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tooting own hornAre things different or more difficult for women (vs. men) when it comes to selling themselves? I have been interviewing women lawyers about being “rainmakers,” able to bring in lots of new clients.

There are lots of successful women in real estate and in the sales functions of all kinds of companies. While I do not have hard data, I believe there are proportionately fewer successful women when what they are selling is themselves, e.g., as a provider of professional services. For sure, women represent a much smaller percentage of law firm “rainmakers” than the total percentage of women lawyers.

Some things appear to have changed for women and business development over the last few decades – or appear to be easier for younger generations of women. But some things, apparently more deeply rooted in nature and nurture, have not.

One of the things that I find in common between senior and junior women is discomfort with “tooting their own horn.” Women of both generations remarked that it is much more comfortable to talk about the expertise and excellence of their firm, their teams or other lawyers rather than their own accomplishments. This was the subject of a recent blog entitled “Why men say ‘me’ and women say ‘we’ in the workplace.” Women tend to share credit, attributing success to others and factors outside themselves.

It is still harder for women to do the “hard sell.” A very successful woman told me that she uses a “soft sell” approach; although she knows better, she often leaves a sales meeting without “closing,” leaving things open. Another says she has had to practice so the “selling part” feels more comfortable.

I believe this reluctance to sell oneself is deeply rooted. Because of brain structure and hormones, relationships mean a great deal to the typical woman. “Bragging” or putting oneself above another can jeopardize relationships, which matter more to most women than status. Also, many women have been taught that bragging is rude. And they have experienced the double bind – which means they may have to choose between being respected and being liked. Marketing one’s own skills might cost them what they value most.

And selling oneself requires confidence. The natural way that many women speak simply sounds less confident. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg asserts that women have more self-doubt than men. In the recent Atlantic article, The Confidence Gap, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman analyze the roots of the lower confidence level of women.

To sell themselves, women must have confidence in their own abilities, practice sounding confident and watch out for the double bind! Do you agree that many women find it hard to market and sell themselves? What has worked for you?