Recently I received an email from a male colleague. He asked me to type (or, on a second reading, “get”) several names from business cards into our database. A red mist invaded my brain and I began scribbling notes for a blog post to be titled “Is Typing a Feminist Issue?”
Once upon a time, women were afraid to admit we had typing skills because we feared our employers would not be able to see beyond them. I have always typed fast. At the peak of my part-time jobs in college I was hitting around 105 words per minute. Although I took perverse pleasure in scaring co-workers with my noisy keyboard, I left my typing speed off my resume.
I once met the legendary Sylvia K. Burack, editor and publisher of The Writer magazine – a friend of my mother’s had arranged an informational interview because I wanted to be a writer. One of Ms. Burack’s first pieces of advice was to list my typing speed on my resume. “But I don’t want to spend my life typing,” I mewled.
Why were so many women asked to type? It’s not because people thought women could not do more than type; it’s because, in those days, men couldn’t type – and it needed to get done.
Years later, I noticed one of my junior designers was spending a lot of her time struggling with purchase orders and simple data entry when she had to send a job to press. She invited me to her graduation ceremony, where one of her professors asked me how I felt about the way the school had prepared her for a career in design.
“Well, she can’t type,” I began. The professor’s reaction was huffy, like mine to Ms. Burack: “Well, we don’t want our students to spend their life typing. We’ve trained them to be creative!”
“Congratulations,” I said. “You have ensured that your students do spend their life typing. It takes me five minutes to type out a purchase order, and it takes your prize student 30 minutes. This means I have 25 minutes more than she does to be creative.”
One of my colleagues was reminiscing about the secretary he had when he was a CEO back in the early 90’s. “I wish I had a ‘Martha’ now,” he said. I had no doubt — watching him painfully hunt-and-peck his way through an email made my teeth hurt.
In an age where so many things are automated, avoiding unnecessary work has been made into such a virtue that it seems to be confused with avoiding work, period.
The guy with the business cards didn’t see the value in spending an extra five minutes per card to add new prospective customers to our database. The funny thing is he actually scanned the cards in using a flatbed scanner, which would have taken me a lot longer than typing them.
The mistake I made was thinking he was asking for my help out of sexism. This isn’t true. He respects me; in fact he believes that I have a magical way of transforming the cards into data. (It’s called a business card scanner, but someone still has to make sure the data are correct).
My son’s high school does not teach typing — it teaches Microsoft Office, but not keyboarding. (I hope they’re not supposed to copy-paste their papers.)
Marketers and salespeople don’t want to spend time processing “Alice doesn’t live here anymore” emails because it’s tedious work. “Someone else” or “An intern” should be doing this, the thinking goes.
Performance reviews and other professional rewards don’t reward behavior that contributes invisibly to productivity or quality. No one posts “Mavis Beacon” on his LinkedIn profile under “Harvard Business School.” But the brilliant marketing email you write today may have a lower-than-expected open rate because you didn’t capture the names of the last 200 high-value contacts and you didn’t spend time cleaning your data for the last 24 months.
Just because you can type out fifty emails before your first coffee doesn’t mean you should. That said, it makes sense to pay attention to the skills you need to get all of your job done, or all of your life done, not just the fun parts.