The overtasking dilemma

Should the unpaid work women do to promote gender diversity, often on top of primary caring responsibilities, be recognised more?

team of women working


I was at an event the other day and someone raised the issue of parents and carers being particularly time poor so any employee network events, including those offering advice and support, needed to be resourced properly so not too much of a burden fell on particular individuals, as well as carefully scheduled so parents and carers could take part. This is very true. All the cajoling to ‘network’ can just seem like one more task on an already endless to-do list.

There needs to be a certain creativity involved with these things, but it is also the case that it is often those very people who are called upon to do more in their spare time to lead initiatives, to showcase their real life stories, to be role models and mentors, to do outreach, to show it can be done and, given the gender pay gap and the lack of equality in the home, it is women who tend to be particularly affected.

We place a big emphasis these days on role models and they are vital. If you don’t see someone you relate to doing something it is less likely you are going to think you can do it too.

I was at another event recently, a roundtable on women in technology, and this issue of having to represent was brought up again. Women, particularly in sectors where they are underrepresented [especially in the upper echelons], were often being overtasked and HR managers needed to be aware of this, said a speaker. And even more so if they were also from other minority groups.

They were being asked to be on many interview panels – sometimes not in their teams because of the lack of women generally, for instance, and yet they were also, if they were parents, still often the main carer in their family. Due to their desire to ‘give back’ and make a difference for the next generations, they were in danger of being pulled in all directions, ironically leaving them with little energy to devote to their own career progression

The same thing seems to be happening with boards. It is often the same women who are on numerous boards, stretched thin because of the lack of others with the ‘right’ experience. Perhaps this is just a temporary thing as more women climb the career ladder, but it is worth being aware of.

It is also worth considering whether this unpaid extra work promoting diversity should be recognised in some way. It has been stated by many businesses that diversity is now a core business issue, even a business critical issue, because of skills shortages and the fact that reflecting your customer base makes good business sense. If that is the case, then doing work to promote diversity should be recognised at some level – not necessarily financially, but at the very least as some form of expertise.

Women spend so much of their lives doing unpaid extra work that is not valued that it has become second nature. Yet this work is vital to keep everything running smoothly. It would be ironic if, in trying to move towards greater equality, we made women’s unpaid workload greater.

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