Want To Be An Office Ally? Load the Damn Dishwasher

I just finished reading Ruchika Tulshyan’s Harvard Business Review’s article “Women of Color Get Asked to Do More ‘Office Housework.’ Here’s How They Can Say No.”

Her article highlights a problem many women of color experience daily in their workspace: the expectation that they, not their white or male coworkers, will do the day-to-day office admin tasks to keep the office humming. Who will order lunch? Who will take notes or schedule the next meeting? If there is a woman of color in the room, bets are, she will be the one tasked with that responsibility, even if its not part of her role. In her article Tulshyan gives readers tips for learning how to refuse these mundane tasks.

Though I loved that this article highlighted a real issue that very few talk about, my first thought was:

“Why do I need to change my behavior?
Why should I use humor to get out of ordering lunch for the 3rd time this week?
How is it my responsibility to have evidence and factoids on the ready when yet another co-worker puts a dirty dish on the counter and looks to me with the “would you mind” face as it is implied that I will load the dishwasher?”

It is not my responsibility to change my co-workers’ bad behavior.

You Can’t Be An Ally, If You Think Something Is Beneath You

So if your reading this and wondering, “Oh crap have I done this?” Here are tips for you!

  1. Load the damn dishwasher. If you think these types of tasks are “beneath you” than you think there is someone beneath you. If you don’t do it, someone will have to.
  2. Don’t ask “how can I help?” Instead ask “what can I do?” Helping assumes that the task is someone else’s and you are offering to pitch in. But “what can I do” assumes joint ownership and you are asking for guidance in determining what other duties are left to complete.
  3. Ask yourself “why?” Why have I not helped with these office tasks, who is doing them, what are my actions and inactions signaling to those around me?
  4. Don’t ask for recognition. This reminds me of the old Chris Rock joke where people look for validation when they say “I take care of my kids”… you’re supposed to. No one is giving me a gold star for picking up the dirty dishes in the conference room, you should not get one either.

While you are running to your next meeting, I am busy loading the dishwasher. I am taking notes while you are asking questions and getting noticed. If you are not willing to share the burden of office housework with me, you are subtly saying that you are not willing to share office power with me.

If you are looking to be an ally, this is what it looks like. It looks like you, doing the “little things” and not looking for someone else to do it for you. It looks like you, sharing the load so that you can share the power.