As professional women, we must back ourselves to shine

Despite the best intentions of government, industry and society to address gender equality in the workforce, some women are their own worst enemies.

A crisis of confidence is keeping many from putting up hands for promotions, pay rises, media interviews and industry speaking gigs. As a result, they’re missing out on valuable opportunities for professional growth.

As a publicist of many years, I’m astounded at how reticent some women are at promoting their achievements and talent. As Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg says in her book Lean In, women often feel reluctant to put their hand up or take a “seat at the table”, even when it’s offered.

Karen Eck
Karen Eck

Several years ago, a journalist called me desperate for more names of top female talent managers she could interview for a story. She had already called three women, who had all declined. However, all the men jumped at the chance to showcase their work. With a tight deadline looming, she was forced to go to print with only men featured in her article.


Why do many mid-career women find it so hard to put themselves forward? Why does this matter and what can be done to address this career-limiting attitude?

When I am working with women, I ask them two questions: firstly, how would you benefit if you had a greater professional profile? Most tell me it would make them more in demand, help them attract better-quality work and empower them to charge what they’re worth, instead of taking what they can get.

Secondly, what are the barriers that hold you back from self-promotion? Often, they don’t want to add to the social media noise; they lack the know-how and time; and they fear criticism or ridicule from peers, competitors and bosses. Instead, they dim their lights until they’re almost invisible.

According to research, these are typically female responses. A study by Kessler and Exley, published in the 2019 Harvard Business Review, showed that despite women slightly outperforming men in a series of analytical tests, when asked to predict how many questions they’d answered correctly, women rated themselves 25 per cent lower than men. They typically guessed they’d scored about 46 per cent, while men predicted they’d achieved 61 per cent.

Even when the participants were told their response would affect their job prospects and potential salary, women still played down their performances.

Furthermore, another study by Amazon executive Kieran Snyder for Fortune magazine proves women have good reason to feel timid about stepping up.

The research shows bosses are more likely to give women critical feedback about their personality rather than the quality of their work during performance reviews.

Reviewers used words like “abrasive”, “aggressive” or “bossy” more often to describe women. Men were occasionally called “aggressive”, but not necessarily as a criticism. Interestingly, the gender of the manager didn’t make a difference. Is it any wonder, then, that women don’t want to stick their necks out at work?

As professional women, we need to back ourselves as well as our sisters at work.

After years of working with celebrities, I’m on a mission to help talented women shine a light on their accomplishments. Women need to build their personal brands to reap their well-deserved rewards, which in turn will boost their confidence.

Increasing your profile won’t lead to overnight success. Rather, you need to have a process, put in the work, be persistent and have a support person or group to back you.

Your first attempts don’t have to be perfect. Just start and don’t look back.

Karen Eck is a publicist and founder of The Power of Visibility for mid-career women in business.

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