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The politics of self-promotion: women suck at it

March 31, 2009

Self-promotion is necessary to get ahead today. And my conclusion is: men are so much better at it than women.

Now I know I can’t make broad sweeping generalizations about all women or all men – and I don’t plan to. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. But more and more, it seems apparent to me that the rule is that women are more likely than men to be afraid to self-promote, even for their careers.

It started with my own frustration at myself. I agonized for 30 minutes today about an email I wanted to send to someone who I want to mentor me, but I haven’t talked to in a while. He is really successful in the field I want to be in, genuinely nice, and has given me career advice once before. Sounds easy, right? And yet I sat there agonizing: I can’t send this email. I don’t know what to say. I don’t want to sound stupid. And I definitely don’t want to come across as annoying.

I’ve been told once or twice that I’m good at self-promotion, but I usually laugh because the idea seems so funny. I’m still uncomfortable telling people about my blog even though so many successful people have told me what a great career move blogging is. And when I set up my website, I bought the domain and sat on it for months before actually creating a site because I was too afraid to do it.

So yeah, I guess I have done some self-promotion, because I recognize that you can’t get ahead without it. But that doesn’t make me good at it. Nor do I enjoy it. And oftentimes, I just choose not to do certain things because I don’t want to come off as a shameless self-promoter.

And it isn’t just me. I can’t be alone right? So I did some quick research.

  • Many women are so grateful to be offered a job that they accept what they are offered and don’t negotiate their salaries.
  • Women often don’t know the market value of their work: Women report salary expectations between 3 and 32 percent lower than those of men for the same jobs; men expect to earn 13 percent more than women during their first year of full-time work and 32 percent more at their career peaks.
  • Studies show that women, well, flunk at self-promotion. They just don’t embrace it. They worry more about a whole organization, and about the effects of their actions on other people, than about how to get themselves ahead.
  • In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries.

It’s a necessary evil: you have to do it if you ever want to be more successful, but it’s so damn hard. And there’s a fine line between self-promoting and bragging. Women don’t want to sound like they’re conceited or full of themselves.

And perhaps the most angering thing is: when women do self-promote, they get called all kinds of names. Hillary Clinton got the absolute worst of this treatment. No male presidential candidate would ever have to endure what she had to endure simply because she believed she was good enough to be President. And what was the most common insult hurled at her? “She’s too ambitious.”

Hello? In what planet is ambition a BAD thing? (And do you people who call her ambitious seriously think BARACK OBAMA IS NOT AMBITIOUS?!) No wonder women are afraid to self-promote: when women brag about their accomplishments it’s unseemly and they are attacked and criticized. When men self-promote, they’re just confident and charismatic. To quote Debra Condren: “Ambitious men are ‘go-getters,’ but ambitious women are ‘bitches.'”

The studies above already show that men are way better at asking for the salaries and jobs they want — and getting them. More men are politicians (Congress is only about 16% female) — perhaps because women feel so weird about asking for people’s attention and votes. And I feel like half the Tweets I see every day are from guys saying “Hey everyone check out my new blog post, please leave a comment”. Visit my website. Hire me. Get me a job. Help me. Look at the cool things I’m doing. Look at the interview I did! Look at the award I won!

I see these things everyday from men. I don’t think most of them even think twice about it. They are never afraid to just ask people for what they want; they’re never afraid of sounding like they’re bragging. Sure, some women are really good at it — obviously not everyone fits the rule. Some women are terrific at breaking the rule. But it’s called a rule for a reason: most people follow it.

So women, why do so many of us just suck at talking ourselves up? When are we going to start competing better? How do we even get past our own discomfort over it?

Oh, and I sent that email, by the way.

Like this post? Click here to subscribe to this blog. (yes, I know that is self-promotion. And I learned that trick from a female blogger. oh, the irony)

39 comments

  1. Nisha, this is an awesome post!! I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought about this. At the end of the day — and I’m really not sure why — women are way less comfortable with bragging about their achievements than men. As soon as I got into the workplace, I noticed that men were a lot more likely to pat themselves on the back and advertise even the smallest achievements. I also observed that my female coworkers rarely engaged in this behavior.

