As a rising female professional, I’ve noticed that sexism is in the workplace in spades. Don’t believe me? The stats say it all: Although women make up almost half (45%) of the United States labor force, only 19.2% of the 500 Fortune top earners are female and only 4.6% women hold CEO positions, according to a Catalyst study.
Why do women struggle to climb the administrative ladder? There are a plethora of factors, and sexism (just one of those factors) comes in all different forms. However, there’s one area of sexism that women in a variety of fields see daily: Office housework.
In some companies, women are often given (and expected to complete) “office housework.” In a New York Times article, COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton School professor Adam Grant define it as, “administrative tasks that help but don’t pay off.” For example, women may be constantly asked to fetch coffee, take notes during meetings, or organize the office parties. These are all honorable tasks if they’re part of your job description; the problem arises when a woman has to shift her own work priorities to accommodate completing the office housework instead. When Sandberg categorizes these tasks as ones that “don’t pay off,” the assumption is they in no way move the company (or the woman, in many cases) forward.
How do we break away from assigning office housework to women? All employees (men and women)much acknowledge the stereotypes that may be ingrained in company cultureand then actively make the decision not to propagatethem.
The Power of Saying No (in a Safe Way)
Many office housework situations can be avoided by a simple “no” — coming from both men and women in the office. For men, it’s important to take note of who is always getting assigned duties like making coffee, taking out the trash, or organizing holiday parties and choosing to do things differently. For women, it’s assessing the context of the situation and not being afraid to say no when appropriate.
If company culture encourages everyone — regardless of gender — to chip in from time to time with coffee making or cookie baking, then saying no should be relegated to situations where you, as an individual, are being constantly called on.
It’s also important to remember that “no” exists on a spectrum and can be cushioned however necessary. The “bold no” sends the message for situations where a straightforward answer is best, while a “Sorry, I’m busy” rids you of the housework, while still providing a reason behind the no.
Although saying no is not a new concept, it may take some getting used to for both men and women. Drawing the line is important though because it helps both acknowledge and stop sexism in the office.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.