Closing the Unpaid Labor Gap

By Sallie Krawcheck

I often think that the reason I was able to stay in the workforce and my sister-in-law (who lives in Atlanta) wasn't is because, back in the day, you could get everything delivered in NYC and nothing in Atlanta. So I would just place a call for groceries, dry cleaning, alcohol, and I would have dinner delivered many nights. She spent every evening cooking dinner and her weekends running around Atlanta with toddlers in the back seat, picking up the dry cleaning. She simply got exhausted.

Exhaustion is just one outcome of “unpaid labor,” the chores we do at home, and — you guessed it — do way more than men. What’s more important to understand is the opportunity cost, or what you’re missing out on while you’re working a second shift.

The costs are almost too high to calculate, and mostly have to do with time. Back to groceries as an example: If you spend an hour and a half grocery shopping when you could have spent $15 to have them delivered, was it really worth it? Don’t think so. What if you were to spend the time you usually spend grocery shopping each week doing work to advance your career? That’s 78 hours a year — almost two full work weeks to help you get ahead. When you put it that way, $15 for delivery seems trivial.

But we aren’t fully equal with men until we’re financially equal with men.

Even if you’re not taking care of kids or an ailing parent, time spent doing chores and errands that you don’t enjoy could be better spent on activities that will influence your career and future earnings: taking a class to enhance or build new skills, reading the latest Harvard Business Review collection, and, yes, even leisure time. Doing something that may not seem productive, but you enjoy, makes work hours more tolerable, which couldn’t hurt your career too much, could it?

In a similar breaks for caretaking certainly impact our salaries and achievements. And they tie into the gender pay gap as one of the reasons women’s salary curves peak earlier than men’s. Think about it this way: if you’re making $85k a year, you might think it costs you $170k in lost salary. Yes, but that’s loose change compared to the real cost. What you’re really losing out on is career progression, getting raises, which can cost you upwards of $1 million. Whaaat? More on how to solve this in a bit.

What’s a red-eyed Wonder Woman to do?

Please, please, puh-leeze listen to me on this one: stop doing de-energizing domestic tasks that are taking time away from your career and your family, especially when they can be done by someone else! I’m convinced that if my sister-in-law was starting her career today, things would be totally different. She’d be able to outsource almost every task with a few clicks of a button.

Unprecedented access to services from house cleaners to home decorators provides you the option to put this stuff on autopilot — literally. Don’t feel guilty spending a few extra bucks for delivery. On the contrary, give yourself a pat on the back.

Here are just a few innovative companies you can delegate to:

Grocery shopping:

Healthy meal prep alternatives:

Around the home:

Other useful sites:

Of course, you can’t delegate everything. A note on childcare, particularly during the baby and toddler years — get your partner equally involved. One of the smartest things I did for my career was convince my husband that when our toddler cried "Mommy!" in the middle of the night, he meant "Parent of either gender!" He never once cared which parent got him the glass of water or found his pacifier. We switched off nights. The other thing we did was split those dreaded early weekend mornings waking up with the kids — one of us took Saturday and the other Sunday.

The same goes for career breaks. If your partner’s company policy allows for parental leave and you can each do three months, then you can cover six months combined. This makes it much easier to go back to work sooner. If you’re taking a longer break, see if your company is willing to hold your spot (some will, for up to a year). Consider what you can do to avoid a resume gap, too. If you’re truly splitting kid duty with your partner 50/50, then you can find time to do some volunteer / freelance / professional development work. When you’re ready to go back, consider resources such as iRelaunch or Apres.

Final Thoughts

Ok, we’ve reached the end, so a few thoughts: it’s the best time in history to be a professional woman. And the issues we’ve discussed are, honestly, first-world problems. When you think how far we’ve come, we’re fortunate to have them.

But we aren’t fully equal with men until we’re financially equal with men. And to make it that “final mile,” we need to take some action…each of us, and all of us.

So the lessons?

  1. Ask, ask, and ask again!

  2. Be confident.

  3. Network, network, network.

  4. Work hard, but also smart.

  5. Be nice to yourself.

  6. We don’t have be perfect in everything. It’s ok to let some things go.

  7. And of course, our favorite — invest.

Oh, and please share this with your friends, so they can close their money gaps.


The statements contained herein are the opinions of Ellevest. All opinions and views constitute our judgments as of the date of writing and are subject to change at any time without notice.

The projections of various investment outcomes are hypothetical in nature, do not reflect actual investment results, and are not guarantees of future results.

Information was obtained from third party sources, which we believe to be reliable but not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice.

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Sallie Krawcheck

Sallie Krawcheck is the Founder & CEO of Ellevest.