Ep 41 : Empowering Women in the Workplace: Navigating Non-Promotable Tasks: Brenda Peyser
Updated: May 28
How to support women in the workplace and the challenges they face with non-promotable tasks and communication barriers in meetings.
In this interview with Brenda Peyser, we discuss,
What are non-promotable tasks and how can limit career advancement opportunities for women.
Tips for identifying non-promotable tasks and how to prioritize tasks that contribute to career growth and development.
Strategies for saying no to non-promotable tasks without jeopardizing career progression.
How to shed non-promotable tasks, benefitting you and the organization.
Reframing the concept of "no" to benefit the organization and communicate boundaries effectively.
How organizations measure non-promotable tasks and steps they can take to address the issue.
Takeaways for you on how to communicate effectively in meetings, including strategies for holding the floor, amplifying ideas, and supporting other women.
Importance of allies and support networks for women in the workplace.
Call to action for YOU and organizations to prioritize career growth and development for women.
Brenda Peyser is the Former Associate Dean, of the School Of Public Policy And Management at Carnegie Mellon University. She has held leadership positions in the academic and corporate worlds for almost 35 years. Brenda is one of the co-authors of The No Club – Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work, with Linda Babcock, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart.
Most recently, Brenda was a Distinguished Service Professor of Professional Communications at Carnegie Mellon University’s Heinz College, where she taught classes in professional speaking and acting.
She is the founding Executive Director of Carnegie Mellon, Australia and one of the founders of Heinz College’s Institute for Social Innovation. Brenda has taught at the Carnegie Mellon Leadership and Negotiation Academy for Women and consulted with organizations to improve women’s communication skills.
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PODCAST TRANSCRIPT OVERVIEW
[00:00] Meet Prof. Brenda Peyser [Jump to section]
[03:15] A support network of Women [Jump to section]
[06:24] Non-Promotable Tasks...More work, Less reward [Jump to section]
[08:15] How do you identify Non-promotable tasks[Jump to section]
[16:05] How do you say No? [Jump to section]
[21:11] Organizational Benefits... Reframe your "No" [Jump to section]
[26:14] How do organizations measure NPT...SUMMARY [Jump to section]
[28:19] What can organizations do [Jump to section]
[34:08] Takeaways for you and organizations [Jump to section]
[38:20] How women can communicate to get their point across and hold the floor in a meeting [Jump to section]
[45:05] Note to your 21-year-old self [Jump to section]
[46:23] Career Pivot...Theatre..to Consulting..to Academia [Jump to section]
[47:32] Takeaways [Jump to section]
PODCAST DETAILED TRANSCRIPT
[00:00] Meet Prof. Brenda Peyser
Sirisha: Welcome to the Women Career and Life podcast. I have Professor Brenda Pi from Carnegie Mellon University. She was the associate dean of the School of Public Policy and Management, and she was also one of the founding executive directors of Carnegie Mellon Australia. And she has a very fascinating, I think we're gonna dive into this fascinating segue into how she got into academia, which I think is very unusual. But more importantly, what we are going to talk about is the book that she co-authored with another fellow. Faculty and academicians in the book called The No Club, which is about sort of the work that women do that is not recognized at work. I got to hear Brenda Peyser and all her colleagues present at their book launch because I and she are both from Carnegie Mellon, I'm an alum from there, and she's the faculty there. So I got invited to listen to the book launch and I found the topic very fascinating because sitting in corporate leadership and also. Co-chairing employee resource groups. I can see the lens that they're looking through when they're doing this research and how it impacts women in corporate structures. thank you so much for being here. I wanted to start with what is your background like. How did you get into doing this kind of research into where you are today?
Brenda: First of all, thank you so much for having me here today. This is fun. So my background is a little bit different than most of the people that you might talk to that teach in universities. I started as an actress and I got a master's degree in acting and spent my first career in professional theatre primarily. So I did a lot of work from new plays to shake... And although acting is a wonderful and exciting thing to do, it's a difficult career, which is putting it in a very nice way and so I realized that was not gonna be the best life for me. And so I made some decisions about what I would do next, and I went into consulting. And so I worked as a management consultant for about 10 years, and that was great and interesting and allowed me to be exposed to a lot of industries. But ultimately it wasn't, I realized what I wanted to do and I found that the thing that interested me the most was working in higher education. And so that's the transition I made there. And I worked at Carnegie Mellon for over 20 years. And I was the associate dean of the Public Policy School at Carnegie Mellon, the Hines College. And then was a professor of communications there. So I got the best of every possible career.
Sirisha: Yeah. I mean there's a whole discussion around that. I think I will, I would wanna come back and discuss how your career pivoted, because as you said, I., first of all, I think you're probably the closest that comes to someone who's acted on stage and made that pivot from there into consulting.
