Insight & Analysis

Join the club: just say no

Published: May 2022

If you’re female and you feel like you’ve been held back in your career, it might be because you’ve been spending too much time doing non-promotable tasks, or NPTs. Now is the time to join a No Club and put an end to all that ‘office housework’, argue the authors of a new book.

Woman holiday up blackboard that says no!

Organising leaving drinks, buying birthday cards, and other office extras could be ruining your career, and a new book argues that women are disproportionately spending more time on ‘office housework’ than men. Non-promotable tasks, or NPTs, could be important – such as bringing in the new interns, or sitting on various committees – but they’re not rewarded and are holding women back. In fact, they could be spending 200 hours more than men doing such tasks every year.

That’s the argument laid out in a new book The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead End Work, which was released in early May 2022. It’s something of a manifesto for putting an end to this and offers a practical solution to addressing gender imbalances in the workplace.

The authors, academics Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund and Laurie Weingart, draw on their years of collective experience in the fields of behavioural economics, organisational behaviour and communications, and urge women to form their own No Clubs. They formed their own No Club a few years back when they were overwhelmed with their increasing to-do lists and felt guilty if they said no to new tasks. They clubbed together to find solutions, and yet they found the extra work still kept getting piled on. Their workload increased, yet they found their male peers – unencumbered by all these extra tasks – were progressing in their careers where they weren’t. And as academics, they started to research this problem specifically and found their situation was symptomatic of a much wider problem.

They argue that women are disproportionately asked to do this extra work. Not just that, they are expected to do it, possibly because it is believed they are better suited to doing it. The authors argue that this needs to end and women need to focus on work that is core to their career progression, and not get bogged down by the pesky NPTs.

The problem isn’t one just for women to solve, however. The book acknowledges that this problem is systemic; it is a problem with organisations, and organisations – and the leaders who work in them – need to take steps to change. Tweaking who does the NPTs is a small change, which could have major benefits for gender equality.

Practical steps that organisations can take is putting NPTs on a rota so that everyone has to do them in equal measure, and no single person always gets lumbered with it. Also, it shouldn’t be assumed that women want to do this kind of work. And if people are spending too much time on extra committees, and unable to focus on their core role, maybe it’s time to change the key performance indicators so they include these extra tasks so they are recognised and rewarded.

Richard Thaler, the renowned behavioural economist and author of ‘Nudge’, in his review of the book writes, “In many organisations, women are in the minority but end up doing the majority of the thankless jobs. This important book helps women learn when and how to say no, and should be a wake-up call to management: give every man a yellow pad and tell them to learn to take notes. Better yet, change the way that work is allocated and rewarded”.

The book is also a call to action and urges women to set up No Clubs of their own. Maybe it’s time for you to start yours?

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