The waiting room. Why do women wait?

Why do women wait?“I have always, essentially, been waiting. Waiting to become something else, waiting to be that person I always thought I was on the verge of becoming, waiting for that life I thought I would have. In my head, I was always one step away. In high school, I was biding my time until I could become the college version of myself, the one my mind could see so clearly. In college, the post-college “adult” person was always looming in front of me, smarter, stronger, more organised. Then the married person, then the person I’d become when we have kids. For twenty years, literally, I have waited to become the thin version of myself, because that’s when life will really begin.  And through all that waiting, here I am. My life is passing, day by day, and I am waiting for it to start. I am waiting for that time, that person, that event when my life will finally begin.”

This excerpt from Shauna Niequist’s Cold Tangerines: Celebrating the Extraordinary Nature of Everyday Life sums up how many women feel. Women tend to be in the waiting room – waiting for something to happen that will give us a boost and a new direction. In this blog, we look at the problem more closely and why women are stuck in the waiting room.

Waiting for that promotion, a board role or a salary increase

A study by Linda Babcock, a James M. Walton Professor of Economics at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Public Policy and Management, showed that the starting salaries of male MBA graduates were 7.4% (or just over $4,000) higher than those of women. How this happened presents a very interesting insight into a woman’s mindset in the context of this issue. Of the women, only 7% had attempted to negotiate on the starting salary offered by the employer. This is in stark contrast to men, 57% of whom (i.e. 8 times as many as women) had asked for higher commencement pay. Just by asking, and not waiting for a pay increase to happen, men had upped their salaries by 7.4%!

Furthermore, women want to avoid being labelled as pushy, which consequently dissuades them from asking for more, instead waiting on a time until their efforts are recognised by those higher up. This reluctance to speak up and ask for what is rightfully ours is a major problem among women and it needs to be addressed.

There are several reasons for this “waiting-room” attitude displayed by women, the foremost being the unconscious bias that teaches women to be content with their lot and to put others’ interests ahead of their own. Though some think this is a good quality to develop, it often works as a barrier to a woman’s professional progress. When women start internalising this bias and feel that they must not ask for more money, is when they start disadvantaging themselves financially.

Women wait to be tapped on the shoulder for promotions and Board roles too. It is rare that you get asked to apply or tapped, therefore you need to have the confidence to position yourself for what you want. I know you suffer from the “cringe factor” yet if you “don’t ask, you wont get”. In many cases, men wont even realise you would be interested in a promotion or board role unless you tell them. Mentors and coaches can help you articulate the best way to profile and market yourself, sponsors can definitely help open doors for you and speak on your behalf.

Waiting for someone else to speak up

Although not unique to just women, women are usually the ones who will think twice before speaking up in meetings. Men, on the other hand, are more likely than women to project confidence when they’re uncertain, according to a study by the American Psychological Association. It isn’t that women don’t have anything to say, it’s that they would rather wait for someone else to take the risk of speaking up than put themselves in the spotlight. However, mitigating such risks also means loss of opportunities. The uncertainty that holds women back from speaking up and brainstorming ideas will only severely limit their professional growth and cause a loss of opportunity for both the business and themselves.

Waiting for a position to become vacant before applying

The insightful article entitled Why Women Don’t Apply for Jobs Unless They’re 100% Qualified gleans interesting findings from a Hewlett Packard internal report and sheds light on what women are thinking when applying for jobs. The top reason for not applying for a vacant position is, “I didn’t think they would hire me since I didn’t meet the qualifications and I didn’t want to put myself out there if I was likely to fail.” If the reservations felt by women in applying for positions that are vacant illicit such responses, then the inclination to apply for jobs that are not yet vacant are going to occur even less for women. The fear that they may be stepping on someone’s toes by applying for a non-vacant job will only cause a major pullback on any women’s desire for career progression.

These are just three ways in which women are letting great opportunities pass them by, waiting for someone to tap them on the shoulder! At the cost of sounding cliché, time and opportunity really does not wait for anyone! The time is now to shed women based biases, gain confidence, create opportunities for ourselves, speak up and ask for more ….because we deserve it. It is time to get out of the waiting room.


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