Stuck Grabbing Coffee or Running Errands? 9 Women Share Their Experience With ‘Non-Promotable Work’

woman holding multiple coffees

Entertainment Tonight / The Bold Type

Stephanie Taylor for The Female Quotient
Stephanie Taylor for The Female Quotient

Weighing in everywhere from the U.S. to Pakistan to India, women in The Female Quotient community offered perspectives on how they’ve redistributed this unequal assignment of work, as well as where they’re still stuck.

Have you ever found yourself doing administrative work that wasn’t your responsibility? If you’re a woman in the workplace, chances are you probably have, according to survey data recently resurfaced in this recent story from WSJ. Referring to these sorts of tasks as “non-promotable work,” the survey found that women often find themselves in these positions not because they “inherently excel at it or want to do it,” but because “we expect it of them.” 

From personal experience, we know that dealing with these situations can be tough. You may say “yes” because you don’t want to be seen as difficult, or because you’re a “go with the flow” type of person, or maybe because you don’t recognize it’s happening because of how we’ve been conditioned to believe that saying yes is more. Understanding the complexities here, we reached out to our FQ community across the globe to see how they’ve handled situations like these in the past, and how they’re handling them today. 

Here’s what they had to say: 

“Do I have experience with non-promotable work? Oh my goodness, yes! Everything from maintaining the break room, the copy room, and running errands. I started to say no at new jobs and stuck to it. I’ve even encouraged the creation of committees for big events so everyone has a chance to plan parties. Not all women like to plan events, and some men love it. I say: Let everyone who has an interest do it!”  — Jennifer Myers, staff professional, S&ME, Greenville-Spartanburg-Anderson, South Carolina Area

“As a rule, when men ask women to get them coffee in meetings, I usually say: ‘Are your legs broken?’ We tend to laugh, but I am consistent with my remarks. Oftentimes, it happens in a large setting when women will get the coffee without objection because we are usually outnumbered. In other cases, I speak to the men directly and privately to explain how this is not a woman’s job. I have seen true change in some of those cases, and in other cases, the men will still only get their own coffee if I was present.”  — Natalie Spencer, marketing & communications director, Boston, Massachusetts 

“I work for a company that is 95% female, sometimes even more! We all assume non-promotable work, and it feels good to be in an environment like that — where we are all chipping in. I know there are a lot of negative sentiments toward the concept that work is family, but, in my case, it really feels that way.” — Sandra Jense, nurse practitioner, Layton, Utah

“A few years ago, I started noticing that when anyone arrived at the door during lunchtime and there were five or so men there, none of them would move — they’d just look at me. The first couple of times, I got up, but as soon as I realized what was happening, I jokingly said, ‘Oooh good job! I have ovaries which make me perfectly suited to signing for Amazon parcels!’ Cue the sheepish grins and now the occasional man does actually get up!” — Lucy Hughes, head of HS service delivery at GRUNDFOS, Settala, Lombardy, Italy 

“I had a boss who was out sick and called me to ask me to pick up groceries and other items for him. He was also an Army Major while I was a young Second Lieutenant. After thinking about it for half a second, I told him no. I think it surprised him so much that he didn’t know what to say, but he never asked for non-work related errands again.” — Melissa M., owner and principal consultant, The Smart PM, Phoenix, Arizona

“I’ve always just taken on non-promotable work because I thought my bosses would see me as an asset. I now realize this has created a lot of stress without helping me progress in my career.. My team is not thinking about my career progression, but instead about what I can do for them. I have played a part in this because I’m kind and enjoy helping people, but it’s time I think about myself and my advancement. There is real money that I’m missing out on. The non-promotable work adds up.” — Harriet Lord, sustainability consultant, Bristol, England

“I am on the receiving end of ‘non-promotable work,’ and while it’s quite depressing, I have learned to stay humble and trust the process. I know it’s not good enough, but I am afraid to speak up.” — Melissa Rampersad-Jagmohan, administrative assistant, Trinidad

“I recently realized the work I have been doing for years was non-promotable work. In retrospect, I realize that there was an element of ageism as I was being handed non-promotable tasks under the guise of my capabilities and ‘the need for me to be flexible,’ all the while my younger colleagues were receiving opportunities for advancement.” — Monica Manjul, manager, Delhi, India

“When I was given non-promotable work, I stayed silent. My efforts were never acknowledged by management even after I was in leadership roles and doing all the work by myself.” — Maria Shahid, software engineer, Karachi, Pakistan 

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This article originally appeared in The Female Quotient. The Female Quotient (The FQ) is changing the equation and closing the gaps. The FQ’s diverse mix of live events, online forums, custom research, media, and corporate advisory services identifies challenges, surfaces effective strategies, forges powerful networks, and ultimately sparks measurable progress. Through its intensive engagement with women around the world, in multiple industries, and at every level, The FQ has a rare understanding of what is on the minds of working women and what specific needs must be addressed to confront existing inequalities. For more information, visit: www.thefemalequotient.com.

Do you ever do non-promotable work? How do you say no to this kind of work when asked? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!