Have you ever felt like the office wallflower? If you are constantly ignored, despite your contributions, then you may want to consider learning to brag like a man.

While the idea of self-promotion might make you feel uncomfortable, studies have shown that women tend to diminish their work while men take full credit. In fact, men often view their abilities more positively than women and face fewer social repercussions for self-promotion.

Corinne Moss-Racusin, a researcher at Yale, discovered in her study that men were much better at talking about themselves than women. Women tend to be more democratic, giving credit to others, for instance, by complimenting the great team behind her rather than admitting she was leader. And the women in the study tended to point out more negative aspects about themselves than men.

At the same time, women are judged more harshly than men when they engage in the same kind of self-promotion. The study showed that women who brag more in the workplace are less liked, seen as less friendly and earn less money and fewer promotions. Moss-Racusin explained that this is because when women brag they are violating a gender stereotype that women should be modest and this makes both men and women uncomfortable.

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So how can women find that fine line between confidence and bragging?

Kathy Caprino believes she can help. A woman’s career coach and TEDx Talk speaker, Caprino was a marketing expert before switching careers to help women reach their professional goals. ENTITY spoke to the “Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose” author to learn how women can “brave up” and take control of their careers.

Kathy Caprino

Kathy Caprino

ENTITY Why do men and women take credit for their work in different ways?

Kathy Caprino:  If and how one takes credit for their work (publicly and privately) reflects a number of critical aspects about a person and his/her development – including their mindset, their ability to see themselves in a positive light, their comfort with speaking up bravely and confidently about what they’ve accomplished, how they’ve been conditioned by society to speak and behave and how they’ve been treated in the past when they do speak up confidently about what they’ve done.

These aspects of behavior and communication are, generally speaking, different between men and women because of how society has conditioned us. Further, there is a great body of research that reveals that men and women’s brains are, in fact, different (but not nearly as different as we once imagined). These differences influence the ways in which men and women engage, interact, process information, react to stress and stimuli and relate to others.

Women today still tend to be viewed negatively and even punished when perceived as being assertive and forceful, or if they are seen as braggarts.

What I’ve seen, both in my 18 years in the corporate arena, my work as a therapist, and in my career coaching with over 11,000 women in 11 years, is that women are indeed far more reluctant to share proudly and confidently their accomplishments, and take credit for them, than men are. I believe this is in large part due to societal forces – that, in fact, women today still tend to be viewed negatively and even punished when perceived as being assertive and forceful, or if they are seen as braggarts. There is clearly gender bias at play today and it’s widely apparent.

EN: Have you experienced this personally?

Caprino:  I’ve personally experienced this numerous times throughout my corporate career. In my TEDx talk “Time to Brave Up” I talk about times when I was both a Director and a Vice President in the corporate world and was clearly perceived more negatively than my male counterparts for the exact same assertive behavior.  When my male colleagues were forceful and authoritative, they were praised and congratulated (and promoted). However, when I behaved in this same way, I was at times called the “b” word. One boss called me a “buzz saw” – meaning I could get things done when others couldn’t. But I’m sure he never thought to call any of my male colleagues a “buzz saw.”

EN: Are stereotypes about women a factor in this trend?

Caprino:  Yes, rigid gender stereotypes are still at work in our world today. There are rampant (but often unconscious) rules about what is considered “feminine behavior” and these still dictate how women are judged, perceived and evaluated.  My friend, International HR Leader Kristen Pressner, shared a powerful TEDx talk called “Are You Biased – I Am” about her experience of recognizing her own subconscious gender bias against women just like her. Her advice? “Flip it to test it.” These biases will shift over time and are changing today, but not fast enough.

EN: How can women break this habit of crediting others for their work?

Caprino: There are three key steps that I suggest:

First, this week, make a list of the 20 “facts” of you – what you’ve accomplished, achieved and contributed in your work. Identify clearly why these accomplishments are important and dimensionalize them with key metrics and measures that confirm the impact you made and how these outcomes made a difference to your company, your team, your division and the goals of your organization.

Secondly, understand that “sharing” about your accomplishments is NOT the same thing as bragging.  Learn how to get more comfortable sharing why you’re excited by the work you’re doing and your contributions. Start sharing the “why” behind your work – talk about how what you’re achieving and creating that’s “moving the needle” on important issues that are critical to you and to the organization.

Thirdly, watch your language and behavior.  Monitor and revise your chronic habit of downplaying your work and your achievements.  Stop saying “we did this” when in fact, only “you” did it.  Stop passing over critical opportunities to talk publicly about what you’re doing. Role-play with someone you trust and practice sharing about an achievement you’re proud of.  Certainly, give generous credit to others when they, in fact, participated in a key goal.  But also learn to speak powerfully and confidently about your own contributions and stop diluting the power of your work by refusing to take any credit.

Learn to speak powerfully and confidently about your own contributions and stop diluting the power of your work by refusing to take any credit.

Entity interviews to Kathy Caprino to learn how to brag like a man.

Kathy Caprino speaking at TEDx

EN: How can women learn to do this without burning any bridges with their bosses/male colleagues?

Caprino: I believe this – we all can become more confident, authoritative and self-assured in our speech communications when we begin to recognize and honor our amazing talents and gifts and share them more openly in service of the world.

That said, it’s critical not to swing to the opposite side become narcissistic and “all about you.” Make sure that you communicate with care, compassion, respect and empathy. Understand that all ideas have value and all people are to be respected. The most powerful visionaries and leaders of our time didn’t tear down others – they built people up with their visions of a better future.

Never tear down other people or their ideas.  Avoid gossiping, backstabbing and using your words as weapons. Uplift others when you speak. When you’re building on an idea that came before, feel free to point out how helpful these ideas were. Be a positive leader in all that you do. Present a compelling vision of the future that others will be excited and energized to get behind and support. When you uplift, enliven and respect both yourself and others in your communications, you won’t burn bridges – you’ll generate supporters, ambassadors and loyal colleagues who’ll want to help you thrive and succeed.

Watch Kathy Caprino’s TEDx Talk “Time to Brave Up” to learn more about how women can thrive in the business world. 

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Edited by Amy Grossinger

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