    I think women who have trouble with this need to basically do what you did — force yourself to just get it done. I especially used the word “brag” above, because a lot of times I think that is what self-promotion looks like. So I recommend, sucking it up and just telling people when you do something well.


    • Thanks Jaclyn.You’re right, we are twins :) And we do need to just force ourselves to get over it — it’d for our own good.


  2. Self-promotion isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone- including myself. Self-promotion relates to how we were raised as people of different races and sexes.

    Fons Trompenaars developed a framework for culture with several dimensions. The dimension that struck me the most when reading your post was the difference between individualism and collectivism. While the US is a highly individualistic culture, women by nature tend to be more collectivist (in degrees). Perhaps it is a maternal instinct, but I see it in myself as well. I care greatly for my personal success, but want the group to succeed as well. Sometimes I put the group ahead of my personal success.

    In this world of social media, however, I am sick of the self-promotion. Of course it is necessary to some extent, but it’s all I have seen recently. “How many followers can you get? How many facebook friends? How can you build your network?” Um, no.

    What’s important is that you be yourself, build your network organically, and ask for things/take risks. Which you already do :)


    • You are right that women care a lot more about the collective welfare of others around them, their group or family or company, where men are more individualistic. And I would argue that when women do act individualistic, it’s viewed as unwomanly or cold or whatever.

      I am sick of it too. As I was writing this I kept getting more messages popping up on Twitter along the lines of “check out this cool thing I am doing” from guys. Really, enough is enough sometimes. You can’t overdo it!


  3. I was about to punch you for this post. I really was. But then I saw you linked to me as someone who is good at self promotion and I brought my fist back. In all reality though Nisha, you’re better at it than you think. As far as the mentor stuff goes, it’s been in my experience that asking for what you need is the best way to get it. Give them something to work with. Contribute to their well being, feed their ego, then ask for their opinion on something. If they think you’re annoying then they wouldn’t make a good mentor anyway. Aaron Strout is one of my favorite mentors because he is very quick to respond. Penelope is also a great one because, well, you’ve met her, it’s obvious. People who have been mentored along the way are always willing to do the same, pay it forward.

    Everyone self promotes in different ways. When you have that “ah ha” moment like I had at SXSw, nobody will be able to stop you. I can’t wait to see where you end up, because I know you are brilliant and will do well at whatever you choose. I think you know where the line is between good promotion an shameless promotion, dance around that line and see what works. You’ll know it if it isn’t right.


    • Haha, thanks for not punching me I guess? And I know what you said makes complete sense — of course asking is the best way to get what you want. But it’s not that easy for everyone to actually do it. Props to you though for being so good at it.


  4. I was wondering if you were going to write a post on this. =) I was hoping you would.

    I really think a lot of it has to do with the attacks. Like you showcased brilliantly about Hilary Clinton – she is a great example of someone that got attacked just because she dared to be extremely ambitious.

    As women, we have very few role models that self-promote. Men have eons of role models. A lot of us look up to Penelope, because she self-promotes, unabashedly, and she gets the brunt of people’s disdain for a woman that knows what she wants (and sets out to get it). And, I wonder why it’s always Penelope, and I truly think it’s because, who else is even somewhat competing in the man’s world of technology startups? And, running a startup takes SERIOUS self-promotion, because no one else is going to talk about your product, except you.

    Many women, as I see it over and over, don’t want to “rock the boat” or ruffle feathers or seem selfish or seem conceited. And, the women that do, have to deal with backlash of their self-promotion.

    So, I’m sure that leaves very few people willing to withstand the unending criticism.

    Here’s my question: why the criticism? It feels like people are so threatened by a self-promoting and ambitious woman. Why?


    • I am glad you like the Hillary example. I am still waiting for someone to write a mean anonymous comment about how much they think Hillary is a stupid bitch. I’m sure one will pop up soon enough; it is the internet after all :)

      I agree with you about Penelope (although I still think she got less crap from people when she talked more about careers and less about her sex life). But you’re totally right that she is competing in a man’s world and she gets a lot of shit, but so many of us admire her for the way she handles it.

