Will making coffee stop you getting promoted? Strictly Business

Will making your colleagues tea or coffee stop you getting a promotion? Watch the Strictly Business debate on the perils of doing ‘non-promotable tasks’

If you’re female and male colleagues ask you to make the coffee at work, just say no, writes Ruth Sunderland.

That is the message from four female academics, who have found one important factor curbing women’s careers is that they are expected to do ‘office housework’ along with tasks that are important, but go unnoticed – until they are not done.

Women are put at a disadvantage by spending time on activities such as training junior colleagues, correcting mistakes or sitting on committees.

Or, as professors Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund and Laurie Weingart label them, ‘non-promotable tasks’ – NPTs for short.

Often, it is actually less obvious and more insidious than this. 

It’s relatively straightforward, if you are a female chief executive and someone asks you to make coffee, simply to refuse. But there is a tendency for women to be steered, probably unintentionally, towards lower profile or less profitable work. 

In investment banking and legal firms, it is relatively rare to find women in lead roles on bids and deals. Instead, women find themselves in supporting roles. Even at the very top there are complications for female executives. 

These include the phenomenon known as ‘the glass cliff’ where, if women do breach the glass ceiling, they can find themselves in impossible roles their male counterparts don’t want, because there is a high probability of failure.

The professors analysed one professional services firm and found women at all levels spent 200 more hours a year than their male colleagues on NPTs, equivalent to a month’s work.

If they did demur, they risked being negatively judged as bolshy or selfish, and were far more likely than men to feel guilty. 

There’s no easy answer to this, but awareness is a start. And in fairness to my wonderful colleague Alex Brummer, he does make a lovely cup of coffee.