February 25, 2015 Practice Points

Office Housework

By M. Annie Santos

In a recent article published in The New York Times, “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee,” Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton School professor Adam Grant discuss women doing “office housework” and the effect on their careers compared with that of men. In keeping with what the authors refer to as “deeply held gender stereotypes,” the article explores the expectation that men are to be ambitious and results-oriented, while women nurturing and communal, traits that are often overlooked when it comes to office promotions. “When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a woman helps, we feel less indebted,” comment the authors. They go on to contend that 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.’” The authors cite a study led by New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman, wherein participants evaluated the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. The man who stayed late and helped was rated 14 percent more favorably than the woman, while if both declined to stay late to help, the woman was rated 12 percent lower than the man.

The authors’ solution to the disparity is not for women to stop helping or doing the “office housework,” but rather becoming more efficient at it so that at promotion time the focus is on other areas of contribution. The authors also suggest that men should start speaking up and draw attention to women’s contributions instead of simply quieting down to allow women the often missed opportunities dominated by men.

The article is the third article in a four-part series by Sandberg and Grant about women in the workplace.

Keywords: promotion, gender, stereotypes, office housework

M. Annie Santos works at Hinshaw & Culbertson in Minneapolis, Minnesota

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