March is National Women’s History Month – a time to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture, and society—both past and present. While we are celebrating other women’s achievements, why not use this month as an opportunity to also honor our own achievements?
Ladies, it is time for us women to embrace what we, at Careerstone, call shameless self-promotion. You heard us. We know that just the sound of this term fills most of you with shame, disdain, and a hint of revulsion. Why is that? Why are we so reluctant to promote ourselves but so good at promoting others? Why do women, in particular, have a hard time singing our own praises and advocating for ourselves without feeling guilty or embarrassed? What is wrong with being proud of our endeavors and wanting to share our success stories with others? Why can’t we self-promote and advocate for ourselves without feeling ashamed about it?
Social science tells us that women’s reluctance to self-promote is driven by multiple factors:
Myth of Meritocracy. Studies show that women are much more invested in the idea that work is a meritocracy and that hard work gets noticed. Men, on the other hand, are under no such illusion. Too often, women think that if they work hard, keep their heads down, and play by the rules, opportunity will come knocking. Sadly, this is not true in the real world. In order to get noticed, promoted, or rewarded, people have to know about your skills, talents, accomplishments, goals, and aspirations. If we don’t tell them – if we don’t promote ourselves — who is going to do it?
Societal Nurturing. Many women have been brought up to value modesty and humility. Bragging about oneself is not accepted. As Peggy Klaus, author of Brag! writes, “Very few of us ever learn how to reconcile the virtue of humility with the need to promote ourselves in the workplace.”
Confidence gap. Research shows that women lack the same level of confidence that men have. As Katty Kay and Claire Shipman lay out in their groundbreaking work, The Confidence Code, study after study shows that women consistently underestimate their abilities and performance, while men overestimate theirs.
Imposter Syndrome. Many women just don’t own their accomplishments or embrace their expertise. They feel as if they don’t really deserve their title, role, or position and that eventually, someone is going to “find them out.”
The Double Bind. Often when women exhibit the same behaviors as men, those behaviors can be viewed less favorably in women. When women are assertive, they can be labeled as aggressive. If they negotiate for a higher salary, they can be seen as greedy. When they self-advocate, they can get labeled as conceited. So instead of finding a way to walk that fine line of the double bind, many of us opt to under-promote and under-advocate for ourselves.
We Don’t Know How. The simple truth is that many women just don’t know how to self-promote. We are great at endorsing, advocating, and negotiating for others, but few of us have had much practice doing it for ourselves. Nobody taught us how to balance humility with self-advocacy. Nobody showed us how we can be both humble and confident at the same time.
How to Self-Promote
The key to self-promotion without shame is to learn to talk about yourself and your accomplishments in way that is authentic, interesting, warm, and, generous. It’s about being able to share your success in anecdotes, stories, and conversations with other people—particularly people who may find that information valuable or relevant. It’s not about reciting a litany of your greatness. Being generous means that you are able to give your news and welcome the news of others. It’s about being able to answer the question “what’s new?” with something other than “not much, how about you?”
Name it. Take the time to identify and articulate your accomplishments, your goals, your passions, and your strengths. It’s hard to talk about yourself without having anything to say! To help amplify your stories, try to answer the following questions:
Quantify it. Numbers make a lasting impression, so try to quantify your success whenever possible. Frame your accomplishments around organizational metrics like profitability, retention, productivity, safety, resources, or time. Instead of saying, “I won a couple of new contracts last year,” consider saying, “The five new clients I brought on last year increased our total revenue by 30%. And what makes me even more excited is that these clients are extremely happy with our work and have introduced us to a whole new circle of potential customers.”
Own it. Get comfortable with the word “I”. It’s impossible to self-promote without talking about ourselves—at least just a little. Granted, while we should always acknowledge the contributions of others in our successes, we still need to own our role and agency. For example, the next time a project gets complimented, resist the urge to say, “Oh, no. I didn’t do anything—it was all the team.” Instead, learn to say, “Yes, thank you. My team and I are very proud of our results. Everyone worked hard to reach the finish line.” It’s a subtle but important difference.
Tell it. Find opportunities to share your accomplishments with others. According to Sally Helgeson, author of How Women Rise, women’s reluctance to talk about their accomplishments is a major impediment to achieving success. Don’t just wait for your annual performance review—keep your boss regularly apprised of your successes. Learn to share your experiences with others. Every day you should be ready to talk about your work, responsibilities, and the positive things you are accomplishing right now for your organization. Don’t assume that everyone already knows how awesome you are.
This month, as we reflect on and celebrate the incredible contributions of women in the world, let’s also take some time to reflect on our own accomplishments. Let’s support each other in learning how to self-advocate without embarrassment. Let’s be role models for the next generation of women in the workplace. Let’s show them that it’s okay to be confident and proud of their accomplishments. Let’s all embrace shame-free self-promotion.