which administrative tasks are more valued in your field and less valued. That way when they do come your way, you’re advocating for the ones most valuable to your career as much as possible.

      2. I Talk About Motorcycles Too Much*

        I like the way you describe this, @Mid. I find it to be consistent with what I have seen happen at the non-profit and government jobs where I have worked.

      3. Nina*

        In my company, delightfully (delightfully because I’m the only woman in a department of 70 but that’s another story) it’s written official policy that the person who wants the meeting is responsible for
        – determining who they need, who they want, and whether everyone is needed for all of the meeting or whether people can join or leave mid-meeting
        – booking the meeting and meeting room such that everyone they need there can be there
        – writing and distributing the agenda at least 2 hours in advance
        – taking notes during the meeting
        – writing and distributing minutes

        1. Anonymoose*

          I don’t know how I could both run a meeting (and fully participate in it) and take notes on top of that, so that second to last bullet surprises me. Everything else makes sense

  16. irene adler*

    I-female- was tasked with planning/executing a work celebration for those who had been at [Small Company] for 20 years. Ironic as I was one of many employees with 20 years in the company. So essentially a party for myself and about 18 of the two-dozen people at [Small Company].

    Well, here it is 13 years later, and…just haven’t gotten around to planning anything yet.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      I wished they’d asked me. I – male – absolutely love to plan parties.

      Attend them? Not so much. But planning for food and drink and activities? I’m your guy!

  17. Annoymouse for this*

    This is timely. My bosses decided to not hire the support role that I need for my job – filing, answering phones, etc. – and I flat out told the company president I wasn’t working weekends or after hours to deal with the filing that’s not getting done since I don’t have time during the week. I’m done being a doormat. If they don’t want to hire an admin, that’s on them.

  18. CharlieBrown*

    If you are a male and you want to be an ally to women, you can also volunteer to do some of those tasks: be the person who takes notes in meetings, the person who makes another pot of coffee when it’s empty (which should be all of us, for God’s sake; the number of people I’ve worked with who thought they were lucky because they got the last cup of coffee and walked off without making another pot), etc. There are no “female” or “male” tasks. There are just tasks that need to be done.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yes! And better still, suggest a process by which the work can be more fairly spread out or encourage fellow men to take these tasks on. A woman is more likely to pay a cost if she says, “Thad, I’ve made coffee for the last three meetings, why don’t you make it this time” where as Thad’s buddy Tim can make the same point and not pay.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I also think if you’re a senior-level male, it’s going to come across MUCH BETTER from you to say, “Chris, I see that you’ve assigned a lot more administrative tasks to Jane, who is the only woman on your team” than if Jane tries to advocate for herself.

    2. Dinwar*

      “There are no “female” or “male” tasks. There are just tasks that need to be done.”

      My grandfather taught me that early on. We were working on his farm (he lived in town, had a hobby farm in the country), and we spent a rainy day doing laundry. Either my cousin or I–I forget who–made a crack about this being women’s work, and he got very, very stern, and basically used that line–“There’s no men’s work or women’s work, only work the family needs done.” One of those “I will never forget this” moments. (And to be clear, we were joking even then–our families both took the view that laundry, cleaning, dishes, and the like were children’s chores, boys or girls, because that’s how you train the next generation to take care of their homes.)

    3. Spearmint*

      Ah, but don’t we risk falling into the same pattern of becoming the go to person for these sorts of tasks? Why not is read simply have professional admins who handle all this stuff?

      1. CharlieBrown*

        Because we’re not going to drop everything and hire one immediately the first time nobody volunteers for this. I mean, ideally, that’s what we should do in the long run, but we also need to think about a short term plan.

        And we also need to change the culture. This is one way we do this, regardless of whether we need to hire an admin or not.

      2. Qwerty*

        So you are afraid of being seen as one of the women? Or you’re just ok with the women always getting stuck with these tasks?

        A dude has more standing to rope in other dudes or change the processes. Like the coffee thing – no matter how many times women at my company suggest the system that whoever finishes the pot starts a fresh one, the men refused to do it until all the women stopped drinking coffee and suddenly it was other men suggesting the idea. If you take on a task eventually, then suggest that Bob does it next time. Then you and Bob can go assign it out to Fergus and Tom, so now there are four people in the rotation (and so on )

      3. CG*

        If your office carries outdated gender assumptions that set women as the default for office housework, they may also carry outdated assumptions that men doing that work are “helping out”, while women that doing office housework are “doing their jobs” – sort of how some people with outdated gender ideas see mothers as parenting and fathers as helping. In that case, I’d think a helpful man would be a lot less likely to become the permanent go-to for an admin task than an equally helpful woman.

    4. Lizzianna*

      Yes, and if you’re a supervisor, don’t ask for volunteers for these tasks. Assign them.

      Rotate notetakers.

