I was recently reflecting on Ruchika Tulshyan’s fantastic Harvard Business Review’s piece “Women of Color Get Asked to Do More ‘Office Housework.’ Here’s How They Can Say No.”
Her article highlights a problem many women of color experience daily in their workspace: the expectation that they, not their male or white female coworkers, will do the day-to-day office admin tasks to keep the office humming.
Who will order lunch? Who will take notes or schedule the next meeting?
If there is a woman of color in the room, bets are, she will be the one tasked with that responsibility, even if its not part of her role. In her article, Tulshyan gives readers tips for learning how to refuse these mundane tasks. Tips for how women of color can navigate workplaces while making it clear that their role is not to take the meeting minutes and get coffee.
Though there is a lot to love about this article, it first asks brown and black women to change their behavior. It is not the responsibility of women of color to change the behavior of their co-workers. It is the responsibility of white employees to see how their actions (or lack thereof) are creating impact.
So if your reading this and wondering, “Oh crap have I done this? Have I been a bad office ally” The answer is a resounding “I bet money you have.” Hopefully, your next question is, “then how do I show up for women of color at work, and ensure that they are not left with the burden of office housework?”
Well here are some tips for you!
1. Load the damn dishwasher. Do not wait for women, and women in color particularly to do tasks you find “beneath you” If you are waiting for the brown or black woman to do it, you are quietly signaling to her- this work is a better fit for you than you, and that she and her abilities are really what is beneath you.
2. Don’t ask “how can I help?” Instead, ask “what can I do?” Helping assumes that the task is already someone else’s to do and you are offering to pitch in. But “what can I do” assumes joint ownership and you are asking for guidance in determining what other duties are left to complete.
3. Ask yourself “why?” Why have I not helped with these office tasks, who is doing them, what are my actions and inactions signaling to those around me?
4. Don’t ask for recognition. This reminds me of the old Chris Rock joke where people look for validation when they say “I take care of my kids”… you’re supposed to. No one is giving me a gold star for picking up the dirty dishes in the conference room, you should not get one either.
When co-workers leave office tasks to brown and black women, what they are really doing is preventing them from growing in the organization. While you are running to your next meeting, she is having to load the dishwasher. While she is taking notes, you are asking questions and getting noticed. If you are not willing to share the burden of office housework with the women of color you share space with, you are subtly saying that you are not willing to share office power with them.
If you are looking to be an ally, this is what it looks like. It looks like you, doing the “little things” and not looking for someone else to do it for you. It looks like you, sharing the load so that you can share the power.
Katie Augsburger is a Founding Partner and Employee Experience Strategist for Future Work Design. She has been creating and implementing successful human resources programs for over 15 years. Her work has helped organizations win Oregon’s Best Company To Work, Fortune Magazine’s Most Flexible Workplace, and Fortune Magazine’s Top Consulting Firms among others. Katie has an M.Ed in Curriculum and Instruction as well as a B.S in Sociology. She is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) and Certified Compensation Professional (CCP).