December 13, 2022

Women, men, and the obligation to reply.

Here's a super random one for a Tuesday.

I've worked in consulting for over five years now, and I've noticed that men don't reply to everything.  Women, when asked a question, reply.  Men, when asked, don't.  

Obviously not all men, and not all women, but while I initially appreciated the thoroughness of my female colleagues I'm now starting to envy the lack of obligation from the male ones.

It can be so small, "Hi Male, do you want X or Y?" and the reply comes "sure"

Or "Hi Male, can you please explain X and Y?" and the reply comes "yes here is the explanation for X"

I've realized they're not doing it maliciously, it's how their brains work.

A colleague of mine (in my department) recently had an email with a very simple questions and a very complex tangential question for example: "X entry is an error and should be Y, unless fundamental shift in the meaning of X and Y?" My colleague started drafting a reply, explaining the pros and cons of X and Y and trying to put together a very thorough response to both part of his email.

I told her to stop.  The male answer is "Thank you, it was an error, and I have corrected it now"

How much time are women spending feeling the obligation and then responding to requests that men don't register?

How much is this playing into non-promotable work?  

Would my female colleagues be surprised at what men don't reply to?  Many of the women I work with would get A+ for what they do, administratively, if we were in school.  In work, the men seem to get promoted, regardless of the "administration".  I wonder if this plays out in other fields as well - are headteachers predominantly male party because they are good at setting workloads but have never properly completed them?  Or are women afraid to take the next step because their workload burden at their current level is so high that they can't imagine taking on more.... not realizing that the men are already doing less and facing few/no repercussions for it?

As an aside, adding this one to my list now:


  1. On a related note: I just finished a 2-hour conversation with a close friend about all the unseen work women do. It is staggering! I have an invisible list a mile long of relationships I maintain (e.g. gifts for kids teachers, Christmas baking for neighbours), behind-the-scenes things I manage at home. I could say No to most of it, but I WANT to maintain a certain level of engagement with those around me. And it profits the whole family when I stay on top of...everything. Yet it largely goes unnoticed. It's just a thing I do, because I'm a woman...and "women manage X, Y, and Z". My husband is progressive and supportive, but still...the majority of emotional and practical things in our household fall to me. The same applies at work, of course, though my situation is a bit unusual in that the majority of my colleagues are women!

    Talking through it with a friend just made me feel so seen and understood. It's hard to know how to push back against stereotypes when, quite frankly, we rely on women to make the world go round.

    1. I talk about this with my friends so much! The mental load is so real, and I think it's fine as long as we feel we are getting results from it. I really loved Eve Rodsky's books for helping me think about it and talk to my husband more about what I was doing - because he would often say "oh but you like doing x y z", which might be true, but also I like not being the only family who don't remember teacher presents. So I think we've realized a lot of the stuff I "do" is for both of us, and i've also realized that some of the stuff I do maybe doesn't need to be done.

      Your last sentence is so true. I had a lightbulb moment reading Invisible Women where she talked about GDP increasing in the 80s as more women joined the workforce. But it didn't increase just because women "joined the workforce" - it was because we then hired other people to be cooks and cleaners and nannys etc. So all this work that wasn't producing "GDP" was being done for free by women for years... and when GDP falls it's likely because someone is doing that work for free now... (this is my possibly terrible rephrase)

  2. This is interesting. I understand about women doing more work, and a lot of it is unseen work. It can be frustrating. I am going to start paying attention to the men at my workplace and see what I get.

    I have worked from home for a long time now, but back when I worked in the office, I remember that whenever we would have a company lunch or party, it was always women who did the planning. I liked doing the planning, but didn't want to ALWAYS be the one doing it. We would ask some of the men if they had any preference as to where we went, and they would never throw in any sort of opinion. Maybe they thought they were being helpful by leaving it up to us, so we could go where we wanted, or maybe they just couldn't be bothered, I don't know. I do know it was annoying.

  3. Yes, I was going to bring up the buzz world 'mental load', because it so accurately descriptive. Men don't even give a second thought to a lot of things, but women do all this organizing/planning in their heads that men just don't do (or only do when they're asked - by women. Ha!). Why is it this way? I don't think it's a control issue (although I know a lot of women who like to be in control of things, but it seems like that is often by necessity, because otherwise things won't get done).
    I have noticed that most (not all!) women do respond more thoroughly to emails than men. Interesting observation.