Where Logic Meets Love

Ask For It -- and You Shall Receive

Sunday, April 17, 2011

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Ask For It -- and You Shall Receive | Faith Permeating Life
It's been a busy couple of days, and I apologize for not posting on Thursday -- I was trying to get my programming homework done, cook dinner (Mike wasn't home), exercise, and pack my clothes for the weekend. I was at a conference all day Friday, then spent two hours driving back in the rain, in traffic, from the conference location to my parents', ate dinner, and helped get set up for the garage sale that we had most of the day yesterday (inside the garage, because it was freezing, with heaters on extension cords pointed at us the whole time). Then I had to make sure all course roster mistakes were fixed by midnight last night because spring course evaluations launched at midnight.

So now I can breathe a bit.

The conference is what I want to talk about today. I didn't go in with very high expectations because the schedule showed there would be one keynote speaker talking for two hours, lunch, and then two hour-long workshops, and that was it. But because the topic was so focused, and the speakers few and well-chosen, it ended up being an excellent conference.

The conference was for women in higher education and was based around Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever's book Ask For It, a follow-up to their book Women Don't Ask. Their research, it turns out, is what I've been quoting for years whenever people talk about the pay gap between men and women's average salaries, because I once read a simple explanation for why this is: Men are four times more likely than women to negotiate their salaries.

The research shows a consistent pattern. Managers are most concerned with their own day-to-day work, and they're not constantly reviewing everyone in their workforce to see if people are all being paid fairly and given equal opportunities and so on. If someone comes to them, however, and asks for a raise, a bonus, a prestigious project, or a spot on a powerful committee, and it seems like a reasonable request and is within the manager's power to grant it, they're happy to do so. They don't say, "Hm, thank you for bringing this to my attention. I'm going to review the qualifications and skills of everyone in your department to see who deserves this raise/project/benefit/etc." They just say, "Hm, that sounds reasonable. I can make that happen." Given that it's more likely to be men doing the asking, they more often get these benefits.

This whole situation fascinates me for a few reasons.

One is the message of the conference: Assume everything is negotiable, think about what you really want, do your research, aim high, and just ask. For my part, I've got my performance review coming up on Tuesday, and while I don't feel the need to negotiate my salary since my bosses already fought hard to get me a title change and a raise, there is one thing I would really like: I would like to work from home one day a week. There are a lot of different reasons for this, both work- and health-related, but I haven't had the nerve to ask for it before now because I didn't see a good reason I should be allowed to. Now I'm like, hell, why not just ask? I can't imagine my boss saying no, especially since I rarely have any meetings on Thursdays anyway, so it wouldn't be disruptive to anyone else if I worked from home that day. And it would make me happier, and thus a better worker. So I'm going to ask for it.

The second reason this topic fascinates me is that it means, without carefully paying attention to these kind of discrepancies and who's coming to ask for things, managers can find themselves out of compliance with equal-pay laws without any kind of blatant discrimination. The whole reason one of the authors (Linda Babcock) started on this research was that her female graduate students came to her and were upset that male graduate students were getting to teach their own classes, while they (the female students) were just TAs to other professors. Babcock had been happy to help out any student who came to her with a course proposal, and it hadn't occurred to her it was only the male students bringing her these proposals. But anyone from the outside could come in, see this discrepancy, and accuse her of being discriminatory and gender-biased and all the rest.

This is another case where I feel like legislation isn't the best solution. Now, I'm not saying there shouldn't be equal-pay laws, because I do think they set up an expectation, provide a bargaining position for women when they negotiate*, and discourage outright discrimination. But in and of themselves, these laws are not the solution to closing the gender wage gap. The book Ask For It (which we got as part of the conference) says that graduates at Babcock's school were surveyed on whether they negotiated their job offers. 12.5% of women and 51.5% of men had. Babcock created negotiation workshops aimed at teaching women why and how to negotiate, and three years later, the survey showed 68% of women and 65% of men had negotiated their job offers, and there was no statistical difference in how much the men and women had been able to increase their starting salaries.

The point is that while these laws are important and even necessary, they don't, by themselves, actually solve the problem. That's why I like this book and liked the conference so much -- they're aimed at educating women and empowering them to feel like they can ask for what they need or deserve to be successful. And you know what? Making change that way is a lot more difficult than passing a law because it requires transforming people's ideas one individual at a time. But I believe it's a lot more effective at creating real change and making real progress toward closing that gap.

The third reason that I found this topic and the conference fascinating is for those moments the gender generalizations didn't fit for me. Some of the things we were told that "women don't do," I do. Like asking for extra projects at work. Asking to move into another department. Asking for a new title when mine didn't make sense anymore. On the other hand, some of the things that "women do," Mike does. I've helped him write practically every cover letter he's ever sent because whenever he writes it himself, it ends up being all about how much he wants the job and not a single thing about what skills and talents he has to offer. He's such a humble person that he's terrible at promoting himself. He falls prey to a lot of the same things that the authors say that women tell themselves, like, "I'll be promoted when my boss thinks I'm good enough" or "If I'm getting passed over for this job, there must be a good reason." We had an honest conversation a few weeks ago about the fact that he wasn't applying to jobs he was interested in because he already thought he knew why they'd reject his application. And so I have to tell him, "Just try. Just ask."