First of all, how did you do that transition and then to academia is very fascinating because I don't think many people or if there's anyone else actually who's ever done that before. So we will come back to having that discussion in a few minutes.
[03:15] A support network of Women
Sirisha: But I wanted to start with your book itself. Like how did you? Started on this journey with your four friends. I'm sure you're ha you are friends now because you've been working together for a long time as colleagues as well. So what got you started on this?
Brenda: It all started 13 years ago this month we met at a restaurant in Pittsburgh that you probably know, the Union Grill. And we got together because we were all completely overwhelmed by our jobs and we agreed that we needed to find a way to get our work lives back under. So we sat around a table at this restaurant with a couple of bottles of wine and began talking about all the things that we were doing, and we were a little surprised to discover that we had agreed to all of them. When we were complaining about how overwhelmed we were, we realized that we just kept saying okay. And so we knew that we needed. To solve our problems. So we decided to band together and we agreed that we would meet each month and that we would drink a lot of wine, as we went through this process. The good part of this story too, is that when I got home that night, I told my husband about our meeting and he laughed and he said, this is the perfect group for you. I don't know if you know this, but anytime anyone asks you anything you say, Happy to, before they even finish the question. Ah, I didn't know that I did that, but I started paying attention and he was right. I said yes immediately and often, and it turns out that so did all my co-authors. And so we vowed at that point to say no to the things that were getting in our way, and that was the birth of the no club.
Sirisha: I love a good girl's night out that's the best part of it, and we were talking briefly for those of you who, who may not hear this on the podcast I went back to graduate school, to Carnegie Mellon when I became a stay-at-home mom and I had my two kids. And one of the things that I tell people that I took away really from that time was the ability to. Form this very close friendship and those are the friends I still have today. And like we, we call it gn os, we are always looking forward to that. That's the time we decide to dress up and go out rather than for the other events that we do. So you talked about a problem that a lot of us face.
The hard part of saying no. There are two parts, right? The hard part of saying no in your personal life and the hard part of saying no in your professional life. And you are talking also largely about your professional life in this book. So how did you manage to say no, and how did you decide what to say no to? And say it in such a way that it didn't impact you because that's always the fear that it's going to backfire.
Brenda: Let me back up just a little bit to talk. Saying no and why we said no and what we said no to.
[06:24] Non Promotable Tasks...More work, Less reward
Brenda: So one of the things we discovered as we met each month and talked about all these tasks that we had to do that were just like killing us was that we discovered they weren't the key elements of our jobs. So these are things that everyone, especially every woman, has done, and they are things like onboarding new employees and mentoring and serving on committees, resolving conflict, with coworkers. Editing, proofreading. And so these are all tasks that need to be done, that the organization needs to have done, but they don't bring any benefit to the person that's doing them. So in other words, there's no reward for your career to proofread something for somebody else, but the organization benefits because that, Helps make things better. So once we started talking about all these tasks, we realized how many of them there were and we called them crappy tasks. Later on, we gave them a better name, which is what you read about in the book, which is non-pro promotable tasks because again, they help the organization but not the person that's doing them and so those were the things. That we wanted to stop doing. So many of, us knew that we still had to do some because everybody does, but we wanted our work portfolios to look more like. Those of the men who spent most of their time on promotable work, the work that is what the organization values in terms of its, big picture success and the work that helps you as an individual get ahead.
[08:15] How do you identify Non-promotable tasks
Brenda: So those were the things that we looked at and in terms of identifying which tasks are non-pro promotable, there are certain characteristics that they have in common that's helpful for women to think about. The first of these is that they're tasks that aren't often tied to the mission of the organization. So if you were to look in on the website or in an annual report or in PR documents that your organization puts out, the things that they talk about the most are gonna be the things that are promotable. So here's an example of that. When I was in consulting, one of the things that I did was provide training to other consultants and I was pretty good at it. And so I got asked to do it a lot and I was really happy to do it. I found it to be fun, but what I didn't know at the time was that work. Wasn't promotable, it wasn't tied to the organization's mission. The promotable work was bringing in clients and logging billable hours, so training other consultants benefited the firm, but not me. The next characteristic is that these are things that are often done behind the scenes, and so they're not things that other people might know about. If you help somebody by proofreading one of their documents, they're probably the only person that even knows that you did that, so it's not gonna bring any benefit to your career and then the final characteristic is That these are things that many people can do, not just you. So they're not things that res that you do because of the specialized skills you brought to your job, the things that you were hired for serving on a committee. Doesn't require a lot of specialized skills. Taking notes at a meeting requires a pen and a pulse, so I think as women think about what to say no to, you wanna be able to identify the characteristics of that work that won't necessarily get them ahead. So that sort of led us into, okay, when we know that these are our tasks, how do we not do them? And that sort of took us into the saying no part.
