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I am a marketing project manager working in an American company based in France. This role includes planning and managing logistics for industry events. I am responsible of managing end-to-end all trade shows strategy, logistics, staffing, hotels, and planning and coordinating the routing of exhibit shipments.

During the trade shows that last at least 4 days, my direct manager forced me to clean the booth every morning. At noon, go buy sandwiches and cut them (20 or more), wash cups when the sales people finish drinking, vacuum, take out the garbage... when I told her that’s not my job, she yelled at me, told me that I’m completely responsible for that, and that no one among the sales guys must help me because it’s not their job. I felt deeply humiliated because I’m the only girl among them and I’m the only foreigner.

I need your help; I’m completely lost, is this normal? Is it legal that she’s forcing a manager to do the work of a hostess?

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    On the one hand, it sounds unfair to have you do this by yourself, but on the other hand what does it matter what they ask you to do if they're paying you to do it? If my clients want me to sweep the floor then that's their prerogative. They're going to pay me the same hourly rate. It's not the best use of their money, but if that's what they need me to do then I'm happy to do it. – joeqwerty Mar 24 at 14:05
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    What was your plan for getting the booth cleaned etc.? I assume that is part of trade show logistics. – Patricia Shanahan Mar 24 at 14:45
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    @joeqwerty If my client hires me to design a website for $100/hr, then tells me that I should wash their car for $100/hr, that is not an acceptable change for the client to make without my input and consent. I agreed to $100/hr for the task of web design, not for the task of being someone's flunky. I suspect that you would not want to sweep the floor all week at your normal rate, not because you aren't getting paid, but because you don't want to sweep all day, that is not what you signed up for. This is a question about mutual expectations, nothing else. – Jeremy Mar 24 at 15:07
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    @jela are you the youngest person at the trade show from your company, or the most recent hire? Who is your direct supervisor and were they at the show? – Jeremy Mar 24 at 15:12
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    @Abigail - The OP didn't state that she spends most of her time sweeping floors. She stated that this happened during a trade show. This appears to me to be a "one off" occurrence. Part of the problem we have in today's workplace is the "that's not my job" attitude. Sometimes things aren't strictly "my job" but I pitch in anyway. That's what being a team player is about. If the OP is routinely and regularly being asked to perform the duties of a maid for all of the other employees then that's a legitimate complaint. In the context of the question, I don't think that's the case. – joeqwerty Mar 24 at 17:11
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First, try to find out how things went previously on other trade shows. Was this kind of work dispersed among all employees, or was someone in your role always the one doing everything ? Is it because you have more "free" hours than others in these type of events ? If you have any good (or neutral) rapport with people there, ask around. The more you know, the better you'll be able to plead your case.

If there's someone else at the company who wasn't there but you have a good rapport with, you could go to them for general advice. In all these talks, don't be on the offensive or accuse anyone of sexism or racism. Approach this like someone who wasn't aware of something and is trying to understand how things work here. Be calm and positive, you'll get more honest responses.

Then, I'd go back to my manager and talk to him about this issue. If you've heard from other people that it has always been the marketing project manager to do those things, or the youngest hire, chances are you'll be stuck doing them. But having a conversation with him might give you insight on why it is so. You can also in turn try to change this by for example explaining on the work you didn't get to do because of this. If you've heard from other people that usually those tasks are split among everybody, this should help you make sure you're not stuck cleaning and cooking next time (and lend more credibility to your claims about sexism and racism).

Here's how a talk like this could look like :

I'd like to talk to you about the last trade show we participated in. I was surprised by how much cleaning and catering I ended up doing, and I reacted poorly in the moment. But I really wasn't aware about those responsibilities when I accepted the job, I thought that everyone helped with those things during trade shows. Is there a reason why this time it all fell on me ?

If he tells you this is part of your job, you can push back :

I understand what you're saying, but again, no one mentioned that when I was hired, and it's not something I agreed to when I took this job. I don't mind pitching in and being a team player, but I have other tasks and responsibilities during the trade show and I want to be able to focus on them next time. Plus I heard that in the past those tasks were divided among everybody. Is it possible to go back to that for next trade shows ?

Only use the statements that will apply in your situation. If you don't have enough work to do during those things and/or that usually the person in your role did these menial tasks, you won't have much luck pushing back.

