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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

The Constant Shift: Women and Unacknowledged Work
April 3, 2013 - 8:52pm

As I was cleaning out the refrigerator the other day, I was reminded of Arlie Hochschild’s The Second Shift, which describes the extra burden of work that falls to women once they are at home. Then, it occurred to me that, because I was cleaning out the office refrigerator (who leaves vanilla frosting and a stick of margarine in a communal refrigerator anyway?), this work was a part of my first shift, even though it appears nowhere in my job description. This made me wonder whether women face not only extra work at home but also hidden tasks throughout their workday.

I was intrigued by the study from Perspectives in History that reported a marriage advantage for men, but not women, in academia with a faster path towards tenure and promotion. Women faculty spent more time attending to both child-care and instructional activities. Some commenting on the study have offered that women are sometimes less resistant to saying no to service work, including committee assignments. I was intrigued: what type of extra work do women do at the office?

I decided to conduct a completely anecdotal, non-scientific study of colleagues and friends. I have found many women who list among their normal work tasks cleaning up the office, building furniture, and planning baby showers and other parties. Some women were exasperated from “unofficially” advising students who confided personal information to them. One woman watched a male colleague say no to a student’s request for spontaneous advising but felt that if she were to say no, she would be perceived as rude or unhelpful, while her colleague was simply perceived as busy.  Was it the woman’s imagination or guilt, or is there a double standard of perception when it comes to the time women versus men devote in the workplace?

Over the weekend, I read the cover article in the New York Times Magazine about Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist, academic, and apparently, “the world’s most helpful guy,” who studies theories on altruism. I couldn’t help but wonder how this story would have been different if a woman was the subject of the profile. Are women expected to be helpful in the workplace, while men are praised for being altruistic? Do you feel you take on additional, unacknowledged “work” at the office?


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