Women still face gender bias at work. It’s just harder to see.
“Women are expected to be self-modest, self-effacing team players,” explains Joan Williams, the co-author of “What Works for Women at Work.”
That stereotype, she says, leads to the expectation that they will be happy to do the “office housework,” or low-value tasks like taking notes in meetings and mentoring junior colleagues.
Women are more likely than men to do these chores but are less likely to benefit from them. And when they try to avoid them, they are often viewed as not being team players.
The issue of office housework landing on women often flies under the radar or is dismissed as insignificant, but it can be costly for a woman’s career.
“It means that women end up working even longer hours because they have to do the housework, and sometimes it means they cannot get access to higher-value work,” Williams says.
Here are six examples of menial office tasks women are typically expected to take on:
1. Women are often expected to answer the phone, set up meetings, and fill out paperwork. In her Wall Street Journal article, “Sticking Women with the Office Housework,” Williams sites a Latina science professor who is regularly asked to play the role of mother hen and take care of various secretarial tasks. She is one of many women assumed to handle these tasks because no one else will.
2. Women are often expected to take notes in a meeting. This one can be detrimental, write Wharton professor Adam Grant and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in their New York Times article, “Madam CEO, Get Me a Coffee.” In addition to using up valuable time, taking notes during meetings can cause women to miss opportunities, since it’s very difficult for the person scribbling away to also make the killer point.
3. Women are often asked to fetch coffee, soda, or other beverages.
Grant and Sandberg write that women are also asked to carry out more personal tasks, such as getting coffee. This can be a particularly tricky situation to deal with, as women are often viewed as selfish if they say no.
4. Women are often expected to mentor young people and assist coworkers. And if they don’t do it, they’re punished.
Psychologist Madeline Heilman led a study where participants were asked to rate the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not offer to stay after work to help a colleague. If a man stayed late, his favorability was enhanced by 14%. When both the man and woman declined to stay late, the woman was rated 12% less favourably than the man. Repeatedly, after offering identical work-related altruism, the man was more likely to be promoted and offered important projects, raises, and bonuses.
5. Women are often asked to head thankless committees. And when a woman declines to help out, coworkers like her less and her career suffers, write Grant and Sandberg in their
New York Times article. What’s more, when a man says no, he faces no negative consequences; he is regarded as “busy,” while a woman would be considered “selfish.”
6. Women are often expected to bring cupcakes for a colleague’s birthday, order food for the office, and plan parties. While this may seem insignificant, this type of office housework can take a psychological toll, write Grant and Sandberg. They cite an analysis of 183 studies across 15 countries and various occupations that revealed that women were more likely to feel emotionally exhausted, which significantly increases their chances of burning out.