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Why are we so uncomfortable with self-promotion?

Last week’s “View From Venus” episode with Jeanne Zaino explored this question in a bit more depth. Jeanne makes a convincing argument for why getting the word out there is not just important for your individual career but also for your institution, your students and, ultimately, for society. When truth is under attack, when journalism is under attack, when academia is under attack, we don’t have the time to worry if talking about our work is too much like bragging or to cross our fingers and hope that someone will discover our work and publicize it for us.

The world needs to hear about your work. It is important. Find ways to get the word out there -- whether through communities like University of Venus or Women Also Know Stuff -- or through your institution’s public relations office. Maybe they run op-ed-writing workshops? If not, maybe they will start?

Jeanne also raised great questions about the role of working in public when it comes to tenure and promotion. Depending on your institutional culture, you can often make an argument for writing in public as either a service to the field or as a scholarly contribution to the field. Either way, this method of public engagement is related to your field, and it is important work to both your institution and to society. And as Jeanne points out, it is financially much more effective and less expensive for you to have a 30-second spot on a television or radio station than to pay to have a shorter ad run in these spaces.

People listen to content more than they pay attention to ads. You are the content. Figure out how to get your content out there. If you need help, we are a good place to start. Write with us. Especially if your content relates to women building community, women’s leadership in higher ed or women’s networks. But even if it doesn’t, we can often find a way to make your content work at either our “University of Venus” blog or on our new “View From Venus” podcast.

In our conversation with Jeanne, we also talked about organizational and cultural elements on campus that can make women more comfortable with self-promotion. These include: 1) when more women are in leadership positions on campus, women feel more comfortable sharing their work and speaking up; 2) speaking up in class and in meetings is related to getting more comfortable sharing your ideas and POV.

I know your work is important and I know that some of you are like me and you just would much rather be discovered than talk about your work and initiate that conversation. Many women I have met over the years have told me that they really want to write with UVenus and they have asked me to keep asking them, hoping that one day they will muster the nerve to write in public. (That’s just one of the many reasons why the trolls and haters really suck.)

I have learned to roll with the punches, but I am most protective of those who are just venturing out into this public space for the first time, and yes, I can be a bit of a mother hen, but I’ve learned to embrace that quality as a good thing. The same impulse that prompts you to feel uncomfortable talking about your work is the impulse that maintains structures of race, gender and class privilege. As a woman, a person of color, a first-generation academic, you are supposed to feel uncomfortable writing in public. You are supposed to feel like this space is not a space for you. In writing in public, you are going against the current structures of power and privilege -- you are talking back, you are resisting. You are also claiming this space.

That is why we have created this space. This is your space. Use it. Also, when you are made to feel uncomfortable or “wrong” for promoting your work, stop and ask yourself why your colleagues are attempting to silence, shame or ghost you or, worse yet, blame you for power grabbing or empire building. Going against “the way we have always done it” or “the way it works around here” is hard work, and that’s why it helps to have a squad, a tribe, a posse, a group that has your back. We are that group. This is that space. When you write here, you are writing with us. You are not writing alone.

For more, read the transcript of our conversation with Jeanne or listen to the podcast.

Mary Churchill is associate dean for strategic initiatives and community engagement at Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University (est. 2018). Prior to her role at Boston University, she was the vice president for academic affairs at Wheelock College in Boston. She is the co-author of The Good Closure: Authentic Leadership in a Time of Crisis (under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press), which details the merger of Wheelock College and Boston University.

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