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I am not a secretary...right?
December 30, 2012 11:19 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I'm being pushed into a secretarial role in my job, and I'm feeling a little crazy for thinking this.

I am a woman working in a technical computer-related field. There are two men, who I’ll call Jasper and Pendleton, who are immediately above me, but we work under other managers. Just to clarify, Jasper and Pendleton are totally within their workplace rights to send me on trouble calls, make sure I’m doing my job, etc., but they aren’t the “top dogs” even within our little workgroup. Also, before anyone suggests this, I cannot quit my job and I cannot move to another workgroup.

My issue is the fact that I’m the sole owner of much of this ticket information, and I get sent out on a lot of minor but widespread trouble tickets. I’m extremely forgetful, so I do my best, and continue to try to get better, at writing everything down. However, if Jasper (who is slightly under Pendleton in experience) and I go to work on a trouble call, I’m the one writing down the serial numbers, the user’s requests, the port numbers, and so on.
If it turns out that I wrote down something incorrectly, I’m the one who is berated even though Jasper not only didn’t write down the information but didn’t even double check that what I wrote down was correct. In a world of “back up your information, just in case”, this is extremely frustrating.

If I’m away handling another ticket, they’re helpless without the information, so they call or wait for me to return. What happens if I were to get ill? Or need to suddenly visit family due to an emergency? Or go on vacation? I have all of the information. And they’re always wanting to know what the information was of tickets not only yesterday, but three weeks ago. Months ago.

I’m starting to feel like a reference book or, worse for being a woman, a secretary. Since I also crawl under desks to hook up equipment and therefore "save the day" a hundred times over for users on a case by case basis, I can say I am definitely not a secretary. This seems to be made worse because Jasper and Pendleton are smokers who go out to the smoke deck every hour or so, discuss any ticket information away from me, and then come back with a game plan…which is sometimes irrelevant because I already took care of it. And told them about this days ago. They also chit-chat and hang out frequently and go drinking, so of course this makes me look like “that chick.” That third wheel who they have to shake their finger at when I forget something. Or who could turn into a nag. I feel both paranoid and silly for feeling this, but know I’m right because if I say something dumb-ish, they look at each other in such a way like “again?” and sometimes roll their eyes, which is just another little barb in an often already frustrating work day.

A vast majority of our users rely on me exclusively because I’m the one handling all of these “minor” tickets, but it looks bad when I’m horrible at recognizing faces and can’t help but stare a little blankly because, I’m sorry Mr. Broken Printer, I have 15 tickets on my mind just from today and you weren’t available the last 8 times I called last week so you went near the back of my list. Then Pendleton comes up to me later, looking tense and talking sharply because I didn't handle it on my own right then.

I don’t know how I should change my mindset or what I should do, because the situation isn’t likely to change any time soon. I’m pretty damn sure that if I take Jasper aside, who is often on his phone messing around instead of writing down the details of the tickets I’m updating him about right then, and tell him he should be writing things down, he’d just go “you don’t need to worry about how I work” or some such nonsense.

In another month I feel like I'm going to give up and start bringing in cookies and cake, if you know what I mean. Or let out a primal roar of rage and end up being reprimanded for berating -them-.
So, please, can you help me out? Is there a different positive way I should be thinking or what?
posted by DisreputableDog to Work & Money (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can you record the ticket information in a computer program that others can access so that they can continue to work on stuff when you're not there? so they can stop calling you and bugging you all the time?

Yea, sure, you're taking some extra responsibility but that's not entirely a bad thing. Plus you can make them responsible for entering their tickets, too. If they mess up a couple of times they'll stop berating you.

In a tech field making a tech solution would seem normal and not out of place, I would imagine. Good luck.
posted by saraindc at 11:35 PM on December 30, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm normally loathe to go running to managers to fix a problem, but I think this situation is something you need to bring up to either the HR dept (if your company has one) or the "other managers" who are above Jasper and Pendleton. It's not going to get better on its own, and solutions like "put the ticket info in a spreadsheet" doesn't address the underlying dynamics here--J&P are shutting you out, much like some sort of middle school clique, and they are not going to stop doing it just because they can get their ticket info from a spreadsheet.

