Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work

BY Lisa Jaffe | June 20, 2022

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.


Is Your Company Attractive to a Diverse Workforce?

Three out of four job seekers and employees consider a diverse workforce as an essential factor when evaluating companies and job offers, according to a 2020 Glassdoor survey. “Underrepresented candidates really care about the makeup of your organization and the actual numbers,” said Rena Nigam, founder and CEO of the AI-enabled hiring and talent intelligence platform Meytier, during a recent panel discussion at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Ideally, employers will be able to show candidates that there are people who look like them across all company levels. But what if they aren’t there yet?“If you’re still at the beginning of your journey, then be authentic,” Nigam told journalist Lydia Dishman, panel moderator. “Convey your intention on why you want to improve or why you have a lack of diversity.”Overcoming Biases When HiringTo create a diverse workforce, everyone involved in the hiring process needs education on how to recognize their own biases. Education can help “control some of those thoughts, and ensure that it doesn't allow you to make a decision based solely on those particular biases, but challenge it in the moment,” said DeShaun Wise Porter, global head of diversity and recognition at Hilton.Shenece Johns is the head of inclusion and diversity at JCPenney, which is exploring how to use AI to attract talent. She says this technology is so new that the company is still navigating how to infuse it into the recruiting and hiring process.“There could be bias when using AI, and we want to be mindful when we do decide to go full-steam ahead so that we don't inadvertently put our own unconscious bias into the system and discriminate,” she said. “We want to be intentional and methodical about how we approach it. We don’t want to screen out individuals based on their name, school, neighborhood, or other factors like that.”But companies can employ AI to expand opportunities rather than automate rejection, says Nigam.“We use an AI based ontology there to ensure that we discover things that people may not have stated,” she said. “We look beyond the obvious on people’s journeys.”Skills vs. Traditional MetricsHigher education is becoming more expensive, meaning many individuals can’t afford college. However, that doesn’t mean they lack skills, says Louis Chesney, neurodiversity program manager at RethinkCare.“Even if you were to walk into an interview with a master’s degree, they care less about how many years you were in that environment, and more about if you can do the job,” he said.Lydia Dishman of Fast Company moderated the discussion titled “Is Your Company Attractive to a Diverse Workforce?” during From Day One's recent virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Hilton has eliminated the four-year degree requirement for most of its positions in favor of looking strictly at the skill sets of potential employees, says Wise Porter.“It afforded us an opportunity to truly evaluate and determine what is honestly needed for a particular role,” she said.Monica Parodi, vice president of talent acquisition for The New York Times, said that as a federal contractor, the organization uses a structured, consistent, and inclusive interview process where the questions are all tied back to skills.“The training needs to be there for recruiters to make sure that anything that veers away from skills and might show bias in debriefs returns right back to the skills qualifications for the role,” she said.Leaning into Corporate ValuesMany companies have diversity and inclusion as one of their corporate values. However, those are just words on paper unless an organization truly embraces them.The golden rule, ‘treat others as you want to be treated’ is one of the core values at JCPenney. Johns says it’s a phrase everyone is familiar with, so it’s a good way to connect everyone in the organization as well as job candidates. “We lead with that and we lean into it,” she said.However, people can perceive values differently, which can cause bias, says Porter. She said it’s important to ask “appropriate behavioral-based interview questions to be able to get down to the crux of the matter for a consistent experience.”The best way for an organization to communicate its values is to demonstrate them, says Chesney. That’s why it’s essential to provide a detailed interview agenda to job prospects. “This could level the playing field by giving all candidates the same information and expectations. It’s also important to be transparent about the accommodations process, which can help candidates with different needs to perform their best in the interview,” he said.Connecting with Overlooked Candidate PoolsNigam defined overlooked candidate pools as “people who see constant rejection. They are people who always end up in the job black hole.” These individuals include immigrants, caregivers, veterans, and those with disabilities, she says.The New York Times is working on hiring practices across the board for anyone from historically marginalized groups, including people who are neurodivergent, says Parodi.For example, the organization is moving away from panel interviews. Those interviews were created to reduce biases but have also excluded some groups, says Parodi.Certain individuals might not perform as well during a panel interview because they may struggle with working memory or executive functioning, says Chesney. He said those struggles are amplified “when you’re getting rapid fire questions from multiple people.”One of the most overlooked talent pools are those with criminal backgrounds, says Johns. “We are doing some work in this space to help with giving them a second chance,” she said.Mary Pieper is a freelance reporter based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | November 30, 2023

