Bragging Is Good

How Employers Can Support Their Female Employees in Self-Promotion

Excited modern business woman enjoying her successIn 2013 a study was published by Jessi L. Smith, professor of psychology at Montana State University, and Meghan Huntoon, who was Smith’s student at MSU, which found that gender norms about modesty helped to explain why women felt uncomfortable about promoting their accomplishments. Smith and Huntoon discovered that our cultural norms supported female modesty and disapproved of women who were perceived to be bragging about themselves. Men, on the other hand, were viewed as confident and capable when they bragged. The study confirmed the double-standard that existed between men and women, something that most of us are familiar with in the workplace. What set apart this study, however, was that the researchers also tested ways to help women promote themselves effectively.

“We live in a society where cultural gender norms are powerful and imbedded in our history. This is no way, shape or form to be blamed on women. It’s just part of our culture, and it is our job to find ways to change these cultural norms,” Smith said.

Do you feel nervous or uncomfortable submitting a letter of recommendation about yourself? Smith and Huntoon’s research would corroborate those feelings and would take it a step further to tell you that you’re not alone. Most women do. Their study showed that it was possible to redirect the women’s discomfort at bragging by giving them another reason to blame their anxiety for. Once they stopped focusing on self-promotion as the cause of their unease (and breaking one of society’s norms would do that to anyone) the women in the study could focus on the task at hand: writing an essay about their accomplishments for a contest.

This theory can be applied in the workplace, and employers should take steps to help women work around the fear of breaking the norm that bragging is bad in order to aid them in career success. Because if a female employee isn’t bringing her success to your attention, how will you know that she’s the perfect person to promote?

“Basically, people in authority positions need to put in place practices that make it feel normal for women to promote their accomplishments,” she said. “Cultural shifts take time, so while we wait, our results also suggest that people should be proactive and promote the accomplishments of their female friends and colleagues to their bosses. Women were very good at promoting the accomplishments of friends.”

In Julian Berman’s article for Huffington Post, Why It’s So Hard For Working Women To Get Ahead, And What We Can Do About It, she talks about her awkwardness in saying that she deserved a raise. She references Smith’s study and says that employers should be helping their female employees help themselves.

“Employers trying to recruit and promote the best female employees should assume women are probably underselling themselves and create safe spaces for self-promotion, instead of asking them to just ‘get over’ their natural aversion to it,” Berman said. Some companies like Google and The New York Times are doing exactly that by modifying interview processes and re-evaluating the salary gap between male and female employees.

The fact is that both sides, the employer and the employee, should be taking steps to foster female self-promotion. As Smith said in her study, even if you’re uncomfortable flaunting your hard-earned accomplishments, there’s probably a female co-worker that could deserve the spotlight just as much. Employers should be working with their female employees to talk about the good work being done even if it’s to brag about the hard work of a colleague.


Berman, Julia. “Why It’s So Hard For Working Women To Get Ahead, And What We Can Do About It.” Huffington Post, 21 Jan 2014. Web. 9 March 2014.

Schmidt, Carol. “Bragging rights: MSU study shows that interventions help women’s reluctance to discuss accomplishments.” Montana State University, 10 Jan 2014. Web. 9 March 2021