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Why don’t women brag at work? How to practice self-promotion

Women face many barriers to upward mobility in the workplace, but practicing self-promotion doesn't have to be among them. Here are 4 tips.

5 min read


Image suggesting self-promotion with a trophy and ribbon

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Is your career feeling a little stagnant? Are your peers getting ahead while you seem stuck in one place? Lack of upward mobility is one of the most common complaints of women in today’s workforce. Despite all the corporate lip service on diversity, why aren’t enough women getting promoted?

In my corporate presentation to women audiences, “Release the Untapped Potential of Your Underutilized Leaders,” I discuss many of the issues facing women today, including the understandable hesitation they may have around self-promotion and identifying and sharing their accomplishments.

Here are a few tips on ways to reframe and overcome self-promotion difficulty.

Reason No. 1: “They don’t have time to talk with me.”

Perhaps you think your boss and other influential people are too busy, and don’t want to hear from you. Instead of discounting your own value and thinking of yourself as a burden on their time, think of yourself as a key catalyst and necessary component of the organization.

You are helping them achieve their goals, and those of your company! How you’re doing that is important, and worth their time to stay informed on how you’re succeeding. Be prepared and succinct, but don’t be afraid to efficiently fill them in on your achievements.

Reason No. 2: “I don’t have anything worth talking about.”

Maybe your concern is that you don’t have anything of value to share. Have you been tracking your accomplishments, big and small? We’re all busy people, and it’s easy for the things we’ve done to be lost in the shuffle and the rush of moving on to the next thing on our to-do list.

See the value in who you are, what you have done and why this should be shared with others. This form of self-promotion may require sitting down and writing out everything you’ve done in the last week, the last month, the last year. Start a list and add to it as you remember things; chances are, there’s a lot more than you realize.

You can download a blank copy of this accomplishment template so you can begin tracking now.

Reason No. 3: “If I do get a chance to talk with them, I will blow it and not say the right thing.”

Sometimes, it may seem easier to play it safe by avoiding any conversations with leadership. That way, you’ll avoid looking awkward, saying the wrong thing, or damaging your reputation in their eyes.

Women are often cultured to believe that the last thing they should do with a rare opportunity for conversation is talk about themselves. If you stay silent on every occasion to discuss your accomplishments, however, you won’t have any reputation, period! You must initiate the conversations and express yourself to become known.

Practice some of your key messages so you can recap your successes confidently, succinctly and with conviction when the opportunity arises.

Reason No. 4: “People will think I’m sucking up.”

Another reason people “hold their light under a basket” is they fear being perceived as a braggart or sycophant. Women and many people from cultures that prize deference may have been raised to demur or deflect whenever accolades are mentioned.

If talking about your success makes you uncomfortable, one way to overcome this is to also credit others on your team while making sure your supervisor knows your role in the accomplishment. Just be sure not to give all the credit away – you were a key catalyst to the overall result.

Too often, my clients have a hard time promoting themselves because they minimize what they have actually done — in their own minds and in their words. If you are someone who tends to say things like, “It was easy,” “I didn’t do much” or “I was lucky,” check yourself before you speak.

Using my tips above, start by reminding (and convincing!) yourself that your work is valuable. It’s important to see what you did do and the impact you made. When you’ve tracked your accomplishments and practiced speaking about your role in their success, it will be easier to let others know about what you’ve done. Take ownership of your work and your success.

Start documenting your accomplishments today! Create a file on your computer, in the cloud or even on your phone if it will help you get to it regularly.

Joel Garfinkle provides corporate training, webinars and executive coaching. He is recognized as one of the top 50 coaches in the US. He has worked with many of the world’s leading companies, including Google, Amazon, Starbucks, Deloitte, Eli Lilly, the NBA  and The Ritz-Carlton Hotels. Garfinkle is the author of 11 books, including “Getting Ahead.” More than 10,000 people subscribe to his Fulfillment@Work newsletter. If you sign up, you’ll receive the free e-book “41 Proven Strategies to Get Promoted Now!” You can view his video library of over 100-plus easily actionable two-minute inspirational video clips at his YouTube channel. 

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