Why don’t women self-promote and how they can start?

Picture of Kelechi Okeahialam

Kelechi Okeahialam

Senior Consultant

Women consistently rate their performance lower than men. At least that’s what a recent working paper by the National Bureau of Economic Research found. When men and women were tested and scored the same score, when reflecting on their performance, men on average gave themselves a 61 out of 100 and women only gave themselves 46 out of 100. This undervaluation occurred even when women were told this self–evaluation would be used to decide whether to hire them and what to pay them.

This is important because self–promotion is an essential component of work. It improves the chances of being promoted, getting a raise or bonus, or getting hired in the first place. It is also an important part of life because self–promotion is a way to solidify how great you are, to feel more confident and put you in a position to continuously self–promote and feel good.

Many argue that the self–promotion gap is simply a self–confidence gap with men being more confident than women. However, the study found that confidence alone did not explain the difference in self – promotion – less confident men still self–promoted more than more confident women. Others also argue that women are less motivated by the incentives that come with self–promotion in the workplace such as external recognition, so the self–promotion gap is natural and accepted. Furthermore, the same study found there was no evidence that men self–promoted more because they cared more about strategic incentives than women. In fact, when the strategic incentive was taken away men still rated themselves more highly.

If confidence and incentives cannot explain this difference, what else can? According to a  study, carried out by employee research firm ISR, women don’t self–promote as much as men because they don’t want to alienate people who are less successful. This would explain why women choose to internalise the need of self-promotion, even when the audience is available. Other research that identifies that women who do choose to self-promote face negative backlash further reinforces this. If women are more likely to be punished for self–promotion in the workplace than men, they are more likely to hide their successes at work impacting the number of women who get promoted vs men.

Since there isn’t one reason alone that causes women to self-promote less than men, there is unlikely to be one straight forward answer to resolve this difference. Whatever the solution, it will not be for women alone to implement, but for companies and importantly the men within those companies to implement.

One possible solution is for women to have self–promotion accountability relationships. This could be with other women in the same network, formal or informal mentors, or even a close family member. Either way, they would all be reminders to self-promote with confidence more frequently. We must also be mindful ourselves and avoid being part of the problem. We must celebrate other women’s positives and help them celebrate their success on their behalf. Companies can also support this by reducing the importance of, or eliminating self – evaluation in performance assessments so the onus is not on women to change their behaviour, but for companies to find other ways of evaluating their employees. This is not to say that women shouldn’t change their behaviour, but the environment should allow women to feel comfortable self-promoting. For example, the men in the company need to be advocates, and steps need to be taken so the self–promotion will not be viewed in a negative way.

Self-promotion is an essential component of work and is often coupled with career progression and promotion. It’s also important for more selfish reasons: solidifying how great you are, reinforcing your confidence, and confirming your abilities. We hope individuals and organisations will take this on board and create an environment where women self–promote more and their work is valued more too.

At Finyx, we ensure that everyone regardless of gender is provided with a platform to promote their successes. We take into account that women are often more self-deprecating about their success than men, however we would never hold this against them in their quarterly performance review.