Document what's happened, pick a manager or HR person who seems reasonable, ask for a brief private meeting, and tell them you hope that Company You Work For takes sexism seriously and will intervene in this situation where the female employee is being held to different standards than the males.
posted by parrot_person at 11:48 PM on December 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


The only thing I see glaring here is that Jasper and Pendleton share information over drinks and cigarettes, which leaves you out of the loop.

As a former smoker (now secret smoker) I can tell you this a Big Deal in terms of office politics. They share naughty times together you do not. They are comrades.

You can't police what they do with their private time. You can not join them in their comraderies (addictions.) So what do you do??

Whatever advice you take from this thread from other commenters, make sure your solutions work with, and not against, Jasper and Pendleton's comaraderie with each other.

That's my two cents here.
posted by jbenben at 12:00 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Next ime you and one of these men are working together on a trouble ticket, take the initiative. Proactively hand one of them the pen and notepad and say "You should write down the serial number." When they ask "Um, can you do it?" just say "I did it the last time, remember? This time it's your turn." If they argue with you, smile and write it down, but then go to your manager and/or HR later and tell them how your coworkers are not only treating you like a secretary, but being unprofessional in front of the client.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:26 AM on December 31, 2012 [9 favorites]


If it turns out that I wrote down something incorrectly, I’m the one who is berated even though Jasper not only didn’t write down the information but didn’t even double check that what I wrote down was correct. In a world of “back up your information, just in case”, this is extremely frustrating.


No it isn't - you're writing it down, so you've assumed accountability and responsibility.

Are you writing this down Jasper?

If I’m away handling another ticket, they’re helpless without the information, so they call or wait for me to return. What happens if I were to get ill? Or need to suddenly visit family due to an emergency? Or go on vacation? I have all of the information. And they’re always wanting to know what the information was of tickets not only yesterday, but three weeks ago. Months ago.

You need a KMS

A vast majority of our users rely on me exclusively because I’m the one handling all of these “minor” tickets, but it looks bad when I’m horrible at recognizing faces and can’t help but stare a little blankly because, I’m sorry Mr. Broken Printer, I have 15 tickets on my mind just from today and you weren’t available the last 8 times I called last week so you went near the back of my list. Then Pendleton comes up to me later, looking tense and talking sharply because I didn't handle it on my own right then.


How do you prioritise tickets? Is there a system for this?


I don’t know how I should change my mindset or what I should do, because the situation isn’t likely to change any time soon.


Change your mindset and get some supporting systems. Many of these are free - e.g. mediawiki

Let HR know you need support. Do some research
posted by the noob at 12:56 AM on December 31, 2012


I'm not in your field but I want to reassure you there are many women who have similar experiences, and it is A Thing. For me, the one that really stood out like dogs balls was being asked to minute meetings when not even a little appropriate for me to do so. You may be able to find some 'response' resources at the Ada Initiative site or the geek feminism wiki or even past askmes. I've borrowed the phrase 'loldude, I'm not your mom' from ask.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 1:22 AM on December 31, 2012 [11 favorites]


Does sound like most of this can be solved with helpdesk/ticket software. I've done and still do similar work, and I can't imagine having to keep track of everything without a shared ticketing system to log it all in. RT might suit your needs, though there are many others. Create a ticket, enter the details, update it as you go, and everyone can see the info and who is working on what.

(I feel weird even suggesting this just because I can't imagine you don't have something like this in place already, but from what you say you're all pen-and-paper??)
posted by corvine at 2:00 AM on December 31, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if this is appropriate to your industry, and it doesn't solve the larger problem of you being excluded from their little clique, but it seems odd to me that only one person is taking this info down.

Why not suggest (my old office had feedback forms and was very active in encouraging feedback and implementing it) a best practise whereby all ticket numbers are rrcorded by at least two parties and confirmed against each other?

An easy way to do this is to read the ticket numbers out loud together simultaneously. It really makes sense for two parties, or more, to be recording info.

I also wondered if you would be allowed to use a small voice recorder to verbally record information instead of writing it down on the spot.

