As a woman in business, have you heard yourself say these things?
“I just hate it when an interviewer asks me to tell them about what I’ve done. It makes me so uncomfortable to talk about myself.”
“I couldn’t possibly put that on my resume. It’s bragging.”
“I know my work is better than several of my colleagues, but ask for a raise – no way!”
A University of Arizona study showed that both men and women speak an average of 16,000 words a day. Yet getting most women to use some of those daily words to talk about their accomplishments and abilities is, well, darn near impossible. Linda Babcock, professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon, observes “I saw women accept the status quo, take what they were offered and wait for someone else to decide what they deserved because…as a society, we teach little girls that it’s not nice or feminine or appropriate for them to focus on what they want and pursue self-interest.”
Learned behaviors can be unlearned, relearned and applied in positive ways. As part of their Centennial Women in Leadership Series, Ashley Hall (an all female educational institution in Charleston, SC) presented a panel discussion on women’s compensation in which I participated. Emily Hollings, a 2005 Ashley Hall graduate was in the audience. Moved by the messages shared that evening, she took a hard look at her professional situation, prepared her case, asked for a raise – and received it!
Emily offers this advice to women in similar circumstances, “I can relate to those polite, modest girls, especially when it comes to money, but it’s important to realize and to keep telling yourself it’s not rude to ask for more and to play up your strengths. Be relentless about your strengths because that’s the ultimate factor in getting your raise.”
Making your voice heard is learning how to be your own tactful and professional PR firm. Clay Shirky, an associate professor at New York University, observes, “Self-promotion is a skill that produces disproportionate rewards, and if skill at self-promotion remains disproportionately male, those rewards will as well.” Remember, we’re talking assertiveness here – clear, direct, calm, truthful and thoughtful discourse – not aggressiveness or arrogance.
Amp up your personal courage and learn a few techniques to make your voice heard:
- Say you’re sorry when you truly have something to apologize for instead of making statements like “I’m so sorry to take up your valuable time with this” or “please forgive me for having to bother you with this.” Instead be direct and say “Let’s schedule some time to talk” or “There’s an issue we must discuss.”
- Lose the wimpy words that weaken your message and/or diminish your authority, e.g. saying things like “I think I have a question” or “hopefully I’ll be able to get the job done.” Demonstrate your confidence in your abilities by simply declaring “I have a question” or “I can get this job completed, and completed well!”
- Make a list of your accomplishments: every successful project you’ve handled at work, praise your boss has given you, awards and recognition, processes you’ve improved, money that you’ve made for the company, promotions, etc. This list isn’t bragging. It is simply facts – facts about your performance that you must be comfortable discussing in job interviews, at work and while networking. A key element of many jobs is promoting the organization. If you can’t promote yourself, a prospective employer is right to doubt your abilities to promote them.
Jill Muti, Head of School at Ashley Hall, sums it up best, “When a woman enters the workforce today, it’s imperative that she be confident and capable of advocating for herself.”
What other advice would you offer?
Image source: The Artist’s Business Digest