Christmas morning had arrived and there it was – the Kodak Brownie camera I had longed for as a little girl. The only problem was that my sister had opened it. The camera was her gift -not mine! I had not asked for the camera. For that matter, neither had she.
I had not asked for the camera because in my childhood naivety, I thought it would be too expensive a gift. That year, for me, I found a microscope under the tree, probably more expensive than the camera. My parents were extremely mindful of treating all of us four girls fairly, and I have no doubt I would have gotten that camera… if I had only asked.
I recalled this childhood experience in a recent conversation with Anne Duffy while talking about what women want and how they get it. It occurred to me how often women (myself included) have historically held ourselves back by not asking for what we want.
While girls are traditionally taught to be polite and non-aggressive, boys are taught to ask for, and fight (think sports) for what they want. I realize I am making a big generalization here, but how many of you are nodding your head in recognition. How many times have you not asked for: the raise, the promotion, the job, the project, the partner, the new idea to be implemented, the team, the sale, the client, the dance, the Kodak Brownie camera?
Asking for it may appear too bold, too aggressive, too self-assured. But successful women throughout history were the ones who stood out above the crowd, ignored the inevitable doubts (from themselves as well as others) to pursue their passions, and asked for it.
In her excellent book, Play Like A Man, Win Like A Woman, Gail Evans examines the cultural differences between the genders that lends influence in the business world. Says Gail; “Most women…spend a lifetime hoping to get noticed. We’re taught that it’s more polite to wait to be asked. (…studies show that girls are twice as likely to raise their hands in class if boys aren’t around.) We don’t grow up learning how to sell ourselves the way men do.” While Gail’s book is 20 years old, and gender stereotypes have certainly evolved, many of these self-limiting doubts still linger. It would be nice to think that women have indeed learned to ask for what they want, but apparently this is still a challenge.
A quick google search lists dozens of current references indicating that the issue is still fresh and apparent. As recently as 2019, Linda Babcock (Economics Professor at Carnegie Mellon University) and Sara Laschever (New York Times and Harvard Business Review journalist and columnist) wrote, “Women don’t ask. They don’t ask for raises and promotions and better job opportunities. They don’t for recognition for the good work they do. They don’t ask for more help at home. In other words, women are much less likely than men to use negotiation to get what they want.” (Click here for link to article)
In their book, Women Don’t Ask, they offer a more empowering perspective – the oyster approach. “Oyster people approach life with optimism and take an active approach to making change. The world is their oyster.” They go on to say that “Life is full of opportunities, most situations are flexible, rules are made to be broken and much can be gained by asking for what you want.”
What’s a girl to DeW? Mentor.
One thing we can all do is to mentor each other, formally or informally. Helping our sisters (biological or sisters from a different mother) is a part of our blooming process. I discuss this in more detail in the Mentor chapter of my book, The Little Book of Bloom ~ Nature’s 5 Steps to Cultivate the Power of Your Potential. Having been on both sides of mentorship (both mentoring and being mentored) I can say how much each are equally rewarding. It is an honor to be mentored by someone I respect. And it is so delightful and rewarding to watch someone I’ve mentored “bloom” to their potential. My client Cindi said, “…so many times, hard conversations and asking for what you want is extremely hard and intimidating. Empowered women empower women and I am grateful to have you as my mentor and my empowered woman!!”. We are all fortunate to belong to the DeW network of empowering women empowering women.
As for me, I am asking for it, and I hope you do too!