Office housework

Logistical and administrative tasks that are essential to office functioning, but don’t pay off professionally. Examples include taking notes, cleaning up after meetings, planning social events, bringing food/coffee, etc. This work often falls on women, and especially women of color. [Harvard Business Review]


The best advocates I've had give me a chance at thought and group leadership, while the most frustrating have relied on me for quasi-administrative tasks. I (and many women, especially other women of color) will default into (or be defaulted into) taking responsibility for organizing logistics, tracking attendance, NOTE TAKING. My best advocates free me up from these admin tasks (spreading the work amongst genders, races, etc) so I can participate in the content. 

Hear it FirstHand

I have to actively stop myself from volunteering for extra roles (i.e. party planning, note taking, cleaning up after a team lunch) that I don’t enjoy and that can be low status. As a woman, I feel that there is a strong expectation for me to be perceived as helpful.

Facts and Data

  • Wharton professor Adam Grant writes about research on this subject: “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.’” [Harvard Business Review]

  • Participants of a study were asked to evaluate the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman who also stayed late to help. When men and women both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. A woman had to stay late and help to get the same approval rating as a man who didn’t help. [NY Times]

Take Action

  • Create a schedule of predictable “office housework”  tasks and share them fairly. Simply making well-intentioned but vague commitments to share these tasks equitably rarely works – add structure if you're serious about this

  • Check-in with those doing office housework regularly. You may notice someone on your team doing these “non-advancement” office housework tasks. You can't know for sure how anyone feels about doing these tasks, so don't make assumptions, but do respectfully check-in about the situation

  • Model good behavior. Volunteer to get the coffee, clean up after the meeting, water the plants, etc

  • Make the existence of "office housework" common knowledge on your teams. The more bias can be identified, the less power it has, and the more ability you have to do something about it