How to mitigate invisible labor at work

Since the launch of our report, The State of Women In Tech 2023, one of the statements that have opened up the most conversations is the fact that ‘Invisible work’ is the second most common way women experience being treated differently at work.

In total, 63% of the respondents said that they have experienced being treated differently than men at work. But how? And was is always negative? The following survey question was aimed to shed light on the matter.

On a multiple choice question asking the respondents about their experiences, 53.77% chose ‘Pay and compensation’ closely followed by ‘Expectations to do invisible work’ which 45.62% of the respondents have experienced. (And while this piece is about invisible work, is highly relevant to put emphasis on the fact that we still have a long way to go for equal pay. Sigh.)

Invisible work is not really invisible

Invisible work refers to labor and contributions that disproportionately fall upon women and non-binary, which are often undervalued or unseen. It encompasses the essential tasks and responsibilities that in fact are crucial but frequently relegated to the background or dismissed as “simple”. Invisible work involves unacknowledged efforts in all areas and covers everything from emotional labor to expected support in traditionally female coded tasks.

Some examples of emotional labor include: 

  • Being expected to instantly react with positivity to internal communication messages
  • Being expected to be the person who brings the team together for lunch
  • Being expected to take responsibility for the general “vibe” of the workplace

Invisible work is rarely rewarded more than possibly mentioned and causes gender disparities in recognition, career advancement and pay. 

Internal measurements fails to pick up the invisible work

This puts light on the importance for organizations to acknowledge and identify invisible work in their workplaces, regardless of their size, as a part of their general DEI agenda. Avoiding this might be a cause for women and non-binary to experience a workplace as less equal than numerical statistics and standard measurements will show – and that an acknowledgement call for more complex measurements of DEI in organizations.

“Many companies still only measure gender DEI through gender balance in teams, which for sure is a great first step, but it misses out on experiences and nuances in cultural matters which is crucial to figure these things out”, says Elin Eriksson, Director of Women In Tech Sweden. 

Challenges differ based on organizational size and maturity

Upon analyzing our data, there also seems to be a difference in the experienced type of invisible labor based on the size and maturity of the organizations. While smaller sized companies seem to struggle more with it in the form of delegated tasks and “household chores”, larger organizations struggle more with emotional and social expectations such as being expected to bring energy and excitement in a way male peers doesn’t. 

How to mitigate invisible labor

Since invisible labor looks different in all organizations, it  is hard to give general advice on how to mitigate it. Here are some things to take into consideration to even out invisible labor in a workspace regardless of its size:

  • Acknowledge that invisible labor likely exist in your workplace and make it a priority to mitigate it as a part of the general DEI agenda
  • Figure out ways on how measure the efforts of invisible labor in order to analyze the situation in your organization
  • Never assume that anyone likes to do the invisble labor
  • Bring visibility to the invisible work by tracking the efforts done: Rolling schedules on recurring tasks can help with planning and put light to that the responsibility lies in everyone
  • Recognize and avoid excusing strategic incompetence, where people who want to avoid tasks do them badly or avoid putting in any effort