Sheryl Sandberg wrote another editorial for the NYT with Adam Grant, University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professor and author of “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.” It’s called “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee,” and it definitely deserves to be read on your coffee break today.
Here are some highlights that I found most thought-provoking:
“When a woman declines to help a colleague, people like her less and her career suffers. But when a man says no, he faces no backlash. A man who doesn’t help is ‘busy’; a woman is ‘selfish.'”
This is basically the thesis of the article. Recent studies show people generally think worse of women who don’t volunteer for office housework. Men who don’t volunteer aren’t judged as harshly. Have you ever felt these kind of sentiments in the office? I can think of a couple of times when this rang true for me or colleagues. It’s almost like there’s fine print on the volunteer form that reads: “Go ahead and sign up for this, ladies. We know you’ll eventually do it when no one else volunteers.”
“Someone has to take notes, serve on committees and plan meetings — and just as happens with housework at home, that someone is usually a woman.”
I think this sentence hits the nail on the head. Gender norms trickle into every part of life, especially the workplace. There’s an expectation that women want to help or be “communal” as Sandberg says in the article. Taking notes, planning or dealing with smaller administrative tasks are some of the responsibilities expected of women. If women are always volunteering and being communal, when do they actually do the important work?
“These activities don’t just use valuable time; they also cause women to miss opportunities. The person taking diligent notes in the meeting almost never makes the killer point.”
And here it is: the takeaway. People who are focused on the bigger ideas at work often don’t have time to volunteer for the smaller tasks. Sandberg argues that administrative tasks should be assigned to employees instead of volunteered for. I agree–it could be an initiative that encourages individual responsibility for office housework across the board.
Of course, it could be argued that assigning the work is just a bandaid on a larger societal problem of deeply embedded gender roles. The problem isn’t that women are volunteering for these tasks more than men; the problem is that everyone expects them to do so. This is true, and I fully support a huge overhaul of societal views on gender. Until that happens, I would be more comfortable in a workplace that asks these tasks of everyone instead of using a volunteer system.