Women and work and housekeeping
I’ve been enjoying Sheryl Sandberg’s columns with Adam Grant in the “Women at Work” columns of the New York Times. See for example this one on discrimination at work.
The most recent one, third in a series of four, talks about how women at work do lots of extra “housekeeping” tasks like training, giving advice, and so on, which is often unrewarded. In fact they point out a double standard in expectations for this stuff:
In a study led by the New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman, participants evaluated 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. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man.
So, part of this is absolutely just sexism, which doesn’t surprise me. But I think another part of it is mismanagement.
Let me explain. First of all, this stuff generally resonates with me – I’m absolutely one of those people who tries to make the workplace “more of a community.” So, for example, things like figuring out stuff and building and updating a wiki, which then everyone can use as a resource and saves a bunch of time for everyone. That stuff is not directly rewarded even though it’s actually useful. Because of that weirdness, men (in general) don’t try and don’t care as much about it, so given a men-only group, it simply wouldn’t get done.
But here’s the thing, what should we conclude from such group behaviors like this? Should women stop doing those extra things, or should men start? Should we continue to ignore how much stuff like that actually helps, or should we begin to keep track? You might be able to guess what I think.
Sanderberg and Grant’s column is a rare example of a column which doesn’t fall into the standard trap of telling women to simply conform to the current system of rewards. They explain that this kind of “Having people help both behind the scenes and in public is essential to organizational success. Research shows that teams with greater helping behavior attain greater profits,sales, quality, effectiveness, revenue and customer satisfaction.” and then they go on to state the obvious:
But doing the heavy lifting can take a psychological toll.
The question is, why? Is it because people ignore your efforts? I think it is, at least partly, and the other part is the sexism.
Now, Sandberg and Grant did suggest that we begin to “track acts of helping,” but then they go on to focus on how women should care for themselves before others, and give a load of advice about how to be more efficient when being helpful.
I’m already really efficient, though, so I’d like more advice on that first part, keeping track of acts of helping, and in particular how to build an incentive system that both men and women respond to which rewards stuff that’s actually good for the company. Because obviously just keeping track of stuff won’t help if you don’t actually care about the numbers. Or, even worse, if you just pity the poor fool who helped the most.
So the question is, how do you do that? Getting rid of assholes is already hard, and this is more nuanced than that.