Wellness Coaching Australia's Blog

Can women say No?

Posted on 12-3-2013 by Fiona Cosgrove

International Women's Day gave me the opportunity to speak to a lovely group of ladies in Sydney around the topic of "Happy, Healthy Workplaces" which was a topic that is close to my heart. However, as the day was really focused on the girls, I did my best to find the areas that females might find more challenging than others. Now this went against the grain for me as I do believe that if we are to gain an even footing in the corporate world, then we have to be able to consider ourselves as equally equipped to handle the "job"! Yet, there are differences between the sexes that are hard to ignore. And they come from a long history of the role that women have played for centuries.

There is no getting away from the fact that women bear the children. Men can step in almost immediately once the baby appears but the pregnancy and strenuous job of bringing the child into the world rests wholly on Mum! Women are working for (on average) considerably lower wages and that is gradually changing. So we are bridging the gap in many ways.

But what about our innate nature as human beings? Women are generally relationship-focused caregivers. Not all, but many, have an instinctive drive to care for others and to provide the nurturing type of support that suits positions that may be an adjunct to a more senior male. With this comes the inevitability of having work handed down to us. And this can be where the problem lies.

Are women weaker than men when it comes to saying "No"? And by that I mean the ability to say, "Enough is enough", or perhaps, "I would love to help you but I am unable to do so at the present time". When I posed this question at the room, I sensed that there was a general agreement with my assumption!

So what is the effect of this habitual way of being in the world and what do we do to get around it? Without doubt this tendency is the cause of stress and burnout for women in the workplace. We move from board room to breastfeeding, from executive to soccer Mum, from housework to spreadsheet analysis apparently effortlessly. But it takes its toll. Instead of believing that we are masters (mistresses) of multi focusing, it's time we realised that NO ONE MULTI-TASKS WELL!

The need to be needed may keep us warm at night but the cost to our physical health (where does exercise fit in?) and our mental wellbeing can be enormous. When we lose ourselves in others, how can we possibly recognise our own needs?

I would love to hear from anyone with ideas of how to stop the trend of never saying "No".

About the Author - Fiona Cosgrove

Fiona Cosgrove’s 25 years experience as a business owner, a trainer, lecturer, coach and presenter, positions her well to identify and employ the strengths of your staff making your business a pleasure to work in and deal with. 


Anonymous commented on 19-Mar-2013 03:54 PM
I wholly agree with Fiona. Women are expected to be able to Multi task and take on more of the 'real' work in a lot of work situations simply because they are capable and able; and there begins the cycle. Once a women does something and does it well, more work is loaded upon her. The secret to saying no??? There is no secret- we either accept that we are better at 'doing more' or don't do it! I know what fulfills me more.....
Karen Aroney commented on 19-Mar-2013 04:00 PM
As the eldest of 4 children, I was expected to look after my siblings from the minute my second sibling came along...and long thereafter. My parents were Greek migrants and although my parents had a bad marriage they still stayed together and my mother played the typical 'housewife' role. She ingrained in us the importance of not relying on anyone but you - yet she contradicted herself with her actions many times. As a result my ability to say 'no' was stunted early and even though I was working and studying full time I was still expected to bring up a family due to either my mother's exhaustion/interests overseas and my father's absence generally.
10 years ago I had an anxiety attack, fell into depression and came out of that with the strongest desire to say 'no' to many of the things that I was previously saying yes to. I was already working in corporate, had a relationship and from a young age decided not to be a housewife but focus on career. However, i over-indexed on work, became a workaholic and put my relationships in the background. It was not balanced. saying no initially offended the people who were used to my services, but the surprising part is that when I was confident in my no - they accepted it!
I am married now with 15 month old twins. Again, I had to put my life on hold for my husband and my girls due to many reasons, namely, falling pregnant (high risk pregnancy) having very premature twins and my husband worked overseas in their first year of birth! I really struggled emotionally and physically. Saying no int his situation was near impossible but the one clear factor that got me out of the depressive cycle once again was to eventually rebuild the courage to just say no. Saying no also means that you are indicating you are an individual with rights, needs and personal priorities .
My advice is to start by attaining balance - I now work as Personal Wellness and Nutrition Coach and continue to study, as well as raise a family..but I have done this by laying ground rules. Women run the house, so they need to run it like a business - delegate, have timetables that stipulate time for family, work study and especially YOU, plan meals for the week and ensure a workable routine. This then allows for free time.
In all of this I should mention that I exercised daily as I always had and kept this as my mantra - it is still the most valuable 'me time' I get in the day.
Hope this helps! K
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