We say these two words every day for doors opened, snacks shared, or favors done. But these words are a lot harder for women to say when they're faced with compliments or recognition. Women often downplay, deflect, or distract from their accomplishments when they're praised at work. Some say this habit is borne out of low self-esteem or for fear of seeming arrogant.
Whatever the reason, it can hurt your career.
As it is, women are receiving less credit for their work than men, according to recent research from Heather Sarsons at Harvard. The number of women in executive positions also pales dramatically compared to men: only 4% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and only 26 percent of college presidents are women.
The ability to accept recognition isn’t the only barrier to gender equity in the workplace (looking at you, pay gap), but it’s a good place to start. By examining the ways most women avoid praise, we can start to why they do so and how they can stop:
“I could have finished it sooner”
“I actually messed up the end”
When coworkers acknowledge a female employee’s success, her first response is usually to explain why the feat wasn’t that impressive. The impulse to put oneself down comes from the need to display humility. You may fear appearing conceited, but self-deprecation does more harm than good for your image in coworkers’ eyes. Women who don’t project confidence and self-worth are less likely to be considered for promotions or leadership roles.
“I had a lot of help”
“I couldn’t have done it without my team”
Studies have shown women tend to be more collaborative than men; however this team-based approach is no excuse for your tendency to divert praise. When women receive compliments for their work, they frequently try to spread the wealth by including their peers. While the urge to share credit and recognize teamwork is commendable and often necessary, when you do experience success on your own, you should own it. Nobody will give you credit if you don’t give it to yourself first.
“You also did such a great job”
“I actually preferred your part of the project”
Sometimes when faced with praise, women react by turning the praise around; rather than saying thank you, they reply with a compliment as well. Doing so distracts from the woman originally being recognized, turning the focus away from her accomplishments and efforts. When women compliment each other it’s common to reciprocate, but in the workplace this technique gives away credit women should be claiming.
It's time to accept the praise
In a workforce where women are still paid less than men and offered less professional development, there’s no reason not to accept recognition for hard work and goals accomplished.
The next time someone compliments your work, say “Thank you,” then stop. Don’t hedge, and don’t couch those two words in qualifiers or deflections. If this is difficult, say thank you then force yourself to count to three before saying anything else.
If this approach is too blunt, try simply saying, “Thank you, that means a lot coming from you,” or “Thank you, I appreciate the kind words.”
Receiving praise without making any excuses shows co-workers their opinions and feedback are valued and that you understand your own worth as well.