Service work is a common feature of work, whether in academia, at a think tank, or in a general office setting. This work includes tasks like serving on a departmental committee, interviewing interns, or organizing an office party. Service work is essential to develop camaraderie and harmony in a workplace, but is often not considered when a worker is up for promotion. They are also called “non-promotable” tasks (NPTs), according to four authors of a recent book The No Club.
The book had its genesis in a group that has been meeting regularly and expanding since 2010, when the authors, Lise Vesterland, Brenda Peyser, Laurie Weingart, and Linda Babcock, all academics, first sat down at a restaurant to trade experiences about all the tasks that seemed to overwhelm their workdays. Unsurprisingly, as The No Club demonstrates these tasks often fall to women to complete, eating up time they might spend on work that would get them noticed by superiors who hold sway over career advancement.
According to one study discussed in the book, women at a professional services firm, regardless of seniority, spent an additional 200 hours per year on NPTs than the median man. The authors note that women are more likely to be asked to do this kind of service work and also say yes more often.
In addition to identifying just how much work lands on the shoulders of professional women, The No Club encourages women in the workplace to size up NPT requests and develop a perfect way to say no to work they don’t want to do and which won’t help them get ahead. They also stress that the burden should not rest with women alone, instead it is an institutional problem that needs to be addressed by entire organizations in order to divide up service tasks equitably.