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Office ‘glamour’ and office ‘housework’

Organisations can address gender diversity issues by allocating office ‘glamour’ and office ‘housework’ more evenly to men and women, a seminar is told at Cambridge Judge Business School in honour of the late Professor Sucheta Nadkarni.

View through a window into an office, where entertained office workers are sticking colourful adhesive notes on the glass.
Isabella Grabner.
Dr Isabella Grabner

Organisations can address gender inequality through design choices that allocate prestigious “office glamour” assignments and less rewarding “office housework” more evenly between women and men, Dr Isabella Grabner of Vienna University of Economics and Business told a seminar at Cambridge Judge Business School.

The 14 October online seminar – entitled “Don’t be left holding the mop: gender differences in participation in, and reward for, office glamour work versus office housework” – marked the second Professor Sucheta Nadkarni Research Seminar, honouring the late Cambridge Judge Professor Sucheta Nadkarni and her research in workplace gender diversity. The seminar was organised by the Cambridge Judge Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre and hosted by Dr Jenny Chu, Academic Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre and Associate Professor in Accounting and Tracey Horn, Executive Director of the Wo+Men’s Leadership Centre.

Dr Grabner, Professor of Strategy and Managerial Accounting, presented new research that examined the cause of persistent gender inequality at organisations. Her study, based on data collected from a financial services institution in the US, examined obstacles that negatively influence female career progression from the moment they enter the workforce.

In particular, the study focused on participation and rewards for two types of duties outside a person’s core job description: office “glamour work” (more prestigious, challenging work that allows employee to shine) and “office housework” (more peripheral and less recognised projects with fewer development opportunities).

Sucheta Nadkarni.
Professor Sucheta Nadkarni (1967-2019)

Tasks outside a person’s core responsibilities need to be evaluated subjectively, but subjectivity often comes with bias relating to negative stereotyping. When a person performs a task not considered part of one’s standard expectation, the effort is more likely to get noticed and rewarded – and men don’t usually face the expectation of housework while women do, said Dr Grabner.

The study found that women are around 30% less likely to participate in office glamour work than men, and that women are at the same time around 30% more likely to participate in office housework than men. This difference matters, because the study found that a high rating on office glamour work rewards both men and women while a positive housework rating is positive and significant for men but insignificant for women.

Dr Grabner suggests this issue can be addressed from “day one” by making a list of both men and women who are suitable for the glamour work and ensure that office housework is assigned randomly rather than disproportionately to women.

“Women face gender-stereotyped expectations about what they are supposed to do, or not to do, in professional settings and those expectations distort the performance evaluation process,” Dr Grabner says. “But there are many opportunities for organisations to provide for the advancement of women.”