Why (and How) Women Should Brag More

A recent survey found women in executive leadership positions are reporting discomfort with networking and self-promotion. A leadership consultant explains why that may be and how women can be more direct in advocating for themselves.

On the topic of leadership, it’s been said men and women bring different skills and view points to the table.

“When it comes to women in leadership there are some unique approaches, some unique perspectives, tactics, and ways that we may lead that are different from the way men may lead, and yet the results are outstanding,” said Susan Robertson, CAE, executive vice president of ASAE and president of the ASAE Foundation, at a panel discussion at ASAE’s Annual Meeting and Exposition last year. “We get to the same endpoint, the same outcome, but our paths to get there, how we lead and interact with people, and how we think about our own selves and our own presence may be very different.”

Simply being on your best behavior and doing your best work is not enough.

Findings from a recent study of female executives, commissioned by Women of Influence and Thomson Reuters, reiterated this idea and found that one way men and women vary in their approaches to landing leadership positions is in networking and self-advocacy.

While women leaders were found to be more confident than ever, for example, they reported not being as self-assured in the areas of networking and self-promotion. Three in 10 executive women scored themselves low in self-initiation, and three-quarters reported poor negotiation skills. Seventy-six percent also reported that a barrier to moving up the career ladder is an inability to self-promote and draw attention to their accomplishments.

Part of the reason for this inability or aversion to self-promotion may be all the ideas and beliefs on how men and women should behave that we are fed from childhood and that are reinforced over and over again by our culture and the media, said leadership consultant and CEO of S*Marts Consulting, LLC, Sherry Marts.

“It’s all of those messages, starting from the time we’re very young, from our parents, from our teachers, from all sorts of authority figures, they generate some internalized taboos that I think can be a little hard to get over when you’re in a situation where it’s absolutely necessary for you to make sure that other people know how fabulous you are and how good you are at what you do and how much you know,” Marts said. “Women sometimes struggle a little with self-promotion, and I think it’s because we are raised and internalized with so many taboos around ‘don’t show off,’ ‘don’t stand out,’ because part of our job as women when we’re being raised is to make sure other people don’t feel bad.”

When women do start behaving more assertively, asking for what they want, it can start to set off alarm bells of discomfort as cognitive dissonance sets in, added Marts, who is also coauthor of The Book of How: Answers to Life’s Most Important Question. “We retreat from those conflicts. We feel threatened, and we retreat. We back off.”

So, how can women combat that cognitive dissonance or end the people-pleasing syndrome in which they are waiting to be seen or noticed for a job well done rather than proactively touting their hard work and asking for what they want?

“Simply being on your best behavior and doing your best work is not enough,” Marts said. “You also have to stand up and say I did this. I did this and I deserve a reward.”

Be direct, Marts said. Acknowledge any feelings of discomfort or fear and realize they are just feelings. “In fact, embrace them. Say ‘OK, they’re there. I’m probably not having a heart attack. This is OK.’”

Another tip: Voice your discomfort to the person you are talking to. “Report what’s going on,” Marts said. “Say to the person you’re going to have this conversation with: ‘I notice I’m really afraid to say this to you,’ or ‘I’m really nervous about asking this’ or ‘I’m afraid you won’t like my opinion and …’.”

It doesn’t entail apologizing, and it’s not an attempt to distract, Marts added. “It’s simply stating a fact: ‘This is uncomfortable, and this is what I want.’ The key is the word ‘and.’ If you say ‘but’ in there, you negate everything you just said. … Keep it simple, make it as clear as you can, and say it directly to the person who needs to hear it.”

Do you have advice on how women can self-promote better? Let us know in the comments.


Katie Bascuas

By Katie Bascuas

Katie Bascuas is associate editor of Associations Now. MORE

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