By Alnisa Bell • April 05, 2017•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector
Self-promotion often causes immense yet unnecessary stress and anxiety for many women, including me. (To be honest, even the title of this blog post makes me cringe!). Even though I went to an all-girls high school and a women’s college, where I was empowered and encouraged to make my voice heard, I still struggle with promoting myself professionally. This may have started in college: at Bryn Mawr, my peers were all very intelligent and capable, and we were discouraged from openly discussing grades in order to foster a less competitive environment. Unfortunately, I may have taken this approach with me into the professional world where this silence does not translate well.
A couple posts ago, I spoke about mentorship and sponsorship. That’s important here because your accomplishments should be known by those who will make the important decisions to advance your career. And how best will they learn about them? Directly from the source—me and you. To be sure, the legal industry (and most corporate environments) simply does not reward women who idly sit back and wait for others to recognize their accomplishments. As women, we are often socialized to be humble and to keep our heads down with our nose to the grindstone. We hope that someone will take note of our work ethic and promote us for the exact position we want even though we have not made our intentions known. And wouldn’t that be lovely? But it likely won’t happen. Therefore, sitting back is not an option.
So what do we do? Take the bull by the horns and “post and boast” (a method introduced to me by my husband). It is easier said than done I know, but nonetheless it is necessary. For women of color, in particular, I am reminded of the ABA Commission on Women’s study, Invisible Visibility: Women of Color in Law Firms, which discusses how many women of color at firms feel invisible due to feelings of isolation and unwanted scrutiny plagued with lack of access to quality work assignments and meaningful client interaction. On the other hand, these women are also hypervisible by virtue of their minority status. With this in mind, posting and boasting is incredibly necessary for the career advancement of women of color.
It wasn’t shocking that my husband shared this wisdom with me because, unlike women, men are socialized to be assertive and to “sell themselves.” So posting and boasting comes naturally to my husband—in fact, it was taught to him—but not to me. To that end, when something does not come naturally, you have to practice (and keep practicing). I’ve found that I need to make a concerted effort to do it, and the more I do it, the more comfortable it becomes. Even now I’m not yet at the point of complete comfort and I may never be. Regardless, I have goals and refuse to allow my discomfort to interfere with achieving them.
Here are some helpful tips to tackling posting and boasting:
Do things. Be on the lookout (and ask your network to help with this too!) for opportunities that highlight your expertise, your capabilities, and even just ones that align with your interests. And keep an open mind as ideas and opportunities come to you.
Be intentional about posting and boasting your accomplishments. Ask yourself what you have to do to ensure the key players know your successes. Making sure your accomplishments are understood and recognized should be part of your career development plan. Then, execute on that plan.
Strike the right balance between humility and self-promotion. Do not overdo it. Know your audience and post when appropriate on successes that matter and reflect favorably on both you and the firm.
Build yourself up. Before posting and boasting, I’ve often found myself repeating this mantra: I got this…I GOT THIS. Once you build yourself up, confidently and humbly boast your accomplishments. If you got it, flaunt it!
Remember there is no right way to self-promote. All that matters is that the key players know your successes and are advocating for you when it matters.