Written by: Sophie Warwick.
Often when we work with our clients, we hear discomfort around self-promotion and self-advocation. When we ask them to share their key strengths, we are confronted by silence. However, with a few leading questions, we’re soon hearing about all of the incredible things they have delivered and goals they have achieved. But why is it so hard to share those at the outset?
A study by the Harvard Gazette (2020) reported that women are less likely to self-promote than men. Historically these results have been attributed to lower levels of self-confidence in women. However, this study did not find that to be the case. In fact, it reported similar levels of self-confidence in all participating genders. What they did instead find is that women prioritized their relationships with their team to a greater degree then men. They feared that if they were too self-focused or too self-promotional, they would be disliked by their team or alienated from the group. In order to maintain their relationships, they opted to minimize their own contributions.
Another study by KPMG (2023) reported that 75% of women executives experience imposter syndrome. On one hand, I believe we need to stop constantly telling women they have imposter syndrome because this can reinforce the mindset it’s trying to prevent. However, it is important to acknowledge that anytime an individual is a member of an underrepresented or minority group, they are more likely to feel that they need to prove their worthiness to belong. If your identity is not reflected by the group around you, you may be less likely to contribute to your full potential in fear that your ideas will not be given equitable attention. These feelings are normal and shouldn’t be minimized, but through coaching and practice, you can work to overcome them.
Everyone wins when you have the resources you need to succeed. Asking to take a course that’s relevant to your role, or getting a professional coach to help you work towards your goals is not being self-focused. When you have the tools that you need to achieve your goals, everyone around you benefits. Your team, your manager, and your employer will all see better results from your personal success. Remember that it’s important sometimes to be self-focused and prioritize our own needs, and that when we do this, often the people around us benefit as well from our increased performance.
If you don’t advocate for yourself, you may inadvertently be signaling to your team and mentees that they shouldn’t either. Why do we all believe that we’re the one person that isn’t allowed to celebrate their achievements? It’s important to lead by example and showcase to your team, especially women, that advocating for yourself is important. Recognize that we all stand on the shoulders of the women before us and should continue to support the women after. By advocating for yourself, you’re demonstrating to the women around you that this behaviour is normal and encouraged.
You can advocate for yourself and celebrate your team all in a positive way. Have you ever received positive feedback on a deliverable and been tempted to say, “It was my team, they did a great job!” This is not so dissimilar to being complimented on a new outfit and being tempted to say, “I got it on sale!” It is normal and important to honor your achievements.
When faced with a similar situation, challenge yourself to instead respond with, “Thank you so much, I worked very hard and am proud of what I delivered. I also led a fantastic team and they did an excellent job.” Now not only have you recognized your team’s contributions, but you’ve also recognized your own impact leading that team. It’s important that our leaders understand our impact and that we get comfortable it.
At The Thoughtful Co, we offer 45-minute Advocating for Yourself Prep Sessions where we help you understand your unique value and strengths, and how to articulate them. We also offer 60-minute high impact workshops for workplaces and professional women’s groups. One of our most popular is Advocating for Yourself at Work. Questions about our other services? Send us an email at email@example.com.