I recently came across this article by Linda Babcock from 2008 called, “Women, Repeat This: Don’t Ask, Don’t Get.” The article deals with the issues of Babcock’s new book Women Don’t Ask. Babcock noticed through her own life and by watching the careers of women around her, that women often were promoted after men, simply because they didn’t ask for it, like the men often did. Her solution? Women need to start asking for things.
After reading the article, I started to think about when I’ve experienced this in my own life. I realized Linda is completely right; I’ve gotten some amazing opportunities through simply asking for them. When I was fourteen, I went to the Democratic Convention in Denver, Colorado and managed to get out onto the floor of the Convention. I stood outside the Pepsi Center, where the DNC was being held, and asked every single person who walked out if they had an extra pass they could give me. At first this was really difficult, and felt a little embarrassing. Then, I realized the worst anyone can say when you ask for something is “no.” That was when I conquered my fear of asking.
The interesting this is that thinking back on it now, I am only just realizing I had a fear of asking. I have always thought of myself as an outgoing person who hardly ever has trouble communicating with other people. I think of myself as being pretty vocal about my opinions. However, I was also brought up to follow the rules and behave politely and, in some ways, like a “good girl” should. Well, I’m starting to realize “good girls” definitely don’t flat out ask for things they want.
I think this shows up in a lot of different situations. In school, I sometimes had a hard time asking the teacher to help me, because I didn’t feel comfortable inconveniencing them. In high school, this got more and more important as teachers got tougher and tended to not pay as much attention to individuals in large classes. I learned to ask for what you really want, because a lot of times people will be so impressed you were direct with them, they give it to you. I asked for extra credit projects, extra help meetings from the teachers, and other unorthodox measures. In the long run, it benefitted me greatly.
Another question Babcock’s book brings up is why women have this fear of asking and men do not. What is it about the different ways we are brought that up conditions girls to be afraid to ask. This extends further, I think, than simply asking for things we want, but also the way we interact in the classroom. I mentioned in one of my last posts, Where the Boys’ Club Begins, that something makes boys call out in the classroom more than girls, and feel more comfortable asking questions. This probably ties into what makes men ask for promotions while women simply wait to be promoted.
When I was in sixth grade, I did a research paper on women in politics. I visited the capitol and had the chance to interview Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff. She provided me with the records from the Library of Congress of every woman ever to serve as a Senator or Congresswoman, how long they served for, and how they came to office. That was the most interesting part to me: over sixty percent of the women were appointed to office by a male colleague or family member, before they actually ran. Just like with promotions, it seems they were waiting to be asked.
It turns out I’m not the only person who’s noticed this trend. An organization called the Womens Campaign Forum has a program called She Should Run which uses the fact that, as they say, “Many women won’t think to run for office unless they are asked,” to actually encourage women to run! They tell people to submit names of women who they feel should run for office, and then the organization gets in touch with them. At one of their events, they passed around a sheet where they told everyone in the audience to write the name of a woman he or she felt should run for office. They believe after these women find out they have encouragement, they will take the first step towards thinking more seriously about running for office. This article on Women’s ENews talks more about the program.
When I was interviewing Nancy Pelosi’s chief of staff she told me about the phrase “Glass Ceiling,” that Pelosi liked to use. Now, as I think more and more about the gutsy women who are making that move everywhere in our country, I think about whether they were ever asked to do it. Maybe it’s a two-way street: while women get up the nerve to ask themselves, those supporting them also need to help out. We need to start asking younger, and we need to start learning it’s okay to ask younger. I think everyone needs to have their own Denver Convention experience where at first they might feel embarrassed or crazy, but in the end they end up accomplishing their highest goal. That night, as I stood on the floor of the Convention, hearing Hillary Clinton speak, I thought, Maybe I’ll see if I can write her a letter asking to meet with her…after all you never know!