The fastest way to get to your destination is to ask for directions. The same applies if your destination is the corner office. This means that you should be clear about your intentions and make your ambitions known to your boss. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women tell me that they were passed up for promotions because their boss didn’t know that they wanted a bigger job or a higher title. Like, why else do you think we’re working our asses off, Jackass? But anyway, in business you need to be clear about what you want; sometimes you need to explicitly ask for it. Women are particularly bad at this. We drop hints and hope that someone will recognize our talent and hard work.
Hinting and hoping rarely yields the desired outcome for your career (or anything else, for that matter). With all the other priorities competing for your boss’s attention, you can’t trust that they will recognize all your efforts. Even if your boss does recognize your hard work, if you don’t clearly communicate your goals and ambitions, they may assume you are not interested in a promotion. When it comes to my own career, I would never leave it up to chance; I don’t make any assumptions and I make my intentions clear. When women finally ask for what we want, we seem to feel guilty about it. In many ways, women feel that they are undeserving of bigger, better opportunities; we have a hard time asking for a bigger job, a better role, or more money. So, we work harder and hope that someone will notice and recognize us for it by giving us the kiss on the forehead that we are seeking. But it doesn’t really work that way. If you don’t ask for what you want, you likely won’t get it.
How we operate reminds me of how the mothers of my generation ran their households. My mother, God rest her soul, grew up in a time when a woman’s opinion didn’t really matter and her greatest career option was to get married. She played her role as wife and mother dutifully. She never stepped out or overstepped, and she certainly never complained. She just kept plugging away thanklessly and continued to run our household like a well-oiled machine. Until one day, she died and the machine fell apart. I tell this story not to elicit pity or sorrow, but to draw parallels to women in the workplace. Women tend to work quietly and tirelessly in hopes that someone will notice their efforts. But working quietly is the surest way to guarantee that recognition will never come. Yet, women continue to do this throughout their entire careers until they die—not literally, but until they leave the company or workforce altogether.
Although my generation began to demand greater a balance in the household, we still have a tendency to fall into these traditional roles in the workplace. Women aren’t good at asking for we want because we grew up watching our mothers work tirelessly in thankless jobs. We have been socialized to work quietly and diligently behind the scenes or at the side of a man. We weren’t taught to ask for what we wanted and we certainly weren’t encouraged to assertively go get it. And most importantly we weren’t taught that we were deserving of it. But all this is changing with each new generation. Women are demanding greater equality both at home and in the workplace. Millennial women are by far the more likely to ask for what they want and to express dissatisfaction for what they don’t want than women of previous generations. But until the value of women is universally recognized and becomes a visceral part of our society, as evidenced by equal pay, women will continue to think of themselves as worth slightly less than a man.