Make Like the Merrill Lynch Ladies and Build Your Circle

Raise your hand if you like self-important people? The “humble” brag? Now raise your hand if you like talking about or claiming your accomplishments? Are you more likely to deflect your kudos with an ‘Aww, it wasn’t me,’ or a redirecting shrug?

The fact remains that recognition of your accomplishments by others is key to your future success and promotion. And quietly waiting to get recognized for your hard work often leads to frustration and disappointment (see the Tiara Syndrome if this sounds like you.) For women the plot thickens even more–societal acceptance of women speaking about their accomplishments is lower than that of men. We are expected to be nurturing and selfless, and speaking about our accomplishments goes against that expected role.

Darn. Nurturing and others-focused? Isn’t that kind of a good thing? Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our workplaces were a little more nurturing and collaboratively supportive? Well hey…..you’re in the right place.

Welcome to the second installment on our series on how to Build Yourself+ by building others.

Sheryl Sandberg in Lean In tells the story of four female executives at Merrill Lynch who began lunching together monthly to talk about their accomplishments, and challenges. Because they couldn’t get away with bragging the same way male executives could, they would leave each meeting and brag about each others’ accomplishments.

This is kind of a virtuous cycle circle.

Women were building up others while trusting that in-turn, they would be built up. And these women weren’t just sending out a bullet-pointed list through email of their big wins, they were breaking bread together monthly, and developing deeper relationships–deeper relationships that held a place for their ambition and recognized it as a positive force in their lives and careers.

Want your own virtuous circle of women?

You don’t have to be a top financial executive to have your own circle, or even know that many women.Your circle could be a few friends in your graduate school class, or a few mothers with allied interests in your play group. It might not even be women you already know–it might a group of women in similar leadership roles in your company, a set of women you run into again and again at conferences, or a group of local shop owners whose style jives with your own. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Pick a small group of women for your circle. These should be women you admire and respect, and women who are well-placed to talk about you in ways that would help you, and vice versa. This means that the women in this group do have some type of overlap with you and can use that overlap and their networks and positions to help tell your story. You’ll want to make sure that the group can do the same for them.
  2. Meet regularly. You don’t need to be ladies who lunch, but make sure you find the time to regularly get updated on each others’ lives and careers. Make the time for the small talk, and for getting to know one another. Group members people may filter in and out over time, but you’re developing long-term relationships with each other and each others’ stories.
  3. Break the ambitious ice. It’s socially awkward to self-promote. Duh. We just talked about this. Move past the awkward by modeling an ask to others to tell your story. In my workshop, people don’t like to talk about money and salary negotiation (eek! It’s uncomfortable!) but after someone breaks they ice, you can see a palatable sigh of thanks going through the group: “We can finally talk about this and not tiptoe around it.”With self-promotion, it is the same way. If it makes it easier, formalize the promotion ask component: End each meeting by having each woman go around and mention what she’s accomplished, and what would help her get to the next step.
  4. Model the virtuous. Occasionally when I tell people about this tactic I get this response: “Well that only works if everyone’s doing it.” There are messages out there that tell us that we are foolish if we take a leap to trust others–and we’ll just get taken advantage of for our troubles. Remember, choosing competition or collaboration is an active choice you make. While ‘take it and run’ might be a great strategy for a one-time interaction, in repeated negotiations, trustworthy parties often garner more cooperation and do better overall. Choosing to believe there are limited opportunities in the world and that we all must fight for them (especially with other women) doesn’t make the world you want to live in. Model the giving with a full heart and you will inspire others.

So Get giving. Get taking. Get sharing.

Let’s navigate the decks that are stacked against you as a woman in the workplace.
Let’s reshufle that deck and making a better game for all as we play.