Over the years, I’ve had many opportunities to remind my daughter that women don’t ask for things often enough and that she needs to ask more. And on many occasions, she has shown me she learned her lesson well, even to the point that a few times I’ve regretted having taught her that lesson (when she asks me to stay late at her friend’s, or when a teacher allowed her to delay a test because she hadn’t studied.)
Still, I was recently reminded that we women mostly forget to make requests when they are on our own behalf.
My daughter was at school when one of her teachers announced that a boy in her group had asked to be the president of the debate team. My daughter had wanted to be the president too, but she hadn’t asked for it, and (surprise) a boy asked first. That’s when something unusual happened. One of my daughter’s girlfriends raised her hand and told the teacher, “I know Dani wants to be president too.” So, the teacher said, “Oh. They can be co-presidents.” A top-notch solution, I’d say.
If that friend hadn’t spoken up, my daughter would have lived with the fact that the title had already been given, and she wouldn’t have said anything about it. Would you say anything after a promotion had already been given to one of your co-workers? Most of us would have assumed it was too late. How fortunate my daughter is to have a friend who didn’t!
That story reminded me of something I read in Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s bestselling book:[i]
A woman is better off if she requests for someone else rather than for herself, because by making requests that benefit others she comes across as less selfish, which is consistent with the widespread stereotype of women being caregivers.
When negotiating, stick (as much as possible) to stereotypical feminine behaviors, such as asking for something for others and showing you’re communal and caring.
I don’t mean you need to go all-in on stereotypes, but I’m saying, “If you can’t beat them, join them”—use stereotypes to your advantage. The body of research that supports this is extensive. For instance, one study found that employees tend to resist a female leader if she is direct and assertive (which is stereotypically masculine), but they warm to her if she expresses “communal” characteristics that are stereotypically feminine.
Researchers sent a memo introducing a new vice president and praising her “outstanding effectiveness, competence, and aggressive achievement focus.” The same woman was better accepted when the researchers added this paragraph: "Although Andrea’s co-workers agree that she demands a lot from her employees, they have also described her as an involved manager who is caring and sensitive to their needs. She emphasizes the importance of having a supportive work environment and has been commended for her efforts to promote a positive community."[ii]
I don’t know about you, but I would also like a man described in those terms better. The thing is, for a man to be professionally successful, being a caring person is optional (e.g., Steve Jobs was not usually kind to people). For a woman, though, being a caring person can mean the difference between being accepted as a leader or not. (Remember this advice to include communal characteristics the next time you ask for a recommendation letter.)
There’s nothing wrong with making requests on your own behalf. However, often it’s better to team up with your sister, mom, daughter, girlfriend, or female-colleague and make requests to third parties on each other’s behalf.
Well, perhaps don’t give your mom your boss’s number. I’m thinking of that woman who posted on fmylife.com, “Today, my mom called my workplace and told my boss to make sure I wore a hat, so I wouldn’t get heatstroke.”[iii] (I swear it was not me!)"
[i] Sandberg, S. (2013). Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf. [ii] Khazan, O. (2014). Jill Abramson and the 'narrow band' of acceptable female behavior. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/05/jill-abramson-and-the-narrow-band-of-acceptable-female-behavior/370916/ [iii] NotMySistersBF (2015, April 20). [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.fmylife.com/article/today-my-mom-called-my-workplace-and-told-my-boss-to-make-sure-i-wear-a-hat-so-i-didn-t-get-heatstr_133486.html