The Real Story Behind Stretch Assignments
The Real Story Behind Stretch Assignments

Stretch opportunities are all the rage in the workplace. But as popular as they are, it’s unclear why some people decide to accept a stretch assignment or role – and others step aside. It’s also unclear why women haven’t benefited from stretches as much as men.

Selena Rezvani is Be Leaderly’s VP of consulting and research and a recognized speaker on women and leadership. She recently led Be Leaderly’s original research on how both genders decide if they are ready for a stretch, and how they make that decision. The report also explores how employers can create a workplace that supports employees who step out of their comfort zones. Based on a survey of 1,549 U.S.- based professionals, the research uncovered the following:

  • Men (48%) and women (52%) are equally interested in ultimately advancing into senior vice president or C-suite roles.
  • However, the largest portion of women (45%) don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge if they are ready for a promotion, while the largest portion of men (40%) think their employers help them know whether they are prepared to advance.
  • Women are less engaged in and passionate (67%) about their jobs than men (77%), another possible explanation for why fewer women take on stretch opportunities. A strong correlation exists between employees who feel engaged and passionate about their work and those who perceive that their employer makes it easy to assess their readiness to advance.
  • In order to apply for a job, both women and men feel that they need to meet, on average, 75% of the qualifications for the role – a surprising difference from accepted thinking about gender attitudes toward the qualifications people feel they need to try for a new position.
  • Women may hold back from taking stretches because when assessing how ready they are for a new job, they are less likely than men to overestimate or “round up” their skills, and more likely to underestimate or “round down” what they know or can do. (73% of women disagree that they round up their skills while 60% of men disagree).
  • For both men and women, the top criteria for deciding whether to take a stretch assignment are having the influence to create a positive outcome (40% women/43% men), and getting an assignment that lines up with their career goals (33% women/33% men). Both genders say office politics is the biggest practical challenge to taking a stretch assignment (38% women/33% men), with lack of time a close second (34% women, 31% men).
  • Money matters. Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to cite pay as an important factor in evaluating the appeal of a new assignment, job or level.

So what do we make of this? Well, if the workplace is being disrupted by sweeping, large-scale trends, employees must have the opportunity to continually redefine and hone their skills. One way employers can offer that is through stretch assignments that provide intrapreneurial short-term “gig economy” type work with minimal risk and disruption, all within the organization’s dominion. Employees, especially millennials, want to “job-craft” their roles. Offering an internal gig economy – or stretch marketplace – delivers big.