3 Things that Hold Women Back from Self-Promotion and What to Do About It

“I’m a server god!” exclaimed my 14-year-old daughter after volleyball practice one evening. “I got every single one over the net and I’m awesome!”

My husband and I chuckled at how quickly the story had changed from before practice.

This is the first year our 14-year-old has been on a volleyball team and serving with power, strength and accuracy is a challenge for most new players. Our daughter is no different. The reality is that it’s taking many months of diligent practice to get her to a place where she is more consistently getting her serves over the net. This has been an emotional as well as a physical journey.

But what I loved about her triumphant exclamation after practice this particular evening was how she was shouting from the rooftops how good she now felt she was – or, perhaps more accurately – her loud self-talk to help herself believe it.

Whatever it takes, right?

Which got me to thinking, when was the last time you left work and said something like:

  • I kicked butt today.
  • I knocked that presentation out of the park!
  • No one can touch the financial modeling program I delivered today.
  • Did you see how well I wrote that report? I am amazing.

Finding accomplishments to celebrate every day can be difficult to do. What’s more, it seems to rarely have a culturally accepted place to share these seemingly self-indulgent accolades.

Recently, I had the pleasure of listening to Angela Payne and Roxanne Tasjian from Monster Canada, deliver two TED Talk style presentations to our group of Lean in Calgary members about Personal Branding and Building a Career Plan. At the heart of both these presentations was the need to not only be able to identify what you’re good at, but to also be able to share it in a way that feels authentic and lands well.

There were a few approaches that were identified, but the message was clear.

If you want to get promoted, you need to promote yourself first.

As a solopreneur, I don’t do a lot of hiring in my business, however as the President of Lean in Calgary, I’ve been interviewing many candidates for volunteer roles. I don’t even want to tell you how many of the candidates, at some point in the interview (and some even led with this), tell me what they’re NOT good at. It’s as though we, as women, feel we need to be good at EVERYTHING before we get the job, and before we think we’re good enough.

There’s a belief that perfection is required for advancement.

This observation is actually a fact backed up by science and research as revealed in The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman.  As the co-authors reveal:

  • Men consistently overestimate their abilities and performance while women routinely underestimate both.
  • Men apply for jobs when they feel they have 60% of the qualifications while most women don’t apply unless they have 100% of the qualifications.
  • Women speak 75% less than men do when they are the minority in the room.

You can read more about The Confidence Code and what you can do to embrace the power of confidence HERE.

The main point is that women need more encouragement to self-promote. It’s not an innate trait as it is for many men.

SELF-PROMOTION is the first step to getting you PROMOTEDClick To Tweet

Here are 3 key things that may be holding you back from sharing your successes and what you can do about it:

1. Guilt

Women feel guilty about promoting themselves.

I honestly think I heard this from clients in almost every single one of my coaching sessions this week. “I don’t want to make other people feel bad because my life is really good,” said one. “I don’t want to brag about my accomplishments, I’m not that special,” said another. Still another woman I met recently doesn’t include her MBA designation on her professional profile because she doesn’t want to appear better than anyone else.

These expressions of humility are laudable, of course, but if you want to be recognized for your achievements and advance your career or build your business, how will you attract those promotions, advancements, and clients if you remain the world’s “best-kept secret” as they say?

One solution would be to separate yourself from your achievements. As Angela Payne said in her presentation last week, it’s about your contributions, it’s not about you.

Tangible Takeaway: Try listing your achievements on a piece of paper with some detachment. Don’t think of them as being a part of you, think of them as a list of what you’ve achieved or your strengths and talents as separate from you.

Now sit back and ask yourself: if these successes belonged to my best friend, would I want to promote her? If the answer is yes, then shout them from the rooftops. Put your accomplishments to work for you by making sure people know about them so you’re not overlooked for that promotion next time. It doesn’t have to come across as boastful if they are simply facts.

2. Cultural Norms

 It’s not considered culturally acceptable for women to brag about their accomplishments. Research actually shows that both women and men would describe women who self-promote as being “unlikeable.”

Men are expected to show off their prowess (think of the majestic peacock) while women have culturally been conditioned to be quiet, humble and unassuming.

Tangible takeaway: Find a way to let your accomplishments stand for themselves without appearing boastful. Martha Stewart comes to mind – I recall her saying things like, “this meal is delicious and something your whole family will enjoy.” She developed the recipe, and she made the presentation, yet Stewart pointed the success to the intangible object of the meal. You didn’t get the sense that she was saying, “I am wonderful.” It was the meal that was wonderful.

Focus on what you can do for others, not the fact that it is you doing it. Get them excited about working with you and the potential outcomes they can enjoy. How can you separate yourself from your accomplishments? Eg: what are you selling and how can it help your potential client? You may be delivering the content, but you don’t have to tie your own personality to their expected outcomes.

3. Owning Your Worth

The benefits of self-promotion, including taking control of how you’re perceived by others, and making them understand the unique contribution you can make, are vast.

It’s very possible you may not even believe the impact you have had on others and how proud you should be of your accomplishments. Perhaps they came easily to you, or perhaps you take them for granted because, well, you’ve been there, done that. That was easy, you might be thinking, this next thing I’m currently working on is hard and will be worth celebrating!

As Tara Mohr notes, in her book: Playing Big: Practical Wisdom for Women Who Want to Speak Up, Create, and Lead, we, as women, are often not good at owning our accomplishments. Mohr draws attention to how girls often excel at school where their accomplishments are quietly graded. Keeping your head down and doing good work is often all you need to do at school to achieve there, notes Mohr. In the real world that all changes. This “good girl” modeling doesn’t always serve us in the real world as it’s easier to get overlooked if you don’t point out your accomplishments.

I recently trained as an #IamRemarkable facilitator. This program – free for anyone to train in – was developed by two “Googlers” and is currently offered by Google to anyone who wants to take it. It was originally designed as a program internal to Google to help their female employees learn how to advocate for themselves at work. Now, 85,000 participants and more than 4800 workshops later, Google has uncovered that people of all genders and cultures could use this training and have found that people are flocking to the workshops. It’s all about acknowledging your accomplishments and getting comfortable sharing them.

Tangible takeaway: Demonstrate your impact by focusing on the service you provide others – get your audience excited about how you can help them. Take the focus off you and onto the achievements or how your achievements can support others. What’s more, be proud of what you have achieved. You deserve to celebrate your successes. They are YOUR successes after all. Why not pause for a moment, acknowledge that maybe you DO know your stuff, before moving onto the next thing.

Life is short. It (and YOU) deserves to be celebrated.

To your success, in business, in your career, and in life,

Susan Elford

Personal Balance Equation Workbook ABOUT SUSAN ELFORD

Susan Elford is a PR Strategist & Leadership Coach who especially loves to work with people who want it all: a fulfilling career or business while living a balanced life. Susan helps her clients get real about their strengths and celebrate and promote them so they get more of what they want: success at work; success in business & success in life.

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