Spring Cleaning: Making Sure Everyone Does Their Share of Office Housework

A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that women and people of color continue to do more “office housework” and have less access to “glamour work” than white men do.

April 19, 2018

A recent study by Harvard Business Review (“HBR”) found that women and people of color continue to do more “office housework” and have less access to “glamour work” than white men do1 . As described by HBR, “office housework” includes operational or administrative work such as taking notes at meetings and scheduling events, whereas “glamour work” includes the desirable work assignments that get employees noticed and promoted 

With national statistics showing that the number of women and people of color in leadership roles is still staggeringly low across most industries, there is an opportunity for employers to take stock of their assignment practices, improve employee satisfaction, and retain more women and people of color in their organizations. 

The reasons for the inequitable assignments are many, including: social pressures to volunteer for office housework activities, concerns about being viewed as a team player rather than ungrateful or uncommitted, behavioral norms that lead assigners to believe women and people of color will more likely accept these tasks, and stereotypes that that allow white men to intentionally do a poor job with low-value tasks to avoid being asked to do them again.

So what is an organization to do to change these inequities? HBR offers the following advice:

  • Determine who is doing the office housework and how much time they are spending on it.
  • Establish a system for making sure everyone takes a turn performing the dull office housework jobs.
  • Hold everyone accountable to the same standard for completing these tasks.
  • Create a rotation for the “glamour” assignments.  If only a few people are qualified for glamour assignments, invest in helping other employees gain those needed skills.

By creating an equitable division of assignments that is communicated clearly and consistently, companies can create a positive impact on employee engagement, employee satisfaction, and retention of diverse employees.

 1 https://hbr.org/2018/03/for-women-and-minorities-to-get-ahead-managers-must-assign-work-fairly

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