Last week, a young executive assistant explained to me how making coffee had been the secret to keeping her last boss happy. There was early morning coffee, mid morning coffee and afternoon tea – all served to “keep her happy.” I was immediately shocked and dismayed.
In front of me was this bright, capable young woman whose skills and smarts made her a stand-out. Yet, she used making coffee and tea as examples of how she supported her last employer. She was earnest and honest and obviously committed to doing what was expected of her. But what was expected of her made me cringe.
Shame on that woman boss! It’s 2017 for crying out loud! I had a flash-back to the movie, The Devil Wears Prada and the indelible image of Andy (Anne Hathaway) racing through NYC struggling to deliver Miranda’s (Meryl Streep) coffee at the exact right temperature and the exact right moment so as not to ignite her boss’s ire. I think it’s way past time that every boss stop asking, expecting or requiring assistants to make their personal coffee. Need I say, “Get your own damn coffee!” Yes, I do.
And don’t get me started on dry-cleaning or any other shopping/delivery kind of tasks. S(he) is not the office wife or domestic help. S(he) is a professional whose work and focus is the business at hand.
When I first came into a leadership role in the 1980’s I was confronted by the men in the office who expected the women in the office to not only make the morning coffee but to deliver their personal cup of java to their desks. I may have been young and I may have been new but I quickly put an end to that scenario. It was my first, easiest and not-to-be-disputed directive as a new leader.
Growing up in the 1970’s I was surrounded by outmoded female roles and inspired by changes arising from the feminist movement. I refused to take typing classes for fear that I would get sucked into the secretarial subservient wasteland that appeared to be the destiny of girls who wanted a “little” income of their own before they got hitched. I had no inclination to cook and no aspiration to be a home-maker.
Girls in the 70’s were still creating “hope chests,” small trunks into which they collected and stored household items for marriage. By junior high girls sported “promise rings” from boyfriends. They proudly displayed them at lunch to those of us who they thought might be jealous of their luck.
Keep your luck! I wanted nothing to do with becoming a domestic queen of house and home and family. I had my sights set on university and education and empowerment. I wanted more out of life than a hope chest and a dinky promise ring. The only trunk I wanted to pack was the one that got me out of my small town and the marriage line-up.
Check out Loretta Lynn’s — We’ve Come A Long Way, Baby – YouTube
It is still sadly true that women are paid less than men for the same work. It is also still sadly true that women who work continue to do the majority of housework and child care. I know, some of you will tell me about now that “we have come a long way.” And in fact, you are correct. We have come a long way. The problem is that we still have a long way to go. And last week’s coffee conversation indicates that the way to go will remain too long if we accept such things as ok.
I could turn an indifferent eye to the coffee story. I might say that I don’t really know the office etiquette where this young executive assistant had been working. But the truth is that her statement hit me like a slap. I stopped her to clarify that I understood her correctly. And indeed I had.
I wanted the name and the number of her former boss. I wanted to scream at that woman and demand that she not forget that Gloria Steinem inspired us to be better and to lift other women up. Not push them down. I felt instantly sick in my gut because I know better. And because I know better I must say what too often is left unsaid out of fear. I will not apologize for being indignant.
In my 50’s I have reached that sassy, bring-it, yes I can, because it’s right, I say what I want, and now is the time, age. Maybe I was always like this, if I tell it true. But more so now than ever, because I have raised a daughter and have mentored many aspiring women, I feel compelled to note and exemplify where we are failing and how we can improve. It is my responsibility to inform those building their careers to never tolerate disrespectful treatment. I must and will take issue with unacceptable office practices that set the clock back and our rights aside. We have come a long way, too long to consider rank as privilege in such matters.
“Get your own damn coffee! Better yet, have a coffee with me. Talk with me. Tell me about yourself. Inspire me to lead by how well you treat others. Impress me with your integrity and values and kindness. Be great for me so that I too will become great for those who follow in my footsteps. Let me be forever thankful that you were the boss and the leader who cared and shared the way to success.”
Yes, let’s say that.