Work, Favors, Gratitude, and Reciprocity

Gratitude isn’t just good manners, it may be key to registering the work of others and the favors they do for us. A new study from the Columbia Business School suggests women’s work activities and the informal favors that sustain effective networking are not as often registered as work or as favors for which reciprocal responses, much less gratitude, should be expected. See here:

9 thoughts on “Work, Favors, Gratitude, and Reciprocity

  1. I like your epigraph–lack of recognition fuels lack of reciprocity and this damages future opportunities. Also, from the article, it’s important to be attuned to the ways that gender shifts workload for women in academia. There are hints of it here. I’m not on board with the idea that ‘mentoring down’ is bad because it keeps you from hanging out with the big boys, but I do think that extensive teaching and service demands placed on women (in academia and elsewhere) hamper our own growth and development in key areas. So I don’t see it as just a matter of better accounting (‘yes please count that advising session as real work’, she pleads, even with herself). Instead, I think we all have to recognize that we need to focus our energies appropriately and protect our own continuing intellectual growth and development too. (Still working on that…)

  2. Lynne, that bit about “mentoring down” was the most dispiriting part of this for me! I’m not on board with it as bad either. I do think it would be very useful though for this sort of mentoring effort to be acknowledged as one of the extra burdens women face. I’m not expressing that well. I suppose I just mean that one hears frequently of how women end up with higher service commitments and duties – this is an acknowledged problem. It would be nice to have a similar recognition of our mentoring down efforts, an acknowledgement that we are called on to do this more, both because students or juniors may seek it and because our own positions in the profession reasonably entail that we have to raise up our own peers rather than find them already in place. It *helps* me to have other women in the profession, but often that might also mean more work because I have to do my bit to make it so. Still not saying that well, but I hope the general sense is clear…

  3. Prof. Manners: I think you expressed it really well. There is a psychic tax, too, in all this work, but there are benefits from the camaraderie one can (maybe) build. I don’t know if these balance out, but ceasing to mentor isn’t an option, and mentoring time is richly rewarding if it goes well. My department has explicit mentors for junior faculty, and that counts as service credit, which is a start, but of course there is so much that’s informal (as it should be). I like your point about how it helps to have other women in the profession– it is so important that women don’t pull up the ladder behind us. Feminists have known this all along, which is probably why Katy expressed fake shock. But it bears discussing, over and over again, because this hasn’t changed enough yet.

  4. Lynne– yes, that’s why I expressed fake shock. It definitely wasn’t to suggest that it doesn’t bear discussing. I honestly just don’t know what to do about it anymore. Feeling a bit exhausted and exasperated, I suppose. I sometimes make lists of the sheer volume of such things I do (the ‘service’ that won’t be counted as such for a huge variety and combination of reasons– because acknowledging that such work needs to be done means acknowledging things that people don’t want to acknowledge, because of the brute phenomena (and brutish) that’s at issue in the article, etc). Then find I myself staring at such lists thinking — and what would I cut from this? Almost always the answer is almost nothing, because almost always it involves women and other vulnerable folk much further down the food chain of academe than I (and it’s not, as lucky as I *know* I am, like I’m a great white whale in this here academic tank). And part of my great — sometimes outrageously great– luck in the profession is that there are people who mentored way downward for me (and continue to do so!!!). So I feel (I think rightly) that I owe it to both the past and the future to keep trying. But then, I’m just back to exhaustion. And I know there are women doing more than I. I don’t know how (really, I don’t know how they do it). But I know it’s true.

  5. I do wonder if, in academia, this phenomenon is aggravated by more general attitudes toward service that are common. I had a conversation with a colleague recently in which he alluded to service being something no one *wants* to do and as akin to a box one must tick, something to satisfy work requirements but little else. This bothered me at the time – not least because I was in part trying to explain why someone might want to serve on a particular committee – but this discussion is clarifying for me why it bothered me. Part of the issue is that for me and maybe many women in the profession, service is often not (or not simply) a box to tick but instead often attached to goals we want realized for both personal and professional reasons. Serving on a committee, e.g., might mean getting in place efforts to make climate better, to improve the fairness of some practice, etc. So when it’s likened to undesirable box-ticking (and, by extension, anyone wanting to do it or devoting more than minimal time to it seen as bizarre), the alienation is pronounced. There’s the alienation of being in the position of wanting to do what others dismiss as mere chore; the alienation of holding aims regarding service that others do not share and thus are less likely to help secure; and then there’s the alienation of realizing that whatever work one does in this regard is likely going to pass without much notice or credit. If it’s mere box-ticking, then how do we begin to distinguish those who do it well and those who don’t? Why would we bother?

  6. Professor Manners– all that seems right to me. There’s also the following: a lot of us do what is essentially “committee work” and/or “advising” or serve in other positions which don’t even have a box-ticking ‘benefit’, as these are not listed officially in departmental committee assignments. In that way, it’s work that’s pretty explicitly swept under the rug.

  7. RE women in philosophy in particular: I am wondering about a different kind of “favour” and how widespread this might be. This has nothing to do with committee work or advising, but with something more covert. Namely, do women philosophers attend events (talks, workshops, conferences) organised by their colleagues without reciprocation? My question reflects my own experience: when I started my current job just over 3 years ago, I made a real effort to attend events organised by my colleagues. Or, if I couldn’t attend a talk, I would send an email apologising for this. This all seemed to me to be just ‘good manners’ – and I also wanted to know what my new colleagues are up to. However, it became clear to me in the course of my first 1,5 years that this “favour” (if we can call it that) was not reciprocated. (In fact, to date none of my colleagues have attended a single event I have organised and there are *many* that I have. And they haven’t send apology emails either.) I found this really discouraging, especially since at every event that I attended some other colleagues were present. So, it’s not that they simply don’t attend any other events but those they themselves organise. Clearly there is something about *my* events that puts them off – or, so it seems. Since then, I have stopped attending events organised by my colleagues (and I’ve stopped apologising for not attending too). I am just wondering whether others have similar experiences and whether this might be another ‘hidden’ favour WIPs do.

  8. Too many service projects end up an abuse of faculty time and energy, brought on by the bloat in administration. Service projects on the road to nowhere should be avoided, but sometimes it is hard to tell in advance. So as faculty, it’s important to choose service wisely, in ways suggested by Prof. Manners’ comment above about shaping our institutions. Anonymous WIP is right that there are these cultural moments too, and lack of support or even sabotaging our projects isn’t just rude, but much worse. If your colleagues aren’t going to events you organize, that’s a terrible reflection on them. Some departments I’ve been in had the expectation that everyone is required to attend department sponsored talks and events, interested or not, but other departments don’t seem to have that culture. It might help to have a conversation at a department meeting about what the department’s norm should be (and why it should be that).

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