Why do women struggle to market themselves?
I have spent most of my adult career telling myself this is not a gender issue. But unfortunately, it seems to be a consistent theme I have noticed in the workplace, and on campus teaching students. The gender confidence gap is real and it doesn't look to be disappearing any time soon.
I teach at a local university. I love the interaction with students that are passionate about marketing. I thrive on their creative thoughts, energy and fresh perspective.
Most recently I have been teaching a class about “Consumer Behavior.” I have walked and talked the students though segmentation, psychographics, positioning, promotional strategies, cultural ‘norms’ and ultimately what we determine as ethical approaches to marketing.
Being on the other side of the fence as a teacher, is always a challenge. Making learning at the university level (or probably at any level for that matter) interesting and thought-provoking is an exciting everyday demand.
I recently had a female student (let’s call her "Kate") approach me to give me a business card of a realtor who was in need of a marketing executive to handle his social media advertising and sales funnel. She informed me that she had met the man at Starbucks while working on her final consumer behavior assignment. He had overheard her making phone calls regarding segmentation, brand awareness and marketing strategies and liked her knowledge of the subjects.
He had asked her to work on his social media and advertising strategies. He would provide all the necessary data and she could provide the knowhow.
Kate froze on the spot. She had just accepted an unpaid internship in a social media department, as she was interested in pursuing a career in the field. But she turned to the man and said, “No, I am sorry. I don’t have the skills you are looking for, but I will pass your business card on to my Professor to see if she can do your work, or match you with a student that can help.”
When she was telling me the story, I nodded in agreement. I completely understood she was scared of the unknown and did not want to take on the project without the complete skillset at her disposal.
I went home, opened my class emails and sent a group email asking any students interested in the work to respond to the realtor directly.
My husband came home from work and I told him proudly about my student and her knowledge that had so impressed a fellow coffee drinker at Starbucks.
Then it hit me. What had I done? Why had I let that student walk away from me without convincing her to take the job? She was taking her internship in social media for goodness sake. She was interested in a career in that field. And why then had I done the exact same thing myself when asked if I wanted the job? “Oh no,” I thought to myself. “I don’t have those exact skills either. I can’t possibly take on that job.”
Instead five male students in my class had contacted the realtor and expressed interest in the contract. Two students even confided in me that they had no idea what they were doing. One would sub-contract the job out if he received the contract, the other would work it out by utilizing You Tube and talking to friends.
It was a big wake up call. Why do women struggle to market themselves? Kate had the job. She was offered it on the spot. She said no because she didn’t have the confidence to try something new and learn from the experience. She couldn’t back herself because she felt she didn’t have 100% of the skills for the job. She didn’t realize that the skills she had were completely adequate. The only thing she was missing was the confidence to take on the project.
Kate was a 20 something year-old student. I understood her predicament. But was the lack of confidence so imbedded in the female gene that I too had passed off the job with the lame excuse that I didn’t "like" real estate? I am nearly 40 years old and I have been in the marketing profession for nearly 20 years! I teach marketing! I had no excuse. I had the majority of the skills. What I lacked in knowledge, I knew how to find. But ultimately I was still lacking the confidence to take on something I wasn’t 100% sure I could “knock out of the ball park.”
At the end of the day, I am not surprised by my own lack of confidence. I was brought up in an era of male dominated career role models and women that were "kick-arse" but still did not have the confidence to back themselves when it came to business.
But a millennial? I thought somehow miraculously that between my generation and hers things had changed. I thought women could reach for the sky and have it all. I thought millennial females exuded confidence like their male counterparts. I thought wrong.
I talked to Kate at our next class. I wanted to make her aware of what she and I had both done. I wanted to make her think before she potentially went to refuse the next job opening that she was offered. I wanted to give her a chance to become the confident woman she needed to be in the business world. She was not surprised by my comments. She said outwardly she appeared to be confident, but that was not how she felt on the inside.
She was really thankful I took the time to talk to her and promised next time she would be more aware of what she was doing. That night I promised myself I would never let another female (that asked my opinion or talked to me about this dilemma) doubt her skill level again. I also promised myself I would rise to the challenge to be the role model the next generation need!
A self-confessed "jack of all trades" marketing professional based in the beautiful West Palm Beach, Florida. I am passionate about the growth of my industry, and love to share my thoughts on the holistic world of modern marketing!