Confidence, Kick Ass Women

Modesty is Useless for Women

In a 2010 study analyzing the challenge of modesty for women, researchers found that it is more beneficial for a woman’s career to SELF-PROMOTE rather than to be modest about her accomplishments.

What we know is that women:

  1. Need to learn HOW to self-promote.
  2. Need to get over the comfortableness of self-promotion and stop viewing it as a negative, boastful or conceited thing.
  3. Need to support other women and share strategies on how to display accomplishments and the significance of these achievements.

Feminine modesty is something that women are socialized into, BUT it stops us from self-promoting because we just want to get along, play nice and not draw too much attention to ourselves. It was always “team -work” that got the job done, right?

If you consistently deflect praise and downplay your accomplishments you’ll never be taken seriously as a leader. The research backs this up.

Modesty in the workplace is perceived as incompetency and is a barrier to advancement.

If people don’t know what you do, what you’ve accomplished or what your future goals are, they’ll never perceive you as leadership material. That’s the sad truth. But, it’s also true that women face a backlash, both economically and professionally for acting in ways consistent with successful men (such as more competitive and aggressive behaviors).

Success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women. When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less. – (Sandberg 2013, 40)

This “likability penalty“is especially pronounced in more male-dominated areas. But, the most disconcerting issue is how women react when being perceived as ambitious or career-driven. At times that negative reaction we receive from others (co-workers, family, friends, haters) can create self-doubt.

We wear self-doubt like a shield, every single day. We minimize our accomplishments, downplay our achievements, deflect praise and are never comfortable accepting a compliment or commendation.

At some point in our lives we will have to change our mindset and RELEASE ingrained ideas about how we should act and what we should aspire to. We also need to buckle-up and get used to some constructive feedback. Learning to not react emotionally when faced with criticsm is vital to self growth.

Self-promotion is about owning your accomplishments and owing your success stories, because, as women we can not expect our work to speak for itself.


Budworth, M., & Mann, S.L. (2010). Becoming a leader: The challenge of modesty for women. Journal of Management Development, 29(2), 177-186.

Heilman, M.E. and Okimoto, T.G. (2007). Why are Women Penalized for Success at Male Tasks?: The Implied Communality Deficit, Journal of Applied Psychology 92(1):81-92.

Heilman, M. E. (2001). Description and Prescription: How Gender Stereotypes Prevent Women’s Ascent up the Organizational Ladder, Journal of Social Issues, 57(4):657-674.

Sandberg, S.(2013). Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. New York, NY: Knopf.