Step Up: All In (For Self-Advocacy)

By Rebekah Peterson

Ladies, do you ever have a feeling that your male co-workers are being given more challenging assignments than you?

You know, that despite your ambition, your male co-workers are being given challenging assignments like managing a project, organizing a company event, or assuming responsibility of a major client?

Well, it’s not just a feeling and scholarly research actually backs this up.

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In 2009 researchers Irene De Pater, Annelies Van Vianen, and Myriam Bechtoldt randomly selected 136 employees working at middle job levels at a pharmaceutical company to participate in a study about their job experiences.

First, the employees were asked demographic questions, such as number of years in their current job and the level of their highest education. Next, they were asked to self-rank their ambition level and self-evaluation. Lastly, they were given ten descriptions of challenging job assignments and were asked to rank each on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much) the extent to which they deal with each of the assignment descriptions in their current job.

The results of the employees questionnaire were analyzed only after being controlled for their ambition and self-evaluation and the other demographic variables.

The results?

Women in middle job levels have fewer challenging job assignments than their male co-workers.

Yup—your ambition and desire to develop new skills are overshadowed by your gender.

Not only are assignments being given based on gender unfair, but they can also negatively impact your career.

The ability to tackle challenging job assignments helps lead to promotional opportunities, and if women aren’t being given the chance to prove themselves, it constrains them in reaching new heights in their careers and positions of power.

But just because you may not be assigned a challenging task at work shouldn’t stop you from getting one yourself. Here are some tips for asking your boss for more challenging tasks:

Step 1: Decide what you want out of asking for more tasks

  • More work in your position?
  • Or, a promotion?

Step 2: Come up with a solution

  • If you want more responsibilities in your position, identify tasks you are interested in.
  • If you’re ready for a promotion, identify opportunities within your company you think would be a good fit.

Step 3: Write down your current responsibilities

  • Your boss may not know exactly what you do and you should showcase your ability to complete all your current tasks and then some.

Step 4: Schedule the conversation with your boss

  • Schedule at least 30 minutes with your boss to discuss your current role and your proposal.
  • If you don’t want to schedule a time, bring it up at your annual review.

Step 5: Be honest

  • Be open with your boss. They want to help you and might have different ideas for more assignments.

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So, here’s my challenging assignment to you: don’t be afraid to self-advocate, and don’t be timid about asking for what you want.

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