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Doing the paperwork or supervising the intern: the invisible job that weighs down women's careers


Women dedicate more hours than their partners to necessary functions that are not rewarded, according to the authors of the book 'El club del no'. Your post fuels the debate on whether it is a key problem to move up or a problem overcome

In the university laboratory where Carmen, a biologist, works, there are eight people.

Three are men.

"They are dedicated only to their analysis, women, in addition to the analysis, we carry all the paperwork."

"We are as much doctors as they are," she says, although only "the girls" prepare budgets, supervise quality issues, order material... "Things that are lame, but basic, without which everything else cannot be done."

Her companions think that it is not so much because they are men, as a matter of character, they justify their companions by saying that they are "a bit of a disaster".

“It is just the three of them who do not have the right personality to organize the internal workings of the laboratory.

What a coincidence!” says Carmen, convinced that it is “a gender issue”.

“Both men and women have sucked stereotypes:

there is our 'I'll do it myself, if I'm going to have to review it,' there are the bosses, in our case a female boss, who trust us more for certain things and don't charge them.

And there is the fact that I don't have the guts to say no, it doesn't even occur to me, when they have no problem refusing

make pieces of paper”


Silvia, a financial manager at a bank, calls Carmen

"refusing to make little pieces of

paper " by calling it "casquetar marrones".

Neither wants to give her name or specify her place of work.

They're talking about her classmates.

When they neglect boring but necessary tasks, when they wait without raising their hands for a woman to volunteer to host department dinners;

or when one is asked to supervise the intern or appease a difficult client.

“Something has changed in the financial sector”, admits Silvia.

"Now we have


who take care of the most tedious tasks that always fell to us before - chopping data, making presentations - although the final look usually passes through the prism of a woman."

"But when the Christmas party is celebrated, who looks for the site or sets up the WhatsApp group?"

"In what I know, large multinationals, this differentiation of roles does not occur at all," says Pablo Claver, managing partner of the people and organization area of ​​the Boston Consulting Group.

"If you were talking to me about 10 or 15 years ago... but we've turned it around, because we've worked hard, things don't just happen".

The consultant believes that there are parity issues, such as the percentage of women in leadership positions, which are structural and take time, since you hire


50% and you let boys and girls develop and move up equally.

"But these minor problems are solved in three kicks."

Give two examples: at Christmas dinner you make sure that the volunteer committee is equal, end of the problem, and if a woman is the one who always changes the coffee filter, stop doing it and a man will change it.

"You should not overestimate an issue that has a very easy solution," he explains.

"I'm not saying that it doesn't happen, I don't know the SME sector and public administration, I say that it is enough to make a decision and it will be solved on Monday."

A fine line

However, the few studies in this regard feed a generalized perception by many women like Carmen and Silvia: although these tasks fall to both men and women, most of the time they fall to them.

“We are the ones responsible, the ones who work for the group, the ones we take care of.

They, the smart ones, the ones with ideas”, says Carmen.

“The problem is that it is not a flagrant machismo, it is a very fine line, something that is not talked about.

We carry it so much inside that even many women see it as something natural.



To be able to talk about something, the first thing you need are words.

In English there are many terms that identify the problem.

You can



office chores

(domestic work in the office) and

office mums

(those who exercise care and emotional support) to find recent articles in media such as



The Wall Street Journal


Financial Times


where binomials such as

glamor work


office housework

(the flashy tasks and those that consist of, figuratively or literally, passing the mop, either adjusting Excel tables or changing the filter of the community coffee maker) face each other.

Four American academics —economists and experts in business organization— labeled this mixture of emotional tasks and tedious tasks as

non-promotable work

, work that is often essential for the company, but does not serve to advance.

They have been researching the issue since 2010, collecting data and talking to dozens of women about their experiences and everything has led them to the same conclusion: "It doesn't matter what level you occupy in the hierarchy: from the youngest to the oldest, it affects us all. all of them,” says Laurie Weingart, in a video call interview from the United States with two other colleagues, Brenda Peyser and Lise Vesterlund.

Together with a fourth expert, Linda Babcock, they have included her findings in a book,

The No Club.

(just published in English), inspired by a group with the same name that they founded a decade ago to encourage other women to refuse to carry the load.

His publication has reignited the debate.

200 more hours of unrewarding tasks

According to the academics, this type of bias occurs both in the private sector, as well as in the public sector and in the university.

One of their studies, based on three-year data collected by a North American professional services firm, indicates that women spend up to 200 hours more on average per year on tasks of this type than men.

"It's hard to find broader data, because not all companies make detailed categories of what tasks employees spend their hours on," explains Vesterlund, an economics professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

“In many companies, women are a minority and end up doing most of the less grateful jobs,” said Richard Thaler, Nobel Prize winner in Economics in 2017, referring to the publication of this book. “It should be a wake-up call to companies :

The book includes a study published by the journal

Research in Higher Education

in 2017 with data from 140 university institutions, which states that women spend more time on work of this type, also called "service", than men.