      And why are people threatened by an ambitious woman? Dude, that’s the million dollar question. It seems like “ambitious” is used as an insult for women. Why is it so threatening? I wish I had aq good answer to that…


  5. Nisha, this is a great and insightful post. I do think it’s true that women tend to be less afraid to really put themselves out there. There are several examples of women who do that, but they do all receive some amount of backlash for it, I feel. I have to say that in my own life, I’ve also been a bit hesitant to self promote. I’m afraid of coming off as too arrogant or conceited, for instance, while making a website portfolio. I know that’s a silly thing to think, but it is something that makes me hesitate.

    I wonder if women overthink things. When they promote, they are afraid of seeming arrogant or as if they are a know-it-all. They don’t want to hear criticism either, so they refrain from taking the steps they need to. I wonder if women are just a bit too…sensitive? We are very sensitive to what other people might think of us. Men aren’t so sensitive. They’re not AS fearful of other peoples’ responses. Of course this is a vast overgeneralization but it seems to be true at least in some cases. And it seems to me this is a big part of the problem.


    • We do overthink things a LOT. Maybe we should stop worrying so much and just do what we need to do. And dude — I had the hardest time making my portfolio. Eventually I just did the whole in two hours one night after thinking, this is so ridiculous. Why am I so worried about doing this? You should do yours too! I’ll help if you want :)


  6. That is a great post Nisha that brings up an important issue: women and ambition. I think you are totally right that women do not self promote much and they do not stand for themselves a lot either. I found especially in the work environment that women tend to be afraid to stand for themselves and their career, even less to promote their success, while men are more comfortable to stand out.
    Promoting does not have to be bragging, it can simply be acknowledging your success in your own style. As long as your keep being true to yourself, it will be received positively.

    I also totally agree with Jamie, that there are few women out there to look up as role model in terms of being ambitious. Penelope is certainly one of the few who really help us to realize that we can be ourselves and compete in a man’s world.


    • It’s kinda funny how many of us cite Penelope Trunkas a good role model. Not that I don’t admire her, because I do, but sometimes I think she says stuff that is bad for women (like writing that the only by-thirty goal she’s ever heard from women is to have kids). You’re right though that in work environments women really are afraid to promote their success, and that needs to change.


  7. When I first read this I was so surprised that you struggle with promoting yourself. I was like, “But Nisha’s one of those bloggers everyone should read! She MUST be good at promotion!” The more I thought about it it doesn’t seem like you got there by plastering your name everywhere, but by writing good stuff and being interesting.

    Maybe we shouldn’t even focus on becoming “more like men” or trying to get over the general yucky feeling that comes with self-promotion (it feels lucky to me, anyways). Maybe we should embrace our nature of caring about the group rather than try to fight it. What are the strengths of being group minded and how can we harness its power? What unique perspectives do we bring to the table because women care about the group?

    Another thought is what groups (formal/informal) can we form in order to trick ourselves into thinking that self-promotion IS for the good of the group? Like right now I’m trying to get a private practice off the ground and I’m finding it near impossible to do because I don’t want to go out there and tell people how much they need my services. But when I think about joining a few other counselors I become much more comfortable with promotion, even self-promotion, because it ultimately benefits more than just myself.

    I guess I’m kinda saying this is the hand we were dealt, how do we make the most of it?


    • Haha, Marie, you are sweet. But I didn’t write that to have people tell me I’m good at things, but because I think that is a thought process every woman goes through on a daily basis.

      I think you bring up a really good point about embracing the things that make women unique, rather than trying to be “more like men”, and I read a good book that argued that once (Dee Dee Myers) but I wonder if that will still put us at a disadvantage. If you’re trying to compete in a male-dominated world, female traits are seen as less important. Right?

      And good luck with your private practice!!


  8. Ok – Damn… I don’t want to be the first guy to comment on here and get a verbal thrashing from all of you ladies… But someone’s gotta do it. :)

    First – i wouldn’t put a lot of emphasis on the studes you referenced. Two of the studies come from a site that is promoting a book with no reference to how the studies were conducted. The other site is a study of 31 female professors at a School of Engineering. So I don’t think those numbers hold a lot of validity.

