If nice guys finish last, what about a self-promoting woman — Where does she end up? What do you say in response to a grandmother who constantly reminded you that “in her country, it wasn’t polite to brag”? When it comes to effective personal branding one size doesn’t fit all. The way we were raised and socialized as children and adults has a real impact on one’s ability to brand effectively.
Women and Personal Branding
The concept of personal branding – succinctly communicating the value others will experience by hiring/knowing/working with you – has been gaining popularity over the past five years. Despite first being introduced fifteen years ago (check out Tom Peters 1997 Fast Company article) personal branding has really gained momentum as social media has become more prevalent.
Lost in all the branding hubbub, is a conversation about how one’s ability to brand and self-promote can be heavily influenced by gender and culture. When I graduated law school, I was very aware of the challenges females faced on the road to partnership. Whether it is less access to business development opportunities, fewer mentors or leaving the practice to raise a family – women are not entering the law firm leadership ranks in a way that mirrors their strong presence in law school.
In her book titled, “Some Assembly Required: A Networking Guide for Women” author Marny Lifshen lists the top ten mistakes women make in networking. Included on that list: failure to network up (#1) and diminishing the power of personal branding (#7). Now don’t get me wrong, there must be a work environment conducive for women and their advancement and professional growth; however women can play a role in their own development. A few suggestions:
- Understand and be able to articulate in 30 seconds, what it is you do that no one else can claim to do and why you do it better than any one else.
- Many women pride themselves on being great listeners. Being a great listener does not mean you forfeit your right to assert your opinion. Attempt to speak up in small ways every day (at home, Starbucks, the cleaners) – so that it becomes easier and more natural.
- Generally speaking, women enjoy relationship building but not necessarily “networking”. Sit down monthly with those you have a close relationship with and share/remind them what it is that you do and make sure they can repeat it back to you in a way you’re comfortable with. Then ask them to go out and share that information with people in their networks.
Women must shed social norms that insist women who talk about themselves are conceited or arrogant. Developing your personal brand and articulating your value to others are not “necessary evils” but the keys to your professional development- there are ways to self-promote without being shameless.
Similarly speaking, there are cultural implications to personal branding as well. Growing up as a Black kid in a majority white school, I was taught that sometimes I would have to work twice as hard just to be considered “equal”. True or not, it was so engrained into my being that I’ve carried it with me all my life. Another great example of cultural norms impacting daily routines is Malcolm Gladwell’s Korean Airlines story in his book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell found that cultural hierarchy and the fear of disrespecting a more senior colleague caused Korean Airlines pilots to experience a disproportionate number of aviation security problems. He concluded that strong Korean cultural norms made it very, very difficult for a junior pilot to override or merely disagree with a senior pilot – even if it led to a plan crash.
I use these examples to simply underscore the point that there are cultural norms that make promoting your accomplishments an extremely uncomfortable task. Here are few suggestions to combat that fear of branding:
- Examine what about branding/networking/selling yourself makes you most uncomfortable. Unpack your feelings and get to the core of the issue.
- Align yourself with someone who you believe has a strong personal brand and who is an effective networker. Watch and learn – some behaviors can be mimicked until you find your own style (remember authenticity is key).
- Focus on raising your ‘Comfort Factor’. This is the level of comfort people have when interacting with you. Decrease the gap of a perceived difference created by diversity. Work to quickly establish common interests when talking with someone to demonstrate you are more like them than not.
It is important to remember that there are some fantastic benefits to personal branding. However, staying true to yourself and acknowledging things like gender and culture stereotypes is essential to effectively getting your message out to others.
For information on how to grow your brand for other industries such as music don’t forget to check out our article on music and brands.