By Haley Lerner, JWI
Sitting in my Psychology 101 lecture hall on my first day of classes at Emory University, I looked around at the 200 students furiously taking notes as the professor droned on about experiments conducted by random researchers that I had never heard of. Coming from a high school where my graduating class consisted of 100 people, I was quite taken aback by the fact that the professor did not know my whole life story, that we couldn’t call the professors by their first names and that we were actually supposed to raise our hands if we had something to say.
As I quietly sat on my computer in the back of the class, mostly paying attention but occasionally online shopping, I observed an interesting phenomenon that I had been taught in class but had never actually noticed in action: there is quite an obvious difference in the ways men and women participate and ask questions in a large classroom setting. Men would confidently raise their hands during the middle of the professor’s lecture to ask a question, or would even call out when they weren’t given the attention they thought they deserved. However, women would often sheepishly raise their hands and begin the question with “Sorry but…” or “Wait – sorry…” or “Sorry, I missed that…” or “Sorry, can you repeat that?” or “Sorry, I just have a question…”
So, as women we’re “sorry” for being self-advocates, “sorry” for having questions and “sorry” for not being perfect?
Sorry, but I’m pretty sure that we’re not actually sorry for any of this.
Recently, Kim Osborne, a Digital Manager at Golin, spoke at a JWI Summer Series event for college interns about ways in which young women can make the most out of their summer internships. She discussed the concept of “sorry, not sorry,” and how women are often afraid to speak up for themselves in a professional setting.
Even when we as women get the courage to go up to their boss and ask for another assignment or to take them out to coffee, we generally preface the proposal with “sorry…” “Sorry, I was just wondering if you had anything else for me to work on.” “Wait, sorry, but do you have time to go grab a quick cup of coffee this afternoon?”
Just because it may be in our nature to be polite and respectful to our superiors, that does not mean that we must apologize when we didn’t do anything wrong, or feel embarrassed to ask a question. As Osborne emphasized, being a young female professional means making your voice heard in an environment where it is sometimes uncomfortable to do so. However, asking these questions and taking this kind of initiative is the only way to advance in the professional world and become better versions of ourselves.
So next time you talk to your boss or raise your hand in class, think about the motivation behind your question and understand that you have a right to ask it. Realize that you’re not sorry for being curious, excited or passionate. Take initiative to make sure that your goals are accomplished and understood by others.
And lastly, make sure that other people know that you’re not sorry for any of it.
Haley Lerner is a summer 2015 intern at JWI.
BONUS LINKS: Recently we in the JWI office have been discussing this piece by Ann Friedman: “Can We Just, Like, Get Over the Way Women Talk?”
Like, have you ever noticed that women apologize too much? Sorry, but just humor me for a second here. What if, um, how we’re speaking is actually part of what’s undermining us in the workplace, in politics, and anywhere in the public sphere where we want to be taken seriously? I think it could be time for us all to assess how we’re talking. Does that make sense to you, too?
It reminded us of this great sketch by Amy Schumer, which will hit home for many women.