Kanyarat Nuchangpuek

The tech industry has long been dominated by men, writes Kanyarat Nuchangpuek, Co-founder of Ling App. Even with significant strides in recent years, women make up just under a quarter of the tech workforce in the UK.

Women in tech today still face unique challenges, including the pressure to do more and the need to prove themselves. Simply put, there’s a ‘yes’ problem. Many women feel the need to say “yes” and often the assumption is that we will.

Unfortunately, we often don’t have the luxury of a “no” being taken at face value and must learn to navigate this territory in order to embrace the power of saying this small, but powerful word. As a woman working in tech, it’s important to learn the skill of saying “no”. Let’s dive into the fears associated with this powerful word and investigate practical suggestions to effectively traverse this territory!

The pressure to do more

As females in the tech world, we often find ourselves striving to outperform our male counterparts to gain recognition and advancement. By doing more we feel seen; we hope to gain hard-earned acknowledgement. This pressure can lead us to create a culture of overcommitment and self-sacrificing of personal boundaries. We may take on excessive workloads to prove competence or to dispel stereotypes embedded in our industry.

One of the more career-debilitating things women can do is to say “yes”. Accepting a task that is beyond your capacity and struggling with it, only confirms stereotypes about females in the tech space and further brings us down. Not only that, but by taking on more, we’re more prone to burnout resulting in reduced productivity, and suffer an imbalance in our work-life equilibrium.

The fear of being difficult

Coming from a male counterpart, the word “no” is powerful and respected, yet it serves as a barrier and has significant negative connotations for women. It immediately seems to label us as difficult or uncooperative. This fear of being perceived negatively can prevent us from asserting ourselves and equally importantly, asserting our boundaries. So, how can women learn to say “no” when faced with such adversity?

Embracing the power of saying “no”

Recognise that your well-being is essential for sustained success. Saying “no” when you are overwhelmed or have reached your capacity allows you to maintain a healthy work/life balance and avoid burnout.

Sit down right now if you haven’t done it, and proactively manage expectations by setting realistic boundaries. Communicate your availability, preferred working hours, and the types of tasks you can realistically handle or would like to handle. By setting clear expectations, you can avoid overcommitment and potential conflicts down the line.

When declining a request, it is crucial to communicate your decision clearly and confidently. Explain your reasons concisely, focusing on your current workload, priorities, or other commitments. Most importantly, offer alternatives or suggest delegating the task to someone else, demonstrating that you are still a team player and have thought your decision through.

Learn to collaborate effectively and delegate tasks to others when appropriate. This not only fosters a sense of teamwork but also allows you to focus on your core responsibilities, enabling greater productivity and quality of work.

This one is really important. Build a support network. Seek out mentors, colleagues, or communities within the tech industry that can provide guidance and support. Connecting with other women in tech who have faced similar challenges can help you navigate difficult situations and gain insights into asserting yourself confidently.

Case Study – Does this sound like you and what to do about it

A talented software developer, found herself constantly overwhelmed by a never-ending stream of project requests. She took note that no one else in her department was being asked to take on so many tasks, yet she felt the pressure to prove her capabilities and often took on more work than she could handle.

One day, she decided that enough was enough. She realised that by continuously saying “yes”, she was compromising her well-being and hindering her professional growth. With newfound determination, she mustered the courage to say “no” when a colleague asked her to take on an additional project with an aggressive deadline.

But she didn’t simply say “no” and walk away (that would be rude). She clearly communicated her reasons, explaining her current workload, her priorities and the impact it would have on her ability to deliver quality results for ongoing projects.

She was able to propose an alternative solution because she collaborated well with her team and suggested another team member would be a better fit to take on the task effectively. And it worked!

Immediately she made a plan and communicated her boundaries and goals to her team and supervisors so that if she were to be approached to take on extra tasks, they would be aligned with her professional goals.

By making strategic choices, she was able to prioritise her workload effectively and maintain a healthy work-life balance and best of all, started gaining recognition within the team.

(Was this person me? You bet!)

I gained enough confidence to eventually leave the company I was working for to start my own business, Ling App, which is a gamified language tool offering over 60 languages.

Learning to say “no” is a crucial skill that can empower women in tech to prioritise self-care, communicate with clarity and confidence, set realistic expectations, collaborate and delegate, and build a support network. Let us embrace the power of saying “no” and continue to drive positive change in the tech industry.