If in the end, your boss is still giving you work that other employees used to do and isn't giving a good reason why, you could go to the HR department (unless they have a reputation to handle those things badly) or consult a lawyer. Making the only female and foreign employee cook and clean for no good reason sure feels sexist and racist, but I'm not a lawyer and don't know how much you could legally do in that situation.

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    Wow I knew there'd be one of you. Jumping to the sexism angle already. Yea her female manager is surely discriminating against females. – Jack Mar 25 at 8:50
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    @Jack Women can be sexist too, even against other women. I'm not saying her manager is, but if in the past the clean up and cooking was everyone's responsability and suddenly it all falls on OP, discrimination based on sex or nationality could be at play here (but I agree, there are other reasons why her manager could act like a jerk). There are still many people that see this as a women's job/responsability. That's also why I advised OP to first make sure this is unusual for the company and not to jump to conclusions. – MlleMei Mar 25 at 9:16
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The two tasks, keeping the booth clean and attending to lunch, seem to need doing, and to be part of the show logistics.

For any problem, but most strongly for something that is arguably in your area, you will get much further by proposing a solution than by presenting the problem to your manager to solve. Your boss yelling at you may be partly desperation at being presented with a problem without a proposed solution.

Depending on how your company and industry operates, the sales people at a trade show can be working extremely long hours. During show floor hours, they need to be continuously available to talk to customers. Having them do the chores may not be feasible.

I suggest, for future trade shows, checking whether the show organizers or venue offer booth janitorial services. If so, propose using them. Similarly, work with wherever the sandwiches are coming from on making sure they are cut however your boss wants them cut, and ready to eat.

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What would you be doing if you weren't cleaning the booth or cutting sandwiches? If doing this work is obstructing other work that you need to perform, that would be a good thing to make sure your manager is appraised of. You haven't said you've done this, but don't try to hide the delay by working later or taking fewer breaks - if you had to spend an hour doing menial tasks, that hour is one you didn't spend on your real tasks, and the company can deal with that. This is something you can make clear to your manager from the get-go, "If I spend a half hour cleaning the booth the widget may not come until the late afternoon, is that OK?" Otherwise, if you don't have any tasks at the time you are doing this kind of work, it would seem your manager is right and the best use of the time the company is paying you for is to have you take care of these tasks while the salespeople continue to sell the product.

If you want to avoid having these tasks assigned just to you in the future, you could look at what other things you could do during the trade show to take up your time (assuming you don't have other tasks that are being put off in the first place). You could offer to walk around to competitors and do market research on their products, or look around the show for existing customers of your product to strike up conversation with them and build rapport. However, you may just need to expect that if you aren't doing anything and are on the clock, the manager is going to ask you to do the menial stuff to keep the salespeople on the job during a trade show.

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In my opinion the real issue is the yelling part. In principle you boss can assign jobs to your which don't harm you and are within your competence, but that should not happen by yelling. If your boss yells at you, it means that he/she lacks skills in handling conflicts.

I for my part (i hold a PhD in Physics) tend to help with whatever is needed in a critical situation. Regarding who should to the tasks, I understand the position that if it is within your area to be responsible for infrastructure/food etc. being present so that the sales people can do their work, it may be that this is indeed your task and not theirs (and they have potentially other tasks like dining with customers etc) which I may prefer less than sandwich-cutting.

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If they hired you into a marketing role and then ask you to regularly work as a maid then you have a legitimate complaint. If they occasionally ask you to perform some clean up work, regardless of whether or not they ask others to do the same, it's because they need someone to do it. I personally would take no offense to it.

Sometimes it's about being a "team player" and sometimes that means doing things that we don't want to do and doing things that are outside of the strict scope of our role. The key is in understanding the difference between when you're "pitching in" and when you're being taken advantage of.

If this is a case of "pitching in" then personally I'd just do it and get on with things. If you feel that you're being taken advantage of, then have a conversation about it with your manager.

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    It isn't "pitching in" or "teamwork" when you are singled out to be the only on to do it. – AGirlHasNoName Mar 24 at 15:32
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    Part of the problem we have in today's workplace is the "that's not my job" attitude. Sometimes things aren't strictly "my job" but I pitch in anyway. That's what being a team player is about. Whether others are pitching in or not, I'm responsible for my attitude and my actions. If the OP feels that she's being slighted or being singled out then she should have a conversation with her manager about it, which I stated in my answer. – joeqwerty Mar 24 at 17:31

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