In general, women leaders tend to navigate toward working hard, consensus building, and being a part of the team as opposed to promoting themselves within their organization to obtain social capital and gain advancement. This is one reason there are fewer women in key roles at the C-Suite level and why knowing how to market yourself is an essential leadership skill.

Multiple studies have examined this phenomenon. As a leadership coach, I focus on helping women healthcare leaders develop the skills they need to move confidently into the roles of CEOs, department heads, and other significant positions. Self-promotion is one of those necessary skills.

Women Leaders Need to Promote Themselves

Anne Libby, a New York-based consultant, suggests that women for too long have assumed that simply working hard will bring them the career path they want. “Yes, we women are great at working hard, keeping our heads down, and doing a good job. We’ve earned more college degrees than men since the mid-90s.”

Yet in her article, Stand Out for Success: The Secrets of Self Promotion, she notes that women make up only 3 percent of the CEOs in Fortune 500 companies. She concludes that part of the reason is women are reluctant to promote themselves. 

The Importance of Taking Credit

Andy Chan reaches a similar conclusion in an article he wrote for about women scientific researchers having a much smaller chance at full professorship or obtaining grant money when compared with male counterparts. The reason: women researchers did not include positive, self-promotional terminology in their abstracts for their scholarly findings.

His article lays the blame at workplace culture that encourages women to be demure while encouraging men to be front and center in discussing their successes. In their book, How Women Rise, authors Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith, observe that women are reluctant to claim credit, believing that good work should speak for itself.

“A lot of women seem uncomfortable using the “I” word, so they always try to spread the credit around. This might make them good people, but it doesn’t help their career people,” they write. When women are asked why they struggle with claiming their achievements these are typical responses: “I believe great work should speak for itself. I have no desire to be like that shameless self-promoter down the hall.”

Finding a Middle Ground

Let’s emphasize that you do not have to choose between the extremes of being obnoxious or being invisible. Women can take credit for their exemplary work while being gracious at the same time. If a colleague compliments a project, acknowledge with a simple thank you. How often have you heard the cliché that “there is no I in team”?  Acknowledge the work of the team but claim credit for your role as the leader. 

How can we change these trends? We must develop working environments that celebrate the successes of all individuals, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or other differences. Inclusive, supportive work environments become safe places for women to share their successes.

As women leaders, we must also do our part. There are multiple ways to promote your skills, accomplishments, and strategies within the workplace and within your industry. 

How to Market Yourself and Turn the Spotlight on Your Achievements

  • Blog about topics trending within your area of expertise. You can write for your own website or offer to be a guest columnist for others. Writing with authority on a topic that you are knowledgeable about builds your credibility.
  • Find out about awards and recognitions within your organization. If you’ve contributed significantly to your company, your achievement can be shared in a newsletter or posted on your company’s social media. Each shout-out increases your social capital.
  • Find speaking opportunities outside your organization. Volunteer to speak at community events, webinars, and industry conferences where you can share your knowledge with others. 
  • Network with others within your organization. Build a group of close coworkers with whom you can promote each other and share each other’s achievements.

By stepping outside your comfort zone and finding ways to share your achievements, you are learning how to market yourself and gaining another essential skill for your leadership path.

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