Despite growing recognition of the benefits of gender equality, the number of women holding the most senior jobs in the boardrooms of Britain’s FTSE 100 is actually falling.
This, combined with the gender pay gap, is startlingly indicative of a society which still does not recognise women’s contributions equally and is subsequently missing out on the contributions of a talented and diverse workforce.
There are many structural and societal reasons why women are less likely to climb the corporate ladder; the lack of truly flexible working options for those with caring responsibilities, exclusion from male dominated networking opportunities and the fact that women are less likely to talk about their achievements, which therefore makes them less visible.
Self promotion for women is a double-edged sword
Women are socialised from a very early age to appear modest in public, an idea which has roots in Ancient Greek society and perhaps even earlier. This ‘modesty norm’ is reinforced and carried on into the workplace, where - “boasting about one’s accomplishments causes women to experience uncomfortable situational arousal.”
In a nutshell, talking about our accomplishments makes us feel deeply uncomfortable. However in order to get ahead at work, we need to talk about our accomplishments.
A recent study, which sought to explore why women are so uncomfortable self-promoting, found results that were “most consistent with a backlash avoidance mechanism whereby women feel uncomfortable self-promoting due to perceived social consequences.”
Research has also found that women do experience a backlash when self-promoting, and are less liked than women who adhere to the social norm. So, when self-promotion is needed for success, women are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t, it seems.
#Iamremarkable is a Google initiative empowering women and underrepresented groups to celebrate their achievements in the workplace and beyond. The initiative empowers women to run events across the globe, which consist of a 90 minute workshop seeking to “highlight to participants the importance of self promotion in their careers and provide them with the tools to start developing this skill.”
Hannah started off the workshop with a stark point - your accomplishments don’t speak for themselves, however women are expected to praise others and not throw attention on ourselves.
We then spent some time discussing this and sharing our own experiences of the gendered difference in self promotion. I don’t want to share the experiences of others here without their permission, but I will say that some of the stories were shockingly sexist and deeply illustrative of the self-promotion double standard.
Sharing your accomplishments is uncomfortable
After a short break for food we each returned to our tables to find a blank sheet on A4 and a pen.
We were then instructed to fill the sheet with a list of our accomplishments and to do this in silence, without conferring with others. After some time, we would then each read our lists back to the group on our tables.
My heart sank. There was honestly nothing I wanted to do less.
Writing the list was extremely difficult, for everyone. We all felt deeply uncomfortable, so much so that some of us broke the silence rule to express how uncomfortable we felt!
When it came to the reading of the lists, it was actually a fascinating experience. As everyone went round, I didn’t think for a second that anyone was bragging or self promoting in an “icky” way.
If anything, I was really interested to hear about everyone’s diverse achievements and why they are remarkable.
After reading out our lists in groups we then had a wider discussion about how it felt to write and read our list, with a bit of dissection around exactly why it felt so weird and wrong to do it.
Why am I remarkable?
It makes me deeply uncomfortable to share this list online.
What if people think I’m bragging?
What if I come across as arrogant, self-indulgent or self-important?
But that’s the problem isn’t it.
We worry that we come across badly if we share the good about ourselves. However if we don’t share the good, how do we expect others to recognise it?
So here we go:
I am often considered a leader
I am a good cat mum (🙌 to all the other cat mums in the audience)
I’m not afraid to stand up for what I believe in and for others
I am good at what I do for a living
I am always first in line to try something new
I have lots of side projects (this blog, my podcast etc.)
I got an impressive degree mark
I consistently get up at 6am to go to the gym
I am brave and not afraid to go against the norm
I lost 5 stone and have kept it off for 5 years
I am good at thinking of creative ways to solve complex issues
I am very good at communicating
I am the life and soul of the party
Thank you to Women in Tech York and Hannah for running the workshop. I definitely feel more confident in talking about my accomplishments (as hopefully the list above evidences!) and really enjoyed discussing the issue with my peers.