What can I and other women learn about asking, from Taylor Swift’s forcing Apple to pay artists?

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“Ask for what you want.

Give other people the opportunity to say ‘yes.’

Stop saying ‘no’ for them.”

~Roger Ellerton

It was marvelous, to watch Taylor Swift making waves into the music industry. Apple had unilaterally decided to not paying artists any royalties while offering their work for free via Apple Music, and she dared to question this decision. For me this was a properly timed teaching, impossible to ignore. A teaching coming from a woman making a big daunting ask and feeling empowered and comfortable in her own skin while doing it. This got me thinking, and further concluding the following:

  • Asking for what we want is a HUGE deal for most of women around, myself included.
  • It is not just ok to ask for what we want, but it is also necessary that we do so before we care about other people’s needs.
  • In case this reasoning is not compelling enough, there is always the communal motivation to reach out.

Allow me to explain myself.

A few weeks ago I was invited to collaborate in the production of content for a very important event for entrepreneurs in my hometown. I was invited as co-founder and director of Womerang, jointly with several other pro-women’s rights initiatives in Monterrey, México. At the meeting, we exchanged opinions about the situation we as women have to face in order to develop our careers in a world which rules have been set forth for men, by men; where we women have to face the dilemma of pursuing the career of our dreams while also fulfilling other roles such as of mothers and wives.

The meeting was about to end when, the only man in the room, a very respectable academic said, “you should also consider that, being part of this event, can be a huge showcase for your organizations”, to which the woman who was leading the meeting scarcely agreed.

I left the room feeling somehow uncomfortable, but unable to put into words what the discomfort was about. I felt that, by not stressing out loud the potential benefits / earnings / consideration / reward, you name it, we would be able to obtain through the proposed collaboration, organizers were tacitly taking for granted that we were going to be more than willing to collaborate with them.

Please do not take me wrong. I love giving; I use to get out of my way to do so. I am now formally mentoring young women, and run a free mentoring program to empower them in the professional and personal field, I do this because, after I became a mom, I was somehow forced to decide between pursuing the career I had dreamt about, for which I had prepared very much, or being the kind of mom I wanted to be.

It took me long to be able to say that I wanted to keep working, and further more to allow me to change careers. While I remember those as some of the most challenging moments of my life, I finally found light at the end of the tunnel, and that is how Womerang started, with the aim of building an authentic (and I can’t stress this enough) support network that brings women closer to top leadership positions, from where we can permeate traditional labor structures, with more flexible concepts that allow us both, women and men, to reach our own definition of balance.

I was caught in the dilemma of speaking out loud about my discomfort or saying nothing at all because I did not feel empowered enough to do so, then Taylor Swift happened. She raised her powerful voice into the music industry, to challenge a giant, and Apple had no choice but to back down, learning first hand “the danger of taking on a woman who knows what she’s worth.”

It is not a secret that we women have a much harder time than men in asking what we need and desire. Linda Babcock, author of the 2007 best seller “Women Don’t Ask”, found that we women often find it hard to ask because sometimes we do not know what we can ask, or may be we fear to society’s bad reaction when we assert our own needs and desires. Lecturer Jean Clemons from Wharton also holds that “Men ask for things — whether it’s jobs, raises, projects, engagements — two to three times more than women.”

When talking about women helping more in workplaces around the world, but benefiting less from it, Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant hold that the most important change that we women have to do “starts with a shift in mind-set: If we want to care for others, we also need to take care of ourselves.” More importantly, they have found, through numerous studies, that “women (and men) achieve the highest performance and experience the lowest burnout when they prioritize their own needs along with the needs of others.”

But in case this may not be scientific reason enough to convince you (and me) that we should be asking for what we deserve, there is a hack I have come to learn under what Professor Margaret A. Neale calls “the communal motivation” in asking for more, this is that, by taking the “this is not about me, but it’s about what I can do for you” approach, we alleviate the negative reputational effects that asking has for us women.

I wonder whether Taylor Swift actually felt she needed to reach out to communal motivation in order to make her ask, or it’s that she just felt more comfortable doing it. In either case, she made a great use of this resource when addressing her letter, by expressly mentioning that her main concern were the artists who could not afford not receiving royalties for the time formerly set forth by Apple, and not the money she would not be making during that time. This makes me admire her even more. And even though, I am way far from being the amazing star she is, I now feel I share something with her, and this is precisely the entitlement to ask for what I and other women deserve.

A piece of great advice that I recently read says that, “learning to ask is like flexing a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it becomes”, so I am starting now. And this I tell you from the bottom of my heart, if you want to be seen by others, you need first to be seen by yourself.

Today I choose to believe that, by asking what I deserve neither makes me selfish nor a capitalist pig (ok, may be just a capitalist, and that is just fine), so I am stopping saying no on your behalf, and I am giving you the opportunity to say yes to me, you know who you are.

And while I am doing this for me, I am also doing it for all of those who are not yet empowered enough to ask for what they deserve, which fact does not make them less entitled to it.


Norma Cerros

Norma Cerros is Co-Founder & CEO of Womerang.