Dr. Nicole G. Rayfield is a creative and dynamic higher education leader, entrepreneur, educator, and career service professional with over two decades of demonstrated progressive leadership experiences and substantial research in education. She has dedicated her professional career to working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds. To this end, she has produced several self-help guides and presentations addressing issues such as self-esteem, career development, and entrepreneurship. At her core, Dr. Rayfield is a teacher and a lifelong learner, and I want to instill that passion for learning in everyone she encounters. As a sought-after presenter and facilitator, she relishes the opportunity to synthesize complex issues into easy-to-grasp ideas to create accessible solutions for people from varied backgrounds and disciplines. Her advocacy for underrepresented groups extends into professional and personal roles. With over 20 years of experience in education – often in settings with first-generation, high-need populations, she has a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities awaiting these learners.
They have cookies in the conference room!
Treats in the breakroom were once a lauded benefit of many workplaces. Whether it was donuts procured from a national chain, a tray of leftover fruit and veggies from a meeting, or a plate of homemade cookies during the holidays, the sound of a co-worker excitedly proclaiming, “There are cookies in the conference room!” provided a welcomed respite from the day-to-day drudgery of the workplace. Moreover, these pleasant disruptions offered an opportunity for employees from different physical and functional areas to mix and mingle as they snacked on sweet or savory tidbits. It was part of the workday culture – a small reward to both nourish and encourage us to make it to five o’clock.
It is not surprising then, that the pandemic which gave rise to telework and hybrid work schedules also impacted an organization’s ability to host these impromptu chat and chew sessions. In terms of institutions of higher education, the global shutdown forced both students and educators to adjust to a world of learning bounded by little squares on a computer screen negotiated through pass/fail policies, and framed by exhausting pivots and new norms. Now, as colleges and universities prepare to welcome the next class of scholars and hesitation towards group gatherings subsides, educators may expect to see a re-emergence of this workplace ritual. However, before we make a mad dash down the hall towards the breakroom, we would do well to consider how that seemingly innocuous cookie may represent a far less satisfying experience for many higher educational professionals.
Who makes the cookies?
In most organizations, who usually bring treats to the office, decorate for holidays, and keep track of staff birthdays? Who is expected to schedule the big meetings and/or order the attendees’ food? The answer is likely a woman. The research supports this – women in higher education are often disproportionately tasked with “housework” behaviors such as planning office social events and taking notes (Grant & Sandberg, 2015). These behaviors are mimicry of their personal home duties and result in women serving as veritable “wives” to the organization (Huff, 2009). And while toting some sweet tidbits for your colleagues to enjoy or hanging up paper snowflakes in the office during winter are not explicit duties in one’s job description, the fact that women are expected to perform these tasks speaks to a problematic dynamic within the workplace. Moreover, when these expectations become embedded in a woman’s role, it becomes increasingly difficult for her to advance in the organization. After all, who will perform all of the “housework” tasks if the star performer is promoted out of the department?
Activities that add to the overall positive social and psychological environment of the organization are known broadly as Organizational Citizenship Behaviors or, OCB (Organ, 1997). While there are over 40 variants of OCB (Podsakoff, 2000), in general, actions that promote courtesy, sportsmanship, altruism, civic virtue, and conscientiousness comprise the core dimensions of OCB and may be directed toward either the betterment of the organization and/or improving the lives of its employees. These acts tend to be voluntary, but in some cases may become compulsory when peer pressure from colleagues or exploitative management practices are at play in the environment (Vigoda-Gadot, 2007).
When the cookie crumbles…
Thus, it is likely that the employees who bring or share snacks for the greater good are doing so with good intentions. However, it is important to distinguish between the act and the actor. When the line between the two becomes blurred, the employee is at risk of suffering from any number of negative effects of OCB engagement. For example, job creep is a condition of feeling pressured to continue going above and beyond one’s job simply because the extra behaviors that were once appreciated are now expected in one’s actual role. Unchecked, this condition can transform into compulsory citizenship behaviors, which have been associated with increased levels of job dissatisfaction, intention to quit, and job stress (Vigoda-Gadot, 2007).
