It’s a statistical fact: women are more likely to do the “office housework” than their male counterparts.
What constitutes “office housework?” It’s those tiny, person-oriented tasks that add up over time and become a large part of your day, even when they have nothing to do with your actual job. It’s being the team member who buys the birthday card and coordinates the birthday cake surprise. It’s taking notes in meetings. It’s grabbing coffee for the whole team. It’s being mistaken for the office assistant when, in fact, you should be busy doing your own job.
“A lot of this is incredibly subtle and it’s really difficult to recognize as problematic,” Occidental College professor Lisa Wade told CNN. “Particularly when we’ve learned to accept it in basically every arena of our lives.”
Unsurprisingly, women unfairly shoulder the majority of the office housework burden. That leads to another stereotype of women — the “office mom” — which emphasizes the nurturing skills women are expected to foster throughout their work and family lives.
“The office mom is almost always a woman and often slightly older than other colleagues,” Katherine Rosman wrote for The Wall Street Journal. “She is often an office manager but can be a senior executive, too. Just as people talk about their ‘office spouse,’ a colleague they spend time with and confide in, the office mom is asserting herself as the matriarch of the office family.”
That’s an overly specific image, isn’t it? Jessica Bennett, author of “Feminist Fight Club,” is one of the women who has had enough. She recognizes the specific need to overcome this stereotype for women at work.
“It’s this perfect example of both external sexism and internalized sexism,” Bennett said to CNN. “We think we need to be ‘helpful’ and ‘nuturing’ and take on these roles that are traditionally female.”
As women make more strides against the gender pay gap and other workplace stereotypes, they’re ready to shed that office housework. Yet, women — especially those in senior leadership roles — are still asked to complete these tasks. An anonymous source told The Washington Post that she’s regularly asked to fill the mother role in the office and take care of the office housework, despite running a department.
“I’m the one who has to make sure everyone fills out their paperwork, and I’m the one who takes care of things, sets up meetings and things like that,” she said. “It’s assuming that I’ll take care of it because no one else will.”
That sentiment echoes across the workforce. “It has often been assumed that I would take on administrative duties at work — taking notes, ordering lunch, making copies — because I am the only woman involved in a project,” writer Rikki Rogers wrote in a blog post. “Clerical activities are important, but that doesn’t mean that you have to take care of them.”
Are you ready to ditch the office chores? Here are three strategies you can use to address the problem at work.
1. Train somebody else how to do it.
If you keep being asked to schedule meetings for the team, offer to show that individual how to do it for themselves. Make sure to phrase it professionally: “How about we do this together, so you can do this on your own?” It’s okay to hold your ground here. If the person says no, you can wait to do this task until they’re willing to do this task with you.
2. Suggest somebody else.
Are you asked to take notes in meetings, even though you have terrible handwriting? Suggest a different colleague, ideally one of your male counterparts, to do this task instead. “I’m happy to help, but Dave is a great note-taker and would be much better at this than I am.” Not only are you suggesting that men partake in the office housework, but you’re simultaneously acknowledging that the bulk of these tasks fall on women.
3. Say no.
At the end of the day, it’s okay to just say, “No, I don’t have time for this.” Especially if you really don’t have it! In the words of Maxine Waters — reclaim your time. Advocating for yourself will inspire women to follow and give you more time in the day.