Why it’s important for women to ask for free pizza

To: The pizza owner at Garlic Pizza, my local pizza shop,

From: Mikael Austin (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To the pizza owner at Garlic Pizza, my local pizza shop,

You probably don’t know my name, and I am sure you have thousands of customers. Even so, I think you might remember me. I am the woman in her mid-20s who, from time-to-time, visits your pizza shop on second avenue in Manhattan. When I come by, I order several pizza slices, and I always ask for an extra free slice. You are good-natured and usually, laugh.

But for me, asking for a free pizza is far more important than you might think.

Mikael says being short and a woman has been challenging in professional environments.

I don’t ask because I am out of cash. I don’t ask because I’m extra hungry, and I don’t ask because I am greedy. Usually, I give away any extra pizza to someone on the street.

See, I look very young for my age, and I am a petite woman. Looking young sounds enviable, but when you’re a professional, it’s not, trust me. It makes it hard to get people to take you seriously. When I was in college, large companies sent their first and second-year employees to recruit on campus. During networking events, students would circle these young employees, who often overlooked me, literally.

People rarely made eye contact with me. The men talked the most, and when women did engage in the conversation, it was usually the taller women that got the most attention. I felt so unimportant.

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Despite graduating from an Ivy League school where I was a leader at my sorority and in my dance group, when I entered the business world, I faced similar challenges. During meetings with other companies, if a man or a taller woman from my company stood next to me, questions would usually be directed to them and not me.

These scenarios played out for years and took a toll on my confidence. I had to remind myself that I am smart and I had to find a way to speak up even when people made it uncomfortable for me.

 I had to remind myself that I am smart and I had to find a way to speak up even when people made it uncomfortable for me.

That’s when I started asking you for free pizza.

Sometimes you tell me, “No.” When you do, it is a reminder that when I speak up, even if you reject me, I am no worse off. I still leave with the slices I bought.

Other times, you say, “Yes,” which teaches me that sometimes to get what you want, all it takes is some guts.

Asking for free pizza in a pizza shop is a low stakes scenario. It provides me with a perfect place to practice asking bold questions, so I can be fearless when the stakes are higher. I named this practice tool The Pizza Principle.

Mikey says pizza helped her become more assertive and confident at work.

And it’s worked.

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University says by not negotiating an average woman leaves one million dollars on the table throughout her career, but that’s not going to be me. Already, on several occasions, I have successfully negotiated a higher salary.

Even the way I respond to day-to-day interactions has changed. Recently, I was at a conference for work, standing at my company’s booth next to a tall male colleague (and friend), Will. A man walked up to our booth and asked a question. I had more knowledge about the topic than Will did, so I answered it. He then turned to Will and asked a more specific question. I answered it again. This cycle repeated for four more questions. When the man walked away, I wasn’t discouraged like I might have been a few years ago. Instead, Will and I laughed, as I know the way that man treated me was his shortcoming, not mine.

The Pizza Principle has given me the confidence to stand up straight, look someone in the eye, and ask for what I want and speak when I have something to say.

Today, it is probably easy to remember me because I am likely the only young woman to ask you for free pizza. But it may not be that way for long. Now, by writing a book and starting a blog, I am trying to teach as many women as possible The Pizza Principle. This way more women will not only get an extra slice at your shop but also get a fair share in life.

Thank you – not just for giving me pizza but for helping me find my courage

P.S. Your pizza is incredible.

Mikael Austin
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