Updated: Oct 6, 2021
It's seems SO simple on the surface, but sometimes saying this ONE short word can be SO hard for people to put into practice.....especially for women.
What is it you ask........?
Learning to say NO!
Most toddlers have no problem putting together those two letters and stating it loud and clear.....so why as grown adults do we have such a hard time saying NO to our family, our friends, our colleagues and especially our bosses?
As I've raised three toddlers (now ages 5, 8 & 9- two of whom are girls), and in tadem worked in a male dominated industry, I've found this phenomena quite fascinating and have spent a-lot of time thinking about this word and researching the power behind it.
In fact, Caitlyn Collins a professor of sociology at Washington University who studies gender inequality says in this USA Today article that,"women have been socialized into understanding that what is most important is that they be perceived as likable and agreeable."
So check that, study after study shows (see additional links below) that through our unconscious gender biases we are raising our little girls to think that saying no is NOT ok....but if you are a little boy it IS ok. We are also unconsciously raising our daughters to avoid conflict, not be bossy, and that putting everyone else's needs above our own is the norm.
While there are many opinions out there about Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book, message, and theme, she does hit the nail on the head when said, "we call our little girls bossy. Go to a playground; little girls get called bossy all the time – a word that’s almost never used for boys – and that leads directly to the problems women face in the workforce."
It's taken me a lot of introspection and thinking through the ramifications of this, but it's no wonder that by the time we reach our peak earnings power (estimated to be at 44), women have trouble setting work boundaries; including saying no to their bosses, and also report feeling more guilty when they do muster up the courage to politely decline. Women are also by default taking on more admin work that's not part of their normal job descriptions, and we agree to it sometimes without even realizing it. Does"hey do you mind running to grab that coffee/food?" or "can you call down to xyz, and tell them we are running late?"
Katharine O'Brien, a postdoctoral research associate at the Baylor School of Medicine, and Eden King of George Mason University conducted a series of studies, which concluded that women find it harder than men to decline assignments that aren't part of their normal jobs. They discovered that it wasn't a difference in personality but that social norms guided women's behavior. See the article she is cited in here, Why It's Harder For Women To Say No To Extra Work.
Psychology Today writes in The Power of No, that "wielded wisely, no is an instrument of integrity and a shield against exploitation. It often takes courage to say. It is hard to receive. But setting limits sets us free." So parents next time your sweet little toddler screams NO, try thinking about the long game, and how teaching our kids that saying NO (at times) will help empower them to potentially become the next generation of leaders.
In my 8 week program, I dedicate a whole coaching session on how to become more organized, how to better delegate, how to set better work boundaries. and most importantly how to say NO without being labeled a you know what. It is by far one of the most interesting discussions of the program and amazing to hear from such a wide range of female professionals working in all different industries how much of a struggle it can be (even at very senior levels).
A few other books I recommend if you are interested in reading up on the topic (or listening to the audiobooks!)
How To Say No Without Feeling Guilty by Patti Brietman
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k by Mark Manson
Boundaries by Henry Cloud
The Curse Of The Good Girl by Rachel Simmons