In the 2017 viral comic, “The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic,” French illustrator Emma wrote, “When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores. The problem is that planning and organizing things is already a full-time job. When we ask women to take on this task of organization and at the same time to execute a large portion, in the end it represents 75% of the work.”
Inspired by this relatable comic, Boston Consulting Group (BCG) recently looked into this problem within their own company by surveying 6,500 employees in 14 countries across industries. They found that women often handle time sensitive, daily tasks — like leaving work on time to make dinner for the family and also cleaning up afterward. “This is the daily grind, and women tend to shoulder the primary responsibility for it,” they wrote.
Men, on the other hand, take on the less frequent tasks, which are not as time sensitive and are more easily outsourced, such as finances and yard work. “These men get more time to focus on their careers — to stay late at the office, meet colleagues for drinks or dinner after work, take on stretch assignments, or travel for business — and more time to decompress from the workday.”
BCG gave recommendations on how individuals and companies can fix this problem. “If companies are serious about getting more women into the ranks of leadership,” they said, “they need to address the burden of domestic responsibility and its contribution to the mental load that women carry.”
So, what can companies do?
1. Introduce More Flexible Work Arrangements
This can include allowing remote work or a shift in working hours. Companies can also be more flexible about needs that will inevitably come up, like employees having to leave work early for their child’s concert or their doctor’s appointment.
Thanks to the advent of technology, companies can also use tools like videoconferencing, virtual collaboration devices, telehealth services for parents with sick children, and online networks for employees to share advice about the challenges they face.
2. Place Emphasis on Dual-Career Couples and Promote Role Models
To get rid of the stigma associated with greater participation in domestic and childcare duties, men need to actively take advantage of flexible work programs and share real-life examples and stories about how they balance the mental load at home. Paternity leave is a great example, the BCG authors note.
3. Give More Support to All Working Parents
Companies can boost support by creating a parents’ network for both moms and dads, or offering onsite day care, backup childcare with locations near work, babysitting referral services, eldercare support, financial planners, and wellness providers.
In addition, companies can also go the extra mile to ease the mental load by providing online resources that vet and list popular outsourcing options — housecleaning, laundry, grocery delivery, and personal assistants — and provide discounted corporate rates for those services.
4. Reframe the Public Conversation
Companies can tailor their advertising and consumer messaging to remove problematic, outdated stereotypes. For example, the United Nations launched the Unstereotype Alliance to eradicate all harmful gender-based stereotypes from advertising, such as commercials that show women doing all the housework.
Not only is this helpful for breaking stereotypes, but it’s also good for business. In India, Procter & Gamble launched an ad campaign for its laundry detergent brand Ariel Matic, encouraging dads to help with laundry. The ads were a runaway success, generating a 42% boost in brand awareness and $12.3 million in “earned media coverage” and social media engagement.
Another example: Italian appliance manufacturer Indesit launched a 2017 campaign targeted at encouraging men to help with household chores. In its first three weeks, the campaign brought in more than 30 million views.
Katie Burke and I (Bridget Grimes) both founded our own financial advisory companies, and also co-founded Equita Financial Network together, because we firsthand experienced — and still experience — this mental load. Whether it’s having to go home early from work because your babysitter canceled or having to take an emergency personal call at work, women in finance should not be reprimanded for having to prioritize family.
As the BCG authors note, “If you ask working women with families why they step off the leadership track, it’s often not just because of what happens at the office. Rather, it’s because of the combined effect of their daytime job together with their second job of managing the incessant responsibilities of household and family care: what needs to be done, who needs to be where, how to make it all happen at once.” It’s time for this to change.
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