Working for Home: Shifting the Load

Last week, I started writing a new series of posts entitled “Working for Home” to highlight and address the unique pressures that face women in the workplace. In my first post, I outlined several facets of women’s challenges at work, in general and during the pandemic. The forces that combine to exacerbate the crisis I described originate at home, at work, and from the current circumstances, so in this post, I’ll address solutions working women can work towards in each sphere.

Recruiting Support at Home

As I described in “Working for Home: The Crisis” in the section titled “Paying Attention to Unpaid Labor,” pressures that limit women’s ability to work productively often start at home. That’s why many professionals sharing advice with working women encourage them to shift the role their family plays in impacting their careers. Instead of creating pressure, family can build support.

For working women with partners at home, Brigid Schulte suggests that now is the time to open conversation around this topic. An author and founding director of the Better Life Lab, a work-life, gender equity and social policy program, Schulte describes the pandemic as an opportunity to start new dialogue in her May 2020 interview with NPR. Schulte encourages women to build awareness of their own time pressures in order to share openly with a partner about challenges at home that are interfering with success in the workplace.

This Forbes article echoes that sentiment by encouraging working women and their partners to speak openly about sharing home responsibilities more fairly in order to support both partners’ careers. One strategy the author recommends is sharing paternal leave from work. This can build the foundation of sharing information about children with both parents. When mothers take on the role of the lead parent, as described in this study, they sometimes become the only person with information about children’s medical records, teachers, academic progress, and other important areas of life. When parents take time from work equally and intentionally share responsibilities like childcare, the intense pressure on women to manage the home and the career is shifted and shared.

Children Aren’t Too Small for Big Help

Besides working with partners to set themselves up for workplace success, working women can also reevaluate the role their children play in supporting their mother’s work life. Especially in pandemic times, children are often present in their parents’ workspaces. Thankfully, there are several ways to loop children in as support systems.

In this article on new pandemic realities for women, the author encourages women to delegate more responsibility to children. That’s sound advice for any time. Instead of being mere beneficiaries of women’s hard work for the home, children can become partners. This guide from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry lists some important benefits of involving children in chores. It also provides suggestions of appropriate chores to introduce for each age group, even toddlers! Sharing housework with children can help working mothers, especially working-from-home mothers, focus more time on their professional pursuits.

When We’re All Home Together

As I discussed at length in an earlier post about timing productivity while working from home, there are some key ways to protect your time at work during these pandemic times. Of course, important first steps include designating work hours and sharing those boundaries with others in the home. Especially for women, whose time for work sometimes gets shredded into “time confetti,” a term used in this Forbes article, this strategy is key to facilitating success at work.

Additionally, this HBR article written for dual-career couples emphasizes that although the pandemic has led to compromises in many workers’ productivity, couples can take proactive steps to ensure they have access to a quiet workspace and strong Internet connection when they most need it. Jennifer Petriglieri, who has conducted extensive research on couples managing dual careers, encourages partners to think ahead. Is there a week you have multiple critical project deadlines coming up? Is there a time of day you need to be in synchronous video meetings? Address these high-pressure times up front to improve your shot at success.

Finally, as I described in last week’s post, women all too often become “invisible” at work. That’s only more likely to increase as women working from home hesitate to turn on video or unmute themselves in meetings. Working women and their families can refer to these tips on setting up a workplace at home and some suggestions here for “Setting the Physical Stage” for virtual meetings. Ensuring that working women have space for their work is a critical step we can prioritize in 2020 to build on the century-old crusade that every woman should have rights to A Room of One’s Own.

Working Out Workplace Worries

Having engaged support from partners and children and having set themselves up for success with a home workspace, women still face barriers at work. There’s advice for how working women can start to change those too.

This HBR article on “office housework” shares several practical suggestions for working women to use requests for help at work as leverage. One way to do this is to state expectations of reciprocity. For instance, if a supervisor has asked a woman on his team to get coffee for everyone or send an email to loop everyone in, she can respond with something like, “Sure, I’m happy to take on this task this week, as long as other team members take on the responsibility in other weeks.” Alternately, women can leverage their uncompensated work by accumulating evidence of what they’re accomplishing and presenting a case to leadership. Women who can demonstrate that there’s a whole additional role they fill in addition to their stated job responsibilities may be able to successfully negotiate for a promotion in title and possibly even a pay raise.

Nonetheless, not every request to do extra work at work must be harnessed for career advancement. This article on emotional labor interviewed author Gemma Hartley, an outspoken voice in the dialogue around women’s emotional labor at work. She encourages working women to track the tasks they’re being assigned and recognize their limits. It’s not unreasonable for any employee to take on a little extra sometimes, but a woman who is constantly the go-to team member to stay after hours and “finish up” needs to set clear boundaries. Just as at home, women at work can hold others accountable for sharing the work.

By implementing these strategies at home and at work, with special sensitivity to pandemic circumstances, working women can begin the process of shifting and sharing their load. However, that’s not enough on its own. Workplace leaders also have an important role to play in changing the status quo. That’s why next week, I’ll shine the spotlight on them. For now, let me know how these tools to change empower your work life. I hope they make a needed difference.