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Women in IP Virtual Coffee Date: Tackling Invisible Labour in the Workplace

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Women in IP Virtual Coffee Date: Tackling Invisible Labour in the Workplace

I recently took part in the first virtual Women in IP get together of 2022 to discuss the issue of invisible labour in the workplace. The morning session was organised by IP Inclusive, an award-winning industry initiative that promotes equality, diversity and inclusion across the Intellectual Property professions. It had a fantastic turnout and began with an introduction by host Isobel Barry before participants joining smaller breakout rooms to help to encourage a more fluid conversation.
Invisible labour or “office housework” can take on many forms in the workplace and it was made clear from the start of the call that it isn’t just a case of who’s in charge of the office tea round.

The discussion used the following questions as a framework:

  • Have you come across the concepts of invisible labour and “office housework” before? Do you think you (if a woman) engaged in this behaviour? Do you think you (if a man) engaged in this behaviour yourself or unconsciously allowed women to do it?
  • What steps can you take (or have you taken) to minimise this behaviour in yourself or to help others?
  • What can companies do to reduce this type of behaviour and its impact, which disproportionately falls on women?Smiley coffeeWEB

Some really interesting points were made and both men and women were able to give examples of how they have felt the burden. Participants had taken on the role of emotional crutch for their colleagues, something they felt was unrecognised and beginning to take a toll on their own wellbeing. Some felt they were missing out on social aspects of their role as no-one had stepped up as organiser, meaning they would have to take on the additional responsibility in order to enjoy it. Others were given an ‘unofficial’ role of leading and supporting their trainee group, which was a welcome responsibility for some but meant added pressure during a crucial time in their career development.

There a number of takeaways from the conversation. One being that more needs to be done in order to highlight the extra workload certain individuals take on, whether it be willingly or some cases a little reluctantly. The entire workforce from senior management to support/secretarial staff should be aware of the time certain tasks take on top of the given daily responsibilities and individuals should be recognised for their efforts. One suggestion was to include more dialogue on these topics on appraisal forms and during feedback/development meetings. Another point raised was the importance of being able to speak up and say ‘no’. It was acknowledged that it isn’t always easy or appropriate to refuse or sit back from a task, especially if you’re a junior member of a team, so alternative approaches were discussed. Perhaps saying you were unwilling to complete said task but willing to do another? Rather than automatically taking on extra responsibilities when the need is raised, maybe instructing or advising another of what needs to be done?

It was great to be able to chat with other IP professionals after such a long hiatus due to the pandemic, maternity (and other bumps in the road along the way!), and I’m looking forward to the official blog following the event to see what the other breakout groups discussed.

Phillipa Holland

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