It’s OK to Ask for Help

Asking for help makes us better at our jobs

It’s an unfortunate fact that in the workplace, women of color—Black women in particular—tend to receive less support and encouragement from their managers, according to a 2018 report by LeanIn.Org and McKinsey & Company.

Compared with white women, Black women are less likely to have managers highlight their work, advocate for them, or offer them opportunities to manage people and projects. Black women are also less likely to report that their manager helps them navigate organizational politics or balance work and personal life.

Even graduating from a prestigious business or law school doesn’t help much. Of the 532 African American women who earned their MBAs at Harvard Business School [HBS] between 1977 and 2015, only 13 percent have achieved the highest-ranking executive positions, compared to 40 percent of a matched sample of 150 non-African-American HBS alumni.

The bottom line is that to get the support required to advance our careers, we must ask for it. Learning to ask for help effectively can be one of the most important skills you acquire. Is it fair that we must ask for the help that’s freely given to others? No, it’s not fair. But by concentrating on what you can do when the odds aren’t in your favor, you will improve your chance of success.

Asking for help makes us better at our jobs, giving us the tools to uncover new solutions and positively impact team dynamics. And when we’re less frustrated at work, it can help us get the things we need in our personal lives as well. And yet, we rarely give ourselves permission to ask. Fortunately, research shows that asking for—and getting—what we need is much easier than we think.

Here are the three key steps for turning asking for help into a strength:

Step One: Remind yourself that you are worthy. You deserve the opportunities,
support, and rewards that come from advancing in your career. If you have doubt, examine why that is. Are you afraid? If so, of what? Asking for help doesn’t mean you are not competent; it means you can do even better with assistance. Do you suffer from imposter syndrome? Almost all professional women of color do at some point. None of that matters. You deserve to go after your ambitions and aspirations just like everyone else.

Step Two: Be intentional when deciding whom to ask for help. Once you know what kind of help you need, consider the right persons to approach. Do they have control or access to the resources you need? Do they have the experience to advise you? Do they have a network of helpful relationships?

Step Three: Learn how to ask for help. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes to help them understand the impact of helping you. Be specific and concise with your requests. Include context and rationale, which makes your request sound less like a demand. Engender empathy by being polite and showing humility.

You deserve to embrace your ambition and go after your aspirations. Remember that no one accomplishes anything of significance alone. So ask for help, over and over. Mastering these three steps will help you overcome some of the biases and challenges you face in the workplace. DW


Shellye Archambeau is the former CEO of MetricStream, a Fortune 500 board director, and author of the best seller Unapologetically Ambitious.

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