A third suggestion is to note some identifying features for the client in your personal notes so that you can identify them more easily.
posted by windykites at 2:38 AM on December 31, 2012


The problem might not (just) be sexism but more the fact that J and P are 'immediately above' you. Regardless of how many managers are further up the chain, if you are recognised within the hierarchy as being junior to them they may well assume that it's your responsibility to take on the majority of the admin. If they do assume this they are wrong - it's generally the role of more senior people to ensure the process is on track. Can you check job descriptions with HR?

In any case you need to talk to them. Call a meeting between the three of you to review the ticketing and documentation system process - don't talk about 'you aren't doing this' but more 'this isn't getting done'. Once you have a shared understanding of what needs to happen you can look at why the current system isn't working and propose solutions.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:16 AM on December 31, 2012 [10 favorites]


If you're still working for the company I remember you working for, it has a habit of putting women in "secretarial" roles. You mentioned:

but we work under other managers.

Use your 'other managers.' Problems with your immediate supervisors are what they are there for.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:02 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you still in the Army? That's probably relevant, since it's a unique organization, and people who haven't been in it are less likely to be able to extrapolate appropriate responses.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 4:19 AM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you're in the military, this is an entirely different kettle of government-issue fish.

If Jasper or Pendleton is your rater (or whatever your branch calls the direct lineal supervisor of an enlisted member), then what you've described is not inappropriate: dropping the crap jobs (including "secretarial" work) on subordinates is why God made subordinates.

However, you do need to work on their ability to prioritize you, and if necessary, you need to make them give you the ability to tell people, "I can't work on your thing right now, because Jasper and/or Pendleton has made this thing I'm doing my top priority. Talk to Jasper and/or Pendleton." (This is Chain of Command 101, but people need to be reminded of it every now and then, especially when they're talking to support staff.)

You should also put together some sort of ticket tracker if one doesn't exist, and sell it to Jasper and Pendleton as a value-add for them, since they won't have to track you down and ask whether job #401743 was done back in April.

If neither Jasper nor Pendleton is your rater, but each is a higher rank, well, same kind of thing, but you can talk to your rater (whom I presume is also their rater). This sort of thing is why the military has ranks and hierarchies, after all, and why people with higher ranks make more money than people with lower ranks. Present your rater with reasons why Jasper and Pendleton's treatment of you is a problem not just for you but for your unit (e.g., "I am not being developed in a way that benefits this office" or "Work is not getting done because I am too busy tracking down tickets in an inefficient manner."). Be very, very careful about suggesting that their treatment of you is because you're a woman, because EO complaints are pains in everyone's ass, and if it can be written off as "E3 DisreputableDog is being treated like an E3, not being mistreated because of her sex," then you have acquired a rep as a whiner.

There are plenty of other tricks you can use, many of which shouldn't be made public, so MeMail me if you want some more detailed assistance, or if you just want to vent outside your chain of command.
posted by Etrigan at 6:25 AM on December 31, 2012 [5 favorites]


If you are concerned about them constantly asking you for information such as numbers and whatnot, you need to have all of that information recorded in a format that they can access at any time, and then make them access it. So, it may be some special software, or just a simple excel file database, or whatever, but it needs to be there in such a way that they can get to it when you aren't around. Then, in the future, when they ask you for it, just let them know that you've updated the file with that information, and they can look it up that way.

Other than this, I'm not sure exactly how much of this is an issue, and how much of this is a perceived issue. If you are writing things down, than you are responsible when those things are written down incorrectly. If discussions are happening during breaks, you can choose to take a break at the same time to join in. If these people you are working with are both at a higher pay grade than you, than it may be appropriate for you to be taking the easier-to-handle tickets while they work on the more complex ones.

If you cannot find a different job or quit, than your best bet is to do whatever you can to better enjoy your current circumstances, and some of that may be readjusting your expectations. If you still feel you are being treated inappropriately, than you go to your supervisors with documented proof of what isn't being done correctly, and discuss it.
posted by markblasco at 7:39 AM on December 31, 2012


When I worked at a company where the smokers had daily impromptu meetings outside, I bought a few packs of chocolate cigarettes and joined them. Was very amusing when someone wanted to bum a cigarette, especially when they were drunk at a party and tried to light it.
posted by Sophont at 8:26 AM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Check your Mefi mail.
posted by Lobster Garden at 8:58 AM on December 31, 2012


Seconding corvine and etrigan on the need for a software solution. There's no good reason not to have a system so anyone can look up or enter ticket information. You being the reference for a random ticket from months ago (or even from 30 minutes ago) is silly, not to mention inefficient.

