Men weaponize strategic incompetence at work
Good morning, Broadsheet readers! PagerDuty’s CEO apologizes for her layoff announcement, the impact of the pandemic on children’s education is lasting, and an author reflects on his own experience with male mediocrity at work. Happy Tuesday.
– To move forward. There’s an essay in the new issue of Fortune that’s sure to ruffle a few feathers. Author Ross McCammon dives into the idea of ”strategic incompetence,” explaining why men weaponize it and how he learned to stop.
What is strategic incompetence? It’s “the co-worker who claims he’s terrible at math so you handle all the spreadsheets” or “the guy who does such a bad vacuuming job that you take on the task yourself,” explains McCammon with a little help from Lise Vesterlund , a co-author of The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead End Work.
For decades, men have climbed the corporate ladder using charm—or smarts—and avoiding unwanted tasks. McCammon, who spent years in the predominantly male work environments of men’s magazines, reflects on times in his own career when he would offload tasks to a female colleague, sometimes without realizing what he was doing.
I came to understand some of that behavior as manipulative, a way to get others to do work I didn’t want to do. When I saw those tendencies in myself, I couldn’t help it. And I began to see the damage this kind of behavior does to women and people of color—and to the morale, productivity, and creativity of everyone in a workplace.
But times change. McCammon is the author of the 2015 book Works Well With Others, which he now admits offers career advice that works best for white men. The type of people skills that underpinned the old boys’ club aren’t quite as effective over Zoom. Gen Z has less patience for this approach to the workplace than their predecessors; younger workers would rather ask questions about tasks they don’t understand than strategically avoid them to appear more impressive to superiors.
That change could lead to a fairer workplace. Because while strategic incompetence helped white men climb the corporate ladder, it left behind the women and people of color who disproportionately took on the grunt work that needed to be done but didn’t lead to promotions.
I highly recommend reading McCammon’s entire essay here. Perhaps you will recognize some experiences from your own workplaces.
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“I’m really grateful that it taught me humility and resilience.”
—Jordan Gibbs, who documented on TikTok her experience applying to 173 jobs after being laid off last year.
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