Women: step into the spotlight to advance your career

5 minute read

We women tend to think that magically, someone will notice our hard work. But in the business world, there are too many other mission-critical concerns that fight for executives' attention. Waiting for your hard work to get noticed is not a winning strategy. 

Men, you also can benefit from the practical tips shared here.

A few months after I started my first job, I met my female boss to report on my customer prospecting activities. As an eager college-graduate, I began by listing MY accomplishments. She interrupted me, visibly annoyed, and said, "Stephanie, we are a 'we culture', not a 'me culture.' It's a team effort in our company. Remember that."

Truth be told, I couldn't have gotten worse advice so early in my career. I listened to my female boss, and it was only later in my career that I truly understood how my failure to showcase my achievements was hurting me. While I moved up the corporate ladder, my rise was slower than my male colleagues. Why? One answer was simple: I wasn't marketing myself the way my male colleagues did. The successful ones used powerful language to talk about their achievements. They cited hard data to back up their claims.

Humility: How NOT to Get Ahead
Unfortunately, my story isn't unique. Anja Schröer, longtime HR executive and owner of HR consultancy Schröer Consulting confirms that generally speaking, women aren't as good at speaking about their accomplishments as their male colleagues are. "In my 30 years of experience in the HR field, women almost uniformly make one grave mistake that negatively impacts their chances for promotion: They are too humble.

Women tend to think that magically, someone will notice their hard work. But in the business world, there are too many other mission-critical concerns that fight for executives' attention." Waiting for your hard work to get noticed is not a winning strategy.

Of course, communication skills aren't the only factor that determines whether a woman becomes a leader. Yet, poor communication skills can almost singlehandedly ruin her promising career. Communication is a foundational skill. And because of its supreme importance, it's our focus here.

Three Practical Tips
Simple communication fixes can help you enhance your communication at work and beyond. They can help you position yourself as leader rather than follower.

1. Use the pronoun "I".

According to a study conducted by John Mars, the author of the popular book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, men seek out acknowledgement in the workplace for their own achievements and take ownership for their successes. Women, on the other hand, are quick to defer praise to their teams. And unfortunately, when they graciously say, "I couldn't have done it without the support of my team," managers believe it.*

2. Use 3 data points to support your accomplishments.

Cite three data points to support your statements. For example, "My team completed the project on time and 7% (1) under budget. I led a team of 20 IT staff (2) and together we discovered an innovative testing approach that allowed us to run more scenarios while saving time and money. Company savings amounted to EUR 11,000 (3).

Take advantage of the 'rule of three' to help your audience remember you and your accomplishments. The 'rule of three' is a popular writing and speaking strategy that claims that people are remember three pieces of information well. Their retention drops when more items are added.**

3. Find a famous role model to study and imitate.

It's very simple to search for and locate excellent public speakers. Your model can be in your field of business or another. I find it most helpful to identify someone outside your comfort zone for novel ideas.

The TED Talks series is a great resource. Women especially can learn from Amy Cuddy's inspiring TED Talk1*** on how to use body language to increase confidence. I highly recommend this video; at the time this article was written the talk had been viewed 46, 991,011 times.

Practice, practice and practice some more!

Even your internal company meeting is worth practicing for. After all, it's a performance; your colleagues and your boss are among your most important audiences if you want to get ahead. For speeches or presentations, more diligent practice is advisable since the more official an event, the more nervous you'll be. The right kind of practice will help alleviate your fears.

1. Write our your three most important statements ahead of time and learn them by heart.

Most people argue with me, saying "but that's artificial and forced. Spontaneous is more authentic." I simply answer that successful actors always rehearse their lines. Their talent lies in that they make you believe that they are authentic in their roles.

2. Prop up your phone on a selfie stick or a stack of books and film yourself.

At first, you will cringe but watching yourself is the best way to improve. Repeat until you are happy. Women should pay special attention to posture, body language and tone.

3. Show your video and/or perform in front of your family, friends or trusted colleagues, as appropriate.

Remember to ask your trial audience specific questions about your presentation style and content. Did they hear what you wanted to transmit? Do you sound like a leader?

A Wealth of Resources
The good news is that women (and men) looking to improve their communication skills have many resources both online and in-person. Contact me with a question about business communication or to learn more about my new course, "Assertive Reporting Strategies."

About the Author
Stephanie Hammer is a business communication trainer & coach.

*Evans, Lisa. (11 June 2014). "Are We Speaking A Different Language? Men And Women's Communication Blind Spots." Retrieved from:http://www.fastcompany.com/3031631/strong-female-lead/are-we-speaking-a-different-language-men-and-womens-communication-blind-s 

**Gallo, Carmine. Talk Like TED, (New York: St. Martins Press, 2014), 191.

***Amy Cuddy, "Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are," October 2012, https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are?language=en (Accessed December 12, 2013). 

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