Being treated like the secretary at work
When you’re ambitious and trying to climb up the ranks, one of the most annoying things you can experience is being treated like the secretary at work.
Sometimes I wonder what guys think when you’re being treated like the secretary at work.
It can take several forms. You can get asked to do tasks way below your level, or people can assume you’re not a part of the business team at all. Some men may even treat you like you’re there for visual entertainment only.
Be a good dog and go fetch
Was I a bit surprised when a fund manager sat down next to me and asked me if I could get him a pen? Yes. I was so baffled I even got out of the room to get him one. Five minutes later, I introduced the management team speaking at the meeting, which I was leading.
The same guy also interrupted me because he wasn’t able to connect his cell phone to the wifi. That was even after he should have realized who I was.
When you’re actually introduced as “the assistant”
A few years back, I was on a roadshow for an entire week. And I was traveling with the CEO of the company as well as a broker who had arranged all the meetings.
For the first two meetings, the broker introduced me to the fund managers as “she’s so and so’s assistant”.
To not make a scene in front of the client, I emailed the broker in the car and asked him why he would ever think I was someone’s assistant. Why would I even take the company on a roadshow if I was?
He seemed to think I was making a big deal about a small detail. Luckily, he got the picture and stopped calling me that for the rest of the trip.
Running personal errands
In my first year as an analyst, I was routinely told to book taxis for one of my VPs. He also asked me to carry stuff for him, like his umbrella or documents “because I had a bag.”
I asked the guy who worked for him the year before if he thought all of those assistant tasks had bothered him. His answer? “I’ve never been asked to do any of those things a single time.”
I wasn’t the only one in the department who had to do those things though. A woman who started the same year as I did, was frequently asked by her boss to go and buy him new socks.
Is your assistant busy, or what?
Another time, I got a phone call from a journalist. He was asking if I worked with so and so guy. I said yes, wondering why the journalist thought he could get a comment from me on the subject.
However, what he asked me was if I had any pictures of my colleague. “No”, I said, thinking it was a fairly odd request. The journalist’s answer surprised me. “But he told me that I should call you so you could send me some for the article I’m writing about him”. I said I still didn’t have any, but could ask the guy to call him back himself.
I figured he must be traveling and not have access to a computer. But when I passed his office just a few minutes later, he was sitting there with an open web browser, not looking particularly busy.
I asked him about the request from the journalist, and he didn’t seem at all embarrassed that he had asked him to call me. I just mentioned I didn’t know where he kept his press photos and that OUR ASSISTANT probably had them in a file somewhere.
Entertaining the wives
Company events with plus ones are in a category of their own. And I’m more often than not one of the only women from the firm that are present.
Whenever I speak with someone, they immediately ask me which of the bankers I’m married to. Or they always start talking to the man I’m standing next to about deals. They expect me to discuss decorating with the wives.
Some of the wives also take it upon themselves to give me life advice on these events.
I’ve been told that I should hurry up and start having children before it’s too late. That was by someone I had barely exchanged a few sentences with during a dinner.
The same woman also gave me tips on which of my male bosses I should try to marry. I couldn’t possibly have the job for any other reason than wanting to marry a rich, older banker.
Tips and tricks
I wish I had any magical tricks to give you, but I don’t.
When I’ve been asked to do things that aren’t my job, I’ve usually tried pointing people to the ones responsible. However, that doesn’t always work.
Just saying that you’re really busy on something else that has a deadline is also a helpful way of giving someone a no without pissing them off.
It can be hard to know when to brush someone off. Sometimes you should just swallow your pride and do a shitty job to help a senior out. At least I try helping out people if I know they’re drowning in work.
If you’re trying to figure out how much you should handle, there are several ways to do it. You can try to ask other people at your level what they’ve been told to do. That can help you get a sense of how much shit you should just endure, and what is imposed on you just because you’re female.
I recommend reading this article about why women end up doing “the office housework.”