by Lisa Swan on May 16, 2012
Women’s power and influence in the workplace is growing by leaps and bounds. Yet some women still engage in throwback behavior, like reflexively apologizing for things they shouldn’t be sorry about. If you have ever found yourself apologizing for asking to be paid fairly, or for not looking like a fashion model after burning the midnight oil at work the night before, read on.
In a much-discussed article on FastCompany.com, Amber Mac talks about Lisa Bloom’s new book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World. Mac writes that Bloom’s book reveals how even very successful women “spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the ‘wrong’ things.”
For example, one of the themes of the book is to teach women how to say the word “no,” simply and unapologetically. After all, you don’t hear men say “I’m sorry” when asking for a raise, or apologizing if they have succeeded at something, or getting themselves into a tizzy if they’re having a bad hair day. That is something women could learn from, especially when it comes to being seen as equals in the workplace.
Mac interviewed Bloom about the book, specifically women’s propensity to apologize. Bloom says that “women need to stop apologizing for routine workplace events.” Before you reflexively say “sorry,” Bloom says you should ask yourself, “Have I actually done something wrong? Or has this just become a verbal tic?”
In addition, Mac pointed out specific issues that women should stop needlessly apologizing for — looks, money expectations, and career achievements. She indicates that it is ridiculous for women to spend so much time on hair and makeup, and to beat themselves up and apologize if they don’t look like a fashion model after working late the night before. She also advises against women judging other women for not being the perfect size, and for not wearing the latest fashions. Come to think of it, that is a conversation you will never hear men have at the workplace — “Look at Joe’s tie, it’s so 2007!” or “Gee, Bob ought to mix in a salad once in a while.”
As for money, it’s time for women to stop putting up with being paid less, just because they don’t want to make waves with their employers. Mac tells an anecdote about a woman she knows who works as an independent contractor. The company the contractor was working for asked to do additional work that was not included in what she was contracted to do. What she should have done was point out the contract, and say that extra work would mean additional money, without any apologies.
According to Bloom, women all too often downplay or apologize their own workplace achievements. She says that is because women are “trained to be sensitive to everyone’s feelings, not to be selfish, and not to brag,” that they end up apologizing reflexively without actually having done anything to apologize for. Of course, if you have done something wrong at work you “need to take responsibility” for your mistakes, Bloom points out, but you also need to own your successes. The latter is something that women have a hard time doing.
Do your female colleagues say “I’m sorry” too much? Do you? Do you think it’s a sign of professional weakness?
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Lisa Swan is a Feature Writer for the Compliance Exchange and the Wall Street Job Report. She is also a columnist for The Faster Times and a blogger for Subway Squawkers. Her work has also appeared in the New York Daily News, Yahoo Sports, Huffington Post and the books Graphical Player 2011 and Graphical Player 2010.