5×2: FoodCare Orange and GiveDirectly

Today is our second of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two choices are very local and very global.

A family member suggested donating to FoodCare Orange in my home town to support community members on low incomes.

FoodCare Orange is a not-for-profit social enterprise established in 2012. We provide individuals and families on low incomes access to affordable, fresh food, groceries and household items.

WHO WE ARE | foodcareorange

You can donate to FoodCare Orange via bank transfer.

Our second donation is to GiveDirectly, which does unrestricted cash transfers to members of extremely poor communities. This is an extension of the value in my introductory post that giving cash is the most flexible and useful type of donation; in this case the community members will choose how to spend the money.

We chose to split the money between GiveDirectly, and GiveDirectly Refugees.

We do not impose our preferences, or judgments, on the beneficiaries; instead we respect and empower them to make their own choices, elevating their voices in the global aid debate. This value is core to GiveDirectly’s identity as the first organization exclusively devoted to putting the poor in control of how aid money is spent. It comes at a potential cost, as it means that neither we nor donors get to set priorities (and we may even lose some “efficiency” in providing this option).

GiveDirectly Values | GiveDirectly

Australians looking to make a tax deductible donation can donate via Effective Altruism Australia (select “I would like to choose how to allocate my donation”). Alternatively, GiveDirectly is a US 501(c)3, and you can donate directly here.

Consider whether you’d like to donate to these or similar organisations to support vulnerable people during a global crisis. Also, consider a smaller, ongoing donation! Regular income is the lifeblood of charities.

5×2: Médecins Sans Frontières and The Haymarket Foundation

Today is our first of 5 days of donations to support charities working with vulnerable communities during a health and economic crisis. Today’s two choices are driven by the interests of our children.

Our first child wanted to help there be enough hospitals and enough equipment to treat sick people who need it as demand spikes. Given that the Australian medical system is pretty well resourced (no one really is in this context, but relatively), we decided to donate to Médecins Sans Frontières, who will no doubt be at the front line of COVID-19 outbreaks in war zones (there are reports of infections in Syria) and areas with natural disasters.

Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) is an independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, healthcare exclusion and natural or man-made disasters.

Médecins Sans Frontières Australia

Médecins Sans Frontières is an international organisation: you can donate to the Australian arm here, and you can donate to many international arms here.

Our second child was concerned about impact on homeless people, a group that is getting larger in Australia. Both children see people sleeping rough occasionally in our neighbourhood. We decided to donate to The Haymarket Foundation which provides crisis care in Sydney for homeless people, particularly active users of alcohol or drugs, and also provides intervention services aimed at newly homeless people.

We exist to provide opportunities to people who have been marginalised by society. We understand that the people we work with come from a background of complex trauma, and we use this understanding to advocate and deliver multidisciplinary services that are inclusive, safe, and offer freedom of choice.

The Foundation provides a safe place for people in crisis, supports people transitioning into long-term accommodation, and provides a range of supportive environments throughout each individual’s journey.

About – The Haymarket Foundation

You can donate here.

Remember, you don’t need to donate to our chosen organisations, although they could definitely use your help as well. There are many many vulnerable people who need help right now, and many organisations on the ground ready to help them today; decide on your values and give if you can.

5×2: support your community, it’s hurting and scared and it needs your help

Right now the world is facing two new threats: the first is a global pandemic which is spreading rapidly and which might kill 3% or more of people infected, particularly if it hits suddenly enough that there aren’t enough ICU or hospital beds (as has happened in Italy) and many many people go on to die both of COVID-19 and of other things that a hospital would normally be able to treat.

The other is major recessions or depressions following on from the partial shutdown of global trade and the near total shutdown of enormous numbers of industries including airlines, large events, catering, tourism, and manufacturing, and knock-on effects for many industries. This will also lead to many deaths from the consequences of stress and poverty; I haven’t seen a guess at all-cause mortality changes from COVID-19, but it’s surely much higher than direct deaths from the illness. And those who survive will need major support to rebuild their lives and work.

