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3 Things Professional Women Should Stop Apologizing For

While chatting with a business colleague yesterday, she made a statement that I hear all too often from my female friends. As an independent contractor, her client asked her to do a significant amount of additional work that was not part of their original deal. Instead of asking for more compensation, she said she would probably just put in the extra hours, because she felt uncomfortable launching into the money conversation. In fact, she even apologized to me about how she hesitated with her client and was worried there would be repercussions.

Just recently, I finished the New York Times best seller, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World by Lisa Bloom, an insightful read about how women are leading the charge in many areas, such as outperforming men for the first time ever in employment in urban areas, but still spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the "wrong" things. While the book centers on our obsession with pop culture and beauty, what I took away from it was the need for women to start saying "no" more and to stop apologizing for doing so.

"Women need to stop apologizing for routine workplace events," Bloom shared with me in an email. "Ladies, every time the word 'sorry' is about to fly out of your mouth, think: Have I actually done something wrong? Or has this just become a verbal tic?"

Here are three things that women often apologize for and what we can do to stop, today.

1.  Our financial expectations. Ever since women entered the workforce en masse, there have been reports revealing that we make less on average than our male counterparts. Although this gap is lessening, there is still much progress to be made. Yes, talking about money can be an uncomfortable endeavor. However, if you're armed with good ammunition to back up your demand, you'll feel more confident and ready to engage in that dialogue. In other words, be clear what you want, and don't leave until you get it (well, within reason). Moreover, when in contract negotiations for any job or project, engage an advisor so that you have a second set of eyes on the details and can work out what's acceptable and what's not with someone well-versed in the small print.

2.  Our physical appearance. Earlier this week I did a little tally of how long it took me to prepare for one of my other jobs, working as a national TV host on a business news network. The night before our shoot, I spent two hours with my clothing sponsor picking out my wardrobe for upcoming shoots. The next morning I spent two hours getting my hair done, two hours getting my nails done, and 30 minutes in makeup just before the show. Almost a full day, and I haven't even started my job, compared with my co-host, who literally grabbed a clean shirt and was ready to go (yes, he's male).  

While I understand that the demands of the broadcast business insofar as appearance are significant, that same pressure does exist in the average workplace and requires added time for women (time most of us don't have). I have heard women apologize countless times if they're not looking runway-ready at work, due to everything from pulling all-nighters to get a job done or battling sleep deprivation due to taking care of a sick child. Sure, it's important to look professional in the workplace, but it's time to lessen the pressure we put on ourselves to look perfect. Oh, and while I'm on this subject, let's try to band together a little more to support our female colleagues who might not always be in season with the latest fashion or who are not the perfect size 6 (or is it 4 now?). Instead, let's focus on what's important—what we achieve.

3.  Our professional accomplishments. "Women are trained to be sensitive to everyone's feelings, not to be selfish, and not to brag," Bloom explains to me when I ask about this culture of saying sorry. "These are good traits to have. Be we also need to understand that sometimes it's not appropriate to apologize—like when we haven't done anything wrong."

When I was starting my career as a television journalist in my 20s, I'll never forget an experience I had with my male boss. I rushed into his office to share with him that I just got asked to be a national technology expert on a popular news program. He looked up at me and said, "Fantastic, it's just a matter of time before you'll be on the cover of Playboy!" I kid you not. Instead of standing up for myself, I shrunk into myself and tried to battle his sarcasm with a muted apology about how this was a big deal because I'm from a small town, worked really hard, and such an offer meant a lot to me. Ugh, if only I could turn back time and take Bloom's advice, "In the workplace we need to take responsibility for our mistakes, sure, but also for our successes," she says. "Many women can do the former but not the latter."

Read more Work Flow advice from Amber Mac. 

[Image: Flickr user TheeErin]

Add New Comment


  • Tina Shontz

    Point well taken, but Amber, you SHOULD apologize for your bad grammar, especially as a journalist! "I just **got asked** to be a national technology expert on a popular news
    program. He looked up at me and said, "Fantastic, it's just a matter of
    time before you'll be on the cover of Playboy!" I kid you not. Instead of standing up for myself, I **shrunk** into myself..."  While "got asked" isn't technically incorrect, it sounds horrid. "I shrunk" IS incorrect. The past tense of shrink is "shrank". UGH!!!

  • Nick

    But I can get behind the fact that it sounds like you started your own business and are competing in your own way instead of infesting someone else's livelihood and trying to manipulate it to your idea of how it should be run. 


  • spoton101

    The problem with point 2 regarding physical appearance is that man don't care if people tell them you look 'tired' or 'old'.  Its anathema to a woman to be told something even close. The pressure to look pretty or professional is self inflicted. Don't blame us men for that.
    At the same time if another person is admired for looking great, then don't be jealous. Let is slide.

  • Guest

    If two women with equal qualifications apply, both interview well, both are dressed equally well, the one who gets the job is the one that is prettier of the two, every time. And those decisions are generally made by men.

