How to Self Promote without Apology

Self promotion… my favorite thing. (Sarcasm) I prefer getting to know other people, not telling other people things I already know about myself. Where’s the fun in hearing yourself speak? (…said the introvert)

Simply doing the base-line level of self-promotion feels like I’m bragging and annoying, even though it’s necessary in order to reach my goals. One thing is for certain: I was not meant to blend in and be invisible. You should see the way I stand out at a conference or meeting for simply being female; I’m sure you know the feeling.

Since I was groomed since birth to be humble and modest to the point of invisibility, I definitely have to teach myself and practice how to self promote in ways that feel genuine. Below are some of the lessons I have learned about self-promotion from reading about it, as well as learning from those around me who are experts in it.

  1. Reframe how you think about self-promotion.
    • You’re sharing the truth of what you’ve accomplished.
  2. Acknowledge your own biases.
    • Do you judge others when they promote themselves? Aim to keep a neutral stance or even cheer them on!
  3. Practice saying the things you’re proud of out loud.
    • Rehearse your elevator pitch. Practice makes perfect.
    • Meet with friends weekly to talk about your latest wins.
    • Ask yourself questions: What are things I’m good at? What have I accomplished?
  4. Keep track of your achievements.
    • Having achievements listed and on-hand is great for performance reviews, raise negotiations, and job interviews!
    • Format does not matter. The point is to keep a running list of things you’ve achieved and are proud of!
  5. Learn to accept, not deflect, compliments
    • Do not minimize your accomplishments by saying it was not a big deal. Reply instead with:
      • “Yes, it was quite a challenge.”
      • “I’m excited to have accomplished that.”
      • “Thank you!”
  6. Build a culture at work that celebrates self-promotion
    • Find a self-promotion role model and ask how they have learned self-promotion.
    • If you are a manager, ask your direct reports how they would like their work to be recognized.
    • Encourage others to self-promote by leading by example.

Gender and racial stereotypes can impact our perception about a person’s competence and ability. If you identify with a demographic that is underrepresented in your field, you may face underestimation by colleagues, coworkers, and bosses as a result of conscious and unconscious bias. People on the receiving end of biases are less likely to get credit for their ideas, are more interrupted in meetings, and have less influence on their teams.

Self promotion becomes so much more important (and taxing) when you are underestimated. You must expend energy to counter the stereotypes people have of you, perhaps going against societal expectations in order for people to become aware of your knowledge, skills, and accomplishments.

Standing out for successes can bring additional challenges. For instance, cultural expectations for women to be modest are often more heavily defended by women than men, which brings rise to issues like Tall Poppy Syndrome.

Because self promotion, when applied correctly, helps organizations function more efficiently through increased transparency and communication, organizations should facilitate a culture celebrating self-promotion that has a particular focus on supporting those affected by negative stereotyping (who must navigate bias and cope with self-doubt from exposure to bias). Consulting a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) expert would be the first step to determine how to create that healthy culture where all employees are seen and feel valued for their contributions.

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