Just Saying "No": An Examination of Gender Differences in the Ability to Decline Requests in the Workplace
O'Brien, Katharine Ridgway
Hebl, Michelle R.
Doctor of Philosophy
Anecdotal evidence from popular culture suggests that women have a difficult time declining professional requests made by others. However, very little research has empirically addressed such claims. The current dissertation examines the possibility that women do not say “no” professionally as much as do men in three related studies. The first study examined the willingness that women (and men) show in saying “no” to work-related requests, along with gender norms that individuals hold toward others of their gender, individual differences in, and affective outcomes of saying “no.” Results confirmed that women do not feel that they can say “no” in the workplace and that this relates to other personality differences and outcomes. The second study examined the consequences of saying “no.” This experiment examined differences in raters’ reactions to a target who had been asked to head a committee by his or her supervisor, which differed based on the target’s gender (male or female), the nature of the task (whether self-serving or communal), and the target’s response (“yes” or “no”). Results supported a distinct preference for targets who did not say “no” to their supervisor and that participants rewarded women in particular with promotions and other rewards when they did not say “no.” The third and final study employed a two-week diary study that measured the extent to which individuals received requests and the nature of those requests and then provided two remediative strategies for men and women to reflect upon and consider requests. Results indicated that there were differences in the types of requests made of men versus women as well as different responses. Additionally, both interventions provided benefits to those exposed to them, though in different ways. The impact of the three studies together is the first-known empirical study to: 1) address the contention that women say “no” less often than do men; 2) illuminate a potential mechanism behind the behavior: the preference for individuals, particularly women, who do not say “no;” and 3) potentially offer remediative strategies for individuals to engage in to effectively help them deal with professional requests.
Saying "no"; Workplace; Requests; Gender; Women