I definitely understand that at a time like this, it makes sense to have savings and be prepared for the future yourself, and I’m planning to, but it’s also a time when all crisis services will be incredibly stressed trying to deal with increasingly sick, increasingly poor, and increasingly scared people, and there is no better time to make sure they have the cash they need, and help them get ready.

My family has decided this week to support 10 charities (over 5 days, 5×2) that we expect need extra funds to deal with what’s coming, and I’m going to share them throughout the week, less to encourage donations to these specific charities as to encourage you to think about where you can give.

My entire family is part of the decision to give, so not all of the charities will meet these critieria, but here’s some I suggest and will apply to my share of our choices:

  • small and nimble, works directly with vulnerable people: an organisation that can turn your cash into a motel room and food parcel or a week’s rent for a member of their community in need is one that needs your money today and can use it in the next month to make a real difference to a person
  • “nothing about us without us”: guided and run by the people it is designed to serve
  • donate cash, not goods: cash can be turned into what someone needs right now, not what a donor thought they might need six weeks ago
  • donate to the organisation’s general funds, not any COVID-19 (or other) specific campaigns of theirs: their other work hasn’t stopped, they need to pay their staff more than ever, etc, trust them to know what their community needs

If you can’t give, you can help by supporting and encouraging your government and large, wealthy employers to provide for:

  • ample sick and carer’s leave for people who might need many weeks off work as COVID-19 roars through their family and friends
  • ample carer’s leave for people whose care services (daycare, school, respite, etc) get shut down
  • crisis payments and systems for people at risk of not making (particularly) rent or mortgage payments or being able to buy food
  • strong engagement with representatives of vulnerable populations about their needs
  • a solid welfare system

Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition

With many employers suddenly transitioning their staff to work from home during the COVID-19 outbreaks, a lot of people are hoping that at least we might get a major transition to permanent support of telecommuting out of the whole thing, by demonstrating a large increase in productivity that it’s assumed follows from working from home.

But working from home is a major infrastructure problem at both a household and a societal level and this will turn out to be a pipe dream if we rely on employees to absorb the cost of long term work from home transitions.

Focusing on the household level, here’s the employee who is best suited to a short-notice work from home: they live in a quiet clean home, with a furnished private office. When they close the door, it stays closed. If they live with children, those children are cared for by another adult, who handles small and medium stresses by themselves. Their pets are quiet or cared for by someone else or both. They have access to a best-in-class business-grade broadband Internet connection. They can do their work with fairly standard office and computer equipment. If they have a disability, their home is already set up to accommodate it well. They enjoy their work well enough and are motivated by the work itself rather than by social connections with their colleagues or by close management. They have an established and sufficient set of social relationships outside the workplace.

And all this is on top of having a transportable profession such as software development, writing, some types of academic research, and some office support jobs.

That’s a lot of ducks to have lined up. Even leaving aside transportable professions, here’s some examples of employees who may be more at risk from work from home, especially from sudden transitions to it:

They share a home with someone who is abusing them, especially if that person is present in work hours. Abuse might include more violence or cruelty following from blaming the victim for stresses on the household, or simply from more access to them. It might also be financial abuse, such as interfering with the victim’s work in order to try and get them fired or get them to quit.

They can’t set up office-like conditions in their home because their home is too small, or they’re a tenant, or they don’t have enough rooms for an office, or they don’t have a private room at all, or they don’t have broadband cabling or their Internet service quality is variable or poor, or they don’t have the money for the required furnishings. Or they have all that but they live with someone who already works from home and claimed the available office space first.

Their home is physically unpleasant due to uncleanliness or bad maintenance (possibly in their control, but might be due to housemates, children, their landlord’s poor maintenance, etc), or nearby construction or traffic noise.

They have a lot of competing priorities at home that draw their attention: other adults are in the house during work hours and are bored or lonely, there’s errands to run, there’s a dog to walk, they get a lot of doorknocking, their family and friends are under the (common) impression that someone who works at home isn’t “really” working and is available for long lunches or drop by chats or can watch other people’s children all day on short notice, etc.

