Heading for the beach this holiday weekend? It’s not too late to tuck a book into your beach bag.
I have two to recommend, which pair well together. The No Club lays out an issue that is derailing so many careers, particularly for women, and Leading with Heart provides part of the antidote. Here’s more information on each:
The No Club: Putting a Stop to Women’s Dead-End Work, by Linda Babcock et alia, Simon & Schuster, 2022, $27.99 in hardback.
First, a word about the title. This book is intentionally written about women and a very specific problem they face in the workplace — more on that in a minute. My take: I entirely agree with the authors about this focus. But as I read this very compelling book, I had to admit the information also applies to any number of men I counsel in my careers practice. My recommendation is to read the book regardless of your gender if you think the issue affects you.
And that issue would be? Well, the title gives it away: Saying No, specifically to tasks that keep you from moving forward in the workplace.
One might naturally assume that those tasks fall more to women than men, but the authors took the scientific route: They set up a number of experiments to see who gets assigned pointless tasks more often, who does that assigning, and who says yes or no to the tasks.
All of which confirmed what you probably imagined in the first place: That women are asked — or volunteer — far more than men for tasks that have no purpose or meaning for their careers.
The impact of this dynamic can’t be overstated. Not only are women filling their days with work that doesn’t help them move forward, but doing so precludes them from projects with more impact. At the same time, their male colleagues are following a reverse trajectory, doing far fewer of the pointless tasks, while gaining visibility from projects that are both gratifying and important. Is it any wonder the gap in pay and promotion persists?
Non-promotable tasks, or NPTs as the authors call them, cover a lot of territory, and vary according to one’s level. For example, a mid-career project manager who takes the meeting minutes is engaging in an NPT, while an entry-level receptionist doing the same is demonstrating a skill that could bring more career-relevant responsibilities. With that said, why is the project manager taking those minutes, and why would it more likely be a woman agreeing to do that than a man?
Part of the answer is that women just keep getting asked — largely because they keep saying yes. In writing this book, Babcock and her co-authors lay out a plan to help workers see the NPTs in their own work lives. With this information more clearly identified, the next steps in the process involve discernment — which NPTs to keep, and why; and strategy — how and when to turn down dead-end tasks.
This book has the potential to be life-changing, particularly for workers who feel stuck. Rather than leaving for a different job, it may be worth the effort to fix the one you have and gain a life skill in the process.
Leading with Heart: Five conversations that unlock creativity, purpose, and results, by John Baird and Edward Sullivan, Harper Business, 2022, $29.99 in hardback.
In discussing non-promotable tasks, the authors of The No Club provide some of the psychology behind the decisions we all make that can hold us back. In Leading with Heart, Baird and Sullivan take the conversation further, diving into topics such as the different types of fear that hinder us, and the desires that can simultaneously motivate or derail us in our career paths.
The core of the book, “five conversations,” refers to five behaviors the authors have identified as key for effective leaders. Their premise is that leaders who have mastered (or at least understood) their own fears, for example, can better help others move past their career-stalling fears.
Even though this volume was written for leaders and the examples lean toward c-suite stories, I found it to be very compatible with the ideas presented in The No Club. Whether you have authority over the work of others, or only over yourself, looking at things through a leadership lens can be an antidote to willingly sacrificing your time to meaningless tasks. And even if you’re not yet a leader, it doesn’t hurt to start practicing the art of thinking like one.
Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at email@example.com.