Ask for What You Want!

03/28/2012 03:22 pm ET Updated May 28, 2012

Of all the "sticky floors" that I identify for women -- those beliefs, assumptions and behaviors that hold us back -- the one that is probably most within our control is asking for what we want. Ironically, it's probably also one of the stickiest.

Asking for what we want is a difficult exercise for many women to do. Women are sometimes uncomfortable asking for what they want, feeling they are not entitled to something. Perhaps it's a fear of the word "no" or a desire not to rock the boat, or the belief that something will come their way if they just do a good job. But that puts the control outside of women's hands, giving too much power to and putting too much faith in others. No one can read your mind. It is up to you to tell others what you're thinking, what your goals are, and what you want.

What's ironic is that it's not uncommon for a woman to fight hard for her team and even for a specific individual who she thinks isn't getting something he or she deserves or needs. But it seems to be more difficult for women to ask for what they want or need for themselves. This shows up in a variety of situations. I recently met with a female executive who was hiring a new executive team. What stood out for her was that every man she made an offer to asked for a sign on bonus or particular job title with some kind of higher salary package. However when she made offers to women, their response was how grateful they were to work with her -- completely bypassed asking for additional perks or income.

In today's business climate, it is even more important that we don't get stuck on this particular sticky floor. It may not be relevant for you to be asking for a promotion, increase in pay or a bonus, but there are many other reasons you might need to ask for something you want. These could include the request for more visibility to expand your skills and build a broader network, asking for additional resources to support additional workload or flex-time so you can balance family and work priorities.

Know that there's a real cost by not asking -- the dollars and cents kind. Not asking for the salary they want costs women big bucks. Authors Linda Babcock and Sarah Laschever say women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don't. And, men, they say, initiate negotiations about four times as often as women.

What's the price we pay if we don't?
By leaving it to others to give us what we want, not getting it can take a toll on our self-worth, reducing our confidence and, ultimately, our effectiveness, making it even less likely that we will get what we want. Or, we get what someone else thinks we want. It isn't their fault if they get it wrong -- we asked them to do the impossible: read our minds.

If you are someone who feels uncomfortable asking for what you want and deserve, here are a few helpful tips that will help you to be more successful:

  • Don't expect others to know what you want: Take time to update your manager or organization on your accomplishments and value you bring to the company. Let them know your career desires and goals
  • Know your worth: Take stock in yourself and determine your value equation.
  • Build a Strong Business Case: Research the validity of your request (industry statistics or prior examples are always good input) so you have concrete data for comparison.
  • Build a bridge between her request and the concerns and interests of those involved in the decision.
  • Make it a win-win by creating a bridge between the other party's concerns and your interests.
  • Build a strategy for making the request and a back-up plan in case the answer is no
  • No Does Not Always Mean No: Understand that many factors including timing, budgets, how you ask etc., may come into play. Don't take "No" personally or assume that No means No forever. Pay attention to timing and ask again.
  • Just do it! Know that people in today's business environment expect us to know what we want and if done appropriately, will have more respect for you. Build your business case and then do it! By asking it will start to get easier and you will start to build your confidence.

When asking for what you want I believe it's all about attitude: believing we deserve to ask, being confident and prepared in our presentation and learning, if not to enjoy it, to at least not hate it so much. Remember, if you don't ask you don't get! When contemplating whether you will ask for something you need, ask yourself what's the worst thing that can happen? If we don't ask for what we want, we will never know what we can really have! Good things rarely show up at our front door. So, Go for it!

To learn more about the Sticky Floors check out Rebecca's best selling book, It's Not a Glass Ceiling, It's a Sticky Floor or to receive helpful coaching and advise on this topic or any of the Sticky Floors, contact Rebecca Shambaugh at

Rebecca Shambaugh is an author, international speaker and President and CEO of Shambaugh Leadership, a leadership and organizational development consulting firm headquartered in McLean, Virginia. Ms. Shambaugh also founded the WILL program, one of the first programs in the nation focused on the advancement of woman leaders. For more information, visit