• 28 Jan 2020
  • SBS-ED
  • 5Min

How to empower women to be more confident at work

How to empower women to be more confident at work

According to a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) study, many women are hesitant about promoting themselves. And that’s a problem.  Throughout their working life, they’re called on to subjectively self-assess.

They are asked to rate their performance and lay claim to what they do well. Failure to speak up and ‘own’ their excellence could result in them being continuously overlooked. That means less chance of a promotion, raise or new job. 2020 is the year to self-promote and empower women around one to do the same.

Why do women undersell what they do well?

Here’s some evidence from HBR showing the gender gap when it comes to self-promotion in the world of work:

Study one: In academia, research shows that women tend to get less recognition than men for the same accomplishments – and that’s not just in toxic work environments.  HBR suggests self-promotion – or lack thereof – could be a contributing factor.

In a study of 6.2 million articles over the past 15 years, HBR found that articles by female lead authors were 21% less likely to frame their research in positive terms (like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘unique’), than comparable articles with a man as lead author. The self-promotion language used had a direct influence on citations, with articles with positive words being cited up to 13% more.

Study two: In another study, HBR found men rate their performance 33% higher than their female counterparts. 1500 employees were asked to complete a test and then predict their score (to measure confidence). They were then asked how strongly they agreed with the statement ‘I performed well on the test’ from a scale of 0 to 100 (to evaluate self-promotion).

The result? Men were significantly more self-promotional, despite women and men achieving equally on the test.

The question is why?

HBR ran different variations of study 2 to try and figure the answer out. In every version, the gender gap in self-promotion persisted. Self-confidence was ruled out as the main contributor. In fact, no definitive reason emerged.

One idea is that women are traditionally ‘punished’ for self-promotion more than men. Many working women have experienced being penalised for assertiveness in the office. Perhaps the legacy of this continues to inhibit the ability to self-promote.

Being aware of the problem is the best way to motivate yourself to do something about it…

Make 2020 your year to sell what you do well

Next time you’re asked to rate your performance, use words like ‘exceptional’. If you know you add consistent value, voice this. There’s a difference between self-promotion and boasting.

Self-promotion is about positively expressing your contribution.

It’s about making sure that your work is seen and appreciated. It’s about knowing your self-worth and not being afraid to ‘sell this’ to others.  This is one of the best ways to build confidence and contribute to gender equality in the workplace.

Og Mandino wrote a book called The Greatest Salesman in the World. Each scroll explores the philosophy behind success. A few lessons persist: to repeat actions until you form positive habits, to start each day with gratitude and love, to perceive yourself as a miracle worthy of good things, to multiply your value every day, and to act.

In a nutshell, the ability to self-promote is an art you need to practice. It’s a conscious decision to be confident and assertive. A lot of that stems from self-awareness. And that’s something that can be taught.

Practical steps to become more confident at work and self-promote

Here are a few steps to try to integrate self-promotional behaviour into your day-to-day:

1. Get cheesy

Self-worth starts with self-love. Set aside an hour or two to take stock of what you do well. Grab a notebook and list some of your favourite attributes. Then list some of your work and projects you’re proudest of.

Finally, list some of the other positive qualities you bring to the world of work. Stick this up on the wall and look at it every morning to give yourself a daily confidence boost.

2. Form those positive habits

Consciously change the language you use to include more positive adjectives every day. When you describe work that you’re proud of, use words that get this across.

3. Change your reactions

Are you a compliment avoider? When someone says something nice to you, do you tend to brush it off, diminish the achievement or change the topic? Next time, accept the compliment – you earned it!

There are lots of little ways to change behaviour. For example, if someone speaks over you in the boardroom or doesn’t give you time to explain your work, don’t be afraid to take up space. Politely bring the conversation back to what you were saying and finish your thought. 

4. Do a course

This could be a seriously rewarding goal to aim for. Doing a management development course, for example, teaches you a lot about yourself and the way you relate to others. This knowledge of self is imperative to begin the journey toward more confident self-promotion.


Make 2020 your year to build your self-confidence and self-esteem by considering enrolling in one of USB-ED’s prestigious management courses such as the Management Development Programme. This will allow you to foster in-depth self-awareness.

Make a conscious choice to be bold when it comes to self-promotion – and empower women around you to embark on the same journey! It’s one of the best ways to get reacquainted with yourself and to know how to bring out the best in others.

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