    Second – Nisha – I’d say you’re very good at self promotion. I think you have to be if you write a blog. That’s what it’s there for, right?

    But writing a blog is a very different form of self promotion than running around saying, “Look at me. Look at me.” like you kind of describe it.

    It’s much more subtle than that. And this is a form of self promotion that I think women excel at… Building relationships. It might not be the blatent self promotion that you describe… but the ability to build relationships with people is most definitely a form of promoting yourself… and I think it’s one form of self promotion that women are very good at.


    • Thanks for being brave Andy :) Re: the studies, there’s tons of books on this topic. I spent 5 minutes doing Google research — probably should have spent more. But the Carnegie Mellon study IS legit, and I’ve seen it referenced in manyother places.

      Second – thanks – but I don’t think having a blog automatically qualifies anyone as good at self-promotion. There’s millions of people with blogs, some far more successful than others. And I do agree that women are good at relationship-building – but I don’t think that alone is enough. And I think women, like many other people have already said, worry about groups and organizations and others more than about their own individual success.


  9. So true Nisha. Why are women so much more self-conscious? Why do women always need reassurances for the work they’re doing? Why do we need to be overly sensitive to everyone’s feelings and always making sure everybody is happy? I wish I had answers too. I’ve read somewhere that it’s part of women’s nature to be nurturing. The willingness to sacrifice ourselves for the community, our children, our family (ie. everybody else but ourselves) is just an innate ability that we have. We see the common good more important than ourselves. “A better world” is more important than our own achievements & recognition. I think that’s what it boils down to. What do you think?


    • It is part of women’s nature to be nurturing, I’ve read that in many places. And really, being nurturing and caring about others is such a great trait, yet somehow that nature ends up holding women back. Or it leads women to hold themselves back in favor of working for the common good, etc.


  10. In many ways you’re right and there really isn’t a single point that I’d refute with the facts that you’ve presented here. But in my honest opinion not ALL men share this inhibition towards self promotion. In fact, it’s what I’d say I struggle with most as a blogger and in my professional life. The whole process of “networking” and “self-promotion” doesn’t come easily to everyone and that means it doesn’t come easily to all males.

    You said, “I don’t think most of them even think twice about it.” I think we all think twice about how we present ourselves which is essentially what whoring our blogs and services is all about. It’s not easy and it is definitely not natural to behave this way. I might be wrong but I’d go out on a limb to say that the only reason you see more men self-promoting is because the overall pool of men in this blogosphere is larger and therefore proportionately it’s inevitable.

    Also, YOU are putting yourself out there and you do a great job at promotion – whether you recognize it or whether your form of self-promotion itself differs you can’t deny that as a young blogger still in college you’ve achieved a level of recognition fairly early in this blogging game. You have a badge in your sidebar that says “Meet me at SXSW” and you’re not ashamed of the fact that the only reason you were there was because you won a contest. You shouldn’t be because you did a lot of hard work and made the leap to enter a contest and YOU WON! That takes confidence and a touch of self-promotion that you simply can’t remove from the base of your achievements.

    There are also many comments above drawing comparisons to women in the workplace. Well we could go on to talk about minorities, handicaps, and even height deficiencies. It’s statistically proven that taller people are more likely to go on to management and executive positions. I’m a 5’7 Indian guy and I’m merely at the beginning of my career but I know for a fact that if I keep my eye on the big elephant in the room that I’d be giving it more value than what it’s worth. Just keep trucking and do what you know how to do with a constant application of authenticity. If you’re an introvert person with some issues networking than focus on your product but be sure to surround yourself with people that compliment you. (I think this is something that will ring true for you Nisha.) If you’re an extrovert and have a propensity for networking than embrace that and keep running!

    Goodluck!