They require workplace accommodations that are difficult to access in their own home, eg an aide, or specialised equipment that needs professional installation, or they’ve been relying on the office for some accommodations such as hard to get foods or a fully accessible shower.

They have an office, but when they close the door, everyone else in the house knocks on it incessantly or issues ear-splitting screams or barks from the other side for hours.

They live with children and those children’s school or daycare is closed, and there’s no other adult in the house or that adult also has a job, so they have to full-time parent/homeschool them on top of having a job.

They live with children and there’s notionally another adult to care for them but that adult hands over everything except perfect behaviour and conditions to them. “The children don’t like the lunch I made! Can you make them one?” “The child has bruised their knee, they need your hugs!” “I don’t understand nappies!” “My video gaming commitments / meditation practice will consume the next three hours, can you watch the children?” (This is a highly gendered co-parenting pattern, your women employees co-parenting with men are more at risk.)

They don’t like their work and they struggle to do it without regular attention from managers or colleagues.

They do like their work OK, but they still rely on regular in-person human interaction, including in ways they may not realise themselves, in order to maintain a regular work cadence or prioritise their work or feel good about their work.

They don’t have sufficient adult social contact without a workplace because they have high social needs, or are a single parent, or live alone unwillingly, or are newly single, or recently relocated.

They’re conflict avoidant and they sometimes deal with conflict by deferring contact with the other person in the conflict. Work from home enables them to ignore chats, decline video meetings, etc in a way that would not be possible in an office. Small interpersonal problems become big ones quickly. (Spoiler: nearly everyone is sometimes conflict avoidant, and nearly everyone sometimes uses electronic communication to defer conflict.)

How do you adapt to these? Not easily, which is why a sudden and forced transition to work from home is in my opinion unlikely to lead to an emphatic demonstration of telecommuting’s superiority, but some provisions include:

  • acknowledge at least some of these concerns, and set aside some budget and manager discretion to expense better internet connections, office equipment furnishings, emergency childcare, ability to rent a small amount of personal private office space
  • initiate or strengthen your support around both mental health and around domestic violence situations and be sure they don’t need access to the office
  • seek advice on whether small gatherings of employees are safe (in the COVID-19 context) and if so, encourage optional cafe meetups and similar
  • actively review with employees who have workplace accommodations whether and how you can provide these in their homes
  • create additional leave plans (paid if possible) for people whose childcare and dependent care plans have fallen apart and cannot be reconstructed
  • consider how you will manage performance reviews and career planning for people who took a productivity hit

Thanks @hashoctothorpe and @leeflower for discussions leading up to this post and identifying some of the patterns listed here.

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Employees needing the most support during an abrupt telecommuting transition by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Lengthy closures of schools and childcare centres will end mothers’ careers

I have very little generally to add to the discussions of COVID-19 right now; if you want facts best to head to the Australian government info site, the US CDC info site, or the WHO info site.

However. one consideration I’ve seen little of: shutting down childcare centres and schools will disproportionately render the mothers* of children in those centres and schools unemployed in the short term and quite possibly un- or underemployed in the long term (gaps in resume during a likely recession, history of being terminated for absenteeism or of short notice resignations).

It’s possible although not certain (see likely recession) that larger and wealthier employers can extend their more valued workers at least some unpaid leave in this situation, but smaller or less well-funded businesses cannot, and less valued workers may not be able to negotiate them even from employers that might be able to afford them.

And unpaid leave is of course a massive strain on households, for many impossible, especially if the childcare centres (which, remember, are themselves often small and precariously funded businesses) keep charging fees.

Obviously the second-order effects of massively disrupting the global and local movement of people are coming for us all, but they’re coming for mothers pretty early on.

* Yes, fathers and other parents and carers too, but mostly mothers.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town.

Navigating ambiguity is just one skill among many

Many jobs, especially professional jobs, have some rubric in which you are required to be comfortable with ambiguity, skilled in ambiguity, thrive in ambiguity, maybe enjoy it or love it. It makes sense. There’s a lot of unanswered questions out there, it’s not surprising that some jobs want you to answer some of them.