In one of the universities, 50% of the members of the committees of the center were women, although they only accounted for 25% of the teaching staff.

"Women are overrepresented in these groups, which are dedicated to supervising projects, for example, something that takes time away from preparing classes, giving lectures or publishing papers," says Weingart, tasks that are less decisive for promotion.

Another 2019 study, carried out among engineers by the Center of Worklife Law, dependent on the University of California, concluded that 30% of men stated that they usually did administrative work,

they took notes in meetings or planned parties at the office, compared to almost 60% of women who said they usually do.

"We believe this pattern is key to understanding why women advance at a slower pace than men in their careers," says Vesterlund.

The causes of this imbalance, according to the experts, lie in the fact that, in the first place, companies tend to ask women more than men to carry out these tasks.

And secondly, they tend to say yes more often than they do.

"Some feel guilty if they refuse," says Professor Vesterlund.

Others have no choice but to accept, or believe they don't.

In another investigation published by the authors of the book in the

American Economic Review

in 2017


found that in a company with a balanced number of men and women, when presented with an unrewarding task, women volunteer twice as often as men, but they do so because they assume no one else is going to do it.

In later studies they found that, when asked, 76% of women accept, while only 51% of men say yes.

Despite the difficulties in identifying this type of work, the concept already appears in the great studies on women in the corporate world.

Companies recognize that there are some important tasks that are underrecognized.

A study by the consulting firm McKinsey, published in 2021, with interviews with 423 companies with 65,000 employees, indicates that almost 70% of firms consider the promotion of diversity and inclusion policies at work essential, but only 25% recognize this work to whoever is in charge of it.

Interestingly, it is the women managers who are twice as responsible as men for leading these policies, according to the consultant, although they are not officially part of their responsibilities.

The latest PwC report emphasizes this idea.

learn to say no

Encouraging to say no is the raison d'être of the club set up by these academics.

"For years I shared a series of tasks with a colleague and always, for one thing or another, something came up and he couldn't help me, I had to remind him of the deadlines... In the end, I almost always did everything myself," recalls Peyser, a teacher from Carnegie Mellon University, who has held leadership positions in business and academia for three decades.

“At one point I told him I wasn't going to do it anymore, and things changed,” she says.

Since many women are afraid to say that it can't take its toll on them, the authors suggest ways to do it, such as suggesting shift load sharing.

Another possibility is to explain that you have much more important work to do, and detail it so that it is clear that he is not justified.

Or suggest that it might be more helpful for someone else to do so.

“You can say: `Now it is bad for me to organize a cycle of conferences, but it can be good for a more


colleague if he has never done it to gain experience,' they come to say.

Despite the title of her book, Vesterlund points out that "women can say no, but also the most equitable distribution or that this type of ungrateful work is recognized and remunerated has to come from the company, from there being a strategy."

And she insists: "This is not a problem that women can solve by themselves."

"What unnerves me the most is not doing the little pieces of paper," says Carmen, the biologist, "but that this work is not recognized: the invisibilization."

“In the end, I have done 10 samples and my partner 20, basically because I have also done 85 things so that we can both do the samples.

But in the annual reports, where is the time I have spent scanning delivery notes reflected?

In Spain, the CC OO union has not received formal complaints from women on the subject.

Begoña Marugán, attached to the organization's Confederal Secretariat for Women, Equality and Working Conditions, explains that this is because it is systematically understood that certain tasks, related to group cohesion, presentations and care, are more women's own.

"It's in the prevailing mentality of society, both in men and women, there is an unwritten consensus," she explains.

"These are tasks that are not recognized, but they are important, as is the case with domestic work, and what the company must do is value and remunerate them," adds Marugán, who is a professor at the Carlos III University of Madrid.

salary tool

The Government published last April a new tool for assessing jobs with a gender perspective to try to bring these invisible jobs to the surface and take them into account in salaries.

The tool, which can be used in companies' equality plans, not only limits remuneration to issues such as hierarchical or responsibility for a number of employees in charge, but also assesses elements such as "the versatility of the jobs , the physical, mental and emotional efforts or the skills of care and well-being of people, the responsibility of organization, coordination and conflict management”.

A “set of factors”, says the text,

The bias also reaches the highest hierarchies.

"Women managers also suffer situations of invisibility that do not allow them to shine as much as they should," says Irene Navarro, president of the Multisectoral Association of Women Managers and Entrepreneurs.

“As a general rule, the man gets the fame and the woman cards the wool, for this reason it is necessary to make visible the commitment, responsibility and rigor in the work that generally characterizes women who come to direct”, she settles .

Curiously, in a very masculinized profession, Gloria, a national police officer (where only 12% are women), does not feel any extra burden.

In the social sphere, she says that the dismissals of an agent, she organizes them or her closest colleague or her boss.

