FROM THE TRENCHES: Why Every Woman Should Keep a ‘Brag List’

Reposted from By Jessica Stillman Contributor,

Come November, the women-led Wall Street firm Siebert Cisneros Shank & Co. will finalize its merger with minority-owned investment bank The Williams Capital Group. The consolidation will create a top minority-led-and-owned institutional investment bank offering services in municipal underwriting, debt and equity sales and trading. 

What causes the stubborn gap between men’s and women’s advancement at work? Is it that women are socialized to be less comfortable tooting their own horn, unconscious bias causing women’s contributions to be less valued than men’s, imposter syndrome, flat-out sexism

This question is the subject of dozens upon dozens of fascinating studies, but while the experts sort out the cause (or combination of causes) for this sorry state of affairs, it’s possible that no matter the roots of the problem, there is one practical solution women can start using to counteract it right now. 

It’s called a “brag list,” and while the idea itself is gender neutral, when I stumbled upon a description of it on the blog of software developer Julia Evans, I instantly thought, “This is career gold for women in particular!” 

Your brain is a terrible way to keep track of your accomplishments

Evans lays out the idea behind the brag list in great detail and even offers a template to help readers get started, but the idea itself is dead simple. 

“One thing I’m always struck by when it comes to performance review time is a feeling of ‘Wait. What did I do in the past six months?'” Evans relates. 

Rather than waste time digging through her documents to refresh her memory, probably missing a few accomplishments in the process, she started to “maintain a ‘brag document’ that lists everything so you can refer to it when you get to performance review season!” 

A brag list is also great when you get a new manager who needs to be brought up to speed on your role and contributions. 

In fact, you can not only refer to the list yourself but also even share it directly with your manager or peer reviewers. This is obviously good for self-promotion, but it encourages as well a culture of celebrating accomplishments on your team. You can even sex things up a bit by writing a short narrative, summing up the accomplishments listed. The document can also help you take stock of your work outside of review season

Why a “brag list” is particularly important for women 

Is this the wildest, most newfangled idea in the world? Certainly not, but it can be incredibly powerful, particularly for women. 

First, it’s not just anecdotal evidence about ideas ignored in meetings that indicates women get less reward for equal work. A detailed analysis by a specially trained A.I. at multiple, well-intentioned companies came to the same conclusion. Women need to do more to document and promote their accomplishments to get the same recognition. That’s just a (highly annoying) fact. A brag list seems like a no-brainer tool to accomplish that. 

But even if what’s holding women back has more to do with internal barriers — their inner dialogue or how women have been socialized — a brag list could help. For instance, I struggle to think of a better antidote to imposter syndrome than a long, meticulous list of all your amazing achievements. 

Finally, studies indicate that women can sometimes pay a significant price for advocating for themselves. Bragging is often seen as attractive confidence in men but unpleasant and abrasive behavior in women. But while sitting in front of your boss and listing your accomplishments out loud could read as “unladylike,” sending a brag list seems less likely to trigger this kind of cultural baggage. A little psychic distance might help your manager assess your contribution in a more objective frame of mind.  

For all these reasons, if you’re an ambitious woman who isn’t keeping a brag list already, it might be time to think about starting one. Evans’s excellent blog post can get you started with great advice and all the details. 


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