Why Women Volunteer for Non-Promotable Tasks?

There are tasks in every organization that doesn't contribute to a worker's career advancement. However, research conducted by Harvard Bussiness Review suggests that these tasks disproportionately fall on women.

The Woman Post | Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Non-Promotable Tasks (NPTs) are tasks that are important to an organization but won't help the career of the person who does them. These tasks won't show up in your performance evaluation. You may get a "Hey, thanks for doing that," but it's never recognized again. There are many examples of NPTs in all types of organizations. One of them can be seen in the academy: Some professors have to actively participate in the internal review board. However, the people on that committee don't get any recognition for it, but it's a very time-consuming task and takes away from promotable work, which is research and teaching.

Harvard Business Review researchers Linda Babcock, Maria P. Recalde, and Lise Vesterlund found out that women are 48% more likely to volunteer than men to NPTs. Consequently, women are spending more time doing NPTs than promotable ones. This could explain why although women have a high performance, they are less likely to get promoted than their male counterparts.

From taking notes to organizing a party for the organization, serving coffee in meetings, to coordinating a group to do some activity, managers are more likely to ask women to volunteer to do these NPTs. The reason could be behind the "traditional roles" assigned to women related to being more "meticulous" and "enjoying more such activities." Nevertheless, this stereotype shouldn't be an obstacle in a woman's career.

According to the Harvard Business Review experiment, women received 44% more requests to volunteer than men in mixed-sex groups in the investigation made by Babcock, Recalde, and Vesterlund. Another surprising finding was that when a manager was asked to find a volunteer for an NPTs, they recruited women. It didn't matter the gender of the manager; both men and women chose other women because it was a "wiser" decision. Women were also more likely to say yes. A request to do an NPT was accepted by men 51% of the time and by women 76% of the time.

If women keep being assigned time-consuming tasks that don't allow them to advance in their work, it will take them longer to get a promotion. Changing this dynamic should be a priority in any organization that aims to promote gender equality and a more diverse workplace.


Even though women may volunteer more to do NPTs because they may be more altruistic than men, this shouldn't be an excuse to expect them to do all the "minor" and sometimes annoying tasks that no one else wants to do. Unfortunately, there's a shared understanding that women will volunteer more than men.

This sexist approach should be eradicated from the workplace to preserve a friendlier and more equal environment. Managers should find a way to distribute tasks more equally, especially those that don't represent an indicator for evaluating job performance. The study concludes that workers who spend more time on NPTs are held back from demonstrating their full potential.

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