Girls, Please Speak Up for What You Want

This could be one of the most emotionally charged articles I have ever written on this blog. And also one without any careful pre-planning or any SEO research. Heck, I don’t really care if it is ever going to be ranking on Google because at the end of the day, how many people are going to type into the search box, “girls, speak up for what you want?”

But just because nobody is going to ask Google this question doesn’t mean that it isn’t an important subject (to me, at least).

I had this rush of adrenalin urging me to write about this topic after a conversation I had with a female friend. She is a talented employee at a large company, with great academic records, strong technical skills and an excellent work ethic.

The issue is, she has been working for the same manager for three years, without salary increases and unfortunately, no promotions in sight, either.

Why isn’t she getting the salary increases she wants, and why isn’t she getting the promotions she wants? Moreover, why, at the same time, do her co-workers (she works in a male-dominated industry) seem to be getting ahead?

Because she is too afraid. Too timid. She can’t even gather up enough courage to ask for a one-on-one with her manager to specifically discuss her career progression and her ambitions. She is worried that her manager is going to think that “I am wasting his time” and “I am asking for too much”. When one of her co-workers took her work as his own without giving her any credit, she didn’t dare to speak up because she’s afraid that people would think she’s “not nice” and it is going to “jeopardize her career”.

You are wrong, girl. You are jeopardizing your own career by staying silent.

Yes, of course, there could also be many other reasons why others are getting ahead. They could be more talented and more hard-working. They could be better at managing office relationships. Or there could simply be glass ceilings and systematic biases that work in their favour.

But these are all about them, others and systems. Things that are out of her control as an individual. Could she have done more for herself? YES, ABSOLUTELY.

Of course, speaking up will not guarantee success: perhaps the external forces are too strong, or perhaps she just doesn’t click with her manager. But at least by speaking up, she will know that she has tried her best.

How many similar stories have you heard, from your friends, your co-workers, or even online? To be honest, during our conversation, I felt a sudden gush of anger that I had to encourage her to speak up for herself, as if it isn’t an innate thing that she should already be doing, as if silence is the default.

Upon further self-reflection, however, I have to admit that I was just like her when I first started my career. I was also the girl who worried excessively about “not being nice”. I was also the girl who didn’t dare to speak up for what I wanted as my next step.

Fortunately, I met a great mentor in my third year of university. She holds a very senior position at a big bank and leads a team of talented people. When I shared my concerns about “appearing overly ambitious”, she stared at me in the face and told me bluntly, “Bella, do not ever worry about wanting too much. Women have the tendency to downplay our achievements. You have no idea, in general, how much more male employees ask for than female employees. When you think you are asking for too much, you are asking for what’s just right.”

Her words of encouragement have stuck with me over the years. It has become a mantra of some sort whenever I want to ask for a raise or a promotion, or negotiate a better deal for myself. “You are not asking for too much. You are asking for what’s just right for you.”

Does it always work? No, not always. I didn’t always get the raises I wanted or the promotions I felt like I deserved. However, I did have successes here and there that I wouldn’t have received had I not stood up for myself. Even when I didn’t get what I wanted, my mind was at least at peace, because I knew I had made my case and tried my best. And, when the opportunity is right, I can choose to leave to pursue a better opportunity, knowing that I have done all I could.

I, too, work in a male-dominated industry. One of my previous co-workers said something that has left a deep impression in my mind: Guys are promoted because of their potentials, whereas girls have to prove themselves first (sometimes even have to work unofficially in that capacity) before giving the job. Although her words might be generic, they certainly point out the issues that many female employees are facing. When the system is working against us like this, it is even more critically important for us to speak up, to tell people our ambitions, our goals and our dreams, to be clear about what we want.

Yes, there is a wage gap between men and women, and yes, there are systematic biases that work against women, but how much of the gap can we close by ourselves? Are we doing enough to fight for what we deserve, to speak up for what we want, or are we just sitting here whimpering about being treated unfairly, pointing fingers at the system at large, without looking into ourselves and seeing if we can do something for ourselves?

If we want to smash the glass ceiling, or heck, even just to poke a little hole at it, we need to first look within ourselves and see how high we can lift ourselves up.

Please, girls. Speak up for what you want.  

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