Women’s careers are suffering because of the unpaid ‘second shifts’ they work that men don’t.

women unpaid work

Women’s careers are suffering because of the unpaid ‘second shifts’ they work that men don’t

“Women will be forced to quit their jobs to look after ill or ageing relatives if the supply of EU care workers is severed after Brexit, the Department of Health has warned.” The Guardian, August 2018.

Yes, you read that right. Not people, not men - women will be the ones putting their careers on hold to look after their ageing parents. You might be wondering why the Guardian have jumped to the conclusion that women will be the ones doing the caring, is it just a sexist assumption that women should take on the responsibility of caring for others? No, the assumption is based on facts.

Women do 2.6 times the amount of unpaid care and household work than men do. This means cleaning, cooking, child care and doing all the other bits and bobs around the house falls disproportionately to women. The World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report found that while men do around 1.5 hours a day of unpaid work, women are clocking up almost 5 hours.

And caring for your elderly parents is likely going to fall to you if you’re a woman, of the 5.78 million unpaid carers in England and Wales, 58% are women.

Not only is this imbalance in the division of care and household work unfair, it’s holding women back in their careers. If the ‘motherhood penalty’ wasn’t impacting us women enough already, we are also faced with the additional burden of caring for our families and keeping our houses running.

Being the one responsible for this unpaid work means women are sacrificing their careers. While men are staying late at the office to impress their boss, women are rushing out on time to pick up the kids, do the weekly shop or take their elderly relative to a doctors appointment.

While women are cooking dinner and cleaning the bathroom, men are networking to boost their careers, working on a side-hustle or even just relaxing, something women have less time to do.

"When you expect women to do all that unpaid work, they don't have the energy or the bandwidth to do that deep, concentrated work in the way that men do," says Brigid Schulte, director of the Better Life Lab at New America.

Women are too busy working their “second shift” of housework and care duties to be able to push their career forward. While men have extra time to prepare for promotions and professional opportunities women are busy working for free.

So what are we supposed to do about it?

Start talking about it now.

Talk to the men in your life and let them know the facts, and that you want to do something about it. Put some rules in place that protect your time, whether that is a chore schedule or taking a stand and not giving in and doing the domestic work when it hasn’t been done.

If you’re not at the stage in your life where children and elderly relatives are part of your responsibilities then you have a leg-up already. Make the most of that, and make it clear that your time focusing on your career is just as important as any man’s. Try and stop yourself from being the first one to do the cleaning or cooking, encourage men to step up to the plate and take on their fair share.

It’s not going to be easy to change what culture and society has instilled in us. Across the world women are disproportionately doing unpaid work, and have done for centuries, but if we all attempt to even the playing field by giving the men in our lives a little nudge in the right direction then one day we might get closer to equality.