Based on current pay levels, an average female executive will earn £423,390 less over the course of her career than a male executive with a similar career path (according to the Chartered Management Institute data). We are equal by law, we study at the same universities as men and go for the same jobs but still we get paid less. It sounds wrong but yet it is so acceptable that after 40 years of legislation demanding equality in the workplace, it is still general practice. Stereotyping and sexual discrimination have no doubt contributed to that statistic but I don’t think they are the major reason why in the 21st century this is still a problem.  What is?

It’s because women don’t ask.

Here’s why: it’s always the man who has to ask us out, the man who has to pursue us, the man who has to propose and, as it was the case in the past, the man who has to earn a living. They are so good at it because they are taught to pursue what they want from day one and have been doing it since the times when we lived in caves. Women, on the other hand, have been conditioned to wait until they’re asked.

The world of employment and business has been designed by men so we have to learn their rules if we ever want to be successful in it.  We can’t expect the world to change overnight and, as we have seen, even 40 years hasn’t been enough but what we can do is learn the rules and use that knowledge to our advantage.

I am not saying that this will make an instant miracle but it will pay off in the long run. In my first full-time job after having been rejected for promotion for the sixth time, I sent an email to one of the managers requesting feedback. When he received my email, he made a horrific error of replying to me instead of forwarding it. The email said that I was “aggressive”. If I were a man, I would have been called “driven” and it would have been a compliment. I remained “aggressive” for the rest of my time with that company and was promoted eventually but it was a valuable lesson on how the world works. I am perfectly sure I would not have been promoted, had I not asked for it.

The first thing that comes to mind is that those qualities don’t make us look feminine but unless you want to seduce your boss or colleague, you don’t need your femininity at work. The fact that we’re not earning enough or moving up as fast as we think we deserve is that we don’t ask for it. There are very few people out there who are sensitive enough to work out what others want but most people don’t realise it, so unless you ask, people will think that you are happy with the current state of affairs.

How far asking can take you can be illustrated by the following story. I once offered someone a job. The compensation package included a significant salary increase plus bonus plus a handful of benefits. Sounds good, doesn’t it? A woman would have happily accepted it but that candidate was a man. He rejected the first offer and suggested a larger base salary. He got what he wanted. He rejected it again and again asked for a larger sum. The outcome – the business agreed to his demands and was still very keen to hire him and, believe me, that candidate wasn’t one of a kind. He just knew the rules of the game.

We are bad at confronting people because we are nurturing relationship builders who avoid conflict and taking risks, but we have to realise that if we don’t put ourselves first, no one else will, especially at work. You can blame sexual discrimination or, if you so wish, even men for not having reached as far as you hoped you would and that might make you feel temporarily better but it will not take you anywhere.

So next time you want to learn a new skill, ask. If you want a promotion, ask. If you want a better compensation package, ask; because as the saying goes “if you don’t ask, you don’t get.”