Women, men and “office housework”


A recent story in the New York Times co-authored by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant sheds some new light on something probably familiar to office workers in Alabama and across the country: the unequal distribution of often little-appreciated work like stocking snacks, counseling junior colleagues and planning office birthday parties, which Sandberg and Grant found were far more likely to be assigned to women employees than to their male counterparts.

Write Sandberg and Grant:

“This is the sad reality in workplaces around the world: Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, we expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal. When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a woman helps, we feel less indebted. She’s communal, right? She wants to be a team player. The reverse is also true. When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is “busy”; a woman is “selfish.”

Someone has to take notes, serve on committees and plan meetings — and just as happens with housework at home, that someone is usually a woman.

The article – which focuses on a study conducted by the American Psychological Association – underscores issues that go beyond the vaunted wage gap between men and women, currently estimated at about 78 cents on the dollar in favor of males.

How to change this deeply entrenched dynamic? The answer is concrete, if complicated, according to the pair of co-writers. It comes down to individual responsibility.

Men can help solve this problem by speaking up. In our previous article, we observed that men have a habit of dominating meetings and interrupting women. Instead of quieting down, men can use their voices to draw attention to women’s contributions. Men can also step up by doing their share of support work and mentoring. At a recent event we attended, 30 chief executives gathered around a dinner table for a conversation about closing the gender gap. With an even mix of men and women in the room, we expected the office housework to fall to a woman. But the one person who took notes the entire time was the founder of the Virgin Group, Richard Branson.