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That’s What She Said: Brick Walls and Boiling Frogs

Amy_Vale_260x300For decades, gender roles have been pretty divided in the workplace. Men, for the most part, aren’t shy about vocalizing their demands – whether it’s negotiating their salaries up front, asking for raises or increasing budgets to add additional staff. I myself can attest to the fact that female professionals, however, are bound by a strange paradox. We often struggle to ask for the “things” that will help us be more successful, usually because of over processing of external information and internalizing it.

Before I moved to the U.S., I watched The Last Lecture delivered by Randy Pausch. He said something that changed my way of thinking completely. “The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

When I arrived on American soil, it felt like “no” was every second word I heard. I started to enjoy hearing it because it pushed me to get smarter in my approach – for a meeting, an opportunity, a chance. This was my brick wall and I felt like I definitely belonged on the other side.

A recent study by The National Bureau of Economic Research found that women are generally reluctant when it comes to negotiating starting salaries unless the employer explicitly incorporates language inviting them to do so. In contrast, men take a much more proactive approach even if there’s no promise of success. Yes, these stats are somewhat unfortunate. But are these stats really all that surprising? If I’m being completely honest, no. Instead of throwing up our hands in defeat, why not flip the switch and use those same innate female characteristics to our advantage?

Due Diligence: A Woman’s Secret Weapon

You don’t have to be a genius to know that men and women see the world differently. Women tend to observe (a lot) before we act on something. Just look at how we shop compared to our male counterparts. We’ll do an excessive amount of due diligence to comparison shop, find discounts/sales, locate nearby shops, get our friends’ opinions – all before we finally decide to make the purchase (oftentimes, much to the disgust of our significant others). That patience is a good thing in the workplace. It allows us to identify opportunities before they become blindingly obvious to others. It also allows one to assess how much time and effort should be invested into said opportunity, along with what outcome we should expect. Using this innate female characteristic helps to create a compelling story when asking for something in your workplace that may come out of left field for your boss.

Plan for Rejection

No matter what your title is on your email signature, you are in sales. Not every sale goes smoothly and you will almost always get objections. Whether you work in advertising or any other industry, be prepared to make “no” a powerful word used to spur you on, to hone your sales skills. Start thinking of yourself as a sales person in everything you do. Use the objections that get thrown at you as a motivator and remind yourself every day that if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

Divide Your “Ask” into Small Bite-Sized Chunks

Change can be scary for most people, whether it’s for the better or the worse. It’s a guessing game; you have no way of knowing what the person on the receiving end of your “ask” will think or say. As a result, as women, we can tend to over analyze the response (at the thought of impending repercussions) and over explain before being asked. One way to get what you want is to break your “ask” into small bite-sized chunks. There are plenty of analogies I could use here to explain (my favorite is slowing boiling a frog instead of throwing into hot water). Nonetheless, if the “ask” is important enough, the work you have to put in to get the end result shouldn’t matter. Be it a project lead role, department transfer, promotion, raise, or additional resources/staff. Eventually, those five or ten smaller “asks” backed with all that due diligence will amount to achieving that one significant goal.

Ask Without Fear

Steve Jobs said something really poignant and simple. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.”

If you let fear hold you back, you’re only hurting yourself (both professionally and personally). And you’ll be leapfrogged by those (both men and women) who go after what they want. So go get it. Do your due diligence. Ask. Get objections. Handle them. Go back in for round two with smaller asks. Do whatever it takes. If it’s important enough, you’ll find a way to get over your brick wall too.


Amy Vale is a contributor to The Makegood and is the VP, Global Research and Strategic Communications for Mojiva Inc.