    • A friend of mine – a guy – is the biggest self-promoter I have ever met. And I guess I was thinking of him when I said I don’t think guys think twice about it. I mean, he is accomplished and has done truly some great things, but his self-promotion is a thing of its own. And I know he doesn’t worry about sounding conceited. Well, he probably knows he’s conceited, but he doesn’t see it as a bad thing, that’s for sure.

      (And btw, he is not in the blogosphere, and hasn’t even caught on to Twitter yet – his Twitter account still has 0 updates. And yet, his self-promotion and others like him has nothing to do with social media/the blogosphere — my argument definitely isn’t limited to the online realm)

      It may not come easier to everyone, but I think it is inherently easier for men. They struggle with it less often than women do.

      And thanks for the compliments, but I definitely didn’t write this post to have people tell me I’m good at things; I think the thought process I went through yesterday is something all or at least most women go through everyday and is still a big obstacle in the way of women’s success…


      • You’re welcome for the compliments but that wasn’t my main intent. The point is you’re good at self-promotion whether you recognize it or not but the title of the post says that women suck at it. That’s confusing There are close to 30 comments on this post right now and it’s only been up for a few hours, promotion has to play some role in that.

        My boss is SVP of Marketing, HR, and Digital Media – she’s great – but I really can’t generalize anything from her achievements compared to the men in the organization. She’s simply a hard working, well organized, confident person who knew what the goal was and made sure her actions were all steps towards achieving it. In my opinion this isn’t a gender thing and if it is the lines are extremely blurry at this point.


  11. Nisha, this is a really great post. It is evident that a double standard exists and we have the power to change the situation. I honestly think the reason boils down to women having a tendency to unfairly compare themselves to other people (mainly other women). We zero in on our faults and compare them to someone else’s strengths and if you continue to keep doing this to yourself—you are going to feel like you aren’t worthy and thus, feel like you have nothing to promote.

    How are we ever going to gain confidence if we’re always looking at other people to validate our every move? I’m not saying it is wrong to ask for advice, but if someone gives you advice and your gut is telling you no—listen to your gut. Don’t just go along with something or someone because it is the path of least resistance and you will avoid confrontation.

    The only way I was able to “cure” myself was to work on me. You can’t work on yourself if you’re looking at other people. Therefore, when I caught myself comparing myself to others I would start listing all of the qualities that me unique. If you don’t believe in yourself then you can’t expect others too. Once you comparing yourself to other people the ability to promote yourself will become second nature—some of my tweets can be used to demonstrate this point—LOL!


    • I think you are right — we compare ourselves to other people all the time and do have a tendency to zero in on our faults, which is I think just the nature of women. I’m glad to hear you have “cured” yourself! :)


  12. Interestingly I have no problem telling people about my accomplishments and how hard I work (and I thank my mother every day for that—you must be your biggest cheerleader). The problem is people label me as selfish or too consumed with work. Where as it is labeled as ambition for men is seen as selfish or damn near subversive for women.


    • You’re ambitious and should tell naysayers to piss off for lack of a better term.


    • I feel your pain. too self-absorbed, too ambitious, too driven, too work-oriented, too intense, and my favorite “don’t work so hard or you’ll end up alone.” I’ve heard them all :) I’ve never seen any of those things used as a negative description for men…


  13. Hey Nisha: Thanks for the great post, bringing attention to this woman thing.

    Women tell me all the time that someone will say to them, “You’re really good at your job, but boy you sure are ambitious.” And it’s not said in a complimentary way.

    Let’s face it, there’s just one word that our culture bestows on that supremely ambitious woman who unrepentantly values her career dreams every bit as much as she values her other precious priorities, including a partner, spouse, children, community: bitch.

    Now wonder so many high-achieving women harbor the same dirty little secret: We all struggle with socially sanctioned failure to embrace our ambition. We all have the same pernicious audio loop playing between our ears:

    “Will being as ambitious as I dream of being make me less of a woman? Can I? Should I? Dare I? Have I gone too far? Will it cost me my personal life? Will I make enemies? Will it make those I care about suffer? Will my kids suffer? Is it impossible to be ambitious and happy? Am I charging too much? Am I giving my employer or my clients their money’s worth? Will I lose an opportunity if I ask for more money? Who do I think I am calling myself an expert? Do I really know what I’m doing or am I in over my head? Does sticking up for myself and taking credit me mean I’m greedy, arrogant and that I’m being unfair to people I work with? Am I deserving of recognition and power? Am I worthy of going after my biggest, most precious career dreams?”