But there’s risk in holding this up as the standard of succeess, the single skill to grow in. I have been trapped, and seen others trapped, in very unhappy situations, either saying to ourselves “this situation is ambiguous, why aren’t I thriving?” or worse, having others say to them “this situation is ambiguous, why aren’t you thriving?”

Not all ambiguous situations are alike, and your expectation that you can navigate ambiguity, or even your experience of successfully doing it in the past, does not mean that you should either seek out or stay in ambiguous situations.

The key thing about navigating ambiguity: it is a useful skill, it is not the only useful skill. A situation being unusually ambiguous, or being more ambiguous than other places you could be, does not mean that it is the right place for you, a place where you need to force yourself to be in order to be the best you can be, or progress in your career, or make the most difference.

After all, what skills are you giving up or not using while you’re spending all this time navigating ambiguity?

Is there a reason for the ambiguity?

There’s an extreme version of wanting people to thrive in ambiguity that amounts to loving ambiguity itself, and creating it where it isn’t needed. Ambiguity can be necessary and good – the single worst mistake of my career was forcing a decision from a set of alternatives when the bad alternatives were a clue that I needed to spend more time exploring – but it’s stressful. Successfully navigating necessary ambiguity is different from “it’s all ambiguity all the time”.

Is resolving this type of ambiguity a skill you have?

Ambiguity can vary widely. Is this a defensible case or should I plead guilty? Is this skill one I should turn into an income or develop as a hobby or volunteer to teach to others? Is the wind going to move before the fire reaches here? Which of the two warring factions should I have tea with?

Your background, interests, training, support system equip you to navigate some types of ambiguity and not others. I can arrange a workable response team structure to an infrastructure software outage pretty quickly. I can design a passable fundraising strategy for your small not-for-profit and I have a bunch of general skills I can put to use in many situations.

But I am not remotely the right person to turn to in a humanitarian disaster to perform either medical or resourcing triage. I also have no experience navigating the changes in children’s fashion to figure out what your line should be 12 months from now. The mere fact that there’s ambiguity there and I have at times succeeded in navigating ambiguity does not make me an effective person in those situations. If you want to be able to navigate ambiguity better, play to your strengths in choosing what ambiguity that is.

Is resolving this type of ambiguity a skill you want to have?

Maybe you’re in a situation a little closer to your experience than children’s fashion futures are to mine, but still you’re not quite at home in this level of ambiguity. There’s more hurt, more money, more people involved that you’re used to.

Since ambiguity is a useful skill, perhaps this is a situation to stick around in, but you’ll want to have support. Do you have access to training, advice, mentoring? What’s the situation for you if you fail, or do a less than perfect job? Is there a way out if you decide it’s beyond you?

If not, again, you have a decision between whether navigating this type of ambiguity, with this level of difficulty, and this amount of risk, is the skill you want to be developing right now, compared to all the other things you could be doing.

Is this ambiguity one you have the power to resolve?

This is the big one. Regardless of how skilled you are in the domain, or how subtle your ability to draw out the opinions of others, if the structures around you don’t let you be part of resolving the ambiguity you’re going to have a very rough time.

For example, if you are in the midst of a humanitarian disaster, and you don’t have a network of local contacts, transport, communications, and, potentially, defence, there is likely a pretty low limit on what you can achieve even if you have coordinated other disaster responses.

A version software companies often run into is expecting new or junior or solo staff to be able to resolve major problems with the product or its infrastructure without access to hierarchical power (ie an inattentive, disempowered, or non-existent management chain) or a structure of intermediaries to work with. Being able to find and navigate the undocumented and hidden decision-making channels in these situations is a very useful skill but it’s not an easy one. Dragging something great out of this situation may not be a great use of your time and skills.

Navigate right on out of there?

There’s plenty of times that navigating ambiguity isn’t the right match for you, right now. Go ahead and navigate ambiguity by navigating yourself right out the door and into a situation with less ambiguity, different ambiguity, better help with ambiguity, or a focus on a skill that isn’t navigating ambiguity.

