Women are doing more of the housework – and not just when they’re at home.
In “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work,” four female professors write that women spend 200 more hours than men on “office housework” tasks a year. These tasks may include things like planning office parties, managing office supplies, taking meeting notes or even managing lunch orders.
Not only do these tasks take up valuable work time, but they’re not doing anything to help women advance their careers.
Laurie Weingart, a management professor at Carnegie Mellon University and one of the book’s co-authors, said in an interview with LinkedIn that these office housework tasks are “non-promotable.” This means that they “may matter to your organization but will not help advance your career. It does not lead to increases in pay or formal recognition. It is really about tasks that have to get done and the organization needs to get done but it does not help the individual.”
So why are women the ones burdened with taking on these non-promotable tasks? Weingart says it has to do with gender expectations.
“There are a set of norms and beliefs that women are best suited to do this work. Because they are best suited for it, and there is a belief they want to do this work, these expectations drive people asking women first and expecting them to say yes. The reality is that this isn’t work that women are especially suited for, and we demonstrate that in our research. There are no gender differences, but there is still this propensity to ask women.”
And we’re even more likely to ask — and expect — that women of color are the best people to take on these tasks, often without recognition and compensation.
“It is this idea that when you are a member of an underrepresented group, like Black women, and we want to have representation of Black women in different initiatives, we would tend to ask the same people over and over again to do a task,” says Weingart. “The prototypical example is diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives within organizations. Women of color get overtaxed to serve in these duties.”
And even those these tasks aren’t always the ones that level up our careers, Weingart says women agree to do them because of the internalized expectation to say yes — and the fears of what might happen they don’t.
Women are expected to do the work and internally feel expected to agree to it.
This is what’s happening at home, too — according to Pew Research Center, a majority of women (59%) in heterosexual relationships say they do more household chores than their spouse or partner, while only 6% say their spouse or partner does more. Men seem to have a different view: 46% think responsibilities are shared equally, while 20% say they do more than their partner, and 34% say their spouse or partner does more.
Women seem to know they’re doing more of the work — but they’re not always getting recognized for it at home, either.
It can’t be solely women’s work to try and change the expectations around housework and office work that are already working against them. But there are ways, at both the office and at home, that we can bring attention to this unfair division of labor and make strides toward an equal playing field.
It’s likely that many of your coworkers — of any gender — may not notice gender imbalances when it comes to taking on this kind of work, or even that this work is being done in the first place. Start a conversation where your team discusses the kinds of tasks that need to be done and how they differ from an employee’s or team’s general work. Even just listing these tasks out can show all employees the work that women are disproportionately doing and make the case for redistributing the labor.
Just as a conversation about non-promotable tasks can help employees recognize invisible labor, having a conversation at home about housework tasks can help everyone learn the scope of what needs to get done in the house. Women disproportionately take on the “mental load” when it comes to running a household — meaning the worry, stress and anticipation that comes with overseeing household tasks, even if they’re not physically doing them.
“A child’s school day isn't just about the physical jobs of pickup and drop-off,” a report from the children’s nonprofit Bright Horizons reads. “It's also about the perpetual mental awareness of schedules including early release days, carpools, doctors' appointments, play dates, special events, field trips, class parties, science fairs, who needs to bring what, and which day requires special supplies. And those are only some of the items on the family list that require a working mother's constant mental presence. The mind share versus time share equation is at the heart of the mental load—the requirement on women to be not just parents and caretakers but also unofficial keepers of where the entire family needs to be and when and perpetual guardians against anything falling through the cracks.”
Listing out items of this mental load in a semi “brain dump” method can help both partners understand the true scope of what needs to get done – not just physically, but mentally, too.
If you’re noticing that women are disproportionately asked to do certain office housework tasks, make a point to call out this behavior. You don’t need to get aggressive — even asking the person why they decided to assign that task to that person can help interrogate the reasoning behind their behavior. If the answer is something like, “Well, she always does that kind of stuff!” or “Because she’s so good at planning parties!”, it’s a great time to confront this person’s biases — and share that it may be time to take the burden off that woman and share the responsibility with someone else.
This may be harder when all of the responsibility is falling on you, rather than a group problem affecting multiple women at work. But speaking up about shouldering a majority of the household load is the only way you’ll be able to work on remedying the balance.
Eve Rodsky, the author of “Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live),” recommends having a specific, thorough conversation with your partner to raise awareness of household expectations.
She writes, “You cannot get to where you want to go without first understanding: Who am I? Who am I really in a relationship with? And what is my specific intention for engaging my partner in renegotiating the household workload? Ask yourself: Am I seeking more acknowledgment of everything I do for us? More efficiency so I can have more time for myself? Less resentment and a greater sense of fairness? When you have a clear sense of what you want, you’re more likely to get it. Start the conversation by laying it all out to your partner.”
After talking about what work needs to get done and raising awareness about who’s doing it right now, it’s time to talk about how these responsibilities should be delegated moving forward. Weingart warns against using a volunteer method in this situation; while leaving it up to employees to sign up can prevent bias from someone managing these tasks, women feel a disproportionate obligation to do office housework. Instead, divide tasks equally and take turns taking on the work.
Rodsky’s book suggests using task cards to help reassign responsibilities at home. First, decide what tasks matter to your family and what needs to be done. Then, agree on how those tasks should be handled so they’re not just executed — but so the mental load is reassigned to the partner who’s taking on that task.
“It’s not enough for your spouse to say he’ll be in charge of the ‘baseball’ card — he has to pack the sports bag with all the necessary gear and snacks, arrange for pick-up and drop-off from practice, make sure all the games are on the family calendar and then show up on the right field at the right time,” Rodsky writes.
By holistically looking at tasks your family values, and why and how to do them, not only does the burden get shouldered more equally, but you both can truly value the time and effort that goes into household tasks.
“I wasn’t interested in keeping a minute-by-minute scorecard with my husband,” Rodsky writes about her cards. “I simply wanted both of us to begin to value our time equally — and to act accordingly.”
This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.