When I talk about the importance of self-promotion for women, I get a lot of head nods. Intellectually, everyone seems to get it. We have all read the research that validates the necessity of promoting oneself in order to establish the credibility and visibility required in the workplace today for advancement. We get it but we don’t do it. At least we don’t do it very effectively.
It’s hard to talk about oneself without feeling like we’re bragging. We have been so conditioned to take the back seat and wait to be recognized. So we often have this inner argument about how to proceed with authentic self-promotion. We know we should do more of it. We know we should be better at it. But at the same time, it’s much more comfortable to stay focused on doing our work.
I’ve often discussed in this blog that once you understand your value proposition and how you contribute to the organization, self-promotion takes on a different purpose. You are letting others know of your accomplishments and your value proposition and offering to help in ways that benefit the organization. Self-promotion is a leadership skill. It is your responsibility to talk about what you and your team have achieved, not only for your own benefit, but for the team and the company. It’s how you create influence. It’s how you sell your ideas across the organization.
Taking the time to actively and strategically spread the word about the work you and your team have accomplished is critical for your career success. It is necessary in order to establish your leadership potential across the organization. The only way this is going to happen is if you put time aside each week to meet with key people in your department and in different business units. Let them know what you’re working on. Ask them what challenges they have and offer to help. What possible solutions might you have that have worked in similar situations? This helps you and your team and helps the organization move its initiatives forward.
Shift your mindset that self-promotion is all about YOU. Yes, you benefit. But so does your team and your company. In its absence, the organization cannot build on your success. They can’t use your ideas to further their initiatives. They simply don’t know what they don’t know. How did you and your team make that project successful? What types of solutions did you develop? What was your thought process?
Self-promotion is a leadership skill and when you promote yourself and your team across the organization, everyone wins including the organization.
“I don’t have time to go out for drinks with the guys or play golf so how do I build relationships?” I often get asked this question when I do live presentations.
It is true that once you identify the informal networks of influencers in your workplace, you will find out that they hang out together after work either playing poker, golf, or having drinks. It is also true that many women don’t have the time for these get togethers as they have responsibilities at home. And many women would rather not participate in these types of activities even if they had the time.
So the question is: How do you build relationships with the men in your organization that have power and influence?
The answer is: On your terms!
Don’t use the reason that you can’t play after work as an excuse for not doing what you know is important for your career advancement. There is always more than one way to accomplish your goal of building relationships with key stakeholders.
Once you identify who you need in your power network, schedule at least one meeting per week for coffee or lunch with one contact. Everyone has time to schedule this type of meeting during the week. Meeting one on one is a much more effective way to begin to build relationships than in a group anyway.
Don’t overwhelm yourself with an ambitious agenda for the meeting. Do some homework to gather information about your contact. Observe them in the workplace to see how they communicate and what interests them and write out some preliminary questions that will help you get to know them better.
Always be prepared to talk about your accomplishments and your goals and look for opportunities to help them be more successful based on your value proposition.
The lesson here is that you don’t have to play golf, poker, or go drinking to build important relationships. Don’t use that as an excuse to avoid expanding your network and building credibility with the people who can help you move your career forward.
We know that nothing stays the same for very long and in the current business environment you need to be prepared for the many changes that take place every day. Companies reorganize to stay profitable and marketable. Mergers and acquisitions are ever present. All these changes directly affect your career and your ability to thrive in the workplace.
How do you stay on top? Manage the politics!
Even if there is no imminent threat, you must never get too comfortable. Your boss could leave the company for any reason, and if he/she is the only person in the company who knows what you are doing, you are very vulnerable! Don’t let yourself get caught in this trap of complacency.
Here are 10 tips to manage the politics and stay on top in the workplace:
- Pay attention to who has the power and influence in your organization.
- Understand who controls the resources (budget, people etc.)
- Create a detailed list of these key stakeholders.
Your focus is making everyone around you happy. This includes spouses/partners, children, family, colleagues, friends, and bosses. You want everyone to not only be happy, but to be pleased with you. You like doing things for others. You are most content when you are recognized for helping other people achieve their goals and dreams.
What about your goals?
What about your dreams?
If you are a pleaser, then your goals and dreams are just not as important as the people in your world; the people you care about. Less focus, less energy is spent on you. You fall to the bottom of your priority list.
As women, we are programmed to be pleasers. We feel selfish when we do things for ourselves. We are not comfortable asking for anything for us. Am I right?
Well, I hope you can see this is a trap. This attitude and accompanying behavior robs you of the energy to have the life and career that you want. You are expending most of your energy on others and there is very little left for yourself.
In the workplace, you are a team player. You are well liked by your colleagues. You go out of your way to help them out even when time is an issue in your already cramped schedule. As you begin to build your network and relationships in the organization, you are the first to offer assistance, but often the last to ask for anything in return.
I hope you see this is a trap.
