Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be able to advance through their organisation with relative ease, while others who work just as hard can only watch and scratch their heads? If so, you may have noticed the gender divide: women working hard without always gaining credit for their efforts while their male counterparts, who are often cruising, somehow do.
Simply doing good work is insufficient - our achievements only translate to career capital when they are recognised, valued and rewarded. But there is clear evidence that women tend not to manage the impressions others have of them to the same extent as men do.
Men are simply far more likely to make sure people know when they’re doing something well. As I have found in my previous work, women generally see such behaviours as self-serving and manipulative and don’t want to advance their careers through the use of such tactics.
But withdrawal is not an option. As an interviewee in a research study I did with consultants pointed out, senior managers ‘are busy people and they find it convenient to put a sticker on your head based on very little actual knowledge of who you are or what you can do.’
What do you think your ‘sticker’ says? Does it really show who you are and what you contribute? If not, then here are some ways you can change that:
I did some work with the civil service and was discussing self-promotion with a group of women. One of them told an interesting story. When she received thank you letters from her clients she put them in her drawer and sometimes looked at them if she was having a bad day to cheer her up. She later found out that when her male colleague received these letters, he was taking them to their boss, particularly around appraisal time.
Many of us naturally shy away from self-promotion, seeing it as ‘showing off’. However, it’s necessary to ensure others view us as competent and knowledgeable. You cannot wait and hope that someone will notice your achievements.
2. Managing upwards
The biggest blocker to promotion is your immediate line manager. It’s therefore important to develop a good relationship with them. Women tend to be very good at managing down, but not so good at managing up.
Don’t always be the person who brings problems to your manager - think about issues from their perspective and see if you can help. Understand their priorities and link your outputs to them, so they see a direct relationship between their success and yours.
3. Being visible
Women are very good at doing the background work, but tend to shy away from the limelight when credit is allocated. So next time you prepare a killer presentation, ensure you are the one who gives it. Next time you write a great proposal, make sure you are the one who pitches it to the client. It is always the front person who gets the credit: even when they acknowledge the contribution of others the assumption is they have done the most work. So step forward and ensure that the credit goes where it is due.
These are just a few ways to ensure that the impression others have of you is an accurate reflection of who you are and what you do. Careers are made up of opinions the others hold of you: make sure that you manage those opinions and don’t leave them to form by themselves.
Dr Savita Kumra is a senior lecturer at Brunel Business School.