      If you don’t have someone for whom fridge cleanout makes sense to assign, post a list of whose month it is.

      If men in your office are just not cleaning up after themselves, say something to them. If they “just can’t make the coffee as well as Sally!,” send them a youtube video of how to use your office coffee pot.

  19. DameB*

    Oh god. I worked with a team once that had a male manager and four workers. I didn’t normally work with them (not my team) but I was in this one day long meeting for brainstorming. The male manager looked at the one (very senior) female member and said “Are you taking notes?” She was like … No? (with the implied, why the hell would I?) “Can you please?”

    Later in the meeting, he asked her to take lunch orders. Then later, he asked her to make copies. She wasn’t physically able (for reasons) and everyone in the room knew it but none of her male colleagues stepped up. I finally stepped in with an ulterior motive.

    The next morning, handing over the copies, I waited til he had his hand on them and then just held on for a second and said, very mildly, “You know, I noticed you gave all the admin tasks to the one woman on the team.”

    He got all blustery and swore he didn’t and I shrugged and said “Maybe I missed something.” and moved on. Less than two hours later, HR was calling me up for a meeting to discuss if I felt discriminated against. “Not me, but….” He didn’t last long.

  20. Melina*

    Twofold has worked for me:
    rarely, pitch in if you think it is really important and make sure your supervisor understands they are paying you too much money for a small role (do you really want to pay me for directors salary for this project)
    most often, feign ignorance. I was an admin for years and I succeeded in getting out of it by never letting on how good I was at admin work. “I dont know how to reset the copier. Have you asked…?”

    1. Boom! Tetris for Jeff!*

      A good strategy for additional/not your own tasks. But if you are actually an admin and this is your job to reset the copier, doesn’t it sound like pretending to be bad at your own job???

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        “Resetting a copier or even unjamming it is an IT task, right?” or “IT doesn’t like it when I mess with their equipment.”

        Note, I’m actually very good at fixing random equipment. But people usually don’t think of asking me unless it’s a task that’s coded as “women’s work.” I’m an AFAB enby.

        Even now that I’m working with computers I can avoid that kind of stuff by calling it a “hardware problem, and I’m software.”

  21. Marna Nightingale*

    I don’t have anything constructive that hasn’t already been said but I am irresistibly reminded of whoever it was on Twitter who said, more or less,

    ”Gaze not into the abyss, lest you end your career as VP Abyss Acquisition and Management.”

    Also, I sort of miss the days when it wasn’t career suicide for a female person to claim not to know one end of a keyboard from another.

    I managed to keep that one going for three years in a dispatching job … until we moved from paper to software, at which point I was busted, but also had enough capital to get away with saying “because if I’d admitted upfront that I could type 70 wpm I would be over in the admin office instead of sitting behind a radio right now.”

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      I would literally deny knowing anything about typing until computers came out. I am a lousy transcribing typist, and I would deliberately hunt and peck if required to use a typewriter.

  22. Empress Matilda*

    Anecdata: I assigned an admin task to one of my male employees just this week. Not because I’m trying to correct any gendered imbalances – he’s the only one on the team who has the knowledge required to do it, so anyone else would have to check with him each time regardless. (Also my entire team is male, so there’s that.)

    He’s great at his job, and usually quite responsive when I ask him to do new things. But this particular one is apparently a bridge too far – he literally said he shouldn’t have to do it because it’s an admin job. And then in the next breath, he asked if I (his manager, female) could do it! I didn’t think about the gendered aspect of his resistance until now, but I bet that was part of it.

    (Also, my husband called while I was typing this comment, to ask me where his suitcase is. How on earth would I know? It’s *your* suitcase; you were the one who used it last; and you were the one who put it away last. Women’s work never ends, apparently…)

    1. Marna Nightingale*

      My family’s standard repliy to questions like the suitcase thing is “I ate it. It was delicious.”

      Which means the exact same thing as “How should I know?” or my Mom’s standard “Last time I used it, I put it back”, but it’s just silly enough to not start a cranky/defensive cycle going.

      1. Jay*

        Mine is “it wasn’t my day to watch it.”

        My husband and I subvert many gender roles, including the one about who can’t find stuff in the fridge. That would be me (cis/het woman). I have been known to say “We don’t have any butter” while staring directly at – you guessed it – the butter.

    2. tangerineRose*

      “he literally said he shouldn’t have to do it because it’s an admin job. And then in the next breath, he asked if I (his manager, female) could do it! ”

      Wow! Might be a good idea to discuss this with him and ask him if he thinks his manager should do a job that he seems to think is beneath him.