I've mentioned before that I often have some of my best thoughts in church, which, to my mind, is how I believe God talks to me. I'm kind of embarrassed to say that after thinking about this idea for a full day and a half it wasn't until I was in church last night that I made this connection:

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." (Matthew 7:7-8)
"All things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive." (Matthew 21:22)
"Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you." (Mark 11:24)
"If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you." (John 15:7)
"Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full." (John 16:24)
"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Philippians 4:6)

Immediately I saw connections between what I'd been reading and my prayer life. For example, in either situation, you're not going to get everything you might want. Even if your boss absolutely loves you, she's not going to double your salary if that would require taking away part of other people's salaries. But does that mean you shouldn't ask for anything? Of course not. And just because God doesn't answer all prayers, doesn't mean He doesn't answer any prayers.

Another message of the book is that women often put up with minor inconveniences because it doesn't occur to them that they can ask to have those things changed. The same is true of prayer. I often make the mistake of thinking things are too trivial to bother asking God about. Which is stupid. My back had been hurting since Friday afternoon from a combination of driving, moving things for the garage sale, and starting my period. So in that flash of inspiration in church, with complete faith, I asked God to make my back stop hurting. And boom -- no more pain.

Some years ago, I read a book called When Children Pray by Cheri Fuller. One particular story stands out to me, and I'll try to remember it as best I can. A women and her children were driving along a deserted rural road when their car broke down. With no phone and no idea when somebody might next drive by, she asked her children to pray with her to send someone to help them out. After waiting for some time and having no one show up, she asked them to pray again. They looked at her strangely, and her daughter said, "But we already asked God. He knows. We don't need to tell Him again." And then the tow truck drove up.

For whatever reason, children seem to have the same kind of faith in God that many men have in themselves -- that anything is possible if you just ask.

How did so many of us miss this memo?

So don't be afraid to ask -- your boss, your spouse, or God -- for what you deserve, need, or want. It doesn't mean you'll get it. But who knows until you try?

*One of the two workshops at the conference was led by an attorney who educated us on these laws and kept saying, "I'm not telling you this so you can sue your employer. Don't sue your employer. It's a terrible idea. Just be educated about your rights." This reminded me of a story a faculty member had told me about some decades ago when she'd approached her department chair about why two male colleagues received a raise and she hadn't. The chair told her, well, she was married, she had a husband to support her, she didn't need to be making as much money. She told him he was breaking the law and she had every right to sue him. He gave her the raise.


  1. Makes sense to me. Women are looked down on/demonized in this society if they behave in traditionally "masculine" ways, and that includes aggressive behavior, ambition, etc. Everything involved in taking the initiative to ask for what they think they deserve. Meanwhile, young boys are taught that aggression and arrogance makes you a man. It makes me incredibly sad.

  2. @Macha
    That's one of the things the authors specifically address--that women tend to view negotiation as this aggressive, competitive thing when it doesn't have to be and is actually more successful if it's not. Women do have to be careful not to ask for things too aggressively or they're more likely to be turned down, but if they know how to approach it in a cooperative way, they can be just as successful as men at negotiating for what they want.

  3. Wow. This is amazing. And true. The one time I did ask for a raise, I got it. That was a few years ago, though. I wanted to try and negotiate for something during my most recent performance review, but I was chicken. I don't know how I went from "bold enough to ask for a raise" to "so chicken I couldn't negotiate a tangible, non-monetary perk." (Same job, same position, same owners, etc.) I need to remember to do more of the things you talk about here. Thank you for writing this!

  4. @Rabbit
    Glad you found it helpful! I would recommend the book if you are looking for practical advice on approaching that kind of negotiation, including really detailed advice for practicing beforehand and for responding calmly if the person reacts a lot more negatively than you expected. It might help you feel more confident.

    I don't think it's strange at all that your confidence level seemed to change--it may be that you felt strongly you deserved the raise but that the other thing was more something you wanted than something you thought you "deserved." That's what was stopping me from asking for a work-from-home day even though there's no real reason I should be turned down.

    Good luck!

  5. Interesting stuff! I sometimes have trouble asking for things. For me, the biggest hurdle is wishing that other people (whether loved ones or colleagues) would demonstrate their appreciation of me by guessing what I want and offering it to me without my having to ask. I got a lot of insight from this article: Are You an Asker or a Guesser?"

    Your list of scriptures leaves out one that I had tacked up for a long time as a reminder to myself:
    "You don’t have because you don’t ask.... Come near to God, and God will come near to you."--James 4:8
    Too often, because I can see that my problem has its source in some mistake I made, I forbid myself to ask for help from God or anybody, and that usually doesn't work out so well!

  6. @'Becca
    Interesting article! I love finding new ways of understanding people, whether it's Myers-Briggs, colors, love languages... anything that explains how two people can view the same situation very differently. The asking/guessing thing reminds me of the relationship issues that always crop up when I'm sick, where I want Mike to guess at what I need and offer me something as opposed to waiting for me to ask for things.

    I definitely know what you mean about wanting to singlehandedly solve problems that I feel I singlehandedly caused. Sometimes we need to ask for help even if we don't feel we deserve any!


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