The Engaging Educator’s new women’s empowerment workshops include an ‘UnHumble’ class on owning your success.
This class is all about giving you extra credit.
When former Guggenheim Museum educator Jen Brown was first leading public speaking and presentation workshops six years ago, she often downplayed her passion project — even though it was drawing high-profile clients like Saks Fifth Avenue and Viacom.
“I used to say my company was ‘just a side hustle’ or ‘just a thing I’m doing’ constantly in networking situations. That wasn’t doing me or my company any favors,” Brown, 35, told Moneyish. “We as women need to become more outspoken about our strengths and accomplishments. It’s OK to be proud of what you did, and it’s OK to take credit for the things you have done — that way, other people don’t end up stealing the credit.”
So her new two-hour workshop, “UnHumble: How to Stop Playing Small and Be a Badass,” was designed to get women to own their accomplishments. The $40 class, which uses improv to make women more comfortable sharing their successes, will be held at the Brooklyn Brainery this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. (There’s another on May 24.)
It’s just the latest offering from The Engaging Educator, Brown’s series of interactive workshops around New York City designed to get female professionals more confident at work, including “Speak Up! Using Improv for Presentation + Public Speaking” and “Networking and Small Talk.”
And there’s certainly a need. Many women have a bad habit of humbling themselves so much that they hold themselves back — especially at work. A 2013 study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin revealed that women give more credit to their male colleagues and take less for themselves. Women are also less likely to advocate for themselves and ask for a raise than men are — even though a 2016 Tel Aviv University study found that “dominant, assertive women, who clearly express their expectations and do not retreat from their demands,” make more money than their “more accommodating female peers.”
“Women and minorities in general have been taught to play small, and not speak to your accomplishments, or your needs and wants — myself included,” said Charly Evon Simpson, one of the “UnHumble” workshop instructors who’s also a playwright and performer. “We feel like we’re rubbing our accomplishments in other people’s faces … but if we don’t brag, then we’re also not being honest about our worth.”
Most of sessions were designed to address issues that Brown and instructors like Simpson have struggled with themselves. She noticed that her coed classes were skewing heavily female — 80% women to 20% men — and heard feedback that female students were more comfortable in women-only classes. So this past January, she began offering female-focused sessions like “UnHumble,” so named because “we’re asked to be humble, and essentially asked to play small, and we’re rewriting the narrative and teaching women to be ‘UnHumble’ and take up space,” said Brown. Some of the presentation and networking workshops are still coed, however.
They use improv instead of traditional role-playing exercises because it better embraces the spontaneity of real-life interactions. Women have to share something that they are proud of with the group to break the ice, for instance, before pairing off to play games like, “Yes, And!” where one woman shares a dream (“I’d like to write a play”) and another repeats it back, while adding to the goal. (“You’re going to write a play, and it’s going to be on Broadway in 2020.”)
“Improv is supposed to be playful, and because there’s no real stakes, you don’t have to be nervous about making a mistake,” explained Simpson, 32, who was born in Queens. Plus, “the most basic improv game is ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ — and a big part of not selling yourself short is pretending ‘I’m a badass’ until you finally believe it.”
Before you can stop playing small, however you have to start recognizing when it’s happening. When Simpson ran the NYC Marathon a few years go, for example, she downplayed it by telling people how “slow” her time was, rather agreeing that running 26.2 miles was a huge feat. Or she ends directive emails with ‘Does that make sense?’ — even though she knows her message made sense — “because it seems nicer, and it’s almost like I need approval,” she admitted.
Or she has friends who have applied to lower level positions because they doubt their qualifications for senior ones. “How many times has there been a job opening where we don’t immediately raise our hands because we’re too busy worrying about not being perfect for it — as opposed to the other people raising their hands in the room that we KNOW we are better than?” asked Simpson. So go for it with your strengths front and center. “As opposed to leading your interview with, ‘I might not have these two qualities,’ open with, ‘I am very good at these 10 other things, so you should teach me these two I don’t know as well,’” said Simpson.
If you catch yourself downplaying an accomplishment or waving off a compliment, take a breath and start over with, “Let me rephrase that; I’m actually very good at this” or, “That’s not right; this is how I actually feel about that.”
Brown says to ask yourself “why” you are doing this. “Why aren’t you talking about this, or why are you downplaying it?” said Brown. “Is it because you’re scared? Why are you scared? You’re scared because you think people will think it’s stupid? Well, why would they think that? And you’ll find that when you play devil’s advocate with yourself, that you often get stuck: There’s no reason someone should think this accomplishment or this idea is stupid. So there’s no reason to be afraid. So go on, then, and talk about it.”
Simpson added, “I think especially now, as more and more people in general are speaking up about Time’s Up and all of these things that were just whispered for a long time, it’s even more important to find the words to express your experience, and to express your expertise, and to express what you know for sure.”
© 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved