Usable Insight – Calling All Women Executives: Part 5 – Why Women Don’t Ask for What They Deserve

In the workplace:

Women – too often don’t feel entitled to what they do deserve

Men – too often men feel entitled to what they don’t deserve

What’s behind this and why are so many women afraid to ask for what they want, need and deserve in the work place?


A big part of a women’s identity is tied to both her estrogen and oxytocin.  Her estrogen is what causes her to feel more feminine and her oxytocin is about what causes her to feel that connecting, nurturing and bonding are so important.

A big part of men’s identity is tied to both his testosterone and adrenaline.  His testosterone is what causes him to feel aggressive and his adrenaline is what causes him to feel powerful.

Both women and men are also frequently dopamine junkies where dopamine is what cause both of them to feel pleasure and even intense pleasure.

When women are coming from their estrogen/femininity and it succeeds in attracting men to bond with and cherish them, that releases a dopamine rush. When men are coming from their testosterone/male aggressiveness and it directs their adrenaline to fight (instead of flight) and they win something, that also releases a dopamine rush.

Pushing, asking and demanding are more in line with testosterone and adrenaline.

Giving and being given, caring and being cared about , loving and being loved are more in line with estrogen and oxcytocin.


When a women asks or demands something at work (all bets are off at home) she is often perceived as a “b*tch” and at the very least as unfeminine, because those appears to be testosterone/adrenaline type behaviors.

Perhaps the greatest deterrent to asking for what they want, need and deserve is the fear that if they are perceived as the “b” word, they will be rejected by a man and then as the office buzz grows, by all the men in her office (as in, “She’s such a b*tch!”).  Rejection is the opposite of bonding and it is an affront to the oxytocin driven part of a woman’s identity.  That may explain why so many women don’t know how to behave in the office.  If they wait for the kindness and generosity of men, it usually doesn’t happen, because men tend to hoard power and feel that giving away anything diminishes it (that may explain why it is so difficult for men to say, “Thank you” or “Congratulations” and even more hard to say sincerely, “I’m sorry”).  On the other hand if women push for what they want they risk both: a) not receiving it which can make an already awkward situation worse and b) men pulling back and away from them which causes their oxytocin driven identity to take more of a hit.

What’s a Woman to Do – Focus on the Future

One of my favorite people is executive coach extraordinaire, Marshall Goldsmith.  He is the creator of “feed forward coaching” because he knows that it is much less likely to cause trouble to focus on a future that people have not yet messed up, than to get into a “pissing match” rife with ‘he said/she said’ escalation about something that has already happened.

Example 1: Regarding asking for help on a project.

If you can, at the beginning of any project where you might need help (doesn’t that mean all projects?) down the road, say to your boss or peer, “Going forward, in the event I need your assistance in either providing me with direct help or supporting me in accessing it from somewhere else, what is the best way to get that from you?”  Don’t feel guilty. Just be quiet. Remember, you’re not asking for it now.

Then listen to whatever they say and respond, “This is really important for me to get clear, because you know how awkward asking for help can be, so I just want to be certain I heard what you said.  You said the best way to approach you in the future is (then say exactly what they said).  Is that correct?” Wait for them to give a confirmatory, “Yes,” which according to influence guru, Robert Cialdini, will deepen their commitment to doing it in the future.

Example 2: Regarding asking for more pay and/or a promotion

You can certainly discuss it when your review comes up, but if that is likely to cause real awkwardness and end poorly here is an alternative. Say to your boss, “Are any of those (raise, bonus or promotion) negotiable?”

If they say, “No,” retain your composure (even if you’re boiling inside and whatever you do, don’t cry, because it makes men nuts), pause and reply, “Just so I’ll know for future reference and future reviews for more pay, bonuses and promotions, help me to understand what you evaluate in order to arrive at those assessments.”  Then again, be quiet. If he becomes uptight say, “I’m not trying to be difficult I’m just trying to understand your criteria for giving a raise, bonus and/or promotion so that I can be sure to meet them so that next time, if raises, bonuses and promotions are being given, that I will be in the best position to receive one.”


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4 Responses to “Usable Insight – Calling All Women Executives: Part 5 – Why Women Don’t Ask for What They Deserve”

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