Wednesday, November 24, 2010

What It Takes To Lead

A group of parents from my daughter's school needed to work out a carpool schedule for some upcoming events involving our kids' travel to certain Activities. I had been traveling and hadn't been paying much attention, but once I got home and tuned back in to domestic life, I realized that no one, including my spouse, had done anything about organizing the driving.

So I sent out an e-mail to everyone, summarizing what needed to be done when, and, just to get the process started, I proposed a preliminary driving schedule, noting that we could change this as needed if anyone had a time conflict with the schedule. I figured it would be easier to make adjustments to an existing schedule than to start from scratch.

Soon after I sent my e-mail, one of the dads ("Joe") sent an e-mail to everyone, acknowledging that it helped a lot that I had started organizing the carpool, and seconding my proposed schedule.

One of the moms then e-mailed everyone:

Dear Joe and others,

Joe, thank you for your leadership. It helps us all so much that you took the initiative to finalize the carpool schedule. blah blah blah


Katie (Hannah's mom)


Yeah, that was awesome leadership that Joe showed in agreeing with my plan. OK, I know that there are many benign explanations for Katie's awe of Joe's organizational skills and I am really not that fussed about the situation, but I can't help musing about the general questions that situations like this raise: e.g., Why did Katie think that Joe showed leadership, but I apparently did not show any such trait?

We will never really know, of course, but I think it is in the realm of possible -- and even very likely -- that this is related to the phenomenon in which fathers get major bonus points for being involved in school activities, whereas moms are expected to be involved. If so, then Katie's mother saw my e-mail as routine, but Joe's as special because -- even in 2010 -- it is more rare for dads to be involved.

And perhaps she was trying to praise Joe for being involved because then he would feel so wonderful that he would start attending the monthly parent meetings at the school and then he'd volunteer to help run the silent auction and coach the ultimate Frisbee team. And perhaps Katie knows that I am a lost cause re. all of those things and that the most anyone can expect from me is to be a driver in a carpool.

Again, who knows and, in this one trivial case, who cares? But it is not so trivial at a more cosmic level if women are not perceived as leaders even when there is evidence to the contrary. According to the logic of the scenario described above, a man is a leader when he agrees with a woman who took some initiative.

Actually, on second thought, I don't have a problem with that.

37 comments:

DrugMonkey said...

my experience in such scenarios suggests it is even more likely that the person was an email dumbass who did not actually understand that you wrote the original plan.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Katie is one of those email illeterate people who didn't realise that you sent the first email, but thought that the whole thing was from Joe?

Anonymous said...

Why do you hate carpools so much?

Rest assured, FSP, that if I, your faithful anonymous reader, was on your carpool list, I would have immediately replied-to-all with a snide "Yeah, that was awesome leadership that Joe showed in agreeing with FSP's plan."

Anonymous said...

Did you consider that Katie might just be bad at using e-mail? Some e-mail clients group threads together, so she might have thought your e-mail was written by him. I know it might seem silly, but I know many, many people who are computer-inept.

Meadow said...

You may get comments about overreacting, but I think there's something going on here. It indicates how ingrained it is in a woman's mind to give a man credit over a woman. We can be our own worst enemies. I've often said the battle for equality must be fought by women among women, not men, but few get what I'm trying to say. Sort of like moderate versus extremists in a religion.

For example, elementary school teacher (almost all women) are some of the most unintentionally sexist people I met. At back-to-school night my kid's Kindergarten teacher proudly introduced herself as someone who had the privelege of staying home with her kids while they were young and only when they got older dis she go back to school for her education degree. I silently groaned.

This is all well and nice except it doesn't work that way in the hard sciences. Maybe we should all get education degrees. No wait clinical psychology - we can become therpists. I'll stop now before my cynical humor gets too mean.

Female Science Professor said...

That's why I wrote "OK, I know that there are many benign explanations for Katie's awe of Joe's organizational skills..". But my preferred benign explanation is that Katie is bad at reading comprehension, not e-mail in general, because Joe's e-mail made explicit mention of my previous e-mail and the plan that I (mentioned by name) proposed. She ignored a lot of clues to go straight to her "Joe-the-leader" interpretation.

Anonymous said...

I too thought that perhaps Katie didn't see the first email.

Either that or she's a SAHM with self-loathing tendencies who doesn't like to admit that there are women with strong leadership qualities.

Anonymous said...

hey, have you thought of the possibility that she's mad that it was you who made the initiative and that got recognised and not Katie? so, in order to sooth the ego (Yes, women have ego too), she chose to attribute the credit to Joe, a man, who in no way would be competition as HE is so different to the rest of mums. (Excuse my sarcasm)

mathgirl said...

I have a toddler at daycare. Each day, my husband and I share EQUALLY the responsibility of taking the toddler to daycare and bringing him back home (who takes him and who brings him depend on the day of the week, we are both in academia, with random schedules).

Each time something has to be communicated to the parents (such as "bring more diapers") the people at the daycare wait for me to show up. They never ask my husband anything, as if him going to daycare was enough effort for him.

