Why we need to ask for what we deserve at work

Generally, I’m someone who asks for what she wants. I’m relatively assertive and I’m pretty forthright (my friends reading this are probably rolling their eyes — this is a gross understatement).  My parents have instilled in me that I must be my own best advocate, because no one else will do it for me — but in my first few years out of college, I’m learning that’s not always the case.

In the last few months, I’ve come up against some roadblocks. I’ve been put in situations that truly made me wonder if I was good enough for the things I desired in my career — and I couldn’t just shake off those negative feelings and plow ahead. My mind has been full of maybe not, I really don’t have the experience, and They’ll probably say no anyways.

There are so many opportunities I’ve been working towards, and now that they’re finally within reach, I can’t ask for them.

I’ve heard the saying (and everyone’s favorite t-shirt slogan), first uttered by Sarah Hagi, “Lord, Give me the confidence of a mediocre white man.” Needless to say, it might be time for me to take this to heart.


I’ve had trouble speaking up for myself, and I've noticed something kind of surprising. When I voice my concern to friends in private, they take it upon themselves to speak for me when I lose my confidence. It seems that it’s easier to speak for someone else than it is to speak for yourself.


When I was in the process of creating a publication, I went to a writer’s meeting. It was a group specifically created to bring together women writers — to get them talking and networking. I immediately knew I wanted to work with the ladies who organized the evening. They seemed confident, interested, and thoughtful. I was drawn to their creativity and their drive. I walked in with a single mission: Talk to them about this new publication. Annnnnd I just made a bunch of small talk instead. “I love wine and cheese nights!” “Oh this is such a great idea! So fun! Seriously! Such a cute spot too.”

Come on. Breathe.


I looked over at my co-editor with a weak smile. She’s extremely bright and a magnet for interesting people. She looked over at me as I struggled to do what we had come for. She cut into the conversation with a cool clear voice. “So, we’re actually starting a publication. It’s based on…”

She continued, explaining that I had come up with the idea and that we had a purpose for being here. We wanted to work with them.

I stared at her in awe. The woman was immediately responsive. She told us to remind her at the end of the workshop. My co-editor did just that, and we all met at the end of the week.


It’s been killing me that I wasn’t able to speak up for myself. I need to be my own best advocate. Still, it’s comforting to know that the women in my life — close friends, collaborators, and other creatives — aren’t bystanders, but partners who actively support my goals.

Unfortunately, though, this has happened more than once — I take my self-deprecating feelings to heart and don’t ask for what I want. I think this is baked into my understanding of myself as a woman: I should be warm, and asking for large things is, in itself, a statement. false

I spend much of my self-reflecting time trying to undo the demure passivity that I felt was an unwavering feminine characteristic. I rely on strong female friends as role models.

People who write million dollar grants and ask for promotions because they deserve them are who I’m trying to model myself after. I’ve done my best to be aware of weak language when I’m writing emails or speaking to colleagues about goals (an awesome app that’s been helping with this is Just Not Sorry, if you need a little boost on your email writing).

Thanking someone for saying what you should have said doesn’t feel good. I’ve discovered that firsthand. Truly, much of this insecurity comes from “Impostor Syndrome” — the feeling that you’re not good enough to have your position or do the job that you do. It is such a prevalent issue among women that books have been written about why we don’t have the confidence seemingly inherent in the male psyche.

But there is something we can do to try and combat this: every time you find yourself thinking, “I want this,” say it aloud. Back it up with your credentials and your drive. It’s not easy to take advice that goes against pervasive gender norms, but if more of us challenge the way femininity in the workplace is perceived, then more women will feel confident enough to ask for everything they deserve.

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