In our office we have a rule. Each person, regardless of role or seniority is responsible for washing all the cups used in the office for one week. We have a roster system, which is rigorously enforced by our office manager. As you can imagine this causes no amount of regular discussion and debate.
When recently asked for the 48th thousand time, why we have this system in place. I jokingly said that it focuses our frustration and ‘taking the mick’ on the pile of dishes, and not each other. It has now become a cultural norm for harmless banter.
Whilst this is true, there is another reason. Given my role in EEON (Equal Employment Opportunity Network), I know women typically tend to take on more “office housework”—type roles if they are not allocated, such as washing the dishes, taking notes, organising events, training new employees etc. I am a firm believer in treating people equally and this means I don’t buy into this type of stereotype. Office house work steals valuable time away from core responsibilities and can therefore keep a team member from participating fully. If ‘housework’ is left to the women in the office, this puts them at a disadvantage. I am not saying this would happen in our office, but a system makes sure it doesn’t.
In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, people expect help from women but not from men, so when women do favours at work, they earn no points for doing so—but when they say no, they are often penalised. Men, on the other hand, gain points for saying yes and face minimal consequences for saying no.
Whilst the roster is a simple thing, it sends a message of equality of expectation.
Another area I watch with interest and caution is our meetings. Research strongly suggests that compared to women, men tend to talk more and make more suggestions in meetings, whilst women are interrupted more, given less credit for their ideas, and have less overall influence.
We all know it’s important to make sure everyone speaks up and is heard. However, research has found that men and women tend to talk over women more. If this happens to you or you see this happen to someone else, call it out.
I was recently in a meeting when a male peer blatantly talked over me. After the meeting I took him aside and pointed out what he had done, – he was mortified, and apologised as it was not his intention, he explained he just got excited and wanted to say something. However, if it was another man talking I wondered if his behaviour would have been the same? Now he has been made aware of this, I will watch with interest if he is sorry enough to change his behaviour or if he carries on as before.
It’s important that we watch the subtle and overt acts of bias that exist to undermine women’s confidence and credibility in the workplace. Next time you are in a meeting watch to see who gets the most air play, if women aren’t speaking up, invite them to contribute. If you find women get talked over or their ideas are ignored until a man states them – speak up. Things don’t change unless we make them change.
Anyway time to go and wash the flippin dishes!!!
Written by June Parker. June is a Director of Selection Partners, she is a career and executive coach, passionate about diversity and inclusion.