Pride overload | HR Memories

Courtesy of bestkcupcoffee

Courtesy of bestkcupcoffee

During my working years, I saw the role of women in the workplace change considerably but not completely. Some women became more militant drawing hard lines in the sand and some reacted with more subtlety.


I worked for a high-level female manager during the ‘90s. During a “what would you do” conversation she was asked what she would do if she was asked to get an executive coffee in a meeting. Her response was, “Milk and sugar with that?”


We were all surprised because she was outspoken and blunt. As she explained her point of view it made sense. There are so many variables. Was she pouring herself a cup? Was the person in the middle of something that couldn’t be stopped? Was the requester asking for a favor? Was it worth losing your job or maybe work collaboration? Was it truly a put-down? (Or as she said, “Is it worth getting your panties in a knot about?)


Fast forward a few years. I had a co-worker who was high-strung. That is the kindest work I can use. Any request was a threat to her self-worth. I’m not talking coffee but work requests too. You better be sure it was in her job description before you asked to do anything.


One day I desperately needed a ride to pick up my car not too far away. This was a personal favor. Although I dreaded asking her, there wasn’t anyone else I could ask. She did take me but she was sure to let me know that it was on HER LUNCH HOUR (which was her time); she never let anyone in her car ever; and it was a once-only deal.


On one occasion her boss asked her to cover his phone while he grabbed lunch. He was expecting an important phone call  (this was before cell phones) and would be right back. Her response was, “Do I look like a receptionist?”


I worked with her for about six months and she was let go. She was stunned. No one else was. She could be a nice person and she was funny but her stand-up comedy routines about her boss got back to him. (The routines were hysterical. Even I couldn’t stop from laughing.)


A few months later I heard that she was canned from her next job. Her boss asked her to get him a cup of coffee. She said something naughty and he said, “You’re fired.”


I don’t really know the specifics. She was a new employee in an entry-level job. Maybe he was a lousy person or maybe she continued to be inflexible but it took me back to my boss from the ‘90s. It’s better to roll with the punches.


Sometimes a request for coffee is just a request for coffee.



27 thoughts on “Pride overload | HR Memories

  1. Sometimes coffee is just coffee, sometimes it’s a power play, it all depends on who is asking and how the asking is done, in my experience.

    A couple of years ago the men’s room had some toilets backup so my boss asked to use the ladies’ and to have me stand guard. I told him I’d rather not be a “poop sentry.” True story and one of many. He’s a chauvinistic jerkwad & I have so many stories Hubbs said I could write a book. Ugh!



    • You are right about the coffee request. However, when you are a new entry level employee there are ways of handling it that don’t end up in losing your job. Knowing her I expect she was over the top with her reply. Poop sentry? That is so funny. The doors provide privacy, don’t they. I guess he didn’t want to poop next to a pooping woman. There must have been other bathrooms!


  2. Kate … I do think your manager handled the request appropriately. You’re right: being asked to fetch coffee is not worth a battle and losing your job over.

    I once discovered that I was paid far less than my male counterparts at one job. Some females have – and would have – sued in these instances. I chose to document how much I was doing compared to “two” male employees who I knew made more than I did. Then I presented my stats – not the guys’ names – to my boss. (He couldn’t determine from my stats who I had focused on.) A short while later, I got a wonderful raise and a promotion. You don’t have to be confrontational to make your point and achieve your goal.


    • Snappy comebacks make better stories but strategies like this get better long-term results. I did an infamous study of the salaries between the male and female execs at one of the companies I worked for. I used blue and pink dots on my graph and it became known as the pink chart study. Results weren’t immediate but they did happen.


  3. I never had the disposition to work in the corporate world, but many of my women friends did. They tell similar stories of knowing about when to adapt & when to rock the boat. It’s really a skill that one must learn as you go along, but requires a bit of self awareness to master. Perhaps the woman you write about here was lacking in self-awareness?


    • The woman was lacking in self confidence. She analyzed everything said and looked for comments that in her head demeaned her. She was very bright but had some real bad baggage. I could write a book about her. One day I will post about her pet hamster Lucille Ball and her grandmother. Your friends are right. There is a knack to knowing which battles to pick. The first thing is that you should make sure it’s real.


  4. You raise a really interesting on-the-job gender-role issue here. Some bosses haven’t gotten the memo that this is the 21st century and to expect women employees to provide hostess services is out. It’s one thing for a woman to offer to get coffee rather than to be expected to add that duty to her job. Personally, the first time, if asked in front of others, instead of a sassy response, it pays to comply and then ask to meet with the boss later to discuss the issue. When we respond as though the boss is our parent and we’re the child, the pattern will continue. If we meet to explain our position, adult to adult, things are more likely to change. Keeping the discussion private has a lot of merit. A great post.


  5. When I first practiced law, the head of litigation TOLD me to get him coffee. I replied, “If I were a guy, would you ask me to get you coffee?” When he sputtered, I remained seated.

    At our next meeting, he offered to get me coffee. 😎


  6. It really isn’t important who is asked to ‘get coffee’…what is important is the response whether spoken or implied. I much rather being gracious about it and after all, it’s not a stain on my person! Doesn’t matter whether the head person (male or female) gets the coffee…or the newbie (male or female) gets it. It’s gotten…”Hand over the coffee and no one gets hurt.” Good trade.


    • I say that about chocolate too. When I encountered this person I was 50-ish so I was so over all that stuff. She exasperated me and I was glad to see her go. Hope she found some happiness somewhere.


    • Yes, the tone. You are of the same age as me and I remember the old coots who would order you to “fetch” coffee for them. Most of them are dead or in nursing homes probably still commanding the aides for their needs.


  7. I think being kind and helpful is a wonderful trait I have…if someone needs a favor, unless I can’t do it, I’m there…I would have driven you to get your car and we would have stopped for coffee 🙂


    • Some people overthink things. Being asked to get the coffee because you are the only woman in the room may be a put down but most of that generation is gone. Now if you are asked to get coffee (aside from a favor) it’s because you are the low man (or woman) on the totem pole. I remember having a guy who worked for me pick up the refreshments for a meeting. Coffee is not worth losing a job over.


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