Some women experience anxiety when required to showcase their accomplishments and skills.
At the same time, they also understand that self-promotion, personal marketing, and “selling yourself” can be required to be achieve recognition and rewards at work.
Gender norms about “modesty” can contribute to women’s discomfort in highlighting their accomplishments.
These implicit rules advocate that women:
- hold a moderate opinion of their skills,
- appear humble and avoid pretentiousness,
- disclaim personal responsibility for success,
- accept personal responsibility for failure.
In contrast, many American men proactively showcase their skills, and observers see self-promoting men as “competent,” “capable,” and “confident.”
And men who do not advertise their successes generally experience “backlash” like women who self-promote, according to Skidmore’s Corinne Moss-Racusin, Julie Phelan of Langer Research Associates, and Rutgers’ Laurie Rudman.
This suggests that anyone who behaves contrary to expected gender stereotypes may be less favorably evaluated and advance more slowly in careers.
Women from cultures that value cooperation, collaboration, and collective accomplishment face limited career advancement if they conform to these norms in self-promoting work cultures, found York University‘s Marie‐Hélène Budworth and Sara L. Mann of University of Guelph.
Likewise, women who adhere to implicit “female modesty” expectations are less likely to ask for promotions and salary increases.
This reluctance contributed to women’s long-term pay disparity according to University of Pennsylvania’s Deborah A. Small, Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, University of Maryland’s Michele Gelfand and Hilary Gettman.
However, if women violate “modesty norms,” they can experience discrimination in hiring, promotion, and wages, reported Rutgers’ Rudman and Peter Glick of Lawrence University and other adverse interpersonal consequences, according to Yale’s Victoria Brescoll.
People who violate norms typically experience physical arousal including discomfort, anxiety, fear, nervousness, perspiration, increased heart rate, noted University of Waterloo’s Mark Zanna and Joel Cooper of Princeton.
However, if participants attribute this physical activation to “excitement” rather than norm violation, they were more likely to:
- Engage in self-promotion,
- Express interest in self-promotion,
- More effectively describe their accomplishments.
Despite women’s – and some men’s – career “double bind,” people can consciously communicate more effectively about their successes, demonstrated in studies by Montana State University’s Jessi L. Smith and Meghan Huntoon.
More than 75 women wrote sample essays for a merit-based scholarship valued up to USD $5,000.
One group was composed essays about their own accomplishments whereas another group wrote about another person’s accomplishments.
They also completed Achievement Goal Questionnaire – Revised by University of Rochester Andrew Elliot and Kou Murayama of Tokyo Institute of Technology to evaluate “performance approach” and “performance avoidance.”
The laboratory contained a black box described as a “subliminal noise generator.”
Half the volunteers were told the box produced “inaudible but potentially uncomfortable ultra-high frequency noise,” and they were later asked to evaluate “the effects of extraneous distractions on task performance.”
The remaining participants received no information about the black box.
Women who could attribute their experience to the “noise generator” produced higher-quality, more convincing descriptions of their achievements, measured by being awarded significantly higher scholarships prizes.
These women also said they were more interested in the task, which is typically associated with greater intrinsic motivation to showcase personal accomplishments.
In contrast, women who violated the “modesty” norm without reference to the “noise generator” said they:
- Reported less interest in describing their achievements,
- Negatively evaluated their performance,
- Produced lower-quality essays,
- Were more likely to report fear of failure.
Women perceived as displaying their accomplishments in essays were negatively evaluated by judges, who awarded significantly less to people wrote about their own accomplishments rather than about someone else’s.
One “workaround” for this self-promotion double bind is to reciprocally advocate for colleagues.
This strategy highlights colleagues’ accomplishments as organizational policies evolve to encourage everyone’s self-promotion.
An example is Google’s self-nomination process for advancement and promotion, coupled with reminder emails to submit self-nominations.
When people redefine showcasing their professional accomplishments as “part of the job,” they tend to perform more effectively and experience less cognitive dissonance.
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