When I started my career the word “no” was something I shied away from. Of course I can cover that! Yes, I can take that project on. Sure, I’ll take notes. Okay, I understand why I can’t go. I said yes to all of these things regardless of whether I totally agreed or not, whether I could actually handle it or not, or whether I thought it was fair or not. I wanted to prove I could do it all. Don’t we all? Although I’m excellent at multitasking and can handle a big workload, I started to see how I was being taken advantage of. Being a woman in the workplace has its challenges; some that I think will never change because that would rely on people to change their habits and how they think. We all know that doesn’t happen very easily or ever in some cases. I had to quickly learn how to navigate work politics and sexism, while deciding the right time for me to say “no”.
The power of saying “no” took time, guts, and the remembrance of my worth.
I remember sitting in the monthly management meetings at a previous job, where I was usually the only woman in the room. I was always and only tasked as the notetaker and organizer for events. No this wasn’t my job, I was the head of a department, but I still said yes. There were about 8 others in the room who had the ability and time to take these extra tasks on but it was pushed towards me because I was regarded as a secretary and I just accepted. I didn’t want to say no to my boss, obviously. Then more things came to light. There was a pattern of tasks outside my responsibilities, geared towards me as a woman. At the same time my time to talk or share progress in management and company-wide meetings was slowly cut down. Then there was the astounding but not surprising issue of unequal pay.
It was time to say no. Enough was enough.
I stopped being the event planner, the notetaker, the one who didn’t stand up to the boss. I planned my exit and co-founded my own company. My timing was perfect and I paid attention to the writing on the wall. The power of “no” was a huge lesson and one that shed light into the realness of sexism.
Here is my “no” advice coming from my own experiences:
- It’s completely and utterly okay to say no to something that is sexist.
- If you’re asked to consistently pick up the slack of someone else, that’s a no. This situation should also be followed by a conversation with your boss about reworking responsibilities. That sounds like a possible raise conversation for you.
- It’s okay to say no when it’s for something that isn’t morally sound or goes against company values. This especially is for business owners who have to make decisions for the betterment of the company.
Written by Eva Gerrits