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‘The No Club’ empowers women to take control of their professional lives

  • Innovation and Research
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Faculty
  • Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

More than a decade ago, four Pittsburgh women got together to discuss their frustrations with the unending and unrewarded work tacked on to their already busy day jobs.

Overburdened with requests to join editorial boards and hiring committees, refereeing papers and writing promotional letters for faculty members, Lise Vesterlund, Andrew W. Mellon Pitt professor of economics, found solace with other members of what came to be known as the “No Club”: Carnegie Mellon University professors and friends Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser and Laurie Weingart.

They began meeting monthly to strategize how best to reclaim order and control in their professional lives and began researching the issue, reinvigorated by a shared commitment to reduce their load of non-promotable tasks.

“We started by asking if this is a unique problem for women,” said Lise Vesterlund. And as they scoured the literature, they found little available research on the subject, so they started doing their own.

The result is “The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work,” which will be released by Simon and Schuster on May 3.

Every organization they examined showed that women were doing more unrewarded work than men — and the differences were large.

“We found in one organization that women were spending 200 more hours on non-promotable work each year than their male colleagues,” said Vesterlund. “That is a full month of work that isn’t recognized.”

Using the Pittsburgh Experimental Economics Laboratory, the group explored why women were doing more of this work “To understand what gives rise to this stark difference, we wanted to model scenarios similar to those that occur when you get together for a meeting and someone is asked to take on a task that nobody else wants to do.”

So, the quartet designed an experiment that put over a thousand Pitt undergraduates in a situation where they were divided into small groups and had to find a volunteer for a task. The researchers found that female students were 50% more likely to volunteer than their male counterparts. When a manager was introduced to ask for a volunteer in the group, they found that women were 44% more likely to be asked to take on the work, and that they were 50% more likely to agree when asked.

“Women over and over are taking one for the team,” said Vesterlund. “We ran variations of the study but got this very consistent pattern of women being asked and taking on work that put them at a disadvantage.”

A critical finding of these studies was that women do more non-promotable work because they are expected to take it on — “not because they like it or inherently are better at it,” said Vesterlund.

“These tasks help the organization but don’t help the employee completing the task to advance. We see that women systematically receive a super-sized serving of these tasks across industries, occupations and ranks. The book demonstrates how harmful this is to women and the organizations that employ them and offers easy steps for organizations that can help alleviate this problem,” she said.

Despite focusing on challenges for women, Vesterlund said this is a book for everyone.

“Women will resonate with this work, but we need male allies to help make changes,” she said. “Without change, we are preventing women and their organizations from reaching their potential. Organizations that allocate work to the employee who will take it on, rather than the employee who is best at it, will underutilize their work force and are likely to develop a culture where people free ride and are dissatisfied.”

The authors will speak as part of the Pittsburgh Arts and Lecture series at 6 p.m. on May 3 at Carnegie Library Lecture Hall to celebrate the launch. The event, which includes in-person and online options, is free and open to the public.


— Kara Henderson