April 13, 2024

Editor's Page

The Incredible, Invisible Woman

Vickie Chachere | 12/1/2023

I am sitting in a cavernous room amid more than 125 incredibly accomplished women, brought together by Greenberg Traurig for the day in Miami Beach. The woman to my right was the longtime agent for a Hall of Fame baseball player in an era when it was unheard of for a woman to be such a thing. To my left, another top attorney is texting her teenage daughter at college, who is sick and still needs the comfort of her mother’s attention.

At tables across the room, e-mails are being read, projects are being managed remotely, children are being reminded to do things and elderly parents are being checked on. I am secretly hoping someone has remembered to feed the cat on my fourth day away; the cat is hoping that, too. The clicking of fingernails on smartphone screens amid the chatter is the soundtrack of all things at once.

Assembled for Greenberg Traurig’s Women’s Business Forum, a project launched in 2007 (male firm leaders also attend, reflecting a culture of committment to equity and diversity), these women are at the top of their game: Attorneys for global clients; CEOs and chief technology officers; and women who run universities and professional sports teams. Watch where you step — the shards of shattered glass ceilings are everywhere.

This day, though, has a curveball on the agenda. We’re not here to ponder, “How does she do it all?” The timelier question is, “Why does she do it all?”

Today is a day of reckoning for the “invisible” work that women do.

What’s become clear since the pandemic exposed the fault lines in work-life boundaries is the extra roles women take on at the office frequently do not count toward pay raises or promotions. And despite some progress, women still shoulder the majority of demands in raising children, housework and assisting aging parents. Stress and burnout are pervasive among working women; two-thirds responding to a Deloitte survey say the pressure to be “always on” errodes their wellbeing and mental health.

Research from Harvard Business Review found women get 44% more requests than men to volunteer for “nonpromotable” tasks at work. When those requests are made, the research says, men say yes 51% of the time and women say yes 76% of the time.

What does that invisible work look like? It can range from company imperatives, such as enacting equity and inclusion initiatives, mentoring new employees and executing on those “soft skill” projects that earn goodwill for a company in the community. Women also are primarily tasked with social responsibilities, such as office celebrations. If your workplace feels like “family,” it’s likely because a female co-worker made that happen.

For a generation of working women, being the one to raise her hand to volunteer for extra work was part of showing commitment to the company. But in the post-pandemic work landscape, younger women are questioning the point of doing all the extra-credit work if it’s just a lot of “extra” and no “credit.”

Tackling the topic is Marymount University President Irma Becerra, who broke barriers in electrical engineering in Florida; Marlene Gordon of Miami, who serves as senior vice president, chief legal officer and secretary of Panera Brands and Panera Bread; Siobhan McCleary, managing director and senior member of the Ventures & Acquisitions legal team at Accenture; and Bettina Deynes, global chief human resources officer for Miami-based Carnival Corp.

As our group shares stories of climbing the professional ladder while juggling work expectations and home responsibilities, the universality of our experiences is evident. Perhaps we had to do twice as much to get half as far in those early years, but the alternative would have been to settle for less than we knew we could achieve. Or as Gordon, who says her many roles fed and empowered the others, puts it: “Only dead fish go with the flow.”

We finish our discussion and a group from Girls, Inc., joins the event for an activity on overcoming challenges. In no time at all, these 8 and 9-year-old dynamos take charge of the assignment, a color-by-number puzzle. We don’t know what the picture will be until we finish our individual section and tape them together, but as we share markers and crayons, they ask us as many questions about our lives as we do theirs.

We finish our picture and flip it over. It’s Rosie the Riveter in the iconic “We Can Do It” poster that recruited American women into the factories during World War II, unleashing the ambitions and economic independence of generations to come. The day begs the question: What would have happened had Rosie’s work gone unnoticed and 6 million American women not been inspired to action in the factories, with millions more volunteering in the American Red Cross and the military?

Perhaps the issue today isn’t that women are doing invisible work, the problem is the work is invisible. We can change that.

The day comes full circle and my phone pings from an earlier text. I didn’t need to worry about the cat; she has no problem speaking up for herself.

Find me on Instagram, @VickieCFLTrend, and LinkedIn.

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