Research shows that social stereotypes assert women should be more focused on promoting others than themselves – but that isn’t going to get us anywhere.
September 10, 2018 5 min read
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My friend, an up-and-coming entrepreneur, doesn’t like to use her Instagram account – and she’s not alone. Recent research out of the University of Portsmouth shares that female entrepreneurs have a complicated relationship with self-promotion and personal brand building. Yet, often because the success of a startup can depend largely on a founder’s ability to market the company and themselves, female entrepreneurs who are uncomfortable engaging in self-promotion may put their company’s success at risk.
Why don’t women feel comfortable with self-promotion?
Social stereotypes assert that women should be more focused on promoting others than themselves. Whereas, men are expected to be more self-promotional, assertive and self-reliant, according to a report. This socially constructed idea of masculine and feminine is magnified when placed under the microscope of social media; and the backlash, when you don’t adhere to the normative behavior can be hard to handle. Roseanne and Samantha Bee are our most recent case in points, but this also includes any behavior in which a women is seen as promoting herself.
This inability to engage in complete and utter self-promotion without negative social blowback, can put female entrepreneurs in a difficult bind: promotion is necessary for success but not too much, too often, or too loudly. What’s a female entrepreneur to do?
In a paper called “Developing an authentic personal brand using impression management behaviours,” research suggests that there are four core themes to consider: experimental, risk, authenticity and supplication.
While women tend to be experimenting with personal brand, they need to learn the tools.
The research noted that most women felt they were experimenting online, but they were doing so without a deep knowledge of the services or tools necessary to do it well.
This is something I see time and time again: People are using social media tools, without understanding what they are doing. Female entrepreneurs can overcome this hurdle by familiarizing themselves with the platforms, taking classes on how to improve their growth and learning from experts in the community. In particular, time and attention should be spent on the relative norms, expectations and standards for what contributes to overall success.
Good resources for this are classes taught by University institutions or learning organizations like General Assembly. At a high-level, entrepreneurs should focus on:
Being authentic – creating a brand that is authentic to who you are.
Consistency – visual consistency in theme, color and content helps people to understand who you are and what you stand for.
Relevancy – post often, post topically and post about things that are relevant to your core audience.
Women tend to feel self-promotion is risky. Well, it is.
In the research, the women noted that self-promotion was “risky” and one women commented that “any time a woman puts her head above the parapet she’s in danger of receiving, negative, unpleasant […] feedback.”
There are a few things women can do to mitigate that risk: Never give out personal information, do not use location-based tagging in images and be careful of the amount of personal information you disclose. However, as with all public figures, the more public you become, the more you open yourself to risk. Understanding this risk as part of the larger reward to your business, is fundamental for those who are going to devote the time and energy to create business growth.
Women are concerned about authenticity but supplicative self-deprecating behavior overcomes this concern.
The women researched discussed the tension between wanting to appear professional, competent and credible, while also being real, genuine and authentic. The management of this tension, required that women engage in experiential testing of types of content posted. Women found it most effective to post varied content and see what happened. If the content was not negatively perceived, they may push a little bit further.
All those interviewed found that engaging in supplication – sharing their weaknesses and imperfections – as a specific type of content, mitigated the concern over self-promotion. They were able to promote themselves and their businesses and still ultimately seem likeable. They seemed likeable, because supplicative content encouraged both collaboration and co-creation with their audience – this is exactly how society wants females to be portrayed online. However, it also was associated with increased feelings of vulnerability and reputational risks.
For those who are concerned about their social positioning engaging in supplicative content can create community, reduce risk and foster growth.
Women need to do this: Post more of whatever they want.
While the research from the fields of entrepreneurial marketing agency and impression management strongly analyze the current behavioral trends, the net is this: Women should post more of whatever they want and in doing so will change and augment social behavior. Our fear of what we post, is a fear of being socially ostracized. As social norms change, the type of content we post will change. With the change, will come more freedom to be perceived as authentically you. Authenticity at the end of the day trumps everything and people building companies are uniquely interesting and dynamic, because they are different. Embrace your difference and assume some risk as it can help you on the path to your own larger success.