Self Promotion

Self promotion is hard. It’s something I struggle with. Maybe you’ve found yourself in similar situations:

Do you ever get one of those library-wide emails celebrating someone’s work that make you wonder why some of the great, valuable things you’ve done aren’t acknowledged in this public way? Or read an article about a project getting lots of praise highlighting work comparable to a project you did three years ago that no one praised?

For me, the answer is likely because I didn’t tell them. Let me repeat; I didn’t tell them. I might have communicated a project was over or a goal met, but I didn’t provide context of it’s importance or significance. Or, I did, but didn’t suggest that this is worth other people knowing about too.

Do you find yourself saying things like “We implemented this new tool/service/policy”, “We shifted our strategy and focused on x”, or “We decreased our backlog by 22 percent last year!” Who is the “we” in this situation? While there will certainly be team based projects that deserve the “we”, often these should be “I” statements. My tendency is to use “we” so it sounds like I’m not bragging or taking all the credit. I even do this in job interviews.

You’ve probably heard this before. Men are promoted based on potential, while women are promoted based on past accomplishments. Or, men apply to jobs when they feel they meet 60% of the requirements and women apply when they meet 100%. Many assume that if you do good work and have talent,  it will be recognized and somehow people will just know. It turns out this usually isn’t the case and the thing that can make the greatest impact for women in career advancement or pay increases is self promotion.

Studies show that self promotion can be uncomfortable for women. When women do self promote, they tend to do it in ways that minimizes their contributions. For a while, I didn’t realize that even when I did discuss accomplishments, I did so in a minimizing way. Women are not usually taught to promote ourselves. We live in a social context where modesty norms have discouraged women from promoting themselves. Women who do self promote can encounter a backlash and be cast in a negative light.

So, what can we do?

  • Keep concrete examples of your accomplishments. Bring these to the attention of your supervisors and others in your workplace.
  • Connect your successes with the interests of those in decision-making positions. Show the impact of the work. Discuss your potential for doing more.
  • Communicate with your supervisor that you need their help in highlighting your accomplishments if they don’t already do this for you.
  • Ask for time to write about your work or present at a conference (and block/guard said time on your calendar and then follow through on completing said product)
  • Encourage others to promote their work. This can be a simple “Have you considered sending an email to so and so about this?”
  • Actively promote the work of our colleagues. This can go a long way. It’s been shown that women are more effective at highlighting the accomplishments of others or negotiating for others than themselves.
    • Fun fact: I didn’t tell people at my institution about this blog. Instead, two months after starting a co-worker brought it up at a department staff meeting and encouraged others to read it.
  • Actively promote the work of those you supervise.
  • Nominate people for awards. SAA has them, regional associations have them, your institution likely has them. Most award committees are hurting for more and stronger nominations.

What are some of your experiences in this area? What’s worked for you? What hasn’t?


7 thoughts on “Self Promotion

  1. Thanks for this post. I struggle with finding the right vehicle to promote my work and the work of my staff since what we do is usually “behind the scenes” and not always easy to explain. My solution so far has been to write up and distribute a monthly department report to highlight the projects that everyone is working on. While that works internally, I’m not sure of the best approach for the institution at large. Definitely something to work on.

    • I love the idea of distributing a monthly report of some sort. In my mind it would also provide a written record of what’s been accomplished over time. However, you’re right that those reports only make it so far. I have personally considered submitting an essay to Archival Outlook on my work.

  2. I think that this is an area where managers could make a huge difference. When you report on your unit’s work, BE SURE to point out and explain the contribution of your team members. This isn’t just good for your worker, it’s also good for your unit and for the institution to understand that what we do takes hard work and specialized skill. Solidarity forever!

    • I’ve invited my staff to present on their work at library events. That’s a good way to get the word out about the work they’re doing. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find the right opportunity to single out their work. I meet with my boss once a month, and I feel like all that time is swallowed up giving her updates and asking her advice about my own work. And when it’s annual review time, it feels disingenuous to write about my staff’s work when appraising my own performance, even if the line is if your staff is good, that reflects well on you. Seems a bit cheap. Anyway, for this reason, I find sidebar conversations with upper management are a good opportunity to interject about something interesting or important about the work my employees are doing. Nominating staff for leadership roles in the library–or encouraging them if they are asked–is another good way, too. Managers that hog the limelight are lame.

  3. Concurring with Maureen, I think this an especially important thing for managers, people in supervisory capacities, or people with broader understandings of the field (depending on the situation) to do. I’m already thinking, for example, that since I’m co-chairing a SAA RT for the next 2 years, it might be good at the end of each SAA-year to write a note to the RT members supervisors commending their employee’s work, perhaps with specifics.

    I liked your focus on not just doing this ourselves but doing it for each other. I think that could help change the culture.

    Meanwhile, I’m going to work on it for myself too.

    • I love the idea of writing and promoting the work of the roundtable members to their supervisors! (and make sure to cc the person in question so they know about it too.) Wish I had done that in that past.

    • I also love the idea of promoting the work of roundtable and committee members!

      So many of our institutions require us to be professionally active, but the fact that supervisors are, in most cases, vague on what that actually means de facto devalues that professional service.

      Also, as a manager I LOVE having more fodder to work with when writing annual reviews, and having feedback from outside parties makes that process feel less like I’m dishing out personal praise or critique and more like I am sharing comprehensive assessment of someone’s performance.

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