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Why women struggle to ‘sell themselves’ in work, love and life – and what we can do about it

In this great ad campaign (#whipit) run by Pantene Pro-V in the Phillipines, we see that a woman who displays the exact same lifestyle and characteristics as a man, is not a leader that is persuasive, dedicated, or well-presented, but a pushy person that is over-confident, vain, overbearing, arrogant or too ambitious. Although this is just a short ad, this is a very important comment on how women are viewed today – and more disturbingly, how women view themselves.

This deep societal – and evidently, international – assumption that women who ‘sell-themselves’, or even simply believe in themselves, are unattractive to both employers and partners is so deeply damaging to each woman’s belief that she can succeed, that she holds herself back. This could mean that instead of asking for a promotion she may rightly deserve, she doesn’t; or instead of applying for a job she is almost fully qualified for, she doesn’t; or even when she is told by a partner that she is too ambitious for own good, she believes it.

According to the American Pyschological Association (APA), self-promotion is actually something that men and women both struggle with, in that both women and men might fear people won’t like them if they self-promote, but “women are more likely to let it stop them.” Thus, women hold themselves back for fear of not being liked, or being seen as having unattractive, undesirable traits. So even if she is confident enough to apply for that job; she’s likely to undersell herself in the interview or hiring process. And even is she is confident enough to ask the guy on the date, she may well undersell herself in the dating process! Lumi has heard countless stories of friends and relatives that have gone on dates or interviews, only to downplay what they do and what they can do, or even fail to mention their level of education or job status. “I didn’t want to intimidate him,” she might say; or “I didn’t want to sound arrogant”.

How common it is to give a woman a compliment, only to have her say “no I’m not, but thanks.” In fact, how many women do you know who actually genuinely think and know that they are beautiful, smart, capable, and have so much to offer? And even those that do believe this (how wonderful!!) and are comfortable in their imperfections and weaknesses in life, love and work – they probably don’t want to make this too public, because they would likely worry that they would be deemed arrogant, over-confident, or proud.

At this point, seemingly on the converse, we’d like to mention that Lumi is all about humility. After all, life is not all about our next success, ticking boxes, and proving to the world that we are great. However, life is also not about being crippled by fears of worrying about how we might seem to others. Life is about the freedom of knowing that we are good at some things and not at others, and thus we should be able to rightly and freely discuss our strengths to prospective employers or partners without fear of judgement.

So how do we do this? Here’s a few tips to get you going:

  • Reflect on your strengths: Write them down, read them, add to them. Begin to truly believe that you are good at these things, and be proud of yourself – so much so that you can (humbly) tell others about it! Consider how your strengths make you unique and how your strengths work together to build a personal profile for yourself. Think about how you can talk about what you’re good at in different social situations, and practice doing this.
  • Reflect on your weaknesses, whilst not comparing yourselves with others: Yes, we all have weaknesses – and just because one of us is good at something and the other is not, this doesn’t mean they are better – it just means they are different. Knowing what your weaknesses are not only helps to highlight your strengths, but helps you to develop a plan. The key is to not only ‘beef up’ those things that your good at, but think about how you can get better at those things you are not as good at. If you’re not good at finances, take a financial course, or patiently learn from the finance person at work. If you’re not good at saying nice words to your partner, start with text messages and build it up from there!
  • Think about why you fear what you fear: Why do you fear judgement for self-promotion and selling yourself to others? Is it because of what you were told as a child? It is because that’s how other women seem to act (or told to act)? – starting to think about why you struggle with self-promotion, and the deep roots behind this challenge helps to bring some of these specific fears to the surface and helps you address them head-on. If this becomes difficult, then talk to a trusted friend or family member, or consider seeing a counselor or psychologist – all who can help you to find clarity in these fears and help you move forward towards overcoming them.
  • Practice, practice, practice: If you want a job, apply for it – and if it’s not listed, call or email them. If you want to spend more time with that guy, ask him. Whats the worst that can happen? Yes – they can say no. Yes, it might hurt for a while, but once you know your strengths and your fears – this shouldn’t floor you. Go on as many job interviews as you can – it’s key in building up those skills in ‘selling yourself’. You could even consider hiring or working with a good recruiter to help you build up these practical skills, who will be able to give you helpful advice in how to continue to improve. And once you’re in that interview room or on that date – just think, the great thing is: You’ve already done all these wonderful things – now all you need to do is tell them!

We know that none of this is easy, and there are so many societal barriers out there to women fulfilling their full potential, however it all starts with us. If each and every woman can learn her strengths and can learn how to talk about them without fear of judgement, this will be a huge step towards her reaching her goals, and better yet – her dreams. So ladies, we challenge you to take on this counter-cultural task of selling yourself in the a way that is most true to you!

See you out there, ladies!

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