    Ambition isn’t a dirty word, but as far as many women are concerned, it might as well be.

    No wonder so many of us simultaneously crave and fear our ambitious goals.

    It’s freeing, empowering, and inspiring to ignore what our culture thinks about high- achieving women. It’s validating to gain the confidence to reach out and ask for feedback and advice, to break the isolation that many of us experience, and to get great mentoring advice so that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And by the way—seven out of ten people will say yes, will enthusiastically give back, when we ask for their help, especially if we’re very clear and succinct about what advice we need and how they can help us. (And remember: a great mentor learns from her or his protégées as well, so, by asking for help, you’re giving them an opportunity to learn from you, too.)

    On taking credit, when someone says, “Great job!” Say, “Thank you. I worked hard at that. I’m proud of what I accomplished.” Instead, many of us will give it away, saying, “Oh, it was just luck” or “it was a team effort,” even if we spearheaded the whole thing. I’m not saying not to share; I am saying include ourselves in the equation instead of selling ourselves short!

    Other ways to take credit:

    -Make sure we’re not undercharging (e.g., women consultants and small business owners often charge significantly less than their male competitors, or we give away free advice, give away too much of our time, putting our own earning and security needs at the bottom of the priorities pile for fear of being “greedy”).

    -Make sure we negotiate first and subsequent salaries rather than just taking what’s offered. In this tough economic environment, if salary isn’t negotiable, negotiate for a better job title, for an accelerated review in three or six months, for an opportunity to head up special projects or to contribute to the company newsletter or industry publications. Or negotiate working from home one or two days a week to save on communiting costs. Be creative; don’t be afraid to ask.

    -Make sure journalists can find you to quote your advice. One great (and free) way to do that: post your bio on SheSource.org. Women experts represent only around 16% of experts on the Sunday morning political shows, for example. Journalists say the reason we’re so underrepresented is that they don’t know how to find the women experts.

    A lot of women say to me, “I don’t know enough to be quoted as an expert, and I hear this from even the most highly-accomplished women. Think about it–you’ve worked hard, you know a lot, you have your own unique ideas and contributions to make.

    -So get your name out there; own your expertise. Speak up.Make the contribution you were born to make. The world deserves to hear from you.


  14. Hey Nisha. First of all – this is a very concise and well thought out post, and you make a solid point. Also, even though you’re not fishing for compliments, I do think you do a good job of promoting yourself. In true “I don’t want to sound stupid” fashion, I sat here for several minutes thinking about how I wanted to approach my response without sounding stupid, or naive. I’ve come to the conclusion that while I don’t DISAGREE with you, I just don’t see this clear male/female dividing line, at least not in our generation.

    Men are interesting specimens aren’t they? Our testosterone tells us that if we want to get somewhere, we have to be aggressive, we have to exude confidence, we have to ‘grab the bull’ by the horns, so to speak. But, there is a fine line between confidence and coming off as brash, which isn’t a good thing (in most cases). And aggressiveness can be a gift or a curse – on one hand you get your name out there, but at the risk of annoying people or turning them off.

    Women, especially younger women (Generation-Y) exude a sort of ‘quiet dignity’ and then they talk – people listen. I don’t know what it is, but you all have sort of an inherently ‘genuine’ quality about you that I can’t really explain.

    This is a difficult topic for me to gather up my thoughts and put them into words, but in short, I don’t see the clear distinction between men and women. I don’t think women suck at promoting themselves, at all. Men don’t want to sound conceited either, and I think men worry about a lot of the things that you discussed as worries of women. Men may be more aggressive, but I don’t see them as the ‘dominating species’. Arrogance in men is frowned upon just as much as conceitedness in women, in my opinion.

