Women Leaders: Don’t Hesitate to Bombard Them with Evidence

Beth Speak

Unquestionably women are not getting enough credit for the value of their contributions.  I have evidence to prove it.  For starters, I consistently hear it from the many women leaders who have attended our Women – Accelerate! Why Hesitate? workshops.  By far this is the most popular leadership challenge the women participants choose to address in their group learning exercises. 

The decision to focus on this development challenge is data-driven.  Each woman attending the workshop receives a statistically-reliable report that clearly defines her “perception gap.”  From this report each women leader can discover precisely where she is not getting credit for her contributions. Women work together applying two key principles learned in the workshop to develop action plans to get credit for their contributions.

The importance of this challenge facing women was further confirmed as I was reading an article in Strategy & Business that highlighted a story contained in How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back from Your Next Raise, Promotion, or Job by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith

Ellen is a software engineer for a booming Silicon Valley company that has made a high-profile commitment to developing women. She’s a talented engineer, but is also more outgoing, empathetic, and socially skilled than many of her colleagues. As a result, she’s been able to build unusually broad connections during the three years she’s been with her company. She describes herself as a “go-to person,” a fulcrum around which relationships form. Coworkers frequently email her with queries or requests for help.

Because Ellen takes pride in her connectedness and sees it as an essential aspect of the value she provides, she was stunned when, during her annual performance review, her boss made the point in an otherwise excellent assessment that “she needs to get better known in the organization, have more of a presence, and more actively promote what our division is doing.” “I couldn’t believe it,” she says. “The very thing I’ve always thought I was best at, and he’s telling me I fall short! He even makes it the center of his critique.” Having her efforts and skills go unacknowledged made Ellen feel unseen and undervalued, stuck in a thankless role working for an ungrateful boss. “I really felt hurt,” she says. “How could he not recognize what I contribute?”

It wasn’t until a few months after the review, when she heard a career coach talking about the need to actively bring attention to the value you provide, that Ellen realized what had happened. “I saw there was a very simple reason he had overlooked my role as a connector: I had never told him what I was doing. I’d never mentioned all the people I connected with in the course of the day or the week or the month. I’d just somehow expected him to know. But he didn’t monitor my email, he didn’t stand at my office door watching who came in and out, so he had no way of knowing how many people I was in touch with.”

BOMBARD THEM WITH EVIDENCE is one of the important principles in reshaping the perceptions others have of you.  Women attending our workshops learn how to develop personalized strategies applying this proven principle to get credit for their contribution. Observing the women in the workshops I find too many women are hesitant to apply this principle.  Some women struggle with how to apply the “bombarding” principle so they are not perceived as bragging or trying to one-up their team members.  Working together in small groups the women discover ways to get credit for their strengths in ways that are comfortable for them. 

Helgesen and Goldsmith describe a strategy that “Ellen” used to bombard her boss with evidence.  This is a strategy that seemed to work for Ellen, but it’s not one that everyone may be comfortable using.  The key is to find a strategy that is consistent and authentic with each woman’s personal brand and her situation at work.

Once Ellen, the Silicon Valley engineer, got over her hurt and realized that her boss did not see her as a connector because she had failed to let him know what she was doing, she was able to swing into action. She spent exactly zero time wondering why her boss hadn’t noticed her. She worked in a unit of several thousand people, and she didn’t really see him all that much. Almost all his direct reports were men, so he may have been uncomfortable with women — she really had no way of knowing. But she didn’t focus on trying to find out. Instead, she asked herself how her own behavior might be contributing to his evaluation and what she could do to change it.

She decided to email him a brief note every Friday morning for three months listing all the people she’d talked to and noting how she had been able to help them. She didn’t tell him what she was going to do or ask if she should do it. She just went ahead. She says, “I felt pretty ridiculous at first. I kept thinking, He’s busy; why should I keep bothering him to talk about myself? I felt self-serving, sucking up a lot of airtime to continually make the point about how connected I was. When I didn’t hear back from him — which was usually — I wondered if he was [silently] sending me a message that this wasn’t useful. But every once in a while, he’d shoot me an email saying ‘good work!’ And that kept me going.”

Another principle we focus on in our workshop is to be proactive in helping others “connect the dots.”  We emphasize the importance of making sure that others can recognize the quality(ies) (e.g., analytical skills, hard working, positive attitude) that enable the leader to make a difference.  A common strategy developed by participants in our workshops focuses on word choice when communicating with others.  As an example, when setting forth an idea in a group or with a boss it is important to consistently integrate key words that highlight a certain quality, e.g., ‘It seemed to me that we were getting lost, going in circles being too focused on the details and losing sight of the overall strategy …’ as a way to emphasize one’s strategic thinking qualities.

Too often women have to go the extra mile to get credit for their contributions.  The good news is that there are proven strategies to overcome these hurdles.  Don’t hesitate to bombard others with evidence and be proactive in helping others connect the dots.  Take on the challenge of being accountable for how others perceive you.  If you do, soon you will find out that your leadership presence is a reflection of your true potential!