How to Focus and Accelerate the Hiring Process for a Better Experience

Amy Onori, senior vice president of talent acquisition at Publicis Media, was frustrated with the traditional hiring process, which was typically slow, inefficient, and biased. She and her team wanted to try something new and she had some experience with live hiring, a novel on-the-spot approach to hiring talent. When Apex, a trading platform at Publicis Media, had several job openings, she felt it was the perfect opportunity for innovation.“At the end of the day, we did make executive decisions on which candidate was going to be receiving an offer. And in the event that we weren’t going to proceed with a candidate, they were messaged within 24 hours explaining that we would not be moving in the direction of an offer.”Onori spoke about this one-day, top talent hiring process with Saja Hindi, a reporter for The Denver Post during a fireside chat at From Day One’s November virtual conference.Sprinting to the Finish LineThe benefit of live hiring is that it’s transparent and fast, and lets candidates know right away if they’ve made the cut. The purpose is to streamline the hiring process and make it more efficient.For the event, Onori says that several weeks out they stopped actively recruiting and created several featured positions they were going to fill at the event. The recruiters generated leads on LinkedIn and through other channels, incorporating diversity and inclusion. The candidates were pre-vetted and prescreened, and highly experienced for the roles they would fill.“The day of, we would have a lot of hiring initiatives. Meaning they would get a new hire orientation with a debrief on Publicis Media, in addition to what Apex is. [They] would be greeted by our senior leadership and there would be a round robin style of interviewing. We would go over each question and each answer and decide, right then and there, who we are going to make an offer to,” Onori said.The hiring sprint was held towards the tail end of the pandemic, when the economy was still opening up and people were coming back to the office. This is something Onori wanted the candidates to know—that they were returning to the office.“It also really created an awesome buzz with the return to office initiative. This entire event was orchestrated in-person,” which excited people, Onori said.Amy Onori of Publicis Media was interviewed by Saja Hindi of the Denver Post during the virtual fireside chat (photo by From Day One)This live hiring event wasn’t Onori’s first experience with the format. In a previous role, she held a similar event for entry level roles. “All of our entry level talent was hired that way from that point forward. And I wanted to bring that idea and execute it for Publicis and Apex, and make sure that we are doing this for experienced talent.”To make sure their hiring process was diverse, they leveraged their third party efforts through partnerships that foster diverse talent, like veteran networks. “We made sure that a diverse roster of talent was being considered. And I do feel that we succeeded in that manner," Onori said.Despite being a relatively new and unknown approach, Onori says she didn’t have much difficulty convincing senior leadership. “They really listened to me, and they really understood this could solve a lot. And we could be more effective if we just do these things right now, versus talking about it and potentially doing it a few months from now.”To get people to sign on, Onori came with a powerpoint and a plan that showed how it would solve recruitment efficiency and preserve the candidate experience, the specifics around data rollout, and her anticipated results. The biggest hurdle, Onori says, was time.“They had to dedicate basically an entire day with their senior leadership to do this, and to partner with me and my team to make sure that we were doing it in the way that I knew it could be successful. A day in the life of someone in media is a huge thing. You have a lot of things going on all at once,” Onori said.Breaking the process down further, Onori explained that to keep it unbiased the resumes were blinded and they had multiple planning sessions with leaders to go over the sort of questions to ask to make sure, for example, they didn't hire in a biased way. Leadership was only given 48 hours to consider resumes beforehand, which gave them review time but not enough to develop a strong opinion on the candidates.Even if they didn’t get the job, Onori says they left  with feedback and experience. Those who were hired found out in less than a day.A Hiring Sprint For All IndustriesSprint hiring is not impromptu. It takes time and planning to pull off a successful event, but Onori believes it is repeatable anywhere.“It’s not something on the recruitment side that can be done within an hour or two,” Onori said. But she says it does make the hiring process fair and equitable. She added that it's not specific to media or advertising and can be applied in every industry.However, Onori says sprint hiring is better for more experienced roles and having “enough lead time to allow recruiters to source and screen the right candidates” is key.So, is it worth it to try something new with the hiring process? Though Onori says this round of hiring was a bit ambitious, trying to hire eight out of nine positions, she was pleased with the four they got.“I think a lot of people are afraid to do something different to disrupt the process,” Onori said. She recognizes that staying inside the tried and true process is easy and safe, but being bold has its advantages. “Don’t be afraid to color outside the lines. So long as what you’re trying to do lines up with business and what they’re seeking to accomplish.”As far as hiring sprints disrupting the future of hiring, Onori has some additional advice. “Hiring managers should be really thinking long-term in terms of what they’re seeking, not just as a hire, but as a culture,” Onori said.“Whenever you’re looking to hire someone, think about who is adding something different to the mix, who is bringing value in a different way. The many people in my group do not think just like I do, or perform just like me. And that’s what makes us a really strong team. We’re different, our ideas are different, and we’re each adding something new to our collective vision.”Matthew Koheler is a freelance journalist and licensed real estate agent based in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in Greater Greater Washington, The Washington Post, The Southwester, and Walking Cinema, among others.

