Sharing the Load

Negotiate for a better workload — at home  

Many women leave work to face a second shift at home with a partner pulling far less than half the load. The Women in the Workplace Study by McKinsey & Company and shows working women are far more likely than men to take up most or all of household chores. One way to change that is to tap into a skill most often associated with the workplace and apply it at home — effective negotiation.    

Help at home enables career growth 

Foodservice Director for PepsiCo and 2019 WFF Change Maker, Jen Caro, is in the trenches with a demanding job, busy husband and two boys under the age of five. A recent promotion means even more responsibility and a pending relocation for her young family. The secret to her success and sanity is keeping the lines of communication open with her husband and asking for the support she needs.  

“My husband and I didn’t talk about the division of household chores before we got married but I advise others to,” she explains. “Today, we talk constantly about what needs to get done at home. We’re on this ever-changing 70-30 rotation of who can do what when. It’s about constant alignment.” 

Ask for what you need 

Caro’s instinct to lay her cards on the table, negotiate with her spouse and ask for help are right on target. Without a proactive approach, women tend to carry far more than their share.  

According to McKinsey, women leaders with partners are five times more likely than men in the same situation to do all or most of the household work. Senior women are also twice as likely as men at their level to have a partner who works full-time, making it far less likely there is someone at home focused primarily on the household and kids.  

Even when men share the work at home, research shows women tend to take on ‘routine’ tasks such as picking children up from daycare or school while men pitch in on tasks that can more easily fit around other responsibilities, such as helping out with homework.  

Lesbian couples are the exception and tend to share household tasks more equally and negotiate with their partner so each can choose responsibilities they prefer.    

Finding help at work 

As employers strive to increase the representation of women throughout the pipeline, helping employees balance work and home is critical. Women and single parents especially need flexible and supportive work environments, but all team members benefit from support that enables them to pursue a rewarding career and manage personal demands. 

Without that, women especially may shy away from opportunities for advancement. McKinsey finds that, among senior-level employees who don’t want to be top executives, 42% of women say it would require too much of their families, compared to 35% of men. 

Caro worried early in her career about managing an accelerating career and young family. Today, she feels being a mom has made her a better leader. “I’ve developed more empathy for my team and for customers, as well as more confidence, poise and balance. I focus on the big things because I have a limited number of hours to get it all done.” She coaches other women that not only can they advance at work, but that, “female leaders who are moms just rock.”  

Companies can help pave the way for women to rise at work with telecommuting or reduced schedules, role modeling by senior leaders (women and men) who actually use benefits such as paternity leave, and programs that smooth transition from extended leave back to work.  

The third shift 

New data also shows women tend to carry more of the mental or emotional labor at home, sometimes dubbed a “third shift.” The 2017 Modern Family Index finds women do the bulk of planning, scheduling and problem solving that keep a family running. Married women who are the primary earners for their families are three times as likely to be the keeper of children’s schedules as breadwinning fathers. 

“We buy a huge wall calendar for the year and over the holiday break we fill in the birthdays we want to go to, family vacations we know of and marathons to attend,” Caro, an avid runner, explains. “That serves as our preliminarily plan for the year. We check in monthly and even weekly to make sure we’re both in the loop. The key is constant communication.” 

Negotiation at home: 

  • Keep the conversation going to create equitable workloads. 

  • Individualize the approach so tasks can be completed with personal preferences.   

  • Look inside to determine the type of support you really need and accept it.  

  • Build a village of supporters who can help on a daily basis or in a pinch.  

  • Let go of 50-50 and aim for a give-and-take that is roughly equal over time. 

Sign Up For Newsletter

Stay connected and learn about the latest news and events in our community!