Yesterday I had a conversation with a mentor and she gave me a tip that I know all too well – don’t offer to pickup food for the team.
As I left our meeting, I was thinking about how interesting it was that we both independently came to the same conclusion. As a woman in business, you should not let yourself get pegged as the sandwich girl.
Now, in some cases, it may be your job to put in the food orders. For admins and event planners, it’s fine.
But if nowhere in your job description it says order food for your peers, then it is not a good look for you.
What do I mean by that?
Why you shouldn’t order food for your coworkers
The sandwich girl
At my first job out of college, I worked as a legal assistant and I was charged with ordering lunch for all of the lawyers from time to time.
No one bothered with me much from day to day but when it became time to put in their food order, suddenly everyone paid attention. Ordering their sandwiches seemed to be the most important thing I did at the office. If a lawyer got turkey when he wanted ham – BFD.
Reducing myself to the sandwich girl made me feel awful. I vowed to never feel that way again.
Women ordering food
In the job I left recently, I also experienced the strange phenomenon of women ordering food for their team. Whenever we had a working lunch or dinner, it was always a woman who was asked or who volunteered to put in the order. I didn’t think it was strange and even offered to help myself a few times. I thought I was being nice.
It became a pattern. In the three years I was there, I never once saw a male coworker gather and put in the orders. It was always a woman who was asked to do it or volunteered.
This happened at the individual contributor level and the manager level. When the summer picnic or holiday party came up in our management meeting, female managers, including myself, were “voluntold” to organize the event.
While I don’t think that the intent was malicious, ordering food was clearly a task “that women do.”
This applies to taking notes too
It’s not just ordering food where this phenomenon occurs. Have you ever noticed who is charged with taking notes during a meeting? In my experience, it’s mostly female coworkers who are asked to take the notes and distribute to the team afterwards and it’s always a female coworker who volunteers.
Maybe it’s because “her handwriting is better” (hmm..).
When this happens, the note-taker is focusing hard on capturing the conversation and may not be able to participate as actively in the discussion as her peers. She loses an opportunity to be influential. It also says to her that her contributions are not as important to the outcome of the meeting.
Again, taking the notes or scheduling the meetings may be in your job description, and if it is – ignore this – but if it’s not, be very cautious about how you volunteer for these type of activities.
Perception is everything
Perception is everything in the office. From how you act in meetings to what you wear to how old you look, the right perception can propel your career forward or hold you back.
Getting labeled as the sandwich girl or the note-taker is not a good thing. As sad as it is, the bubbly, offer to pickup coffee for everyone, candy-bowl-at-her-desk-type of girl is sometimes not taken seriously and is not seen as a peer. Worse, she is not seen as leadership material.
This doesn’t seem fair because doing nice things for your coworkers and being a #boss at work are not mutually exclusive. It’s a sad reality in most workplaces though.
Office biases exist
Women have to deal with different office biases than men. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re not the bubbly type, then you’re probably told to smile more often and that persona may not help you either.
When I was first promoted to manager, my boss got some feedback that I was in other words, a b@#%#. It was not because I was giving people a hard time at work or being difficult to work with but because I quote “didn’t smile, was very serious about work, and I went straight into meetings without small-talk.”
My boss and I had a heart to heart and I realized that I needed to play the game right as a woman in business. He said he was flattered that I was respected so quickly for my work but also said I came across intimidating and that I needed to remember that it’s not all about the work.
I needed to be friendly enough but not too friendly, be just serious enough but not too serious.
Eventually I figured it out but I don’t think my male coworkers have to balance their perception quite in the same way. I’m sure men face their own biases but the friendly sandwich girl and the bossy business woman are two personas that female professionals are pulled towards.
I don’t want to come across as bitter about this reality because I’m not. In fact, I’ve figured out how to master it and it’s been very lucrative for me. As I wrote last week, I paid off $53,000 in debt mostly because I figured out how to play the game.
If I leave you ladies with one piece of advice it’s this, don’t order the sandwiches for your team.
Readers, have you seen this gender dynamic in your office? Does any of this ring true for you?
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Cathy @MonetizeMyMins says
I have seem similar situations in the workplace. Women are asked to plan the retirement parties, take the meeting notes, etc., much more often than men. I also believe that women volunteer much more often for such tasks. While I am more than happy to contribute my fair share to group activities, I do not necessarily volunteer for roles that may harm how I am perceived. I do however volunteer for opportunities that boost my credibility in the workplace.
I do think it is important to understand how your choices in these areas may impact how you are perceived. Before volunteering for any activity, it doesn’t hurt to consider if it will help or hurt your standing or career.
Great point! There are so many times when volunteering for something WILL help your perception and thus your career too! It’s something that we need to balance before we say “I’ll do it!”
Des @ Half Banked says
SO MUCH YES. Oh my gosh, this has been exactly my experience, and it’s why I left the social committee at work literally a week after I joined it. It was all women, and none of the executives cared about the work that this committee did – and it positioned me closer to an admin than someone who should be promoted. I’ve also been very careful to adhere to the rule that the least experienced person in the room takes the notes, whether it’s a woman or a man. When that’s me, no worries, I will rock those notes. If it’s not me, then you’re just going to have to deal with your bad handwriting and iffy notes, lol. Me and my nice handwriting / fast typing will be over here contributing.
That’s a great strategy! Seniority is definitely a fair way to figure out who takes the notes. I completely agree about the social committee too. You might as well volunteer for the extra stuff that will give you the biggest bang for your buck – or respect for your time.