Matthew Koehler | November 29, 2023

Shifting Mindsets: Innovative Strategies for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Glenn Jackson joined M&T Bank 25 years ago thanks to a development program. He’s been their chief diversity officer for an impressive five years, long before many organizations had an inkling of that role. Over the years, he’s developed an intimate knowledge of the workings of the company. But more than that, he has the trust of everyone, which has been instrumental as he transitioned to his current role in the DEI space. “We move at the speed of trust,” Jackson said. “So that’s been a blessing for sure. You also come up through a space where you understand where the biggest challenges are.” Because the bank started early in this and had the trust factor built in, Jackson said they’ve made great progress. Weaving diversity into a company must be intentional, and even though it’s still a young concept, it’s here to stay. Jackson shared his experiences during a fireside chat at From Day One’s November Virtual: Fresh Approaches to Diversity Recruiting. Lizzy McLellan Ravitch, workplace reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer, moderated the chat. On average, diversity specialists have been in their roles for around 18 months, and many are new to the company they are serving, says Jackson. Which means the specialist and the company are still working through how to do what they need to do to incorporate diversity into the fabric of the organization. It’s no wonder that some are finding it challenging to help shift the hearts, minds and culture of companies. Can it really be done? And if changes are made, will they stick? “There’s always a fear that as you start to make progress, the commitments will start to dwindle over time,” he said.Lizzy McLellan Ravitch of the Philadelphia Inquirer interviewed Glenn Jackson of M&T Bank in the virtual fireside chat session (photo by From Day One)Recently, among peers, someone asked, are you worried about people disinvesting in the work? “Probably about half the room raised their hand and said they were concerned.” Unfortunately, some businesses are making staff cuts and often less traditional roles like diversity can be in danger of not showing value. But since Jackson has been in his role for longer than most, he actually feels hopeful. And thankfully so did about a third of the peers who reported they were actually doubling down. “There’s an acceleration toward more challenging issues,” Jackson said. “The organization has built it in a way that is embedded in the DNA of the culture rather than built as a vertical, which, frankly, can’t possibly fundamentally change and shift the culture of an organization.”That’s the key, isn’t it? Not to build diversity as a side gig, but as an integral part of how the company operates. Of course, it’s challenging to change mindsets and shift from traditional ways of doing things. First, you have to pay attention. Second, you have to think outside the box.Jackson offered an example as to how they’re building DEI into the DNA. One of the most encouraging things M&T Bank is doing is partnering with CareerWise to offer an apprenticeship program. “It feels like a game changer for us,” Jackson said. The curriculum is for recent graduates who aren’t going to attend a university, but want a good career in banking. The program meets them where the students are, introduces them to the education they need, and combines it with the job training that will eventually lead to a good-paying job. “What I love about this is that you’re going right to the space that you belong,” Jackson said. The company is showing talent that it cares, and through the program they can build trust. Plus the employees coming in through nontraditional means can then become integral parts of the organization. Instead of relying on traditional methods, they went right to the source. Companies will continue to hire employees in the traditional way, but even those methods should be challenged and interrupted. This can be done, even at big organizations where there are typically many openings to fill. What hiring managers need to do is look at their biases. Most people don’t have ill intent in these roles, but unfortunately it’s natural to hire people who look like you or have experiences like yours, says Jackson.“But oftentimes, if you just rely on that pattern, you’re going to get the same results,” he said. Diversity is gone, and a narrow perspective prevails, which doesn’t help business or customers. Rather than rely on your initial instincts, Jackson says, broaden your perspective. Create interrupters that allow people who have different experiences to show what they can do. If you’re not sure how to go about doing that, Jackson has some advice. “You likely already have people in the ranks right now that did not come through a traditional sense that are high performers in your organization. Go talk to them,” he said. “Then it becomes a value discussion.”Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter.

Carrie Snider | November 28, 2023