It’s funny/not funny – as the nation comes together to celebrate the worker (Labor Day is 127 years old this year!), nowhere does the celebration include the invisible, unnoticed, unwaged, unwritten, undervalued work women do at home and in the paid workforce.

Reshma Saujani – my hero in all things related to gender equity in the home – is a cultural warrior, on the front lines of giving voice to the disparities and inequities of unpaid labor. In her recent CNN article, Saujani writes that “moms want homes in which the burden of our unseen, unpaid labor is shared and valued – including economically.” Citing a 2019 survey, Saujani relates that unpaid labor, and caregiving for children and older adults could be valued at $1.5 trillion. If it’s worth that much in the open market, then for sure women’s “labor of love” is, most definitely, labor, a LOT of labor.

The invisible work looks like this: It is the thinking about what’s coming up, what needs to happen, how to look into the future to anticipate birthdays, school permissions slips, family meals, holiday dinners, enough toilet paper, enough ketchup. There are myriad ways in which we think about the functioning of a household. Granted, all of these little tasks are each one of them easy to do but also supremely important to the functioning of a well-ordered home and to family happiness. The tasks are like part of the clothing women wear: It falls onto her shoulders like a giant set of shoulder pads.

In 2020 Saujani and 49 other economists, psychologists, and emotional labor thought leaders created an open letter to newly elected President Biden calling for a Marshall Plan for Mom. They wrote: “It’s time to prioritize moms at work.” The playbook includes The Bill of Rights for Working Moms with radical ideas that every mom should have or deserves, such as:

  • maximum control over her schedule
  • support for child care
  • workplace policies that promote gender equality at home
  • paid time off and an employer who supports her mental health and well-being
  • an employer that advocates for moms publicly

Radical or not, the Bill of Rights is geared toward private and federal employers to pay attention the unconscionable demands faced by women 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Short of that, American women can take a cue from Icelandic women when, as Saujani reminds us, “on October 24, 1975, 90% of Iceland’s women –many of them mothers – refused to work or tend to their families and homes to protest wage discrepancy, prompting the Icelandic parliament to guarantee equal pay. Today, Iceland is considered among the most gender-equal countries on earth.” Calling for a labor union for working moms, this founder of the globally significant non-profit, Girls Who Code, highlights the success of what happen when women come together for a common goal, citing the ongoing work of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and New York City teachers who joined in solidarity and bargained for paid parental leave. And, as I write this, tens of thousands of women are about to hit the streets, calling for a radical restructuring of the U.S. Supreme Court in the face of a complete overturn of Roe v. Wade.

As Saujani creatively explores the ways in which corporate America can and should lean into equity in the paid work place, Dr. Elizabeth Yuko, a bioethicist and adjunct professor of ethics at Fordham University, recognizes the need for ongoing dialogue between the adults in the household seeking a more equitable partnership in the home, especially when it comes to the heavy lifting of emotional labor and the mental load.


Dr. Yuko gives suggestions for starting a productive dialogue: use “I” statements, plan ahead, and acknowledge each others’ strengths and the weight each pulls. I like to believe that couples who have contentious conversations about the never-ending work involved in household management, are, to a great degree, really in love with each other. I imagine that most families want, more than anything, to live in a place of harmony, equity, and mutual respect.

Still, talking about how to divide the gigantic job description many call “women’s work” is a real challenge. My own research shows that the conversations about the household division of labor fall off far too early in a relationship, and become almost nonexistent after children are on the scene. Over time, when the one doing the heavy lifting snaps over a dirty plate on the coffee table, the leaver of the plate may shrug and say, “Why didn’t you tell me to clean up?” I can just hear the argument now! Yes, it’s a cake plate, but it’s never the cake plate. It’s the years of conversations before this moment. My friend Matthew Fray is a coach specializing in men and divorce is the author of This Is How Your Marriage Ends told me that it’s never about the cup on the counter. If you’re still arguing about the cup on the counter, one person’s feelings aren’t being validated, and the other person stopped listening.

Making the invisible more visible starts with acknowledging the work for what it is – visible or not – it is WORK. If one of you feels weighted down by endless lists titled “To Do,” perhaps it would be fun(!) for you and your partner to write down everything you each do in terms of the management of the household. It’s a snapshot of each one’s perception of where things stand right now. Since nothing is written in stone, and without labeling, judging, or resenting (yourself or your partner), see if you can have a conversation about what it all looks like and, more importantly, what the weight of it feels like.

It’s a start. Give it go.

And to all those performing the unnoticed, unwaged, unwritten, and undervalued work of the world,

I wish you a Happy Invisible Labor Day!


Regina F. Lark, Ph.D.,