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Everyone knows the rules in the workplace are different for men and for women. I mean, some people deny it, obviously, not everyone agrees, but some people deny the holocaust happened so there you are. Most people agree that the rules in the workplace are subtly different (and sometimes not so subtly) for men and women.

What good old RB highlights in her music video is this idea that women should be “nice”. We reward and promote women being “nice” socially, but actually professionally there isn’t much of a reward for being “nice”, and this is something that I’ve been struggling with lately.

Both in and out of my writing life – in all aspects of my professional life – I come across situations where someone else (sometimes a man, sometimes a woman) asks me to do something I don’t want to do. Whether that’s to take less money than I usually do for the same work as a favour to them – and we’re talking strangers here, not “mates rates” – or working days I don’t usually work, like weekends. This is a potential hazard, of course, of a self-employed lifestyle, but every time I have to say, no, actually I’m not going to disadvantage myself simply because you, a professional acquaintance, have asked me to, because it would benefit you, I feel like I’m somehow being awful.

Now I’m not here to say that men never feel this way, or that only women feel socially awkward about saying no, but I am here to say that I believe we do view women who do that in a different way from how we view men. As difficult and ‘mean’ rather that strong. Rather than assertive and sure of themselves. And maybe people don’t view me that way – after all, how would I know how people viewed me, I’m not a mind-reader – but the point is, I feel that way. I second-guess myself because of the prevailing narrative. Women should be accommodating and put the needs of others first.

I’d love to hear the stories from others who’ve experienced this. From other self-employed or writing women who have (or haven’t) asserted themselves in professional situations. People who think this is true, people who don’t. Comment away! I’d love to talk more about this.