Keeping quiet about your achievements? Too “uncomfortable” to leverage your network? Convinced you don’t have enough skills to apply for a job? If this sounds familiar, it’s likely you’re one of the many women who are underselling themselves at work.
But why do we do this?
Rooted in factors from social conditioning to childhood influences, women generally have a tougher time speaking up about their accomplishments, positioning themselves as experts, or otherwise selling their qualifications and experience in the workplace. Fearful of ‘boasting’ or ‘bragging’, this can often result in us not tapping into our greatest assets – our skills, our networks and most importantly, our voices.
“Women often enter the workplace with a burden of having to ‘get it right’ for fear of judgement and this often holds them back from putting their hand up to try new things and take on roles that put them outside of their comfort zone,” says Kunjal Tanna, director and co-founder of recruitment agency LT Harper; a firm that works hard to hire women into the male-dominated cybersecurity industry.
“This is exacerbated by the fear of asking for help – sometimes women feel that if they admit to not knowing something, they’ll be found out,” she says.
The solution? “Companies should look to explore a more collaborative, ‘no-blame culture’, that encourages everyone to be creative and to take risks, and where women have the confidence to try something new rather than fearing the cost of getting something wrong.”
Worried that you’re underselling yourself at work? Read on for some sure-fire signs and what you can do about them.
Not sharing your achievements
In the workplace, “you can only be what you can see,” says Tanna. “If more women shared their achievements publicly and were comfortable with self-recognition and self-promotion, we’d create more visible role models for the future that other women would strive to emulate.”
Top tip: Write them down. The first step in showing off your achievements in all their glory is knowing what they are. Go through your CV line by line, noting down everything from your developed and developing skills, to your completed projects, business wins and the relationships you’ve fostered. Armed with a document of your key achievements, you are more likely to look at them objectively and recite them proudly (and blush-free.)
Not leveraging your network
Your network can be a huge factor in getting the job you want. “Companies take great stock of recommendations and they are often the most cost-effective way for a company to hire,” says Tanna.
However, when interviewing with a company, women are often less likely to ask a friend who works in the company to vouch for them, “women hesitate in asking for a reference from someone they know within a company in case they don’t do well in the interview, and it reflects poorly on their contact – instead of thinking about how it might benefit them,” she says.
Top tip. “Remember to have confidence in your abilities, and if it makes you feel any better, your friend could actually be rewarded for the referral,” says Tanna.
Presuming you don’t have enough skills
According to Tanna, women are more likely to apply for a job when they meet 100% of the job skill requirements. Men, on the other hand, tend to apply for jobs when they have about 60% of the required skills. “It’s important to remember that job specs are often ‘wish lists’ for employers, so I’d advise women to submit their application and demonstrate the key skills they bring to the table; rather than being held back by the ones they don’t have,” she says. “This is critical in order to increase the number of women in traditionally male-dominated industries.”
Trying to be someone you’re not
When it comes to being a woman in any workplace, especially in a male-dominated industry, authenticity is key. Women in male-dominated environments sometimes try to adopt typically ‘masculine’ traits and this can really negatively impact their performance.
“I know this from first-hand experience,” says Tanna. “Since I started leading in a more nurturing style – which is what comes naturally to me – I’ve felt more confident in my leadership style and the results have been reflected in that.”
Not going for promotions
Many of us are aware of the gender pay gap at work, but don’t forget the ‘confidence gap’ – women can tend to feel more negatively about failing in the workplace than men, and this impacts the promotions (and pay rises) they go for at work.
“It’s not a huge surprise that women feel more negatively about failing than men given that from a young age, many girls are taught to follow the rules, be careful and ‘be good,’ while many boys are encouraged to take risks and push boundaries,” says Tanna. “This plays out in the workplace where men will continuously ask for promotions and additional responsibility because, since childhood, they have been celebrated for trying things, exploring boundaries and getting things wrong with little or no negative feedback.”
“My advice is for women to acknowledge that they don’t need to know everything before they take a job and that, by asking for help and guidance, they will continue to develop new skills. In fact, in many cases, women actually do know more and are suffering from the well-documented ‘imposter syndrome’.”
“I would suggest a valuable exercise would be to look at your CV as a living document, making a point of periodically updating it with your latest achievements and successes. This way, you are always ready for new opportunities that come your way and can get into the habit of routinely going for them (men do this very well) rather than dusting your CV off every few years and being daunted by the task,” she says.
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