Grooming: two case studies

Daniel Mallory Ortberg had Anita Sarkeesian as a guest on his Dear Prudence podcast recently and they answered the following question for Slate Plus members:

Subject: Boss too much

I am employed at my until recently all-time favourite job. I like everything about it. But the number one reason was the relationship I had with my boss. I’m an executive assistant and we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour.

Last week though in the parking lot after a charity event he groped me and asked me for sex. He was very drunk which was why I stayed late in the first place, to be his designated driver. I got out of his car and left immediately after this happened. He followed up with a phone call on the way home, not to apologise but to reiterate his attraction to me.

Now I don’t know what to do. He has promised me and delivered to my predecessor a great promotion to a department of our choice after a few years of service. He’s also at the top of the organisation, only the foreign board is above him. He’s gone back to joking with me having never apologised. I also haven’t confronted him. He was so drunk that I’m not even sure he remembers it.

I have one year until I could be promoted out, as he plans to retire, but my new job is not guaranteed. He wasn’t forceful but he was and always has been highly suggestive. I don’t know what I want to do. What are my best options?

Dear Prudence: “Weapons-grade Pettiness” Edition (offset 47:10 for Slate Plus members)

Ortberg and Sarkeesian went on to discuss various options, including whether or not to involve HR (although without fully diving into the distinct possibility that this guy is the boss of the head of HR) or the board. But they didn’t dive into this detail: “we have the same toe-the-line sense of humour”.

There’s no more details, but I’m assuming this means that the letter writer and their boss do a lot of joking about sex. It sounds like the letter writer assumed, and continues to hope, that this means they and their boss have both a close, fun, sexy, relationship, and a shared understanding of remaining boundaries.

However, that’s not what’s going on. Now that we know he assaulted his assistant, we also know that the sexy jokes were him grooming them in advance of his assault.

Grooming is a technique used to prepare a future abuse victim to be accepting of abuse: gradual pushing of the future victim’s boundaries, encouraging the future victim to push boundaries themselves, plus plenty of positive reinforcement that this is good fun, we’re close friends, and so on.

Because of the positive reinforcement, which is a key part of healthy relationships too, grooming is tricky to identify in the moment: you may only be able to make it out in the rear-view mirror. In this specific case we have a big warning sign: the massive power differential between a (I assume) CEO and his executive assistant. That’s not a line you want to toe: one of the two people has a lot more say in where that line is, and he went on to prove it! But that’s not always so, grooming can occur between people without such an obvious power difference, and it’s often sexy or fun or silly to make sexual jokes! It’s the part where the abuse shows up that turns it into grooming.

This is a big part of the puzzle around “but whyyyy can’t we all have fun sexy joke times at work?” Aside from sexy joke times not being everyone’s idea of fun, there’s a history of exploitation around them. They’ve been used for grooming too many times, to turn the tables on someone who thought of their boss as their sexy-joke-buddy and found out they were actually a sexy-joke-predator. Now everyone who has had that happen, or who knows the dynamic, has to toe two lines: pleasing the sexy-jokes boss types, and constantly watching out for the groomer’s heel turn.

By extension, grooming is also something an abuser can do to other people in a position to report or stop their abuse of others. They set up a narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person. They can, for example, be the office prankster, or collective little sibling, or kind mentor, or hapless single person who is just so lonely. With these narratives in place the abuser has their defences put for them: prankster lonely person just needs to learn some social skills; mentor was just trying to help, little sibling is so cute and harmless!

In another advice column, we even find a description of someone who has managed to play almost all of those cards at once.

I recently got promoted into a HR manager at an office and have been working there for the past 3 years. Couple of months in my friend/mentor of a different department was accused of sexual harassment by an intern. She said that he kept hugging her, holding her hand when saying hello, asking about her dating life, joked about sex, and would invite her to private lunches or talks on the roof. Even to dinner or drinks after work[…]

He has been working here for the past 8 years and has helped countless of women feel comfortable in the office and is close friends with many other managers. I consider him a close friend and he knows about my personal problems. I don’t want to lose him or make him reveal my personal life out of anger [ed: emphasis] […]

I feel like the intern is overreacting since all the other girls are fine with it, and if she just told me, I would have told her to let it go. He is a good, friendly guy who was looking out for her[…]

Ask Dr. NerdLove: Do I Need To Fire My Friend? via Han and Matt Know It All #79 (offset 4:12)

What can you do about grooming? Knowledge is a great start: you can be aware that grooming is a possibility, that in hearing accusations of abuse or experiencing abuse the odd behaviours, relationships, and other puzzle pieces that you read as “not an abuser” may have been constructed for you deliberately.

