Happy National Women Entrepreneurs Day!

To celebrate, I want to share a labor of love that I’ve worked on with three other women-owned businesses over the past year. We condensed our findings about women and self-promotion, which we’ve dubbed The Self-Promotion Gap, into a 2-minute video.

This study was born because my friend Amanda Hirsch from Mighty Forces, a communications consultancy that helps women and women-led organizations tell their stories, read an article about how women hold ourselves back by not talking about our accomplishments. “We talk about women’s aversion to self-promotion, but is there any research to back this narrative up? Is there any actual data about why it happens, beyond our assumptions?” she asked me. I wasn’t sure.

We engaged my former Edelman colleague Janet Harris of Upstream Analysis to do a media scan of studies and articles that talked about this topic. She found that there weren’t many (about 130 in the past two years), and the ones that existed tended (unsurprisingly) to focus on professional women’s accomplishments. Most of the articles she found either instructed women how to speak up for themselves, or chastised them for boasting. We also realized there were very few studies that talked about accomplishments other than professional ones. Were all women equally averse to self-promotion, we wondered, or was this a story about a subset of women who worked in certain industries, or came from certain backgrounds?

The three of us did a national survey of 1,000 adults and found: 

• While 83% of women are inspired by hearing about other women’s accomplishments, 69% would rather downplay than talk about their own accomplishments.

• Women overall would rather talk more about home or family-related accomplishments than they would about their own artistic, athletic, or personal accomplishments.

• There are some exceptions: Black women are significantly more likely than white women to talk about their own accomplishments, and moms are more comfortable with self-promotion than non-moms.

Kate Gardiner and her team at Grey Horse put together a study micro-site that presented the survey data and asked: How can women get comfortable talking about themselves?

Qualitative research can make survey results come alive (here’s an article I wrote comparing qual-quant projects to peanut butter and bananas: good on their own, but better together.) I knew that doing a handful of interviews with real women around the country would give us a good story behind the headline that 35% of Millennial women would rather go to the dentist than talk about themselves in public.

I had been looking for a chance to try out some new technologies and observe new people on my team leading interviews before assigning them to work with clients. We used a recruiting platform called Respondent.io to set up 30-minute interviews with women about accomplishments they were proud of. One power-washed her deck. One ran a 5k. A third got her class of second-graders to pass their state tests. But when we asked if they would tell friends about these achievements, or post on social media, most said they wouldn’t.

I love how short clips from interviews can bring study results to life. We often do video reports for clients, and my video partner Anya Zadrozny of AnyaZ Media agreed to use some of the findings from the survey, along with video clips from our interviews, to tell a compelling, data-rich story in just 2 minutes. Watch the video and contact us to let us know what you think!

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Founder of Southpaw Insights