  23. Unkempt Flatware*

    Women do this to me just as much as men. I can’t tell you how many calls I’d get from home office asking why mail hasn’t been opened or what kind of toner our local printer takes or will you set up this meeting for big boss? For equity’s sake, I believe we should ask 5 men for every 1 woman to do admin tasks and other “women’s work”

    1. Sloanicota*

      Oh yes, we are certainly *all* socialized this way; OP’s grandboss in the letter is a woman. Women are definitely just as likely to perpetuate these stereotypes, and especially if they’ve been living with the same assumptions themselves they may actually be less sympathetic when you point out the imbalance. Many of my female bosses got there by just doing it all, all the time (and have incompetent husbands at home).

    2. mcds*

      Have had many a woman in an admin role assume I acted as my boss’ secretary, regardless of my title/position. “I don’t know, he manages his own calendar” is a phrase I have repeated hundreds of times.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Same. I’ve had admins complain that I don’t take my “turn” at covering reception phones and had my own department admin push back on filing my travel expense, but not my male peer. The crab bucket mentality.

    3. Lacey*

      Yeah, because they know that you’re more likely to just do it and the men are more likely to whine and complain!

    4. Ness*

      When I was working as a PM, I would sometimes assign a note-taker for larger meetings. I’d always look for a man first to be the note-taker, since I know women get asked so much more often.

  24. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Actual essential office work — coordinate a meeting, booking the boss’ travel, order essential supplies, submit a ticket for IT/Facilities — those things are harder to push back on especially when it comes from superiors. You will need to pick your battles and probably do things that are essential to keep the work moving, but the stereotypical female “social” tasks like organizing office parties, ordering holiday gifts, any cleaning, decorating…that’s when it’s time to look confused/bemused and say, “that’s not really something I should spend my time on.”

    I burned some goodwill, but I was finally successful by pointing out that I would be misclassified as exempt if they kept assigning me certain tasks and indicating that these were going to be my permanent duties, since they were preventing me from doing the job duties that allowed me to be exempt.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yeah it’s (a little) easier to train yourself not to volunteer, and to push back against requests from same-level peers; it’s more challenging under these circumstances when it’s your boss making the request. The boss has theoretically decided this is worth your time and they’re willing to pay you to do it. The advice here is on the best, most diplomatic way to try and navigate your response.

  25. Elle Kay*

    Living in a world of the narrative of “You have to be three times as good to be considered half as good” certainly makes you feel that you have to step up and do everything that you’re tasked with doing.

    I’m happily both partner-free and child-free and yet I still feel that “have it all” pull because family and chosen family both play into those expectations of “Well, as a woman” from time-to-time. I also have spent the last 23 years (from the time I was a teenager) in a male-dominated field. I’ve never had a manager/supervisor/lead who wasn’t male. Until my current job, I never even had a non-male coworker who lasted more than 4 months (and that is only 4 people over that entire 21 year run).

    In earlier jobs, I was FREQUENTLY asked to do things like make coffee (which I kinda can’t do), take notes, and in my favorite, to enter someone else’s notes into a word document– I’m an IT engineer– the notes had nothing to do with my job area/skills, or even with the company, really. They were someone’s personal notes. The first time I pushed back on that one, it felt terrible like I was letting down everyone, but it started a good pattern.

    1. Curmudgeon in California*

      … in my favorite, to enter someone else’s notes into a word document– I’m an IT engineer– the notes had nothing to do with my job area/skills, or even with the company, really. They were someone’s personal notes.

      “You need me to train Joe on how to use Word? I’m not very good at it, I suggest that he use X tutorial instead.”
      “No, I need you to transcribe his notes.”
      “Why, did he break his hands? That’s not even close to my regular work. I’m not a transcriptionist.”

      I’m not even close to nice when it comes to getting crammed with gendered work outside my actual professional area.

  26. Happy Penguin*

    Am I the only administrative assistant that feels a little disparaged when I read things like this, or do I not understand typical admin tasks? So many people comment that admin tasks are “below” them. I’m an administrative assistant and I do payroll, assist with interviews, onboard and train new staff, manage staff PTO and other HR duties, and a plethora of other (what I consider important) tasks on a daily basis. I also answer phones, backup other team members and am my boss’s right hand. Never have I picked up coffee or lunch for others unless I wanted to, and I do so much more than answer phones and file. Am I not a “typical” admin? I consider my job important and beneficial. What am I missing? (And I’m asking out of genuine curiosity, not snarkiness).

    1. mcds*

      Your feelings are valid. I think (generously) what most posters are getting at is that if there are *that* many admin tasks, they should HIRE an admin instead of expecting them to do both the job they hired them to do (which is specialized in another field) and a job that someone else should devote their time to. Admin assistants add an unbelievable amount of capacity to organizations and the work should be recognized as such, not tacked on to someone else’s job (who is nearly always a woman).

    2. Ginger Baker*

      It’s not that these tasks are not important – I am an admin widely considered to be *key* to things getting done here – it’s that it is not logical for a company to pay for an attorney/programmer/engineer to be entering their own expense reports, researching best flight options, or (to use your example) processing payroll. I for one would be pretty upset if I found out the reason I could never get a doctor appointment more than six months out is because my doctor was answering her own phone and scheduling all the appointments and doing all her billing herself.

