If you don’t raise your hand, you won’t be called on and maybe that’s a good thing; a good thing, that is, if you want to remain invisible and safe. After all, when you raise your hand, you are risking public failure. When you raise your hand, you are sending a signal to everyone that you have the confidence to publicly state your opinion, volunteer for something, or ask a question (even at the risk of sounding clueless).
In an article written by Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, titled “A Rant About Women”, he says
“To put yourself forward as someone good enough to do interesting things is, by definition, to expose yourself to all kinds of negative judgments, and as far as I can tell, the fact that other people get to decide what they think of your behavior leaves only two strategies for not suffering from those judgments: not doing anything, or not caring about the reaction”.
He points out in the article that women are more apt to do nothing and less apt than men to take risks and take advantage of important opportunities that may present themselves because they fear failure. He feels women are more concerned with what other people may think of them than what they want to achieve.
This type of behavior definitely has a negative impact for women when it comes to advancing their careers. If we are fearful of taking risks and taking advantage of new opportunities, we will not progress.
Why don’t we raise our hands more? It boils down to fear of failure, fear of what other people will think of us, lack of self-confidence, and most importantly, our belief that self-promoting behavior is not appropriate or acceptable.
Further in the article Clay writes:
“Another of my great students, now a peer and friend, saw a request from a magazine reporter doing a tech story and looking for examples. My friend, who’d previously been too quiet about her work, decided to write the reporter and say “My work is awesome. You should write about it.”
The reporter looked at her work and wrote back saying, “Your work is indeed awesome, and I will write about it. I also have to tell you you are the only woman who suggested her own work. Men do that all the time, but women wait for someone else to recommend them.”
When I look back at my own career, I can see that every major turning point involved me stepping up and raising my hand in some way. Yes, I will take the job to run a cardiac rehab center even though I have no business experience. Yes, I will move to Chicago from the east coast to run a company when I have never been a CEO before. Yes, I will leave corporate America to start my own business because I believe in my ability to be successful. And most recently, I said “yes” to VoiceAmerica when they called to ask me to become a radio host. I had no experience, but my belief in myself and my willingness to fail (in a very public way I might add) were major factors.
This is why I now focus my efforts on helping women promote themselves; because quite simple, we don’t raise our hands enough. Yes, there are many possible reasons why we are not better at self-advancement, but the consequences of not doing this well have a huge impact on the progress of women in business.
Mary Bennett says
Your comments about women taking control of their careers is well founded. It is one critical element in creating more gender diverse leadership teams in business, community , politics. Raising their hands, taking risks, being visible is critical. It is very true that women are less likely to be visible then their male counterparts – as you suggest for a variety of reasons.
I would like to add that one aspect of being visible is being visible to the right people and being visible on the right activities. Women often do not have access to senior leaders and influential members of the organization which can limit the amount of advocacy and mentoring they receive. I often find that when women do raise their hands it may not be as strategic as it can be and therefore consuming their time, but not taking them down the path they wish to travel.
I recently read about the Women’s Conference’s “2010 Minerva Awards” that have wonderful examples of women “raising their hand” and changing the world one area at a time.
It is inspiring to see women who are very passionate about what they do–they forget their comfort zone as soon as a new opportunity arises.
Bonnie Marcus says
I could not agree more. One of the things I coach my clients on is to identify the key stakeholders in their organization (who they need to be in front of on a consistent basis) and then what message they need to communicate and how.