Sirisha: I like that it's very clear. There are three like you said the bottom line, the non-visibility and the fact that. Anyone can do it, right? Because that becomes the challenge. And please if someone is listening, if someone asks you, just because you're a woman in the room to take meeting notes, do not do that. Ask one of the guys to pick up the pen and paper and take it themselves. You didn't have to do this. There is no reason for you to be doing it, but. That's always the hard part. We tend to say yes we tend to do a lot of the things, it, it could be even the office party, there's nothing wrong with planning them, but from what I remember from your research and your own experiences, I'm just going to throw some numbers and they may not be exactly reflective of yours. So say you're working a 40-hour job, if your male colleague is spending 38 hours doing the job and his promotable task, you may end up doing 30. what you need to be doing then is looking at, are you doing 30 hours of work or 25 hours and there's all this other stuff that you're doing for the organization. Maybe training new employees, hiring new employees, onboarding. Maybe they're going through recruiting or maybe they're working on D n I efforts. Whatever it is, it's important as an organization... I think those are exactly what you call non-pro-promotable because they do not show up on any metric where performance evaluation comes up. And when they're looking at a performance evaluation, it depends.
If the organization is using those metrics to measure performance, then the conversation might be a bit different, even if it doesn't show up in the bottom line. So how did you go about saying no? This is how I would've worked. I'm just wondering if you did something similar. Sat down and wrote on the list of all these activities you were signing up for and what time maybe it was taking, and when, some of them you would already sign up for, so you probably had to finish them. And when did you start saying, okay, which did you have like criteria saying, these are the kind of tasks I might say yes to and if you said no, what is that way you approach the conversation? Because I think that is also critical. Suddenly you're changing. They're always used to you saying yes. And when you start saying no, suddenly, people have to get used to it. It's a perception thing. Just to segue that a little bit, I had this colleague who used to work, gosh, I think she used to work like nine 11 hours a day.
And the challenge she had when she started to back up and work a normal schedule was sometimes people can perceive that you're not working hard enough when you are already overdoing it. So it's, it's rebuilding that image of what they think you are or how you are doing your job.
Brenda: your boss says, need to organize an ethics committee. It's important for our organization who will volunteer. And in that moment, we all know exactly what happens. Everybody starts looking at the ceiling, they start checking their phone. They shuffle through papers in front of them So everyone starts looking around because nobody wants to be the person to volunteer, and the weight goes on and on until someone finally raises. Her hand says I'll do it. So that's what we were looking to replicate in our research, and here's what we found. Women are 48% more likely to be the ones to volunteer. They are 44% more likely to be asked by both men and women, and they are 50% more likely than men to say yes when they're asked. So it turns out, from an organizational perspective, it's a good idea to ask women because they always say yes, but for women, it's not the best idea. So the thing that drives all of this is that we all expect women to stand up and do this work. We're waiting for them to be the ones to volunteer and women don't disappoint... So we can see how this becomes a very vicious cycle for women who keep getting asked, keep saying yes, and get asked again because they said yes, and we know we can count on them. And so this goes on and on. So the man that you're talking about who's spending all his time on the promotable work is moving ahead and his female colleague isn't. So one organization that we worked with keeps track of employee hours very carefully, and we found in our work with them that the median woman in the organization worked 200 more hours per year on non-pro promotable tasks than her male colleague did than the median male colleague. Now, 200 hours a year is more than a month's worth of work on tasks that do not move your career ahead. so we understand why they're being asked because we expect them to. We understand why they say yes because we get it. We run, we've internalized these expectations as well, and so we think when somebody asks us, we have to say yes. We don't wanna disappoint, we don't want them to think badly of us, and of course, we wanna avoid backlash. So those are all important things to keep in mind when it comes time to say no.
[16:05] How do you say No?
Brenda: So your question was how do you say no to these tasks? The first thing you wanna do as you pointed out, is you wanna identify which of your tasks are promotable and which are not. And the easiest way to do that is just by keeping a log of all the things you do. So for one week, write down every single thing you do, and you can look at your job description and you can talk to other people, look at your calendar, look at your emails, and then think about all the things that aren't on there. you've now put together your list of all the tasks you do. You've thought of as many things as you can and put them down. Now it's time to figure out which are promotable and which aren't. And the best way to do that is by considering, the things that we talked about before, are they visible? Are they tied to the mission of the organization? Do they require your specialized skills? And the truth is that many tasks live on this continuum between non-pro-promotable and promotable. And the two polls are very easy to see what is promotable and what isn't. And then some tasks fall in the middle. So what you wanna do is give it your best shot, and you wanna label tasks high, medium, and low. Once you get done with that, you wanna calculate what per cent of your time you're spending on promotable work and. non-pro promotable work. Now you wanna figure out what other people are doing because what they do is important in terms of what you do. If you're like most women, you're doing more non-pro promotable work than your male colleagues are. So as you do your checking, you wanna ask other women who hold the same job as you, who are in the same, job level as you, but you also wanna check with men because their balance is going to be different and once you've got all these inputs from other people, then you can see how close you are to what they're doing.
