As a coach for women, I have come to learn that no matter what age, stage or background, we all face common challenges and one that features highly is self-promotion. During the lead up to International Women’s Day, I pondered why this skill (yes, it is a skill) was so fundamentally important for us to thrive in our careers and lives yet it remains a huge challenge, particularly for women. The topic of ‘self-promotion’ requires some attention, so here goes…
Let’s start with the definition…
According to the Oxford dictionary, self-promotion is “the activity of making people notice you and your abilities, especially in a way that annoys other people”. Not a great start! In fact, nearly all the definitions I came across involved some negative connotation.
Another definition by Lexico summarised it as “the action of promoting or publicising oneself or one’s activities, especially in a forceful way”. And the Collins dictionary says, “if you accuse someone of self-promotion, you disapprove of them because they are trying to make themselves seem more important than they actually are.” It is no wonder we have a thing about it; these certainly aren’t selling or promoting the notion of self-promotion to me – pun intended!
To add to that there is also the gender layer…
Studies have shown that women who self-promote are seen less favourably than men who self-promote, even by women. So, whilst self-promotion may enhance how others perceive women in terms of their qualifications and competencies, it tends to be at the expense of likeability and social appeal. Yet if they don’t do it, the opposite occurs plus there is a perceived absence of assertiveness. It seems we can’t win!
Where does this stem from? It is likely due to deeply-ingrained gender roles and stereotypes of women who have traditionally been socialised to adopt more passive, subservient and modest roles compared with men who are socialised to be more dominant and assertive. In a nutshell, it is more culturally acceptable for men to self-promote. And we wonder why there is a pay gap!
Taking the above into account, I would argue that self-promotion is ever-more important for women and actually a way of us challenging and counteracting gender bias which evidently manifests itself in language and social behaviours.
So let’s readdress that definition…
According to Merriam-Webster, self-promotion is “the act of furthering one’s own growth, advancement, or prosperity”. Doesn’t sound so bad right?! And let’s face it, if we are looking at the facts i.e. the pay gap, pension gap and savings gap; women could do with furthering their prosperity. Self-promotion is also defined as “attempting to present yourself to others as an accomplished, capable, smart and skilled person”. What’s wrong with that?
Male or female, self-promotion doesn’t need to be obnoxious, egotistical or narcissistic. In my experience, to self-promote is a positive and necessary skill which actually requires self-respect and self-worth on behalf of the individual. That is being able to recognise your value whether that be personally or professionally and to play to and communicate your strengths, skills, talents and achievements. I mean if we couldn’t do that, we wouldn’t get very far in the world of work, would we? We wouldn’t be landing any jobs let alone the top ones and we certainly wouldn’t be attracting any customers to our businesses. We would probably have difficulty with relationships and attracting our life partners too!
With regards to the likeability factor, I would argue that charm is a form of self-promotion. Sure, some have a more natural ability than others but with a bit of practice, we can all have it. Perhaps self-promotion is an art but done well, it is our ability to communicate what we do, how/well we do it and how we can impact others. It is our voice and our voices deserve to be heard, don’t they? And if we don’t voice our capabilities, we will only be doing a disservice to ourselves and the people we could be benefitting. With that in mind…
Here are 7 tips for doing self-promotion well:
1. Lead by example.
Do what you do well and your work, efforts and attitude will speak for themselves and your reputation will precede you in a good way!
2. Know and play to your strengths
Find out and demonstrate the value you can bring and back it up with evidence. Communicating this isn’t boastful, it is factual and if somebody needs or could benefit from your skills then it is actually very useful for them to know and you could be making their life easier.
3. Pay attention to your language and intent
The difference between appearing ‘braggy’ or boastful versus aspirational and inspirational may simply be in how you frame it. For example, if you have accomplished a goal which has taken a lot of hard work and determination, overcoming the odds or barriers to success and you are genuinely super proud; then there is nothing wrong with sharing that. People should admire and respect it and if they don’t, it is their problem and they are probably just jealous or are feeling inadequate. If you are sharing to compare, make yourself feel better, compete with or look better than someone else, then this isn’t well-intentioned and will probably be interpreted as boastful.
4. Choose your channel, time and place
Self-promotion can be done through face-to-face conversation, on blogs or social media platforms, in public speeches, or even through our mannerisms, posture, speech or dress. Consider how you want to be perceived and whether what you are doing/sharing is appropriate and fit for your audience. Self-promotion done well should enhance your personal brand.
5. Focus on your personal development and progress
Don’t compare yourself to others. Create your own measures of success, keep a record of your achievements, testimonials and take full ownership of all of the above. Doing so will build your inner confidence, self-esteem and will provide you with a bank of material should you need to use it at an interview, to create a business case for a promotion or pay rise, or to win a customer. It also means you won’t be relying on others for validation or recognition.
Include people – your family, friends, colleagues in the celebration of your achievements and milestones; make it fun and meaningful and that way they can appreciate just how important it is to you. I mean who doesn’t like drinking champagne?!
7. Encourage a culture of supportive self-promotion
In both your personal and professional circles, building up and empowering others is a good thing. Being interested and invested in others’ progress means you can celebrate their wins with them and they are likely to do the same for you. Increased confidence alone can be a gamechanger so imagine you help them land their dream job because they became great at self-promoting.
In conclusion, self-promotion is a necessary and important skill which we should all be practicing regularly and encouraging in others. Do it well, own it and enjoy the results that follow.
This blog has been written in honour of International Women’s Day (IWD), a global celebration of the amazing women that surround us. To help increase the visibility and awareness of the achievements of women, we selected four exceptional ladies in Oasis HR’s network who are excelling in the HR and recruitment space. Our ‘Women of 2020’ are Margaret Buj, Ruth Musetti, Melanie Punch and Mieke Contreras.
To round-up our IWD campaign, we are delighted to share the advice from personal performance coach, Mikaela Jackson. IWD is not only about looking at women who have made it to success but it’s about inspiring others to do the same. So whether you are looking to make a career move, figure out how to be more productive, or recover from an emotional drawback, Mikaela, @ She Almighty, is a great person to turn to for advice.