I hear it over and over from talented women in our Women Unlimited programs: “My work should speak for itself.” Because they are exceptionally good at what they do, many women see no need to talk about themselves or their accomplishments. They presume others will notice and reward their outstanding performance with increased pay and position.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t usually happen that way, especially when it comes to career advancement. By letting their work stand on its own, women are abdicating control of the message their work should send. They are allowing a perception gap to take hold between how they see themselves and how others see them. They are leaving to chance how corporate leaders who make advancement decisions and provide growth opportunities will interpret their work.
Also, by failing to speak up, women may be allowing their superior performance to backfire on them. They could be condemning themselves to a career of doing what they don’t like just because they’re good at it.
For women to get past the “hard work fallacy,” they must understand and embrace the power of feedback — the right kind of feedback. It requires taking specific steps to turn their performance into a true ally for their advancement.
Research tells us that women tend to get less effective feedback than their male counterparts. Usually they receive transactional feedback, which focuses on work completed, with perhaps a few suggestions on how to do things a little differently or a little better. Their male colleagues, on the other hand, receive more aspirational feedback, helping them to better understand what’s needed for them to advance in the organization.
Since women often do not get the feedback essential for their career development, they need to seek it out. It is important for them to develop the habit of asking for specific feedback — and, specifically, asking for it from corporate leaders. Women should formalize a feedback strategy to learn how they can contribute to organizational goals with the skills they have and the skills they’ll need.
Of course, “May I have some feedback?” may sound like a great question, but it’s too vague and too easy to answer with generalities. Here are some examples of seeking out effective feedback:
- Women should approach corporate leaders for feedback that meshes with their career goals. For example: “I’m interested in someday leading research and development. I would appreciate your thoughts on what areas I need to focus on to get there.”
- Women can take advantage of a senior leader’s attendance at a presentation by saying: “I would like to know about one area that resonated with you and why.” In this way, a woman gains a greater understanding of what the leader values and can inform future opportunities accordingly.
- Here’s a question that has proven to be especially helpful in seeking out feedback: “What could I have done differently that would have made my project or presentation more impactful?” The result? Great insights, immediately applicable to structuring future projects or presentations.
One of the biggest obstacles women often face in seeking out career-advancing feedback is fear of hearing negative news or fear that they will not be seen as capable of leadership positions. It’s often referred to as “imposter syndrome” and needs to be addressed by women themselves, their managers, their mentors and their organizations if women are to take full advantage of career-advancing feedback.
Feedback is a crucial strategy for women to achieve their career aspirations and to plant the seeds for advancement with corporate leaders and decision-makers. Feedback helps women understand how to recalibrate their skills to move up in the organization. It is an antidote to the hard work fallacy and allows women to realize that the skills that got them “this far” won’t get them “there.”