A Black woman, with a Harvard MBA and an incredible professional track record was in an elevator with a white male executive at the investment firm where she worked.
“How was your weekend?” he asked. She responded with standard pleasantries about her son’s soccer game and the weather.
When she returned the question, he responded, “It was fantastic! I just closed this massive deal that’s going to bring the firm epic numbers this year!”
Be honest. Which response do you typically share when asked that question at work? If you’re like me and many women of color, you might naturally lean towards something along the lines of the first response. However, I’m here to tell you that you’re shooting yourself in the foot. This is a missed opportunity!
You might pride yourself in being humble. You might not want to be seen as one of those “braggy” people or being aggressive and ladder climbing. I get it! That was me in a previous life! But I strongly encourage you to reconsider.
5 reasons why tooting your own horn is essential for women of color in the workplace:
#1. It levels the playing field.
Your white male colleagues do this without even thinking about it! In the example I shared, she asked about his weekend, and he replied about work and how great he was doing. Was he trying to impress her? I will venture to say, of course not, he was the one with the power. I merely point out that this is how he walks around by default. This is what he tells everyone! If your colleagues are proactively sharing their wins across the company in casual conversation, you are at a clear disadvantage if you don’t also do the same.
#2. You and your achievements are invisible unless you make yourself visible.
I teach workshops for Black employee resources groups at leading brands across the country, and in a poll on what microaggressions folks have experienced, there is one that always gets almost 100% votes: Ignoring my comment, and then applauding a white person for making the exact same comment.
In a study on the invisibility of Black women, Amanda Sesko and Monica Biernat found that when Black women made statements in group discussions, they were least likely to get any attribution. Meaning, if a Black woman says something in a meeting, what she said would be remembered, but white people wouldn’t remember that it was she that said it. However, if a white person says something, there is a much higher likelihood that what they say will get the correct attribution. While individually we can’t change this, what we can do is help them out through repetition because they won’t remember what you did or all that you achieved until you tell them and tell them again. You are invisible until you make yourself visible.
#3. Your personal brand needs proof points.
What do you want to be known for in your organization? Maybe you want people to know that you’re a go-getter, that you’re results driven, or that you deliver high quality work. Maybe it’s your collaboration style and your ability to lead teams to action. Regardless, this is your personal brand. The only way to get folks to believe this about you is to provide the supporting evidence and facts that demonstrate these characteristics. Every brand needs proof points. When it comes to your personal brand, it’s your job to supply them.
#4. Potential sponsors will become actual sponsors.
Research shows that a Black manager is 65% more likely to progress to the next rung in the ladder if they have a sponsor, and yet we are least likely to have one. The most critical decisions about your career happen when you’re not in the room. When key leaders are debating who to put on a high visibility project or whom to promote, you want your name to come up. They need a reason to put your name in the hat. Tooting your own horn gives them this reason! So when someone asks, “What do you think about [insert your name here]?” you have given them clear bullet points to easily answer that question. You make it seamless for the executive that you wanted to be your sponsor to actually be your sponsor.
#5. It accelerates your path to promotion.
Promotions are often based on visibility, impact, and perceived value within an organization. When you consistently and confidently share your achievements, you not only showcase your capabilities but also make a compelling case for your advancement. Imagine this scenario: a high-level meeting is underway to determine the next round of promotions. Your name comes up, and those in the room have a clear memory of your recent accomplishments, your leadership on critical projects, and your knack for generating positive outcomes.
Without a doubt, this makes a significant impression. Your proactive self-advocacy has laid out a trail of accomplishments, solidifying your stance as an indispensable asset to the company.
So, how do I toot my own horn?
- Always be ready with your “Win Bullet”. You never know when the next elevator ride or water cooler conversation will happen with the right person, so always have your brief bullet point celebrating a win ready. Make sure it’s about an issue or business metric that is a priority for the company, and always position your win around something people care about. The question, “How are you?” can always be answered with a win! Take a moment to write down a win that you can share for your next casual conversation at work.
- Expand who you talk to at work networking events. We often tend to talk to our friends at these events. Get out of your comfort zone, and don’t be intimidated by titles. They are human beings also! Be proactive, start a casual conversation, and remember to have your Win Bullet in your back pocket! Name 3 people you wouldn’t normally talk to and commit to connecting with them at the next work networking event.
- Send celebratory wins summary emails. Be thoughtful about the recipients list and what’s politically appropriate in your organization, and be sure to use “we” where it makes sense. However, having your name associated with a team win is powerful. When folks think about this win, they will think about you because you sent the email! What’s an upcoming team win that you could be the one to communicate more broadly?
- Document your wins throughout the year. We often get too busy to sit down and document all of our wins. It’s not enough to work hard and achieve your goals. Communicating them is even more important. So, make your list as you go, and share at least quarterly with your manager and at any skip levels you might have. Make your wins for this year. Is there anything on your list that your manager might not be aware of?
Remember, you’re amazing! You know this. I know this. But do they?
Zee Clarke is the author of the book, Black People Breathe (Penguin Random House). She has been featured in many leading publications including ABC, Fortune, Forbes, CNBC, Ebony, Essence, and Fast Company.
She is a Harvard Business School graduate who applies holistic healing practices to corporate environments. Zee leads transformative workshops on mindfulness, breathwork and stress management tools for BIPOC employees at organizations such as Google, Visa, AMC Networks and more.
Learn more at https://www.zeeclarke.com/