Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A note from the sexism battlefield.

So, today I'm in a meeting with three in-house people and two outside consultants, and I am the only chick in the room. GUESS WHO was asked to make copies by one of the outside consultants? (No, actually that's not right - had to come back and edit this, so you can get the full effect.) He didn't ask ME nicely, he held up the paper to be copied and asked R, "Can SHE make copies?" Didn't even address me directly - "Does SHE understand English?" Yeah, she does, asshole. You may have noticed this when I was talking about the things I was there to address. And I had been thinking you were a real keeper, as consultants go. Now, not so much.

To his enormous credit, and I love him for it, my new boss R, who was running the meeting, spoke up immediately and said, "She's not here to make copies," and grabbed the documents and went to find someone paid to do that task. Of course, the reality is that I would have offered to do it, as would R or the other guy in our department, but I was quite pissed at the assumption that I was there to "take notes and make copies," because I was the lone female in the room, despite the fact that I did contribute information and opinions and spoke up like "one of the guys" when the subject turned to something I was working on. And then, at the end of the meeting, the new president of the company, who had taken few notes, leaned over to me and asked me to send him a summary of the meeting. As if I'd been sitting there taking notes for everybody? I was sitting next to him and didn't write much more than he did! I wrote down the things I had to get done, and as much background as I needed to do it, not what everybody else had to do, because excuse me, I wasn't there to take notes for anybody but me. Again, if, when we first sat down, he'd leaned over and said, "Could you keep notes on all of this and send me a summary?" I would have been happy to do it. So would either of the guys. But they weren't asked, and silly me, I thought I was there to contribute my part, like they were. My mistake - I don't have a penis, so I must be naturally gifted at taking notes!

But R gets a gold star for seeing this taking place and correcting outside consultant guy right away. New president - eh, I'll put together the best summary I can and gently tell him that in the future, if he wants anyone to keep notes for him he should say so before the meeting is OVER, like, hey, how about when it starts?

And the kicker is, this is not a sexist company. We have female VPs in roles traditionally filled by men, lots of women in management, and I normally feel I'm treated like an equal. So if it goes to show ya anything, it's that even in the "better" environments, if ya sit down to pee, the boys think you must have a special gift for secretarial tasks.


geogrrl said...

When the President made that request, I would have looked at him and politely replied that, sorry, I wasn't making notes of the entire meeting just my part. But, that if he wished notes for future meetings I would make sure that one of the admin staff was present.

And yes, I've done that. When the Deputy Minister asked me to get coffee (again, lone female) I looked at him, and said politely, "We don't have coffee in the office, but there is a cafeteria downstairs." Then didn't move, but looked at him steadily. That never happened again.

Catherine said...

If I hadn't been in the room, the president would have asked the same thing of one of the guys - I was just amused that he ASSUMED I was keeping notes of everything, not just the parts I was working on. Maybe he used to buy notes off female students in college, and just assumed I was a good note taker. And I was - in college. :-) And, to be fair, the subject matter wasn't stuff any of our small admin staff gets involved in, so it would have been tough to drag one in to take notes when the conversation was jumping from topic to topic - they weren't hired to take notes like that either. It wasn't that he asked me for my notes, if he'd asked at the beginning of the meeting I would be able to create a summary without having to borrow everybody else's notes to do it. It was his assumption that I'd taken notes on the entire meeting - when I was sitting right NEXT to him and did not write much. (They all believe in their hearts that the uterus doubles as a recording device!)

But the "Can She make copies for me?" directed at my boss, THAT one blew me away. If the guy had asked me nicely help him get copies of this stuff, I'd have been fine with it, he was a visitor in our office, and any of us would have done that if asked for help. But since he didn't address me, I didn't have to answer, did I?

Sue Woo said...

No, you didn't have to answer him. He didn't ask you a question. Thank goodness for Big R. What a crock. It's a good thing I wasn't there. Something like "No, I can't do any of that! I just broke a nail and I must go immediately to the Beauty Parlor and get it fixed!" would have popped right out of my mouth.

geogrrl said...

Oh, the "Can she make copies for me?" that was incredibly sexist and patronizing. There's someone that would stay on my blacklist, and at the first opportunity I would let him know he'd stepped in it.

I'm sure there was no bad intent in the President's request, but as you say, you're not automatically a record keeper because you're female.

I recall another incident (same office) where I worked. One of our bigwigs was visiting from the head office. It was not unusual for them to finish their meeting then come to reception and ask that a cab be called for them. The receptionist (me) was at lunch at that time. He then walked past several offices/cubicles with men in them until he came to the first female--one of our biologists. He asked her if she would call him a taxi. She turned around, looked him up and down, and said, "Poof! You're a taxi." then turned back to her work.

Catherine said...

I once worked in an office where we had no receptionist on our floor, everyone was to go to the second floor receptionist. Lost souls would come into our offices and walk down the hall past 4 or 5 men sitting in their offices, to ask the first female face they saw to help them. She was also sitting in her office, surrounded by building plans. She was our structural engineer.

Anonymous said...

It's so true about the assumption that female = secretarial skills... I'm starting to think that it would be a good career move to pretend that I can't touch-type, am not very computer literate and can't organise admin stuff for shit. Seems to be the best way to get ahead sometimes.

Nice work by R though!

Catherine said...

R types about 80 words a minute, so does the Lawyer Formerly Known as Boss. Men who are computer literate and can type their own stuff are treated like gods - "Oooh, did you see how fast he can type?" Women are expected to do that, even if it's not in their job description. I've never been one of those "Oh, I don't do that, THAT'S SECRETARIAL!" types, if it needs to get done I'll do it, but a woman who does that risks getting "secretarialized," in the eyes of management, while a man who does it is "a real team player." I don't know how we'll ever get past that, maybe when all the dinosaurs die off, that attitude will die with it. It's better than it was 20 years ago - which is why I was so taken aback by "Can she make copies?"