Think hard: When's the last time you took credit -- really took credit -- for a job well done? Without giving props to others, shying away from praise, or otherwise shifting the recognition to anyone but yourself?
A study published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that women who work with men are far less likely to take credit for their work than those who collaborate with other women. Instead, women in mixed-gender work teams tend to give more credit than is necessary -- or even true -- to their male colleagues. This is habitual: Instead of talking about themselves in an honest way, women give away the credit, talking about the great team they had, the collaborative efforts involved, the talents of someone, anyone, else. In some instances, women will even point to the negative aspects of themselves or their achievements instead of simply saying "thank you" or otherwise owning potential praise. Sound familiar?
Why is this? It's complicated. Women are more natural sharers or group participants, used to a hard-to-shake "we" mentality over an "I" mentality. Also women, when paired with male partners, devalue their contributions because that's what work culture in many ways still seems to do. The study also suggested the rising incidence of the "Imposter Syndrome", in which high-achieving people (mostly women) don't feel they deserve the success that they have earned. And so they divert the credit onto others -- namely, the men in the group.
But boastful is what helps workers get ahead. A report from management consulting firm Accenture called "The Next Generation of Working Women" found that women are less likely to speak up than men, less likely to proactively manage their own careers, and less likely to ask for a raise. According to an NPR report, the last fact can mean anywhere from $1 million to $1.5 million in lost earnings over a woman's lifetime. Owning up to your accomplishments isn't about arrogance; it's about equality.
The answer isn't for women to work exclusively with women -- or even to start "acting like a man" at work -- but there are clear changes women can make to reprogram the habit of giving credit where credit isn't due. It's common sense: Taking accountability for yourself and your work means accepting the good along with the bad. If you own up to your mistakes, why shouldn't you own up to your victories? Here's how to start getting over the fear of healthy self-promotion:
Honor thyself. Take the time to acknowledge your accomplishments internally -- getting used to the idea on a personal level will make outwardly owning up more comfortable and more natural. Realize that taking credit for the work you've done doesn't undermine the efforts of the team, and that owning your work isn't bigheaded if it's simply true. Understand that it's not about politeness, but that you might actually be hurting yourself and your career (not to mention your bottom line) by giving too much credit to everyone else.
Ask for accountability. When companies make an effort to recognize the work of the individual, versus that of a group, it's easier for women to take proper credit without much self-promotion. Many organizations don't aim to understand who does what, and how well, so long as the work gets done. Speak up and that will begin to change. Let your boss know that while you were happy to give the entire department props for your work,you want to be sure he knew that the real credit -- at least in his eyes -- belonged to you, and that it represented your level of commitment to the job.
Have someone else brag for you. Consider teaming up with a friend or partner at work who can talk up your skills and call out your achievements for you -- and you can do the same in return. This is called co-bragging, and it works.