In all of my workspaces I have been gendered as a woman, and all of these things have happened to me. . I find the more ‘technical’ or corporate the teams are, the more likely that the responsibility of ‘non essential labour’ in the office falls on women and femmefolk (my current office is actually very good in this respect, which is really refreshing).
For more information on this phenomenon, read through this excellent metafilter thread on emotional labour.
What is this comic about? Well, generally things like keeping the office tidy day to day, setting up for and cleaning up after meetings, organizing gifts and social events, fundraising, congratulations and condolences ‘from the office’, and administrative work like minutes-taking… pretty much everything that is ‘volunteer’ is likely to fall to women.
Sometimes when people argue that this work is non-essential, and that women only do it because they want to do it (and that, by extension, these just aren’t things that men care about). The thing is, community building is essential work. People who talk about having great work environments talk about things like hanging out with colleagues after work, having summer sport leagues, lottery groups, that time everyone pitched in vacation time during a family illness, that gift card that appeared on your desk on your birthday…that’s all stuff someone thinks about and plans and organizes, and it’s non-billable work, so they often do it for free, and that person is more often than not a woman. And that’s important, vital work, it makes people feel like they can come to work every day and at least not hate it all the time.
It’s completely devalued labour, and it falls in the laps of women to maintain. Sometimes guys think they’re participating by having the idea of the work: “Jim’s mother passed away – maybe we should get a card to pass around for him” – but the idea is as far as that participation goes. The organizing and execution of that ‘nice idea’ falls on someone else entirely.
Stuff like this totally undercuts women at work. For example, any time it’s assumed that I’ll take meeting minutes, my ability to participate fully in that meeting is compromised because I’m taking notes instead of concentrating on my own contributions.
And not doing this work has consequences too. There was a workspace where I was totally watching this happen, so I resolved to act like the men on my team did. I left rooms when they left them (in the condition they left them in), I used the kitchen in the same way, I left my desk in the same condition, but guess who got called out on failing to contribute to the office environment? It wasn’t the guys.
If you’re a guytype and you want to be a good ally in your worplace, be the person who volunteers. I mean it. Look around, see who’s doing the work that isn’t in their job descriptions, and pitch in. Take notes, buy cards, organize drinks, and for goodness sake, tidy the kitchen. And it’s ok if this social stuff really isn’t important to you, but don’t you dare be the person who says that it’s not important work, and then feels slighted when no one remembers their birthday.
If you’re already doing this, awesome. Keep up the good work.