If you have been doing “office housework”, stop. But I’m not doing any “office housework”, you might argue. Sure, you might not be making coffee for everyone or tidying up their desk—but you might as well be doing that if you’re doing other non-promotable tasks, such as organising a party or offering to call taxis for everyone after lunch. Yes, your team is grateful to you. Yes, your boss is grateful to you too. But it still won’t earn you that promotion.
So why were you assigned this task in the first place? And even if you weren’t, why does it seem like you expected to do these tasks? It could boil down to a gender bias. Studies have found that because of how work is allocated, women spend more time on non-promotable work (i.e., office housework) than promotable ones. This makes them fall behind when it comes to promotion opportunities.
VICE’s Content Manager Sharon Shum reckons this could be due to the stereotype painted on women. She said, “Women have long been prized for being adept at taking care of things – we’re natural nurturers and coordinators! – but if a woman is independent, good at calling the shots and taking charge, we often perceive that as intimidating and manly, not outstanding and womanly.”
Housework or JD?
Of course, don’t call out gender bias when it doesn’t exist—it could just be part of your job description or your turn to do a certain task. Sorcha John, Managing Director of marketing and advertising company Iris, said, “The answer lies in default… If it the admin tasks do not default to women and are shared equally by all team members, then my friend it’s just your turn to put the kettle on.”
She added, “However, if you find that the expectations of office housework fall very regularly on the accommodating and aspiring female workers, then unconscious biases are not only alive and well at work in your organisation, but are also impeding the growth of your company.”
To address this, Iris launched a campaign called The Conscious Calendar, in which 13 of their male employees are photographed doing office housework, such as getting cake for celebrations (The Cake Slinger), being in charge of stocking tissue paper (The Tissue Treasurer), among other seemingly menial tasks that are often assigned to female employees. The photos are featured in a 13-month calendar (March 2019 to March 2020), which you can download for free. After all, the whole objective of the campaign is to raise awareness about gender bias.
Vanessa Tan, Senior Creative of Conscious Calendar campaign said: “International Women’s Day shines the spotlight on big, overarching issues like the gender pay gap and equal paid parental leave, but with our Conscious Calendar, we wanted to make people aware of the many ways day-to-day corporate life can be tilted against women, and the small, concrete actions our male colleagues can take to correct this imbalance. This is something we’re already seeing at Iris Singapore over the course of working on this project.”
What to do if you’re a small fry
If you’re in a managerial position, it’s easier to control things or call out biases, but what if you’re just a small fry who are assigned these “housework” tasks because you’re, well, a woman? Sabina Godri, Marketing Manager for Guinness, thinks it’s all about open communication.
She said, “If junior members of the staff have female mentors, they should bring it to their attention. Sharing with their superiors or HR colleagues on how biases are at play and how they are impacting workplace culture is important too.”
But don’t just rely on others to take action on your behalf. She said, “Change can only come when you start to care for yourself and put your own well-being, progress and contributions at par with others. Once you can value yourself fairly, nothing should hold you back from taking the necessary action.”
Been doing office housework and don’t know how to stop without looking like a tai-chi queen? Scroll through the gallery for tips from millennial managers on how to put an end to it.
Have an open discussion
“A helpful way to highlight an issue is through open discussions. Regardless of rank or seniority, everyone should have a valid voice on social issues. I would personally greatly admire a junior person who champions such causes and furthers inter-company debate on the application of such issues. It demonstrates intellect, commitment and a passion to shape the organisation you’re a part of.” – Sorcha John, 29, Managing Director of Iris Singapore
Be direct when addressing the issue
“Being direct and open has worked for me. As a manager, I ensure that I don’t treat men and women differently and delegate tasks that are equal and fair to all. We all play different roles and it always falls on women’s shoulders to do the right thing as the mother, as the daughter, as the wife, as the sister and as a good female colleague. Somehow, the expectations for us women are more and we need to balance it all. It is hard to change decades-old practice but workplaces are also the only places which have the ability to drive change as men and women work together in teams. Campaigns like The Conscious Calendar, is a reminder of how simple ways men can help to remove unconscious biases.” – Sabina Godri, 36,Marketing Manager of Guinness, Singapore
“Never be reactive towards others, but rather speak and act from a place of calm and honesty. Never be passive and over-tolerant with bad environments and let negative emotions fester. The trick is to be aware, fair and decisive.” – Sharon Shum, 28, Content Manager for VICE Asia
Ask your colleagues for help
“In my experience, requesting your colleagues to help is a great way to start. Perhaps the task might be something they have never done before and in that case, you can introduce them to the role and make them feel comfortable to participate. I think sometimes, we also have to check ourselves and move past these subconscious biases that might be subtly discouraging us to reach out to our male colleagues and ask for their involvement. To this end, publications like yours and campaigns like Conscious Calendar are important for bringing such issues to light and spreading awareness.” – Brandy Dallas, 30,Luxury Marketing Manager for an international luxury brand