For Women and Minorities to Get Ahead, Managers Must Assign Work Fairly

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Joan C. Williams and Marina Multhaup for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please here.

Illustration Credit: Vincent Tsui for HBR

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Organizations have been trying to improve diversity in the workplace for decades — with little success. The most common techniques, such as one-time sensitivity trainings, haven’t worked. The numbers of women and people of color in leadership roles are still staggeringly low across industries. Also well documented are the high rates of turnover for women, especially women of color.

We need to try some new techniques, starting with making systemic changes to the ways businesses are run. These don’t have to be big changes — in fact, even small tweaks to your basic systems (hiring, promotions, compensation) can lead to big changes. For many companies, the focus so far has been on making small adjustments to how performance evaluations are done. This is important but insufficient, because evaluations are inherently backward-looking: They can measure only the assignments someone has already gotten.

And not all assignments are equal. In every organization, in every field, there are multiple types. Some can set you up for promotion and skyrocket you to the top of your company — we call them glamour work. Other assignments are necessary but unsung. We call them office housework. Some are actual housework — getting the coffee for the morning stand-up, or cleaning up after a lunch meeting — and some are the unsung operational or administrative work that keeps the company rolling along.

Studies, including our new research, show that women and people of color do more office housework and have less access to glamour work than white men do. If leaders are going to make a dent in their organizations’ diversity problems, they have to address this disparity. In this article, we’ll explain how the assignments gap arises, what managers can do about it, and how fixing the gap can improve the engagement and retention of talented employees.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

Joan C. Williams is Distinguished Professor of Law and Founding Director of the Center of WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law. Her newest book is White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America.

Marina Multhaup is the Research & Policy Fellow for the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law.


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