When you are abused or an accusation of abuse is made, you might look back over someone’s history with their victim or with people in the same environment and watch for one or more of these patterns:

  • apparently consensual boundary pushing, such as sex jokes or heavy drinking together
  • an unusually bumbling approach to social interactions/romantic interactions/office politics/an entire class of people (often women)
  • a history of selecting clear favourites and helping them get ahead after a certain period of service

And it’s very tempting to read these as, in order, “a confusing situation with fault on both sides”, “someone who needs taking care of and would never hurt a fly”, and “a great mentor/boss who pays it forward”. Or even “a confusing situation with fault on both sides involving a great mentor/boss who is really deep down someone who needs taking care of!”

Instead when these stories come to mind consider the possibility that what you have is a practised abuser who has groomed both their victims and bystanders to underestimate them or to think well of their motives. The counterexamples or the odd puzzle pieces are in fact part of an arc of abuse, not a defence against it.

Likewise, someone who is very insistent on a shared narrative of themselves as a good or harmless person is a warning sign. Almost everyone thinks of themselves as a good person, it’s less common and more dangerous when someone says it out loud in so many words (“I’m one of the good guys!”, “I’m mostly harmless!”) or insists on this being the story other people tell about them.

Abusers push boundaries, and the groomer is a type of abuser who likes to push the earlier boundaries with some consent or participation from their future victim. Super-fun happy-times boundary pushing is still boundary-pushing, and you should approach sceptically and watching very carefully for what happens when the other person wants to stop.

Be selfish: if it needs to be done someone else can do it

In 2009, in “Girl stuff” in Free Software, I recounted a conversation with Brianna Laugher:

[Brianna] said — paraphrased — that she didn’t feel that she should have a problem or be criticised for doing what she is good at, or what’s so desperately needed in her communities, and have to be just another coder in order to be fully respected. And I said that while this was certainly true, women also need to have the opportunity, to give themselves the opportunity, to be selfish: if we want to code, or do something else we are currently either bad at or not notably good at, or for that matter which we are good at but in which we’d have competitors, we should consider doing that, rather than automatically looking for and filling the space that is most obviously empty

(See also Brianna’s response.)

Since then, I’ve seen this pattern recur, most recently in some of the discussion around Valerie Aurora’s Advice for women in tech who are tired of talking about women in tech: women who are doing things because, well, the thing needs to be done and no one is doing it, even if what drew them to the job or the project was something else entirely than the chores they’ve ended up with. This is particularly true when the chore has some benefit to others: writing documentation, welcoming newcomers, setting up the translation team, establishing the not for profit and such.

This not only can make women miserable as they find themselves doing a lot of things out of a vague sense of duty, it quite frequently leads to no rewards whatsoever. For others, it’s really nice when the documentation gets written or the notes get taken or the funds get raised without having to figure out how to give someone a promotion or a keynote slot for it, or how to build up a healthy chain of people moving through the task and onto other things! How fortunate for your boss or your project, and how unfortunate for you.

Quite often a good dollop of selfishness is what this situation deserves, and what you deserve too. There is of course a tight limit to which women can or should personally solve the problem of being handed or expected to quietly assume chores and hover around in the background making sure all the wheels are greased, but let’s explore how far you can get, when it’s time to be selfish.

Note throughout this entry that “chores” are very relative. You may not be a natural fit for translating conversations or documents just because you’re fluent in multiple languages! You might want to write some code or do the accounting or answer the phones instead! But this doesn’t mean that documentation or translation are worthless activities that no one should do, just that they’re something that, at this time, and for this project, you want to stop doing.

Figure out what you’re getting out of the chore, and keep doing it.

