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Why Don't Women Self-Promote More?


Last year is in our rearview mirror, and many of us have already put together or are currently working on our annual “year in review” reports. We’re proud of the hard work we did, the accomplishments we reached, and the goals we shattered, but when asked by your boss or others, how do you rate your performance? Excellent? Average? Needs Improvement?

When we strip down the subjective perspectives and get down to the facts, we’re killing it. You’d proudly put your achievements next to anyone else’s in the group, but what happens between that moment and the moment you’re asked to describe your performance, knowing full well it’s the key to a promotion, a raise, or a bonus?

As with many facets of the workplace, there’s a gender gap in self-promotion. The National Bureau of Economic Research recently reported men rated their performance 33% higher than equally-performing women. Why?

Career coach and author Tara Mohr noticed something in her years of experience coaching women: we’re often not good at owning our accomplishments. She explains in her book that while women shine in the quiet, independent, objectively-graded work in the classroom, that type of “heads-down” approach is precisely what the real world overlooks. 

Why can’t we talk about it?

But won’t I sound arrogant? Most women, especially those who grew up in the South were raised not to “brag.” What if I can’t back it up? (Read our post on impostor syndrome here.) Mohr suggests we not think of tooting our own horn as smoke and mirrors or puffing ourselves up. Don’t even think of it as self-promotion; consider reframing it as “making your work visible.”

What if it’s happening to you right now?

It’s not that we’re not doing incredible things; we’re waiting on people to notice. What we need to remind ourselves is the people we’re waiting on are busy too! We don’t need anyone’s permission to show up. You don’t sound arrogant; you sound accomplished. Something else for which we don’t need anyone’s permission: shining a light on another female colleague’s great work.

What steps can we take to fix it?

Like most issues requiring change, it starts with us. Stop that voice inside you that says you’re just bragging. When you hear another woman highlight her work, remind yourself she’s not bragging either! One thing that DOES get noticed: creating an environment of support and encouragement and inclusion. You may not be the one in a position to do the noticing today, but one day you may be.

Let’s remember, as Mohr suggests, the little girl who is so proud of a drawing she’s just completed. It hasn’t entered her mind to hold back her pride in her work. While we might not should run with the same excitement into our boss’s office with our latest sales numbers, a little email “update” for her/him never hurt. Hopefully these small steps in the right direction will make way for a greater comfort and ambition for visibility.

Read more about this subject here, here, and here.