Out of the Comfort Zone

Out of the Comfort Zone: How women and men size up stretch assignments — and why leaders should care.

January 22, 2019: 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. This report shares our original research on how both genders decide if they are ready for a stretch, and how they make that decision. We also explore how employers can create a workplace that supports employees who step out of their comfort zones. For individuals – and women in particular – we offer advice for getting the most out of these career-making opportunities.

What is a “stretch opportunity?”

  • A stretch assignment is a temporary, internal learning opportunity that helps an employee acquire new expertise.
  • A stretch role is a new, permanent position that challenges an employee to expand responsibilities or learn new skills.

Our Key Research Findings

  • Men and women are equally interested in being promoted into director or vice president positions and ultimately advancing into senior vice president or C-suite roles.
  • However, the largest portion of women don’t feel their employers make it easy to gauge  if they are ready for a promotion, while the largest portion of men think their employers help them know whether they are prepared to advance.
  • Women are less engaged in and passionate about their jobs than men, another possible explanation for why fewer women take on stretch assignments and roles. 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 they 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.
  • For both men and women, the top criteria for deciding whether to take stretch assignments are having the influence to create a positive outcome, and getting an assignment that lines up with their career goals. Both genders say office politics is the biggest practical challenge to taking on stretch assignments, with lack of time a close second.
  • Money matters. Men are 3.5 times more likely than women to cite pay as an important factor in evaluating their readiness for a new assignment, job or level.


Download the report


Press release


Media Coverage

Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM): How HR Can Increase Women’s Access to Critical Stretch Opportunities
Association for Talent Development (ATD): 3 Attributes of a Standout Stretch Opportunity
Training Magazine: The Big Stretch


About The Authors

Be Leaderly's CEO, Jo Miller

Jo Miller

Be Leaderly CEO Jo Miller helps women around the world advance into positions of leadership and influence, especially in technology, finance, energy and other male-dominated industries. Through keynotes, workshops, and webinars, she shares the steps women can take to succeed. Jo speaks at leadership conferences, professional associations, and corporate women’s networks at companies such as Amazon, eBay and Microsoft. She delivers more than 70 presentations a year to audiences of up to 1,200 women. She has spoken in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East. Her columns appear in Forbes.com, The Muse, and Business 380 Magazine. Her book, Are You the Best Kept Secret in Your Organization? will be published in 2018. More about Jo

Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani is a recognized speaker on women and leadership. Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women. Her research campaigns and studies on women in the C suite, millennials, managers and negotiating habits have been covered by media around the world. She has written two books on women and leadership – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). Selena has been featured in the LA Times, Oprah. com, “Todayshow.com” and wrote an award-winning Washington Post column, and currently writes for Forbes.com.

@ selenarezvani on Twitter

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