Fervent Finance says
At my work – low man (or woman) on the totem pole picks up lunch/dinner if the team as a whole doesn’t have time (this doesn’t happen every day – maybe once a week). We also have almost as many men admin as we do women. It stinks that some companies are stuck in the old days.
That’s awesome! You must have great leadership!
Penny @ She Picks Up Pennies says
This makes me so happy to be a teacher. There are all sorts of gender biases that direct women to my profession. And the good ol’ boys club may be alive and well in terms of who runs schools from a district level. But there really isn’t any of this nonsense within my building. More teams are run by women than men…probably because there are more women than men in education 😉
Glad you don’t have to deal with it!! Too bad about the gender bias at the district level though!
The Jolly Ledger says
Or the girl that make coffee, hosts b-day parties, or organizes the potluck. The unconscious bias of women’s roles is ever present and I struggle with how to fight it other than just point it out. I say this as a women in a male-dominated field. They just don’t notice. In fact, just last week I was asked to take notes in a meeting and I am a senior employee! I was also the only woman in the room. I am also under five feet tall so I often get treated like a child! I didn’t really mean to go off on a tangent but I find the whole thing extremely annoying.
I’m sorry that happened! So frustrating! We can’t change our leadership but we can change how we behave when we are in a leadership position. Maybe that’s the only way it gets better.
Broke Millennial says
OOOOOH, so many feels on this one! I’m the only woman in my office and the youngest by a solid decade (#startuplife). I’ve worked hard to make sure I don’t get viewed as the go-to to handle small tasks because we don’t have an assistant in our office. I made a decision early on not to volunteer to order for new water bottles for our water filter or to make coffee runs, which typically served me well. My job is content director and I’ve never been an assistant to either co-founder. One thing that always irks me is that when the mail man comes in during the day he hands the stack to me, never to the men. As if it’s my job to sort and deliver. The other week there were some guests in the office and one co-founders came out during a break from the meetings to my desk and asked if I could order lunch. I was floored (and pissed). Was he seriously incapable of getting on Seamless or placing a phone call? I was then tasked with figuring out what to get and going to pick it up…. He mentioned several times to the guests that this wasn’t my regular job, but I still kept thinking, “And why couldn’t you have handled this…?”
P.S. We also have a coffee machine in the office that has sat unused for almost a year because their first attempt to get k-cups they got the wrong size and then never bothered to order replacement k-cups…
LOL about the k-cups! And ugh that is so frustrating that they put ordering lunch on you! I would have been so annoyed and upset. Founders should be empowering and inspiring their employees, not making them feel like crap. Smart of you though to not volunteer for any of the little tasks from the beginning. I bet at a lean startup you could easily get saddled with those extra job responsibilities!
girl bout town says
This is interesting. I work in a female dominated environment so I haven’t noticed this as much. But it is true that is the reality of most workplaces. Glad you managed to work your way around it 🙂
Thanks me too! 🙂
The Finance Games says
OMG – last week my boss told me I was being argumentative when I was stating just FACTS that he hadn’t considered and “Please don’t argue with me, I know this”. 2 minutes later, turns out I was right, and he turned around and told me to stop being so sensitive.
A guy argued with him the next day, almost yelling, but he said “thanks, you’ve convinced me”
That is ridiculous! Crazy how the same situation is perceived in two entirely different ways. Glad he saw you were right though 😉
I totally agree, sexism really isn’t cool in the workplace (or anywhere). Males should be up for tasks like that, just as much as females. I hope I’ve never done anything like that, nor ever will.
There was a funny/sad story where in an Australian breakfast show, the woman host was ridiculed by viewers her wearing the same thing on consecutive days. So the male host then wears the same suit for a year (and no-one mentioned it). A year later he reveals this. It was pretty cool and shocking the different expectations people put on males and females. I wish females didn’t feel like (/were forced by society) to wear makeup to go to work either. You’re great without it!
Great reference! So sad! I also remember reading that female political candidates get asked what brands they are wearing by interviewers whereas males don’t.
This is so true! I love your perspective on things things and really appreciate every post that I read!
Aw thanks, Meg! Can’t wait to check out your blog!
This is such a great post! It’s tricky because you have to act on that certain line and can’t go over or under or you won’t be taken seriously.
It’s a difficult line to balance!
I’ve always been in women dominated jobs, but I totally see where you’re coming from. When I enter back into the work force I will NEVER become the floormat, or fall into “typical” female positions. Good on you for sharing this!
I’ve never been the majority in a job and wonder what that experience would be like!
Wow, it’s sad that sexism still plays a huge role in the office in this day and age. Good advice, though – don’t be the sandwich girl!
Thanks! Yup! No sandwiches for me!
Francesca - From Pennies to Pounds says
I think you are SO right. It is expected for the women to do it – but to be fair, I would rather do it than the men in my old office, lol!
Yes, this is so true! At my last job, the ladies were always the ones ordering the food even if it was for a meeting that didn’t pertain to us. No bueno.
This also reminds of a story Tim Ferriss told on one of his podcast episodes. After volunteering to clean erasers one day after class, Tim’s professor pulled him aside and gently reminded him to “not get too good at the little things.”
This line really hit home. Being good at the small stuff won’t get you anywhere and once people start to associate you with doing menial tasks, you’ll never get the chance to show off your true skills. Focus on big wins and creating true value instead.