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office houseworkDo women do more “helping” tasks (vs “working”) in your office? In their third in a four-part New York Times series on women at work, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant answer, “Yes.” “Helping” (also called “office housework”) means counseling more junior colleagues, planning events, staying late to help a co-worker, taking notes in meetings, and getting coffee for others. The punchline of the article is “women help more but benefit less from it.”

The research cited shows that women are expected to be helpful so get little credit in performance evaluations when they are. Worse, they are penalized in performance reviews when they decline to “help.” Men are expected to put results ahead of communal needs. So, when men do “help,” they are rewarded.

Not only do women face this no-win proposition; helping costs them energy and, most important, costs them opportunities. The authors quote Joan Williams, author of What Works for Women at Work whose own Washington Post article addresses women and “office housework.” Says Williams, “The person taking diligent notes in a meeting almost never makes the killer point.”

Grant and Sandberg’s solution is to “first acknowledge it.” Yes, awareness is always the starting point for making change. They suggest that (if they are aware and acknowledge it) “men can help solve this problem by speaking up.” This is the same solution they suggest to solve the problem addressed in the second piece in this series. That problem (which I covered in a blog post) is men’s habit of “talking over” a woman, not hearing her ideas and judging her if she does speak up or speak “too much.”

Men don’t intentionally “talk over” women or ignore the value of the “help” they provide at work. They do it because they (like all of us) have unconscious ways of thinking — unconscious biases (or “mind-sets” as McKinsey calls them). The mind-sets underlying the issues highlighted by Sandberg and Grant reflect the cultural bias in favor of men and against women.

I hope Grant and Sandberg have brought awareness to a large audience. I hope that awareness (acknowledgment) of these issues enables men to see the issue and “speak up.” I hope this contributes to enabling women to reach their potential – and to the cause of gender diversity all the way up the organizational ladder.

Do you think the Sandberg-Grant series can increase men’s value of women at work?