Women Don’t Ask

question-mark-med-20305754Shaun Rein, the young, male, managing director of the China Market Research Group, offered his views this week on Forbes.com about “Why Men Don’t Promote Women More.”

He writes:


“In my career, I have tended to promote more men than women. I have even generally given men higher salaries. Why? Am I sexist? Do men do a better job? The answer is a resounding no to both. Actually, it is mostly women’s fault. They simply don’t ask for raises or promotions as often as men do.

He received quite a backlash from many female readers for the somewhat naive and simplistic presentation of his views – but of course, he does have a point.

It is often said that women don’t achieve top jobs or top salaries because they expect to be recognized for their merits without promoting themselves and without being clear about what they want. In my experience of coaching both men and women in organizations, this stereotype is largely true — men are generally much better at asking for what they want and surprise, surprise, then go on to get it more often than women.

Avoiding negotiation and self-promotion is a reality for women that certainly hinder their progress, but is is hardly surprising behavior given the gender stereotypes ingrained in our society. If women act on advice to become more assertive and actively promote themselves, they are likely to be judged  (by both men and women) as too pushy or too tough.

Explicit messages such as “nice girls don’t ask”, “I want doesn’t get,” and being labeled “pushy” when they do say what they want, reinforces the implicit messages women grow up with: it is unattractive and unfeminine to push themselves forward in this way.

It makes sense that women aren’t good at self-promotion or stating what they want, because these are assertive behaviors that are accepted and rewarded in men and often rejected and disliked in women. Women are faced with a tough choice — say what they want and be disliked for being self-promoting and pushy; or conform to social stereotypes and limit themselves to middle management jobs where they often get paid less than their male counterparts.

Most respondents to Shaun Rein’s blog in Forbes.com didn’t like what he had to say about women being their own worst enemies when it comes to getting promotions and higher pay. I think he was simply asking the wrong question.

It’s not about whether or not women reduce their chances of climbing the corporate ladder because they don’t ask for what they want. In my experience of over twenty-five years in organizations, I have certainly observed this to be true and, at the same time, perfectly understandable.

The more interesting and revealing question is why do we continue to reward men who assert what they want and penalize women who demonstrate the same behavior? If he asked and answered that question we would be more interested in what he had to say.

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