    Then again, I’m not a woman, so maybe I just don’t understand because I’m not living through it. I just think, in the end, we’re all in the same boat, trying to get ahead, trying to get our name out there and get noticed. It’s the eternal struggle that both males and females alike are faced with.


    • “A brave man tells the truth. A wise man’s tools are analogies and puzzles. A woman holds her tongue, knowing silence will speak for her.”

      For some reason this quote keeps running through my head when I think about this topic. I agree men just seem to spit out what we’re thinking and it comes across as confidence. Women do have something about them that simply doesn’t require explanation. It’s picked up inherently.


    • Hi, Matt. Interesting that you left this comment because you are one of the examples I often think of when I wrote this post and thought of men who are bold about self-promotion. I don’t mean that as a bad or negative thing at all, so please don’t take offense but I noticed on twitter, for example, you are always promoting something — your latest post, your latest contest, your latest podcast, and asking for people’s attention. Again, I am not saying this in a negative way at all. But I think you are a great example of a guy who is not afraid to promote yourself, whereas I don’t see many women promoting their work nearly as often as you do.


  15. Hi again, Nisha: Thanks for your e-mail re: “choice feminism,” e.g., talked about by Linda Hirshman. You say, “It’s exciting to see more women getting degrees and going to elite universities like Harvard, but then you hear kind of saddening reports about them dropping their career ambitions to become stay at home wives and mothers. And choice feminists defend it with, well, feminism is about the fact that we had the CHOICE to do that and we made that choice on our own based on what we wanted, not because society told us to. However, I feel like there is still a problem there.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I write about this in my book, particularly in the chapter called “Honorable Ambition?” (yes, question mark).

    Many, including choice feminism advocatates, would say these women who drop kick their career dreams in favor of staying home to raise their children did the right thing, that they made noble decisions and sacrifices that any woman should make. Many would point out that these women freely chose to do what they did for their own well thought-out reasons.

    But is it really honorable to dilute or channel your ambition into your lover, family or community? Is it really honorable to invest in someone else’s dream ahead of your own? We often think that this version of ambition is good and right and virtuous. But we never think about what it costs us. What if it hurts you in ways you may not be aware of or haven’t bargained for? And in ways that no one encouraged you to think about before making your honorable ambition decision? Is it then truly an informed choice? What if it doesn’t turn out the way you planned and your turn never comes? Then what?

    When I speak to groups of young women in M.B.A. programs, for example, many of them express frustration at the seeming rigid career tracks and limited choices they face–and they do feel like they face an either/or choice. I love getting discussions going with them about all of the different options we as ambitious women have, even if these paths aren’t immediately obvious.

    My message is that we, as ambitious women, needn’t drink the Kool-aid society serves up telling us that we face an either/or choice–either we put our own needs at the bottom of the priorities pile because that’s what the best moms and partners do, or our children and personal lives will suffer because of it. We don’t have to choose. But women often don’t often have people encouraging us to think about all of the different options and scenarios and ways we can stay true to our sacrosanct career dreams while also being there for our children. We don’t have people saying, “It’s a false choice.”

    Maybe we leave a rigid work environment or firm in favor of one that fits our own career and peronal priorities. Or maybe we decide to go to work for ourselves so that we can set our own career and life course, according to our own sensibilities. Or maybe we do take some time off after a baby is born, but why not keep our name out there professionally, doing, for example, phone consulting or publishing articles, getting quoted in the press, writing a blog. Why don’t we keep our professional licenses current and our options open, attend professional conferences–even if most days, these days, are spent in sweat pants with a new baby? It’s because we think we face an all-or-nothing choice, and all too many women throw away their dreams for lack of support for a happier solution.

    The good news is that there is a lot more information out there now along with fresh resources we can draw upon to help us figure out new and creative ways to stay true to our ambitious dreams.

    Which brings us back to a point you make in your post: don’t be afraid to ask for help, to speak up, to get discussions going. Break isolation and inspire yourself to stay the course.


  16. [...] In addition, Nisha isn’t just blogging and waiting for things to happen (though you could argue blogging in of itself isn’t just waiting around), but actually acting and trying to convince others to affect change as well. The average person is looking to be led, and even tremendous leaders like a solid focal point sometimes. Recently, I’ve enjoyed her fun comments about SXSW and intriguing piece about women sucking at self promotion. [...]


