5 tips for finding your voice and beating the gender gap in self promotion

We can all agree that self promotion isn’t everybody’s strength – but how often have you experienced a senior manager dropping by your desk to give you a promotion unexpectedly? 

When it comes to advancing your career, there’s very rarely a fairy godperson welcoming you back from your lunch break with instant success in one swipe of their wand.

Instead, we all understand that career moves are often the culmination of a long process of making connections, establishing relationships, promoting yourself, and getting out there.

5 tips for finding your voice and beating the gender gap in self promotion

When it comes to getting your career into the fast lane, it can be tough if you don’t have the right tools to highlight your skills and experience. 

The gender gap in self promotion

A survey conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) sought to better understand how men and women rate their performance. 

Their research found that “women consistently rated their performance on a test lower than men did. Where men on average gave themselves a 61 out of 100, women gave themselves a 46 out of 100”.

That is, on average, more than a 30 percent difference.

What is even more sobering is the fact that even “when [the research participants] were told that an employer would use their self-evaluation to decide whether to hire them (and what to pay them), women still self-promoted less than men”. 

The study also assessed the results when women were informed of their results, and the gender gap still persisted “even when the participants know their absolute and relative performance and are asked about that performance”. 

Why do women struggle when it comes to self promotion?

Women struggle most when they are required to subjectively rate their performance. 

This could be a simple interaction between a manager and employee, in a team meeting, or in a formalised performance review. 

The opportunity for subjective assessment of oneself is pervasive and frequent and, thus, the discomfort that some women find in communicating their performance feels awkward and clunky.

The gap is further embedded as learned behaviour every time an opportunity to shine a light on our skills is not taken up.

Is lack of confidence to blame?

Many articles and research papers often point to a lack of confidence behind the self promotion gender gap, where women don’t feel confident in their abilities to carry out their role – which isn’t usually the case when men find themselves in the same position. 

Thankfully, this narrative is slowly dropping away as the catch-all explanation.

When I think of women I have worked alongside in the past, the majority of them do back themselves.

It is much easier to blame the individual than address systemic issues. For example, many women report being labelled as “aggressive” for speaking up in meetings where male peers appear to be supported in this behaviour. 

The opposing experiences should not put an onus on women to be quiet – everyone should be given equal air time and their views deserve to be respected equally. 

What’s really at the core?

It’s believed that the women subjectively scoring their skills lower than men is consistent with the ways in which hetronormative gender norms and culture influence behaviour, in addition to an individual’s lived experience. 

This is reflected in the many centuries for which our society has been steeped in gender binary constructs that attribute “required” ways of behaving through society rules and expectations.

Finding your voice on the road to self promotion

If the gender gap in self promotion is culturally systemic then how can individuals begin to find their voice?

It can be an overwhelming thought when the statistics paint a sobering light on how women are treated in the workplace – but know that you can take control and find your voice.

Here’s how.

1. Understand the state of play

A good place to start is to simply be aware that women do struggle to articulate their perception of their competence. Be mindful and see if you can start to find ways to speak up for yourself.

2. Stop apologising

One thing women are more prone to do than men is to apologise before speaking, or at the end of speaking. And we’re here to tell you that you never need to apologise for taking up space – in the workplace, in your relationships, or in the world. 

Observe others and see how powerful it is when your opinion or point is articulated without being instantly debunked by yourself.

You can start by eradicating it from emails. 

3. Find a network

One thing I have recently come to realise is that being connected with women and their experiences in the workplace can help open your eyes to behaviours that you may not even know you are tolerating or participating in. 

Unconscious bias is enacted by everyone, and that includes how we can limit ourselves. Having a safe and supportive network to explore your own expression and practice finding your voice is beneficial. 

4. Don’t use self-deprecating language

Hands up if you’re guilty of saying things like “I may be dumb but..”  “You know me, I’m all over the place, my brain’s not working,” “Sorry I’m just a scatterbrain,” “Well we all know if anyone would be late it would be me,” “Gosh you think I could operate a powerpoint by now”.

The list goes on.

You set the tone for how others view and treat you. Back yourself in every way. 

5. Uphold standards

If you notice women being talked over in meetings, say something.

A colleague told me that they recently proposed some etiquette rules for team meetings where no one was allowed to interrupt anyone else, and as a result they have had more enriching conversations and the team feels more engaged and heard. 

“The standard you walk past, is the standard you accept” – David Morrison.

Ready to take ownership of your career and get the visibility you deserve? Learn more about our 2023 BRAVO Women in Leadership Programme and register today.

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