If you’re a female entrepreneur you almost certainly face all the same issues as any other entrepreneur, like hiring good staff, reaching customers, and innovating your products. But if you’re in a heterosexual relationship and statistics are anything to go by, you likely face an additional challenge that can impact how well you perform at work: getting your partner to do their fair share of the housework at home.
Social scientists and pollsters consistently find a hefty gap between how much time women spend on housework, childcare, and related tasks and how much time their male partners do (the gap is smaller for homosexual couples). And just about any professional woman can tell that extra work translates to a reduced ability to focus on your career (and probably not a small amount of bitterness).
So what can you do to ensure a fairer partnership? Recently Atlantic writer Joe Pinsker hit on an ingenious way to answer this question. Why not ask sociologists who study gender what they do in their own homes to make sure the burden is shared equally?
The result of his inquiries is a fascinating article digging into both why couples end up dividing the workload the way they do (it’s not just men being lazy jerks, I am happy to report) and how those deeply steeped in the research on the issue respond. It’s worth a read in full, but for the time-pressed here are the three top tips Pinsker uncovers:
1. Fight back against the idea that mom is better.
There are a lot of common stereotypes out there about moms being somehow naturally better at things than dads, but if you look at the research these beliefs are often simply not true. Women aren’t better at multitasking, for example. They just are forced to do more of it. Other studies show that if dads spend as much time with their babies as moms do, then they’re just as good at interpreting and responding to their cries. It’s not biology. It’s practice.
The researchers Pinsker speaks to are aware of the trap of thinking men are somehow unsuited to particular tasks and actively fight against it. William Scarborough, a sociologist at the University of North Texas, noted his wife initially had an easier time bathing their toddler than he did. “Instead of relying on her to do it, I continued bathing him, even if it took twice as long. Eventually, I got the hang of it and was able to bathe him without any drama,” he told Pinsker.
2. Express gratitude
Expressing gratitude is great for your personal happiness, great for work performance, and, it turns out, also great for marital satisfaction. “Multiple experts told me this was helpful, and research indicates that people feel less bitterness about housework when their contributions are recognized,” Pinkser writers. For whatever it’s worth, my personal experience also indicates husbands are more likely to keep doing a chore without further nagging if you lavish praise on them for their first efforts (no matter how inept).
3. Do chores together.
Daniela Negraia, a sociologist at the University of Oxford, explained her creative approach to ensuring the chores are being spilt fairly at home: “Our solution was to pick a day, one weekend day for example, and just think of what chores we have, and then work starts at the same time and ends at the same time,” Other scientists Pinker spoke to endorsed the idea too, noting it makes splitting the housework not just fairer but also more collaborative.
Will these three interventions negate thousands of years of harmful gender norms or the structural issues and lack of family-friendly policies that created the problem in the first place? Of course not. That’s too heavy a lift for any individual solution. But these constructive, actionable, research-backed ideas are a good place to start while our wider society gets its act together on things like fixing the gender pay gap and America’s broken childcare system. (How’s that going, senators?)