Are you being paid for your “invisible work”?

In the 1980’s the sociologist Arlene Kaplan Daniels coined the term ‘invisible work’. Historically, this term has been associated with the work that women do that is unpaid labour, for example, childcare, household chores and household management. As time has gone on, however, we know that ‘invisible work’ is not just consigned to family and home activities. Women are more likely to organise events to support staff, they are more likely to check in with employees on their wellbeing or ask how their kids are or sort out a birthday celebration. What we also know is with the pressure that companies face to do more for employees in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusivity (DEI), women are the majority driving force behind these initiatives and the ones sticking their hands up to volunteer.

So, we find ourselves spending more time doing ‘invisible work’ on activities that go largely unrecognised and unappreciated particularly when it comes to recognition and reward. We hear leaders of large corporations talking about how important DEI is yet when it comes to organising a leaving card for an employee or arranging some wellbeing activities for the team, these things simply don’t count as being mission-critical and they aren’t monetised in year-end compensation.

Now, I could spend a fair chunk of time asking why this is but this post will be far more useful to you if I help you work out the best way to reverse this inequity and get yourself some credit for what you are doing. So here are some questions to ask yourself and some techniques to deploy so you get the credit you deserve for the ‘invisible work’ you are doing:

  1. Do people actually know what you are doing?

One of the biggest things that hold us back as women is not actually letting people know when we are doing a good thing. Let me be clear on this…this isn’t even about self-promotion or ‘tooting your own horn’, this is simply about articulating what we are spending our time doing when we are doing something good. These are simply facts yet we don’t do it. We feel embarrassed. We dismiss what we are doing as something that is inconsequential or because we might only spend 30 minutes a week doing something, we don’t think it’s worth mentioning. If this sounds like you, you are doing yourself a disservice.

I appreciate that organising a birthday card for one of the team members might feel like a small thing that your boss doesn’t need to know about but if you are the one who is always doing it, as well as the one who organises the recognition events or who organises the leaving cards as well then your boss should know. What you are doing is over and above and it makes a difference, no matter how big or small you might think it is.

  1. Do you have testimonials?

I confess this is something I have struggled with throughout most of my career. Asking someone to vouch for me, give positive feedback on me to my boss or give me recognition in emails is something I loathe doing. It feels exploitative and self-serving. I feel embarrassed asking people and it makes me feel indebted to others which makes me uncomfortable. But what I have come to realise is that most people are actually quite happy to do it. I have found the best approach is to politely ask once and once only. Say how much you appreciate them doing it and specifically how the recognition/feedback etc will help you. If they do it, thank them. Don’t forget that you don’t always have to ask those more senior to you, ask your peers and those more junior to you. Get 360-degree feedback. You are doing something good for the organisation so you deserve recognition.

  1. Leverage your passion

With something like DEI, talk about it with passion and enthusiasm. If you are getting involved enough to give up some of your precious time then you must be passionate about it so use that to your advantage. When your passion comes through on something, it becomes easier to talk to. You aren’t selling it; you simply believe in it and you understand the benefits. You will be much more natural in your articulation and more comfortable talking about it and the benefits to the firm will be clearer.

Also remember that through your passion for the subject, you are leveraging your commercial acumen, leadership skills, organisational skills and so on. Make those clear. Too often we applaud someone’s enthusiasm or passion but fail to see the skills that sit beneath it. The invisible work you will be doing will involve real hard skills whether you are organising an event or chairing a meeting and these should be known.

  1. Build alliances with likeminded people

Most DEI initiatives within organisations have senior sponsors who believe in the cause and want to lead from the front. Your shared passion and enthusiasm for the subject will engender you to them so talk to these sponsors/leaders and get to know them. Again, this is not about self-promotion and selling your contribution so much as an opportunity to build relationships with people who are like-minded. Once they become part of your network then simply name drop them when talking to your boss in connection with the DEI work you do. You’d be surprised how much your boss will take notice.

  1. Make it part of your brand

Whatever invisible work you find yourself doing, my advice would be to find something and stick to it. Build a reputation and a brand for doing it. If you are the person organising and administering community or charity events or initiatives then get a reputation for being the person that knocks it out of the park. If you mentor young people within your organisation then get a reputation for it. And don’t just think internally to the organisation either. Increasingly women in the corporate world are being recognised by organisations that champion DEI and it is becoming increasingly common to see awards and recognition for such endeavours. Building a reputation will increase your brand and your stock value.