Am I being too helpful?

Am I being too helpful?

We’ve all been there, sitting in a meeting, when a request for a volunteer is followed by an awkward silence. No one wants to volunteer for thankless tasks, so why are women more likely to?

There are two categories of work that seek out volunteers:

  1. Opportunities – chances to demonstrate your potential, for you to step outside of your comfort zones and handle challenges.
  2. Non-promotion work – thankless tasks that do not get noticed, such as writing up the actions, arranging the team lunch or organising the filing system.

It is important to be a team player and to support tasks we may not always want to, but when these tasks are distributed unevenly, could this be a contributor to the gender pay gap?

Research from Linda Babcock produced some shocking gender disparities on this issue. The research showed women are 48% more likely to volunteer for ‘non-promotion work’ than men. If you think back to a time when someone volunteered to end that awkward silence, it was more likely to be a woman.

The research continued to explore what happened in a mixed group when a manager asked someone to volunteer. The results found women were requested to volunteer 44% more often than men, and this is consistent between both male and female managers. 

Once the request was made, the research found women are also more likely to accept the request; women accepted 76% of the time compared to 51% for men.

It is interesting to consider – are women volunteering to be helpful, or has an expectation of volunteering been conditioned?

I have discussed this with dozens of women across the insurance industry during our career development programme Women with Presence, and the consensus is that this research is very relatable. The issue is, if women are busy taking on ‘non-promotion work’, they have less capacity to take on opportunities that will demonstrate their potential.

How to limit your non-promotion work

Start by reflecting on work you’ve completed outside your job description over the past eight weeks; consider whether these tasks were inside or outside your comfort zone. 

If you feel you are completing more than your fair share of ‘non-promotion work’, it might be time for a conversation. I like to believe this trend is not deliberate or even conscious; therefore, bringing this to light will allow your manager to support and encourage you. 

Try something like:

‘I wanted to discuss an observation I have had as I know you support me and my career development, and I felt this was something you would want me to share with you. I have noticed that I tend to volunteer for ‘thankless tasks’ more than other members of the team, and this can lead to me having limited capacity to take on work that will help me develop within my role. As a result, I am going to make a conscious effort to volunteer less in team meetings and allow others to step in. Please know that I am here to support you, and should you need my help, I will still be here, I am just going to be more deliberate in what I volunteer for going forward, and I would appreciate your support with this’.