[18:08] How to start shedding Non promotable tasks..in a way that benefits you and the organization
Sirisha: If you are, again, like most women, you're doing much more non-pro promotable work than you should be. So now your task is to start shedding. Some of those non-pro promotable tasks. So your portfolio of work is better balanced and so the way you do that is a little bit different than how you would just say no to a new task, which we can talk about in a minute. But as rebalancing, you wanna figure out what it is you like because we know we have to do some non-pro promotable work. And what you don't like. As I mentioned before when I was in consulting and one of the things I did was provide training for people. That was something that I liked doing, and so I would probably be willing to keep that on my list of non-pro promotable tasks, recognizing that I would wanna control how much time I was spending on it.
Brenda: I get that. yeah, there, there will be things you will dislike that you will still have to do, but you get a say in it and you're more intentional about the discussion, I think is what you're trying to say. How long did it take you to shed those tasks and hit that optimum level? So I identified all these tasks that were non-pro- promotable for me. I went to my dean and proposed to him that we create a new job for a staff person that would incorporate all these tasks, which would free me up to do, and I very specifically listed the things that I would be able to do if I didn't have to do these other tasks. He agreed. And what that meant was that it was a promotion for the person who got the job. So it was of benefit to her. Those tasks were promotable and it freed me up to do the other work that was a better fit for my role. So that's one way to think about getting rid of some of the tasks that you do. We realized that we needed help, which is why we have a no club, that's excellent because we need a support system. And to your point, I reach out to my mentors whom I trust to ask these questions like, this happened, what should I do? That happened because you have a way of it, I asked the question for two reasons. One is how should I think about it? Whether my thought process is a good approach to what I'm heading towards to the potential solution. And sometimes I'm also asking, how do I phrase it? My response especially if I'm saying no to something, I wanna figure out how to phrase it so that there are no repercussions from it. Because there are very ways to phrase something right and you did it so well. When you talked about. How you went to your dean and it could be in anyone in a similar position, and you were able to make it promotable for someone else. That they got value out of it and you were able to show that. This is where I would bring, first of all, it helps you advance, but it also brings value to the organization because, from an organization standpoint, a lot of them are looking at pay and benefits. Let's go back to the numbers game If you're looking at pay and benefit, You wanna get the most out of the person who's being paid for what they're there to do, why would you want them to be doing something else that is not having the most impact? So if there is somebody else who gets that benefit, then it's a win-win for everybody.
[21:11] Organizational Benefits.. Reframe your "No"
Brenda: The way we like to think about this is that when somebody comes to us with a request, they have a problem they need to solve. And so rather than seeing this as a burden, we can see this as an opportunity to help this person address their problem. So let's say that Raphael comes and asks me to be on the ethics committee now, right before he asked me, Somebody else came and asked if I would lead a task force on women's advancement in the organization. So when Raphael asks me, what I can say to him is, this sounds important to the organization. But I've already been asked to lead another task force, and I don't think I'm gonna have time to do both these things well, and I don't wanna give either one short shrift. So what I would suggest is that you ask James. because he has exactly the right background for the work your committee is doing. He's super smart. He's a hard worker, and working in this group will benefit him because it will give him some visibility with other people in the organization which will be helpful to him down the road. So I'm gonna have to say no, but I think you've got a good solution. So what happened there is that I helped Raphael solve his problem. So he's not going to think badly of me for saying no. I've avoided backlash, which is one of the reasons that women often don't say no because we understand what happens when we upend the expectations that people have of us, and I've given him. Somebody who's gonna benefit from doing the job. So I've given him a solution to a problem that he has that doesn't include me. And then now I have to decide, if I am gonna do this Women's Advancement Task Force, how will I say yes? to do that. So I know how to say no, which is to come up with an option that benefits somebody else by being a promotable task or by recommending somebody who could do an equally good job at the task. But now I have to say yes to something as well, which I know that we need to do and we need to hold on to some of our not. So when I say yes, what I could do is negotiate. So I could say, I would love to be on this task force. But what would be helpful is if we could get a small because I think we need to survey the organization to gather data that will be helpful in the work this committee is gonna do. If we can hire an outside firm that can conduct the survey and analyze the data and report it back to us, that will save me. and my committee members a lot of time so that we can continue to focus on our promotable tasks. Now obviously your firm needs to have a budget to be able to do that, but that's one potential for negotiating. I could also perhaps ask for other resources, like a staff member to help me write a final report for leadership. Or maybe I could. The trade-off is one of my other non-pro promotable tasks for this one. So the idea is that I don't continually add to my plate. If I say yes to something, then I need to remove something else that I have. Do you know Lean published this report, which said 40. of women have non-pro multiple tasks, especially around D N I, that is not recognized.
