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The Power of No - Women Leaders Must Set Boundaries for Success

Unmasking the Hidden Load Women Carry

We live in a culture that disproportionately places expectations on women, resulting in greater time constraints than male counterparts. As a result, women juggle uneven expectations and responsibilities in both personal and professional realms. Often, the additional labor expected of women manifests in invisible ways. Here are three key terms to understand when thinking about the unseen work women perform:


Invisible Labor stems from the societal belief that women are naturally inclined toward caregiving and nurturing, leading to the assumption that these efforts do not require compensation. Arlene Kaplan first wrote about this "hidden work" in 1987, and it refers to unpaid work done in our personal lives, outside of traditional jobs, that often doesn't get the recognition and respect it deserves. According to research, women who work outside the home are still expected to carry a larger share of the household's responsibilities, negatively impacting their relationship status and mental health.

Mental Load, an essential aspect of invisible labor, is the constant mental work of anticipating, organizing, and managing the family's needs, resources, and schedules. It includes keeping track of groceries, birthdays, appointments, and deadlines and planning and coordinating schedules, vacations, and social events. All of this requires significant mental effort. Additionally, there is often the burden of having to remind and ask for help from one's partner, rather than them taking proactive initiative in sharing the planning responsibilities. Several studies have found that men often believe they contribute equally to household chores and are satisfied with the division of labor, while their female partners tend to disagree. While partners may intend to be supportive by saying, "Let me know how I can help," it places the responsibility of project management entirely on the other partner, who must constantly dedicate mental space to "keeping track of everything." Notably, research indicates that household work tends to be more evenly distributed and perceived as fair in LGBTQ+ relationships.


Emotional Labor refers to the exhaustion that comes from managing or controlling emotional expressions as part of one's job. It involves situations like maintaining a friendly demeanor when dealing with difficult clients, the work it takes to manage oneself emotionally while also emotionally supporting others, or suppressing inner emotions when faced with sexist or racist micro-aggressions from customers or colleagues.


The Impact of Invisible Labor in the Workplace

The weight of invisible labor doesn't stop when women step into the office or begin their remote work for the day. Instead, it continues to follow them into the workplace, negatively impacting their career paths and workplace equity. McKinsey & Company's 2021 Women In The Workplace report highlights the toll of invisible labor in the workplace. The report highlighted the discrepancy that 87% of companies say that it's critical for managers to support employee well-being, yet only 25% formally recognize this work in performance evaluations. Women’s communal skillsets are not ultimately valued in the promotion process.

Marianne Cooper, a senior research scholar at the VMware Women's Leadership Innovation Lab at Stanford University, studied the invisible labor women performed during the pandemic and found that it increased