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Published on November 2, 2022

The Insecure Businesswomen’s Guide to Getting Kudos

Women are told that we earn less than men because we a) don’t fight harder for it and b) are less pushy about our accomplishments. Probably true…but there are two main reasons for this. One, when women are “pushy” about anything it backfires on us. This is due to outdated societal expectations that we should always be likable and demure. Two, women tend to suffer more from “imposter syndrome,” so owning our accomplishments is much harder.

Are there hacks that can help here? With respect to scoring more personal recognition, author Caroline Webb has some advice on how to do this subtly. And no, it’s not fair women have to play such games, but they can help while we work on those outdated societal norms. She suggests thinking about what the receiving party is most concerned about and keeping it simple with one or two achievements as opposed to a laundry list. Importantly, try and talk about a specific instance where your work had a positive impact on real people. You can also harness social proof by mentioning what a respected colleague thought of it and how excited you were that they approved. Use this moment to praise that colleague and/or a few others that helped you. Finally, add a bit of flattery by asking for advice on the next steps. Some great advice here.

But what if this exercise is almost impossible due to that insecurity mentioned earlier? This is especially true if your job is outward-facing and entails a great deal of comparison and criticism. Realize that everyone in these roles is constantly doubting themselves due to the heightened environment. In this case, finding and expressing your worth requires a bit more work. It helps to physically write down at least three core strengths in the context of specific instances. i.e. Not ..” I am courageous” but “I showed my courage when I risked getting fired to stand up for a co-worker who was getting mistreated.” Then write three things you did in the last week that helped or inspired someone. What really helps here is to spend five minutes a day storing a few achievements/ compliments in your phone, so that you can recall them when necessary.

Lastly, write down three thoughts that hold you back. I.e. I am terrified of public speaking so I cannot lead. For each of these, find an example that does not justify this thought. Or, think of one opportunity in the next week to practice what you are most fearful of. And schedule it like any other business appointment. As an example, author Sandi Mann recommends a great exercise that I am going to poach. Most of us do not take criticism well, as it feels like exposure to our “imposter” status. As such, we need to practice receiving it by asking a friend to be honest about an irritating personal characteristic. We should then dispassionately reflect on whether the evidence supports this view. If the feedback is valid, absorb it calmly and if not, practice saying “her problem, not mine”.

These are all small concrete actions that can help grow your self-worth and business success.

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About the Author:

Krista Tuomi, Professor in the International Economic Policy program at the School of International Service, American UniversityKrista Tuomi is a professor in the International Economic Policy program at School of International Service, American University. She has worked for many years as a policy analyst in the areas of innovation and investment. Her regular Bizwomen column, media interviews, and research focus on topics that include angel investing, crowdfunding, non-profit management and fundraising. 

She also conducts workshops in the US and abroad on all forms of small business and non-profit financing. Her passion for the field of innovation and entrepreneurship extends to her pro-bono work.

Currently, she works with SCORE, Greenwood, Boots to Business, Martha’s Table, Black Girl Ventures, Syracuse’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and the Angel Capital Association.