Similarly, when women are expected and/or pressured to practice OCB, they are at risk of developing citizenship fatigue. Citizenship fatigue is defined as the personal energy or resources expended in engaging in OCB (Bolino et al., 2015). Lastly, because OCB tasks are so entangled with gender roles when men perform the same actions as women, women are rewarded less than their male counterparts as the action is deemed in-role for women and above and beyond for men (Allen, 2006). While these gender-based expectations can impact any woman working in higher education, there is one group that may be both more vulnerable and susceptible to this dynamic: Black women administrators in predominately White Institutions.
In a recent study of Black women administrators working in both academic and student affairs sectors of higher education across the United States, participants reported instances of going above and beyond in ways that were both mentally rewarding and psychologically exhausting (Rayfield, 2022). Acts such as mentoring other minorities, serving on committees, and creating support networks for Black students and staff were deemed fulfilling examples of above and beyond work. Conversely, participants described the mental exertion and political finesse with which they must employ to combat race- and gender-based microaggressions as a form of above-and-beyond work. Because of their race and gender, Black women non-faculty administrators are also subject to compounded performance expectations which leads to negative workplace experiences such as stress, fatigue, and hostility (Rayfield, 2022).
Becoming a Smarter Cookie
The findings from this and similar studies suggest that Black women engage in a complex form of OCB that requires academic leaders to take notice to ensure that this population is both supported and rewarded for all of the work that they do. Unlike faculty who have clearer paths to career advancement due to tenure and promotion guidelines, Black administrators’ road to advancement is fraught with barriers related to prejudice and feelings of isolation, institutional factors, and career dynamics (Gardner et al., 2014). These barriers, coupled with the longstanding stigma of Black women serving as the “maids” and “mammies” (Rayfield, 2022) of higher education suggest that this group is uniquely positioned to experience the negative outcomes of OCB engagement. In one telling example, upon reflecting on an occasion when she was asked by her White colleagues to engage in (another) voluntary, unpaid project, one study participant exclaimed, “I do enough!” (Rayfield, 2022).
Despite these odds, there is much that higher education leaders can do to support all women working as administrative staff. We know that if the conditions improve for those with the greatest disadvantages, conditions improve for all. To this end, the academy must invest capital and human resources into improving the experience of Black women administrators. This includes realigning performance reviews to encompass OCB engagement. The academy must be intentional about providing opportunities for agentic leadership, effective mentorship, and fruitful sponsorship. Additionally, higher education leaders must also create space for authentic and collaborative communication between and with Black women administrators. Finally, it is imperative that the invaluable contribution that Black women administrators make towards the lives of their students, staff, and the organization is recognized, respected, and rewarded – with more than breakroom snacks.
- Gardner, L., Barrett, T. G., & Pearson, L. C. (2014). African American administrators at PWIs: Enablers of and barriers to career success. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(4), 235.
- Grant, A. & Sandberg, S. (2015, February 6). Madam C.E.O., get me a coffee. The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/sheryl-sandberg-and-adam-grant-on-women-doing-office-housework.html3
- Huff, A. S. (1990, May). Wives of the organization. [Conference presentation]. Women and Work Conference, (Vol. 11). Arlington, TX, United States.
- Rayfield, N. G. (2022). Are Invisible Women Doing Invisible Work? A Phenomenological Study of Black Women Higher Education Leaders in Predominantly White Institutions (Order No. 30426864). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ Eastern University; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global: The Humanities and Social Sciences Collection. (2824585979). https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/are-invisible-women-doing-work-phenomenological/docview/2824585979/se-2
- Vigoda-Gadot, E. (2007). Redrawing the boundaries of OCB? An empirical examination of compulsory extra-role behavior in the workplace. Journal of Business and Psychology, 21(3), 377-405.
- Allen, T. D. (2006). Rewarding good citizens: The relationship between citizenship behavior, gender, and organizational rewards. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 120-143.
- Bolino, M. C., Hsiung, H. H., Harvey, J., & LePine, J. A. (2015). “Well, I’m tired of tryin’!”Organizational citizenship behavior and citizenship fatigue. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(1), 56.