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It’s all work that needs doing–taking notes at meetings, introducing new employees to their colleagues, interviewing candidates, or preparing slides for a presentation. But it’s not work that’s rewarded, doesn’t count towards meeting core goals, and largely, it’s done by women.

“This is work that is important to the organization, but not to the career of the individual doing it. It can’t be tied directly to the mission of the organization, it isn’t revenue-generating, it tends to be invisible, and it tends to be work that can be done by a lot of people,” said Lise Vesterlund, Ph.D., professor of economics at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of the new book The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work.

Women do as much as a whole extra month of work every year that is unrecognized and doesn’t impact their pay or potential advancement in an organization, according to research done by Vesterlund and her three co-authors, including Laurie Weingart, Ph.D., a professor of organizational behavior at Carnegie Mellon University. Vesterland and Weingart spoke with Emma Hinchliffe, a senior writer at Fortune, in a fireside chat at From Day One’s June virtual conference on more inclusive approaches to diversity.

The research and book were the offshoot of a small club they formed, the “I Just Can’t Say No Club,” where they identified the phenomenon and resolved to help women learn to more appropriately value their time. “I spent my career running around doing anything I was asked to do,” said Weingart. “I didn’t realize it was so big a problem until we got together for the first time as a club and started talking about how we were being asked to do a whole host of tasks that were important to the organization but weren’t necessarily a good use of our time for our own careers.” The more they talked, the brighter the lightbulb over her head got. “I don’t have to say yes to all of these things I’m being asked to do, and I should really be more thoughtful about how I fill my plate.”

Talking with co-authors of The No Club, clockwise from upper right: Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, Laurie Weingart of Carnegie Mellon University, and moderator Emma Hinchliffe of Fortune (Image by From Day One)

Vesterlund had a similar a-ha moment. “I always felt guilty if someone asked for help, and I declined the request. I never thought about where the time was coming from. In academia, it was students or colleagues asking for help, helping with recruiting, doing assignments that weren’t core to my job, and helping other departments. I did not have time to do work critical for my own career.” Her meetings with the club led to a concrete evaluation of where time for these extra tasks was originating: every additional assignment ate into the already limited time with her children. “That made it easier to think about saying no.”

While they learned to say no, Weingart says club members were still constantly asked to help, and they quickly realized they were doing a lot more of this than their male colleagues. “We needed to figure out the root cause. We knew it wasn't just us. We’ve talked to our friends, we talked to colleagues, and we heard a lot of stories of women who are in similar situations.”

They tried to determine the gender split of this work. In both existing papers and their own new research, they confirmed the burden of this kind of work falls much more heavily on women. “Whether or not you’re an architect or engineer, a supermarket clerk or a TSA agent, women everywhere are spending a lot more time in this work,” said Vesterlund. One professional services company they examined recorded billable hours and specific tasks in minute detail. They asked the firm’s leaders which of those tasks was promotable, somewhat promotable, and non-promotable. The female employees were doing an average 200 more hours per year of the non-promotable tasks.

Why is this happening? they wondered. “Are women are doing this work because they’re better at it, or do they like it more?” asked Vesterlund. “If so, it’s concerning that they have made choices that will hurt their pay and hurt their potential promotion.”

The co-authors ran a study at the University of Pittsburgh, where they asked various groups to volunteer for tasks. “Women end up volunteering 50% more often,” she said. “It isn’t altruism driving that. If we split it up to all-female and all-male groups, they volunteer at exactly the same rate. It’s not that men don’t know how to volunteer. It’s just they don’t volunteer if there are women around.”

Vesterlund calls it a “collective expectation” that women will take on the work. To confirm this, the co-authors conducted a study having a manager come in an ask someone to take on some unrewarded task that had to be done, but everyone prefers not to do. The managers asked women 44% more often than they asked men, regardless of whether the manager was male or female. “We shouldn’t allocate work according to who is least reluctant to take it on. We should allocate it based on who’s best at it,” she said.

Among the remedies the co-authors recommend:

Don’t ask; tell. Weingart said managers should immediately stop asking for volunteers. At the University of Pittsburgh, they draw names out of a hat. Companies could also institute a rotation of duties. “The goal isn’t to stop women from doing this work; it’s to make a more equitable distribution.”

Re-allocate tasks. At the leadership level, Vesterlund says organizations should determine if these tasks are even in the right place. For instance, is the best use of a professor’s time to be organizing conferences? Support staff could do this work, where it could be listed as part of their job description and for which they could be recognized and rewarded.

Reevaluate tasks that are vital to the organization that aren’t rewarded. One of these tasks is onboarding, to ensure that new employees are welcomed and make the connections they need to succeed in their careers. Vesterlund says in this job market, the task has a much greater importance. But it’s often a job doled out to whoever raises their hand. Instead, allocate it to someone who is good at that job. Unlike taking notes at a meeting, which can be done by anyone, making new employees feel welcomed may be something that certain people have an affinity for, and a capability of doing well.

Set clear guidelines for what work matters for promotion, raises, and progression in the company. Monitor who is doing what work and assess the distribution regularly, advised Vesterland. Weingart says the business case for doing this is straightforward. “People often leave their jobs not because of money, but because they don’t have opportunities to advance, the next step is unclear to them, or they aren’t challenged at work. This is especially true for women and especially true today with the Great Resignation. People are burdened with work that does not advance their career. That directly ties into the issues of retention and turnover, and is especially important for organizations trying to get gender equity in the workplace.”

Don’t think this isn’t your problem. “Every single organization we spoke to knew that this was a problem,” Vesterlund noted. “They just didn’t know how big.”

The work the co-authors did has paid off. Along with changes at the University of Pittsburgh, the Harvard Kennedy School changed its rules, Vesterlund said. There are clear guidelines on how much non-promotable work employees are expected to do. “It doesn't matter how much promotable work you have done. If you don’t meet the expectation for non-promotable work, you will not get a satisfactory job performance. Another organization thought that employees helping one another was something that should be included in performance evaluations. They encouraged employees to submit little cards identifying who helped and how. These are used in performance evaluations.”

Knowledge is power, she concluded. “When you get new managers or supervisors, share with them that women are doing more non-promotable work. It shows it’s something you care about. While some may feel threatened by the characterization that women are doing more of this, we can’t have one set of employees spending an entire month per year on unrewarded, unrecognized work.”

Lisa Jaffe is a freelance writer who lives in Seattle with her son and a very needy rescue dog named Ellie Bee. She enjoys reading, long walks on the beach, and trying to get better at ceramics.