Ever feel compelled to just lend a hand around the office, whether it’s planning someone’s birthday or helping to train interns? Are you always the one getting people coffee in meetings, even if there are several men in the room who are more than capable of doing it themselves? Then perhaps you too are succumbing to the gender stereotypes still plaguing the workforce today. Despite the progress women are making in this world, these preconceived notions continue to keep them in check.
The role of woman as helper in the office is sadly being perpetuated by the same gender stereotypes that have plagued women since they joined the workforce. According to a New York Times article on the subject, “We expect men to be ambitious and results-oriented, and women to be nurturing and communal. When a man offers to help, we shower him with praise and rewards. But when a woman helps, we feel less indebted.” If she’s a woman, it’s part of her nature to want to help, right?
While women may wield a great deal more power in the workplace than they once did, they still find themselves falling into these outdated roles, sometimes without even realizing it. What’s worse is that when they don’t succumb to their “natural position” as helper, they get penalized for it.
According to a study conducted by New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman, a male and female employee’s performance was evaluated based on whether he/she stayed to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. The man was rated 14 percent more favorably than the woman for taking on the helper role. However, that’s not the scary part. When both declined, the woman was rated 12 percent lower than the man. When they repeated the study with several male and female employees, the men were considerably more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects and bonuses. The women, on the other hand, had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help. Simply put, a woman who refuses to give up her time to help is a bad employee, whereas a man is just a man. Horrifying.
Now, while it’s easy to blame the world of men for this pervading stereotype and consequential office dynamic, women need to recognize what they’re doing to assist its continuance. Women on the whole tend to have the nurturing gene more than men, thus it’s easier for them to fall into the “mommy” role in all areas of their lives. While I am not a mother yet, I tend to just take on the role of regular bathroom cleaner, cat groomer and meal cooker, without thinking my boyfriend would happily do some of these tasks. Women today grew up seeing their mothers play the “mommy” part so well, and frankly it’s difficult to give up a position that seems so inherent in us.
However, this mommy impulse ends up putting significantly more emotional stress on women in the workforce and occasionally pushes them past their breaking points. According to an analysis of 183 different studies on the matter, “For every 1,000 people at work, 80 more women than men burn out — in large part because they fail to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others.” And really, does it help anyone if mommy doesn’t make it to the end of the day?
To rectify this tricky situation, we must first start with women’s mindsets. They have to remind themselves every day that their efforts are not only just as important as any man’s — they’re well worth recognition and praise. A major reason behind why it’s simply assumed women will be the helpers around the office is because they just do things behind the scenes and never ask for anything in return. Women need to make themselves a priority in their lives, and a big part of that is standing up and taking credit for the help they’re providing.
The male side of offices can help too by calling attention to when they see a woman’s assistance going unnoticed. They can also encourage women to speak their minds in meetings, not by quieting down themselves, but by throwing focus onto their female counterparts’ achievements and ideas. The only way to keep mommy out of the office is to have everyone pick up the slack a bit more. After all, she’s only got two hands — and a full-time job.