Women & self-advocating: when there is an “I” in team

by Dec 5, 2013


When it's OK to say "I"

When it’s OK to say “I”

In my somewhat lengthy experience on both sides of the career transition spectrum as a coach and head hunter,  I do find that men and women struggle in equal measure with identifying their success stories and self-advocating.  I have been baffled, bothered and bewildered by men and women alike, as I try to figure out exactly what they actually do or did.

However, once men “get it” and what they need to do,  self-advocating comes more easily to them and they tend to make more rapid progress than women. Their language choice shifts almost imperceptibly into norms that are culturally associated with success.

Gender differences

Women’s stories on the other hand are peppered with apologies, self-deprecating humour, weak vocabulary  (helped, worked with, involved in) ascribing the achievements to  “team efforts,” others,  or simply chance ( “I got lucky.”)  They talk in terms of ” we” rather than “I” and use passive language ” My team was involved in the implementation of  xxx”  as though this project magically created and implemented itself and produced results.  I talked to one very senior woman manager who recounted her career story for exactly  8 minutes and 30 seconds before she mentioned a personal success or achievement, using the first person singular pronoun.

Self-advocating was a foreign dialect to her.

If you need help honing your leadership skills   join 3Plus   to get a leg up!

Worse still,  when women talk even factually about their achievements,  they are either judged harshly or ignored,  especially by other women. Men have the distinct advantage of delivering their  new messages to a receptive audience. This is where the proponents of cultural change interject and say that male qualities, values and methodologies are  more acceptable in any organisation today and supports this male style communication. Women shouldn’t have to change.

But that let’s us women off too lightly.

I would go on to suggest that if  you don’t  know what you’re good at – how do you expect anyone else to know? Would we buy a product if we didn’t know how,  and how successfully,  it would meet our needs? No we wouldn’t.   This is no different. Self -advocating  is about self insight and being able to put our value into words. This is the very core of the modern buzz word “personal branding.”  In today’s highly competitive professional market,  men and women alike need to know where and how they add value.


I  have spoken and worked with a number of women in the last two weeks who have all had issues with this process from the most junior to senior level.  One manager told me she didn’t feel comfortable putting her name on any results,  rather than ascribing the achievement to her team.

All good managers give their teams credit where it is due. But at some point they have to give themselves some credit too.  If there is responsibility, it will most definitely be assigned and so the credit should also be acknowledged.

I posed the age-old litmus test of accountability.  If the team made a serious mistake who would be held accountable? Presumably the manager has created and approved a policy and strategy,   hired, trained  and supervised the team. If something  goes wrong,  it is usually the manager who will be called “upstairs” and whose job would be  at risk. She would  possibly be fired,  usually walking out of the door very alone,  clutching her potted plant and cardboard box. Not her team.

Accountability and responsibility should give women permission to say “I” not “we”. This when there is most definitely an “I” in team.

Take control

Given the many situations that are beyond our professional control, defining and communicating our message is one area  where we have definitely have the power to take charge. Failure or reluctance to do this, puts women at a disadvantage.


Dorothy Dalton Administrator
Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she supports organizations to achieve business success via gender balance, diversity and inclusion. She is CIPD qualified, and a certified coach and trainer including digital learning.
follow me

Found that interesting?
Learn more about our services

Individual services

Make your dreams a reality with a professional evaluation of your career to date.

Corporate services

The evidence is in. More women in your company can deliver 35% greater financial returns. (Catalyst)

Upcoming events


Read Dorothy Dalton's latest Interview with Go Solo: Building Inclusive Work Places 

📢New Programme available with 3Plus International

“If you have a brain you have a bias” and nowhere is this more apparent than in our hiring processes.

The ‘How to Mitigate Bias in the Recruitment Process’ programme is designed to convey the serious nature of bias in the recruitment process with a focus on gender bias and the way it impacts both businesses and organisations, but in a way that is thought-provoking and engaging.



Full programme details HERE

Dates for the Diary


March 16th - Corporate training: Building a Circle of Success for Senior Executives


Check out our exciting portfolio of offerings to support your business in upskilling and competence building for your teams, to address the unprecedented challenges women face in this new totally digital world.


best job search


3Plus Online Learning Programs 





Download and listen free podcasts

Related articles