The Sticky Floor Holds Women Back

According to experts, it’s the sticky floor that is really holding women back, According to Londa Schiebinger, Professor at Stanford University, Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research and leading international authority on gender, we need to free women from housework, to allow them to reach their full potential. Here are some of her comments:

A recent study at Stanford University shows that despite women’s considerable gains in recent decades, women scientists do nearly twice as much housework as their male counterparts. Highly trained, highly talented women scientists at top US research universities, like Stanford University, do 54% of the cooking, cleaning and laundry in their households; men scientists do just 28%. … [and] Doing more housework does not mean that top-flight women work any fewer hours professionally than men. Both men and women scientists at research institutions across the country are on the job nearly 60 hours per week. …

Who is doing the housework is not really about women. It’s about keeping the United States competitive as a global leader. Why do we in the United States invest considerable resources to train women scientists (the social investment in one PhD is extraordinary), when these women end up doing housework? Is this the best way to keep us competitive and creative globally? Take a Nobel Prize winner, Carol W. Greider, for example. When the call came from Stockholm early last October morning, she was not working in her lab or sleeping. She was doing laundry. Is this really something the United States can afford?

There are solutions. And they are really very simple: employers need to provide benefits to support housework to all employees, men and women, partnered and single. US employers today offer a number of specific benefits for health care, day care, and sometimes even housing and college tuition as part of compensation packages designed to attract the best employees. We recommend that a benefit for housework be added to that list. It should be considered part of the structural cost of doing business.

At the same time, housework needs to be professionalised in the same way that child care has been taken out of the home and professionalised in day-care centres over the past 30 years. This will create better paid jobs for professional house-cleaners. Professionalising household labour helps to reduce illegal employment. While US employers do not typically offer housework benefits, Swedish companies do. And 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. …

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