20

Some of the teams at our company celebrate birthdays as a group. Our team and another team are in the same group, but we do very little together. A peer suggested that if we celebrated birthdays as a group, it would help us know each other better, become a better team. And the suggestion (from the same peer) was that I organize that.

My hesitation is because I am the only female in our team, and the other team is also mostly male. Will that make me look like I'm falling into a female role (bring cookies, make coffee, celebrate birthdays!), and if so, would the potential team closeness be worth it? What are the benefits to taking on such a role?

Update, based on a comment: Our team has occasional lunches together, so I don't think they would be averse to something more organized, as long as it was fairly low pressure and not intefering with work. I don't know about the other team.

We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

  • 2
    Reminder: Not everyone WANTS their birthday recognized at work. It might be worth questioning whether this task should be done at all. – keshlam Aug 25 '14 at 0:41
23

I completely understand your dilemma here. Organizing social things like this frequently falls to any females in the group, and it does sometimes reinforce the stereotype. However as a team lead, having someone take on this role is usually a great plus to team cohesion and appreciated by any wise leader.

My first advice is to take this on only if it truly is something you like doing. Then you know yourself it's not just gender stereotyping.

But the important thing is that there is a big difference between the person who organizes birthday stuff, and the person who does all the birthday stuff. Suggest that it would be good if there were cakes and cookies and stuff, but don't volunteer to do all the shopping and baking yourself. Instead suggest that the work is shared between the team, and then volunteer to coordinate that activity. Pick people to buy cakes, don't bring them in yourself. Then you are taking a leadership role, not a gender-stereotyped role.

  • 6
    Coordinating social activities is a gender-stereotyped role, even if it's not doing the actual shopping and baking. Being appreciated by a wise leader doesn't mean that it's not a gender-stereotyped role. There is quite a lot of research that shows that women are much more likely to be praised for their "team cohesion" activities than for technical skills. You can look up "Why So Few?" from the American Association of University Women for a great primer of how gender stereotypes like this impact women beginning in school and continuing through their career. – nadyne Apr 24 '14 at 17:28
11

I've been in your position. The presumption that the woman in the group is obviously the one to take care of "menial" tasks is, alas, out there.

Since one of the stated goals is for people to get to know each other better, one approach would be to rotate the job, perhaps trading back and forth between the two groups. If you do this monthly (all the April birthdays, etc) rather than on the exact dates, it's easy to organize -- people will know in advance when it's their turn, and you can allow them some flexibility ("any day you like in the 3rd week of the month" or whatever). You, as the "organizer", can set this in motion and keep an eye on it. But don't take the job without first confirming that people are willing to share, unless it's something you are comfortable being stuck with every month.

Were I doing it, I would set up a wiki page (or whatever passes for informal public space in your company) with the monthly assignments, links to suppliers, and notes about any dietary issues in the group (Joe is allergic to chocolate, etc). By using a wiki you make it clear from the start that it's meant to be a group-owned activity.

I don't know how far along you are in your career, but I found that this presumption dropped away after I'd been out there for a few years.

5

Will that make me look like I'm falling into a female role?

Unfortunately, in many shops it would.

If this "female role" would be bad for you, better to let someone else handle it.

In my shop we have one guy who does DJ work on the side. In his early days here, he was always the "join it" guy - hosting the holiday party, working on the "Newsletter Committee", etc - all things that fit his personality well.

Unfortunately, some folks came to judge him mostly on those abilities, and discounted his professional abilities.

While it's never good to hide your true nature, I counseled him to tone that part of his personality down just a bit, so that his professional capabilities could shine through more clearly. I think it has helped.

I've seen other shops where very strong professional women were typecast in an "office mother" role. I believe it held them back a bit. Not a lot, but more than I'd want to see happen if I were in their shoes.

It's hard to tell how this would come across in your shop. But if your gut tells you that you'd end up owning the "female role", then you may wish to avoid the issue completely. Your mileage may vary.

  • 4
    I have to admit, I have also seen the people who spend time organizing events or office pranks being among the first to be let go in a layoff as the assumption is made by senior managers that they aren't as busy and therefore not as valuable. Not as much of a problem for those who already have a strong professional reputation in the company but something to be aware of if you are new or junior or not well known for anything else except giving social events. – HLGEM Apr 24 '14 at 19:54
4

So this looks like one of these occasions where a lot of people say "that's a great idea, we should do it" but where nobody wants to put any actual work in. So they asked you. This could have different reasons.

