Post by Jane K. Stimmler, contributing Women on Business writer
How many women friends and colleagues do you know who constantly (and with reverence) refer to their mental and written lists, and the importance of regularly “checking things off?” Are you one of them? It seems to me like there’s an epidemic of hyper-organized list-making women who aren’t happy until they’re putting lines through the items on their endless lists covering a range of subjects. Once they get through one list, they are on to the next one!
I frequently sit in meetings where the women participants are exhibiting this behavior. They’re making lists, jotting notes, and generally leading the discussion toward a conclusion. What are the men doing?
They are participating in the discussion, but as plans are made or conclusions reached, it’s the women who seem to nail down next steps and responsibilities. Why? Because they’ve made notes during the meeting and know what has to be done. The men have been in a more free-flow discussion mode, often doing “big picture” strategic thinking, while the women have distilled the information into a more detailed work plan.
Women are, indeed, often more detail-oriented and analytical than their male counterparts, but there is a weight of responsibility that comes with these attributes. How would anything be accomplished without someone acting like the adult in the room and corralling the group toward an endpoint? If meetings were comprised of general discussion and debate – and ended without definitive conclusions, productivity would stall. So has it become the burden of women to insure this doesn’t happen?
The problem I see is that all this list-making takes up a lot of time and energy. Women get tied up making lists – and then they become really stressed trying to see that everything is completed. In business settings, the simple act of making a list of outcomes often becomes a tacit transfer of responsibility.
I wonder how this issue can be resolved without making women’s lives even more stressful than they already are. What do you think? Are you a list-maker?
I can’t believe there are no comments on this article. It’s such a great observation that women do tend to make lists and then get stuck with the follow-through. This exact thing happens in my office ALL the time. I thought it was just the particular male coworkers I had, but maybe I’m not alone. I used to refer to myself as an “engineer babysitter” because I was always telling my guys what to do. I haven’t found a solution exactly, but I have found a way to try and make the best of it for myself. (1) Don’t do their job for them. (2) CC their boss if they don’t respond to the tasks I set for them. (3) Responsibility is also power. Just because I got stuck with the to-do list doesn’t mean I’m powerless. In fact, it can mean the opposite. It means I’m the one who gets to interpret the situation, make the plans and assign the tasks. Yes, that’s a lot for one person to handle, but it’s also a more powerful position than being the one who gets told what to do.