    On another note, if women are expected to be put together and well coiffed, they should be compensated for the extra time it takes to be put together. It is work to do that! 

  • Nick

    Right, we cause our own problems and then blame them on Men... seems to be a common theme in the world today

  • guest

    I like the over gist of this article but I hate when writers exaggerate to make a point! Two hours to do your hair?! Two hours to do your nails? Geez, you need to get yourself a new hairdresser and manicurist! Someone should be able to do your nails while the hairdresser is styling your hair (you surely don't need it washed and cut every time you go on air) and the whole thing should take less than 30 minutes! (BTW, you male co-anchor probably spent 30 minutes at home shaving and washing his hair. He could probably do with a manicure too.) Plus, it should take you less than an 30 minutes to pick out your clothes! For heavens sake, it's not like you have to go to the store and search through racks and racks of clothing! The sponsor brings the clothing to you and all you have to do is try them on! 

  • Kim Murrell

    Here's the deal:  as an independent contractor myself, I've learned to speak up when asked to do something beyond our initial agreement.   I always include that there may be, or is going to be an additional fee for that. 

    I never worry about "looking runway ready."  I want to be taken seriously.  I dress appropriate with appropriate make up and hair.   I give off a clean, professional appearance.  That's all you NEED to do!  Sometimes I have droopy eyes, get over it! 

    NEVER say "I'm sorry."  Say, "My apologies."  It's more respectable.  It also gives off a different tone.   

  • Nick

    I would argue that fact that people spend time thinking about whether "I'm sorry" or "My apologies" causes concern... so if Margaret Thatcher used "I'm sorry" I really don't think it would've hurt her. 

  • Victoria Harinski

    Interesting article and I am even more ashamed of myself in downplaying my self due to my low level role and not matching the goals I put out for myself.

  • Bryan Sheasby

    There is a problem with talking about the gender gap in pay in this day in age; it doesn't exist. Oh sure if you look on the face of it you may say that "women on average earn less then men for the same type of work". But this leaves out a really important factor because on average, women leave the workforce to have at least one child and then come back to their career later. So the entirety of the gender gap can be easily explained away by babies. Note, this research was published by the New York Times as part of their Freakonomics column. 

    So if you go in asking for a raise, do it on the basis of experience, qualifications, and proven success in your position and not on the basis of "fairness".

  • Cyberquill

    Two hours for getting your nails done? That's 12 minutes per nail. Or you mean hands and feet? 

  • Chris

    Very good points  – I agree -- although I've always thought the fact that women generally live 10 years longer than men was just our fair payback for all the time we spend getting ready. ;)

  • Margaret Heffernan

    Perhaps women should stop apologizing - but men and women both must stop asking women to work for free. I've lost count of how many such invitations I receive. What is it that makes anyone believe that men work for money and women work for love?

  • Meg Cater

    Interesting post and comment chain Amber!

    I very much appreciate your willingness to transparently relay your experience, especially around all the time broadcast journalist are expected to spend getting "ready." This is just the kind of thing we need women leaders in different fields to be doing, and I applaud you for your guts and care to do so. As a budding journalist myself, I am grateful for your insights.

    I feel strongly that this kind of inquiry is a gateway to a real sisterhood of support for each others' success, and the kind of change we need to see happening for women in high-profile and high-power careers so that their attractiveness or lack there of no longer overshawdows their contributions. And it's so helpful to realize that our inhibitions are common to other women (like #1 and #2 - I know those all too well!), so that we can move forward and positively impact the world.

    I recently interviewed Dr. Wanda Ward of the NSF about their Career-Life Balance Initiative, and was amazed to realize the impact it had on my thinking around this subject. You might find the interview interesting.

    To offer an opposite but no better extreme, as a single mom with busyness up to the eyeballs lately, I had only 5 minutes to get read for this interview (obviously no wardrobe assistance :) and it shows in the recording! I have to admit to being a bit embarrassed by it, especially because I love what Dr. Ward is saying and want to spread it far and wide. Clearly, some amount of care to our appearance is needed!

  • Hotrao

    In general I think that neither women nor man should complain for this points.
    It's a matter of "ethical" approach to work: money and career is due and should be proportional to the quality of work done. Not always goes like this, but is where we should aim.

  • Denise Sonnenberg

    1976 I took a Sociology class in college and since the ERA was in the process of being ratified (which of course never occurred) class members were discussing the length of time it would actually take for women to have equality in wages, expectations, and the like. We decided then that if the Equal Rights was written into the constitution then, at the very least it would still take until our daughters were raising their children for significant change in the habits, opinions, and culture in the US to be logged. I'm actually starting to see changes in so many areas. Yes, there is a long way to go, but unless you can travel back in time 35 years you won't appreciate how much has changed.

    You highlight some of the areas that still need a little work, but I have this feeling that the world is going to be so very different in 5 years, it will be less of an issue going forward because how we do business is in the process of major change.

  • Shane B

    Obviously women are leading the charge in urban areas. They need to support their men that are following their passion for gang banging.