Two Reasons Why Women Don’t Ask For Help In Achieving Their Goals

A few years ago, a male client of mine asked me to write a letter of support for his application to be one of the “top 40 under 40” professionals in a specific sphere of business. Not long after that, a man I barely knew brazenly asked if I would sponsor him for an exclusive country club membership. Yet another man hit me up within a week of first meeting him to vote for him in a magazine contest to be the “best” in his profession.

I recall being a bit taken aback by the chutzpah of these men, who didn’t apologize or act self-deprecating as they put out their “asks” with confidence. I won’t share who I said “yes” to, but I will share my lasting reaction to this troika of events.

I am rarely, if ever, asked by women to do favors for them that will help them stand out professionally, add valuable knowledge, foster connections that will enable their rise, or “block and tackle” for them in a hostile situation.

Several years ago, Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State in the Obama Administration, famously said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” Growing up in Washington, D.C., Albright was a familiar face in my life because her twin daughters are close friends. We all watched with awe as Madeleine went from “just a mom” of three strong daughters to the dizzying heights of international power and influence. I don’t know if she had to ask other women for help during her ascent, but I’ve thought about her often since she made that comment during the 2016 U.S Presidential election because I wonder if she was telegraphing to all of us that it is our obligation to support other women, particularly because they may never openly ask for it.

This has all left me wondering: Are men hard-wired to ask others for help, even from those men and women with whom they haven’t yet established a close relationship? Is this why women hang back from cultivating a team approach to getting noticed or ahead?

I polled my female friends when I first became aware of this gender discrepancy. They all agreed on one point: their female friends usually wait for good things to happen to them instead of enlisting female support for their own ambitions, but those same women have no hesitation about asking for recommendations for babysitters and tutors for their children, raising money for a school’s silent auction, or asking where they can find a popular designer on sale. So they have the confidence and chutzpah to ask for important favors and information, but almost never when it comes to aiding their own career.

I decided to do an experiment. I asked some of my closest female friends who have carved out noteworthy careers in such diverse areas as psychology, education, sports management, teaching, entrepreneurship and writing if we could have an agreement. I told them that I wanted to know how I could help them to get noticed in ways that would help them, or that would be beneficial to their success, and added that I hoped I could ask them for the same thing. Their eyes and voices lit up, but first I heard a variety of stories about why this felt like an unlikely fairytale.

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