"You can't be afraid to ask," Uncle Art used to say when recounting tales of his successful 40-odd-year career selling mattresses up and down the Eastern Seaboard.
The uncle was talking about making the sale, but corporate types need to ask for what they need, too. This is especially true for women, who, in spite of an increase in diversity training, mentoring and sponsorship programmes, still lag far behind men in reaching senior management and C-suite positions. In fact, in 2010, only 14.4% of the executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies were held by women.
Whether from fear of being perceived as too aggressive or too selfish, women tend not to be comfortable asking for what they want. And when they do ask, it can be in ineffective ways.
Often, women's speech is peppered with tentative and indirect phrases that scream a lack of confidence, such as, "I'm not really sure, but you could try it this way," or, "Now, I'm not an expert, but ..." or, "I think this is a good idea - do you?"
Many women have also adopted an upward vocal inflection at the end of sentences, a regrettable characteristic popularised by the Valley Girl. It turns a strong declarative statement into a question, conveying weakness, uncertainty and a request for approval.
In addition, and perhaps most important, professional women sometimes forget to build their case around the things that matter most to their employer - principally, the impact on the bottom line.
A managing director of an international investment bank, says women need to be bold and straightforward when stating what they need to achieve their goals.
From her previous experiences, she had learned to ask for the help she needed. A few years back, when male colleagues welcomed her into the company with an offhanded yet well-meaning "Let me know if I can do anything for you," she knew exactly how to respond: Introduce me to the top 10 people in the firm. Include me when you and the guys go out for dinner. Arrange a breakfast with the firm's top traders, and let me introduce myself and my team. Count me in when the firm signs up for any corporate sponsorships. Invite me to your quarterly top-client events.
The act of putting your stake in the ground - stating exactly what you want - is scary for most women.
Unfortunately, in the corporate world there is a narrower band of acceptable communication for women than for men.
The New York Times