      1. GeorgeFayne*

        I work in a medical office and once had to call another doctor’s office nearby for information about a patient. I was stunned when the phone was answered on the second ring by the doctor himself. Perhaps he was wandering by the front desk and heard the phone ringing, wanting to lend a hand?

        Nope – he was in an exam room with a patient. The rumor was that he had a difficult time keeping admin/front desk/billing staff, but my personal image of him is as a one-man-band – medical-style.

    3. Molly the cat*

      Typical admin tasks not being a good use of technical staff’s time doesn’t mean they’re “below” them, or at least it shouldn’t…more like some combination of “their time is more expensive than yours”, and “it’s more efficient to have you, the admin, do this task that you have specialized in and can do better and faster, instead of having the other staff distracted by it”.

      Also, “admin” covers a pretty wide variety of tasks, so I think people are using it here as a general category rather than “things that should be handled by administrative assistants”.

    4. Starbuck*

      Gosh, I hope not. I think people are frustrated at the way the importance of your work is minimized when what should be the job of one person is instead spread around a whole team with no extra compensation or recognition that it’s important work that needs to be done well, but is distinct from the rest of everyone else’s jobs.

    5. Lacey*

      It’s not that the tasks are below us, it’s that they take time away from doing our primary job.
      And if there’s no admin to do the thing everyone should take turns doing these extra tasks and it shouldn’t always fall to the women.

    6. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      I think, even beyond the pay difference, is that those women who have achieved a higher level education and technical skill are having to continually defend their right to do their jobs and be respected as attorneys/programmers/engineers/doctors, etc. If they are assigned to answer phones or process payroll, they AREN’T being given the work and recognition that they have earned.

    7. Hen in a Windstorm*

      But that’s your job. If you were a surgeon, you would be annoyed at being asked to do tasks that are so far outside your role. Not beneath, *outside*.

      Then add in that the only reason you’re asked is your gender, when there are 3 other surgeons who are never asked. Why should I be asked to do those tasks just because I have breasts?

    8. Tau*

      I get where you’re coming from – I think it’s really easy to slide into devaluing admin work and disrespecting administrative assistants by accident here.

      Trying to phrase this as neutrally as possible, speaking as someone female-presenting with a career in a technical, male-dominated field, for me it boils down to:

      * many admin activities are not the sort of things my boss will be looking at come review time. They’re not the sort of things I can put on a CV. They don’t develop the professional skills and knowledge I need for my role. Time spent on admin activities is lost time for my career development – and although of course everyone will have periods where they’re doing work that isn’t furthering their career, if I get saddled with disproportionately more of it than my male colleagues, we’ve got a problem.
      * I’ve chosen the career I have because the tasks it requires are things I’m good at and enjoy. I’m bad at and do not enjoy many common admin tasks. Making me do that work not only means you’re making my work life more unpleasant, you’re forcing me to do work I’ll likely do a mediocre at best job of – which can affect my professional reputation.
      * this one is a bit more fuzzy, but…
      A lot of admin tasks involve supporting other people so that they can do their jobs more smoothly/easily/etc. Which, do not get me wrong, is hugely important and valuable and there is nothing wrong with working in a support role! However, if I’m disproportionately saddled with admin tasks for my team which includes male coworkers in the same role as me, then the message that’s being sent is that it’s a better allocation of roles for me to remove obstacles so they can do the work we’re assigned more easily than for me… to also do that work… myself. That’s a huge blow to my competence and capability wrt the actual job I am hired for and want a career in.

      I hope that makes sense and doesn’t sound like devaluing admin assistants! I too think your job is important and beneficial, and I’m in awe of good admin assistants because I know I couldn’t do what they do. That’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to get saddled with it myself :’)

      1. CatLadyEsq*

        This is a beautiful explanation of this. I have always thought of it this as well – I’m a lawyer, and when it comes time for my boss to evaluate my performance, he’s going to look at how many hours I billed to clients, and that’s it. He’s not going to care or notice how many times I made coffee, or booked a conference room, or scheduled a zoom call. And if I’m expected to do those non-billable tasks and my male colleagues are not… that’s a problem.

      2. Christy7h*

        This is so well phrased. It really is more about doing the duties that aren’t your job, won’t further your career, and that often are done more frequently by women. If these duties are important, they should hire someone full time to do them. I’ve had an executive assistant the past 6 years and could not do my job without them. They are a vital part of the team, to make our work successful.

