Tackling Traditional Gender Roles in the Workplace
Updated: Jul 8, 2021
The men on my team are publicly praised by my colleagues for doing things like pre-meeting tech setup/ taking notes in the meeting, and before COVID, setting up office social events, and manual office work (packing swag bags for clients, unpacking office snacks and putting them in the cupboard, cleaning up in the kitchen). However, I feel like when I do these things, without making a big deal, it’s never praised. In fact, if anything, I’m told I SHOULDN’T do them (by my “woke” male boss) because women shouldn’t be expected to do housekeeping. I feel like I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t, and I’m annoyed that the men are getting praise for something that I was explicitly told not to do! What should I do?
You are not alone in what you describe. At work, women are more likely to be the ones doing “housekeeping” tasks, whether it is in their job description or not. Kudos to your boss, who recognizes this tendency and encourages you not to do the housekeeping tasks that you don’t have to do, though he may have read an article like this in guiding his actions. In addition, it’s common that when men do housekeeping tasks, they get positive attention for it—attention that women typically don’t get.
Although your boss may support your not doing housekeeping tasks, it’s possible that he may feel less comfortable about men doing. So collect some “data” to understand better what you’re dealing with. Are there particular members of your team who make a big deal when a man does housekeeping tasks? Are you the only female who doesn’t get praise for doing those tasks, or is it true for all the women on the team? Is it your boss who makes a big deal when a man does? Once you know who is doing the praising you’re in a better position to decide what to do—if anything—and to whom to speak with about it. For readers who don’t have a boss who is aware of these gender issues, this article and this one may be helpful.
If you’re the only female whose housekeeping efforts aren’t appreciated, you have an opportunity to investigate why that might be. You can ask trusted colleagues about whether they’ve noticed it too, and if so, why they think this is happening.
If there is a gender difference, you can talk it over with trusted colleagues or your boss, depending on the context, your history with your boss, and the level of trust between the two of you. You can ask him whether he’s noticed what you’ve noticed (e.g., men getting the attention you/women don’t get for housekeeping tasks)? If he hasn’t noticed, perhaps the two of you could make a small “project” out of keeping track (e.g., collecting data) and then reconvene to pool and discuss the data, its implications, and what to do going forward. If he has noticed, perhaps you could invite him to think about how to address it with the team (one idea is to have each member of the team keep track of who does housekeeping tasks, and how the team responds to each person’s help). Just the act of keeping track may change people’s behavior in an equitable direction.
That said, might there be a larger issue about your not feeling appreciated for the work you do in general? Not feeling noticed/appreciated can dampen the positives that we get from our jobs.
Please keep us posted.
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