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The "Sorry" Trap: How Over-Apologizing Holds Women Back in their STEM careers

What are we talking about today? That knee-jerk reaction to utter "sorry" in situations that don't even warrant an apology. We pepper our emails with it, preface our requests with it, and even manage to squeeze it in when someone bumps into us.


But here's the thing...


The impact of Sorry on a professional career


Think about it. How often do you find yourself saying these things?

  • "So sorry to bother you, but could I ask a question about the report?" (Ugh, bothering them? You're contributing, not interrupting a royal tea party!)

  • "I'm not sure if this is helpful, but I had an idea..." (Not sure? Own that idea!)

  • "I apologize for taking your time, but I need some clarification on the project." (Taking up their time? You deserve to be heard!)

See what I mean? These seemingly harmless phrases chip away at your confidence and make you sound unsure of yourself and your abilities.

Why Do We Do It?

There are a few reasons why women, especially in male-dominated fields like STEM, tend to over-apologize.


Sometimes, it's a question of conditioning. We're socialized to be polite, prioritize harmony over conflict, and be nurturing, and that can often translate into taking responsibility for even the slightest inconvenience. Apologizing becomes a way to smooth things over, even when there's no wrongdoing. This can stem from a lack of confidence, a desire to be liked, or even societal expectations.


 Sometimes, the habit of overapologizing comes from a fear of being seen as assertive or pushy. After all, the "bossy" label is still way too readily thrown at women who dare to take charge.


The Triple Threat of Over-Apologizing

So, what exactly are we losing by saying sorry all the time? Here are three big ones:

  1. Respect and Career Growth When you constantly apologize, you undermine your expertise and credibility. Think about it – would you trust someone who seems unsure of themselves to lead a critical project? Absolutely not. This hesitation weakens your position and makes it harder to advocate for yourself and advance your career. People promote those they perceive as capable leaders, and that perception starts with how you communicate.

  2. Stagnation and Missed Opportunities Being seen as the "reliable extra pair of hands" is great, but it doesn't get you to the top. When you constantly apologize for taking up space or asking questions, you miss opportunities to showcase your leadership potential and innovative thinking. You become invisible to those who can offer you the most exciting opportunities by downplaying your contributions. Moreover, constantly apologizing for your ideas or questions creates a loop of self-doubt. Eventually, you start holding back from speaking up.

  3. The Trust Factor Think about it. If someone constantly apologizes for things that aren't their fault, does it project an aura of someone who can handle challenges and lead a team? Probably not. Over-apologizing can make you seem unsure of yourself and your abilities, eroding trust in your leadership.

a list of alternatives how to rephrase "sorry" in professional communication
Rephrasing the "Sorry"

Ditching the "Sorry" and Owning Your Voice

So, how do we break free from this "sorry" cycle and start communicating with the confidence we deserve? Here are some tips:

  • Be Mindful: Pay attention to how often you apologize. Catch yourself and rephrase.

  • Facts, Not Apologies: Focus on the content of your message. If you need to respond to a delayed email, a simple "Here's the information you requested" works wonders.

  • Own Your Ideas: When presenting an idea, ditch the "I'm not sure if this is good..." and go straight to the point. You have something valuable to contribute, so own it!

  • Embrace "Thank You": Instead of "Sorry for the bother," try "Thank you for your time." This shows respect for their time while acknowledging your need to communicate.


Ready for a Career Metamorphosis?

Listen, changing ingrained habits takes work. That's where my Career Metamorphosis program comes in. We'll work together to build your confidence, refine your communication skills, and help you brand yourself as the unstoppable STEM force you are.


Stop apologizing for your brilliance, ladies. It's time to own your voice and claim your rightful place at the top.


Ready to ditch the "So Sorry" syndrome and take your STEM career to the next level? Visit our website to learn more about my services, or book a free strategy session today! Let's build a career narrative that screams confidence, not apologies.

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