When my son was in kindergarten, I volunteered to chaperone a class trip to a local museum. While the majority of the day was spent escorting five-year-olds to the bathroom, I was able to make some keen observations about the students (beyond just that little kids have small bladders). The most remarkable was that the boys raised their hands…a lot. Every time the museum docent asked a question about an artifact, about eight boys’ hands flew up in the air—“Me! Me! Me!”–while the girls typically refrained from speaking up.
At first, I was shocked by the disparity in boys’ versus girls’ hand-raising. Then I remembered that this was very consistent with research I had read about gender differences in classroom participation. Studies have shown that boys are much more likely to raise their hands than girls. Unfortunately, this pattern doesn’t seem to change as these children grow into adulthood. Our workplaces often reflect what I saw at the museum. While many men are raising their hands to new opportunities or throwing their proverbial hats in the ring for promotions, many women are more hesitant to do so.
In Decker’s Leadership Presence for Women program, we address the issue of ‘raising your hand’ for new opportunities head-on. We ask participants “What’s getting in the way of your ‘YES’?” Often it’s simply your inner dialogue creating the obstacle. That voice might be saying, “I’ve never done that before” or “I’m not sure where to even begin” or “I don’t want to be in the spotlight” (as one Harvard Business Review study suggests) or “I’m not really an expert on that.” In fact, perceived lack of expertise is a common hindrance for women to stepping forward and saying, “Consider me.” Many women think that they have to check every single requirement in order to move forward in pursuing an opportunity. This puts them at a disadvantage to those who are willing to raise their hands without all of the boxes checked. One important point of clarification: While we often see this behavior in women, there are many men who also feel reluctant to say “yes” unless they are 100% confident in their abilities.
Regardless of your gender, it is essential that you become aware of how your internal narrative (we like to refer to it as stinkin’ thinkin’) might be getting in your way. Doing so will then allow you to challenge that negative mindset. Support and encourage yourself just as you would if you were talking to a good friend. We love this quote by Sheryl Sandberg, “Fortune does favor the bold, and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” So next time someone presents you with a new opportunity, channel your inner kindergarten boy by raising your hand high. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. And enjoy the many benefits of saying “YES!”