Sirisha: Yeah. And that doesn't show up anywhere though, like you said, it's important for organizations, so it comes back to how the measurement is done, right?
You are talking about from two sides. One is what you can do to make sure. , you have that balance because when you set 200 hours, that's more than 10%, like you said, more than a month and a half. That's a huge amount of time that you're doing that, and that is only the time that you're measuring.
It doesn't take into account the time that you're constantly switching back and forth and the trail that you leave behind as you're performing these tasks. I'm gonna talk about, from an organization standpoint at this point, when you are looking at performance, when you are looking at measures, if D N I is important to you, I think organizations need to be clear about how they measure that.
[26:14] How do organizations measure NPT...SUMMARY
Sirisha: How are they going to value that, and what is that metric? largely from all your data, it suggests that women are the ones taking on the net. But if you're not, and if you're still taking on NPT and from other organizations, Think about how you can like Brenda said, rephrase that conversation because I think what I liked about it is when you said, Raphael came to your, you were, but you gave it to James, you're doing the. The best part of two things is you're giving visibility to someone else. You're giving access to someone else. You're allowing someone to grow, which is where sort of the fairness and the balance comes. Because the other thing that people might not realize as they're assigning tasks to people, in this case, it's not, but it also could work for promotable tasks, is if you keep handing off the same thing to the same set of people every time there's an inequity built in, It's a perception of fairness that people feel. if you're doing all these non-pro promotable tasks, you do not have access to the ladder. You're not able to climb because you are spending time sort of spinning your wheels doing this thing, which you think is important, which has value but does not affect the bottom line. And organizations are looking at the dollar count no matter what we say, even if it's an academic institution. They're looking at research grants, they're looking at your publications, they're looking at outreach. They're measuring it in certain valuable entities that they can speak to or products they're producing. So how do you get your name into that? Maybe the new product needs a communication expert, and though it's a non-pro-promoted task, how do you make it where you are? The one, the voice of the product? Maybe that's your skill like you take your training background and use it differently. That still enables the organization because maybe they don't have the skills most of them, but you can blend your technical and your other side to do it. thinking a little differently, I think is very important, and finding those advocates. You need to find it with your manager. You need to be talking to mentors. I think in some ways you need to be talking to HR because a lot of these conversations happen in the HR space. After all, D N I, a lot of these tasks can come from that avenue as well. So you need to be having those conversations with HR and looking at how they measure the success. and create a framework.
[28:19] What can organizations do
Sirisha: Organizations need a framework no matter what we do as individuals. , they need to be thinking about it from a bigger standpoint.
Brenda: that's an excellent point. And y we've talked a lot so far about how this affects women and what women can do about it, but this is also a really big organizational problem and ultimately, organizations are the only ones that can solve it. So women can do some things to help their situation. Every time they get asked, they can think about how they're gonna respond to that request. , but as you said, if we keep going back and asking the same people over and over, we're not addressing the problem and so organizations are also losing out because of this. And one is that they're not using their workforce efficiently. so they're not recognizing the talent that they have in the organization, that they can be deploying in proper ways. Women whose specialized skills may be going unnoticed because they're busy doing non-pro promotable work are over time gonna get disillusioned and that disillusionment can lead to a lot of. Issues for the organization like absenteeism and ultimately turnover because those women are gonna look for better opportunities in other places. So now that makes it hard for the organization to achieve. Its d e I goals. and that means it's harder for them to attract and retain other women. So this goes on and on. And ultimately it becomes very expensive for the organization. There the cost of replacing an employer is estimated to be like six to nine months of that person's salary. And that doesn't take into account some of the other things you mentioned, which. Productivity more broadly, is the morale of the people that work in the organization, all the things that affect how well the organization can function externally and internally. And so organizations need to be the ones. To address this issue and it's not hard to do and it's not expensive to do. And so there are a couple of things that we know for sure. One is to stop asking for volunteers. Because whenever we ask for a volunteer, a woman will be the one to raise her hand. And there are many other ways to assign work, non-pro promotable work, as well as promotable work in ways that are just as effective. We had talked about taking meeting notes before. If you're going to a standing meeting, take turns, so whoever takes it this week doesn't take it next week. If you're doing something new, draw names out of a hat. Use random selection to pick people. If a volunteer is gonna be good enough to do the job, then pulling the names of all those same people in the room is gonna have the same result, except that there's a potential that it won't be a. there are several things that organizations can do, as well to address this problem long term. One of the key things is, to create awareness of the problem, which is one of the things we're trying hard to do, and anybody can do that in an organization. It, the change doesn't have to start at the top and work its way down. Any single person can help this change process by creating awareness of non-pro promotable tasks. So somebody comes to you and says, will you be on the committee to redecorate the lounge? And then you go to your friend and say, oh my God, like I can't believe I was asked. To do this, you can say to that person, Ugh, what a terrible non-pro promotable task, so that the language becomes part of what the organization does, and that way we can help define what's promotable and non-pro promotable.
