Doing Favors + Creating Relationships, Who Counts?

Today we're looking at quotes from two related articles, one in The Guardian and one in The Wall Street Journal. The heading of each quote is a link to the article it came from.

Women's help doesn't count as something that should be repaid
Women were more likely than men to be asked for favors and were more likely to grant requests for help, Frank found. When the recipients of help were asked how “indebted” they felt, they appreciated the help of women less than the help of men——it turned out that people felt entitled to female help. Worse, the more “agreeable” the woman seemed, the more the value of her help was discounted by the person she assisted (as if they assumed “she just likes to help”).

If a favor is not counted, a potential alliance is lost
No matter what profession a woman works in, she's actually in the service profession. That's the upshot of an illuminating (and to many, enraging) new Columbia Business School study highlighted this week, showing that co-workers and bosses feel entitled to favors from women – or, in fact, that almost everything a woman does at work is considered "a favor" that is off the clock. To put it another way, when a woman takes on a project no one else will, or does something helpful or thoughtful, it's seen as something she does for fun [something that doesn’t count]. When a man does it, it seen as real work [something valuable].
… Alliances are often based on favors; if a favor is not counted, a potential ally is lost. … Women are essentially locked out of the favor system that helps men get ahead; many powerful men keep a running tally in their heads of who owes them a favor and who doesn't; women, because their favors don't count, never even make it on to that list. Favors are a currency, and women are suffering from a currency crisis.

When people take your help for granted, they don't pay you back
Every woman has an anecdote of having her contacts, good will, or time being taken for granted. A friend who is a professor pronounced herself "mesmerized" by how the men in her department were rarely imposed upon by students, whereas she and other women were always being asked for extra help.
There was an example in my own life recently, most recently when a hiring manager at another publication asked me to scour my network to recommend a candidate for a prestigious job; later, neither the candidate nor the editor who asked for my help said "thank you".
I don't regret the time and effort it took to make the introduction, but that lack of acknowledgement concerned me, as it would concern others. The lack of acknowledgement is not just a matter of rudeness, ingratitude or bad manners; it's a rejection of a potential alliance. It means that, should a woman ever ask for a favor from the people she has done favors for, she might find that help is a one-way street. She would likely not receive any help, since her own work on their behalf was not acknowledged. She might behave as an ally, but she will find...that others won't behave as hers.

"Pass on work that will not be appreciated"
Beware especially if requests come to you because people think you are “nice” or “have good taste.” When I was starting my career, I spent many weeks one year organizing a conference for my boss. Tracking guest lists and name tags by day, I had to work into the wee hours of the night to make deadlines on my regular client work. The next year, my boss left me a note: “You did such a good job last time. Can you run the conference again this year?” “The girls always get stuck planning the menu,” a male peer told me sympathetically while when I voiced my frustration.
So I walked into my boss’s office and said, “Hey, on the conference, I have an idea.” “What is it?” asked my boss. “Well, I’m swamped working on two big projects for you and this seems like a great job for Cole,” I said, referring to a freshly minted Ph.D. who’d just joined our group.
“But Cole has no social skills,” my boss said, looking confused. “Then running the conference is perfect for Cole – he’ll have to learn.” My boss smiled broadly.  Cole ran the conference  I got to focus on money-making work and lost nothing from saying no – and maybe gained a few points for pluck.
The next time your boss comes over with a big smile and a bad assignment, say, “I know who’ll do a wonderful job” and point to the guy in the adjoining cube.

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