Don’t Presume It’s No Without Asking

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, coined the phrase “Don’t leave before you leave” to describe how women sometimes self-sabotage their own career advancement by taking themselves out of consideration for new job or promotion opportunities because they are considering having a baby.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve heard a few women unknowingly stall their career advancement in another way – by not asking for what they want because they assume the answer will automatically be NO. To this I would challenge all women, and say:

“Don’t presume it’s no without asking.”

I often see women believe that IF they ask for something they need to do their job or help them be more successful, the answer will automatically be no. Insert excuse here – lack of company resources, recent budget cuts, pay freezes, “this person always says no”, and many more. So, they just don’t ask.

Much has been written about how women don’t ask for higher pay or promotions. What I see is that many women also don’t ask for professional development.

The examples I have recently encountered have involved women who have been promoted or given new responsibilities (great!) but who lack certain specific skills required to succeed  in their new role (which happens all the time). One of them involved a woman Elizabeth, promoted into a business relationship position from a previous position in marketing. Elizabeth has a strong background in understanding the organization and marketing it but not in the actual process of developing one-on-one relationships. She found a program offered at a university that is highly regarded for their expertise in her field. Although she knew the program would help her immensely to meet her sales objectives she had not asked her manager if she could attend.

When I explore ways that newly promoted women can acquire the knowledge or skills they were missing, I often hear immediate objections about how their company would not approve or pay for such opportunities. Probing further I uncover that their assumptions are not based on having been denied previous such requests, denials of any other employee requests, policies in place or evident budget constraints. Even when presented with examples of fellow employees (both men and women) who have participated in more expensive or longer professional development programs, the women continue to feel sure that their request would not be met.

When a company places someone in a role, they do so because they have certain objectives and expectations they want to have accomplished. They need their employees to achieve the desired outcome, but don’t always know exactly what’s required for success. It’s the employee’s responsibility to inform her manager if there is something she needs to deliver the expected results. Having the right skills to meet a goal is akin to having the right tools to do a job. And, if you don’t advocate for yourself, the chances are no one else will either.

The steps for making the case for professional development are relatively simple:

  1. Determine what specific knowledge or skills you lack to achieve your objectives.
  2. Figure out ways you can develop the capabilities you need: reading, observation, training, practice etc. 
  3. Select the most appropriate development method keeping in mind that training or attending a conference is not always the best answer.
  4. Research the where, how and cost of various options.
  5. Explain to your manager what you need to succeed and present your research.
  6. ASK  for approval being very clear about the merits of your request, the benefits that will accrue to the organization and the results you commit to achieve.

Successful women presume that the answer will be yes.

They know that decisions are usually made based on weighing merit and evaluating facts. So, make a good case for what you need and before you assume the answer is no – ASK!