    9. lost academic*

      No, they are important and critical, but I work in a business where everything is monetized in terms of its hourly cost. Certain kinds of work cost more or less dollars per hour (think specialties within a services firm) and of course cost more when done by a successively more experienced person with a higher rate for the most part) and whenever possible admin costs are also billed out or billed to an overhead code. We cannot charge the same amount per hour for that work so we use a particular individual who is cheaper and dedicated to the role. And yes, that person is generally also compensated at a lower dollar amount. The work itself isn’t beneath anyone, but I’m not going to have someone who would otherwise be billing a client 250 an hour doing work I bill out at around 50 unless I can’t avoid it. That’s lost revenue. People, though, have an innate ability in our culture to equate work value and dollar value, and of course, work value and personal value.

    10. Marna Nightingale*

      That is incredibly valid. The fact that I did not want to become an admin and felt I had to fight against it for years has perhaps left me with a blind spot there.

      FTR, I have gotten stuck wth the job enough that I can honestly say that I am a TERRIBLE admin. It is indeed a complex skill-set and to a degree a collection of personal traits, most of which I lack.

      The best possible answer in a lot of cases, if a person has the capital for it, is “I feel like we need to start looking for a good admin; paying an administrative professional to do this stuff quickly and well is better and cheaper than paying me to do it slowly and badly.”

    11. Nesprin*

      Admin tasks are valuable, important and absolutely not my job. I am no no way disparaging admin when I say that as a PhD holding engineer, I should not be doing admin tasks instead of doing my actual work especially when my male peers are not expected to do so.

    12. Happy Penguin*

      Thank you, commenters! I appreciate the distinction between “outside” and “beneath.” And it absolutely makes sense to not have high-dollar staff doing AA work, and certainly not women being saddled with it more than men. I think I let some of the “make coffee” comments ruffle my feathers and didn’t look at the big picture. Thanks for commenting and clarifying!

    13. Anon for this*

      Because women who get stuck with these tasks are seen by their bosses (and sometimes peers) as the assistant, not a technical team member. It means losing out on raises, promotions, and other career opportunities. It could also mean that your job doesn’t exist because the company doesn’t value those duties and decides to foist it onto women in various teams instead.

      I’m in engineer with 15yrs experience. I got publicly thanked in a company wide meeting for providing dinner during a rough project. I was co-leader of the project, worked nights and weekends for months, was doing the jobs of three people including technical things outside of my scope (I was an IC, team lead, project manager, and QA lead when I should have just been an IC). But all the higher ups took away from that was that I put in the dinner delivery order every night. My peers on the project got promotions and raises, while I effectively got demoted.

      I’m not saying that dinner order wasn’t important and I didn’t mind doing it so our company admin didn’t get forced into late hours just for one task. But it totally sucks to be known for that.

    14. Nina*

      It’s not a ‘below’ thing, it’s a ‘this is so far outside my realm of expertise I really don’t understand why you think I’m able to do this’ thing. I’m a scientist. Good admins (of the executive assistant type like you are and of the receptionist/fetch-and-carry type like you aren’t) are worth their weight in gold and have a skillset that I just don’t have.

      Phone-answering, note-taking, stationery-cupboard-maintaining, coffee-and-lunch-getting, payroll, doing any of those things well, are skills. A lot of people can kludge through them well enough but professional admins have those skills.

      I would never dream of asking the office admin to go run a flash column or basebath the glassware or do a routine filter changeout on the DI system if I had to be out for the day, because those are skills the admin doesn’t have and isn’t expected to have, even though the admin is an intelligent professional who could probably kludge through those tasks well enough. Because it’s not their job.

    15. Curmudgeon in California*

      Asking a random, often senior, woman/AFAB to do trivial admin tasks is actually different from being a professional admin.

      A good admin can literally be the backbone of a company. I’ve done actual admin work, and I was good at it, but I hated it because of the sexist crap that came with it. It’s necessary stuff, and can be quite complicated and intricate. But nowadays I do not admit to knowing these things, because even as a senior technical person I get dragooned into doing it because I have boobs. Especially the coffee making, note-taking, party planning, lunch fetching, transcription and phone stuff.

      A good admin handles multiple schedules, travel planning, expense reports, PTO, and phones. Plus a lot of other things. It’s different to have that as part and parcel of your job versus being asked to do something, that you may have no experience in, just because you present as female.

  27. ScruffyInternHerder*

    I’m perfectly happy to make a pot of coffee, because I drink it and BECAUSE our CEO will call out anyone who he catches draining the pot and sneaking off.

    But when asked to “type the minutes of this sales call for me” by someone not in my department, with no authority over me, when this was absolutely far below my pay scale and he had just defaulted to the first available feminine presenting human? “I’m a really expensive admin” (while handing said paper back to him).

    Male dominated profession. Years of mentors who have made certain I have the tools to thrive, including the ability to say “no, that’s not something I have capacity for”.

    1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      “I’m a really expensive admin” I like this one. It’s a good blend of lighthearted but pointed.

      1. NotRealAnonforThis*

        And I’d be REALLY expensive because its so far outside my typical scope of work.

