As employees in workplaces, we often have to evaluate our own performance, a ‘self-evaluation’. It is almost like becoming your own teacher and grading yourself for everything you do at the workplace. This seems enticing at first, you’re being given a chance to assess your own performance.
But this narcissist’s dream doesn’t go how you would imagine it.
A study conducted by the National Bureau Of Economic Research has documented a gender gap in self-promotion.
The authors define self-promotion as an individual’s subjective understanding of their ability and performance, which is what we understand as ‘self-evaluation’ in the Indian workspace.
It found that women provide less favourable assessments of their own performance while communicating to potential employers, as compared to equally performing men. Now you’d ask, what if women are just more tough on themselves while self-evaluating? What if we have a different standard for what we consider ‘good work’?
The study found out that this result persists, even after having a fixed measure for what it means to ‘perform well’. This essentially suggests that women tend to think less of themselves when they may be equal or better than men.
Self-evaluation exercises present a mirror before you. Yet, we see something less instead of seeing a true reflection of ourselves. In my good repute, I blame everything on patriarchy. So I am going to do just that and blame it on patriarchy. But I won’t just stop at that. I would also insist to dig deeper and really understand how the structure of patriarchy makes us think this way.
Your hesitation is deeply rooted in patriarchal cultural conditioning
Renowned feminist thinker Slyvia Walby, in her book Theorising Patriarchy, extensively explains how patriarchy functions. She argues that it all stems from “socialisation”. The process of learning how to behave in society.
Masculine or feminine identities start to form right from (before) birth when girls and boys are differentiated by pink and blue. Going ahead, girls are typically encouraged to play with dolls and kitchen sets. While the boys are given cars and guns. Remember how you were expected to help your mother in the kitchen or serve tea to the elders of the house? While your brother of a similar age was often told to go out and help your father repair the car? Relate much?
In Indian households, specifically, we see these double standards quite often. Think about it. Take the example of an everyday and necessary task like cooking. If it is a man who comes home to cook, he is referred to as “Maharaj ji” (wow, so much respect). If it is a woman who does the same job, she is a “didi”, “maushi” or “aunty”. Ever heard anyone call the cook “Maharani”? (and I don’t mean it in the sarcastic way that you call her when she throws a tantrum).
We are so used to disregarding work done by women that even when it is domestic work—something women are stereotypically ‘good’ at—she is not given due credit.
Instances like these ensure that we are systematically directed to think a particular way and it results in preparing us for certain jobs over others. It teaches us to indirectly respect a job carried out by a particular gender as opposed to the other(s). It makes us privy to a certain bias.
Our cultural context and conditioning reinforce the stereotype of women as more domestic. And men as best suited in a formal workplace. It is through this interaction and reiteration of the everyday that our lived experiences are shaped. We internalise this phenomenon and it (dangerously) affects our worldview.
Our ways of seeing, behaving and understanding ourselves get shaped by systematic socio-psychological processes. It is a result of decades of learning and nurturing that makes us see ourselves as lesser. It is taught, and systematically reinforced.
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Self-promotion takes both practice and perception change
So, how do we get around this?
Your self-promotion is in your hands! Here are some positive ways to achieve it.
It begins with standing up for yourself, vocalising your passions and sticking to the values you believe in. As women, this presents a difficult paradox—you’re a snooty brag if you think too highly of yourself. And you have self-esteem issues if you think otherwise. These are difficult waters to tread, but the way to go ahead is by constructive self-encouragement.
Spend time reflecting and talking about your experiences and belief with conviction.
Practice in front of a mirror, if you have to. Write down all your achievements, even the ones you consider insignificant. Then exchange notes with someone who you think is ‘better’ than you or great at self-promotion. You might be surprised at what can happen when you make the process objective.
Confide in a group of really supportive people, of all genders. Exchange compliments and support each other. Develop, don’t destroy. Especially if it is on the eve of the dreadful self-evaluation.
Find a mentor or coach. A more experienced professional who has walked in your shoes can help you navigate the workplace more successfully. Help build your confidence and encourage you to make yourself seen and heard in the right way.
Find ways to talk about your work that align with your personality. Is sending a report on email better for you than talking about yourself in a meeting? Could testimonials and peer reviews work? A website? Find the style that suits you.
Ask for feedback. We often hesitate to ask for feedback, but when you do, you might be surprised at the positive feedback you receive. That will help you view yourself differently too.
Finally, think of self-promotion as sharing, not bragging.
Unless we talk about what we have done and achieved, how is anyone to know more about us? How can they learn from us? Talking about ourselves in a clear manner, designed keeping in mind the needs of a specific situation is our responsibility to ourselves and our work.
Self-promotion can be daunting. But it can also be a cathartic and self-fulfilling experience. It’s time we realise why we see ourselves the way we do and with the right support systems, we can achieve so much more.
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