Recently, Oxfam released a study, aptly titled, “Time to Care: Unpaid and underpaid care work and the global inequality crisis,” on how female labor impacts the global economy.
The study shows that while the wealth gap continues to widen, women — particularly those from low-income or marginalized communities — take on a great deal of unpaid labor, and it comes at a cost. Unpaid labor is work like eldercare, childcare, and housework, which is frequently assigned to women, leaving them with little to no financial gain. It is estimated that women spend about 4.5 hours a day on unpaid labor, about twice as much as their male counterparts. Globally, this adds up to about 12.5 billion hours of unpaid labor each day.
Unpaid labor is a problem in the workplace, too. It’s easy for managers and coworkers to assign administrative office tasks — from birthday party planning to dishwashing to printing — to women, even if it’s unintentional. This happens to other minority groups as well, writes Alan Henry in the New York Times. Henry points to a 2018 Harvard Business Review article which pointed out that women of color in the workplace are asked to do “office housework” more often than white employees. And this “housework” problem makes the wealth gap worse — it limits opportunities for workers to showcase their talent in ways that lead to raises, promotions and other lifelong career benefits.
The study suggests that, culturally, we should recognize these labor acts as the work they are. If we create more jobs in care sectors, women can be fairly compensated for this kind of work. In doing so, it can help close the wealth gap across gender, racial, and economic groups. According to the Center for American Progress, to address the wealth gap we will need lasting, policy-driven changes, like affordable early childhood education and comprehensive childcare. While these solutions may require years of reform before the needle starts moving, we can start by supporting candidates with policy plans to address the wealth gap in sustainable, long-lasting ways.
In the meantime, we should rethink how we distribute this type of labor across genders and races. Especially if you’re in a leadership role, it’s worth taking a look at how the office “housework” is divvied up in your own workplace. Ultimately, though, the solution to this inequality is as dynamic, large-scale, and complex as the problem itself.
Simplicity Bryan is deeply entrenched in the worlds of self-help, gratitude, personal finance, and organization. She’s happiest paddleboarding with her pup and storytelling with a purpose. You can follow her here.
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