I have a full roster of roles in my life as a mother: Keeper of cleanliness, provider of nourishment, principal cheerer-upper, fixer of boo-boos, birthday party planner, and organizer-in-chief. Some of these things I like to do, cooking principally, and others I do because they need to get done. Cleaning – I’m talking to you.
(Meg’s Note: This post was written by guest blogger Jenifer Alonzo. Jenifer is a theater artist, executive coach, and communication trainer. She develops theater workshops for professionals who wish to employ the tools of the actor to strengthen their work in the sciences, engineering, health care, teaching and law. As an Entsminger Entrepreneurship Fellow, Jenifer co-created Professional Development Practice Lab, LLC and Brazen BFF with Adriénne Kouremetis, through which she consults and coaches, supporting individuals and organizations in productive communication and professional development. Jenifer is Associate Professor of Communication and Theatre Arts at Old Dominion University. Contact her at .)
I grew up in a household with a mom who worked and we were taught to take care of ourselves very early on. Cooking dinner twice a week, for example, was my responsibility from age 13 on.
Taking responsibility for a clean, joyous space at work seemed natural…to me. I was happy to keep our kitchen area clean, to be the happy hander-outer of paper clips, to arrange catering, to organize the holiday giving campaign, to share my meeting notes, and to bring my homemade bread to meetings.
One Day, I attended a meeting with my chair, my dean, and two deans from other colleges. At that meeting I spilled a huge cup of coffee. The ensuing behavior mostly did not surprise me.
I got embarrassed and apologized all over myself while I frantically cleaned up the mess. Totally expected.
The dudes in the room pushed back from the table so the coffee would not get on their suits. Totally not surprising.
Another woman rushed to help me. Not surprising (but I was grateful).
A second woman sat calmly at the table and watched us clean up. Whaaaattttt?
At first I was really annoyed with the woman who sat by and didn’t help. Then I realized that there was something screwed up. Why was I mad at her and not at the dudes that did the same thing? Because I expected her to follow my instincts to “help” and “take responsibility” at every opportunity. I talked to her about it later and she said, “Listen, if the men in the room aren’t doing it, I’m not doing it.”
I took a close look at my own behavior. And I realized….
I had become the departmental mom.
I was three years away from tenure at my university and I was spending my time at work caring for others. In fact, I was behaving inappropriately. I should have been spending ALL of my time at work on my research. No one has ever in the history of time been promoted due to excellence in the area of being the departmental mom. Sure moms are loved, but I could get that at home. The important thing at work was to earn promotion.
So New Rule.
If the dudes weren’t doing it, I wouldn’t do it.
I stopped bringing in food, cleaning up messes that were not my own, and I closed my door so no one would see a woman and immediately think “helpful person.” I made myself absolutely unavailable for office supply mooching or copier-fixing. I stopped being the first one to answer questions in group emails.
I stopped party-planning. I stopped arranging catering. And boy did I ever stop bringing in homemade bread.
I stopped volunteering and I stopped offering to help.
And I started getting work done. My productivity skyrocketed.
Grants submitted and won, articles written, and programs instituted all added up to my earning promotion and tenure: the big prize of the academic world.
Saying NO to being “Mom” at work saved my career.
Now I help women discover what it took me too long to figure out. Saying NO is a key component to advancement, especially in male-dominated fields where men unconsciously assume that women will do the mom jobs: all the work having to do with food, cleanliness, and helping others. I teach women the relationship between goals and saying no, how to say no, and how to deal with the emotional fallout that sometimes follows saying no. You can find out about my “Say No” webinar for “Pleasers” by visiting Brazenbff.com/webinar.
It’s in your financial best interest to only do the work that pays. Here’s how to start saying no to the rest of it.
Strategy 1: Stop doing girl jobs, like cleaning out the refrigerator, without comment. Eventually someone will notice the fridge is gross. If they ask you why, give a hard stare and say, “Huh. I don’t know. I guess it’s dirty because it’s no one’s job to clean it. ” If you are cleaning out the fridge so you have a clean place to keep your food either get a personal fridge or start bringing stuff that doesn’t need to be chilled.
Strategy Two: Deliberately point out the sexism inherent in asking you to do all the extra mom jobs.
“Dave hasn’t had a chance to plan a party in a while. I would hate to take the opportunity away from him.”
“This is a really progressive company. I would hate it if people began to look at this kind of thing as a “girl” job. That might hurt our reputation.”
“Let’s make sure I am not the only one who knows how to arrange catering. Shall I train Tom, Dick, and Harry to do it as well?”
Strategy Three: Keep a 3×5 card where you can see it that reminds you to keep your mouth shut. No volunteering for anything until someone else volunteers first.
You might be worried about the professional fallout if you stop being the office mom. It’s true that you might not be as beloved as before, but work is not about being beloved. Work is about growing your skills, expertise, and adding value to your organization. Spend your time at work on WORK. Save the mom work for your kids. You owe it to them.
Question: What you currently saying “Yes” to at work that you want to start saying “No” to? You can leave a comment below.
Are you interested in taking advantage of your career opportunities to further improve your financial strength and future? Reach out to me at or schedule a free 30-minute consultation.
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Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and illustration purposes only. Nothing contained in the material constitutes tax advice, a recommendation for purchase or sale of any security, or investment advisory services. I encourage you to consult a financial planner and/or an accountant for advice specific to your situation. Reproduction of this material is prohibited without written permission from Meg Bartelt, and all rights are reserved. Read the full Disclaimer.