Sorry not Sorry, the Success and Likability Trap

Why do women say they are sorry so much and why should we stop?

If you have read any of my blogs, you know how strongly I feel about the fact we are not progressing fast enough at change.  

At the current rate of progression, women won’t reach pay equality with men until 2058. Since I last wrote on this topic (pre-COVID), we’ve only increased 2 cents from women earning $0.78 for every $1 men make in the United States to $0.80 on the $1 now. We’ve seen progress in the boardroom, up from 19% female representation in 2019 to 30% now but that’s largely due to legislation and formal tracking that impacts public company boards and forces change. 

Another unwavering difference between men and women? Women continue to say they are sorry much more than men. Studies show that women do apologize more than men in their lifetimes. In fact, even though I’m aware of it and it’s a personal pet peeve of mine, I catch myself doing it all the time. Enough is enough. I’m writing publicly about my commitment to change and I encourage you all to help keep me honest and examine your own tendencies to apologize and make the change with me.

Here’s why:

We know there is a success and likeability trap for women that causes a double standard. You have to be strong but not too strong, opinionated but not too opinionated, POLITE, nurturing, approachable, humble, likable, and of course smile a lot. You can be confident, but don’t be conceited. You can be ambitious but don’t try too hard. You can be assertive but only if you don’t upset anyone. 

The trap plays out in business, politics, sports, etc. Women who aren’t polite, don’t seem to be caring and nurturing and they get judged. If you learn to have a poker face, you are distant and unapproachable, you may even be called aggressive or difficult.  So it’s only natural that women try to be polite by apologizing a ton right? What’s wrong with being polite you might ask?

Well, when a girl starts a statement by saying, “Sorry, but… ” or “I might be wrong, but …” she may think she’s being polite, but it undermines what she’s about to say or do. “It says ‘I don’t feel confident in what I’m about to say or my right to say it,’ ” explains Rachel Busman, PsyD, a clinical psychologist.

We don’t want to undermine our opinions by apologizing for them before we share them. In fact, we shouldn’t. And those instinctual apologies for every day routine matters, like “Sorry I’m late” or “Sorry I’m not ready to order”, “Sorry, can I ask you a question”, we need to intentionally stop them.

Now what:

Let’s save our apologies for times when there is a real reason so they are meaningful. Let’s try to replace “Sorry I’m late” with “Thank you for waiting” or “Sorry, can I ask you a question” with “Excuse me, can I ask you a question”.  Model and praise directness in girls and women. Disagreement is ok, being direct is ok. Confidence and ambition are ok and in fact, they will be the forces we need of more in our daughters to accelerate change in this world. #sorrynotsorry . . . let’s do this together, stop saying “I’m Sorry”.

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