Heidi Isern

writer. thinker. whiskey drinker.

Be Demanding! Women Need to Self-Promote and Negotiate Better…

H.L Mencken once wrote. “Man is always looking for someone to boast to; woman is always looking for a shoulder to put her head on.”

Want to argue this? We have some work to do first.…

Unfortunately for feminists, studies indicate that men are still more likely than women to promote their achievements, negotiate better deals, and generally position themselves better for success.  We need to change this…and the best way is to start promoting ourselves.

I recently started a new job and drafted up a bio for myself.  The CEO looked it over and edited it to make it ‘snap’ a bit more.

“How’s this?” she asked.

“Looks good… it isn’t too aggressive, right?” I asked.

“Well, did you do all of those things?”

“Well, yes.”

“Then we need to highlight the best parts.”  My new boss looked at me. We had met on the ski slopes at an entrepreneurial event last winter not knowing that we would eventually end up in the same office.

She said, “You know when I first met you I had no idea what you did. I remember asking and you only mumbled a few modest things.  I didn’t know you had lead teams in Japan or managed million dollar projects for large clients.”

I wasn’t one to boast about my career trajectory, especially to new people that shared my ski lift.

“I didn’t know I needed to promote myself then….”

“But I just thought you were another silly media girl,” she retorted.

If she hadn’t learned about my achievements or seen my work through multiple meetings in her office, I likely would have never been offered a position.  Most people don’t get the opportunity for second impressions.  I had learned my lesson.

“In Silicon Valley I need you to confidently and calmly talk about your achievements,” she said.  “These guys need to know what you have done….right away.”

I was shocked to hear this.  I’m confident, strong, and successful. I present to executives.  I close deals.  I also work hard promoting women’s success. However, I instantly realized that I had a hard time promoting myself in new situations.  For years I’d been taught to be polite and “Under promise, over deliver.” That’s just plain bad advice.

“Over promise and then knock it out of the ballpark” should be the new mantra.

A few years ago I went to a Women Leadership Conference at the Haas School of Business at Berkeley.  One of the speakers had conducted a study where they asked men and women in a peer group to rate themselves and then rate each other on different levels of merit.  The men consistently rated themselves higher than their peers rated them.  The women rated themselves lower.  I asked a colleague why women were always so quick to downgrade their accomplishments and skill sets.

She told me, “Women are too hesitant to self promote—we think it’s bad manners.”

Unfortunately having good manners doesn’t help us in negotiations.

There was an interesting Harvard Business School article published when I was getting my MBA 7 years ago. It stated that men have been conditioned to believe in entitlement and thus negotiate better conditions for themselves than women, at least in conditions of ambiguity.  The article interviewed Riley Bowles, co author of “Psychology of Leadership: Some New Approaches.”

Riley stated, “If you bring men and women into the lab and you say either one of two things: “Work until you think you’ve earned the $10 we just gave you,” or “Work and then tell us how much you think you deserve,” the women work longer hours with fewer errors for comparable pay, and pay themselves less for comparable work.” This effect only goes away if women and men are aware of a set standard.

I’d like to think things have changed since the publication date, but as I look at the small, disproportionate amount of women entrepreneurs getting VC funding and women executives getting equal pay, I wonder if we still need to alter our style.  Speaking up and talking up is the only way we will show we are accomplished equals and get what we are after.

As far as bad manners, we don’t need to worry. I’ve already asked around.  Males and females alike think being demanding is sexy.

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