Career Women and the Helper Role
I just dove into another great career book for women, and was completely unsurprised to read that at work, you should never volunteer to make copies, get coffee, or other “helper” type jobs when everyone in the room is an equal. It’s not surprising that careerist are advised not to do such things, but what if you are already stuck in it?
When I joined my team, I was assigned the role of “running the weekly meeting” and creating the status slides (which means I asked everyone what they were working on and typed it up). I was told that they have the newest person do this, but when two new people joined the team, the task didn’t shift. That was my opportunity to speak up, and I didn’t take it. Bad job SP! Now both of those two people have been shifted to other sub-teams, and there are only 3-4 of us remaining. I’m again the newest one.
It was a good thing for me to do initially. It gave me visibility to all the people that attended & kept me in the loop. But I don’t “need” the visibility anymore. The right people already know me. The most irritating part is that while I techincally “run the meetings”, whenever my lead is there (usually) he takes charge and runs pace/topics of the meeting while I mostly just flip through slides. It makes me feel like a secretary. This isn’t the first time he has made me the lead of something in name, but makes all the decisions himself. I respect his right to make the decisions, but don’t tell me I’m leading it when I’m really just maintaining the status of it. Right now, I don’t see a way out of it. It probably is best to wait this out – but I’m never going to miss an opportunity to speak up again. Lesson learned.
(I do largely make people put in their own status – that just makes sense. But I can’t seem to get out of being the chart flipper.)
I have another coworker who routinely tries to get me to “help him” with his work by delegating (menial) tasks to me. The last time I agreed to help this delegating coworker, it was frustrating. It took me longer to get set up and going with the software that it would have took for him to just do it himself. My other (male) coworker stopped by and said “Oh, you are helping with that? I told him I didn’t have time.”
The truth was, I didn’t really have any more time than this guy did. I could make time, but it wasn’t a good use of my skills & time. Still, it never really occurred to me that saying no was an acceptable answer. A light went off in my head. The next time my delegating coworker asked for help, I told him I was swamped and couldn’t do it. It worked. (I recognize that there are certain things & people I should say yes to, but that doesn’t mean I have to say yes to everyone & everything.)
I’ve been working really hard to change the dynamic between me and the delegating coworker. When I first started, it was fairly appropriate for him to delegate small tasks to me because I was new and didn’t have that much responsibilities of my own. At this point, it is simply no longer appropriate. I do not report to him and I’m not really involved in his work. He already has someone working part time whose role is, essentially, to help him. Unsurprisingly, this person is a woman.
If you are a woman, do you find yourself getting placed in helper roles? Do you have to actively try to avoid being stuck in them? I think this is probably most common in male dominated fields like mine.