Advocating for yourself or your business is an important skill throughout your career as a life scientist and entrepreneur. When applying for a Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant, you need to describe all of your accomplishments that have prepared you to successfully complete the work described in your grant proposal. You also need to be able to promote yourself and your business when talking to investors and, later, to customers.
Some people have difficulty promoting themselves, especially women, because of internal programming and fear of a negative reaction from others. Unfortunately, the risks of self-promotion may be real in some cases and greater for women due to gender stereotypes. Many still hold ideas and expectations that it is acceptable and even important for men to self-advocate, but women should be more modest (Janoff-Bulman, 1996). This can result in some people viewing self-promotion more negatively for women than men. The combination of discomfort with self-promotion and some people viewing women’s self-promotion negatively results in women not being able to reap the benefits of self-promotion as often as men.
How to Self-Promote
- Describe your self and accomplishments in an authentic, interesting, warm, and generous way.
- Describe your goals, passions, strengths, and what you love about your work.
- Describe how your work uses your skills and talents.
- Emphasize what is most exciting about your latest work and how it will benefit your business.
- Welcome similar information from others.
- Describe what might be valuable or relevant to the other person or their organization.
- Quantify your accomplishments if possible. Numbers make an impression.
- Provide the key details of your accomplishments rather than vague descriptions.
- Use the word I and own your role. (“My team and I are very proud of our results.”)
- Find both formal and informal opportunities to share accomplishments.
- Review and optimize your web presence. What forum do leaders in your field or industry utilize most often for self-promotion and networking? Make sure your social media and web pages clearly communicates what you have to offer, your vision and goals, etc.
Reluctance to Self-Promote, the Risks, and Overcoming Them
Reluctance to self-promote is driven by the following, which are often more common in women:
- The myth that hard work always gets noticed.
- Societal nurturing to promote modesty and humility.
- Low self-confidence.
- Imposter syndrome, feeling they don’t deserve their position, not owning their accomplishments or expertise.
- Double bind: When women do the same thing as men but it is viewed less favorably. For instance, asking for a salary increase can be seen as assertive men do it but greedy if a woman does.
- Not knowing how to balance humility and confidence.
- Not knowing how to endorse, advocate, and negotiate.
To address a reluctance to self-promote, try these tips:
- Rather than thinking of self-promotion as bragging, think of it as promoting yourself in the same way you might promote another person whom you care about.
- Think of self-promotion as making your work visible to offset a mindset that it is wrong to brag and important to appear humble.
- Ask others how they would promote you and then use their words.
- Advocate for another woman scientist and then use the same approach to self-advocate.
- Consider that your reluctance to self-promote may be the result of an internalized gender stereotype if you are a woman.
These suggestions could help you avoid being perceived as bragging:
- Describe your accomplishments in terms of progress on major projects. Focus on their benefits for your company.
- Volunteer your expertise where you will be visible, and let others do your bragging for you when they express their gratitude. For example, volunteer to put together and lead a panel discussion in your field.
- Share your accomplishments as good news or an opportunity on social media.
Abbajay M. The Art of Shameless Self Promotion. 2019. LinkedIn.
Janoff-Bulman R, Wade B (1996). The dilemma of self-advocacy for women: another case of blaming the victim? Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 15, 143–152.
Siegel V. Self-Advocacy: Why It’s Uncomfortable, Especially for Women, and What to Do About It – ascb An international forum for cell biology. November 7, 2016.
Mastering the Art of Self Promotion for Female Entrepreneurs by Haley Lyles written for Find Your Influence. Feb 26, 2020. Includes an infographic with seven simple but key ways to self-promote for female entrepreneurs in any industry.
9 Women Entrepreneurs Tell: How to Self-Promote For Success by Lee Lusardi Connor, written for Spectrum Business Insights. These women in various business industries describe how they wrote a pitch, blogged, used Instagram, leveraged LinkedIn, developed podcasts, and more.
How Women-Owned Businesses Can Use Social Media Marketing by Ryan Ayers, written for Business.com. Jan 31, 2020.
Dr. Cindy Duke Shares How Female Entrepreneurs Can Leverage Social Media – Written for general entrepreneurship, describes principles relevant to life sciences entrepreneurship, including storytelling, branding, SEO, and expanding your influence.