Are Your Female Employees Still Making the Coffee?

BY Kathy Crosett
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When’s the last time you heard someone in your company beg to do kitchen duty? Exactly. Kitchen duty is one of those office housework assignments that everyone would like to avoid.

Joan C. Williams and Multhaup coin the phrase glamour work as they discuss the kind of work rising stars carry out for an organization. Stars attend the right conferences, and they’re front and center at the big meetings with important clients. This type of visibility practically ensures they’ll be next in line for a promotion. Statistically speaking, white males are over-​represented in this category.

On the other hand, in too many organizations, housework-​like tasks and less desirable assignments are being carried out by women and minorities. Despite having equal work and academic credentials, minority women are more likely than white men to be asked to take meeting notes. Senior leaders at big businesses always agree to an equitable work environment, but they overlook the fact that they’ve never asked their super qualified minority males to take responsibility for a big account.

Women and minorities have worked hard to get to the positions they’re in. But they won’t rise to the top without help from leadership. Specifically, these employees must be assigned more ‘glamour’ roles.

Williams and Multhaup suggest that leaders engage in organizational task analysis and make assignments to start fixing the problem. Make a list of the kinds of housekeeping tasks that need doing. Think about kitchen duty, party planning, and lunch ordering. If the same people keep doing these tasks, everyone else may assume these employees aspire to nothing more. Put all employee names, including yours, on the list, and show leadership by doing this housekeeping work with a smile on your face when it’s your turn.

More importantly, list every person who is qualified when the next plum assignment or conference comes along. Communicate with managers. Let them know you expect to see more diversity in who they send to conferences and who they send to key client meetings.

To make these changes stick, set up an internal review system. Check in regularly with your managers to be sure employees are fulfilling the requirements to take care of housekeeping tasks. Assure everyone that no single person is so important that he or she gets to skip them. Likewise, hold managers accountable for selecting women and minority employees for key and highly visible assignments.

Real change has to start with you.