April 10, 2019
Image by RawPixel from Pexels
In 2017, a comic by a French computer science engineer went viral. Called “The Mental Load: A Feminist Comic,” it deftly illustrated the concept of the mental load, which is familiar to women but sometimes difficult to describe. In the opening anecdote, an overwhelmed mother, trying to juggle cooking a meal and feeding her kids, finally explodes at her husband, who shoots back, “You should have asked! I would have helped.” The cartoonist explained the problem this way: “When a man expects his partner to ask him to do things, he’s viewing her as the manager of household chores. The problem is that planning and organizing things is already a full-time job. When we ask women to take on this task of organization and at the same time to execute a large portion, in the end it represents 75% of the work.”
If you ask working women with families why they step off the leadership track, it’s often not just because of what happens at the office. Rather, it’s because of the combined effect of their daytime job together with their second job of managing the incessant responsibilities of household and family care: what needs to be done, who needs to be where, how to make it all happen at once. This home management load is constant, underrecognized, unpaid—and it falls disproportionately on women, limiting their ability to focus on their careers and rise into leadership roles.