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Advice to women - just say, "no"

Posted on April 16, 2021
illustrated image of a women sitting at a desk with men giving her more work to accomplish

Did you know that women are far more likely to volunteer for tasks that do not lead to a promotion or a raise? According to a small-scale study conducted at the University of Pittsburgh, 696 students participated in an exercise in which they were asked to volunteer. Researchers found that women raised their hands 48% more often than their male counterparts. And when a manager needed to “choose someone quickly to complete a task” they were more likely to pick a woman.

Linda Babcock, Maria P. Recalde and Lise Vesterlund looked at why women volunteer for tasks that do not lead to promotion in an HBR article. In looking at a wide array of research, they concluded that it was not the nature of the tasks or that men were less interested, instead “ the real driver was a shared understanding or expectation that women would volunteer more than men.”

Julia Carpenter writes in a CNN article entitled, “You are not the office mom. So why do you do the office housework? about women being expected to take on certain roles, such as note-taking, making coffee, tidying the office kitchen, or planning the holiday party. “This type of office housework has been studied by scholars for decades.” While these tasks are appreciated and contribute to the overall working environment, they do nothing to bolster a career. Taking notes at a strategic planning meeting makes it difficult to engage in the conversation and when have we heard senior leadership say, “Oh, let’s promote Mary because she is a good note-taker” - never!

This morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education’s daily newsletter, there was an article about this very topic. When comparing the trajectories and efforts of men and women in academia, author Sharon Marcus refers to collective men as David and women as Jennifer and writes, “we value a Jennifer most when she cares for others and makes them feel good, although we rarely confer money or honors on her self-sacrifice. Should Jennifer try to exercise power on her own behalf, our response is usually ambivalent at best. Over time and in the aggregate, men feel their capacities increase; women feel theirs run down.”

So, I have some sage advice for my peers and colleagues, aka Jennifer – just say, “No.”

Saying no matters today and in the future because in the long run, women will continue to be promoted less often, which ultimately results in financial loss better known as the wage gap. We must refrain from our need to end the awkward silence when our manager asks for volunteers to run the annual holiday party or send out the birthday cards. We must create boundaries such that we do not put ourselves into the role of “mother” – our clients, students, peers, all have mothers (or mother figures in their lives) and it is not our responsibility to take on that role. It is not our responsibility to feel the need to take on the mundane tasks, so men can assume more power.

So, say “No.” Support your female co-workers in saying, “No.” Help one another create and maintain healthy boundaries that allow us to assume more power, authority, and opportunities for promotion. As women, we need to stand together and support ALL women, especially women of color, so collectively we can truly become equal to our male counterparts.


Anne Converse Willkomm
Assistant Dean, Graduate College
Assistant Clinical Professor & Department Head, Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in leadership-management-skills, innovation-workplace, professional-development-career-tips