by Vickie Milazzo, author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman“
We all know men overwhelmingly populate the higher echelons of the business world. And most of us agree on the reasons why: sexism, a history of repression, the “Mommy track,” and so forth. But a new study conducted by researchers from several business schools, including Columbia University Business School, suggests there might be another reason for the shortage of women in high-level positions: we just don’t exaggerate enough.
The study indicates that men tend to exaggerate their accomplishments more than women do, and thus they gain an edge when competing for corporate positions. That doesn’t mean men lie during job interviews or performance reviews — but it does mean they exhibit a lot more confidence in workplace situations. They’re not afraid to sing their own praises.
Women tend to give very barebones feedback on their accomplishments. In this regard, it’s time for us to think (and act) more like men. Wicked success awaits many women, but they have to position themselves in the right way in order to open the door to bigger and better opportunities.
Women are already losing ground to their male competition as early as the salary negotiation phase of a job interview. In fact, a recent article in The New Yorker revealed that only 7 percent of women negotiate their salaries up-front when entering a new position… compared to 57 percent of men.
Women may think they’re doing their employers a favor by not pushing for more, or that they’ll be more appealing if they don’t ask for what they’re worth. But underpricing can actually cause women to lose credibility with employers.
When I’m hiring, I actually weed out candidates who underprice themselves because I assume they won’t perform at the level I expect. It makes me view those candidates as commodities — employees who are easy to obtain and easy to replace. You look dispensable, and that’s not a quality that is going to help you move up in the ranks of any organization.
To match the success men can have in the business world, women need to be comfortable with talking about their achievements. It’s not about lying or over exaggerating. It’s about ultra positioning. Clearly, we females need to take a page from the male playbook and make sure that we’re getting the recognition and credit we’ve earned. If you still have doubts, consider that announcing your accomplishments validates the investments others have made in you. Your boss, for example, wants to know that she bet on a winner when she hired you!
Because the act of properly positioning your wicked success might be a little foreign to you, here’s some help. Below are a few common scenarios for women in business and discusses how a little change in what you say can lead to a big change in your career:
The Job Interview
You’ve been the top salesperson three years running at your current job. You’re interviewing for a sales training position at a different company, a big boost for your career.
The Modest Way: “I’ve been given many opportunities at Acme. They’ve trusted me with a lot of great accounts and as a result, I’ve been able to steadily increase my sales numbers over the years.”
The Manly Way: “I’ve been our top salesperson three years running. I’ve consistently improved my sales numbers each year and constantly exceed my sales goals. More importantly, in addition to my great sales numbers, my customers give the highest customer satisfaction scores at Acme.”
Remember, when you’re in a job interview or a performance review, the person interviewing you wants to know how great you are. They want to know what you can achieve and what you have achieved. If you’ve got the credentials to back up what you’re saying, go ahead and sing your praises!
The Complimenting CEO
Your company’s CEO just complimented you on a successful presentation, which helped bring in a new client.
The Modest Way: “Thank you! But I can’t take all the credit. My team did most of the work.”
The Manly Way: “Thank you! The client’s positive reaction really made all those long nights and early mornings worth it. At first the team wasn’t confident the approach I came up with would work, but overtime they really started to buy into my vision. I’m just pleased our hard work paid off and we were able to get a big win for the company.”
From Day One, you should be doing everything you can to ensure that you aren’t seen as interchangeable or dispensable. Don’t shrink into your chair and become the invisible employee. Do what you need to do to stand out. Get in the middle of everything and bring new ideas to the table. If you’re able to make yourself invaluable and leverage the things that make you unique, you’ll also make yourself impossible to replace.
The High-Maintenance Customer
A customer seems to have doubts about your abilities to take care of his latest order. He calls for the thousandth time to micromanage you.
The Modest Way: “I understand your concerns. Don’t worry, my manager will be double checking all of your order details to ensure everything is perfect.”
