On putting your foot down

My boss increasingly treats me like a personal assistant, which has become a vicious cycle because it decreases the time I have available to devote to assignments that would better demonstrate my non-administrative abilities, and I believe that no matter what the task, you should do it well. For this and other organizational reasons I have determined that the best course of action is for me to find a new job, but I would like to avoid repeating this scenario in the future. What’s the best way to prevent a manager from viewing you as an entry-level employee? Given my degrees and skill set (I’m an economist), I often think I am hindered by my gender (I’m busty and short), ethnicity (Latina), and youthful face (I’m 33). I understand that sometimes everyone has grunt work to do; my problem is that it seems like my caliber of assignments continues to deteriorate despite getting significant raises and other praise indicative that I am valued, so it can’t be that I suck and they can’t trust me with anything more advanced. I don’t want this to happen again: to feel grumpy at being asked to print documents or compile minutes when more junior male colleagues are not assigned these tasks; I want that it instead be recognized that wasting an economist’s time on these assignments is just bad business.

It’s fine to start looking for another job, but I feel like you’re missing an opportunity here. You’re in a stronger position than you think you are, especially since you’re willing to move on to another job anyway. Trust me, you have very little to lose by flexing a little muscle here.

The first step is to put all this into a formal letter.

Write to your boss directly and let him know what needs to change. Cite specific examples of how you are treated differently than your colleagues. Make reference to the fact that this is a pattern of discriminatory behavior based on your gender and ethnicity where you are repeatedly and consistently assigned assistant-level tasks when more junior (white) male colleagues are not. Be sure and list all your qualifications and accomplishments.

If the company is small, consider cc’ing the owner. If the company is medium sized, cc the office manager. If it’s a big company, definitely cc someone in human resources, because the point of the letter is to go on record. It’s a chess move. It’s a preemptive defense for later when you start putting your foot down.

Deliver the letter and have a frank conversation with your boss. Tell your boss what needs to change, and see what kind of reaction you get. If it’s positive, you win. If it’s negative, then you were already willing to leave, and the letter will most likely protect you from any overt retaliation. (Mention discrimination in a formal letter, and they will take you seriously. They may not do everything you ask, but they will do something.)

Whatever happens, nothing is gonna change unless you ask for what you want. Protect yourself, of course, but just fucking ask.


8 thoughts on “On putting your foot down

  1. Ana says:

    Ask a Manager is my go-to for work related queries, she’s very practical about communication and conflict matters.

    i don’t know if going straight to formal letter writing is the best step. i think it would seem less adversarial to /in the moment/ when he delegates you something administrative along the lines of “boss, I’m happy to do this for you, but I’m currently undertaking project xx and have y and z deadlines. How would you like me to prioritise this admin task?” and see what he says.

    Then you could also have a conversation about the issue later: “boss, i notice that I’m increasingly asked to do administrative tasks. when i took this role i was looking forward to spending the majority of my time doing [xx and yy tasks and economist does]. I’m happy to pitch in occasionally with admin work, but really prefer to concentrate of zz.”
    You might find out that in his mind the role has changed, and then it’s you’re prerogative to leave if you don’t like what the job is now. At this point you could also have a chat in person to HR to raise your concerns that you’re being treated this way because of your ethnicity and gender BUT i really REALLY don’t advise you to go to HR until after talking to your boss.

  2. Dana says:

    I’m a manager and I agree but I would suggest having this conversation in person with your boss first instead of a formal letter. i definitely recommend informing your boss that you will be taking notes and if your boss is also writing notes, that you would like to see it and sign it to verify it was accurate. I have always had a deep respect and appreciation for employees who could communicate their thoughts and feelings professionally. Often times, I’ve considered them my strongest and highest producing staff. If you’ve already had the discussion but are not seeing changes, then absolutely write a letter and cc the necessary people–it takes every employee to ensure discriminatory practices are not happening and managers who engage in discriminatory practice (aware of it or not) should have it brought to their attention immediately.

    I definitely agree that you’re missing an opportunity if you don’t have this discussion. It really is an opportunity for professional growth and increasing communication skills. In addition to that, it’ll be a great opportunity for your boss as well to be more mindful of ensuring they are treating staff equitably or potentially getting out of a position they might not be a good fit for. And like coquette said, if it doesn’t work out well, you’re already on your way out.

    • JC says:

      Another idea (one I have used) is to park a tape recorder on your boss’ desk. I used this in a situation where I was being treated very unfairly and where there was the potential for legal action and a lot of potential for misconstruing things. You will get exactly zero fuckery this way, and it’s a way to draw your line very adamantly but without initiating what amounts to a formal complaint against your boss.

  3. Dana says:

    Yup. I’ve used a tape recorder as well. Plan on using one soon when I have a meeting with my boss’s boss in the next few weeks. It’s definitely a good idea to use it with people who often misconstrue things, use intimidation tactics or who claim they don’t recall having those conversations. I actually think tape recorders should be used at all meetings but be careful on your state laws. In my state only one person has to be aware that a conversation is being recorded but some other states require you to disclose that and get permission before being allowed to record a convo.

  4. John h says:

    There is no mention of her actual job title. What if it’s actually ‘administrative assistant’? More than once I have seen someone take a job hoping to get promoted out of it, then get upset when they are required to actually do the job. In which case, I would think an entirely different brand of coke advise would be necessary.

    • bch says:

      “What if instead of the scenario being what’s written out here, it’s actually this one I made up instead? In which case, your answer would be wrong Coke!”

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