Thursday, September 22, 2011

When Should Women Get the Coffee?

I'm still feeling my way through this workplace-etiquette thing. Like this week there was a really important meeting going on and all the managers in the Projects Department met to discuss something really important about the project schedule. Since my new supervisor was responsible for presenting at the meeting, he told me I could sit in. Of course I was only too thrilled to.

When we got to the company's really gorgeous thatched meeting room, we discovered there were no drinks. The meeting was long so I volunteered to go fetch them. When they arrived half an hour later and the porter left them on the table. I felt an urge to get up and serve them to everyone! I was, of course, the only woman in this room of white males so I remained seated and let the meeting continue. If anybody wanted a drink, they could get up and fetch one, right? Why should I feel obligated to serve the men? After all, its important to be careful about the way I portrayed myself to others...

How embarrassing do you think it was for me when my GENERAL WORKS MANAGER PROJECTS (a really good-natured, but very powerful man) got up and started serving everyone drinks...including me! 

I realised at that moment that whilst I may have been the only women in the room, and the only non-white woman at that, I was also the youngest and most junior person in the room. And furthermore, I was just sitting-in in the first place! I realised that in worrying so much about how I came across as a female engineer, I must have come across really insolent as a junior engineer! Wow!

When lunch arrived I duly got up and set out the trays so that everyone could fetch their food (we were all starving). Luckily, soon after the initial episode my GWMP made a tongue-in-cheek comment about something being discussed (as he loves to do) and shot me a smile, asking if I agreed. I did and the tension I was feeling eased up a lot. I even managed to chirp up once or twice towards the end of the meeting.

So the moral of this story is, that whilst it is important to not position yourself as a doormat, and that it is more difficult for a woman to be respected in the workplace that a man, one should realise that respect is always earned. There are no shortcuts to the top, and whilst you are a junior, you should be making the coffee, taking the notes, running the errands - just like every other junior in the place, male or female!

Just don't let them treat you differently to the male juniors, in which case you really should try being more asserive ;)


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Leave a comment and let me know what you think of this post. I love getting feedback from readers!