Now, you had talked about d E I efforts. That same McKinsey Lean In Study found that 70% of organizations said that d e I efforts are critical to the organization, but only 24% of them rewarded them. Now, if that work is so important to an organization, shouldn't it be promotable? So organizations should think about what. Defined as a promotable versus non-pro promotable task. And consider changing some of those things because if they matter that much, then maybe they should be rewarded if they, if you want people to spend time on them, then give them a reason to spend that time. So I think that's another thing, that you can think of. So a supervisor can ask their employee, how do you feel about your mix of work? Do you feel like you have enough time to focus on the promotable work? What non-pro promotable tasks are you doing? Because honestly, nobody knows all the work that we have. Our supervisor doesn't know all the things we're doing. As the employee going into the meeting, you can help enlighten your supervisor. So bring in a list of all your promotable tasks. and also all your non-pro promotable tasks because your supervisor might be surprised to see how much time you're spending on things that are not necessarily tied to the organization's mission. So those things can help. And then you can start talking about with your supervisor how to rebalance your workload so that you can get yourself more aligned with what you should be doing compared to what your peers are...
[34:08] Takeaways for you and organizations
Sirisha: Very true. And for those who are listening think about all the tasks you're doing like Brenda said, you need to write a list down of everything and look at the balance of promotable and non-pro promotable. So the onus is on both the individual and the organization, but you as an individual need to do this so that you can go back and have a conversation with your boss. Don't wait for performance time in your next one-on-one. I'll schedule some time to talk about this. If it's becoming very burdensome, talk to HR and see if there's a structure. and for organizations, I think HR and management need to look, it doesn't have to come from the top and see if you have certain efforts. Because organizations are constantly evolving, right? They have certain tasks they need to do to move forward, but they're not always in that lens of promotability. So look at it, can you make it promotable? I think I liked how about outsourcing it or finding the right person the right fit for it, because it becomes a way for growing and seeing a development goal. Or restructure how you are evaluating performance. Restructure how it is, almost like you said in a hat. I think I thought of the game, the white elephant, when you were saying that, they played during the holiday time, right? You pull on, you pass a gift, you or put all the tasks on the table and ask everyone to pick it. And if they don't like the task, you get to trade it twice, everyone gets the task. So it's equally distributed, they're all weighted. , and in all sense of fairness, that is the best way that everyone's given access and because it may not be your fit, like you said, you don't wanna decorate the lounge, but you're okay being on the women's committee trade it out. And actually, it might not be a bad thing to try something new because that's when you're going to explore and try something different. Don't go with your status quo of the same tasks you always end up doing and signing up for, cuz this is a way for you to expand your leadership and your scope the flip side when I look, I think I talked about pay and benefits or where organizations are looking at bottom line and where value they're. , you want the most value from the talent of your employee. If they have a certain skill set and you're underutilizing them, you suffer two ways. One is you are not getting the most out of it, so well, that's too bad because we are not making, the most benefit out of it and secondly, people are gonna be very disengaged. They're gonna quit. There's always quite quitting and great resignation happening for a reason because people are realizing, okay, there are ways I can do this and how can I do it differently?
Brenda: And I think organizations need to make clear that they have expectations for people to perform non-pro promotable tasks. Everybody, not just women. And that, we're gonna talk about that during performance evaluation time. And we're gonna look at what you're doing and what you should be doing. I think one thing that's important for organizations as well is to keep track of all this. So if you're gonna take turns, taking the meeting. Write it down, keep it in a database or a spreadsheet or whatever it is, your organization does to track information. If you're pulling names from a hat, write that down too. Understand what people are doing so that over time you can shift the burden away so that it's more equitably distributed across your population of employees.
Sirisha: And as you make that list right, and you go to your manager, you should put all of the non-pro modal tasks in one bucket and put 5% of your time, 20% of your time. Is it 40% of your time? Because managers also are looking at employees and saying why they're not doing their job in some ways.
