When I was growing up, I preferred the company of books over learning how to properly spot-treat a blouse. Part of the resistance came from my father’s incessant griping at my mom for not teaching me how to cook, force me to wash dishes, or keep my nails clean at all times. According to him I failed at these things and it would be difficult to find a husband (as if being a first generation Latina in the United States wasn’t hard enough). So as I grew older I became more and more attached to my books and more and more critical of the life my mother chose to live. All I saw was invisible work. She worked all day on everything and everyone but herself, and my dad still felt like he could make all the larger decisions on how or when she spent money.
My mother not only encouraged my early resistance to domestic life, she got into plenty of fights with my father over it. If my father came home and there were dishes in the sink, he’d want to wake me up from my bed to wash them, even on a school night. Instead of waking me, my mom would fight with my father and just wash them herself.
My resistance to this invisible work my mom did only grew as I got older. I wanted to be one of those women who ‘brought home the bacon’. I wanted to be respected in society and needed by society, not just by a husband who needed his food warmed up every night. It just seemed so depressing to me...not getting a thank you; she did all this work and still couldn’t buy a single thing without consulting my father, in my eyes she never worked on the things SHE really wanted to do, and although she balanced our checkbooks, she never got the credit for our wealth, or got to use our money the way SHE wanted to .
Many women who go to college and enter the workforce are surprised to find, they too are expected to do invisible work. Although more and more females are entering the workforce every year, not enough of them are rising to leadership positions or positions of key decision making.
“There is a disconnect between the leadership skills women are seen to have and the credit they get for them, says Joyce Fletcher a notable gender researchist. She goes on to say “It also may be that a woman’s leadership accomplishments are not as generally recognized , because they take place under the radar, in the quiet accomplishment of an organization’s goals.”
Long story short, women do the kind of supporting work that allows organizations to grow and prosper and yet are still not rising to leadership positions or getting the credit for the ultimate success of the company. Many women find themselves working for organizations for years, making great strides, and yet see their promotion taken by an outside newbie or the ultimate success of a project awarded to male colleagues. For some reason, despite all the work we are doing we are still not rising to enough leadership positions; women are still being left out of the key decision makers’ meetings. I can personally relate to this.
Fletcher took her investigation further. In her study of women engineers--the ones who try to anticipate problems before they happen, seek to integrate the work of others, and try to build a team--have their work disappear. While these actions could be seen as leading and signaling innovation, instead they may be discounted as women “just being nice” or wanting to be liked*
We think the struggle is just getting into the workforce, but the problems only start there.
Stories like these happen everyday in the work force. Women are naturally intuitive and are an indispensable tool for organizations who need to fix issues or prevent them. This type of work, especially when women do it, gets lost in the sauce, so to speak, because our society is just used to women “helping out”. I have been asked for help on too many projects that had a male done the same work, he would’ve expected either extra compensation or some kind of promotion; on the other hand for women, the work keeps being piled on, and we stay in the same place.
So what can we do? From experience I have seen that women can easily lose years eagerly helping a company reach goals and yet see nothing come from all the extra effort. The reality of it is, not only must we work harder until society catches up, we should be mindful of actively keeping a record of that work and its impact on the organization we work for. To think we’re on the same playing field just because we are in the workforce now more than ever, is naive.
Emailing is one way. Every single thing you do, even if it seems insignificant, send an email to a key player in the company documenting what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. This can help build relationships with key players, preventing your work to be lost within the work of others. Secondly, speak up during meetings. Even if you have the slightest input, make sure your voice is heard in any meeting or conference. Stay away from work that is only supplementary to someone else’s work. What does that mean? Stay away from helping senior members do their jobs; most of the time that doesn’t get you a promotion, but if you make a mistake, you’re going to have to take the fall for it.
Any work that you do, make sure you do it in a way that can only be reproduced by you, and make sure you’re vocal about that. Many times, I did a job and I knew I was the only one who could do it the way I did it, but the company didn’t know that until I was vocal about it. Forget the little details of the work you do and focus on the impact it has on the company as a whole. Be vocal about this during meetings and document it through emails. Most of all, be confident in the work you do, and if you feel like you are being held back, don’t be afraid to ask for that promotion. If special assistance is asked of you, don’t be afraid to ask if you’ll be promoted or if its preparation for a promotion, or simply act like you expect to be paid for it from jump. Men do not tip-toe around that as much as women do. It’s like we are uncomfortable to talk about money or ask for things men expect. Fuck that. We are still where we have to ask, and we must accept that first, for things to change. So drop the pride, and ask.
The power is and will always lie in our hands. Whether you’re in the kitchen or in the boardroom, we must make the personal changes for the progress of our sex. See you at the top.
Her Place at the Table by Deborah M Kolb, Carol Frolinger, Judith Williams