Just last week, a Director at a well-regarded business school explained to me that she couldn’t get female business students to apply for the annual business plan competition. Despite her encouragement and rallying, she just couldn’t convince more women to enter. As I considered her quandary, I couldn’t help but see this as a problem that persists well after business school.
After all, if there’s one thing that can make us as women squirm uncomfortably, it’s nominating ourselves for awards and public recognition. Some may not be drawn to the competitive rivalry of a contest. For others, they may erroneously see themselves as not-strong-enough a candidate to apply in the first place. And yet, the effects of not self nominating can be far reaching. Just consider women scientists: Successful women NIH grant applicants receive only 63% as much funding as men applicants and only 13% of the highest-value grants go to women. Women consistently file fewer patents than men do. The same patterns exist in the world of venture capital, where women start businesses with only 64% of the capital of male-owned firms and are less likely to pitch for financing over the lifetime of their business.
Putting our distaste for self-promotion aside—awards, funds and recognition are a form of currency. In the world we live in, they matter. They are bargaining chips! They can help you demand a higher fee as an entrepreneur, reinforce your request for a higher corporate salary to your employer, and provide external validation of how you measure up against your peers.
You can lean on the process below as you learn to open yourself up to recognition:
- Believe you’re a worthy applicant: In one Cornell study, despite women performing roughly the same as men on a scientific quiz, when men and women were invited to compete in a follow-up science competition, only 49% of women raised their hand, while 71% of men did. The point? Our perceived readiness is drawn by an arbitrary line…and more important, a moveable one. Decide today, right now, that you are a worthy applicant for that interesting award, publishable article, or conference presentation. Then go for it. At a very bare minimum, you will learn a lot from the process and most likely, you’ll be able to repurpose your entry materials for something else in the future – perhaps another award. Just consider New York Times foreign correspondent Jeffrey Gettleman, who nominated himself for a Pulitzer Prize in 2012…and won.
- Source awards and apply: Rarely will an appealing award opportunity find you and land right in your inbox. You’ll have to source these opportunities on your own, dedicating some time to researching the individual awards and their awarding bodies. You can begin with general groups like the The Stevie Awards for example, then diversify and seek seek out some industry or skill-specific awards such as those of The Society of Women Engineers. See this research as part of a VIP project you’re managing (your career!) and organize it that way. Seek out a total of 4-5 interesting awards and create a timeline of when each award nomination is due, what is required in terms of supporting materials and references, and how you’ll position yourself. Look at who’s won in the past and what they had going for them, but don’t see past winners as templates you must exactly look like or mimic.
- Leverage the accolades: Once you receive an award (assuming it relates to your work and profession), you have one of the most lush conditions to negotiate for more responsibility or better pay. Maximize this opportunity! Show the organization how your newfound value can enhance their brand internally and externally. In addition, don’t simply list awards or recognition on your resume or LinkedIn LinkedIn profile, lead with them. The summary statement on your resume might begin with “Award-winning environmental science professional with X years of experience in….” Similarly, your LinkedIn profile headline could state, “Award-winning Innovator in Environmental Conservation.” At a minimum, dedicate a section of your resume to ‘Awards and Honors’ where you list each one, the year, and the issuing body.
Going after, and winning, awards makes you more appealing to employers and clients, yes. But it can greatly help you materially, and perhaps most underemphasized, it can permanently lift your confidence. I have benefitted many times over from applying to awards despite my mixed results: I’ve failed, tied, and won. By applying for recognition, you too will learn a lifelong skill – how to identify and speak about your value…and how to bet on yourself.
*This post was originally featured on my Work in Progress blog for Forbes*
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