You need a village to help you achieve your career goals. You need to build relationships of trust and confidence and it certainly helps if people like you and want to work with you. They are more likely to help you move your career forward. However, we need to be better at asking for the help we need to improve our performance or gain more visibility in the company. We don’t need to be 100% self serving, but we do need to shift our focus a bit from helping everyone else to helping ourselves achieve our own dreams.
Consider a two step process. You offer to help and then at some point you ask for a favor in return. It’s that simple. That favor might be an introduction to someone in your organization. It might mean making a call to the IT department to help you move a project along. Whatever it is, don’t forget the second step; the ask. You can please others by offering to help and they will be more than willing to help you in return.
Everyone wins! Now doesn’t that please you?
Women excel academically. We are currently earning almost 60% of college degrees, about 50% of doctorates, and roughly 45% of MBA’s. We are more prepared than ever to assume leadership roles in business. Yet just 4.2 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. So why hasn’t women’s academic success translated to more leadership positions in the workplace?
The answer lies in the fact that different skills are necessary to succeed in school versus the workplace, and this is vitally important for women to recognize if they have any ambition to advance to leadership roles.
In school, success is based on industriousness. You work diligently and you are rewarded with good grades. In the workplace, however, the rules of the game are not so simple. Although hard work and good performance are important, often promotions are based on the ability to work the politics and promote oneself with intention. Women shy away from this type of self promotion, and as a consequence remain invisible and often passed over for promotions.
A recent article in The Atlantic commented on this:
“Just as important, the behaviors that school rewards—studying, careful preparation, patient climbing from one level to the next—seem to give women an advantage academically, judging from the fact that they get higher grades in college than men do. Yet these behaviors aren’t necessarily so helpful in the workplace. Out in the work world, people hire and promote based on personality as much as on formal qualifications, and very often networking can trump grinding away.”
Also, it is important to note that gender bias still exists in the work place. Often women are left on their own to battle the discrimination that is often subtle and hidden.
The Atlantic article further states:
“Women begin to fall behind the moment they leave school. Even controlling for their college major and professional field, they wind up being paid 7 percent less than men, on average, one year after graduating, according to a 2012 study by the American Association of University Women. One reason is that they take fewer risks right out of the gate: they are much less likely to negotiate their first salary—57 percent of men do this, versus 7 percent of women. Compared with their male peers, women also set less ambitious goals. A McKinsey study published last April found that 36 percent of male employees at major companies hope to be top executives, compared with just 18 percent of female employees.”
Once again it comes down to making an intentional choice to embrace your ambition and set a strategic plan for your career. Understanding what it takes to be successful is the first step!
Learning how to effectively promote yourself and navigate the workplace politics is vital for your success.
How serious are you about moving your career forward? Once you can say to yourself with commitment that you have higher career aspirations, put a strategic plan to get to reach your goals. Understand what it takes and learn the necessary skills to make it happen.
One of the most important lessons I learned from my 20 year corporate career was that the workplace is a highly political environment where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets access to scarce resources and who gets the plum assignments are not just determined by performance. We would love to believe that our talent and hard work alone will get us ahead, but that’s not reality. Yes, we need to do a great job; that’s a given. But it takes more than that to advance your career.
If we are unaware of the politics and workplace culture and believe that our hard work will get us ahead, we are setting ourselves up to be blindsided. It happened to me, and now it has become my main message to women that they need to understand the importance of politics in decision making and embrace the politics if they want to get ahead and stay ahead.
This November, I am giving a workshop at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association conference in Boston on the Politics of Promotion. This workshop, like many I offer, will give women the tools they need to succeed in the political environment.
Joining me today are two women executives from HBA. Our discussion will focus on the topic of the politics of promotion as we all share our experiences and lessons learned.
Taren Grom is the publisher and founder of PharmaVOICE magazine. She serves as the director of corporate engagement on the HBA board.
Carol Meerschaert is the director of marketing and communications for the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association.
It’s a girl’s night out. You are meeting five of your good friends for dinner at a local restaurant. Have you ever noticed how you and your friends jockey for position at the table? Who sits next to whom? Who shares information with whom? Yes. It’s politics.
Observe your child at school or at play. Have you ever noticed how certain children play together and avoid others? How children will try to influence the teacher? How some children will always want to sit next to each other at lunch? It’s politics.
So why are we surprised that there are politics in the workplace? Whenever you have more than one person, there are politics. We just don’t always recognize it as such.
Our mindset dictates how we react towards this reality. When we label it as “politics” all of a sudden, we find it distasteful and shy away from it, even though it is a reality of our life (unless we live alone on a desert island somewhere).
For women, understanding that politics is a reality in the workplace is critical for advancement. To our detriment, we avoid, ignore, and do not comprehend how politics impacts our careers. The consequence of this lack of engagement is a not only a lack of advancement but also the increased probability of being blindsided at some point in our career. Without access to the informal networks, decision makers and influencers, we don’t have the necessary information to position ourselves appropriately.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What comes to mind when I think about politics in the workplace?
2. How do I feel about the people who are politically savvy and work the system?
3. What specifically bothers me about them?
4. Do I admire them at all? Why?
5. Do I work in an organization that promotes solely on performance?
I am currently writing a book about politics in the workplace. I would greatly appreciate your input. Please email me your responses to the above questions. The responses will remain anonymous.