  1. You seem best qualified to do this and people trust you
  2. You seem the easiest target to be coaxed and manipulated into it, especially if no one else wants to do it.
  3. You are the resident female, and so social stuff is automatically your job
  4. Your day time jobs is really not that important so taking time to organize a party is perfectly fine.

As you can see most of the potential reasons are not that desirable.

If you decide to do it, there are two potential outcomes:

  1. It works out great and everybody has a lot of fun: Now you are the dedicated social organizer and people will come and ask for more and more regardless what your day time job demands. I've actually seen that happening.
  2. The party sucks: then it's all your fault. The idea was great, it was all just poor organization.

So overall it looks like you have very little to gain and a lot to lose. Consider an answer like "Hey, I'd love to do it, but I'm currently super busy and project ABC and I don't think I have the bandwidth".

If feel strongly about the usefulness of the party and really want to make it happen, be very upfront about the rules. "I'm happy to do it if I can find two more volunteers and unfortunately I can only do this once, since otherwise it would interfere with my regular responsibilities".

  • Could also be simply that she was the one Unnamed Peer was talking to at the time that he thought up the idea that he didn't want to do himself. – starsplusplus Apr 23 '14 at 16:04
  • Could be, but it's also clear that the Unnamed Peer also thought "not me". – Hilmar Apr 23 '14 at 17:40
  • Well, yes. That's why I called it the idea "that he didn't want to do himself". – starsplusplus Apr 23 '14 at 18:21
4

As I age I have gotten less upset about these things as they affect me less than when I was a young working woman in a mostly male environment. It is also more acceptable for me to do them and maintain a professional repuation than when I was in my twenties. So in part whether to agree to do it has more to do with how you think it will be perceived and how you think it might affect your professional repuation. Do not do this if you are a young woman in an all male environment. It will diminsh your professional reputation. However if you are an older woman in a more senior postion with a long term history of professional success, it will not hurt you to do this if you want to.

In any event, if you don't want to do it, say no. Suggest someone else. I have found that among groups with all men and one woman, they want to do this stuff but only if the woman will do it. So suggest the person most enthusiastic about the idea and watch how fast the whole thing gets dropped.

  • I have seen both women in entry level jobs or sometimes in stereotpyed female jobs take on these kind of roles, and also women in middle management take on these roles. Based on my inadequate sample, I'd say the junior women lost prestige or at least failed to increase prestige this way, but the middle management women gained a little prestige. – Robert de Graaf May 31 '17 at 1:54
-1

My hesitation is because I am the only female in our team, and the other team is also mostly male. Will that make me look like I'm falling into a female role (bring cookies, make coffee, celebrate birthdays!), and if so, would the potential team closeness be worth it? What are the benefits to taking on such a role?

Well on the positive side, it may help in a work environment. Bringing food and organizing events bring out the human side of people. I really don't think you will be stereotyped.

As a matter of fact, a really smart lady I worked with purposely bought candies into the office and at meetings to show her human side, while pounding the pavement when work needed to be done.

I'd say go ahead, bringing food and organizing birthdays can only help one's reputation

-6

I believe you are under the influence of a misconception because you are hesitant of doing something considered feminine. I'm serious. It's kind of self directed discrimination.

While it may be true some people in your office believe organizing birthdays is a women's job: unless they expectedly told you, you don't know for sure what they think; even if they do think this it's not a bad thing; and also you shouldn't discredit yourself for being able to do a job that you may be good at. Cooking may be seen as a feminine role, doesn't mean women should never cook for themselves.

There is no harm in taking the role as birthday celebration organizer for your team. What's the worst that could happen? Other colleagues would think you did it was just because your a women? You can't control other people's immaturity.

A personal experience I had similar to this is I once lived with a young man from Africa. It's a racial stereotype that young black people listen to rap music. It just so happened my roommate did like rap music, but he felt embarrassed for listening to it as he was black and didn't want to fit the stereotype. It's similar to your situation because you don't want to fit the stereotype. This is form of self discrimination and I advise against it.

  • downvoter comment? – bobby Apr 23 '14 at 8:12
  • 7
    Explanation for downvote: it's not a misconception; the original poster is right to be worried. – Alnitak Apr 23 '14 at 12:05
  • @Alnitak no one here explains any negative ramifications that would happen if a women organizes birthday celebration. – bobby Apr 23 '14 at 16:35
  • 2
    Several negative ramifications have already been covered in the existing answers to this question. – Alnitak Apr 23 '14 at 16:47
  • 1
    Even if there are 'studies' that prove X, that doesn't prove X for every individual situation. If the person wants to be the birthday organizer because they think it will be fun, then they should be the birthday organizer and have fun. – GrandmasterB Apr 30 '14 at 21:48

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.