That’s what two Stanford professors proposed in an article published this week in the current issue of Academe. They argue that one way for universities to keep more women in the labs is to find a way to get them out of the kitchen. To which the only possible response is:
“Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Clearly, it’s a workplace policy to consider beyond the confines of the ivory tower. But that’s as good a place as any to start. The authors of the study — Londa Shiebinger, Professory of History of Science and Director of the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, and Shannon Gilmartin, Clayman Institute analyst — looked at the work-life balance of dual-career academic couples at 13 U.S. research universities. What they found is that the scientists spent about 19 hours a week cooking, cleaning and washing clothes. Women, rather than men, did the bulk of the work, a whopping 54 percent to 28 percent.
Here’s what they propose:
Our policy recommendation provides a solution to one key aspect of balancing work and life. We propose that institutions extend their current benefits program to support assistance with household labor. Few universities to date have looked at reforms related to housework. U.S. employers tend to provide specific benefits for health care, day care, and sometimes even housing and college tuition. We recommend that institutions offer instead a “cafeteria” or “flexstyle” benefits plan from which employees could tailor a package to meet their particular needs (retirement benefits should remain as they are now, fixed and not optional).
Employee needs can change over the course of a lifetime. Younger people, for example, may need assistance with household labor when salaries are low. Those who have children may choose to put resources into child care and later into college tuition. Some employees may need help with elder care. A flexible benefits package—providing a specific yearly dollar amount—could be used for any aspect of private life that saves employee time and hence enhances productivity. One appealing aspect of this benefit proposal is its inclusivity—one need not be partnered or have children to gain access to the full range of services under its umbrella.
To our knowledge, U.S. employers generally do not provide a benefit to assist with housework. Some non-U.S. companies, such as Sony Ericsson in Sweden, do. There, the company pays for housecleaning from select service providers. The Swedish government is currently experimenting with tax relief on domestic services, believing that, despite initial costs, Sweden will benefit in the long run by creating new jobs and reducing illegal employment and exploitation in services for cleaning, gardening, and cooking. In the United States, the effort to provide benefits for domestic labor revalues housework that has never been represented in the nation’s gross domestic product. Housework has been invisible labor carried out by women behind closed doors and often in the wee hours of the morning. This work needs to be lifted out of the private sphere of the family and put onto the national grid. The United States needs to capture the talents of its female scientific workforce for science.
It’s a policy that could, and should, be applied to all professions, not just science, Schiebinger said in an interview originally posted on Stanford Reports:
While the study is focused on improving the work-life balance of female scientists working at universities, Schiebinger says housework benefits should become a standard perk for men and women in all professions.
She says employers need to think of housework benefits as “part of the structural cost of doing business,” with the payoff being more productive employees able to spend more time in the lab, for instance, than doing household chores.
“It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources to be training people in science and then having them do laundry,” Schiebinger said in reference to Carol Greider of Johns Hopkins University, who was doing laundry when she got the call in October that she won the Nobel Prize in medicine.