Whether talking about leaning in, speaking up, or shattering the glass ceiling, increasingly our national dialogue features the trials and triumphs of trailblazing women. Whether Hillary Clinton running for President, Nasty Gal's Sophia Amoruso hitting the Richest Self-Made Women List with a fortune of $280 million, or Ava DuVernay announcing that she will be the first black woman to direct a $100 million-budgeted live-action movie – women are no longer taking no for an answer.
According to HBR, “Among the most visible contributions to this public conversation have been Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All” and Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, both of which ignited fierce public debate.” And that debate continues to rage on today.
Here is the catch for many talented aspirational women: Getting to yes requires you to ask for want you want. Central to the challenge faced by any woman who asks for what she wants is that she is often painted as demanding, difficult, too direct, bossy, a bully or at worst, a b*tch – terms rarely, if ever applied to men. It’s the paradox tackled by Pantene in their widely acclaimed ad about bucking labels.
The best piece of advice I have seen to date was offered by a freelance film director recently quoted in Sheryl Sandberg’s recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Women Are Leaning In - but They Face Pushback. “When women ask for what they deserve, they often face social pushback—and are viewed as “bossy” or “aggressive” simply for asking. So she came up with a solution: Call out the bias before it could surface. It worked.” According to the article, she began her pitch for a project by stating: “I just want to say up front that I’m going to negotiate, and the research shows that you’re going to like me less when I do.”
This conundrum is not limited to climbing the corporate ladder. Among the ever-growing number of female entrepreneurs, there is an ongoing struggle to win the backing of venture capitalists and angel investors. Almost every woman emphasizes the importance of asking for whatever it is that you want and need. After all, an unasked question will never be answered. The negotiating doesn’t begin until the ask is on the table. At our monthly Grind Female Founders meeting, we asked our participating entrepreneurs and small business owners to share advice from the lessons they have learned while building their businesses.
"Don't just ask. Ask for more." advises Geri Stengel, author and founder of Ventureneer at a recent Grind Female Founders breakfast. "Women entrepreneurs have the same success rate as their male counterparts on Shark Tank. They're just asking for 50% less capital, according to research conducted by Sharon Poczter at Cornell University"
“Do your homework.” advises Pamela Kornblatt,President of Tax Strategists. "If you've done the research, it is a lot easier to ask for what you are worth with confidence whether you are raising capital, negotiating a salary or determining your fee structure.”
“Ask with passion”, said Judith Spitz, Verizon’s Executive in Residence at Cornell Tech. “Both your own – make sure you convey your passion when you tell your story and speak from your heart – and your audience’s - know what your audience is passionate about and speak to THEIR heart. When passions align – absolutely anything is possible.”
Sweta Vikram, award-winning and bestselling author and CEO/Founder of NimmiLife offers “Often times, we, women, assume what we deserve. We need to get out of our own heads and get rid of self-imposed limits. Don’t be afraid to ask…don’t be stingy about extending help.”
“When you are ready to ask, come armed and ready with answers.” is the advice from Nancy Ruzow of Design Director, Ruzow Graphics Inc. “Know the answer to ‘why’ what you are asking is necessary, -- have all the details worked out.”
Cari Sommer, CEO, Sommer Communications Group says “Make it easy for people to help you. If you are asking for introductions, be very specific about who you need to meet, and share whatever material you have that can easily passed along on your behalf. As a first step, try pre-writing two sentences that can be copied and pasted into an introductory email on your behalf.”
And when it comes to manufacturing, explains designer Molly Shaheen, founder of Molly Packs Don’t ask what the cost will be, tell them what you want to spend and then negotiate from there. Be firm -- you direct the conversation.”
Laura Mignott - Managing Partner, DigitalFlash says, “ Ask for connections” Often as business owners, we don’t like asking for help because we think it means weakness, that’s just wrong. The best thing you can do to build your client base, get funding or find new solutions, is to ask people who you respect for connections. The most valuable thing you have as an entrepreneur is your network, and it must always be expanding.
So remember, next time you set your sights on a goal, remind yourself it begins with the ASK.