Dr. Nancy Wayne

Scientist, Educator & Speaker

Getting Ahead: The Importance of Self-Promotion

Self-promotion is something that women are typically very uncomfortable doing. However, it is widely accepted that it is a critical component of professional success that predicts perceptions of competence (Moss-Racusin and Rudman, 2010).

Let’s take the case of two employees with equal knowledge and skills – the one who is better at self promotion will be perceived to be more competent, even if that’s not the case. Because of this perception of competence, self-promotion contributes to hiring and promotion decisions. The person who is effective at speaking directly to his or her strengths and achievements will more likely be hired and promoted.

Something that is important to keep in mind is that THE WORK DOES NOT SPEAK FOR ITSELF! Rather, YOU need to speak for your work. And if done well, it will reflect positively on you.

Not surprisingly, there are significant gender differences in the attitudes and practice of self-promotion:

  • WOMEN are socialized to be modest and not ‘toot ones own horn’. MEN are socialized to dominate and promote their own agenda.
  • Self-promotion violates the gender stereotype of WOMEN being helpers, not leaders. On the contrary, self-promotion supports the gender stereotype of MEN being strong leaders.
  • WOMEN who self-promote are viewed negatively as being arrogant and pushy. MEN who self-promote are viewed positively as having confidence.
  • WOMEN are afraid that self-promotion will backfire (for good reason, see why below). MEN recognize that self-promotion is necessary for advancement.

Let’s take the case of a circumstance where self-promotion is of critical importance – negotiating salary. Men are 4x more likely to negotiate a starting salary than women. The costs of not negotiating salary are high. By not negotiating, a woman stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60 (Babcock and Laschever, 2003). Why don’t women negotiate more or more successfully? Research by Bowles and co-workers (2007) showed that job evaluators were “disinclined to work with female managers who negotiated for higher pay because they perceived these women to be less nice and more demanding than women who let the opportunity to negotiate pass.” The same did not hold true for men who negotiated for higher pay. Not fair? You bet! So what strategies are available for women to promote themselves without looking like a self-serving jerk?

The problem for women (but not men) considering negotiations is that they must weigh the benefits of negotiating (higher salary) against the very real social consequences of having negotiated (ostracized or disliked at work). Studies show that a winning strategy is for women to provide their boss with a legitimate explanation for the negotiation request while also communicating their concern for organizational relationships that supports the female stereotype and, is therefore, less threatening (Bowles and Babcock, 2012). In other words, if you are a woman …

And you want to be successful at negotiation …

And you want to be liked …

Negotiate in a way that conforms to the female stereotype:

  • Nice
  • Helpful
  • Conciliatory
  • Non-aggressive, etc.

Gender stereotype

Personally, this approach is highly disagreeable to me. I don’t want to promote my skills and achievements in a simpering and self-deprecating manner. However, I am happy to do it with a smile on my face.

In the world of academia, women are under the impression that presenting their work at conferences and publishing their work in peer-reviewed journals or by major book publishers is the extent to which they should promote themselves. And this is absolutely necessary, but not sufficient. What else could you be doing to advance your work (and thereby advance yourself)?

  • Send your manuscripts to influential people in your field, department, and school.
  • Invite yourself to speak at national/international conferences and to give seminars at colleagues’ universities.
  • Let your chair of department know when something exciting has happened with your work/career.
  • Provide your chair of department with regular updates (e.g., annual) of the highlights of your work.
  • Contact the Program Officer at your funding agencies.
  • Contact campus Media Relations about work that has been accepted for publication, and that you think will be of broad interest to the campus community and beyond.
  • Volunteer for visible and influential service assignments in your department, school, campus, and professional societies. Get off of meaningless committees that suck up your time.


Although this advice is pitched for those in the academic world, much of it applies more broadly. I hear from women all the time that they feel uncomfortable doing the above. But, keep in mind that your male colleagues have no trouble doing these actions. They do them all the time. And they will get ahead, even though you have also done great things. So step up and just do it.



Babcock L and Laschever S (2003) Women Don’t Ask. Princeton University Press. http://www.womendontask.com

Bowles HR Babcock L (2012) How Can Women Escape the Compensation Negotiation Dilemma? Relational Accounts Are One Answer. Psychol. Women Quarterly 37(1), 80-96. http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/37/1/80.full

Bowles, HR, Babcock, Lai L (2007) Social incentives for gender differences in the propensity to initiate negotiations: Sometimes it does hurt to ask. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 103(1), 84-103. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0749597806000884

Moss-Racusin and Rudman (2010) Disruptions in Women’s Self-Promotion: The Backlash Avoidance Model. Psychol. Women Quarterly 34, 186–202. http://pwq.sagepub.com/content/34/2/186.full



4 comments on “Getting Ahead: The Importance of Self-Promotion

  1. Marci
    December 10, 2015

    Thanks for your valuable insights and advice! The cost of not negotiating is outrageous.

    • nwayne2014
      December 10, 2015

      Thanks, Marci. I didn’t learn these important lessons until fairly late in my career — but better late than never. Making up for lost time, and hoping to educate women early in their careers!

  2. Hang Duong
    December 10, 2015

    Thank you very much, Nancy, for the workshop at Lehigh! It really changed my thinking about and approaches to self-promotion! Wish you all the best!

    • nwayne2014
      December 10, 2015

      Thanks, Hang. I’m so glad you were able to participate. I hope to return to Lehigh in 2016 to lead another workshop.

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