Saying No

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I am the queen of avoiding certain tasks in the work place.  Not because I like to schlep my work off on others, but because there are still some jobs that, if you are the woman in the room, they try to tag you with.

My example today:

“You’ll schedule this meeting, right?”

Look, I have a computer science degree and have spent the past 20 years of my professional career working side by side with men in IT – fixing hardware, fixing software, knowing the ins and outs of security and wiring, knowing how to apply technology to the business, etc.  I did not do all of this so I can be the woman scheduling meetings, arranging for food, taking all of the notes for all meetings (and distributing them) and being the one typing up what was on the whiteboard.

Today, I was the woman on the email string between a whole bunch of different departments.  It was not an issues I was raising or had any direct contribution in terms of what should be happening – nope, I was simply on there as an FYI.  So, when one of those with the vested interest came to me to ask if I agreed with his approach of “let’s stop the 20 emails and reply-alls and get into a room and talk thru this” – I told him it was a good idea.  It doesn’t happen enough.

“You’ll scheduling the meeting, right?”

Wrong.

“You know, Joe – the person who has a vested interest in getting this resolved should be responsible for pulling the right people together for the meeting.  I don’t know about the issue and its impacts – I don’t know how it needs to be solved.  And I hate scheduling a meeting only to have everyone look to me like it’s truly MY issue.  The guy raising this should be the one scheduling the meeting.”

Oh – was his response.

If I’m invited to a meeting where they end up asking me to take notes – my response is usually: “Fred over there needs the details for his work – Fred, will you send us your notes when this meeting is done? Thanks”  I mean, just because I was invited, doesn’t mean I have action items or have a reason to take notes for myself.  If you called the meeting and want it documented, document it yourself and send out the notes.

And I think that’s the key right there – own your own tasks.  I own my own tasks – so my expectation is not misaligned.

But also, I have learned this in my 20 years of IT – and even 4 years of computer science classes and lab work – if you start down that road and you are female – not thinking that taking notes for anyone asking is a big deal – or scheduling meetings for anyone even if it isn’t your meeting to schedule – or ordering food for something you were invited to attend – you will always be known as the person who does that work.  You won’t be known for your skillset as an IT person or a project manager – you will be known for your fine administrative assistant skills.

And before anyone thinks “that’s a horrible generalization – taking notes when someone asks is not a gateway to this end-result” – I’ve seen it time and time again.

When I was a computer science major, I saw an upperclassman (female) always getting the key job of documenting the actual work being done – not doing it.   She was smarter than most of the men in the room – yet they patted her on the head by giving her that task of typing it up.  In the end, even the professor expected the woman in the room to do this job.  I always politely reassigned it.

When I was in the first couple months of my first job post-college, I watched a female cohort – an amazing hardware specialist in IT and software licensing guru – get admin assistant type tasks that ultimately stalled her career growth at the company – and she was forced to leave to get back into true IT work that she loved.  Most of her work was given to an IT admin we hired to replace her.

At that same job, I saw a woman come in as a unix expert – only to end up being the best documenter of backup tapes.  Important, yes.  But she was another that ended up having to leave because she could not do technical work given all of the admin paperwork she was given by that team.  After she left, we gave it to a junior technician.

At a contract gig, I watched an IT development manager be the queen of ordering in food and snacks.  I didn’t think much of it until I was in a meeting where she presented a solution that would not get considered until her peer agreed it was the right approach.  They never looked to her as an expert on the software – but a pretty face who brought snacks.  Ironically, she never saw that – and we never got along because I didn’t take her advice to bribe staff with food to get them to do their jobs.  And she didn’t like it when my lack of bribery got people excited to work with me and for me on the project.  Why were they excited? They liked working with someone that spoke their language and understood their issues – they could care less about the food.

And at the current job – I have watched highly skilled analysts get the job of “managing the documentation” instead of designing the processes to fix the issues.  I have watched my fellow female project managers be less project managers and more typists for others – and not stuff that actually got their projects done.  I have watched women get forced into these lesser roles because they were seen as not needed because “we don’t need a typist”.  In fact, one group booted women from it until I took it over, refused to go down the path of my female peers, and was seen as one of them versus someone who just wanted to document things in meeting minutes.  It was why I was given the three month project assignment.

While as a project manager, I do have the job of scheduling meetings as they relate to my project staying on track and getting done on time, I do have the job of typing up action items to make sure everyone knows what I expect they will be doing to get my project done on time, I do have the job of doing whatever is needed to get us across the finish line.  And I agree with that.  I don’t schlep that.  And I think, that is the distinction.  I won’t call a  meeting and expect others to take notes.  I won’t say there is a problem, and expect others to do the work to assemble the team to resolve it.  And that is why I have the assignments I have.

I don’t schlep my responsibilities, I simply refuse to take on the crap work that others don’t want to do.

Because I never got into this profession to do the crap work – I got into it because I love it. And I refuse to fall into that stuff and forfeit everything I have worked for.

So I say no.

What do you think?