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An Academic Woman’s Rant of the Week: Self-Promotion

April 14, 2014

This week’s installment of An Academic Woman’s Rant of the Week concerns self-promotion and self-citation differences between men and women.

The idea for this installment came to me while I was having a celebratory drink with K. Chad Clay and Jim Piazza at ISA.  We were celebrating our recent Political Research Quarterly article (also coauthored with Sam Bell).[1]  Chad had just presented a new Bell, Clay, Murdie paper[2] at a panel that I wasn’t able to attend.  When I asked Chad if he had any questions from the floor, Chad said that he did get some questions but that he was able to answer them with reference to our forthcoming International Studies Quarterly article (coauthored also with Colin Barry, Sam Bell, and Mike Flynn).[3]

“Doesn’t that make you feel bad?” I said, “It always embarrasses me to have to reference one of my other pieces.”

“No,” Chad replied, “Given all of the recent stuff about the citation gap, I think that’s a gendered-thing.”

A gendered-thing?  Really?

Well, it turns out Chad was right!  Research shows that feeling bad about self-promotion is a gendered-thing.  There is a recent Psychology of Women Quarterly article by Smith and Huntoon (2013) that has been receiving quite a bit of blogosphere attention.  As the abstract of the article states:

“Within American gender norms is the expectation that women should be modest. We argue that violating this “modesty norm” by boasting about one’s accomplishments causes women to experience uncomfortable situational arousal that leads to lower motivation for and performance on a self-promotion task.”

These negative feelings – often reinforced by concerns about backlashes for self-promotion – could be part-and-parcel to the issues of women and the lack of citation in International Relations that Maliniak, Powers, and Walter (2013) recently found.  It also could be linked to larger issues of pay and promotion differentials in academia.  It’s probably a partial answer to the question Marvin and Walter raised at Political Violence @ a Glance: Where Are All the Female Bloggers?”  If self-promotion induces more negative feelings for women than men and if self-promotion is critical for citation, reputation building, and outside-offers, a lack of self-promotion could contribute to many career issues for women.  It could even have down-stream effects for the students of women faculty.

Now that we know that a lack of self-promotion is the problem, what can we do about it?  First, even knowing it’s uncomfortable, we, as women, need to play the game and self-promote.  Forbes had a great article on this 2011, where, quoting from a report by Catalyst, the article states:

“In other words, the greatest way to even the playing field for women and men, in terms of earnings, is self-promotion.

“Of all the strategies used by women, making their achievements known—by ensuring their manager was aware of their accomplishments, seeking feedback and credit as appropriate, and asking for a promotion when they felt it was deserved—was the only one associated with compensation growth.””

Second, we need to encourage self-promotion and cross-promote good work – wherever we find it.  I was excited to learn that my PhD student, Courtney Burns, received this advice at Pay It Forward: A Short Course of Women Helping Women at ISA 2014.  We need to ensure that International Relations scholars, as individuals of all stripes, are not encouraging backlashes against self-promotion and are working to ensure that self-promotion is done in a professional manner.  

As part of this encouragement, let me return to the Smith and Huntoon (2013) article I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The article is fascinating for its conclusions about how the uncomfortable feelings women often feel during times of self-promotion can be overcome.  According to Smith and Huntoon (2013)’s experiment (conducted on American female college students), when women were asked to self-promote in a room where they were told there was a “black box” – a  “subliminal noise generator” –  in the room that was making them uncomfortable, they were able to self-promote better.  In other words, when there was an external object that they could “give” their feelings of discomfort to, they were able to do what needed to be done to get ahead.[4]  I’m totally willing to be that “black box” for my students and for others in the discipline: Self-promote because you have to – I’m looking over your shoulder making sure you do!



P.S.  Stay tuned for our next installment: stupid questions from people about my kids’ bedtime and who does the dishes at my house.


[1] See what I did there? Self-promotion!  Bam! Bet you didn’t see that coming.

[2] See?  There, too.  I can do this!

[3] Wow, once you start the self-promotion, it’s hard to stop.  Sort of like Pringle’s.

[4]  In my own life, I’m now making that “black box” my children and their future well-being.  I’m able to take on a helluva lot of discomfort to make their life better.

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Amanda Murdie is Professor & Dean Rusk Scholar of International Relations in the Department of International Affairs in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. She is the author of Help or Harm: The Human Security Effects of International NGOs (Stanford, 2014). Her main research interests include non-state actors, and human rights and human security.

When not blogging, Amanda enjoys hanging out with her two pre-teen daughters (as long as she can keep them away from their cell phones) and her fabulous significant other.