Yesterday I heard buzz on the radio regarding a Harvard Biz Review article by researchers who had verified that workers who take on the tasks in an office that they called “office housework” were less likely to be promoted, make less money, and are more likely to be women, and even more likely to be minority women. Duh!
OK, I’m glad that this has been researched by scholars. It helps to get the facts out any chance we get. But, c’mon. Is this big news? Not from my perspective.
Women have been taking on these roles for eons. I love how it is being described as office housework. A term in itself demeaning merely because “housework’’ connotes work being done to maintain a household, again, historically diminished. At least until nobody is doing it for awhile! Then it becomes visible! And more important….
Same could be said for the office housework that the HBR is addressing. Those tasks that individually seem so small, slight and often out of sight. But, you neglect them for a period of time and whoa, things start going awry. Big time.
Think of a typical office setting with a department or an entire corporation to run. Usually work is done in teams. High performing teams require leadership, lofty goals, bright people. But they also require tending. Camaraderie develops when each member feels valued for what they can bring to the group. The image of a successful sports coach comes to mind first, right? Often men. The huddle before the big game, the pat on the rear end for a good play. The inside jokes that make everyone smile.
Jump to an office setting and you often see the women scheduling the team meetings, making sure that there are treats, taking minutes or notes to record the activity and find-ings. In an era that demands less over-head, administrative assistants are scarce. So the work gets shunted to the least senior person in the room, often a woman. Whether it is a women with an MBA and 5 years of experience or an intern expecting to do whatever is thrown at her.
My pet peeve for this type of delegation is when a male flirts his way into getting someone to do “office housework” through flattery. “You are so good at this.” If that doesn’t work, adding, perhaps with a shrug or a wink, “I could ask him, but it would take him twice as long.”
Probably true. Women have this ingrained ability to see the small stuff, do it and get it out of the way. Not because they can’t do the big stuff, but because they think about the bigger pic-ture and how getting there is the larger goal. Who sends out the doodle poll to figure out the next meeting time, or gives Joe in IT a heads-up on what the team needs for the next meeting. Second nature. But, women often take these tasks on so that the larger goal is more achieva-ble, not because they believe it is sexy, but because they know it needs to be done.
Generous, and perhaps damaging for a career. I agree with the HBR findings. Women who find themselves pigeon-holed in roles doing “office housework” need to consider the possibility that the men who take them for granted to do this, have often been living these stereotypes in their home lives, and their office lives. Disruption of these stereotypes is tough.
But, consider this possibility, the next time you are in a group situation, a community meeting, home-owners association, school parent’s group, or in the office. When it comes time to schedule the next meeting, or record what happened at this meeting, or communicate outside of the group about the housekeeping needs for the next meeting, wait for a moment before raising your hand. See whose hands go up. Do not rescue the group too soon.
I know old habits die hard. So, if nobody raises their hands, how about when you raise yours you say something like “OK, I’ll do it this time, and Joe, how about you do it next time?” Better yet, use your public speaking skills and executive thinking power to show off a bit and articu-late, briefly, the main take-aways from the meeting, before you volunteer to keep the house-hold/team/community going by tending it. And, remember, men will only develop this ingrained ability to see the small stuff, if they have to do it more often…..Just sayin’