The Manly Way: “I understand completely how important this order is for your business. I’ve triple checked all the details, and I’ll be going down to the warehouse myself to make sure it’s filled correctly. In my 10 years with ABC Company, I haven’t shipped an incorrect order yet, and I am not going to start with yours!”
Even veteran businesswomen can be taken aback by unexpected aggression or resistance. When dealing with a tough customer, always remind yourself that you are dealing with another human being and that you have something valuable to offer. As I’ve built my business over the years, whenever I’ve had to go up against a pit bull, I’ve taken a walk and role-played with my husband Tom, who can be a pit-bull himself. I anticipate every possible objection and get myself into a Zen-like state. When it comes time to meet with that person, I am centered and ready. I know that if I allow myself to be intimidated or provoked instead of remaining calm and professional, I’ll never get the respect I want from that person.
The Performance Review
In a performance review, your direct boss expresses what a great job you’ve been doing and sets a goal for you to improve on your customer satisfaction rates.
The Modest Way: “I see that I need to work harder. I’m sorry that my customer satisfaction rates have been disappointing. I’ll certainly do everything I can to meet this new goal.”
The Manly Way: “I’ve been working very hard, and I am glad that you see it reflected in my sales numbers. I love my clients so I welcome the opportunity to make them even happier.”
It can be hard for women to toot their own horns. To a certain extent, we’re actually wired to nurture and care for others and to put the good of the whole over our own personal interests. While these impulses aren’t inherently bad, it’s time for a newsflash: if you don’t announce your own achievements, you can bet that no one else is going to do it for you. With humility, make sure that you’re keeping your name, your accomplishments, and your skill set in front of everyone. Welcome challenges to improve and when you reach those goals make sure people know about it.
The Team Leader
You’ve been selected to head up an important R&D team. At the first team meeting, you introduce yourself to the team.
The Modest Way: “I’m looking forward to working with all of you. I just hope my expertise can match up to the stellar achievements that you all bring to the table. If you think I’m leading the team astray, please don’t be afraid to ask me to take a backseat.”
The Manly Way: “R&D is something I’m very passionate about. My last team and I were able to create a product that is now the number one seller for the company. I’m confident that I can lead this team to the same success and I look forward to working with all of you.”
A big part of moving forward in your career is showing that you can be an effective leader. For many women, I think the first step toward becoming an effective leader is realizing that you can’t be everyone’s friend. You have to set a course for people and you have to do with confidence. They have to trust that it’s a good idea to follow you. You won’t achieve that trust by pandering to them. You can only do it by proving yourself worthy of their respect through your own list of achievements and your confidence in your abilities.
The Pay Raise Conundrum
In a performance review, your boss asks you if you think you deserve a raise.
The Modest Way: “I’ve worked hard this year, but I think it’s best if you decide whether my accomplishments are worthy of a raise.”
The Manly Way: “I’ve played a key role in developing loyal customers and bringing in new business for the company during a difficult economic period. Given my extremely positive performance review, I certainly think I deserve to be compensated for the hard work I’ve been putting in.
Again, never underprice yourself. When you do so, you diminish your accomplishments and you diminish the role you play within the company. When you’re given opportunities to put a number on your importance within a company, take them. Be reasonable, but be bold in explaining why you deserve the amount suggested.
Don’t let anyone — including yourself — forget just how much you’re bringing to the table. The men you’re competing against for positions certainly won’t. Practice talking about your achievements. Be proud of your strengths and abilities and learn to compellingly express them to others. When you can master the art of positioning yourself in an appealing way, you’ll unleash wicked success that can push you to the top.
Vickie Milazzo, RN, MSN, JD, is author of “Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman” (WickedSuccess.com). From a shotgun house in New Orleans to owner of a US$16-million business, Wall Street Journal best-selling author Milazzo shares the innovative success strategies that earned her a place on the Inc. list of Top 10 Entrepreneurs and Inc. Top 5000 Fastest-Growing Companies in America. Vickie is the owner of Vickie Milazzo Institute, an education company she founded in 1982.