Also, while markblasco's broader point may be valid (take responsibility for your own work, etc.) the notion that you should have to expose yourself to secondhand smoke just to be a team player is absurd.
I agree with the other folks who've said try going to a higher level manager in a neutral, I-statement way and see if something can be worked out.
posted by Wretch729 at 10:09 AM on December 31, 2012


I feel like there are three issues here.

1) You are forgetful, sometimes write things down incorrectly.

2) You are solely responsible for ticket information that is used by other people.

3) There is a lack of overall, respectful communication, between you and J&P.

I think that if possible, you need to escalate this to a higher level manager to implement a ticketing system and get everybody on board with sharing information in a way that helps everyone do their job more efficiently. Meanwhile, you need to continuing working on the quality of your work. I don't know if it's inappropriate for you to be the person who writes down the information on calls you share with J&P, because it sounds like you are junior to them and that's often something the junior member does. It is inappropriate for them to share information between them that you are not privy to that impacts your workflow, but it is not inappropriate for J&P to socialise without you, even at work.

I don't think this is a "gender" thing, actually, but I'm not in the military, your workspace, their heads, your head... I'm only commenting on what I see, and that's not what I see. I've worked in quasi- (and not-so-quasi) IT roles for some time, so I do see this sort of thing fairly often, but even if that is what this is, I think this is all fixable.

By the way, secretaries also crawl under desks to hook up equipment and 'save the day' for various people. I get what you meant, and I agree that your gender should not dictate your responsibilities, but, there's more to being a secretary than putting the coffee on and taking notes.
posted by sm1tten at 10:42 AM on December 31, 2012


By the way, one thing you need to take stock of before you take any sort of action against Jasper and Pendleton is any potential "unofficial" power that is not directed through standard reporting channels.

For example, my company tends to acquire a lot of other smaller companies. Since smaller companies tend to have title inflation (due to the fact that they are generally a stepping stone in one's career), this used to result in a lot of people from the acquisitions (whom I am senior to) having higher titles than me, even though as somebody from the corporate office I am the one allowed to make requests of them rather than vice-versa. However, due to the titles, they absolutely didn't realize this fact (and completely ignored most of my requests) until I went to our CFO, explained the problem, and received a better title that would make my role clear. I imagine that up until this happened, they probably thought I was the most annoying person in the entire company, similar to how you feel about Jasper and Pendelton.

Hence the reason that it may be a good idea, before you take any sort of action at all, to have an unofficial chat with your manager and find out whether Jasper and Pendelton are entitled to delegate work to you.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 3:36 PM on December 31, 2012


Sounds to me (and yep, retired military) more of a seniority thing than a gender thing. I've done plenty of the "secretarial" work, and I'm a guy. Just happens that when you're the junior guy, you get the detail work. At the pentagon, former Commanding Officers are making the coffee*, 'cause everyone else has a star on.

*probably not literally, since civilian employees, but you know what I mean.

What you could do though, is casually introduce the idea that an inverted pyramid is probably not the best organization for the group. Next time they seem annoyed that you didn't write something down, maybe suggest hiring some more indians because two chiefs seem to need more than one. "Or maybe you guys could just help me out with some of this stuff sometimes."
posted by ctmf at 9:44 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thank you to those who gave me some perspective on the social / possible gender aspect of this. We're already trying to implement a spreadsheet system we can access from anywhere, but I didn't mention it because it wasn't relevant to the actual issue (since I might still be expected to input information in that as well but, congrats!, with the added hassle of having to log in to do so).

I'm in the Navy, but didn't mention that since I didn't want a bunch of "I don't know how the military does this, maybe talk to ____" which is just noise.
posted by DisreputableDog at 4:42 PM on January 3, 2013


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