What I've been wondering about is how self-promotion balances with giving and taking. I find myself wanting to be a giver and volunteering to help people in order to do that, but questioning whether I am successful enough that anyone cares what I'm offering to give. Factor in the need for self-promotion, and the whole process starts to feel disingenuous. Can BSP (blatant self promotion; not sure if that's only an acronym in my own circles) exist alongside giving, and how do we cultivate a balance? (or should we just focus on the giving and believe that everything else will fall into place)?
Diane (Los Angeles)
I think there’s a big difference between promoting yourself and promoting your work. The evidence is clear that promoting yourself feels icky and looks insecure—and it’s especially risky for women because it violates gender stereotypes about humility.
But I wouldn’t recommend focusing only on giving, because we can’t rely on others to know about everything we contribute, let alone make sure we get credit for it. Sadly, women get less credit for helping than men: their selflessness is too easily taken for granted.
We all need to promote our work. I’ve learned in my research that successful givers are ambitious for others and ambitious for themselves. When you produce something you think is interesting or important, share it with people who might benefit from it. If that’s the only thing you share, it looks like self-promotion. But if you regularly distribute and recognize other people’s work too, there’s no backlash. You’re known as someone who has useful knowledge and is generous in sharing it.
That leads me to my favorite advice on this dilemma, which is to gather a group of supportive colleagues who will work together to make sure you each get the credit you deserve. A group of women did this brilliantly in the Obama administration: they called it amplification. Let’s amplify that.