Beyond “Just Say No” | University of Venus

If you’ve hung around college long enough, you probably know that the adage “if you want something done, give it to a busy person” could be rewritten to “if you want something done, give give it to a woman”. This is especially true if it is a woman of color.

As the authors of The Non-Club (Linda Babcock, Brenda Peyser, Lise Vesterlund, and Laurie Weingart) point out that the problem is that these things very often fall into the category of what they call unpromoted tasks (NPTS).

NPTS is different from what is sometimes called office chores, like organizing gifts or ordering retirement cakes. Many of us know how to be on the lookout for these tasks, although they still fall disproportionately on women.

Instead, NTPs are more insidious because, while not in the currency that will produce individual advancement (scholarships, publications, teaching excellence), they are nevertheless important to the functioning of the organization.

Since NTPs are important to an organization, they can also be time consuming. Evaluation projects and program reviews may fall into this category.

They are also sneaky. For example, as the authors point out, even a high profile role like department chair is an NPT unless the faculty member wishes to pursue a career in academic administration. NTPs like this seem important because they are, but not for the career trajectory of the woman performing them.

So what should a faculty member do?

Fortunately, the authors answer, what she can. The work is not his alone.

I approached this book with some skepticism because I saw the problems with just-say-no advice in action.

As an ambitious young assistant professor, I went to a roundtable on campus about the promotion from associate professor to full professor. I wanted to get an idea of ​​the path that awaited me. The person leading the workshop mentioned that the university wanted more women and faculty members of color to become full professors.

I had just left a diversity committee meeting and raised my hand to ask what the university was going to do about these same groups doing more service on campus. The answer from the panelists was simple: people had to learn to say no.

There are several obvious problems with this advice, which the authors of The No Club acknowledge:

  • First, this work must be done to make universities work. Someone is going to have to do the work. If my no means another overworked woman is going to say yes, that’s not a good no. “Just say no” solutions are too individualistic.
  • Not all ours are equal. Some tasks and applicants are harder to say no to. Moreover, as the authors carefully document, women are more solicited than men to undertake NTPs. It means having to give more of our. This challenge is compounded by what is known as the “narrow culture,” which means that there are high expectations about a woman’s behavior. Women are expected to be helpers, nurturers, team players. Ours go against these cultural norms. Saying “no” is therefore more risky for women, even if they have to say it more frequently than their male colleagues.
  • Finally, NTPs are not what the authors call a “fixing women” problem. Organizations need these tasks done and also suffer real losses when employees of color and women are overburdened by NTPs: valuable employees leave, promising academics and teachers cannot perform at a high level when they drown in NTPs, the culture of an organization deteriorates. Insidiously, organizational diversity efforts can exacerbate the problem: if every committee is required to have a faculty member of color, but faculty of color only make up 25% of an organization, then that faculty is overstretched relative to to his white peers (Amado Padilla calls this “cultural taxation”).These are problems created by organizations, and they must be solved by organizations.

The Non-Club offers suggestions on both a personal and organizational level. Admittedly, the writers suggest we should give a few no’s, thanks in part to the support of a club of the genre mentioned in the title.

But one of my favorites among their suggestions is the idea of ​​a woman creating a “portfolio” of NTPs and striving to align them with her values ​​and interests over time. This seems more proactive and satisfying to me than simply sending ours back. After all, NTPs are importantand a well-curated (not too large) selection of them could be very rewarding.

Advice to organizations, however, seems newer and more important to me. My biggest lesson was the importance of not asking for volunteers. Due to the social expectation that women say yes, volunteer scenarios produce more NTPs for women. Instead, the authors offer suggestions that are miraculous in their simplicity: draw straws, take turns.

The book offers more complicated solutions for more complex NTPs, but I was struck by the revolutionary nature of the policies that were patently fair: what if every faculty member simply accepted a two-year term in the faculty senate? No worries, no fuss.

Katherine Fusco is an associate professor of English at the University of Nevada, Reno. She also works as a coach, helping teachers connect to meaningful mid-career values ​​and goals. You can find out more about her here:

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