Women entrepreneurs and leaders, from Elizabeth Holmes to Sheryl Sandberg, are some of the most powerful players in the business world. Women are doing more than just shattering the glass ceiling--they're soaring past it.
Yet, despite the successes of today’s women entrepreneurs, when you look to the highest echelons of business and politics, women are still in the minority. Why is it that, despite advances in gender equality, there aren’t more women at the top?
Well, part of it is because of social expectations. We may have come a long way in some respects, but entrenched gender norms still shape the way we expect both men and women to behave! Olivia O’Neill of George Mason University and Charles O’Reilly of Stanford University found that women who act in ways that people think of as more "masculine"--that is, women who act assertive, tough, and self-confident--face significant backlash in the workplace. They had a harder time, for instance, getting promoted.
To make it even more confusing, women who don’t act assertive and tough often get passed over for leadership roles as well.
So what can we do?
There needs to be a culture change in our businesses and institutions; one that rewards people for their accomplishments, regardless of gender. Women leaders and entrepreneurs can start paving the way for that culture change by doing one important thing: bragging.
Many women are reticent to talk about their own accomplishments. Psychologist Jessi L. Smith, of Montana State University, found that women don’t often brag about themselves because in our culture, women are culturally conditioned to be modest. But it’s not enough for women to just start bragging more: we’ve got to change our culture to be more accepting of women’s self advocacy. That’s why Smith calls on people in positions of authority to start encouraging women to brag and rewarding and listening to women who self-advocate. Women can talk about their accomplishments all we want, but if we don’t start making cultural changes that start at the top, that bragging will fall on deaf ears.
Why does bragging matter?
People who get what they want, like promotions, raises, and funding, get it by proving that they deserve it. And how do they prove that they deserve it? They talk about their accomplishments, and they convince other people that they offer value. If you don’t self-advocate, you may not get the opportunities that you truly deserve. And you may not be rewarded for the work that you do. Women can start spurring cultural change by bragging, self-advocating, and not apologizing for it.
In her book Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, Peggy Klaus offers practical advice for how to get better (and more comfortable!) at talking about your accomplishments and making people listen. Klaus suggests that you practice bragging, and that you come up with a "bragologue": a story about your accomplishments that you can whip out at a moment’s notice when you meet someone you need to impress. The key, she says, is to be yourself; to keep your story short and simple; and to talk about yourself using entertaining, meaningful stories.
So before your next performance review or next pitch, practice your bragging!