Warning: Bold language ahead. Proceed at own risk.
When I was in Grade 12, I was obliged to have a meeting with our school’s guidance counsellor about my future. I was applying to universities and his task was to help me make wise choices regarding my career. The results of my aptitude test (I did well) and academic transcripts (>90% GPA) were fanned across his desk.
After a bit of pointless banter, he encouraged me to stick to becoming a teacher. “You’re good at languages,” he said by way of explanation. Never mind that my aptitude test suggested I would have done well in law or any of several professional careers. I’m just surprised he didn’t suggest nursing as well.
As soon as I left his office, I used my purportedly well-honed linguistic skills to write down precisely what I thought of him and his ideas. Thankfully, I never delivered the letter.
No one in my immediate family had gone to university, nor finished high school. All I had for a guide was Mr. Sexist. Brilliant, no?
To be clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to become a teacher or a nurse, but back then, those were the stereotypical avenues recommended for girls; such was the level of sexism where I grew up. It was inconceivable in general, but particularly to this unenlightened schmo, that a woman might excel at being a lawyer, doctor, scientist, engineer, or anything else she damn well pleased.
Be realistic, choose a suitable career for a woman if you must, find a good husband, and make babies. What more could you possibly want?
Doris bangs head against a very hard wall. Repeatedly.
It’s different for girls
Fast forward a few decades and some things haven’t changed. We’re still sending girls a message that they shouldn’t be too bold: Don’t ask for too much, be grateful for what you’ve got, don’t rock the boat, careful not to be too aggressive because that’s not nice.
WTH?! Isn’t it 2018? Wouldn’t these same actions garner admiration if they were undertaken by a man?
I’m at a gathering of dozens of families, mostly strangers. Nearby, a toddler is doing something her father asked her not to do. She puts a smile on her face and tries it again anyway. She’s clearly pleased with herself. Her father warns her, “Jenna*, you’re being bold. Stop it.”
I choke on my drink.
OK, I get it, your young daughter isn’t listening to you and you want to get the message across, but do you really want her to learn that being bold is wrong? Would you say that to your young son?!
This family has a boy and he was running wild with few constraints that day. Apparently, boys will be boys, but girls should learn their place.
Damn it all!!!
What’s in it for them?
What is the world so afraid of? Our abilities? Our aspirations? Our desire to explore the world? To contribute?
Because that’s what women do when they are given a chance – they contribute to their families and their communities. “The good news is that empowering girls and women yields undeniable returns – for everyone in the community.” How about that: When we win, everyone in the community wins.
Given all the benefits of empowering girls, we shouldn’t just be encouraging them to be bold, to venture forward, to dream bigger; we should insist on it.
The upside of being bold
Girls, here’s what you get when you’re bold: You get results.
You get more than you otherwise would have.
You get the job, or the raise, or the great project, or the boy, or whatever it is you’re after, because you dare to try.
Sometimes you fail, and it really sucks, but between where you’re at now and success, there’s a lot of failure. That’s inevitable; so be it. You get that, and you keep trying because you’re bold.
You understand that results don’t get delivered by UPS; you need to go get them yourself.
Last month, at my Women’s Money Group meetup, I taught the attendees how to negotiate for lower rates with their credit card companies and their banks. One woman called me to say that the very next day, she called her bank and asked them for a reduction in the rate she’s paying for an unsecured line of credit. Within ten minutes, she had secured a substantial reduction and transferred over her credit card balances. She plans to call other banks in an attempt to get an ever better deal.
She was bold. She called, asked for a reduced rate using a proven approach, and she got results within ten minutes. Just imagine what she’ll accomplish if she applies this strategy to other areas of her life?
A while back, my husband and I were having a glass of wine with a friend. She’s a professional counsellor who charges by the hour. When we learned how much she charges, Mark and I both said, “Why don’t you raise your rates?” She provided a long list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly, including her belief that she would lose clients as a result. We nonetheless encouraged her: “You’re damn good at what you do. Be bold!”
Since that time, she has raised her rates not once but twice, and she is busier than ever. She’s now the one who announces her new rates when she sees us. That’s quite a change in confidence and results in a short period of time.
The cost of not being bold
There’s a very real cost to your pocketbook when you avoid being bold. Most women, for example, accept the first salary offer that comes with a new job because they don’t dare to negotiate for fear of being perceived as greedy. According to Jeff Haden, contributing editor at Inc, “Your salary is a lot like investing: where you start definitely impacts your total return.” He goes on to share this quote: “I tell my graduate students that by not negotiating their job at the beginning of their career,” says Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, “they’re leaving anywhere between $1 million and $1.5 million on the table in lost earnings over their lifetime.” And that figure doesn’t include company retirement contributions based on a percentage of salary.”
Did you get that? One million dollars lost because we don’t dare to ask for more! Before you get stuck on that figure to argue that it doesn’t apply to your numbers, let’s take that specific detail off the table. Even if the cost to us were 1/10th as big, it would still be a really big deal.
We harm ourselves by not being bold. And we do our daughters a ridiculously huge disservice by teaching them, implicitly or not, to hold back.
This has to stop.
I’m not recommending that you be obnoxious. I taught my Women’s Money Group attendees to always be polite, but firm, with their asks, and they got results. You can be bold and professional all at once; the two are not mutually exclusive.
I’m not saying to shoot from the hip and launch in unprepared – that would harm you. Do your homework. Learn how to negotiate effectively. Start with the following:
- Why Women Must Ask (The Right Way): Negotiation Advice From Stanford’s Margaret A. Neale
- Negotiating is Trickier for Women. You Should Do it Anyway
- The Cost of Not Negotiating
- Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss.
And for the love of God, be bold.
*Not her real name