Carnegie Mellon University: The No Club: Bringing Gender Equity to the Workplace

Twelve years ago, a group of women found themselves overwhelmed by work and endless to-do lists. They banded together to get their work lives under control and soon realized that the work that was making them miserable really wasn’t core to their jobs. To carve out time for the work that mattered most to their careers, they vowed to say no to new requests for dead-end work. And so “The No Club” was born.

On May 3, the original No Club members, Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser and Laurie Weingart of Carnegie Mellon University and Lise Vesterlund of the University of Pittsburgh, will publish “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work.” Through the story arc of their club’s journey, they demonstrate how gendered work assignments derail women’s careers. Their pioneering research uncovers why this happens, and they provide straightforward, inexpensive and effective solutions to the problem.

The book brings to light the fact that women, more so than men, are tasked with work that doesn’t advance their careers — a situation that is bad for women and their organizations.

“We call these ‘nonpromotable tasks’ (NPTs), because although they help the organization, they come without reward to the person who does them. Think of activities like taking notes at a meeting, making a PowerPoint presentation look great, bringing new hires on board — these are all important, but you won’t get praise, a raise or a promotion for doing them well,” said Vesterlund, the Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Economics at Pitt.

The co-authors see overburdening women with NPTs as driving a significant portion of the gender gap in both pay and advancement. They propose that women and their allies, working with their organizations, systematically address this problem by equalizing the distribution of NPTs across men and women.

“When NPTs are distributed equitably, organizations can leverage the talents of all their employees,” said Weingart, the Richard M. and Margaret S. Cyert Professor of Organizational Behavior and Theory at the Tepper School of Business. “If women are spending too much time on work that isn’t tied to the mission, we lose out on their contributions to our collective success.”

Their research — which included experiments, surveys, administrative data and interviews with individuals across industries and jobs — shows that women aren’t doing NPTs because they inherently are better at it or enjoy it more. They do NPTs because they are expected to take on the work that no one else wants. This collective expectation causes women to be asked more, to volunteer more and to risk backlash if they say no.

By sharing personal experiences, the authors demonstrate how small, yet significant changes can empower women to balance their NPT load and help organizations benefit from the skills of their entire workforce.

“Data built our case, but stories are what people remember and relate to. Sharing our personal story and struggles was challenging, but we think that women will see themselves in our journey, and that it gives a heartfelt view of the negative impact that too much non-promotable work has on women’s lives,” said Babcock, the James M. Walton University Professor of Economics at the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences and Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy. “We hope that our research and experience bring awareness to this critical and previously unseen problem, and that readers will be inspired to make changes in their own lives and those of others.”

The co-authors dedicated “The No Club” to MJ Tocci, their fifth club member, who died of ovarian cancer in 2014.

“MJ brooked no nonsense. When one of us waffled on saying no, or made the same mistake yet again, MJ called us out,” said Peyser, former associate dean of the Heinz College School of Public Policy and Management. She was determined that we address the issue of NPTs because gender equity was the full focus of her meaningful career. This dedication is a small gesture of homage to a woman we loved, respected and still miss.”

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