Nor are police officers more likely to walk into a female boss's office to discuss a personal problem: “The women in charge have a lot of work and are very focused on their careers, so you go with the person you feel closest to or most understanding of, who she is not necessarily a woman at all.”

As for burdening yourself with tedious functions that do not correspond, in the body there are no gray areas for niceties: "We have super assigned tasks, they hire you to do something very specific, and if you don't like it, there are job competitions and you change."

Gloria also adds a "very personal opinion" about it:

“The women who become police officers are… I don't know how to say it… battle-hardened.

We do not have a character prone to submission or to accept what is not ours.

In the end, outside of your duties, you do only what you allow them to put on you.”

Genoveva also considers herself lucky.

She works remotely as a computer engineer at a US non-profit technology foundation.

“An organization with great ethical motivation, progressive, with a very powerful equity and diversity agenda, where we work to detect and solve gender or race biases.”

She gives an example: her boss saw that a pattern was repeated in the meetings, the first to speak were always the same two men.

She privately explained to them that it would be convenient for them to wait to speak last shift.

She later told the rest of the team, "for transparency."

“It's a matter of business culture: the things that are allowed and those that are not,” says Ella Genoveva.

This week, a group of women from her company shared an article titled “

Being glue ” to deepen the debate.

, being the glue a metaphor for how in their sector the cohesion of the teams usually falls on the engineers, who stop writing code and see their careers weighed down by it, when it is precisely their ability to lead, organize and lubricate, what should to promote them in front of colleagues who dedicate themselves exclusively to programming, no matter how well they do it.

The cares

Although in her company all tasks are very formalized with monitoring tools, Genoveva explains that "it is very difficult to


care, which continues to fall almost 100% on women”.

Things like worrying about the partner who is stressed or lost or "supporting the egos of some men, thanking, congratulating, asking for advice so they don't feel bad" ("that's not paid for", he jokes).

It is no longer difficult for her to say no (“it is an issue that I have worked on, even in therapy,” she says).

She is not worried about losing face, but sometimes she does worry about other consequences.

She finds it hard, for example, to refuse to participate in hiring interview panels, which in her sector are very tedious processes, with technical tests, validations, several meetings.

“Sometimes I don't have time,” she says, “but if there isn't a woman on the panel, there are things in a candidate, toxicities inherited from the highly competitive, white, male culture of Silicon Valley,

"In general, men do not realize many things," says Víctor M. López, Equality technician.

“In the case of invisible tasks, since we have never taken care of them, they do not exist;

if reflection were to start from us, we would never understand it”.

"Privilege" he continues, "is a vision that things work as they work naturally: we tell each other stories, for example, that they organize better and that is why we wait for them to volunteer... But if we have to set up a debate of soccer or a motorcycle excursion, we know that we organize ourselves perfectly”.

López has held workshops with men to make some of these biases visible.

In his experience, when they are “put on the table” there are various reactions.

First, mistrust, it is not enough to present a shared or everyday experience:

"For them to open their eyes, you have to give them super-detailed information, if there are no figures or studies, they don't just see it."

Some still resist, López explains, arguing that they also carry their own.

"Others downplay it."

“When we get to see, we have empathy”, he continues, “but putting it into practice is another thing, in the end very few remedy it, at most we are in the helping phase”.

In an


in the elegant Salamanca district of Madrid, many office workers gather after work.

At a table, six men (all thirtysomethings with degrees and jobs in different sectors, lawyers, marketing


, an architect), they agree to talk about it.

Most admit that "they have never given it much thought."

Some are reticent (“if they volunteer to organize something it will be because they like it”; “it is a matter of personality, I am very chaotic and my partner is more thorough”; “I also eat brown from aunts who shy away! ”).

Others concede that “sometimes it is difficult to see what does not touch you”.

Like the women asked, some believe that it does not happen in their workplaces, others say that it does.

“I think we have improved,” says a publicist, “I see things, especially in my elders, that freak me out, from not washing her cup after a meeting to asking a colleague to make her an

email nice

or a presentation... It's true that sometimes you see him and you don't say anything, and neither does she, maybe because he has more important fights."

Silvia, the financial manager, partially agrees.

"It's not that these issues seem minor to me," she says, referring to the thankless workload or care that weighs down many women.

“But I think where we are really capable is upwards.

Team managers?


Responsible for new projects?


With corporate social responsibility some women have been promoted, but it is pure posturing.

If you ask for a reduction in working hours to reconcile, they crucify you.

At first my boss called me every week at the office to ask me when I was going to end 'this farce'.

He has been charging 30% less for years, but fulfilling “the same objectives and with the same number of clients” as his full-time colleagues: “They demand the same from me.

So I don't even volunteer for anything,


without blinking.

I often say no, simply because it doesn't give me life."

Source: elparis

All business articles on 2022-05-22

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