Career Women: Their Own Worst Enemies?

book_cover_lg.jpgBy Zoe Cruz (New York City)

A study published in “The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance: Earning What You’re Worth in Sales” by Shannon L. Goodson, made news last week.
Ms. Goodson, co-founder and president of Behavioral Sciences Research Press, is a specialist in visibility management. She compared nearly 11,500 professional women with about 16, 700 men from 34 countries, and concluded, “Being able to draw attention to your contributions and competencies at work has become an important part of modern career management, and it is something most women are still unwilling or unable to do as consistently as their male counterparts.” Reuters printed the findings in an article entitled “Career women are their own worst enemies: study”.

According to the study, men get further ahead in the workplace because they feel little or no reluctance, uneasiness, guilt, or shame, in self-promotion. Men often climb up the corporate ladder with ease; women don’t because most women “still cling to the myth that self-promotion is “socially unacceptable”, “unlady-like” and “morally suspect” says Goodson.

Although the problems are universal, Goodson said that women in Great Britain, the United States and China were better at self promotion than their counterparts in New Zealand, Sweden, Australia and Canada.

Another disturbing observation in Goodson’s study is that there are women executives who achieve success but do not encourage, promote, or assist in helping other women to advance in the company. In these cases, women “actually prefer male managers to female managers, claiming men are more consistent and fair-minded than women,” Goodson disclosed to Reuters. These prejudices, Goodson believes, contribute to her contention that “women did not create the glass ceiling, the invisible barrier blamed for limiting their ability to earn what they’re worth, but they help maintain it.” To break through, women need to be more assertive, ambitious, and more comfortable with themselves and moving up the ladder. Increasing their comfort with networking and making presentations will also help, says Goodson.

Ah, but how? As the study that’s gotten so much press is a small part of a 400+ page book–and as no answers seemed forthcoming in the Reuters article–I did a quick search of Amazon’s recent listings for “women in business, 2008.” This led me to “Designed for Success: The 10 Commandments for Women in the Workplace” by Dondi Scumaci. Although I initially balked at the high heel shoe on the cover, I was won over by a link to the author’s blog, and her response to a question regarding the difference between men and women interviewing for the same job.

Scumaci writes, “Recently, a hiring manager wrote to me with a very interesting observation. [The manager] said, ‘I am screening candidates right now for two regional positions and there is a strong distinction between men, who come across so much more confident and eager. They often have a planned strategy for their career where women don’t.’ You’ll notice she did not say the men were brighter or more qualified. The difference was that they came to the table with confidence, energy, and a solid plan. This is a good example of how women can undersell themselves or fail to market themselves effectively.”

Scumaci suggests three steps that women can take to make a better, stronger, more positive impression:

  1. Develop your career plan! Reach into the future at least 5 years, set your goals, and create a roadmap. Your career is one of the most important projects you will ever manage. Treat it like a project by defining your objectives, developing a timeline, and identifying the milestones. This way, when people ask, you’ll be able to share your vision immediately. This alone shows confidence, planning and structure that can be valuable in any situation and would be an asset to a prospective employer or client.

  2. Learn how to tell your stories well. The book suggests that you have five stories on the tip of your tongue to market yourself effectively, and that you share them openly, honestly and with confidence.

  3. Confidence can be learned with practice. Even when you don’t feel it you can still portray confidence to those around you. When you find yourself in a low-confidence situation think of the most confident person you know and visualize what she (or he) would do in this situation. She would probably make eye contact and smile. Her posture would be open. She might lean forward to strengthen the connection and use natural gestures. Internally, she would allow herself to be “in the moment,” and she would give herself permission to take a risk. Even if you don’t feel like that self-assured person, you can do all of the things that he or she would. No one outside yourself ever needs to know (or suspect!) that you aren’t just like that confident person that you pictured in your own mind a few minutes ago.

The bottom line: It does us no good to bemoan the latest study, or to feel bad about apparent gender disparities in the corporate universe. We need to inform ourselves, train and develop ourselves, and help ourselves and each other to make the working world better for women.

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0 Response

  1. I’d been reading about that better, stronger impression in a great little book called Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why by Donald Asher. It’s nice to see the topics mentioned here. I’ll have to take a look at Designed for Success as well.

  2. I’m intrigued by the criticism of women who find self promotion morally questionable. Most often, it is.

    I have been a top wall street salesperson for years and I am proud that I have never been good at political self promotion. Perhaps, I have that luxury because in sales success and failure is quantifiable.

    When I have not been given proper credit, it has always been the direct result of lies from a self promoting peer or boss. Under those conditions, I have no issue defending the truth and claiming my achievements as my own. If my CEO cannot distinguish lies from truths, I simply find a wiser leader to support.

  3. Not a self promotion fan

    I think Ms Cruz is correct in her observations that men tend to be happier to self promote, and that this often results in greater promotion prospects compared to women. However I really take exception to her conclusions, which ask women to improve their self promotion skills, so they can market themselves more effectively. This advice seems to tell women that in order to be successful they should be more like men, instead of tackling the real problem- which is the fact that promotion/ recruitment systems are outdated and do not assist women to progress. Perhaps its time we learnt to value the skills which women bring to the table- such as team work and humility, instead of trying to change ourselves to fit into an traditionally masculine mould.

  4. Shelley

    No offense to the previous poster but if you feel that you must “change yourself” in order to secure a position which you think you may be qualified for, in what may be considered a masculine job, then perhaps you’re either misunderstanding what Ms. Cruz is talking about or perhaps you’re not right for this kind of work to begin with.

    What Ms. Cruz is saying is NOT that you must change anything about yourself! It’s that you must be able to go into an interview with not only a positive attitude but also be able to address the individual who is interviewing you with very positive ways YOU will be able to succeed in the job they have open.

    In doing that you simply present different scenarios…ways…examples, etc. of how you can bring in more business or clients for this company. Ideas for generating revenue. Things like that. It’s called being excited about their job and yourself being in it! Yes, to a degree it’s self promotion but it’s also being SMART and every employer is looking for a SMART perspective employee!!

    Team work is always important, humility – well I’m not sure where you’re going there. One shouldn’t continually boast about what they’ve done, etc. but in a meeting, let’s say, if they’re asked about their monthly sales and they’ve had their best month of the year, they need to say so!

    All of the above is not an attempt to change oneself or to fit into some sort of “traditionally masculine mold.” It’s doing a good job selling/showing one’s ability to a perspective employer – nothing more! And that’s something women need to learn how to do a lot better better, nothing more, other than it’s very important!

  5. Shelley

    Woops, it should have been PROSPECTIVE (twice) in the previous post. *sigh* Long day and I didn’t spell check – sorry about that!