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Constantly Being Asked to Do the “Office Housework?” Here’s How to Say No

By | Ruchika Tulshyan |

When I worked in a corporate environment, it took very little time for me to realize I was expected to do a disproportionate amount of “office housework.”

Whether it was ordering lunch, sharing meeting notes, or scheduling, I—often the only woman of color in the room—was like the de facto secretary, as if we were in an episode of Mad Men(I’m not throwing shade on any person who works in these important administrative jobs, by the way. It is vital and valuable work! The problem? It wasn’t my role.)

Office housework is the important but unthanked (and unpromotable) work that every organization needs—like taking meeting notes, scheduling meetings, and ensuring there are snacks in the office. The opposite of it is glamour work—the plum assignments that could propel your career forward. Research has shown that women and people of color are more likely to get assigned the former and less likely to have a chance to take on the latter. (If you’re a woman of color, it’s a double whammy.) And it’s gotten worse: Lean In and McKinsey’s 2021 Women in the Workplace report shows non-promotable work for women—including providing emotional support—has been supercharged during the pandemic.

It’s never up to you to “fix” systemic problems. Racism is not your fault. Sexism is not your fault. The real solution is to change the culture of our organizations. To make them truly inclusive so office housework is shared and compensated equitably among everyone, without question. But that takes time.

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