There is a societal expectation for women to volunteer more in non-promotable tasks. This culture holds back women. “Not only is their advancement stymied, but also corporations miss out on capturing valuable talent."1
Managers should take conscious effort into distributing work with equity.
Our studies demonstrate that although neither men nor women really want to volunteer for thankless tasks, women volunteer more, are asked to volunteer more, and accept requests to volunteer more than men. These differences do not appear to result from gender differences in preferences, but rather from a shared understanding that women will volunteer more than men.
While our results are disconcerting, they also provide a silver lining in suggesting how employees and managers can reduce the inequity in work tasks. The solution is not for women to decline more work requests — which would present problems for organizations and hold repercussions for women — but instead for management to find ways to distribute tasks more equitably. Rather than asking for volunteers or asking women to volunteer because they are likely to say yes, managers could consider rotating assignments across employees, for example. Understanding that women volunteer more simply because men are reluctant to do so should also lead men to volunteer more themselves and should empower women to demand fairer treatment.
If this burden falls disproportionately on women, not only is their advancement stymied, but also corporations miss out on capturing valuable talent.