Need Something? Ask for It. Wisdom from Michelle Obama

I just finished Michelle Obama’s powerful autobiography, Becoming. I could fill a year’s worth of blogs with the wisdom found in the pages of her book, but a) that would be cheating, and b) you should all go borrow or buy the book immediately.

What I did instead of watching the Super Bowl

One of the things that struck me the most about Michelle (yes, we’re on a first name basis now) is that when she needed something, she overcame her own insecurities and asked for it.

Let me break down why this is so damn impressive, in case you are unaware. Research shows men are four times more likely to ask for a raise than women, and when women do work up the gumption to ask for more money, they request 30% less than men do.

The takeaway? As a whole, women are afraid to share their needs with employers, and we are suffering because of it. Non-Hispanic white women make 77% of white men, black women make 61% and hispanic/Latino women make 53%. These are about the same numbers as when I graduated from high school over 20 years ago. Reminder: it’s 2019.

While bravery will not end income disparity (if only it were that simple), learning to stand up for ourselves cannot hurt. Let’s take a look at a few of the stories Mrs. Obama (née Robinson) shares:

  1. After deciding corporate law was not for her, Michelle spoke to (it seems) at least half of Chicago. After a stint in City Hall, she was offered an opportunity with a new organization that trained young people to go into non-profit leadership positions (think Teach for America but for non-profit startups). When the well-meaning but privileged individuals who ran the show told her the pittance they planned to pay her, she almost rejected the offer outright. It was half what she was being paid at City Hall, which had been half of what she was making at her law firm. Instead of saying no immediately, she told them how much she paid in rent and student loans (yes, POTUS and FLOTUS were indebted to Sallie Mae, too). Michelle then told them how much she expected to make. Because she’s obviously a badass, they found the money, and she took the job.
  2. After the second Obama baby, Sasha, was born, Michelle wanted to find an opportunity that would allow her to care for her children AND change the world (again, badass). Instead of hiding the fact that she had a crammed schedule during her job interview, she BROUGHT BABY SASHA TO THE INTERVIEW WITH HER! If that was not the most balling move of the century, she cut the interview short because Sasha was starting to fuss. Obviously, she got the job.

As someone who has long feared hearing “no,” I have never asked for a raise. After reading this book, I can guarantee you I will right this wrong in June, when I will have a year in my current position.

It seems as if we (and I’m speaking for all humans here) assume that others will recognize our worth and reward us in kind. We have to remember our bosses (and loved ones) are often too wrapped into their own concerns to see the effort we are putting forth. Thus, if you want a raise or a promotion (or a foot massage from your significant other), gather some data and make your case. No one will do it for you. Not even Michelle.