Why nice girls don’t get the corner office


At last, an explanation for why women continue to progress more slowly at work — women volunteer for tasks that don’t lead to promotions.

Research conducted by economists Babcock, Recalde, Vesterlund & Weingart, confirms that women are disproportionately saddled with ‘non-promotable’ work that has little visibility or impact.

Although neither men nor women really want to volunteer for thankless tasks, women do volunteer more, are asked to volunteer more, and accept requests to volunteer more than men. This is due to a shared expectation that women will volunteer more than men and not due to gender differences.

In fact women received 44 percent more requests to volunteer than men in mixed-sex groups. A request to volunteer was accepted by women 76 percent of the time, versus men who accepted 51 percent of the time.

Based on my experience in running a number of industry associations and committees this research finding rings true. As a general rule it’s the women who volunteer to do things. I could always count on the women who are prepared, organised and actually complete tasks. Generally (don’t hate me for saying this) the men talk more, and do less — of course there are exceptions. When men do help, they are more likely to do so in public, while women help more behind the scenes, such as assisting and mentoring others[i].

Who does the ‘office housework”?

Think about who manages the office ‘housework”, like organising social functions and team meetings, or take minutes in your workplace? It’s most likely a woman. While they don’t require much skill these ‘non-promotable’ tasks contribute to the social cohesion and help out colleagues but because they’re not tied to revenue or KPIs, they are not recognised in performance evaluations or lead to career advancement.

That’s not true for men, according to an earlier study by psychologist Madeline Heilman, where men were rated 14 percent more favourably than a women for staying late and helping colleagues prepare for an important meeting. When both declined, a woman was rated 12 percent lower than a man. So men are significantly more likely to be recommended for promotions, important projects, raises and bonuses because they help. But not women.

What’s even more concerning is the productivity impact of doing non-promotable tasks. According to the research, when women do more of the volunteer tasks, they are seen as less productive as they have less time to spend on their real work. Management may feel justified in the name of efficiency to keep allocating less-promotable tasks to the seemingly ‘less-productive’ women. In addition, those tasks may generate lower job satisfaction and in turn reduce women’s investment in her job.

Sharing the load

So what can women do? The research suggests that management could counteract the unfair load on women, by allocating assignments equally to both male and female employees. Organisations could encourage men to volunteer more themselves, and to empower women to demand fairer treatment and to show their full potential and talent.

Worryingly, the researchers recommend that women do not say No directly to doing volunteer tasks according to Heilman [ii]. However another way for women to say No to unreasonable requests would be to emphasise the impact on the whole team, and position her No as protecting others[iii].

Better still, women could be more active with their careers, by hunting out promotable tasks that contribute to revenue generation or reducing costs, take on higher profile projects and committees, and work on their personal brand.

[i] Adam Grant and Sheryl Sandberg, article in the New York Times: “Madam C.E.O., Get Me a Coffee”, February 6 2015.

[ii] Heilman, M. E., & Chen, J. J. (2005). Same Behavior, Different Consequences: Reactions to Men’s and Women’s Altruistic Citizenship Behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90(3), 431–441.

[iii] Adam Grant, (2013) Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success., New York: Viking

This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Saying yes to #Ladybadassery

I confess, I’ve failed miserably in saying no over the break. I meant to have a break, relax and recuperate. Instead, I’ve taken on a couple of side projects on top of my full time job, and amid massive personal upheaval. Not very healthy!

However I am delighted to say yes to a global initiative called #Ladybadassery and to being the Australian curator. This means that every week or so I promote an Australian woman who is forging her own path and achieving success on her own terms. Some of the stories are so ordinary and yet so inspiring – you can read about them here on #Ladybadassery.

Shining a light on #ladybadasses everywhere

The objective is to shine a light on extraordinary women operating away from the spotlight, who don’t usually receive much recognition outside of their niches.

#Ladybadassery was co-founded by two fabulous, smart, connected women Joanna Bloor and Wendy McEwen (Nee Hogan) who have provided much needed support and encouragement to younger women in their respective industries. If you’d like to nominate a #ladybadass, make a submission here.

So I’m all for celebrating the gutsy and determined woman who says no to being nice, and yes to being themselves.

A letter to my friends on starting The No Project Blog

It was my birthday recently. Aside from the lovely presents and wishes, I couldn’t ask for a better present than to give birth to an idea I’ve been gestating for a while – The No Project Blog.

When I started this blog a year ago, it was anonymous. I only told a couple of people as I was afraid of being judged negatively and being ridiculed particularly by people close to me. I doubted myself (still do), and questioned what right or license I have to comment – I mean who cares what I think? But I truly believe that for ‘yes’ people like me, that being able to say no is the basis for change and success. I know other people are struggling with this too in various areas of their life. we ‘yes’ people need practical help in saying no in order to stay sane.

But the time is right to make this public. Given the movement of women speaking out about Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump, it’s even more important for women to say no, speak up and stop being agreeable.

So what is The No Project blog? My object is to experiment with putting the No into practice – at work, and at home – and turn myself into a No Ninja. Each month I’ll try a different book/self help guru. Of course Oprah is going to be on the list, but I’m starting with the advice from William Ury, author of the Power of a Positive No.

Thanks to the lovely women who’ve given me encouragement to keep going with this idea and for being honest and sharing their struggles. Some of them have surprised me as they appear highly confident and successful, running their own businesses, so it’s really been a comfort to know that I’m not alone.

In the spirit of embracing the discomfort and scariness of stating my purpose in public, my goal is to have 1000 women sign up to be part of The No Project. If you’re interested or know someone who might be, please forward on. Or follow the blog on Twitter,  Facebook ; Instagram  and at http://thenoprojectblog.com