Escaping the Office Housework with Being a "Prima Donna"

U.C. Hastings professor Joan Williams on how office housework contributes to the factors that hold women back at work.

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When Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant explored the issue of “office housework” in their New York Times op-ed, “Madame C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee,” U.C. Hastings professor Joan Williams replied in The Huffington Post with her own thoughtful contributions to the conversation about how office housework contributes to the factors that hold women back at work.

In Williams’ view, there are two kinds of office housework: literal housework and work that's important but undervalued. She cites party planning as a great example of literal housework, along with making coffee and cleaning up after people. In terms of undervalued work, she writes, “If you ask a corporate litigator what's the office housework, she'll answer: ‘I do the task list.’"

Williams goes on to write:

Women keep the trains running and manage the paralegals while men go to court and discuss strategy with the client. Women bankers, they tell me, tend to get the small deals (and the small bucks they bring), while men get the big deals, and big bucks. Women architects design elevators and bathroom details; men design the building.

In addressing what to do about this situation at your organization, Williams offers three pieces of advice:
  1. Do literal housework once if asked, but then set up a rotation with your coworkers.
  2. Have a few “smooth comebacks” for rough moments. She includes several examples in the full article.
  3. Instead of waiting to get overwhelmed by undervalued work, proactively seek out one or two tasks you can make work for you, such as heading the women's initiative.

For more information and advice, check out Williams’ full article on The Huffington Post.