A real strategy for women to get ahead. I know what you are thinking:  Self-Promotion??? I can’t do that! My response: Yes, you can. You CAN make yourself more visible, position your value and even ask for a pay rise!

Let me explain…

I was recently reminded that for many women, self-advocacy does not come naturally. I have the privileged job of working with many amazing professional women, coaching them through the maternity transition. Time and time again, especially once they have returned after several months of maternity leave, the issue of self-doubt is raised. Understandably after being away, it takes a few months to get back into the rhythm of their role, managing the ‘new normal’. But it is a fact that these high performing women become job-fit very quickly and are able to put in an amazing day’s work, before they go home to their young family and their roles as Moms and Wives.

The problem is that women don’t give themselves credit for what they ARE getting right and getting done. They tend to focus on what they perceive they are not getting right nor doing enough of. And what makes this worse, they often unwittingly express their lack of satisfaction with their own performance in conversation with others, rather than talking positively about what they ARE achieving.

Is this a confidence issue or is it simply that high-achieving women are naturally self-critical, don’t recognise the value of their own contribution, and don’t (sell it?) position themselves in a positive light?

In studies, men overestimate their abilities and performance. Women underestimate both. Their performances do not differ in quality. Men are more inclined to put themselves forward for a promotion and pay rise, than women.

Here are some gender stats to confirm this:  Hewlett-Packard discovered some years ago, when trying to figure out how to get more women into top management positions, that women working at HP applied for a promotion only when they believed they met 100 percent of the qualifications listed for the job. “Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 60 percent of the job requirements. At HP, and in study after study, the data confirms what we instinctively know. Under-qualified and under-prepared men don’t think twice about self-advocacy. Over-qualified and over-prepared, too many women still hold back. Women feel confident only when they are perfect. Or practically perfect.”

Closer to home, I had another recent example of this. A recent coachee, who is a top performer in her firm, in a unique role, with everything going for her, actually told me that whilst she feels she is worthy of promotion, and if not promotion, definitely of earning more, she would never raise this with her line manager. She said “I would hope they are noticing my contribution and would recognise and reward it appropriately”. At which I commented “Hope isn’t a strategy” – which she loved!  (She is probably reading this – if so, this is for you)

So what to do?

If women want upward mobility, we need to stop resisting the very things we can and should do to increase our credibility and visibility, to build a strong reputation and to get ahead.

Here are just a few top of mind practical ideas, which I intend to build on in subsequent Blogs…

  • Watch your posture. You can take this word literally or apply the figurative sense. My husband’s favourite expression which he ingrained in our girls, was: “Sit up, slouchy”. This was something he said regularly at the dinner table, and any other time that he saw shoulders hunched. I seriously believe that we don’t do ourselves justice by wearing the burden of our busyness or fatigue in the form of bad posture. Our body language gives away our mood and our self-belief. Make sure the way you sit and engage others in meetings, or the way you stand and walk, is projecting confidence and competence. You know how to do this.
  • Acknowledge your positive attributes, actions and achievements. ‘Flip the coin’ – the positives really are sitting on the other side, if we care to look at them… I find that many women when asked: “What are your strengths?” struggle to answer the question. Make it your business to think about this, get feedback from others, and write them down. Keep adding new attributes or behaviours to the list so that, when required, they roll off your tongue. Maybe reading the list now and again will be a good reminder to keep you focusing on the good, rather than the bad. Keep gathering and recording your new learnings. We learn something new every day, especially in the post maternity leave period, where our growth curve is significant.
  • Grab opportunities to position your value. This is a favourite topic of mine and I will expand on it in the next blog. But for now, think about this: use every opportunity you get to communicate and engage with peers, with your line manager, with clients, to position what you are good at. This doesn’t mean to blow your own trumpet in a way that will put people off. Don’t wait for a performance review. Get good at relating to or highlighting actions you have taken, the problem you solved, the challenge undertaken, the extra attention given – whatever it is – as a way to keep your strengths visible, reminding them of what you are good at and what you are getting done.
  • Pitch what you want. It is true that if you don’t ask, you don’t get. I read an article written in 2015 in MailOnline, which said this: “A closed mouth doesn’t get heard”. I believe it is more about courage than confidence, to speak up and let people know what you want. So take courage. And whilst Line Managers may well notice what you are achieving and may be impressed by your performance, they might not think that you, as a working Mom, have aspirations of promotion. If you want more, let them know. If you think you are worth more, start the conversation, but make sure you have all the necessary justification prepared to back up your argument.

The power is in our hands to get ahead; don’t leave it to hope – it is not a strategy!


By Melany Green, CEO of Great Expectations

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