I’m very often the notetaker in meetings that I’m in. While this is quite gendered (and I’ve occasionally had senior male colleagues notice and call it out, which is appreciated), I do get something out of it. I have trouble paying attention to and understanding conversations I’m present in that I don’t also write up; and, while we’re talking about being selfish, one of the more effective ways to control the agenda is to write it, and one of the ways to control the findings is to write them too.

So, I keep taking notes quite often, but I’m clear on what I’m getting out of it. I don’t take the notes for their own sake, and if I find myself in a situation where I’m losing the ability to participate in or lead a meeting due to being its notetaker, I’m more likely to reconsider whether there need to be notes and if so, whether I need to take them.

But let’s say you’ve thought about it, and you’re not getting something out of the thing, and you want to be done. But the thing is important, it is in some way making the world a better place. If so…

Accept that the project could fail without the chore.

Something to work through is knowing that the chore might be important to the success of the project, and that you’re deciding not to do it anyway.

Maybe the conference will be better with a more diverse lineup and so will the careers of the speakers. If no one sees the notes of the meeting then some important decisions will be missing context. A major security flaw might be hiding in those untriaged bugs.

But if the project’s success seems to depend on you, a single person, quietly stepping in and doing what must be done while everyone else does fun things, the project is either so fragile that it’s at high risk of failure regardless of your exceptional bug triaging and speaker finding skills, or it’s somewhat quietly robust, and will actually carry on just fine.

A related failure mode — “I’m so valuable that my boss won’t let me take vacation” — is something of an Ask a Manager perennial. As she tends to advise: what if you quit? If you quit and your chores are super important, your boss will either find a way to get them done after you leave, or the project will fail, and if it fails in your absence, it probably wasn’t that likely to succeed in your presence either.

So. If you’re the only thing standing between success and failure, you’re not on a great project. It might have great aims or ambitions, but it’s not a great project. So now it’s time to…

Stop doing the thing.

Just don’t do it. Let the bugs go untriaged, the newcomers go unwelcomed, the documentation go untranslated, the meeting go unrecorded, the conference not schedule any unicorn talks, the conference not have any women speakers at all.

While you worked through thoughts about the project failing above, many times, you’ll find that the thing wasn’t that important in the first place. No one much read the notes of that meeting, so maybe there didn’t need to be notes, and in fact, on reflection holding the meeting wasn’t that important either. The conference copped a lot of justified heat on Twitter for their all-male all-white lineup and… probably they deserved it since they were using you to shield them from it before. Speakers of your other fluent language migrated to other software that had a translation team dedicated to their needs, and were better off for it. And so on.

How to just stop:

  • Unsubscribe from the project email list.
  • Block your browser from letting you look at the bug tracker.
  • Delete the request for help finding women for the panel.
  • Read back over your personal notes from the meeting, update your own todo list, but don’t type them up to send to the team.
  • Go on a long holiday.

Give some warning you’re going to stop doing the thing.

If you’re not truly silently labouring away alone, you might want to let people know you’re stopping. That’s fine; but be firm about it, give a date at which you’ll stop, and resist conditioning leaving on another volunteer stepping up. “I’d love someone to take over the server and I’m happy to train you” may work, but it also may not. In embracing selfishness per this post, you need to step down even if no one else is stepping up.

Some scripts:

  • “I’m not available as a volunteer sysadmin after the 1st. I’d love to hand off cleanly to a new sysadmin if possible. However if there’s no volunteers by the 1st, I will shut down the server and provide the data backups to [other person].”
  • “This is the last newsletter from me! If someone else wants to pick it up, here’s a one pager to get you started.”
  • “After some reflection, I’ve decided not to contest the next board election. I’m looking forward to seeing where a new president takes us.”

Ask if you can hand off the thing.

The above two strategies work less well in hierarchical situations like workplaces. If you’ve silently taken on chores or you’re volunteering for things outside your core position you can still use those strategies, but if your boss or another authority figure has told you to do the chore (especially if they told you to recently), probably you shouldn’t just stop and see what happens, let alone send an email unilaterally announcing you’ve decided to stop doing your job from the 1st.

