Lise Vesterlund felt “too scattered” at work, but it wasn’t until the economist started discussing it with friends that she understood the source of the problem: the “unpromoted tasks”.
Vesterlund, Andrew W. Mellon professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh, coined the term with fellow scholars Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser and Laurie Weingart. They define an “unpromoted job” as work that “is important to your organization, but won’t help you advance your career.”
The four academics, along with legal consultant MJ Tocci, who died in 2014, began meeting regularly more than a decade ago to discuss how overwhelmed they felt at work and formed “The No Club”.
It actually became the title of their book, “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work,” which came out last week.
And unpromoted tasks aren’t just isolated from office duties, like bringing cakes for co-workers, making coffee, or cleaning up messes in the kitchen.
Vesterlund told CNBC in a phone call that, for her, those duties included mentoring graduate students, advising on committees and reviewing work in academic journals. All of this was beneficial to the institution employing Vesterlund, but took it away from its core academic research work.
And to cope, Vesterlund said she started working earlier in the morning and then worked after her children fell asleep. She said that “this non-rewardable work took up so many hours of my time that the only way to protect my research time and my teaching time was to somehow end my day with a lot of work”.
In their book, the four scholars not only talk about their own journey to realize that they were disproportionately burdened with these tasks, but also seek to highlight how widespread this problem is for women in the workplace. and why this is the case.
Their study of a consulting firm found that women spent an average of about 200 hours more per year than men on non-promotional work, the equivalent of a month on “dead-end” work.
So why does this happen and what is the best way to combat the problem?
To find out why women tended to be tasked with more unpromoted tasks, Vesterlund and her co-authors conducted experiments on how decisions were made in groups.
Specifically, they were looking at scenarios where there was a task that everyone wanted to complete, but they preferred someone else to do it, so it depended on a volunteer to do it.
They found that in a mixed group, women come forward to perform these tasks 50% more than men.
“So what this research has shown is that the reason, or certainly an important factor, for women doing this work is that we all expect them to take this work,” said explained Vesterlund.
The first step to help ease this burden on women is to raise awareness of the issue, she argued.
Vesterlund said publicizing this terminology to help describe an issue that “effectively derails the careers of all these women, is a crucial first step, so that we recognize that not all tasks that are assigned are the same, that there is work that is less valued and that work tends to go to women, which prevents them from succeeding. »
She said raising awareness of the issue also helps organizations because it ensures unpromoted jobs aren’t just assigned to employees who “least object” but also to those who are best at doing it. work.
One way to move from delegating certain tasks to those volunteering was to choose names at random, Vesterlund said.
Encouraging organizations to document the distribution of unpromoted tasks could also help “keep management somewhat accountable.”
Certainly, she said, there would be organizations that would not be open to change, but added that raising awareness of the issue would make colleagues “more reluctant to give all the bad work to women”.
Vesterlund said it was also important for women to realize there was an internalizing element to the expectation that they would do the job.
She said not immediately raising your hands in meetings to volunteer for tasks could be beneficial.
Vesterlund and her co-authors had spoken to an organization that trains women to study the body language of their male colleagues in meetings. The organization noticed that many seemed disengaged and checked their phones when there was a request for volunteers, so it tried to ask women to do the same, instead of internalizing “everyone’s expectations”.
And while Vesterlund said she wasn’t sure how much forming a group like “The No Club” would help raise awareness among organizations about the issue, she said it would help “you stay accountable to your “yes”” and can act as a sounding board for problems.
She pointed out that “every time you say yes to something, you are implicitly saying no to something else”.
In situations where women feel like they might face a backlash if they don’t do a certain unpromoted task, Vesterlund suggested giving “a ‘modified’ yes’, by agreeing to take that job, provided you can take another task off your list.
Vesterlund said another option was to agree to do this task only once.
She said her co-author Linda Babcock had a useful rule of thumb for such tasks, allowing herself to say “no” to something right away but to wait 24 hours before saying “yes”, so that she has time to reflect on the impact of taking it.