Women Don't Ask

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@pixabay

Image credit: https://www.pexels.com/@pixabay

The story may prove apocryphal. Someone told it to me with every indication that she witnessed its events. Here’s how I remember her tale.

Female MBA students at a university—no, neither of mine—complained to the business school dean that only men received special projects from the professors and that this had been the case for more than one successive semester. Appalled, the dean investigated and found the allegations true.

Driven to research further, he talked to each of the professors who had given special assignments. Universally, it boiled down to the same finding in every case:

The men had asked.

I remembered this tale during a talk on networking tips and tricks to a group of women. I recommended attending networking events with an agenda—as I do in this article. One of the women said she felt asking for something would seem rude or pushy.

Of course, it’s all about tone of voice and the way you couch the request. You can make a query sound brash or appealing—and the latter is always preferable if you want to get your way.

But if you don’t ask, how could anyone ever know? Are they supposed to guess? How often does that work?

We’re talking about business here—not a tea party at which you’d like another sandwich and the hostess hasn’t offered. You’re at a networking event—or in a workplace, or in a meeting, or at a conference—where everyone has an agenda. No one attends these functions to make friends—although, yes, it does happen. When it does, the resulting friendship is a surprise benefit.

Perhaps we should blame how the world raises women: Polite, quiet, considerate, reticent, in the back seat. Maybe innate female nature is the cause. (Ah, the neverending nature vs. nurture debate.) Maybe the fault is a little of both.

Regardless, successful people don’t wait for others to offer opportunities, even if people sometimes do. Successful people ask for what they want and make their objectives and agendas clear.

If women want to continue their ascent, they need to get better at speaking up.