While men are far more comfortable owning their accomplishments, women shy away from doing the same, and it’s lead to a considerable gender gap in self-promotion. A Harvard Business Review paper shows that men rate their own performance 33% higher than their female, equally competent counterparts – and, ‘Were more likely to be hired and offered higher pay’, as a result.
So, what’s going on? Behavioural economist Christine L. Exley suggests that societal pressures and expectations — rather than low confidence levels — are at the root of the problem. This may be caused by ‘good girl’ conditioning: the innate believe that you must work hard, avoid drawing attention to our yourself, and wait to be recognised. Certainly, when women self-promote ‘too much’, they’re more likely to face a backlash, particularly from other women, says career coach Tara Mohr. Little surprise then that our achievements are often played down for fear of being seen as ‘arrogant’ or ‘boastful’.
Unfortunately, if you’re someone who shudders at the thought of owning, let alone celebrating, your accomplishments, the void creates a ripple effect which potentially goes much further than your monthly pay cheque.
Self-promotion is a leadership skill, says coach and author Bonnie Marcus. As a leader, you have a responsibility to share what you and your team have achieved. It’s for your own good, she says, but also for the benefit of those working alongside you, and the company itself. Talking about your achievements, explains Marcus, is how you become a person of influence and get buy-in for your ideas across your organisation. It lays the foundations of your relationships with key stakeholders and gives you access to the power networks that will support your career going forwards.
The good news is that self-promotion is a skill you can learn and master. What’s more, there are ways you can take your moment in the spotlight without stepping too far out of your comfort zone.
PUSHY VERSUS VALUE-SHARING: REDEFINING SELF-PROMOTION
Coach Tara Mohr suggests that for some women, the reluctance to self-promote begins with the word itself and the idea that it’s about being ‘pushy’ or ‘egotistical’. This belief is limiting, so it’s time to reframe the concept. Think of self-promotion as ‘making your work visible’, she says, and focus on the impact you’re having.
There’s plenty of logic in the solution: To make your hard work worthwhile, the value of your project really needs to be understood and appreciated within the wider organisation and/or your peer group and potential clients. Talking about it makes that happen – and you need nothing more than the facts...
How is your project or work benefitting others? What has changed for the better as a result of your success? How does it increase profit or the potential of the business to move forwards? How does it demonstrate innovation, creativity, a better product or service for your customers? This kind of promotion gives your work a clear purpose, and you an essential role in delivering it.
You don’t even need to do this in person. Mohr suggests sharing an updated portfolio of work on your website or sending out an announcement to stakeholders or clients. You can also give your team the credit they deserve in an email, share learnings that you know will benefit others in the company, or celebrate when you reach key milestones or exceed a goal.
FOCUS ON ‘WE’ NOT ‘ME’
It’s easy for self-promotion to become a long list of ‘I did this’ and ‘I did that’. Peggy Klaus, author of Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, likens this approach to a rolling résumé, which comes across as boring and self-aggrandising. Much more preferable is to talk about the accomplishments of your team — this has the benefit of elevating those you lead, while also reflecting well on you as the person steering the ship.
Furthermore, it fosters a working culture in which success is celebrated and praise generously given – although that’s only part of the story. ‘I'm a big proponent of bragging about your colleagues and your boss,’ says Klaus, ‘but you can't assume that it's going to come back to you.’ If that’s the case, take it a step further and use your team’s success as a springboard to showcase your own. The message to convey is that their best work enabled you to deliver yours.
CONSOLIDATE YOUR ONLINE PRESENCE
LinkedIn has 690 million members, representing 30 million companies. It’s a platform full of potential for self-promotion, minus that uncomfortable feeling of ‘selling yourself’ in front of a room.
But, according to Forbes, less than 0.5% of LinkedIn accounts are actively contributing new content. Given that nearly half of the community logs on every day, you have a captive audience, who are lacking much in the way to look at. And the success of the TED conferences brand hub, which has around 12.5 million followers, is a testament to the popularity of inspirational thought leadership.
So, share quality content regularly – your own and/or other people’s – and when you do, make sure you give your post the personal touch. Add a brief overview, including a few of the key points, and explain why you found it illuminating or see it as important. It’s an easy way to spotlight your knowledge and expertise – and you’ll also be adding value for those who don’t have time to read the full article. It gives you the chance to become that go-to person, trusted for your judgement and opinions.
BECOME MORE VISIBLE BY YOUR ACTIONS
Magalene Powell-Meeks, Chief Digital Transformation Officer at NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recommends finding opportunities to contribute and embrace the potential to lead. ‘Put yourself in the position of solving a problem, and solve it for them,’ she says. ‘Your reputation and your character are what sell you for the next big job.’
In short, it’s all about sticking your hand up to take the lead on projects that will make a big difference to your department or organisation. Another variation on this theme is stepping up into the next role you want — before you’ve even been appointed. It’s a way to showcase what you’re capable of and mark you out as someone the organisation should be invested in holding onto.
This may involve stepping out of your comfort zone and into stretch, but it’s worth it. ‘Work can be like sports,’ explains Denise Stephens, Director at the Bank of Idaho. ‘As people are picking their teams, they want the known players who deliver. Become known as a player who delivers, and your opportunities will grow.’
REDISCOVER YOUR PASSIONS
Passion is a superpower when it comes to raising your profile. The Deloitte Center for the Edge describes it as the energy that will drive you to find better solutions, put in the hours, and (most significantly when it comes to self-promotion), connect naturally and enthusiastically with the people you can learn from, as well as those who will help you get the job done.
So, remind yourself what you love about your job — what engages or energises you about a particular project. It will increase your chances of getting noticed for the right reasons, as well as making success more likely.
Genuine passion is also infectious. It’s transmitted in the way you talk, which means that when it comes to selling yourself, your energy will speak volumes on your behalf. Colleagues, clients and customers will be more inclined to engage with you, you’re more likely to get the recognition you deserve and, when it comes to blowing your own trumpet, a job well done will do much of the shouting for you.