Last week, I stumbled upon a story by Madeleine Alizadeh who is a Vienna-based entrepreneur, podcaster, author and activist. In her Instagram story, she encouraged women to speak up when they are not introduced correctly. She did that after she participated in a panel las week. Even though the official press release called her “entrepreneur and content creator”, media outlets introduced her as “fashion influencer” while her male counterpart was introduced as “entrepreneur and ambassador” as per the official press release.
You may now shake your head and think: “What’s so bad about this? Maybe this woman started her career as a fashion influencer and that is what most people associate with her?” But exactly this would be the problem. It is diminishing what woman has achieved, while men are always praised for their amazing track records. “Fashion influencer” sounds cute and, most likely, less threatening than “entrepreneur”. A woman with a great track record may be seen “threatening”, a man would be “accomplished”. While I do not want to diminish the work of full-time fashion influencers, there is a difference if somebody has further developed into additional roles. Credit where credit is due.
Furthermore, men themselves make sure that their track records are communicated and acknowledged. Similar to what Alizadeh shared on her story, many women feel pretentious if they introduce themselves with their achievements. It took me a while to introduce myself as “Dr. Steiger”. I always felt pretentious or was worried people may feel I look down on them if I use my title. Until one day my partner said to me: “Why do you do that? You should be proud of it. It’s not that you were given this title, you worked hard for it.” And when I looked around – at panel discussions to which I was invited or in my work environment – I realized men do this all the time. They make sure you know immediately what they have achieved. I call it “self-marketing”.
As women we have been brought up to be modest, we should not to “boast” about our achievements and work in silence. I do not like to show off at all. I tend to actually undermine myself to hide degrees or facts about myself to not come across as pretentious. I remember one interview I had years ago. I hid the fact that I earned postgraduate degree in addition to my other degrees because it is from a really reputable organization. I also did not mention that I spoke multiple languages because I did not want to scare my counterpart off.
This happened in the professional but also in the personal context. When I was single and met guys at bars and they asked me about my job or found out that I had a doctorate, they turned around and left. (Yes, this actually happened more than once.) And no, I did not introduce myself to potential hookups with “Dr. Steiger”. But if you work on a thesis and that is what you do for a living at that point in time, it is simply an answer to a question that was asked. At that time a friend of mine had a badass job as a diplomat – she was one of the youngest and only experts in the field. Yet, when she met a guy, she used to say “I work as a desk officer in a big organisation”. Like me, she was worried she may scare them off.
Consequently, I thought it was better to be silent. But the problem is, this may also backfire. If we do not tell anyone else what we have accomplished, who will? Over time, I realised that the “right” men to date or the “right” employers or business partners will not be scared. On the contrary, they will appreciate what we have achieved.
I think we can actually learn something from the above-mentioned “self-marketing”. Sometimes, it is good to speak up and let everyone know. It is not pretentious or silly to say that you are “not the assistant” (also happened to me multiple times), but actually running the department or the business. We do not have to do it in a pretentious way. There are many ways to make sure your counterpart sees and acknowledges your abilities and achievements.
Imagine yourself at a panel discussion and you sat there with a white guy in his forties or fifties. The moderator introduces him in the wrong way. Do you think he would leave it like that? I doubt it. I think he would make sure that everybody knew what he actually did in the course of the panel.
We cannot control what the media will report about us or what people may think about us. But we can influence the narrative. If more women speak up and do things like properly introducing themselves or even correcting if we were referred to in the wrong way, it is an important signal. This has got nothing to do with narcissism. False modesty can harm us in the long-run. And again, you have only come as far as you did, because you worked hard. If this is nothing to be proud of, what is?