        I did work for a “family owned” business where all administrative tasks were basically divided between all the women in the place; they were literally avoiding HIRING someone to specialize in these tasks, which there was plenty need for, while adding additional work to the women in the office. And I’ll emphasize: it was only the women. Who were typically underpaid compared to men in the same positions.

        As I’ve explained more than once – the EOC would’ve had a blast with that, but nothing that would have come from an EOC investigation or suit would have covered my earning capacity for approximately 35 years. The company wasn’t *big enough* to make that worthwhile, and I’m not naïve enough to believe that I’d ever work in my industry again if I blew any whistles.

  28. leeapeea*

    In my small company it’s not uncommon for people to do administrative tasks related to their own work (expense reports, printing and mailing, document troubleshooting) if an admin support isn’t available. We then assign junior staff to stand in for admin staff when they are out, though to be fair it’s generally the easily trainable stuff. If your admin requires a backup for a complex task, and it’s disruptive to your workflow to be that person,(and maybe not the economical choice for the company) it’s time to reassign it. If you don’t want to wait until your new job to solve this, OP, could you approach your manager with this problem and ask her help to reassign the duty? As you pointed out in your letter, you were hired for your technical expertise; it’s a waste of your time and the company’s resources for you to continue performing these specific administrative tasks, even if they’re on the more complicated end. Maybe have one or two staff members in mind that could take the task, and have the admin train these folks (you don’t need to take your time up more).

  29. Prospect Gone Bad*

    I just caution people to make sure they are pushing back against actual admin work. I am a director and have often gotten pushback from people who must read these sort of things online or something and then start pushing back on the actual operations and core parts of their job, incorrectly labelling them admin tasks!

      1. Heather*

        Not the OP, but I see a lot of comments here referring to things like travel booking, expense reports, and setting up and taking notes in meetings as “admin” work, which seems really odd to me. I bill out at $150-200 an hour and I’ve always done this kind of thing myself, as have my senior colleagues who charge double what I do. Most offices don’t have the kind of “admin” capacity that a lot of these commenters seem to assume should be default.

        1. Just Another Cog in the Machine*

          I think it depends on whether you are doing those tasks for yourself or for someone else at their request. I take my own notes for myself, but I am not going to take notes for the group if that’s not my job. (And my notes would be useless for anyone else as they pertain only to my responsibilities.)

      2. Prospect Gone Bad*

        examples would be “the invoice that impacts our area, check if it’s accurate then get accounting to pay it and follow up to make sure they do.”

        Or “can you enter an X into these 200 accounts.”

        As per the 2nd one, you can do it by hand or use a template and bulk upload items. I don’t consider creating a bulk upload an “admin” task because there is an art of doing them correctly so they actually work, but becuase an Admin did some other bulk uploads in the past that were easier, now every “Bulk upload” is seen as “admin”

        There are also projects than be done in an “admin” way or not. For example 100 letters to send. More than one way to generate the letters

      3. allathian*

        Yes, this. I’m a senior IC in an organization of almost 2,000 employees. Only our President has an EA, everyone else, department directors included, book their own meeting rooms, make their own travel arrangements, writes their expense reports, etc.

  30. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    There are tasks at my job that I really love to do, and would do all day if I could. However, there are many other people who could take them on as well. We voluntarily choose specific items on a monthly schedule, as fits in with our other duties and schedules.

    My workplace Mom qualities make me keep checking the schedule for any unclaimed tasks, but my inner Bartleby also makes me stop at volunteering for more than my share. And then I wait until management raises the issue, at which point I can “grudgingly” offer to be the hero and help out.

    And if it looks like admin, even when I have a lot of admin skills/proclivities, I definitely don’t offer until someone has asked me specificially. It ain’t my job to manage this stuff and I don’t want to end up being counted on.

  31. Bridget*

    I am seeing all of these verbose responses. Stop.

    “No, I am unable to do that.”

    And move on.

    1. Sloanicota*

      To your boss? I think you’d have to be pretty confident in your skills on the job market to say that and nothing more to a request from your supervisor.

      1. Empress Matilda*

        And in this case, it’s not even OP’s boss – it’s her grandboss who is assigning the work. This definitely requires a more nuanced response than just “no!”

      2. Lacey*

        Yeah, not to my boss. And even not to my sh*tty coworker who thinks he shouldn’t have to manage his own project assets. I just tell him I know it seems like a small ask, but I don’t have time for it.

      3. Not that other person you didn't like*

        To your boss it’s “No I am unable to do that unless you want (critical deliverable X) to be late.”

        And when I was young and had zero clout to push back, I’d just really suck at things that weren’t my job and only handed off to women in my office. “Oh, did I forgot to write down who called? I’m sorry, I was focused on (critical deliverable X).”

