Last week, the New York Times published an article that highlighted one of the most prominent, yet under recognized, gender gaps in the workplace. In Women, Stop Volunteering for Office Housework, we learned of new research that shows that women are 48% more likely than men to volunteer for “non promotable tasks,” such as note-taking, office party planning, and refilling the coffee supply stash. These tasks are low risk and low reward, but that doesn’t make them any less time consuming or important. With women spending more time on these thankless tasks than their male counterparts, they’re often left without the bandwidth to take on the juicier projects that lead to promotions, salary raises and greater visibility.
Not only are women more likely to be asked to do the office housework (even by other women), they’re also more likely to agree to do it. Women agree 76% of the time, while men only agree 51% of the time. This reminds me of the importance of learning to say no. Is it hard? Of course. Is it necessary? Absolutely. Learning to say no will free you of much of the unnecessary busy work that slows down your advancement, leaving you available to do the work that lets you to shine.
Managers also have an important role to play. Most likely, they’re unconsciously calling on the women on their teams because we tend to see women as more helpful and as team players. But just because behavior is unconscious doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do about it. Managers can assign office housework using a formal rotating system. For example, they can assign each person on the team a specific week during which they’re responsible for scheduling meetings or picking up lunch. Managers can also make it a point to assign this work to administrative assistants or use a tenure system to decide who will take on some of the lower level work.
Do you do more than your fair share of office housework? How do you handle it?