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Why Do We Continue to Delegate Caretaking to Women at Work?

Too often, women are saddled with non-promotable tasks in the office.

Key points

  • Research shows that both women and men will turn to women to do caretaking tasks at work, such as planning birthday parties, baby showers, etc.
  • While women often do menial, non-promotable tasks in the office that contribute to company culture, they typically go unappreciated.
  • Rotating event planning tasks between men and women in the office can help equalize responsibility.
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When I ask audiences why we think women are a ”natural” fit for caretaking both at home and in the office, they often say the underlying reason is women have children. In her New York Times article, "The Glue of Office Culture: Usually a Woman," Jessica Grose claims, “Certainly, these underappreciated tasks exist in many fields … and, though women make up roughly half of professional and managerial workers, they are more likely to volunteer for what’s colloquially known as the “office mom.”

The role of the "office mom"

Research reveals that both women and men will turn to women to handle organizing birthday parties, baby showers, retirement parties, and more personal celebrations. The worst part is that when women are asked, they usually say yes.

In offices across the country, “office moms” dole out that daily dose of office parenting in the form of a sympathetic ear, homemade treats, and the perfect card. They’re often the first to roll up their sleeves and do the dishes festering in the office sink and the ones to stay late to deck out the conference room for a send-off party. But too often, the people (primarily women) who work to make the office feel like home don’t get much appreciation. These menial activities, while thoughtful, don’t add up to a promotion.

"Office moms" are not rewarded

Unlike a work wife or work mom, where two women take care of each other inside and outside the office to help drive their success, the office mom can be a one-way street. And the support she’s offering often has little to do with the work at hand—hers or others’.

The implication is that this person is meant to take on emotional labor—emotional labor that certainly isn’t being paid for, but that also is relied upon by the rest of the team but not necessarily appreciated by the rest of the group; in short, it is expected but not rewarded. It’s someone who is expected to show up for everyone and worry about everyone’s well-being but without there necessarily being anyone concerned about theirs.

“The party planning or event coordinating, the birthday drinks, the cupcakes, have almost always, in offices I’ve worked in, fallen to female staffers for no reason that I can understand,” says Erica Cerulo, the co-founder of Of a Kind and co-author of Work Wife: The Power of Female Friendship to Drive Successful Businesses.

How does a CEO handle these non-promotable tasks important to establishing a friendly office culture? There are several ways to be inclusive and incorporate both men and women to handle setting this essential office glue. Managers can learn to honor this vital work and delegate it to teams of men and women or on a rotation basis by taking turns among office staff.