Why do women say they are sorry?

When I saw this piece by Pantene I immediately thought about the Womens Entrepreneur Festival a few years ago.  I started out the morning asking women to stop saying I am sorry.  Sorry for what?  Sorry that I am interrupting you, sorry that I bumped into you, sorry that I don’t agree, etc.,  It is something for whatever reason that women do and they need to stop it.

Year ago, in the mid 90’s I was at a conference that Fred was invited to.  I knew all the people and they said I could participate too.  It was a small event, maybe 60 people.  At one point about 30 people sat around a conference table discussing a topic.  I tried to get my point across but just couldn’t seem to jump in the conversation.  Needless to say it was the tech industry in the mid-90’s and it was mostly all men.  The guy I was sitting next to was someone I really liked and did business with.  He saw how frustrated I was and whispered to me, stop starting with “I think”.  Women do that.  Just state your opinion and you will jump in much easier.  Really?  I tried it his way and the next thing I know, I took over the floor.

I learned a huge lesson.  That goes with never saying I am sorry.  Watch the video.  It is spot on and shows the difference it makes by leading with no apologies.


Comments (Archived):

  1. meredithcollinz

    That’s a great lesson and tip. I’ve definitely experienced that. I will do it!

  2. lisa hickey

    Thanks Joanne!Yours is one of the few blogs I come to just to watch the commercials!That’s fascinating how engrained the “I’m sorry” is, especially with women. The commercial makes it seem as if the women are saying, “Sorry for existing. Sorry for being human.” And I love the way it shows what a better way of starting the conversation is. I used to think that when I was saying the words “I’m sorry”, that what I was doing was publicly making myself accountable for a mistake. But as this commercial shows, so often we say “I’m sorry” when there was no mistake in the first place.And thanks for the story about not starting sentences with “I think”. That is a great piece of advice. It reminds me of a time a few years ago when my oldest daughter was working at an investment bank doing a first pass on business plans. And I was asking her about general, strategic things she had learned, and one thing she mentioned was, “Never, ever start your sentences with the words ‘I feel as if…’. That will cause investors to think you are making decisions based on emotions and not on facts. And if you are a woman, that is already a stereotype.”

    1. Gotham Gal

      i also love how the commercial shows both sides.

  3. pointsnfigures

    great point. If you are going to China, you get things done like you do in America. You have to swim in their culture. Same goes for tech to a certain extent.

  4. AG

    “I think,” “I’m sorry,” and the addition of “just” all diminish a women’s power and authority. Great post, important reminder.

  5. awaldstein

    The only thing that has value is our opinions.I’m unique, maybe lucky, but the women entrepreneurs I’ve been meeting are not apologizing for anything, just moving forward in their own ways.

    1. Gotham Gal

      good to hear.


    That was just what I needed to hear today! Thank you so much Joanne!!

  7. Gillian Morris

    SO common. I noticed the same phenomenon at a House of Genius event recently (great organization, houseofgenius.org, that puts together roundtables of interesting people to advise startup founders, while not revealing who they are and what they do till the end). The group was about 1/3 women, and every single one started their feedback to the startup with ‘I don’t really know about this area’ or ‘I’m not really qualified to give feedback on this’. Not a single man disqualified himself in that way. I pointed it out – it’s a totally subconscious thing, and once you notice it you can act differently.

    1. Gotham Gal

      once you notice it, the whole world changes

  8. JackieDomanus

    I caught myself using qualifying statements when writing and have changed that – now on to speaking. I’ve been teaching my interns about this issue too so they can watch out for it.

  9. JuliaK

    There is a big “something” happening right now, that is for certain…with Mary Barra’s firm statement to Matt Lauer that his line of questioning is unacceptable until it is applied to both male and female guests – to the “like a girl,” “tell her she is smart (Verizon),” and now this reminder that “I’m sorry” (which I say all of the time despite being an executive in a large, public company) is rediculous… I don’t know what’s happening, but I like it and truly believe that this time will be marked in history.

    1. Gotham Gal

      I totally agree with you Julia. This is an interesting time. Change is happening.

  10. AMT Editorial Staff

    It’s a good reminder. I hear it often. I don’t say it often. Is it partially confidence? I think so. I just shared to my close FB crowd and via Twitter for the business. P.S., Joanne, I asked my 8 year old daughter how she would “throw like a girl”. She said “I’m a girl…I’ll throw like me.” Ahhhhhh, music to my ears. She is a powerhouse.

    1. Gotham Gal

      Love that

  11. Carole Wacey

    Along the same lines of unnecessary thank yous, I thought this video about compliments was very funny:https://www.youtube.com/wat

  12. LE

    Over the weekend I was scheduled to get my daughter and drive her back to NYC (where she just started a new job out of college). She was in Philly with a friend and I was in New Hope and didn’t really feel like schlepping into the city to get her and driving (and she could just take the train anyway). It was clear that when I called her she was glad when I cancelled because she could spend the rest of the day with her friend – it was a nice day on Sunday.I said to my wife I wish she would stop always trying to please me all the time. I wish she would just be more assertive and do what she wants and not worry about pleasing others. It’s what I do and it’s worked well for me. (At least in my mind.)It’s funny when any of my sisters have to arrange a family dinner they always call around and see what is good for everyone else. I basically figure out what is good for me (and my wife) and then propose those times. Which usually works out fine. (And if someone has a different idea that’s ok my point is I don’t immediately think of “is this ok with everyone” the default is “it’s ok unless it’s not ok”.)

    1. Gotham Gal

      Women tend to be pleasers