Jill Abramson, the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, was described as “impossible to work with” and “not approachable.” This, just days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes. Though she was highly successful, she was not liked by her colleagues.

Research shows this is an experience shared by female professionals across the world – a phenomenon called ‘likability conundrum’. Gender norms prefer women to be agreeable, warm, and nurturing. But, when they challenge these norms by sharing strong opinions, or disagreeing, they’re penalized. Either by labels like “too aggressive”. Or through heavier penalties like not getting promoted, and being ignored.

Given this prevalent dynamic, how can women win good career opportunities? By building a personal brand. Studies by Sylvia Hewlett at the Center for Talent Innovation show that doing so attracts sponsors, and increases their chances of being promoted by 23%.

Thus, here’s one way of building a powerful personal brand: having an elevator pitch.

Women’s career trajectories aren’t often straight. There might be gaps, or even a complete change in focus. And not everyone ‘gets’ it instantly. This could lead to assumptions that your skills are out dated, or that you weren’t meant for a role. But, you can help people understand your journey. Through a pitch that explains how your previous skills connect with what you’re doing now.

To come up with such a pitch, Prof. Dorie Clark, at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, says, “chart it out on paper.” On one side, write down your past experience. On the other, write down the job you currently hold. Then find the connective tissue that links them.

What would that look like? For example, in your past you might have held an HR role, but now have moved to sales. Clark says, “only you know that your experience in HR taught you how to listen, understand what motivates people, and develop win-win solutions — the perfect ingredients for sales success.”

Share this by saying something like, “I started out in HR and worked my way up. But I was fascinated by sales, and realized that the listening skills and ability to connect with people that I’d developed in HR, enabled me to add real value to the company, so I transitioned last year and am now the head of NE sales.”

Why is this important? It changes the way people perceive you. And allows you to turn an automatic question like “what do you do?” into an opportunity to get people interested in you. It also allows you to tell a story about your talents and achievements, in a way that is engaging. Not aggressive at all, right?

Are you willing to give it a try?

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