Little did I realize that one of my first decisions as a newly promoted manager would be to decide if I was going to be the nice girl who poured the coffee or the b—- who refused to do so.
Twenty years or so ago, it was my second day on the job as the new HR manager for a meat processing company with 2500 employees working in five plants in three states. I was the first ever woman on the management team. It was the weekly staff meeting, my first in my new capacity.
Without looking up, one of my male peers asked, “Hey Jane, I need a refill on this cup of coffee. Pour me a cup, would ya?”
Pete (not his real name!), who was sitting next to the coffee carafe, chimed in with his request to pour one for him, too.
Sheesh. Not exactly the call to participation or welcome I was hoping for. What to do, what to do, the words good girl and b—-h were dancing in my head. Neither label was one I wanted as I started my new duties. The meat-packing industry at the time was heavily male, so I knew this sort of show-down was inevitable. I just hadn’t figured it would happen so soon.
As my mind raced, I stood up and moved to the back of the room to retrieve the coffee pot. My plan was set.
Stepping in beside Pete, I sloshed coffee into his cup — and on his notepad. Not saying a word, I moved over to Bill’s (again not his real name) side of the table, filling both his cup and the saucer with coffee.
“Jeez girl! You’ve got to be more careful next time,” exclaimed Pete as he wiped off his notepad. Bill was nodding vigorously in agreement.
“Fellas, there won’t be next time,” I said lightly with a smile, taking my seat. “We’re very thoughtful about our past practices given the labor climate, so I see no reason to change the past practice of each person attending to their own coffee needs, especially since I make no claims about the accuracy of my pours! Agreed?”
They agreed, and I escaped without getting labeled from the “coffee-pouring” ritual…which seems to be a rite of passage for many women in business based on stories I’m told. What’s yours? Has there been a stereotype that tripped you up or nearly did so?