Many bright and successful women hate to call attention to their achievements. Although they are often as ambitious as men, they keep their successes to themselves, hoping others will notice their competence and reward them for it.
While this may work in an ideal world, the reality of the workplace is that few managers are walking around with a rewards to hand out. And if there are, there are many more employees actively working to prove themselves worthy of said rewards. And enough of them are women.
Extant research shows that women don’t like talking about their successes because they feel less worthy, in a way. They feel less competent and less entitled – and as a consequence, they fear rejection if they were to ask for what they want and deserve.
However, most of these women are unaware of these feelings, because they can exist outside of conscious awareness. They may get upset when they see others get the promotion they deserved, or higher pay for the same work. They may feel slighted when others are applauded for ideas that were theirs to begin with. But they still cannot bring themselves to talk about their successes in a way that feels real and authentic.
Through my research on the construct of authenticity and in my work with competent women who feel stuck in their career trajectory, I’ve found that the greatest shift happens when women begin work on these subconscious feelings of unworthiness.
The intelligence in our bodies will always precede that of the mind when it’s threatened. “Reason is slave to passion,” as philosopher and economist David Hume said back in the eighteenth century. And when women fear rejection as a consequence of speaking up, few tools can help them rise above it.
Luckily, there are many ways women can take concrete steps toward speaking up in a way that also builds their subconscious feelings of self-worth. Here are a few to begin with.
Build a sense of belonging
Women can make it easier to talk about their successes by focusing on their positive impact on others or the workplace. This is aligned with many women’s inherent relational natures, which see a “me” within a “we.”
When women own businesses, they put back 90% of their earnings into their families and communities. When women are in technology, they create more apps that benefit not just themselves, but society as a whole.
Keeping the “eco” in mind is a great way to talk confidently about what you’ve achieved and the difference it can make.
Savor your successes
Women can also spend some time reflecting on their successes, rather than considering them to be insignificant or brushing off compliments with, “Oh, it was nothing.” This simple act of savoring closes the gap between competence and low self-worth, which breeds Imposter Syndrome.
Savoring builds what Carol Dweck at Stanford University has called a “growth mindset,” and with it the ability to take risks – such as speaking up despite the possibility of criticism and rejection. It also embeds momentary success into the long-term memory, building lasting beliefs of self-worth.
Practice being authentic
Many women do not talk about their successes because it feels inauthentic. And it’s no surprise. Women have grown up with a long history of modesty, both in our collective journey through the ages and in our individual life journeys. We’ve learned to downplay our successes, not to talk about our accomplishments, and certainly not to “blow our own trumpet.”
As such, doing anything else feels like an untruth. Luckily, we can train our brains to be more authentic by practicing behaviors that don’t come naturally to us. In time, they begin to feel true, and truth lies at the core of self-worth.
Choose humility over modesty
Humility and modesty are often confused as being one and the same, even though they are not. Modesty refers to behaviors, while humility relates to our ego, our ability to share credit where it’s due, and our capacity to take responsibility for enabling other people’s success the way they (or others) enabled ours.
While modesty usually makes us play small to everyone’s detriment, humility allows us to move from “ego to eco” and to lift others as we climb. Keeping in mind all those who are part of our success ladder is one of the best ways to build the motivation to talk about it.
Women need to ditch modesty in favor of speaking up, stepping out, and showing up more fully in our lives and workplaces. As author and spiritual leader Marianne Williamson says, “your playing small does not benefit anyone.”
Now more than ever, we need women talking about their successes so they can contribute to the crucial decisions that affect our organizations and our world.