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.

Alexandra Levit is a Partner at PeopleResults and is passionate about helping people and organizations succeed in the evolving workplace. You can reach her at or on Twitter @alevit.