That's right. They may have no visibility into this. They just see you disappearing to do something, but they don't know what it is that you're doing, so you need to bring it to them and put it on paper. I think everything needs to be written down. Do not have a conversation here. Write it down, and put it on paper. Send an email, because no one's going to remember, three weeks down the road, what you talked about. There's just so much flowing through constantly.
Brenda: in the book, we have several exercises that you can do as an individual to help you identify what work you have that's promotable, what work you have that's non-pro promotable, how to calculate how much time you're spending on it so that, we can we walk people through step by step the process of figuring this out and then there's advice for organizations as well to go through and figure out. What it's doing and then how to distribute the work. So some solutions are pretty straightforward.
[38:20] How women can communicate to get their point across and hold the floor in a meeting- How not to feel ignored or talked over in a meeting.. how to amplify a woman's voice and ideas and support her
Sirisha: So the other part I wanted to touch on was you lead the Carnegie Mellon University of Leadership and work with the Negotiation School for Women on communication for women. Yes, I did. So I wanted to understand, what do you see? Sort of the things that women do extremely well from the communication standpoint, and are there certain themes that they struggle with and what can they do to turn that around?
Brenda: I think that we're subject to expectations in this arena as well as in the saying Yes problem. So people have a lot of expectations about how women should behave. , and that includes how women should communicate and women have internalized those expectations as well. And so we live up to what people have told us they want us to do. We also know that women are interrupted more than men. and that men are the ones, I mean by everybody, both men and women, interrupt women. Men tend to interrupt us a little more than we interrupt each other, but it's something that we all do. And so helping women understand what some of these issues are can help them become better. at communicating. when we talk about communication, we don't just mean standing up and making a speech in front of a group of people. In a meeting where you have men and women at the table, how is a woman can get your point across? And there are a couple of things that we can do. One is to recognize that we're gonna be interrupted and to find ways to. , push back on that in, gentle ways by saying things like, I'm almost finished. Or if you can just hang on one second, I'll wrap it up and then, you can go ahead or just outright say, I'm sorry. I was speaking. We learned something really interesting when we were working on the book and that was something that happened in the Obama administration where the. Saw something that happens fairly commonly to women, which is you suggest something, nobody reacts to it. You're laughing because, you know what I'm gonna say, nobody reacts to it and a man says the same thing and then everybody says, oh my God, what a great idea. So what the women in the Obama administration did was when they were in meetings with him, and these were high-level women, They started a process that they called amplification, where somebody would say, oh, Siria just had the best suggestion. Or Siria, what a great idea that is that you just had so that they preempted somebody from stealing the idea and they started vocalizing the fact that women were doing these things. And so it started to sink in and what happened? Obama started calling on women more than he had done before. So as women, it's not just a question of addressing the problem ourselves alone but serving as allies to each other. So when you see another woman being interrupted in a meeting, you can say, Hey. let her finish. And that takes the pressure off of that one woman who's doing the talking. So it's a combination of what I can do for myself and what I can do for my fellow women.
Sirisha: I, there was a reason I was laughing when you were saying that you're right. It happens to everyone. And obviously at the highest aeons of power, right? Obviously from what you're saying, if it's happening in the presidential. Conferences and meetings, then it happens everywhere. And I think there are like three ways like you said. One is you speak up for yourself and say, hold on, I'm not done yet. In whatever way you choose to express it. The second one, as you said, is amplifying. And the third is to say there's no one to amplify.
And that's no one in that meeting. You as a female or male colleague can... Hey, Brenda had the suggestion. Patrick speaks up on this topic and then you can just say, Patrick, that's a good idea. looks like you're, talking more about what Brenda just said, and you're giving more insight into it so that someone remembers that Brenda was the one who suggested it wasn't Patrick's idea, so that, you call on it and then I think it would help for that person who called out, you know that Brenda had the idea to go talk to the person who's running the meeting and saying, let's make sure we hear her voice. So you just may not realize it. So there are ways to call on that and think about how you amplify as you said, amplify the voice and make sure that everyone is...
Brenda: Yeah. And I think your suggestion is a good one too, which is meeting leaders should take responsibility for naming those things when they happen and saying, thank you SIRA for that suggestion. That's a good idea. And somebody, whoever, Jim, you're taking notes. Can you write that down? So that we make sure that we're getting, we're giving credit to people who are coming up with the idea... Yeah, because it is quite hard sometimes to speak up in meetings.
Sirisha: People have to kind of prep and have people who will speak on their behalf. You need to find those allies and sometimes you need to cultivate them. We would like people to step in and help us, but sometimes it just doesn't work. So if you can build those trusted folks who can come and speak on your behalf, I think it really. as well. there was this cartoon friend sent me, it had a picture of two women, who are working on their computers and they're just turning back to look at each other.
