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.”