This article, Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on Women Doing ‘Office Housework’, has appeared in my newsfeed several times in the last 24 hours. Clearly it is striking a painful chord and resonating – yet, in tracking who is posting about it, it is more often women than men. Some of the comments are particularly interesting:
Jamie Perkins, an educational assistant at an elementary school in Colorado writes: “Yes. And it’s not just women stepping in to these situations. I find that I am voluntold to do these tasks whereas my male co-intern gets to volunteer.”
Jodi Koslow Martin, a vice-president of student affairs in Illinois wrote: “I sent this article to a staff member at work. She thanked me and said it aligns with what I’ve said in the past – No Cupcakes! Honestly, I can’t remember instituting that rule but I’m all for it.”
Melanie-Angela Neuilly, a faculty member at a university in Washington state said to another commenter who raised the concerns about stereotypes, “Yes! It’s like: women, you are doing it wrong… Just be more like men.”
So, the article brings to our attention and raises awareness about a reality that I would guess many of us who identify as feminists have observed and pushed back against for some time now. But somehow a headline in The New York Times is legitimizing, validating, and FB newsfeed worthy, I guess. In essence, Sandberg and Grant discuss how much of the office “housework” including but not limited to nurturing and mentoring, “hostess chores” like fetching drinks, cleaning up “messes” afterhours, and note-taking during meetings are all tasks that predominantly fall on women’s shoulders in the workplace. Why? The article doesn’t go into the reasons exactly, but clearly it is because stereotypical gender roles and deeply ingrained socially constructed perspectives about women in society dictate our place as the “housekeepers” both in the personal and professional spheres. Maybe this is a shock to some. For those who have been oblivious to this reality, the article illuminates several examples of where this plays out and highlights some of the implications. And that’s positive, right? Consciousness-raising is indeed a key first step in addressing a problem. My concern with this piece, and most of Sandberg’s writing, is that she often stops there.
And also, once again, Sheryl Sandberg (and Adam Grant) places responsibility on women for their own problems while failing to see the structural and cultural problems with the rewards system that privileges men’s contributions in the workplace and creates additional taxation mechanisms on women’s. The article points out several tips that women can do and even offers some suggestions for enlightened men (take the notes in meetings!) but fails to recognize the larger patriarchal and hegemonic system in which these interactions and taxations take place.
Sandberg and Grant cite a study by Heilman and Chen (2005), which addressed some of the implications of the performance (or lack of) of altruistic citizenship behavior (Sandberg calls this “helping”) and how it enhances the favorability of men’s (but not women’s) evaluations and recommendations. Grant and Sandberg summarizes the findings saying that: “after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.”
Where Sandberg and Grant’s article fails is in further interrogating the findings of this study further. What about for example the fact that for many women in order to get ahead they may have NO CHOICE but to engage in these behaviors. The risks of not doing “office housework” can be deeply detrimental to women’s careers. What are the real costs of refusing to do these extra tasks? And further questions abound: What about women of color, lower SES women, and gender non-conforming women? Can any of these individuals practically refuse do these tasks or bring up the fact that they are doing a disproportionate share without feeling the the double or triple bind of racism, heteronormative sexism, and classism impacting their job security in the workplace?
The workplace, assumed in Sandberg and Grant’s piece to be a Fortune 500 company, is just as bad in academia, where rewards systems, specifically tenure and promotion, fail to recognize the “housework” contributions women make. Kristie Ford (2011), in her article, Race, Gender, and Bodily (Mis)Recognitions: Women of Color Faculty Experiences with White Students in the College Classroom, states “women and minority faculty are expected to assume and perform institutional roles that allow higher education institutions to pursue diversity on campus. But these roles are ignored in the faculty reward system, especially in the awarding of tenure” (p. 446). Sandberg and others need to look more closely at the intersections at play within work as well.
So, it’s clear that the work of feminism isn’t done. I’d like to urge Sandberg and Grant to use their next installment of this NYT series to talk about how to create systematic social change at the group/company level or societal level (instead of always focusing on the individual level). Ford (2011) states, “to advance the discourse on the bodily experiences of WOC faculty, first, the literature must expand beyond individual narratives to more systematically study (emphasis added) the socio-cultural patterns and collective experiences of this group of women” (p. 446). That systematic study of the patriarchal society and intersecting racist, classist, and sexist systems, I suspect, is a much more difficult problem to discuss, let alone solve. Let’s all LEAN-IN and start having that conversation.
Ford, K. A. (2011). Race, gender, and bodily (mis) recognitions: Women of color faculty experiences with White students in the college classroom. The Journal of Higher Education, 82(4), 444-478. Retrieved from: http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/jhe/summary/v082/82.4.ford.html
Grant, A. & Sandberg, S. (2013, Feb. 6). Madam C.E.O., get me a coffee: Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant on women doing ‘office housework’. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/08/opinion/sunday/sheryl-sandberg-and-adam-grant-on-women-doing-office-housework.html?smid=fb-share
Heilman, M. E., & Chen, J. J. (2005). Same behavior, different consequences: reactions to men’s and women’s altruistic citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 431. Retrieved from: http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/apl/90/3/431/