  17. Nisha – This is interesting because in the sales environments I’ve been a part of, the top performers were most often women. Now when it came time to promote their accomplishments the women often backed off as if it wasn’t part of their nature but for the men it came very natural.

    I guess the lesson of the day is that we must continue to kick our own butts.


  18. Nisha (and everyone else),

    I think self-promotion is overrated. Good promotion is about getting other people to promote you. I’ve found a lot of this comes from promoting them too.

    So if you are hesitant about self-promoting, the easiest thing to do is to promote someone else. Then give yourself this little invisible token that you can cash in later with that person for a favor. When you need to promote something, you won’t have to feel guilty asking because you’ve earned it.

    Not to say that you should always keep track – just that keeping track with people you don’t know very well can help ease the nervousness that comes with asking for favors.

    PS – no offense to guys – but I’ve noticed that guys especially are bold about asking for promotion before they give promotion. So ladies, if you’ve promoted a guy (or a girl) and they haven’t promoted you back, don’t feel bad about reminding them – they’ve probably forgotten. “Remember back when I promoted your blog post? I was wondering if you could tweet about mine.” It’s a good way to remind someone that they owe you if they aren’t reciprocating on their own.


  19. Monica – I disagree with asking for promotion. I would never promote someone so I could later cash in for a promotion of mine. That’s like giving a gift on someone’s birthday, so they will give me one on mine.

    If you are worth promoting, people will promote you, sure. But, that’s not always the case. I believe you have to promote yourself, otherwise no one else will, as a general rule.

    And, come to think of it, I’ve been friends with people who would take it upon themselves to promote me and then later basically feel like it’s owed to them that I promote them. It bothered me and felt contrived. Promote if you want to promote – don’t do it because you have an agenda.


    • Jamie –

      Good points. I really wasn’t trying to say promote someone to get promoted, I was trying to say if you promote someone (on merit of course, I wouldn’t promote crap either), don’t be shy about asking for promotion later on. Maybe a subtle difference, but one that I see as fairly distinct.

      To build on your birthday analogy – I would agree you shouldn’t give someone a birthday present just to get a birthday present. But if you gave someone a birthday present for three years in a row, and they never reciprocated, and you always had to call them first, and they never invited you places… then I would be concerned.

      I disagree with not having an agenda – I guess I just see everyone as having some sort of agenda. Even a reader of a blog has an agenda – they want free information, or they want to be entertained, or they want to be able to contribute their thoughts in a comments section. To me, the world moves mainly because we all have self-interests that match up for mutually beneficial relationships and win-win situations.

      Anyway, cool comment. And sorry Nisha for hijacking your comments section!


      • Monica,

        Ok, I definitely see where you are drawing the distinction. I mean, yes, if you are putting in a ton of effort and not having a reciprocal relationship, then it’s probably not the best mutually beneficial relationship.

        Maybe the meaning of agenda is where we aren’t connecting on that point. To me, agenda isn’t very pleasant and is very self-serving. I would use the word purpose where you would use agenda. That’s just a word usage difference.

        I am all about mutually beneficial relationships, but I was just alarmed that your comment meant you would take it upon yourself to promote someone and then ask for a promotion back. That still seems off to me. But, if it’s a shared sentiment that if you promote someone then they will promote you, then that’s different.

        Thanks for your response!


  20. Interesting points Jamie and Monica. I agree that in anideal world we shouldn’t have to promote ourselves, we should be able to do work that is so good that others promote it. But there are plenty of people, and I still think more men than women, who are very bold about going out there and asking for it rather than waiting for people to promote/recommend/whatever for them, and those people are at an advantage.

    I also agree I don’t think you should promote other people with an agenda, but you should help other people succeed because it’s a good thing to do, and you never know when they might be able to help you back. I don’t think that’s having an agenda, unless you specifically want something out of them and that’s the only reason you help them. I just think it’s smart relationship-building to be helpful and generous.



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