Sorcha John
Mar 8, 2019

Time for men to pick up 'office housework' too

Iris launches 'The Conscious Calendar' for International Women's Day to help create more gender balance in helping with even the most subtle everyday tasks.

Time for men to pick up 'office housework' too

When it comes to gender parity, women want more than just equal pay—they want equality in every way.

We asked a panel of 100 of Singapore’s most successful women, across a diverse spectrum of industries, what this year’s International Women’s Day theme of ‘Better for Balance’ meant to them. And the results were enlightening.

There were no calls to celebrate the bandwagon of branded virtue signalling, nor was there a lot of discussion of the challenges in pay, position, and family life. So perhaps in that sense we’ve seen progress. However it was the subtle everyday tasks—the invisible assumptions, and the implicit interactions that surfaced the greatest frustration, and the greatest desire for change. 

The dialogue of feminism has often focused on the explicit and the obvious structures of sexism, rather than the mindsets and behaviours at the heart of equality in the workplace.

The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fast Company, and The Huffington Post label this subtle workplace phenomenon as 'Office Housework', admin tasks that default to women, ultimately holding them back from advancing their careers.

Sheryl Sandberg, in her New York Times article ‘Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee’, put it bluntly, “Women help more but benefit less from it. In keeping with deeply held gender stereotypes, people 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. She’s communal, right? She wants to be a team player.”

And it can have a more serious effect. Multiple studies show that work burnout is proven to be significantly higher in women than in men - in large part because “they fail to secure their own oxygen masks before assisting others.”

So our call for change in this year of balance is for greater awareness of the unconscious—a healthy dose of enlightenment of the benevolent sexism that everyone, whatever their gender, plays a role in overcoming.

And what better place to start than our own front garden.

We polled our 100 IWD participants to find out if they’d experienced ‘Office Housework’ and the answer was a resounding yes, with examples we all can relate to:

  • Being the one who always calls the cab for the team
  • Buying and cutting a birthday cake for a colleague
  • Being on extra committees or decorating the office

Even down to the tiny act of dialing into the room concall whilst everyone else stares into spider phone abyss. So small—but frequently raised by our panel.

To surface these unconscious biases we brought to life these very banal scenarios in all their symbolic glory.

With that, we launch 'The Conscious Calendar'. The world's first March-to-March calendar, featuring 13 of our brilliant male colleagues embracing ‘Office Housework’ and doing it in style.

Over the next 13 months (March 2019 - March 2020) our male 'models of support' will feature as The Tissue Treasurer, The Concall Whisperer, The Cake Slinger, The Dongle Wrangler, The Tree Hugger, The H20 Hustler, etc.

Vanessa Tan, senior creative of The Conscious Calendar campaign, believes that while International Women’s Day shines the spotlight on big, overarching issues like the gender pay gap and equal paid parental leave, through our Conscious Calendar, we wanted to make people aware of the many ways day-to-day corporate life can be tilted against women, and the small, concrete actions our male colleagues can take to correct this imbalance. This is something we’re already seeing at Iris Singapore over the course of working on this project.

Indeed, asking people to change their decades-old, culturally ingrained, and socially enforced stereotypes is no small task. Feminist activist, hollywood actress and one of my personal favourites Jameela Jamil recently grammed this quote, "If you don’t heal what hurt you, you’ll bleed on people who didn’t cut you." It’s direct, but articulates the point well.

The cultural effect of our collective behaviours is huge, and there is a very real opportunity to transform culture through the small and implicit everyday interactions we have. On the flip, there’s a very real opportunity that we’ll continue to perpetuate the expectations of stereotypes in increasingly damaging ways—both men and women.

The Conscious Calendar is a small effort on our parts to remind the industry that change only comes when we’re awake to the guises of sexism and deliberate in our individual efforts to make full equality our reality.

#BetterforBalance #TheConsciousCalendar #BenevolentSexism

Sorcha John is managing director of Iris Singapore

Campaign's Women Leading Change

We'll be discussing gender equality and attitudes towards women in media and marketing at our annual Women Leading Change conference in Singapore on 4 June, 2019.

Register your interest and find out more about entering our Women Leading Change Awards (early bird entry deadline: 8 March; hard entry deadline: 8 April) at

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