Reprinted from Inside Higher Education
By Kerry Ann Rockquemore
Last year, sociologists tested the hypothesis that women do more service than their male counterparts at mid-career and found significant gender gaps in both service work (women do more of it) and advancement to full professor (men are more likely to advance). While working the same number of total hours, men spent seven hours more per week on research than women, who were investing that time in service and mentoring. I often work with mid-career faculty members (mostly women) who are overwhelmed with service requests, overfunctioning on departmental service, and feeling exhausted, angry and resentful about the work. And yet, when asked why they keep doing more service, I hear the same thing repeatedly: “I can’t say no.”
Given the twin realities that mid-career women (especially the “nice” and “helpful” ones) get more service requests than their male counterparts and that too many yeses suck time away from the very activities that lead down the path to promotion, it seems to me that one of the most critical skills for success at mid-career is ability to say “no” clearly and confidently and to remove the phrase “I can’t say no” from your professional vocabulary.
What Keeps You From Saying No?
If you’re someone who is overfunctioning on service to the detriment of your post-tenure pathway, don’t worry! There’s no shame in acknowledging it and moving toward an exploration of why that is your reality. In other words, if you know you should say “no” and you need to say “no” more often, then the most important question is what’s keeping you from uttering the magic word?
I’ve observed three types of factors that keep mid-career faculty (especially women) from saying “no” more often, more confidently, and more strategically then is necessary to pursue their post-tenure path: 1) Technical Errors, 2) Psychological Blocks and 3) External Realities