But that doesn’t mean you need to silently do what you’re told at the expense of important work, or do unrewarded tasks while your peers get shiny things. There’s some alternatives you can explore with your workplace:

  • Ask if you can stop: make a case for the chore not being important at all, or not being as important as the other things you need to do
  • Rotate chores: set up a formal rotation of the chore between teams or members of the team
  • Pay someone: pay a bookkeeper for your organisation rather than relying on a series of burned out volunteer treasurers
  • Pay a specialist: hire a project manager or an office admin or a backend dev or a fundraising lead
  • Transition to a more junior staff member: maybe there’s someone who’d learn from writing those docs or triaging those bugs
  • Transition to a team: maybe there’s so many chores that there needs to be a project team addressing the chores and the source of them, and maaaaybe you could lead that team?

That said, in workplaces and other hierarchical organisations, ethical leadership should be avoiding disproportionately handing unrewarding tasks to women, younger people, and members underrepresented minorities, and should be actively considering these solutions themselves. If you’re in a situation where your leadership is happily reaping the rewards of you patiently picking up scutwork unrewarded…

Quit your entire position.

If your current position (paid or volunteer) is full of chores you aren’t rewarded for but that no one can be bothered sharing around or finding someone who’d be a better fit, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to find another position or you don’t need to, quitting is something to seriously consider. Head out the door and selfishly go find somewhere where what they need someone to do is the same thing that you want to be doing.

Book review: The Wife Drought

My quest to be a paid book reviewer remains stalled for two reasons: first, I’ve never once asked anyone for money to do a book review, and second, this book review comes to you express, hot out of the oven, fresh from the year two thousand and fourteen.

Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought: Why women need wives, and men need lives is titled and marketed on the old “women need wives” joke, ie, an adult in their home to make meals and soothe fevers and type manuscripts for free.

Crabb is also a well-known Australian political journalist — the ABC’s chief online political writer — who is best-known for hosting a cooking with politicians TV show, and probably next best known for her comic writing style, eg:

Right then. The parliamentary consideration of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has concluded. The nation has experienced the special thrill of watching its elected representatives fight like ferrets in a bag over a legislative clause even John Howard couldn’t get excited about, and can now dully register the fact that all this fuss has produced exactly zero changes to the clause in question.

Annabel Crabb, There is nothing free about Mark Latham’s speech, April 1 2017.

One or the other of the title’s reliance on the hackneyed complaint about women needing wives, or Crabb’s journalist persona, caused a lot of people I know to write off this book unread. The marketing runs with this too:

Written in Annabel Crabb’s inimitable style, it’s full of candid and funny stories from the author’s work in and around politics and the media, historical nuggets about the role of ‘The Wife’ in Australia, and intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia.
Penguin Books Australia

I suggest you don’t write it off, at least not for those reasons. It’s quite a serious book, and Penguin has buried the lede: intriguing research about the attitudes that pulse beneath the surface of egalitarian Australia. The research is central to the book: Crabb did a lot of one-on-one work with demographers to extract answers to questions that no one had answers to about gender, work, money, and career progressions in Australia. Some of the findings the book contains are in fact new findings prompted by Crabb’s questioning of demographic collaborators (who are acknowledged by name, although not as co-authors).

I found two discussions especially interesting: the way in which Australia makes part-time work fairly readily available to women with young children and the many limits of that as a solution to pay and career progression disparities between men and women; and the evidence suggesting that, contrary to the widespread perception that men are hailed as heroes by men and women alike for participating in the care of their young children, they are actually discriminated against by their workplaces when they do so.

After that Crabb’s writing style is just an added bonus to keep you going through the book. If you’re going to read a demographic exploration of gender and labour in Australia in the 2010s, it’s certainly a nice bonus that it happens to be written by Annabel Crabb of all people. Instead, the major caution I would give is that it’s very middle-class in both point of view and content, without much discussion of that limitation; and is largely focussed on women partnered with men. Assuming that the work lives of middle-class women partnered with men in Australia is of interest to you, recommended.