Let’s talk about sexism at work

Why does it seem that it’s always the women cleaning up after the potlucks?

Our roles are defined for us so early.

I was 23, working on a team of four men and two women.

Our boss invited us to his home for dinner.

(Yeah, this used to be A Thing.)

So how that worked was the spouse – the wife it was always a wife back then – did all the work, cleaning and cooking for people she didn’t even know.

Remember how a major plot point of Bewitched was when Darren would announce to Samantha that he was bringing his boss home for dinner?

With no notice?

Ah, the good old days.

My co-workers and I went.

We finished eating.

Mrs Boss started clearing the table.

Cindy, the other woman, and I looked at each other.

What should we do?

Any men reading this might be wondering, “What on earth are you talking about? What do you mean, ‘What should we do?'”

But I bet you women know.

You know the dilemma Cindy and I faced.

Are we Work Guests?

Or are we women?

Because Work Guests do not help clean up.

But women do.

And our boss was very very conservative.

As in, he had also invited us to attend his church with him.


I accepted the invitation. I went to his church one Sunday.

Because although in general I have very bad political instincts at work, I knew that telling my boss “no” to a direct personal request was a bad idea.

I am Catholic.

He was Assembly of God.

For some of you, that’s enough information.

For the rest, in general, the Pentecostal, evangelical, and non-denominational Protestants think the Pope is the anti-Christ and Catholics are going to hell because we have not been Saved.

(My roommate my freshman year of college was Southern Baptist and yes, she was sure I was going to hell. She has since become a homeschooling mother who has sent at least one child to Oral Roberts University, which I can’t even begin to describe to someone who doesn’t already recoil at the idea.)

Cindy and I looked at each other. Without a word, we got up and started to help Mrs Boss. We cleared the dishes and helped her wash them.

The men continued to sit.

Because that was the expectation. The women cleaned, the men conversed.

Woman > Business Guest.

I would like to think that if that happened today, I would not conform to gender expectations.

I would also like to think that if that happened today, my (male) boss would also be cleaning up.

I don’t know if either one is true. These forces are so strong in our lives.

I do know that in the office, I feel safer challenging the paradigm.

(Plus it’s now 20 years later.)

At my old job, there were about 250 people in the office.

Only 17 of us were women.

Yet for every social event, 100% of the people prepping and cleaning up were women.

I told my intern, who was a college sophomore at the time, never to help with potlucks unless she saw senior men helping.

I also told her not to bring brownies or cake or whatever to work to share.

“You need to be known as Sally, that amazing engineer, not Sally that cute girl who makes cookies.”

But I have to tell you, walking away while my fellow women cleaned up – it’s hard. It’s still hard.

But we need to stop this crap.

7 thoughts on “Let’s talk about sexism at work

  1. I went back to school in my late 40’s to finish my Bachelor’s and then get a Master’s (in my early 50’s). I interned at a well-known consumer brands company. My co-intern was a man. (I am not). My manager, a man, asked *me* to schedule the quarterly team lunches and “fun” activity afterward.

    I. . . balked.

    Thankfully, my manager was the kind of person I could talk to about why I was uncomfortable with his request. He pointed out that *he* had been the one scheduling all those activities prior to my arrival and that since I was his intern [the other intern reported to a different manager on the team, a woman] he was just delegating some of his responsibilities to me. As one does with interns.

    But he also said that I had a valid point and that he had seen, and felt uncomfortable with, women in the company being the ones who more often planned social things, brought food, and cleaned up. And he said he’d never ask me to do anything he hadn’t already done himself and/or would continue doing in the future.

    He’s younger than me by about 10 years, so maybe things are finally starting to change?

    P.S. While I was back in school, I made it my mission to tell every young woman who would listen to never *ever* bring baked goods to the office, never *ever* volunteer to organize social events, and never *ever* EVER clean up after anyone else at work.


  2. The society has set certain norms that we often find pretty hard to break out of. It is high time that we stand up for ourselves and ask men to come and help when we see them lazing about. If we start normalising this, then the next generation is going to adapt to the changes pretty quickly.
    Workplace harrasment has been a evil that has plagued the female workforce for a very long time. Some cheeky comments with sexist undertones can always catch you off-guard. Some valiant men will overplay their gentleman role putting you in an unwanted damsel in distress scenario. Even some women might boost their ego by making you a butt of all jokes! We have a similar blog published. Would love to know your opinion on the same too.




    1. Yeah, I agree that those comments are absolutely out of bounds in the workplace! (Or anywhere else, for that matter.) I would be surprised to hear them anywhere in a large company in the US today, but then, I could be absolutely wrong.


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