How Do We Define Work?

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Merriam-Webster defines “work” as an “activity that a person engages in regularly to earn a livelihood”. There are about 21 separate definitions for the noun form of the word itself. We don’t concretely define what the action of working is and how we classify it. Although in popular culture, work is synonymous with employment for an income. This definition doesn’t reflect many other sectors of work and what the future of work will look like.Feminism and WorkAnyone slightly familiar with second-wave feminism is familiar with the concept of the Double Burden or the Second Shift. In this economy, women are in the job market at a very close rate to men, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, female labor force participation was 57.4% in 2019. This wave of women entering the ‘workforce’ in the second half of the 20th century, inspired feminists to pursue challenging the inequality by the double burden. The second shift is a result of facing issues of gender inequality by entering women into male spaces without changing the institutions and gender roles. Yes, more women are given the opportunity to pursue a career, but it produces twice the amount of work, especially by homemaking and caregiving women.Through the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, men, and women enjoy the same human rights to opportunity, work, legal systems, etc. Technically speaking, men and women in the eyes of the law are equal but it also has the lurking inequalities that come with women needing to conform to the patriarchy. Women then become both creators of life and the home in the private sphere, as they were previously, and now victims of the male-dominated public sphere where they are still not treated equally but expected to work the same. This is where the double burden rears its ugly head, women are then taken advantage of and rarely given the credit for the extra work they do.This is perpetrated through how the patriarchy defines work. Caregiving is still work, volunteering is still working, homemaking is still work, and raising children is still work. We pay others to do it for us but when a woman is expected to do it, because of her gender role, it is a duty and not work. These jobs are not captured in calculating GDP seen as it is nonmarket labor. Based on a report by McKinsey Global Institute, women make up 40% of the country’s GDP productivity while also making up 66% of the nonmarket production. Even when each of these roles contributes to the economy, we still do not place them at the same level as conventional and male-constructed work.The Future of Women and WorkWe are fastly approaching a revolution in the way people have always thought about work. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic showcased the sectors of employment that can adapt to circumstances like working from home, but also uncovered who the most vulnerable workers are in our economies. Mothers and women at home were given a burden that not many expected, kids and husbands were needing to be cared for all hours of the day because of isolation. Even in our modern 2020 society, much of the responsibility to cook, clean, and keep things in order at home fell on the women in the house. A Yale 2020 study found that mothers working from home affected their home responsibilities more than fathers. This increased their stress and hurt their mental health, while also affecting loss of productivity, and therefore income at work.  This gender imbalance could be alleviated if companies provided flexibility in work schedules as they have proved they can do during the early days of the pandemic.Another hot topic in the future of work that is present in the goals or outlooks of many important and powerful companies is the role of AI. Right now is where many corporations, politicians, and individuals make influential decisions in how we envision the future of work and whom it includes. Based on a report by UNESCO, AI has the opportunity to either strengthen gender roles surrounding how we define labor and domestic work or it can learn biases present in workplaces as truth. Yet we also have the opportunity, as the technology is still new and developing, to program the AI systems to acknowledge the presence of gender stereotypes and shift the narratives around women working both in and outside of the public sphere.ConclusionWe have the research and historical context to see how our definitions and stereotypes of work, reinforce the inequalities of women in the patriarchy. We know the double burden exists, we know that there are biases in workplaces, and we know that it needs to change. Research from the Harvard Business Review shows that if the US addresses the existing inequities and works to close the gender gap, it could add at least 5% to the GDP in just a few years. We should also take this opportunity where the future of employment work is not yet defined, to make sure that we restructure the narrative and be more inclusive to women whose work goes far beyond what they do for employment.Sophia Slavin is a sophomore at American University majoring in International Studies and minoring in Russian. Her concentration is on Justice, Ethics and Human Rights, and Foreign Policy. Sophia focuses her research on culture and politics in Eastern Europe.  Works CitedCollett, Clementine, Livia Gouvea Gomes, Inter-American Development Bank, Gina Neff, Organisation for, and UNESCO. 2022. The Effects of AI on the Working Lives of Women. UNESCO Publishing.Cummings, Mike. 2020. “Study Reveals Gender Inequality in Telecommuting.” YaleNews. July 17, 2020. https://news.yale.edu/2020/07/17/study-reveals-gender-inequality-telecommuting.Ellingrud, Kweilin, James Manyika, and Vivian Riefberg. 2016. “How Reducing Gender Inequality Could Boost U.S. GDP by $2.1 Trillion | McKinsey.” Www.mckinsey.com. April 2016. https://www.mckinsey.com/mgi/overview/in-the-news/how-reducing-gender-inequality-could-boost-us-gdp-by-2-trillion-dollars.Hewlett, Sylvia Ann. 2012. “More Women in the Workforce Could Raise GDP by 5%.” Harvard Business Review. November 1, 2012. https://hbr.org/2012/11/more-women-in-the-workforce-could-raise-gdp.Merriam-Webster. 2019. “Definition of Work.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2019. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/work.Schulte, Brigid. 2014. “‘The Second Shift’ at 25: Q & a with Arlie Hochschild.” The Washington Post, August 7, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/she-the-people/wp/2014/08/06/the-second-shift-at-25-q-a-with-arlie-hochschild/.UN General Assembly, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, 18 December 1979, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1249, p. 13U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021. “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook : BLS Reports: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.” Www.bls.gov. April 2021. https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/womens-databook/2020/home.htm.

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