Women don't brag enough at work — here's why they should

Women self-promote significantly less than men. Gender strategist Joan Kuhl shares five ways women can strategically tout their accomplishments.
Image: Megan Rapinoe kisses the World Cup trophy during a ceremony at City Hall in New York on July 10, 2019.
Megan Rapinoe kisses the World Cup trophy during a ceremony at City Hall in New York on July 10, 2019.Johannes Eisele / AFP - Getty Images

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By Joan Kuhl

Bragging has a bad rap. But communicating your worth and championing your contributions doesn’t have to look or sound like an ego trip. In fact, research shows self-promotion is a critical factor in being hired, promoted and getting bigger raises and bonuses.

Yet, I’ve facilitated over 100 workshops with women of all ages who share stories of their struggles to promote themselves and the negative backlash they receive when they do. Because even when we do advocate for our own accomplishments, women are often judged more harshly than men.

The bottom-line, however, is that we are risking far too much by holding back. If you are struggling to speak up about the value and impact you bring to the world then try these give strategies to promote yourself!

1.Break the curse of good girl.

In Mika Brzezinski’s recent interview with Girls Who Code Founder Reshma Saujani , the two address the serious consequences to a girl’s future when she is pressured to be perfect and fall in line to old school “good girl” bias.

Don’t let outdated expectations about how girls and women should behave restrict your authentic feelings and communication style. It’s OK if you make a mistake; Embrace the brave journey to keep moving toward your goals.

2. You really need to believe it’s true.

This may seem obvious, but you need to believe you are worth more. You need to truly understand at your core that you have tangible and intangible aspects to your value that others will not see without you pointing them out.

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We all have nagging voices that trigger fear and insecurity, so let’s squash them and rewire our thinking.

Sometimes it just feels plain awkward to brag about yourself, but you can miss important opportunities for doors to open when you don’t speak up. I’ve been working with the U.S. Soccer organization on a toolkit designed to help women build, embody and conquer their confidence.

Soccer star Megan Rapinoe is a great example of someone who stepped bravely into the spotlight, despite the potential backlash for speaking her mind. I attended the 2019 USWNT Media Day where I witnessed Megan’s response to the tremendous pressure on her heading into the World Cup as a co-captain. When I was spoke to her more recently at the Glamour Woman of the Year awards, I was struck by how genuinely happy she is in her own skin despite a head spinning amount of global scrutiny. Seeing her achieve, shine and embrace the spotlight she deserved reinforced my belief that it all starts from within.

3. Double down on HER.

Don’t underestimate the power of women who go beyond connection and actually invest in each other’s worth at work.

In a new study, 77 percent of the highest-achieving women had strong ties with an inner circle of two to three other women where they leveraged each other’s network and gave gender specific advice. Have you ever helped a friend land a big role or negotiate a higher salary and sign-on bonus all by introducing her to contacts in your own company? How powerful and confident would you feel if a friend told you what people with your education and work experience were making in your field to help you get clear on your worth?

I’m lucky to have someone like this in my corner. Stephanie Epstein has accelerated through roles at BlackRock as the chief of staff to the president and COO of global marketing. Translation: Steph has worked for some of the most powerful men in the largest asset firm in the world. Now she has added another powerful role in addition to her day job responsibilities – Co Chair of the Global Women’s Initiative Network (WIN).

Mindful of the perception that women may face challenges in a male dominated finance industry, she dedicates her time to ensure that women across her firm have the tools, community and environment to be successful in reaching their goals. We have partnered to advocate the benefits of this smart business strategy. Everyone has access to people and knowledge that could be crucial to someone else. How willing are you to provide cover and extend your resources to help propel other women's careers to the next level?

4. Stop hiding and start sharing.

We need real data to further substantiate our worth. We need to start talking about money frankly with other women. Opening up about our pay, assets, equity and benefits by putting it all on the table will be transformative to the gender pay gap. Making assumptions about our peers’ compensation and net worth does nothing to empower our negotiation abilities. Every woman I have coached through successful promotion and pay processes got her hands on the pay details of a peer (man or woman) who was forthright and upfront with her.

5. Practice makes it practical.

Get comfortable wrapping your words around your strengths and successes. Even though I’ve given hundreds of speeches, I still get tongued tied if I haven’t spent time practicing introduction ice breakers. Plus, your goals and professional brand can evolve so your pitch must keep up. Think succinctly. Rehearse 3 to 4 sentences that capture your professional impact and your goals with the intention of opening doors and leaving a memorable impression.

A recent HBR study found that men rate their performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women in multiple settings confirming that the gender gap in self-promotion prevails. Amplification is a strategy that women can use to champion each other’s ideas to overpower environments where their voice has not been valued. But the majority of the time, you must be your own best advocate. I’m more optimistic than ever before that women can actively rewire their negative affinity to self-promotion by bolstering their confidence and learning how to communicate their worth.

Joan Kuhl is a champion for girls leadership and advancing women in the workforce. She is the author of "Dig Your Heels In" and "Misunderstood Millennial Talent." She has led global research on gender and generational dynamics in the workplace for corporations and business schools. Joan is a #SheBelieves Champion for the U.S. Soccer Organization developing a national leadership curriculum and currently serves on the board of Girls Inc of NYC.