Women don’t ask.

My 7 year old niece drew this for me. It is one of the most precious things in my apartment. Notice her correct usage of ‘than’ versus ‘then’ and the heart exclamation point. How optimistic, how loving, how inspiring, how girlie. I hope and pray she grows up to be a self-authored, self-determined, sovereign woman in spite of socialization, patriarchy, and a gendered world.

With the news of the ‘Silence Breakers’, I’ve been reflecting heavily on my female coaching clients of late, my own consciousness as a woman and the system. I’ve also been reading “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. Many of my female clients display common polarities that I think are indicative of these strange times we are living in – powerfulness and helplessness, assertiveness and doubt, complete and incomplete, independent and dependent, driver and passenger.  Women are more liberated than ever, more educated, accomplished, and yet still captive to our internalized oppression. An old boyfriend called this dynamic “chissues” – chick issues. (Note that I am aware that I am speaking from a privileged lens in a first world city with first world opportunities.  I am acutely aware of the conditions elsewhere in the world and in other cultures or races, and deliberately limit my commentary to my small scope of the earth. I have to save the world in another post.)

One successful woman – a team lead, years of sector experience – wells up in tears, paralyzed by the realization that she needs to be called upon to speak up.

Another woman manager equally successful, with a forceful presence and an idyllic family picture, chokes at the idea of her gathering ambition, her enlarging life, and withers from the work she needs to do to meet her new scope.

And lastly, my classic case, a successful new mom, tapped regularly for new projects and roles, recently promoted even, wondering if it is right or ok for her to explore new and different jobs.

My involvement as a coach is to support them through these self-limiting beliefs, these career barriers, and I can’t also help wondering if it is the blind leading the blind?

Many women wait to be rewarded for their efforts, in other words, because they don’t know whether they deserve something unless someone else tells them that they do. (p. 57, “Women Don’t Ask”)

Can your heart just break? Babcock and Laschever explain this as the low sense of personal entitlement that trains us to cut down our market value, cut down our assertiveness, confidence, knowing. Women do the greatest unpaid work in the world! Caregiving! Girls are raised to do things out of love, boys are raised to learn their market value. Girls are protected, raised to be adjacent to someone – father, husband, boyfriend – in order to have position and status. Boys are raised with an intrinsic sense of independence, privilege, sovereignty, and freedom. Girls wait to be asked out on dates, asked to the prom, asked for their hand in marriage. Boys just do.

Because women are conditioned early to have an external locus of control, we wait. We don’t ask. We don’t negotiate. We need permission. I’m exhausted and pissed.

So my break-through coaching questions for today:

  • I notice that you hold both [name the polarity]. What is the cost to you of this duality? How does it serve or hinder? What’s behind it?
  • If you were a man, what would you do? [This coaching question brings the way forward into focus like no other.]

We’ll talk about the double-bind later.

Take your places ladies. You are anointed already, by your own hand.