In addition, each time there is any special activity I'm the one who is expected to miss work and be there.

Maybe they are right: after all, my husband is a postdoc and he has a boss and can't miss days as he pleases. I'm a prof and I'm my own boss, so I have much more flexibility. Oh, yes, I should tell them that...

Anonymous said...

FSP, did Joe ever reply to Katie's email?

Anonymous said...

Maybe Joe and Katie are having an affair.

Elizabeth said...

Sigh. I know it's a lot to ask, but could we lay off the anti-SAHM commentary? We don't know whether or not Katie is a SAHM (she could be dumb and a working mom!) and there is nothing sexist (unintentionally or otherwise) about choosing to be a SAHM.

Thanks from a physics PhD and SAHM who is trying unsuccessfully to hide from the mommy wars.

Anonymous said...

Beyond carpool.. I am an MSP and I co-advise a few students with an FSP. Lately, the university has asked advisers to write an annual report on grad student progress, which is read and signed by the student, and put in A FILE. For the students we co-advise, FSP took the initiative of writing the letters, asked me and the students to come to her office for a brief discussion and for signature, and everyone walked away happy (mostly). At the next faculty meeting, our department chair announced that these letters were slow coming and singled ME out with (excessive) praise for getting my act together early and efficiently. My FSP colleague and I exchanged a glance across the table and started laughing, because this is so predictable it has become funny.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

The "only women care about their children's education" meme is a strong one. I go to PTA meetings at my son's high school. The first meeting of the year was about 20% men, but by the third meeting I was the only male there. There is no intrinsic reason I can see for this (meeting time, format, content of discussion, ...). The women-only meme does seem stronger at public schools than private ones locally (all the men at the first meeting had had their kids in private schools for middle school).

Eilat said...

I agree with Anonymous...

Katie has the hots for Joe ;-)

(this would infuriate me, if I were in your situation)

Meadow said...

Elizabeth, This is not about SAHM and mommy wars. Has nothing to do with mothers.

Math Girl, I got that all the time from day care. So I acted incompetent and forgetful at such stuff (don't we all know a guy who does that). I liked the ladies there and still take my kid back to visit and they laugh about my incompetence (knowing fully why).

After reading the comments I vote for "Katie has the hots for Joe" That's it ;) no futher analysis needed.

Female Science Professor said...

Anon 9:30 who is actually my colleague -- Yeah, that was weird, but I didn't mind that he gave you credit for what was essentially a clerical task. In fact, I wish our chair did not have such a high opinion of my clerical skills, and I hope that he now transfers this admiration to you!

Anonymous said...

I have a FEP colleague that this recently happened to - she and MEP are co-advising a student, but she does most of the work (meetings, etc). Student needed some letter for visa/scholarship type thing, and MEP asked FEP to help - student offered to write letter draft and made NO MENTION of FEP in it (only MEP) - forwarded it to FEP for her to get MEP's signature.

student is female. sigh. why can't women give women credit? did she think it would look bad that her advisor was a woman?

cherishthescientist.net said...

I have come to the conclusion that men's voices are louder than women's, no matter who the listener is...and whether the communication is in person or via email. What astounds me is how people can completely distort reality to fit their perceptions...

Jay said...

According to the logic of the scenario described above, a man is a leader when he agrees with a woman who took some initiative.

Actually, on second thought, I don't have a problem with that.


I do have a problem with that, because I think it leads directly to people assuming your work is your husband's.

My husband and I don't work in the same field, but we have both been in synagogue leadership and it was widely assumed that when I was president, he was helping me with process and policy, but when he was president I was helping with clerical tasks. At one point the rabbi (a woman) suggested that I should take over his Email and calendar organization for him - this in response to my statement that I was looking for my next meaningful job in the congregation.

I don't think there's anything to do about it in this one instance, but it does bother me. It bothers me a lot.

Alex said...

Count your blessings, FSP. If people start realizing that you're good at organizing things, guess what you'll be stuck doing? :)

Elizabeth said...

Meadow: For example, elementary school teacher (almost all women) are some of the most unintentionally sexist people I met. At back-to-school night my kid's Kindergarten teacher proudly introduced herself as someone who had the privelege of staying home with her kids while they were young and only when they got older dis she go back to school for her education degree. I silently groaned.

Me: I know it's a lot to ask, but could we lay off the anti-SAHM commentary...there is nothing sexist (unintentionally or otherwise) about choosing to be a SAHM.

Meadow: Elizabeth, This is not about SAHM.

Me: ?

Ms.PhD said...

Another great example. This is the stuff that makes us wonder - are we really being paranoid? Because we don't have comparable examples where the opposite occurred. In fact, I can't think of any. I can only think of instances like this one, where I proposed something, and a man showed up later, agreed with me, and walked away with all the credit.

I like that this is at least a benign example where it did not hurt your career.

Meadow said...

Elizabeth, it is not about SAHM. It is about insecure women who make themselves feel better by putting others down for their choices. The teacher in question believes it is a "privilege" to stay at home and a woman would never willingly choose to work. Several stay-at-home-moms rolled their eyes too. Why did you assume it was just working women who wouldn't like such a comment?

