What Works for Women at Work: Answers to Common Questions – “Scut Work”

What Works for Women at Work: Answers to Common Questions – “Scut Work”

What Works for Women at Work: Answers to Common Questions – “Scut Work”

We are pleased to introduce our newest feature What Works for Women at Work: Answers to Common Questions! In this weekly series, we give you the advice given to us by 127 savvy professional women to address some of working women’s most pressing questions.

How do I say “NO!” to scut work?

We hear this time and time again; working women are asked to do devalued work which can shift their attention away from more visible and prestigious tasks. This can have repercussions for career advancement, because “I spent my time planning outings for the junior staff” doesn’t have the same ring as “I brought in this client” or “I sealed this deal.” Why do women get asked more than men to perform this devalued work? Often that work requires compassion, an appreciation of community, people skills, and collaborative approach, traits and work styles that are more stereotypically female. It is not that these tasks—like bringing cupcakes in for someone’s birthday or sitting on the diversity committee—are lacking in value, but they are devalued by the organization. (If bringing in cupcakes guaranteed promotions, we’d all be swimming in cupcakes).

But just saying “no” to these requests can backfire—you may not look like a team player, which is particularly risky for women walking The Tightrope between being liked (but not respected) or respected (but not liked).

Here are some savvy ways to deal with these requests, from savvy professional women who know what it’s like:

    • Make them value the work that’s devalued. Say, “’Given the priorities that we’ve got going on, this is what I hear you feeling most strong about in terms of priorities.  And therefore, I need to stay focused on X, Y and Z’.  And let them come back and say, ‘You know what?  We’ve thought about it.  We’ve talked about other people.  There’s no one else we trust to get this done.  And this actually is incredibly important to us.’ So, by the time they’ve done the thinking, it’s moved up in their own mind in terms of priority.”
    • Or, say, “’Let’s talk about why you think I’m the right person.’ Let them articulate what it is that’s important and what they see. This gives them an opportunity to think about the fact that maybe they wouldn’t be so good at the task they want you to take on.” So even if you are stuck with the task, at least you’ve helped its value rise in their esteem.
    • Sometimes a request is so ridiculous—you are asked to pick up a birthday cake and just happen to be the only woman in a room—that you just have to be forthright. Say, “No. I’m sure you can pick one up at the bakery yourself.” With a smile, if you can muster one.

If you feel like these tactics are too risky, then say yes and make it work for you. Is a potential mentor also on the committee? Can you ask for something else in exchange? Be creative (and try to slyly say NO next time.)


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