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When will exceptional women start boasting about their achievements?

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

I found out last week that a client I’ve known for seven or more years is a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Ok, not technically a Nobel Laureate, but a founding member of the team that had been awarded the prize.

The next day, a friend of mine tells me about her friend, the recently awarded MBE who’s too embarrassed to talk about the honour.

And the day after, a client in a workshop neglects to tell us about her incredible career achievements, “because she’s not as educated as everyone else in her industry.

The connection? All of these are female leaders and each of them mirrors a common trend many of us face.

We find the idea of ‘boasting’ so horrific, that we utterly fail to sell ourselves.

Do any of these sound familiar to you?

“I don’t like to blow my own trumpet.”

“Yes I wrote a book (or won an award/saved someone’s life), but I just can’t help feeling like an impostor.”

“Sure, I’ve got a degree (subtext: a PhD from Cambridge), but I don’t know much about politics (or football, or whatever…), so I can’t really comment.”

“Oh, thanks (for the compliment on a piece of work), but it was a team effort. Gerry did most of the work.”

Is it just me, or are we surrounded by exceptional women, who are stubbornly unwilling to boast about it?

Here’s what I’ve observed about women:

  • We habitually undervalue our achievements. So, when a woman said she did something ‘a bit good’, you can probably multiply that by three.
  • While it’s a great quality to be humble, if you don’t think your achievements are that great, I won’t either. Sad to say, but I’ve noticed how affected I am by the way you talk up or talk down your achievements. If you tell me “it wasn’t that good really”,  I’m actually pretty likely to agree.
  • It seems that we face a double-bind: when we don’t tell others our achievements, they have no knowledge of what we’ve done. When we do, we (and sometimes they) feel like we’re boasting – a characteristic that can make us feel judged, or unpopular as women.

And you know what? This makes me feel pretty mad. Because I want to know that my female friends and clients have Nobel Peace Prizes and PhDs and MBEs. Equally, I want to know if they haven’t done any of that, but that they’re really pleased with a report they wrote last week. Or that they’re proud to be having a killer hair day.

I want to hear my female friends and clients talk themselves up because it EXPANDS MY WORLD. It shows me what’s possible. It gives me something to celebrate. And, crucially, it gives me permission to be a little more courageous in talking about my own achievements.

So, what can we do about it?

I’ve learned a lot from the ladies I’m fortunate enough to be working with these days. Here’s some of their wisdom:

  • I’ve learned from Maya – If it’s uncomfortable to ‘boast’ about yourself, then look for an advocate who can do it for you. It comes across as extra credible if someone praises you, as long as you accept it rather than shrug it off.
  • I’ve learned from Hannah – Think of ‘boasting’ not as being about you, but about making space for another woman to be recognised. And in you being recognised, you make space for a whole load more women in the future.
  • I’ve learned from Jude – Calmly say out loud what you’re good at. Without asking if that’s ok. Without apologising. Without cringing. Without laughing after we say it. Without fear.
  • I’ve learned from my Ginger team – my female colleagues felt much more willing to ‘boast’ about their achievements when I told them that their colleagues are doing it and that it was helpful to me. Now I have a steady stream of celebrations of success that help me keep in touch with all of our activities.

So, I’m learning that humility and ‘boasting’ can go hand in hand, if we only get the ego out of the way.

When ego is at play, everything is about you, so boasting only feels self-serving. But when you put the ego aside for a minute, you realise that it isn’t boasting at all. Held with grace and humour, ‘boasting’ helps others to know how to locate you, how to understand your back story. And it gives them permission to admire you.

And I for one love to admire people.

Find out more

Having the confidence to share your unique brilliance, is something we teach in our Finding Your Voice training course for a hand-picked group of ideals-driven female leaders. Please drop us a note if you’d like to know more.

And for female leaders who are ready to step out of their comfort zone and use their voice to bring about real change – take a look at our Leader’s Voice Programme.

Sarah Lloyd-Hughes

The UK’s leading inspiring speaking expert & best-selling author. Sarah Lloyd-Hughes is a multiple-award winning public speaking coach, founder of Ginger and author of “How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking” (Pearson).

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