- a visitor asks if the coffee cabinet is open or locked and nobody except me, the only other woman in the room gets up to check and bring the key. Others (men) completely ignore the question as if it is not their speciality thus not their responsibility. Interestingly I am the only one in the room that does not drink coffee.
- one of the men in the meeting leaves their coffee cup and spilled coffee on the table after the meeting. The only attendees who think about the mess and how to clean it are two women in the meeting, one of them higher in the institutional hierarchy than all the men who attended.
- in a meeting about collaboration possibilities with another group on campus, my male colleague is asked about his opinions about the plan while I am asked to book a meeting room.
There is a term for these kind of tasks 'office housework'. Tasks such as taking meeting notes, making sure that office supplies are stocked up, a late request for service is fulfilled, gatherings to bring the team together are arranged, are necessary for the healthy functioning of the team. However, men and women do not share these tasks equally in the workplace. Disproportionately more women take on or are expected to do the office housework but do not get credit for it. It doesn't count when it comes to promotions.
A woman voluntarily taking notes in every meeting looses opportunity to contribute fully. It is not just the woman who looses opportunities but the team suffers as it does not get the unique perspective of one of their team members.
What can we do about this?
- Women and men as allies: Now that you know this happens, observe what is happening in your team or organization. When you see a woman in the team being burdened with these tasks consistently, point that out and suggest taking turns so that the all members of the team pitch in.
- Supervisors (male or female) need to create processes that do not burden one person with such tasks. They can also create clear categories in yearly appraisals for tasks that helped keep the team together.
Kolb and Porter in Harvard Business Review: Office housework gets in women's way
10 Sexist scenarios women face at work