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Let them eat cake – even if CEOs don't bake

Is feeding your colleagues counterintuitive to climbing the corporate ladder?

Penelope WhitsonWhen not peering through my blinds to spy on the neighbours as I swill sherry out of a tea cup like a good spinster, I like to indulge in a spot of baking. And because I know that I could eat it all but probably shouldn’t, I take some (less than half) into the office on Fridays.

I have ranted previously that my office no longer provides free Tim Tams. I suggested we cancel the people who service the pot plants and floral arrangements and channel that cash into delicious, waist-expanding biscuits but to no avail.

This removal of our drug of choice has resulted in people wandering into the kitchen in various stages of withdrawal and opening cupboards in the hope that the shelves are not bare. We haven’t quite gotten to the stage where we’re snorting sugar but it can’t be far off.

This has all resulted in my baking becoming exceedingly popular. The one Friday I was off sick and couldn’t bring it in, I got hate mail from Finance.

Sadly, a colleague then read an article suggesting that displaying such ‘womanly’ behaviour means I won’t be respected for my actual work and the likelihood of promotion is less than it is for other, more business-like employees. They have their eyes on the prize, which isn’t my cake, but a corner office and the company gold card. And I languish behind in my role as ‘Penelope the chocolate brownie maker’, not ‘Penelope the destroyer of poorly written documents’.

Basically, if you want to climb the corporate ladder, you shouldn’t feed your workmates. Because apparently CEOs don’t bake. They’re too busy doing other stuff. Suggestions as to what that is are welcome.

So I took a poll. Not a very scientific one. I asked my colleagues, cleverly on a day I’d made a cake, for their thoughts. General consensus – the theory was rubbish. However, we have less than 20 in our office, with a fairly even gender split. I’m not the only person who brings in food to share. Would things be different if I was in a really large office? No idea.

Workplace ‘tactics’ such as not feeding my workmates have never occurred to me. I actually have no workplace tactics aside from trying not to be the person who finishes the milk. And I think people are more productive in an office environment where the whole workplace tactics thing isn’t an issue.

Although I suppose you could argue that bringing baking in to a sugar-starved workplace is a carefully calculated manoeuvre guaranteed to ensure I can never be fired. I pimp my baked goods and the office can’t say no.

My conclusion: I don’t care what your gender – if you bring in baking, or in fact anything edible, I will still respect you in the morning.

This rule does not apply to the workmate I had whose marriage failed and she insisted we eat the top tier of her wedding cake, which she had lovingly frozen the previous year. It was as though we were eating her dreams. Sweet dreams are not made of almond icing.