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April 4, 2024

Women spend 200 hours a year on non-promotable tasks 

What would you do with an extra month of time?

New research by the authors of The No Club shows women are spending 200 hours a year on non-promotable tasks (NPTs) – office housework that needs to get done but doesn’t further your career.  

Lest you think this must decrease as women move up the ranks, consider this: those same authors paired up with a consulting firm to understand how these dynamics worked within that firm. Their conclusion?  “Senior women spend the same amount of time on promotable tasks as senior men; she just works 200 hours more to make room for excessive load of non-promotable work.”

I see a few implications of this trend on the workplace:

  1. Burnout:  if women are doing these NPTs ON TOP of their promotable work, then, much like the senior women in consulting, we’re working a lot more hours.  Add that to the 21 additional hours of unpaid labor women do weekly vs men and NO WONDER WE’RE TIRED.
  1. Slowed progression: if women chose not to work more overall hours (as the junior women in that same consulting firm did), then we are spending 200 hours less per year on the things that move us up the ranks.  Could this be contributing to the slowed advancement McKinsey + LeanIn find in their research?

  1. Organizations unable to effectively allocate talent: Colleges have been graduating more women than men since the early 1980s (yes, you read that correctly: for OVER 40 YEARS). Companies have gotten pretty good at hiring incoming classes that are gender balanced.  And THEN the problems start.  Because women aren’t advancing at the same rate as men (see graph above), companies aren’t able to pull leaders from their OVERALL talent pool, meaning they aren’t getting the full benefit women can bring to the organization because potential leaders are stuck in lower-level jobs.

Ok, so far, total downer.  Where do we go from here?

If you are asked to do something that you believe is an NPT, you have a few options:

  1. Say no using our align-decline-refine approach (credit to our MBA intern, Kat Forbis, on this framework).
  1. If you’ve gotten the task before, try to come up with a systematic solution, such as an “approved vendor” list or finding someone else for whom this is not an NPT (e.g., a new employee who would love to help plan Volunteer Day because it would help them build their network at the company, etc.).

  1. Consider asking the requester, “Out of curiosity, what trait makes me uniquely qualified to do this task?”.  This one can trigger an internal bias audit when the person is forced to consider why they are asking you. 

Obviously how you choose to respond should be handled with care – there are unique aspects to any individual situation that will help guide the choice, but these are a few ideas to start your brainstorm.

Across the board there are other things we can do like:

1. Not doll out NPTs in a gendered way: Interestingly, it’s not just men who are assigning these tasks – unconscious bias also causes women to be more likely to ask other women to do NPTs.  So, when you are asking someone to do an NPT (which most of us have to do from time to time), run an internal bias audit first by asking yourself “what trait makes this person uniquely qualified to do this task?” If you can’t come up with anything, unconscious bias may be guiding your decision and it’s worth seeing if there is a more equitable way to dole out those tasks (draw names from a hat, rotate the assignment, etc.)

2. If you are in a team environment where you see NPTs being assigned in a gendered way you can suggest a better system by saying something like “I’m really enjoying being in the leadership team meetings. I’ve noticed we tend to ask the women to take notes, which I think is an oversight. Could we set a rotation among the team members to ensure everyone has the opportunity to fully?

3. If you want to change the dynamics at your company, check out The No Club where the authors dedicate an entire chapter (Chapter 10) on how to do that.

Want to learn more?

If you want to learn more, or help inform other women about these dynamics, consider inviting me to run a workshop for your association, ERG, or women’s leadership program on the Power of No.

Here are my favorite books on the topic:

Credit for the bulk of the research on NPTs (including the term itself) goes to the authors of The No Club – Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund and Laurie Weingart.  If you want to learn more but only have time for one book, start there.



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