The politics of self-promotion: women suck at itMarch 31, 2009
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)