I once observed a situation in which an individual (we’ll call him “Bob”) asked two of his colleagues for advice about a project he was working on. One person he asked was male (“George”), and the other was female (“Liz”). Bob went to Liz for advice first, and she suggested a solution to Bob. About four days later, Bob presented the same problem to George, who suggested the same solution that Liz had proposed four days earlier.
Shortly thereafter, Bob was asked by his superiors how he was going to solve the problem. When he presented the solution that both Liz and George had suggested to him, he immediately credited George—and only George.
Why did this happen? And why didn’t Liz get credit for the advice that she had, after all, been the first to offer Bob four days before George even entered the picture?
There are two issues at play here:
- Women tend to be perceived as “nurturers” and “givers” instead of “leaders” and “askers” by others—including other women.
- Women themselves tend to resist talking about their own accomplishments and goals, despite their desire to be recognized for them.
Bob perceived Liz’s advice as something that was natural for her to give, and for which he owed her no recognition, because she never asked for it. Worse yet, he may have unconsciously disregarded her solution in the four days before he approached George with the same problem, and not even realized that Liz and George had both presented him with the same solution.
But why give George’s presentation of the solution so much more weight?
When you look at any organization, you are likely to find more men than women in the role of mentor. This is odd, considering that women are perceived as “givers” and “nurturers,” when mentoring is all about giving and nurturing.
But consider this too—when either men or women have the opportunity to choose a mentor, they are likely to choose a man.
Why is this? Is it because only the male candidates are perceived as being influential and leaders in the organization? Is it because the importance of networking and identifying a mentor is taught more often to men than to women, and at a much earlier age?
Or, is it because they haven’t heard about the successes of many women in their organization, and perceive that the pool of female mentors is very, very small?
It’s probably a combination of all three, but we can no longer afford to overlook the fact that women are hurting not just themselves, but also other women, by not talking about themselves.
Women Must Be Mentored Too
Many women have a list of impressive and significant accomplishments, but are very reluctant to talk about them—or even admit to them—and are certainly not willing to put them down on paper. Women are taught at an early age not to brag, as it makes us appear brash, arrogant, and egotistical—three qualities that are perceived as extremely unattractive in women.
But where do we draw the line between bragging and representing ourselves? While the line might currently be blurred and unclear, we must let those around us know who we are, what we stand for, what we have accomplished, and what we want to accomplish going forward.
Women need to be a bit more “selfish.” We need to make sure we receive the recognition we deserve, and are considered on an equal footing with our male colleagues by men and women alike. It’s also important that we feel able to ask for mentoring and advice.
Realizing your own worth, and being able to act on that realization, comes from within. Take a moment to consider how you currently represent yourself, your abilities, your accomplishments, and your goals to the people around you in your everyday life.
10 Steps to Fearless Ownership
Don’t be afraid to own your abilities, accomplishments, and goals. Taking the following steps will help:
1. Know exactly how what you do helps others. Be able to express this in a very short, memorable, and impactful sentence, so that when people have a particular issue that you’re able to solve, they immediately think of you.
2. Make it impossible for anyone to say no to you. If you have managed to do all the hard work to gain someone’s attention, make sure that you provide enough valuable information so that he or she wants to learn more. This might be accomplished with another meeting, a request to follow up, or to see a portfolio.
3. Love what you do and what it does for others. If you are not passionate about what you do, that attitude will negatively impact everything in your life. Find something that connects with your values and delivers a difference. This is perfectly possible in a corporate environment.
4. Walk your talk. Always be walking your talk. If you are in finance, be sure your personal money is in order. If you are in IT, don’t have an overflowing inbox. If you are in marketing, make sure you have a portfolio that reflects the quality and breadth of your work.
5. Leverage your talents. What is your unique ability? How can you weave it more consistently in to your everyday actions? Become known for something that proves to be invaluable, and that will make you indispensable.
6. Help people who don’t know what they need right now. Everyone is overwhelmed today with too much email, too many choices, and too many requests on our time. Be sure that people know what you do and have seen you demonstrate your skill. When they do know what they want, the decision to use you as a resource will already be made.
7. Be emotional and connect to people. If you only can explain your talents in very rational terms, your audience is much less likely to engage with your message. Don’t be afraid to be emotive when describing challenges you’ve faced, and how it felt after you were able to leverage your talents to provide a solution. This will help people feel connected to you on a deeper level, and make them more likely to keep you in mind.
8. Don’t take what you do for granted. All too often, when we’re using our unique talents, we take a lot of what we are able to do for granted. After all, it just comes so naturally that it is not a strain. Isn’t that the same for everyone? In a word, no. So make sure that those who utilize your talents are fully aware of all that you bring to the table.
9. Have an answer for the Doubting Thomases. Occasionally, people will find a reason to be negative, sarcastic, or doubtful of what you claim you can accomplish. Be ready with an effective response.
10. Build your brand everywhere you go. Have you every heard someone say, “You had me at hello?” When you ensure that everything you are doing, saying, and communicating is a reflection of how you want to be known, that’s exactly how people will feel when they connect with you!
Judy Corner is a subject matter expert in corporate mentoring at Insala, a leading global provider of mentoring and other talent development solutions through innovative web-based SaaS (Software as a Service) technology. Please visit www.insala.com or email [email protected] for more information.