“My main career challenge is cultural,” confessed Nigella, a new manager at GE Renewable Energy.
“I cannot bring myself to talk about myself, my work or my accomplishments. Someone else can do it, but not me. That’s the way I was brought up in my culture of origin.”
A lot of women feel the same, and perhaps Nigella’s story could have been yours.
It was my story, too.
When I first joined the BBC headquarters, a huge media corporation in London, in my early 20s, I was so shy and modest, I could hardly look straight into the eyes of my manager, leave alone talk about myself in a way that inspired confidence. Yet, I was one of the brightest and experienced journalists in the department.
As I watched my less skilled colleagues make headway and receive new exciting opportunities, all thanks to their ability to sell themselves, while I was being overlooked, I got the message.
“Ok, this is how it’s done here in the West,” I said to myself and set on ditching the old habits from my culture of origin (Uzbekistan) that were clearly holding me back. I learned new skills: I started networking, I showed initiative, came up with creative ideas, raised my hand at meetings and spoke up, albeit awkwardly and defensively at first.
My visibility and credibility grew in parallel with my skills, and not only I got promoted every single year, I learned how to communicate with anyone – country presidents and celebrities included – and to do it authentically.
I learned that the “workbee” type of women who keep their heads down, working hard, often get overlooked by the management – partly because they are not seen as having a leadership potential or interested in climbing the ladder, whereas pro-active, outspoken, ambitious women get rewarded.
As I noticed how many talented women were playing small at work and in life, it informed my decision to go back to school and certify as a leadership and career coach, so I can empower them.
The aversion to self-promotion among women is a real problem.
Studies show that not only do women avoid self-promotion, they would rather downplay their accomplishments than own up to them.
In other words, we, women — at any level of seniority and in all industries — are more comfortable making ourselves seem less than we are. This is alarming, when we consider that women are still paid less than men, and are subjected to so many other forms of inequality in the workplace.
Yet the truth is
There is an opportunity cost to avoiding self-promotion and downplaying your achievements.
If people don’t know who you are, about your talents and wins, they are not likely to think of you for future career opportunities. And when you don’t share what you are up to, you are actively withholding that information and limiting your opportunities.
And – while you choose not to talk about your wins, someone else is talking about their own in the competitive world out there.
Read on if you want to change and learn to talk about yourself and your wins at work, and/or want to do it well, with authenticity, ease and confidence.
HOW TO SELF-PROMOTE?
- Do the inner work first.
It didn’t comfortable to me to talk about my work and myself, until I did the mindset reset. Seeing how self-promotion helped men (and a few women) around me get new career opportunities, and how it inspired others, I understood that by staying modest and playing small, I am doing disservice to both myself and my career goals.
I remember working with a coach earlier in my career, and seeing how impressed she was when I listed all my accomplishments. It made me realize to what extent I was playing small and gave me that confidence boost to change.
Nudging yourself into the spotlight is not bragging. It’s about getting the credit you deserve.
- Own and savour your achievements.
To feel authentic when talking about yourself and your wins, you need to take time to reflect on your achievements. Make a list of them, and then go through each one, feeling the pride and joy fully, and celebrating, instead of considering them insignificant and brushing them off. Let yourself feel all your positive emotions fully – in your body, not your mind.
It won’t feel natural at first – since you’ll be rewiring the decades-old cultural conditioning, yet this exercise, if done repeatedly, will close the gap between competence and low self-worth which breeds the Imposter Syndrome.
- Let go of your own judgement.
If you’re worried of what others will think even before you opened your mouth, stop and ask yourself “Who is judging me right now?” The answer will be “No one. I am judging myself.”
If you’re judging yourself and not owning up to your wins, go back to the previous exercise, and find the positivity and confidence.
Also, accept that some people will feel threatened or jealous by your success, and it’s their problem, not yours.
- Stop minimizing and downplaying your wins in your mind.
Notice which verbs you use: do you use the power verbs such as “led”, “wrote”, “managed”, “project managed”, “initiated”, “spearheaded”, “grew”… or the supportive verbs such as “helped”, “supported”, “assisted”, “contributed”?
- Do not downplay your role or job when networking or meeting someone for the first time.
We all met women (and some men) who introduce themselves “I work in a bank” or “I am just a lawyer.”
Your elevator pitch is the first brick towards positioning yourself. If you tend to undersell yourself and your work often takes a negative toll on your sense of self-worth.
Design an elevator pitch that fills you up with pride.
Studies show that 77 percent of women can find something more pleasant than talking about themselves to strangers. However, networking (which is complicated now, in the pandemic times) is what helps us get new jobs and promotion opportunities.
- Practice talking about your life and work wins with friends and family first.
Self-promotion takes practice, and our friends and family is the safe ground to talk about your talents, your wins and your work.
- Connect your achievements to your big “why” and purpose, and frame them in terms of impact .
Ask yourself “Why is this important to me?”
“What value did I create?”
Focus on the ripple effect from that win.
Use the magic word “because”. Studies show that the word “because” satisfies the human brain’s natural search for reasons.
For instance, instead of saying “I got promoted to a senior director role” you could say “I am really excited about being promoted because I want to live in the world where 50 percent of CEOs are women, instead of just 6,4%.”
Or “I am proud of having designed a new sustainable development project because it will allow us to help the poor communities in Indonesia that are being affected by the future pipeline” sounds much more powerful and self-less vs “I designed a new development project.”
- Use the most graceful and engaging way to talk about your wins — share your personal story.
Talking about your accomplishments does not have to be recapping bullet points on your resume. Instead, craft a story about yourself and your career path. This self-promotion strategy feels more natural because it has a personal touch. Storytelling is an often under-used powerful technique that grabs attention, helps you build connections and influence others, makes you memorable, as well as highlights your communication skills.
- Have a strong online presence to help people learn about your accomplishments.
Have a well-constructed LinkedIn profile, a personal website, if appropriate, or a public Twitter account on which you express your opinions and share expertise.
Showcase your work on LinkedIn, it’s the biggest professional networking platform in the world.
- Consider sharing your wins as an act of altruism to inspire other women and be a role-model
Most women say they benefit and get inspired from hearing other women talk about their accomplishments. It’s about representation: when you talk about yourself and your achievements, it helps other women do the same. Think about this: you can lift so many other women as you climb. J
- Don’t speak in monologues. Make it a conversation.
Engage the other person by getting genuinely curious and turning your attention on them after you shared something about yourself briefly.
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou.
- Be a cheerleader for yourself and for others.
Speak up yourself, and encourage other women to speak up about their wins. Create an environment where everyone is proud of what they’ve done.
The most important thing is to start sharing your wins, and not worry about others’ reactions.
See self-promotion as a way of letting people know that you are available for other opportunities.
Self-promotion may not feel easy at first, but it’s a skill worth developing, to make sure you get credit for your work.
“You playing small does not benefit anyone,” — Marianne Williamson.
If you’re done playing small, and are ready to speak up, step up and show up fully at work, and seize the driver’s seat of your career, we have 1 place left at the Leadership 101 Mastermind course to take you from an overlooked workhorse to a confident leader, by invitation only. Schedule a chat today to see if you’re a good fit.