guidelines for action in workplace

Women in the Workplace: How to Ask For What You Want -- And Get It

One of my clients, a senior executive in a large organization, came to our coaching session, livid. She had been passed over for a promotion that two of her male colleagues, also senior executives, had received. As my client explained it, she was in a more deserving position to have received the promotion due to her extensive contributions — which were qualitatively and quantitatively more substantial than theirs.

Women Don’t Ask?

When she met with her direct superior to find out why her colleagues had received promotions and she hadn’t, he told her, “They asked; you didn’t.”

In telling me the story, my client said, “Women don’t ask.”

This really started me thinking. Could it be true that women don’t ask?

women in the workplace


My client thought her good deeds and brilliance should have been recognized and rewarded without having to ask for it. Maybe so. And maybe, in some organizations, that is exactly what would have happened. Unfortunately, that was not the case here.

The outcome left my client feeling invalidated and victimized. As a coach, my stance would be that it’s okay to go to a place of invalidation for a few moments. This undesirable situation created what I will call a “contrast”, which created a strong desire — in this case, a desire for a promotion. That’s good! Because out of this desire can come the impetus to create a strategy that will move you in the direction of what you want.

Why Playing the Victim Hurts You

The mistake I find more than a few women making is going to that place of invalidation and staying there. Once there, it is easy to start to feel righteously victimized and go into a downward spiral that takes you away from the outcome you want — not toward it.

My client allowed her feelings about the injustice to fester for quite awhile. She made some assumptions about what was ‘true’. She did not have all the real facts available to her, and she was emotional. She then got herself worked up and charged into a conversation with her boss.

Though my client did not get her promotion, she learned a lot from the post mortem regarding what she can do in the future, whether she wants a promotion, a raise or something else.

You Can Get What You Want

The above situation extrapolates to a lot of scenarios in which you either feel used, unappreciated, overworked, underpaid or unfairly treated in some way. There are some common denominators for engaging that will support you in achieving a successful outcome in any of these. Before we look at some general guidelines you can use to get what you want, first identify the basis for your discontent or feelings of injustice:

  • Have you been working too many hours and every time you attempt to get your work-life balance realigned, more work gets piled on your plate?
  • Are you doing the heavy lifting on an important project and not getting the recognition you deserve — or even worse, someone else is?
  • Perhaps the new person is getting the best assignments and they have less experience than you?
  • Do you feel like you deserve more compensation for what you’re doing and somehow your boss seems to be too busy to have that conversation?
  • Are you beginning to think that a raise or a seat at the table with the executive council looks like a pipe dream?

Guidelines for Action

Here are some guidelines to start getting what you want. (And in many cases, there’s a lot to be said for going to the boss and asking for it.)

  • Identify how you are feeling: Ask yourself what you are feeling and what triggered your feelings about the situation in the first place. Put this in writing because when you are upset and thoughts and feelings are swirling around, it is helpful to get a snapshot of your initial trigger points because they will morph and/or you will forget them. Making a written record will help you create an anchor point for later reference. This is for your reference only. Don’t sent this to anyone!
  • Take stock of the facts: One of the best ways to do this is to write down everything you consider to be true about your situation.
  • Do a critical evaluation of ‘the facts’: This means playing devil’s advocate for everything you wrote down. Is it really true or is it your perception or opinion? Going point by point, challenge yourself to determine whether each ‘fact’ is true or whether it is a figment of your perception. Ask yourself how you know. One of the surest ways to know whether it is really true or whether it is your opinion is to ask yourself if the ‘fact’ is arguable. In other words, is it possible for the other person or stakeholder to see the ‘facts’ differently? Make note of what you believe to be fact and opinion. This is an eye-opening experience and can really start to give you some objectivity and clarity.
  • Identify the outcome you want: If you aren’t clear about your desired outcome, how in the world will you ever achieve it?! This outcome should be something that is meaningful to you and has a tangible quality. In other words, if you get this outcome, you will know it. Maybe it’s making a specific request of someone and receiving it. Or perhaps it is simply agreeing on the best strategy forward with a stakeholder.
  • Create a plan of action: If you have gone through the above steps, you are in the most clear-headed, objective place you can be. Ask yourself what your first logical step forward should be. Is there anyone else who needs to be included to achieve your outcome? Once you have done the above work, you may find that reaching your desired outcome might have a few simple steps. If it is more complicated, write down the steps to make sure you capture everything you need to execute it.
  • Be curious: When you are ready to engage in a conversation, take a stance of curiosity rather than arguing for being right. Make sure to provide context for what you are doing, saying and asking. Don’t let stakeholders rely on their own assumptions; this is what gets us all in trouble in the first place.

This is a very rich subject. And because I’m a coach — not a know-it-all — I believe people have their own inherent wisdom. So I’d like to open up a discussion on this topic with everyone.

Is it true that “women don’t ask?” Do you have a story from your workplace that you’d like to share? Or do you think it’s not true? Let me know in the comments section.