I wonder why women are so reluctant to claim credit for their achievements. Is it because of nature or nurture? Whatever it is, it is a certain barrier between what we can do, and what we are perceived as being capable of.
Yesterday was a pupil free day at my grandchildren’s school, and so I proclaimed a “Grandma’s Grunge Day” – which usually means books, computer games, pizza lunches and often pyjamas worn all day!
On this occasion we announced the “Wii Olympics!” and the granddaughters challenged the principals of Trischel to ‘The Games’. I am glad that Trischel’s principals are great trainers for it is true to say that they are abysmal at Wii Sports and ever worse at Wii Games, and the end result was a somewhat humiliating defeat for the adults.
During the performance my 7 year old granddaughter threw the javelin a tremendous 105 metres to achieve a world record, and we were fulsome in our praise – (A little amount of gritted teeth was included as I managed a paltry 35 metres and Trish didn’t even participate!) On receiving the praise, she became all modest and shy and said “It was nothing, really!” – and she’s seven years old!!
It must be nature; because there is no way that either her parents or her grandparents have ever indicated that she should be a shrinking violet about her achievements!
For years – no, centuries – women have been inculcated with the idea that it is immodest to boast about their achievements “Don’t boast dear, it isn’t nice” Why not I asked! Boys are not given the same restriction and consequently they have no false modesty about bringing their success to anyone’s notice.
Perhaps it is because traditionally women have been more inclusive communicators; and standing up and bragging about what I have done can cause resentment in the group. Well that is what people like John Gray (1) say – but why should other women resent the achievement of one of their group? I don’t think I have ever felt inferior when another woman has achieved – it’s more of a “Good on ya girl!” response; and most of the women I have quizzed on the subject agree.
But whatever the reason for it the very fact that women, generally, have difficulty in articulating their success causes faulty perceptions in our male counterparts. Because they are quite capable of bringing out their personal achievements and successes they see our lack of boasting as a lack of ability.
Our attempt to be all inclusive leads to depreciating comments like “Yes, but I had a lot of help” when we are praised. Other women may realise that the commentator is merely being modest and actually she was a real dynamo who made mincemeat of the opposition. However our males will take her at face value, and be left with the impression that she really cannot make it alone.
This is compounded when a women’s achievement is actually recognised, and the first words out of her mouth are “I couldn’t have done it without ….” She downplays the fact that she was the leader of the group, it was she that set the direction, decided the tasks, supervised the work, maintained time lines, provided resources and created group cohesion and morale.
By dismissing all this, and trying to be all inclusive she adds to the misconception that really she was just the figure head. “Typical woman” I almost hear the men say “Lets everyone else do the work and takes all the credit”. And yes, that is a real life comment.
The point is that we do not take the credit. We assign it to others, and that makes us look incapable, indecisive and incompetent.
We need to ensure that our successes are well and truly recognised first, before we assign recognition to our team. “I thank you for your recognition of my work as team leader on …project. It was a highly successful outcome, and I would like to thank those members of my team that helped me achieve such outstanding results.”
Here the word ‘I’ and ‘me’ come first and then team recognition. And no-one on your team, knowing the work you put in, would begrudge you the kudus.
Now, there maybe some women who find that a little too confronting – but if you are in business you need to have your competencies recognised; and if you don’t take the credit for what you do then someone else will and you will be judges negatively. It’s a business fact that doesn’t often make it into the manuals.
Along with taking credit also comes taking responsibility – but women have never had trouble with that side of the equation. “It’s my fault” seems to be a mantra imbibed with our mother’s milk!
So let’s make a point of standing up and standing out – we don’t have to lose our modest style of acceptance – but let’s phrase it differently. When we are praised for what we have done let’s recognise it. “Thank you, I have worked very hard on this, and I am delighted that it meets the standard” instead of “It was nothing, really” will work wonders for you – as I told the granddaughter yesterday.
Michele @ Trischel
(1) John Gray, PhD, Mars and Venus in the Workplace, Pan McMillan Australian P/L, 2002, p249