And one of them asks, what is the difference between assertive and aggressive? And the other lady responds, gender. Yes. And I was like, exactly. I'm like, because you started your comment with, how people are perceived how you interrupt and stuff. And that's exactly the thing. It's a very fine line. You walk, no matter what we do, you walk a fine line. And I, in my mind it's damn, if you do a damn, if you're stuck. You have no recourse. So you just have to do what you think is right and, let the chips fall where they are and deal with them.
Brenda: Yeah, that's right. And I think as women, we need to be aware of that. We need to recognize that we interrupt other women. And so we need to monitor our behaviour in the same way that my club members and I realized that we were also asking women to do things because it was easier to ask them than it was to ask a man. After all, we didn't have to argue with them. So we would just, we wanted to get our problem solved and we would go to somebody who made it easy to solve the problem, which was the person that would say. And so when we realized that with a certain amount of great shame, I will admit we changed what we did and we recognized that, we were as guilty of the problem as the men were.
Sirisha: That's good insight actually, because we don't think about it from that standpoint.
[45:05] Note to your 21-year-old self
Sirisha: So as we wrap up the interview, this is a question I ask every Quest. What advice would you give your 21-year-old?
Brenda: think about what you want and recognize that, that can change over time. But if you know what you want, then you can be intentional in pursuing it. I think you also wanna keep yourself open to new possibilities, so you don't wanna have total blinders on as you move forward, after your goal. I think it's also important to recognize where it is you want to go and to not feel that you need to be subject to the whims of the first job that you know comes along, or a bad boss or something like that. Think about what it is you want out of your career and your life and pursue those things and I think you've demonstrated that with all the pivots you have done, going from acting to, corporate to academia.
Sirisha: Oh, that's a whole different interesting discussion. And what is the one word you would use to describe yourself?
Sirisha: And obviously when I see your journey and how far you've come and what you've done and segue and meandered along. You had to be, there was no other way to take on that. It's fascinating.
[46:23] Career Pivot...Theatre..to Consulting..to Academia
Sirisha: So quickly, how did you switch from theatre? what kind of drove you to it and what was the hardest thing to do when you were switching?
Brenda: So when I was in theatre, I was primarily an actress. And then later on in my acting career, I got more involved in the business side of the theatre. So I worked as part of a group that produced an off-Broadway play, and I got to see the business side of the theatre, which was very interesting to me and something that I didn't know a lot about. So I found myself moving more and more in that direction and farther away from the performing aspects of it. So that's how that first pivot happened. To recognize where I wanted to go. One of the good things about having a background in theatre is that it makes you a pretty good communicator and you're not afraid to talk in front of lots of people and so that was, hugely beneficial in the life of a consultant because you do a lot of talking, So I felt like I had some background for it.
Sirisha: Obviously. meshed all of those different things together to drive a lot of the discussions, for those of you who are listening think about this and send some comments and put them in the comments section. Or send me q and a, through my email at Women Career in firstname.lastname@example.org. So we are talking about non-pro-promotable. The book is called The No Club. And write a list of what tasks you're doing no matter which role you are in. You could even be a student, wherever you are, write down what you're doing and see how much time you're spending on that non-pro promotable task, and have a discussion with whoever you report to on what that means, and maybe it can be made into a promotable task. Two things that Brenda cautioned us about is making sure that you, especially because women tend to have more of the non-pro promotable. make sure you don't pass it on to another woman. When you look at really who's the right fit for it or think about it, maybe you can pass it to someone who will make it a promotable task and you get to do and have a bigger impact as you're doing your job. And from an organization standpoint, I think like you used the statistics, they say they want 70% of this work to be done, but they only give 25% credit for you need to think about the structure, how you're equitably distributing the work, and if it's something that still needs to be done, then you need to be for that year or for that timeframe. If it's not a repetitive task, ensure that people are getting credit for it and are being considered when they're looking at promotions, pay raises, and all these cycles that impact them and the opportunities that they're given. It's not just a performance time, right? It's like the access to opportunities so they get where they want to go so they can grow in their career thank you, Brenda. This was a great discussion. How can people reach you? how can they find your book to reach out to you and be able to learn more?
Brenda: Our website, the no club.com has a lot of information about non-pro promotable tasks. ways you can buy the book. It's available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Any, bookseller you'll be able to buy it from. And there's a way to contact us through our website, so if you're interested in doing that, please reach out to us and I would say, I think everybody should start a no club. And if you do, please take a picture of your club and send it to us and we will put it on our website.
Sirisha: one of the best ways to do it is like Brenda and her friends, hang out in the evening, coup a couple of bottles of wine so you can work through the process and figure out how to move forward. Thank you so much, Brenda.
Brenda: Thank you very much. It was a pleasure.
Host: Brenda Peyser
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