Dr. Peggy Drexler
September 19, 2013 2:00 pm

As more and more women reach the top levels of their profession, even becoming family breadwinners in record numbers, there has been much discussion that successful women may need to downplay their success in order to avoid intimidating prospective partners. Last year, the Daily Beast reported that more rich, high-powered women are turning to matchmakers to find love. But women aren’t just minimizing their success in search of romance. Many also feel compelled to do the same with their friends, especially those whose professional or financial successes are more moderate than their own. Studies confirm this: One study, conducted by consumer website CouponCodes4u, found that while 53 percent of male respondents admitted to having discussed their salaries, only 15 percent of females said the same.

Societal expectations for female behavior traditionally, and enduringly, value modesty and collaboration. Pop culture may have a hand in this. In television shows like How to Live with Your Parents and Two Broke Girls, Hollywood has helped promote the charm of the downtrodden woman, depicting the modern heroine as self-deprecating, the opposite of having it all together, and “real.” More than men, women tend to want to appear relatable. They want to make others feel comfortable. They value being part of the group. Those qualities can lead some, to downplay their professional achievements as a means to connect, to minimize the risk of others’ discomfort, or to avoid being perceived as different. They don’t want friends to envy them, or to ever think they were flaunting their accomplishments because they fear losing friends.

But this behavior, a  stashing of personal achievements under the bed, has certain implications beyond the girls’ night out. Women who deny their achievements outside of work may also tend to downplay their accomplishments at work. They may give undue credit to other team members. They may prefer to wait for their accomplishments to be noticed rather than self-promoting, which carries a risk of being seen as “braggy.” They may not strive to be “better” than or “different” from their colleagues. What’s more, women who place great value on workplace relationships may wonder if they can get ahead while remaining friends. Rather than pointing out their accomplishments, they may choose to wait to be noticed, or to blend in with the crowd so as to not offend anyone else. As a result, they don’t ask for what they want—and, thus, they don’t get it. A 2012 report from management consulting firm Accenture ACN +2.46% called “The Next Generation of Working Women” found that women are less likely to speak up than men, less likely to proactively manager their own careers, and less likely to ask for more money.

By striving to be overly humble or not stand out, women miss opportunities to get ahead. And for what? True friends celebrate each other’s successes—not the opposite—which means women who downplay their achievements in order to appease their friends are trading in professional fulfillment for inauthentic relationships. At the same time, they’re also helping to perpetuate the notion that women who succeed are somehow less attractive as friends and partners. Remember there’s a difference between bragging and being comfortable with, and proud of, who you are and what you’ve accomplished.

Featured image via Shutterstock

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