Ask If You Want It

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Women raising her hand in a meeting.

If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get it.

Wouldn’t it be great if hard work was always rewarded? If your employer recognized your efforts? If your boss kept a list of all your accomplishments and knew how big of a raise you really deserved? If your supervisor told you exactly what was necessary for you to get promoted?

While that world may sound ideal, the reality is often different. Your accomplishments may go unseen. Your effort may not achieve impact. Performance reviews are often subjective. And obscure promotion requirements give supervisors latitude to promote—or not to.

Over the years in my work, I’ve noticed more women than men get skittish about asking for what they want. They don’t want to be seen as aggressive, greedy, bitchy, or demanding. They think they might be asking for too much, even when it might actually not be enough. Asking is exhausting. The judgment is painful. The answer is “no” anyway.

Just last week, I advised a client to ask for better compensation metrics in her agreement. “Isn’t that a bit greedy?” she responded. Another woman asked me if I thought it would be fair to ask for more severance. “Fair” is in the eyes of the beholder. Would her male colleagues be so hesitant?

As the mother of two daughters, I’ve been cringing this year as my daughters unabashedly asked for every present they can think of for Christmas. My youngest lists off a litany of varied toys. A ukulele, American Girl dolls, a blender, a cash register, a squishmallow (yes, it’s a thing). My oldest tells everyone about the different types of spyware she would like to receive. My response is predictable: “That’s rude.” “Don’t ask for so much.” “Don’t say you want all of that.” They have no shame in asking for what they want.

I’m sure I had no shame in asking for what I wanted as a child. But somewhere along the way I learned that wanting and asking are frowned upon. Being labeled demanding or aggressive is not usually looked at as a compliment, especially for a woman. But most of us don’t work with or around mind-reading bosses or colleagues. Asking for what we want is a simple and clear way to set expectations. Asking does not guarantee getting. But not asking nearly always guarantees not getting. Wishing and hoping that your work will be recognized, or your efforts appreciated, rarely works.

Start thinking about what you want in the coming year, what you are willing to accept, and how you can get more of what you want. It will almost always start with an ask. Don’t let the fear of someone else’s perception stand in the way of you achieving your goals. Highlight what you have accomplished. And ask for what you want.