I was having one of my Sunday bookstore dates one beautiful, sunny Cape Town afternoon and like a bear with honey coated paws, I gravitated my sticky fingers towards the business and personal development sections of the store. At the time, I was with global intelligence and media company, Thomson Reuters, who put a great deal and emphasis on career and personal development, and I wanted so much to bulk study and learn. In its very bold pink letters, I saw a cover with the letters “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office”, and my wallet and I fell for the bait.
Upon further reading and cooping myself up in Exclusive Books’, I realised that I was reading a revised and updated version of the book. “Nice Girls Still Don’t Get the Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make that Sabotage their Careers” was the full name of the book, a mouthful, I know, but Dr Lois Frankel who authored the book does a great job in unceremoniously unpacking these mistakes.
Have you ever found yourself apologizing before you talk or ask a question? Immediately disqualifying your credentials for a job or board opportunity? Invalidate your article before it gets published, and thus never letting it see the light of day? How about always sitting at the back of meetings or using non-words, what Frankel describes as “credibility busters” to communicate? I’ll raise both my hands with you because I’ve been guilty of these behaviours, or what the author calls Nice Girl Behaviour, what she deems necessary but not sustainable for success.
In the book, Frankel confronts over 130 mistakes that women (and I’d like to add early entrants into the workplace and/or industry) make that set them up for corner office sabotage success; with the corner office a metaphor for transactional spaces (mental and physical) where we’ve placed boundaries that limit our potential to actualise our excellence and badassness. The book pairs coaching tips to action after every mistake as well as plentiful resources provided by Frankel and a few appearances from her industry peers. Delivered with the sharpness of freshly squeezed lemon juice, the author doesn’t shy away from recognising patriarchy’s psychological contribution and economic returns, as well as women’s conscious roles in sabotaging their own careers.
With that said, I strongly believe that some of Frankel’s strong biases would fall through the cracks in some chapters and mistakes ,and in particular to the seventh chapter dealing with “How You Look”. As with any self-development resource, you have to take it with a pinch of articulation and understand that it’s as generic as the sand granules unless its tailored to a career development plan for you. There are definitely some coaching tips that I found incredibly helpful and have been using over the past few weeks, and others which the internal consultant in me honoured not for me.
Every few moments that I had to share snippets of the book on my social media platforms, the feedback would be from women who had already read it and provided great feedback and others who hadn’t, but wanted to ardently get their hands on it. I too, continue to greatly endorse this book from international best seller, Dr Lois Frankel, for all genders for self-development as well as conscious empowerment of women in the workplace and in industry.
One of my earlier experiences of self-promotion was through a mentor (now turned sponsor) of mine who did It on my behalf, and it eventually led me to working with a multi-billion dollar global intelligence and media firm in their first innovation labs in an emerging market and being the first hire. A proud moment (and notice, this is also a showcase of my badassery) that will definitely stay with me for a lifetime. As I began navigating the world of work, never mind that of corporate, I noticed that both young and old professionals (especially women) have a hard task of talking about how badass they were and taking credit in the projects that they were involved in, something that bothered me much, because I definitely saw a part of me in this, and whenever I could, self-regulate.
“I think she sometimes forgets that she’s a junior executive, I feel like she would never work well with other people because she’s always talking about the work that she does.”, a comment reserved about me by a senior executive in industry a few months ago.
While for some cultural, and others religious or spiritual teachings and for another group, a cocktail of all these ways of learning and being, self-promotion is and has always been something associated with vanity. Even with the definitions below, sourced from Oxford Dictionary and Merriam Webster Dictionary respectively, notice not only the structure of the definitions, but also the gender placement per definition.
noun: self-promotion; plural noun: self-promotions
the action of promoting or publicizing oneself or one's activities, especially in a forceful way.
"she's guilty of criminally bad taste and shameless self-promotion"
Definition of self-promotion
: the act of furthering one's own growth, advancement, or prosperity : the promotion of oneself didn't try to disguise his self-promotion
Because self-promotion is deemed more of a masculine exercise, when women do it, it comes across as not only trying to join a boy’s club, but also adopting a swear word. Weird, isn’t it? Or does this sound familiar? This means that we also incur a double cost, socially and professionally. Seen as less likeable, advocating too strongly when we raise our profile but also when we don’t do it, seen as incompetent leaders who won’t see their value and their worth and are passively getting by with their work. There’s also the esteemed professional proverb of “Let the work talk for itself” that cements these values around self-promotion. We’ve ironed out the semantics and politics around this matter, how do we now actualise it?
In her (revised and update) book, Nice Girls Still Don’t Get The Corner Office: Unconscious Mistakes Women Make to Sabotage Their Careers, author Dr Lois P. Frankel talks about the importance of taking yourself out of your sweet spot and highlights that “… It’s important to take yourself out of the women’s safe zone and toward the edge of the field where the winners are playing.”
In recognising that, let’s invest in the power of three, and start with these three marching orders to kickstart your journey to raising your profile and tapping into the badass that you are:
1. Leverage Social Media
Whether Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn, these platforms add value dependent on how you use them. Just like any conversation, it’s a give and take of listening and allowing your community and followers to talk about themselves, and an opportunity for you to talk about what’s relevant to the conversation or one that you want to drive. Share about your work win for the week, a speaking engagement that you participated in, sharing and congratulating the work of your fellow industry peers and/or friends and even a book that you’re reading with a mini review. These small steps and a strategy in place will definitely allow you to start thinking about how you can take the opportunity of the internet and its community to elevate your profile, and serve your community and purpose.
2. Tell your Truth - Authentically
When you have worked on a successful (or not so much) project and were the lead of a team, and post that on social media, that is the truth and whether you share the winnings or losses and lessons behind that, that is authentic content. However, if you’re taking all the glory in something that required the work of 2-10 other people, that’s you being an actual self-righteous and ill mannered non-team player. The only form of self-promotion that’s tactful, is one of truth and truth told authentically. And, as uncomfortable as sharing this may be with the world, remember that you did it and this is your opportunity to move towards operating outside your comfort and toward the edge. Career opportunities, and mentorships also arise from doing this, so if not for yourself, then from the other young and older people who gets inspired.
3. An Opportunity for Mentorship
It’s not always rosy, and as much as we share our successes, I’m a big believer that it’s also just as important to share your losses and challenges. This, because in as much as we may not want to admit it, whenever we have a platform or communities, we have a responsibility with how we use it, because people look up to you. How you drive and use that conversation and responsibility, that is completely up to you. Share your journey to connect dots, and information so that other may be empowered.
This won’t be easy, but I want you to try!
The comment by the senior executive, did it pinch? A little, however after I understood that the core of their reasoning was based on my self-promotion and not the lack of truth or authenticity about my actual work, I opened a bottle of wine and focused on how I could continue connecting the dots for other women, so that more magic and impact may be amplified and badassery be multiplied. This, is also important in the spaces that you allow yourself to thrive in, they become a catalyst in themselves. A recent experience of this was at the launch of The W Collective at the World Economic Forum on Africa. This is a lounge, a community of women who are focused on elevating the profile, high level discussions and networking of industry leaders who are focused on advancing career progression and personal development, and as it says in the name, we're more powerful as a collective. So ladies, get to your marching orders, and operate with what I like to call my "Personal Board of Directors", and cause a shift and change in the world with your badassery!
Images: The W Collective -