Ladies, I recently had the privilege and honor of joining Alleo Health CEO and President Tracy Wood on her “Grave to Great” podcast to talk about the current state of women in leadership. During our conversation, we began discussing the misconceptions that so many decision-making women believe. One thing I have noticed is that women undercut themselves when it comes to viewing cognitive labor through the same lens as physical labor. Cognitive labor looks at the unspoken tasks women take on in addition to their stated duties, especially in the home. These tasks are present, but they are not always seen. My eyes were really opened to how important it is to rid women of this misconception when I read Harvard Doctoral Candidate Allison Daminger’s study “The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor.”
Before I go any further, I would like you to take a moment and contemplate the unspoken tasks you do in your everyday life. This can include pondering what you are going to cook for dinner or anticipating that your child is going to need to purchase presents for birthday parties you know he or she will have coming up this school year. Ladies, I must stress to you that this is cognitive labor, and it is just as important as speaking at a conference or leading a training session for the leaders of tomorrow. We tend to have this misunderstanding that if the labor we are participating in is not physical, then it does not hold the same value. This is what Daminger really wanted to get across in her work.
For her study, Daminger interviewed 35 couples and had them keep a log of any non-work-related decisions they made over the course of 24 hours. In an article she wrote for the online publication “Behavioral Scientist,” Daminger said, “when I sorted through the hundreds of examples that emerged, I found four primary activities appeared over and over: anticipating a need, identifying options for filling it, deciding among the options and monitoring the results.” For example, we may anticipate that we are soon going to run out of toilet paper. We will then identify that we need to purchase some and may look for coupons. From there, we will go to the store and decide which brand to purchase this time around. We will then monitor how our families react to our decision and watch to see when we start running low again, etc. Now, others are not going to see in our brains that we are anticipating things like this, but this type of labor is still occurring. As part of her findings, Daminger shared that, “women were disproportionately likely to take the lead in anticipating upcoming needs and monitoring outcomes, but identification work was more often split or shared, and decision-making work was overwhelmingly a collaborative activity.” She added that in over 75 percent of the couples she interviewed, the female partner did more cognitive labor than the male.
I must say, there is nothing wrong with doing cognitive labor. It is vital to our families surviving and succeeding in life. However, if we take these tasks only upon ourselves and do not share them with others, we are setting ourselves up for failure and are not acting as leaders. Sure, we may still finish our other responsibilities like our work for the office, but we are often multitasking in an effort to ensure these cognitive labor tasks are taken care of as well. When we multitask, we are unable to put our whole selves into the project at hand.
Part of being a leader is learning to share responsibilities with others. Daminger suggests creating a “balance sheet” and splitting cognitive tasks between you and your partner. Ladies, I know it can be hard sometimes to let go, but I promise this will make you a better leader. It will also help you move from a managing mindset to a leadership mindset so that you can succeed both at work and at home.
If you would like to learn more about cognitive labor and leadership, here are some fantastic resources to explore:
- Allison Daminger’s full study: “The Cognitive Dimension of Household Labor”
- Behavioral Scientist: How Couples Share “Cognitive Labor” and Why it Matters
- Babson Thought & Action: Moving from Managing to Leading
- Harvard Business Review: Three Differences Between Managers and Leaders
- Tracy Wood’s “Grave to Great” podcast episode with me
I encourage you to set aside time to ponder this subject. We will also be discussing it further at our 16th Annual IMPACT Dinner on Thursday. I look forward to seeing you all there.
Let’s Move FORward Together,