There’s a Dutch saying that goes Doe maar gewoon, je doet al gek genoeg which is loosely translated in English as just act normal, you’re already crazy enough. In layman’s terms, be humble.
Growing up, Netherlands native Cecilia Sion heard this phrase a lot in her home country. She didn’t listen to it, though. The HR practitioner has worked her way up, often receiving promotions and head hunter offers, which didn’t surprise her at all.
“I’ve always fully believed in my abilities,” Sion told ESSENCE. Currently an executive at HiBob, an HR solution platform, she said owes her current position to her radical self-awareness. “Before joining HiBob, I was working at another company that offered me a promotion, but I just knew I would get bored quickly,” she said, adding that although the well-paying job would’ve been great for someone, it wasn’t for her. “I knew I would land somewhere that gave me everything I wanted because I’m confident in what I offer.”
Unfortunately, many other women don’t feel the same as Sion.
More than half see themselves as impostors, compared to only 24% of men, according to a study by Heriot-Watt University and the School for CEOs. Moreover, it’s even worse for Black women, who often find themselves being the only one in the room at work. A 2019 report from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Company shared that 45% of women of color are often the only minority at their jobs, particularly in well-paying industries like the STEM fields. Research from Kecia M. Thomas also found that women of color feel as if they start at their companies as “pets” but are treated as threats once they start to gain influence in their positions.
To mitigate the latter, an influx of humility starts to creep in. The need to quell your own excitement when a meeting goes well or you’ve well exceeded your boss’s expectations on a project. This is what experts are calling Quiet Greatness, the latest in the swath of “quiet” workplace trends. Essentially, it’s the practice of diminishing your own accomplishments for the sake of avoiding any harsh mislabeling at your job. This may sound silly, but it’s a very serious and pervasive issue that’s embedded in not only our work culture but our personal lives as well.
Studies find that such women who are vocal about their professional accomplishments often make men feel emasculated or inferior. But data also shows that speaking up about your good work is almost imperative in moving up the corporate ladder. So, where’s the happy medium? Sion puts it simply: “Don’t be humble.”
Spread the word.
“Don’t fall into the humility trap because it won’t get you anywhere,” she told ESSENCE. “I think that’s really a mindset you have to adopt, which is difficult because it can clash with cultural differences and nuances, but I think that’s so important,” she said pointing out that much like the US, the Netherlands looks down on braggadocious personalities. “Be proud of yourself first because that will make it even easier for your peers and superiors to do the same.”
She suggests making the practice a wide-spread one.
“Try to take others with you on that journey and celebrate their successes with them in a genuine way because I think that can really mean a lot to others and can also help you break out of that shell of silence.”
Chronicle the journey.
As Sion pointed out, breaking out of the Quiet Greatness vacuum can be easier said that done, so she suggests using a visual reinforcement.
“Write down your accomplishments and call it your golden list. And watch it grow. That inadvertently encourages you to strengthen your voice when the time comes to advocate for why you deserve that pay raise, promotion or a better role altogether.”
Hold your company accountable.
“I think as a leader, it is important to put in tools in place that allow for important recognition to seamlessly take place,” Sion said, sharing that that could look like giving physical or virtual awards, or an affirming email about a job well done.
“These small acknowledgments go such a long way for the psyche and are really the start of climbing our way out of this Quiet Greatness space. Always speak up.”