Sorry I AM Sorry

We’ve all seen the articles claiming that, as women, some of our natural inclinations are keeping us from being taken seriously and getting ahead in the workplace. Women apologize too much, preface our statements with ‘I think,’ don’t take full credit for our actions, and are too quick to take on the ‘housework’ of the office. One article a couple of years ago even warned against bringing baked goods to work because it would make us seem too domestic.

As a young woman entering the workforce several years ago, I ate this content up. I scanned my emails and removed the sorrys and I thinks before hitting send and did power poses in the bathroom when I was nervous. When I was the one in the meeting to take the notes, I wondered if it was because of my position or because I was a young woman. When I said no to ordering the catering or scheduling a meeting, I worried I was overcorrecting.

With these dos and don’ts fluttering around in my mind, I began paying more attention to my male colleagues and comparing their actions to my own instincts. A couple of years ago, a male senior leader in my organization screwed up. A private email of his was accidentally forwarded to a number of staff, and his comments offended a lot of people. A couple of hours later, an apology email popped into our inboxes. “Ouch!” it was titled. It was an authentic, heartfelt apology — except for one thing. It took me a second read-through to realize that it didn’t include a single admission of wrongdoing, not a single actual apology.

At the time, I took this as further validation. Men like him got to where they were by having complete confidence in their actions, not by apologizing for them. But more and more, I am starting to question my own assessment. Yes, I should own my opinions, take credit for my work, and not say sorry when I have nothing to be sorry about (I am still usually the one to apologize when a stranger bumps into me on the sidewalk).

But sometimes, I am sorry. Sometimes I make mistakes that have negative affects on others, and it is important to me to acknowledge that. Sometimes, I want to jump in and print 200 name tags when Staples screws up and my co-workers are scrambling. That can-do attitude is a part of who I am and has allowed me to develop strong professional relationships that end up serving me in the long-run.

As women, we can probably learn a thing or two from men. But maybe we don’t need to act just like them in order to succeed. And maybe they can learn something from us too.

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