Researchers have found that men are 4 times more likely than women to ask for a better salary package. This is pretty discouraging, and it begs the question, “Why are women afraid to ask for more?”
I have a few opinions.
Women don’t ask because we’re terrified of hearing “No.” Because we’re afraid of damaging relationships. Because we don’t want to be perceived as annoying, demanding, bitchy, or unreasonable. Because we’re not sure if we deserve it. Because we’re not sure how to do it. And because—deep inside our bones—there’s this quiet, ominous feeling, like, “If I ask for too much, then something awful is going to happen.”
Where does this ominous feeling come from?
To answer that question, all we need to do is crack open a history book.
Throughout history, confident, outspoken women haven’t exactly been “celebrated.” Mostly, they’ve been taunted, terrorized, hunted down, or locked in prisons and asylums. Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not.
During the Victorian Era, women with a “tendency to cause trouble” were often diagnosed with “female hysteria” and locked into insane asylums. Some were forced to have gruesome hysterectomies, which Victorian doctors (all male, of course) felt convinced was the “cure” for their “hysteria.”
And let’s not forget Joan of Arc—burned at the stake. Or the women in Salem who were labeled as “witches”—burned at the stake, too. The witch-hunt continues to this day. Remember the crowds chanting “Lock her up!” when Hillary Clinton took the stage during the 2016 Presidential Debates? To some, she was a hero. To others, a threat.
When we look at how women have been treated throughout history—indeed, how they’re still treated today—it’s not hard to see why so many women feel anxious about “asking for more.” Asking feels dangerous. Striving feels dangerous. Reaching for power feels dangerous. Staying “in our place” feels safer. So, that’s what many of us choose to do.
The problem is, when we choose to “stay in our place,” then we allow history to repeat its ugly patterns. Things plateau. Nothing evolves. Men keep earning more, and women keep earning less. Power imbalances remain in place.
We can’t change everything that’s happened in the past. “That’s history,” as they say. But we can take control of our future. We can start asking for what we want—and stop settling for crumbs.
I believe that we need new workplace laws in place to create equal pay, and also, I believe we each have a personal responsibility to clarify what we want—and ask for it.
Every time a woman stands up and says, “Yes, I want that,” “I’ve earned that,” “I can have that,” or “I want to reach for that,” it’s a courageous, revolutionary act. It was during the Victorian Era—and it still is today.
What would you love to ask for at work—and what’s the biggest fear or doubt that’s holding you back?