It happened to me. I was blindsided. I was an AVP with a track record of great accomplishments. My territory consistently performed well and exceeded budgeted gross and net income. I was able to grow the business significantly by adding new product lines and I had a reputation as a supportive and fair manager.
A re-organization in the company resulted in my position reporting to someone new; someone with whom I did not have a relationship and who had a reputation as being difficult. I kept my distance from him. He was part of the “boy’s club” that ran the company.
With the re-organization, a VP position became available. I let him know that I was interested. It was a natural step up given my experience. Many of my direct reports called him to lobby on my behalf. I truly believed that my achievement in the AVP role would land me the job, no question.
But that assumption was a big mistake! The newly appointed SVP had his own agenda for the territory and the business. Because I had no relationship with him, I didn’t know what was involved in the decision making process. What I thought was a shoe-in, ended up being a “blindside”. I did not get the promotion.
High potential women are more confident than ever. Recent studies by Catalyst show that we are getting better about letting others know of our achievements and asking for promotions. But if we continue to avoid the politics, we will continue to set ourselves up to fail.
The workplace is a political environment where decisions about who gets ahead, who gets access to scarce resources and plum assignments are made behind closed doors, doors that are often closed to women. Informal networks, sometimes referred to as the “boys club”, have the power and influence over career decisions. Because women don’t have access to these networks and don’t have access to critical information about how decisions are being made, they risk being blindsided. They simply don’t know the rules of the game.
According to research, there is still a gender gap when it comes to compensation. In 2011, women earned 17.8% less than men across different industries. Over a 40 year career, that amounts to $431,000! So a woman with the same education, same qualifications, and same experience as a man will earn almost a half a million dollars LESS over the course of her career simply because she is a woman and not a man!
The biggest part of the problem is that we don’t negotiate well for our first job. That first salary is the stepping stone for future offers and if we don’t receive fair compensation then, we begin our careers behind men with equal qualifications. Men are more confident negotiating their salaries and it works to their benefit. Typical female behavior is to say “thank you” and accept the job as offered.
How much influence do we have over our compensation?
According to Catalyst, these things work well for women:
- Making her achievements known to her manager, seeking feedback and credit as appropriate, asking for a promotion when deserved.
- Gaining access to powerful executive sponsors who “go to bat” for her behind closed doors.
- A corporate culture that encourages women to “self-promote” and fosters sponsorship in addition to mentorship.
I would add to this list:
- Understand your unique value proposition and learn how to articulate this across the organization.
- Negotiate for fair compensation and benefits with the knowledge that your value benefits the organization.
- Identify the “politics” and how decisions are made in your organization.
- Build a strategic network of people who can positively influence your career.
- Leverage these relationships. Ask for high profile assignments. Ask for promotions and new opportunities.
- Let others know your ambition.
Lastly, and perhaps most important, change your mind set about your potential.
You don’t need to know everything about a new position before you take it. You do need to build the case for how your past achievements demonstrate that you have the potential to be successful in a new position. Use this new mind set to lobby and negotiate for promotions and additional responsibilities. This is a great lesson we can learn from our male counterparts!
Hopefully most professional women now understand the importance of taking credit for their accomplishments and promoting themselves across the organization to gain visibility and credibility. There have been many studies by Catalyst and other organizations that support the necessity of promotion for career advancement for women.
Understanding your value proposition and being able to confidently articulate this to others is the first important step in promoting yourself in the workplace. The ability to self promote begins with an inner journey of self-reflection to gain an understanding of what you bring to the table and how it benefits others in the organization or the company.
The second step is the determination of how, when, where, and to whom you should promote yourself. This requires political savvy or a sensitivity to the culture and people involved as well as a strategic focus to figure out who needs to know the information about you for your advancement.
It does no good whatsoever to promote yourself in a way that turns people against you. In fact, it can do more harm than good. If the culture in your organization does not respond positively to powerful women and there are not many women with top leadership roles, you might make the assumption that your promotion needs to be subtle and personal.
Like any other relationship in or out of the workplace, it takes some time to develop trust and mutual respect. Take the time to get to know the person with whom you are communicating. What is important to them? What interests them? How does your value proposition benefit them? Can you offer some support on a project? Collaborating on a project is a great way to gain visibility and showcase your skills without blowing your own horn. What other opportunities are there in your organization?
If you have a boss who never gives you feedback, ask for it. Send weekly status updates. Request feedback to determine if you are on the right track and meeting expectations. Keep track of your accomplishments over the year to help you prepare for your performance review.
What is the culture in your organization?
How receptive is this culture to assertive women?
Do you have any female role models who have leadership positions? Look at how they communicate. What has led to their success?
As you build your own internal and external power network, build relationships and listen and watch for clues that will help you position and promote yourself in a savvy manner.
We can learn to articulate our value proposition but we also need to be mindful of how best to communicate this to others for the maximum impact.