This is about women who have such poor self-worth that they automatically look to men for leadership. (no wait Katie has the hots for Joe, really does make more sense)

I say, if a guy exhibits this behavior its because the women in his life encourage it. (The chairman's wife/sister/mom should kick his butt when she hears his sexist assumptions.)

And clearly I have too much time on my hands today ;)

Female Computer Scientist said...

Actually, I wonder if she's jealous of the attention your initial email got from Joe. I've noticed women do some really bizarre things when they think you're a competitor. (Even if everyone involved is married / already in a relationship / etc.). Also, that email she wrote sounds far too over-the-top sappy for just organizing a carpool. (And what the heck is "and others"? Did she seriously write that? Ugh.)

Might be worth gathering some data on this woman when you see her next. If you detect any lurking jealousy, just gush a lot about your husband. I've pulled this maneuver on several occasions when some woman decides I am A Threat To Her Man, and it smoothes things over 100% of the time.

Anonymous said...

Our society quite rightly frowns (at least explicitly) on patronizing women for "men's work" (e.g. "She's really an excellent scientist for a woman"). When will it stop being acceptable to patronize men for doing "women's work?"

Joe did little, and people reacted as if he had done much, quite probably because he's a man. Does it please us when this happens with genders reversed? Does it honor anybody? Is it not rather an insult, as if nothing so much as a content-free e-mail could be expected of him?

In my three years of being a father, I have been puzzled by this. If I change a diaper, I'm a hero/leader/Family Man (never mind that nobody puts diaper tables in men's restrooms). If my wife changes a diaper, nobody notices. The examples multiply.

At the very least, give poor Joe a break on it until you see him bragging.

Elizabeth said...

Meadow, ok that makes a little more sense. If she really said that a woman would never choose to work then that is clearly silly. However, if it's just the choice of the word 'privilege' that you're put off by, I think you may have misunderstood. SAHMs generally use the phrase "I'm privileged to be a SAHM" in an attempt to *avoid* seeming smug or judgmental. We are trying to emphasize that we know we are lucky to be in a position that allows us to make a choice, that we understand that finances or other constraints make having an at-home parent impossible/undesirable for many families, that we are placing no judgment on anyone else's choices. It's exactly what I would expect someone to say who was sharing her history as a SAHM with a group of parents and was trying not to offend anyone. It's almost funny but also kind of depressing that a phrase that is intended to head off 'mommy wars' misunderstandings may have caused one in this case.

gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"(never mind that nobody puts diaper tables in men's restrooms)"

But the engineering building here (E2) has diaper tables in all the men's restrooms. So does the local bookstore downtown. In fact, just about any place around here that puts diaper tables in the women's restrooms also puts them in the men's restrooms.
I suspect that this is a regional thing, not universal.

Pagan Topologist said...

I give up. What does "SAHM" mean?

Rosie Redfield said...

And did Joe have the good manners to send another email correcting Katie's error?

Female Science Professor said...

Subsequent carpool emails dealt with the practical issues at hand. Joe is a nice guy and does his share of driving, including the early morning drives that are my least favorite, and that's really all I care about. I have never met Katie, but I like her daughter and am happy to drive her around with the others to these Activities.

Anonymous said...

Being a father, I always get the opposite (and equally bad) treatment. Most moms simply assume that I am more incompetent than them at parenting simply because I am a guy. I wish these roles weren't so stigmatized!

Anonymous said...

I agree with your explanations as most likely but consider: perhaps he was more assertive in his wording ('finalize' vs 'propose tentative' -- he wasn't asking people to think) and thus got the credit. I tend to be very unassertive and have had similar experiences many times (though I am neither female nor a parent).

Bagelsan said...

That's why I wrote "OK, I know that there are many benign explanations for Katie's awe of Joe's organizational skills.."

NOO, FSP! Let the anonymous posters explain to you, over and over, why you are probably wrong! Don't interrupt them with facts.

Just because you actually wrote down on record that there are benign explanations doesn't mean you aren't still too stupid to think of benign explanations (just like your written record of leadership in no way indicates that you ever led.) :p

geomom said...

spot. on. Men get extra credit for parenting at work and at home. SO typical!

Anonymous said...

Interesting take... As a grad student for many years and therefore someone whose been away from the domestic life (as the kid) for many years, I'm going to go with Occam's razor on this one. Katie, a busy mother and not as tech savvy read the most recent email in her inbox and in the interest of time made the assumption that Joe came up with the idea.

I doubt it was because she believes mothers are expected to participate and impressed that fathers do. Or perhaps she is deeply resentful of your being a FSP rather than a stay-at-home mother and sent the email to specifically slight you?

Who knows? I've been away from soccer mom activities for a while now, so that's just my initial opinion. And like you said, we'll never really know the real reason why Katie decided to thank Joe for his leadership.

Anonymous said...

maybe Katie saw the situation as you being akin to Joe's secretary because you were doing the grunt work (i.e. the actual work) while he appeared to sit back and just give his stamp of approval.