One of the issues that comes up most frequently with my coaching clients, no matter where they are on their career trajectory, is communicating accomplishments. They fear that, if they do “toot their own horn,” as my mother used to say, there will be a backlash against what is perceived as brazen ego. But they also know that, if they don’t, they risk being left behind as others advance in the organization. It’s just one manifestation of the double bind that women face in the workplace.
For a little more insight, I asked Gail Evans about this unwritten “don’t tell, don’t tell” policy. Evans was a pioneering executive in television journalism who now writes and speaks about women in the workplace. The author of Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman and She Wins, You Win, she will be speaking in Austin on Monday, May 9, at IBM, 11501 Burnet Road. Sponsored by Texas State University, IBM, and Maxwell, Locke & Ritter LLP, her talk is open to the public. Tickets ($25) are still available. Click here for more details.
Here’s what Gail advises:
Women tend to think that when they tell someone the truth about their accomplishments that they are boasting and bragging. This starts when we are little children.
Boys are taught that life is about winning and losing and that the best one wins. Boys like to be friends with winners. They associate their friends winning with their own potential for winning. Boys believe that today my friend won and we all celebrate that, but maybe tomorrow I will win.
Girls’ friendships are rarely one up or one down. They are much more lateral. Girls are taught that nice girls don’t tell others about their accomplishments. Girls are frequently taught how to be good losers, and boys are taught how to be good winners. Girls’ relationships are among equals.
For little girls, it’s about maintaining the friendship and keeping the game going. For boys it’s about winning and losing.
When girls grow up, they maintain that belief that nice girls are self deprecating about their achievements. Boys learn that, if you don’t tell someone about your accomplishments, no one will know. They are clear that they are their own best PR person. Women need to switch from worrying about appearing pushy, braggy, or tooting their own horn to becoming their own PR agent. When we think about doing our own PR, we can be much more subtle in our language and promote ourselves without worrying that other women are going to judge us.