  32. Spearmint*

    I think Alison makes a good point that being overly conscientious can be bad for your career AND also not provide much value to the business anyway. I had a (female) boss like that, who was super conscientious and always taking on more. She became the go to for so many things and was working 60 hours a week. Eventually she got promoted to a different role and I filled her shoes, and I stopped doing a lot of these extra things she had taken on and only did the core responsibilities of the role. Nothing blew up. Little of value seemed to be lost. In fact, the lack of all this extra work hardly changed any major outcomes. And I had a healthy work life balance where I worked overtime maybe two weeks out of the year, while still being called a superstar by my now-boss.

    I don’t think being overly-conscientious is completely gendered, but it does seem like women are more likely to fall into that trap.

    (By the way, my former boss seems to have set clearer boundaries in her new role as well and is no longer working long hours, and again nothing has blown up and everyone still has a high opinion of her)

    1. Christy7h*

      Great point. I’m getting ready to take maternity leave in our worst busy time, March – May. It made me actually think of all my duties and who to delegate to. Many of the items… just don’t need to be done. It blew my mind, and I immediately stopped doing them. Also, other things i realized I should have delegated these years ago, and just did it immediately, and it has worked great.
      I need to remember to do this periodically

  33. Ness*

    I’m glad to see this, as I’m having basically the same issue. My division no longer has a tech writer, and one of my coworkers keeps assigning me tech writing tasks, like cleaning up the formatting of a report or making it Section 508 compliant.

    On the one hand, I am better at these tasks than he is (English isn’t his first language, and while he writes decently well, he misses some nuances of English writing), and I want to be a team player. But on the other hand, providing support for this really isn’t my job, and I don’t want it to become my job. Plus, I do feel like he asks me in part because I’m a woman, which is irritating.

    I guess this is a more clear cut situation than LW’s since we’re peers and have the same boss – I should just discuss it with my boss. But ugh.

  34. Regular Human Accountant*

    A few years ago I went to work for a company that had only a handful of women; some were admins, some were mid-level, and one was director-level. All of them were expected to fill in for the receptionist on her breaks/lunch/days off; they had a written rotation. No male employee regardless of position–including interns and clerks!–were asked to sit at the reception desk, ever.

    I knew this before I started and made it clear to my hiring manager that I would NOT be participating in the rotation. No one ever complained (to me, anyway) and within a few months the director had removed herself from the rotation as well.

    1. NotRealAnonforThis*

      Ooooh, memories of the “family owned business” where the women were expected to rotate on the “Holiday Eves” so that the phones were covered. Half of us could take Christmas Eve off, and the other half NYE.

      Because someone had to answer the phones. So it had to be a woman, even if she was an engineer/IT specialist/contracts administrator/purchasing dept agent.

      We had an answering service, for the record.

  35. Beth*

    When the admin tasks are being doled out, why not be the one who offers to help with backfilling the missing role. I’d rather help find a temp and/or help with recruiting/interviewing permanent replacements which will help fix the gap. Doing that is plenty of work, but will help move along closing the gap faster and you’re more likely to get actual appreciation from your manager and others along with doing work that might be better suited to your pay grade.

  36. Mr. Bob Dobalina*

    Someone has already mentioned that OP needs to change their mindset – bingo. OP is dealing with what OP has accepted or created. The last time this happened to me, I told my boss that 1/3rd of my time had become administrative work because the company refused to hire an admin, and the entire workload was growing each month. I said that I was fine and dandy with doing lots of admin work for more than double the typical admin salary, if that was the company’s preference for how to use my expertise and time, and that to accomodate that admin work, I would start delegating my complex work to very expensive outside resources – who would produce the work on a much slower schedule than me. After that speech, I quickly got approval to hire a temp admin.

  37. Purple Cat*

    It’s so tough to unravel this systemically. We are trying to “professionalize” a previous 4-th generation family company. And that meant everybody did a little bit of everything and it’s so hard to break the entrenched habits of “But Bill always helped us before”. But “Bill” is in Compliance and that really doesn’t include fixing pick tickets in the warehouse… He has more important issues to focus on. Sorry.

  38. Marcella*

    My biggest client has a core value they stress repeatedly: “We all pick up the trash from the floor. No one says it’s ‘not my job.” Which sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in reality. Because people don’t bother white male leadership with minor tasks, and take them straight to women and people of color. And that puts the latter between a rock and a hard place, where they either end up doing tons of extra work or pushing back and looking like they’re not a team player. Leadership who come up with slogans like that just don’t realize how implicit bias shapes the way they play out.

    When I worked as a Comms Director in house at one job, people kept asking me to order office supplies, pick up lunch, organize birthday happy hours, etc. And it quickly spread – people saw that happening so they began thinking of me as an admin. I tried to push back and got gently reminded that humility was an important part of our company culture. (Humility for thee, but not for me!) It taught me to never “be a good sport” unless the requests are equally distributed. Once you’re designated as that person, it’s very hard to break others’ perceptions.

