October 31, 2018

Who takes notes at meetings?

Who cleans up the coffee station?

Who organizes the office parties?

In many cases, that person is a woman — sometimes dubbed an “office mom.” And these often thankless jobs are non-promotable tasks, according to Lise Vesterlund, chair of the University of Pittsburgh’s Economics Department. They contribute to the overall health of the organization but aren’t cause for recognition.

Promotable tasks, on the other hand, contribute to organizational growth and/or revenue — but many times, the person taking on those types of assignments is a man.

Vesterlund studied how men and women behave differently when they are asked to volunteer for a low-promotable task. In groups of men-only or women-only, people in her study were “equally likely to volunteer,” but in groups that mixed men and women, women volunteered twice as often. The professor shared her findings during a day-long symposium this month at American University, organized by Reveal.

To combat women volunteering more frequently than their male co-workers, Vesterlund said, “We don't want to fix the women.” Instead, she suggested bosses set up a system in which employees take turns or have tasks randomly assigned. The professor and some of her female colleagues even created a “No Club” to serve as a check on one another when someone was raising her hand for a low-promotable task.

When asked how the findings might be put to use to increase the number of top female editors in newsrooms, Vesterlund said encouraging women to apply for more visible roles in leadership is helpful. She cited this year’s Nobel Prize in physics, the first time in 55 years that a woman was recognized. Female physicists have been doing noteworthy work for more than half a century, but there has been little public acclaim for them.

Applications now open for Poynter's 2019 Leadership Academies for Women in Digital Media.

Donna Strickland didn’t even have a Wikipedia page of her accomplishments until she won the Nobel in October. A Wikipedia moderator denied an effort to create a page for Strickland in May, saying the scientist had not received enough dedicated coverage elsewhere online to qualify for her own entry.

Vesterlund said women can help themselves advance by suggesting a strategic job. When someone suggests chairing the party-planning committee, ask for a seat on the executive committee instead.

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Doris Truong is responsible for overseeing Poynter’s teaching across platforms. Her diversity portfolio includes helping newsrooms better cover their communities and providing the resources to…
Doris Truong

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