Nobody Cares You Brought Cupcakes to Work

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Photo: Henglein and Steets/Corbis

You can appoint yourself chief cupcake officer at work, but according to a slew of studies and management experts, it won’t get you a promotion. The latest installment of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s New York Times series with Adam Grant is about office housework: the team-building, morale-boosting work that’s not part of your job description but is good for the company, ranging from mentoring junior employees to planning birthday celebrations. Women do most of this stuff. Sandberg and Grant write:

When men do help, they are more likely to do so in public, while women help more behind the scenes. Studies demonstrate that men are more likely to contribute with visible behaviors — like showing up at optional meetings — while women engage more privately in time-consuming activities like assisting others and mentoring colleagues. As the Simmons College management professor Joyce K. Fletcher noted, women’s communal contributions tend simply to “disappear.”

Like regular housework, the conventional wisdom is that if women are doing more of it than men, without pay or recognition, they should simply go on strike. Lower your standards for cleanliness, spare yourself the cupcake calories! But Sandberg points to another study that suggests women must do so-called office housework just to be as well-regarded as their male counterparts.

In a study led by the New York University psychologist Madeline Heilman, participants evaluated the performance of a male or female employee who did or did not stay late to help colleagues prepare for an important meeting. For staying late and helping, a man was rated 14 percent more favorably than a woman. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. Over and over, after giving identical help, a man was significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses. A woman had to help just to get the same rating as a man who didn’t help.

Sandberg’s solution is a kind of office chore wheel. Women who feel the strain of office housework should find ways to institutionalize it and make it feel feel official, like work-work: Start a group mentorship program, create a Google Doc of questions commonly asked by trainees, make a rotating calendar for cupcake duty. Men just have to start signing up.