Countless panels, conferences, studies, task forces, and books (see Anne Marie Slaughter's forthcoming blockbuster) pop up every year to address a seemingly intractable problem: why there are so few women CEOs, senators, law firm partners, venture capitalists, and hedge fund moguls, not to mention female executives lower down the chain. Once you attain the highest levels of powerful institutions in America, ample evidence shows, the scenery becomes overwhelmingly male.
For all the resources dedicated to untangling why this is, though, the answer may be relatively simple. Newly released data remind us that a large part of the answer lies at home.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' (BLS) annual Time Use Survey reveals that the percentage of men and women who are involved in household activities, defined as housework, cooking, cleaning up after cooking, and generally taking care of the household, has barely moved since 2003, when the bureau began tracking Americans' day-to-day activities. Eleven years ago, 63 percent of men reported doing some household activity, while 84 percent of women did. In 2014, the numbers were almost the same, according to the BLS: 65 percent for men and 83 percent for women. Of those men and women who engaged in household duties at all, women spent about 2.57 hours on them each day in 2014, a decrease of 9 minutes over 11 years. Over the same period, men's contributions have remained intransigent: In 2003 they spent 2.1 hours a day on housework, while in 2014 it was 2.11 hours. (On a positive note, more men seem to be into cooking.)
The lack of movement is stunning when one considers everything else that's happened during the intervening period: Women now make up almost half of the U.S. labor force; there was, and is again, a viable female presidential candidate in Hillary Clinton; there are women leading the Federal Reserve and the International Monetary Fund. In four out of 10 households with children, women are the sole or primary breadwinner. Amazingly, though, they still face two glass ceilings, one at work and another one at home. Until that changes, the number of women advancing to high-level positions isn't likely to go anywhere. It's the reason Sheryl Sandberg, the patron saint of professional women everywhere, launched a campaign called Lean In Together, intended to educate men about the importance of sharing household responsibilities so that women can reach their potential at work.
In a new book called I Know How She Does It, about how successful women manage their time, Laura Vanderkam offers an explanation for how many women with high-powered jobs navigate around the double-glass-ceiling issue: They outsource the grunt work. "At the top, women ordered what they could online, hired cleaning services and had household help to cook family meals," Vanderkam wrote recently. "They adopted relaxed attitudes toward chores or had the economic power within relationships to demand their partners’ help." Of course, for women who can't afford armies of nannies and housekeepers, not to mention the women who have to work in those jobs, the problem is as frustrating as ever.