  39. HS Teacher*

    We have to push back on these things. When I worked in finance, they added me to the list of (only) women who were on kitchen duty. I do not, nor will I, use a company fridge, sink, microwave, etc. I just know how gross some people are, and I prefer to keep my stuff in my office.

    I asked why none of the men were on it, and I was told that the men usually take clients out at lunch and rarely use the kitchen. I said, I won’t use the kitchen, either. My manager told me I wouldn’t be on the schedule, but if she saw me use the kitchen just once, she was adding me to the cleaning schedule. Mind you, the male employees all got coffee and used the kitchen daily.

    I only lasted a year at that job. I refuse to clean up after adults who are more than capable of cleaning up after themselves. Nope.

  40. SF Kate*

    I am finally at a point in my career (VP, 20+ years experience in my field) where I just call it out. “Oh, assigning the office housekeeping work to women/POC is a terrible trap that companies fall into. That doesn’t align with our values. Let’s develop XYZ fair and equitable system to distribute that work equally – or consider whether we need to create a position or make this someone’s official duty.” As a junior associate at a law firm I remember watching awestruck as more senior women partners would point these things out to leadership, and I’m SO happy I can now be that person for others. [To be clear, I don’t think you have to have a certain level of seniority to point this sh*t out – but it personally took me this long to push back without feeling like there would be professional repercussions.]

  41. goddessoftransitory*

    Ah yes. “Generally expected to take on admin tasks” and “disproportionately women…” odd how often those two phrases go hand in sweaty, clammy hand.

  42. Potatoes for all!*

    aggggghh and sympathy op

    We hired a guy last year to take a bunch of admin stuff off my plate and, turns out, he’s “just not as /good/ at organizational stuff as me”. he sure does have a lot of visionary strategic thoughts though *barf

  43. Greycat*

    Any suggestions for a situation when you point out that only female managers are asked to do admin tasks but the men are not and your (female!) boss gives you all the reasons why each of the men is too busy to take on the tasks? As if you and the other women are not busy? I’ve pointed out that the optics aren’t good, which she agreed with but the situation does not change.

    1. Manchmal*

      Oof. It’s so sad when this stuff is perpetuated by women who should know better but get sucked in to gender stereotypes just the same.
      A variety of options come to mind, depending on how strenuously you want to push back.
      -Don’t just talk about “optics” (because that makes it seem like there’s a reality that doesn’t match the optics in which the men really are busier). Describe how you and other female colleagues have similar loads. Appeal to fairness.
      -Mention that this sure does seem like gender-based discrimination, and oh jeez, does she really think its a good idea to open the company up to legal liability?
      -Go to grandboss or HR, escalate to someone who can do something about it.
      -Speak to some of your more sympathetic male colleagues, and make a pitch for them to voluntarily cover some of these tasks.
      -Look for a different job, and let your boss and higher-ups know that this is why you’re leaving.
      -Form an organized group with your female colleagues to push back on this collectively. Boss can dismiss one person, but not a room full of people who all agree.

      I hope you can get some relief!

  44. Christy7h*

    So many thoughts on this. First off – no shade on administrative tasks, if that is your job. I’ve been in an assistant role early on, and now I have an exec assistant and their work is invaluable.

    Someone early on gave me the advise that “no one gets promoted for throwing a good holiday party” so instead to focus my time elsewhere. I’m female, a people pleaser, and very outgoing, so in one of my first jobs, where almost everyone was introverted, they kept wanting me to plan the parties. I just… didn’t? I would not volunteer. i did volunteer for other things (leading trainings, mentoring opportunities, serving on networking related committees). Agree with the idea of picking the good ones that may impact your career.

    Now, I’m a deputy director over 180 staff. Both my boss and I are female. We have a male executive assistant. There’s still weird gendered moments at times, mostly about decorating the office, but we’ve both perfected the “I don’t have an opinion, this is your decision, thank you for your work!” and it gets handled.

    The notetaking kills me. Especially with the increase in virtual meetings, I take personal notes on my laptop during most meetings. Recently I was in a mtg with a big group, everyone was at a minimum 2 levels below me. I kicked it off, really just as the convener, and everyone else took it over and ran with it. At the end, the lead on the project, asked me if I could read out my notes for action items. I said – oh, sorry, I don’t have that. (and I didn’t. I’d started doing other work).
    and someone else did and they moved on. But now its making me question my personal notetaking during meetings. Most of my meetings I have that duty assigned, and I need to change Most to ALL.

    I feel like it is a constant battle, to not step into this role. Was really specific about our next holiday party (get the party planning cmte to plan it, lets talk about it maybe twice? And I’ll be there and fund it) and got called out for it – sort of in a joking manner. I addressed it in the moment, and its fine. But weird vibes, and so gendered.

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