08/21/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Oct 15, 2014

Woman at Work: Your Personal Brand and the Irrelevancy of Gender

You're committed, engaged, hard-working and loyal: so why do incompetents rise to the top while you stay trapped in your current role at a low-level tier in the management hierarchy?

The answer doesn't lie in your job performance. It lies in how you brand or don't brand yourself to your boss, within your department, to your company and externally to your clients, competitors and social media contacts. Indeed, it is likely that those incompetents are highly competent at branding themselves to their superiors. You can learn from them.

Branding comes more natural to men than to women, as I've seen in two decades as a personal and career coach. This is not genetic; this is due to the roles society expects women and men to fulfill. Men are expected to aggressively promote themselves and demand rewards for their work; women to adopt a more empathetic and nurturing role. Consciously aware businesswomen, however, can beat the expectations and much depends upon living standards and education as recent research by Dr. Daniela Weber of the International Institute for Applied Systems in Vienna, Austria, has recently shown.

The essential point to remember is if you don't brand yourself, others will brand you. Thus, if you are quiet you could be branded as passive; if you're too caring of others' feelings you might be branded as weak; if you're too open to learning new things, you may be branded as naïve; and, perhaps most unfairly, if you're aggressively proactive, you could very well be branded as "mannish."

Yet for successful career women, personal branding is vital. And the most effective personal brands have their solid foundations in your talents, personality and know-how. The challenge for businesswoman is to change societal and organizational focus from them as just "females" - with all the role expectations that entails - to effective or ineffective employees or executives, where gender becomes irrelevant.

This sounds as simple as it is, yet businesswomen have to consciously hone this skill and battle antediluvian stereotypes of how they're "supposed to" behave. An effective tool in this task is a powerful personal brand.

The most winning and unforgettable personal brands are:

• Pro-active: Whether you're an entrepreneur, job seeker or a career woman, in a tough global market place this is no time to be shy or overly modest about whom you are and what you excel at.

• Authentic. Be yourself, which means don't try to fulfill other peoples' expectations of who they think you should be.

• Expertise-based. Your brand is that which you are excellent at doing. The best brands are never mediocre. Don't waste time and energy doing things where you cannot shine.

• Giving. Effective brands fulfill a need, provide a service which people want. Thus, it's not about you, but about them.

• Unique. The finest brands are developed from your own special skills, talents, experience, character and know-how.

• Everywhere. Every time you make a phone call, send a text or e-mail, attend a meeting or a luncheon, give a presentation, etc., you are branding yourself. In other words, you are being watched and evaluated by those who want to learn about your personal brand. You are performing. In these situations it is critical that you stamp your brand upon your audience before they get to stamp their idea of your brand onto you.

• Unforgettable. Inimitable brands sparkle with individuality and charm.

Why is personal branding important? To inform others about what you can do for them, and what your value to them is. Rather than the crassness of "selling yourself" or vapid elevator pitches, think of personal branding as a carefully crafted tool that helps position you in the minds of others. Internally, this means letting your boss and team know what you are doing to create value for the company. Externally, this entails informing your clients of the full range of your expertise. If you don't do this, nobody will. Prosaically, a strong personal brand is essential if you desire to move up the corporate ladder and attain the material and financial benefits concomitant with your engagement, loyalty and sacrifices for the company.

Although men are in general more effective at personal branding than women, there is no gender monopoly on this vital skill. The challenge for businesswomen is to stand up, "lean in" as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg advises, and proactively advertise their worth to their bosses, their co-workers and their clients.

Like 3rd Century BC warrior Queen Zenobia who raised her sword, fought and defeated the mighty armies of Rome and proudly declared, "I am a queen; and as long as I live I will reign," businesswomen have to raise their smartphones into the air and forcefully declare who they are professionally while demanding the same rewards and opportunities their male colleagues receive. Doing this will sear an unforgettable brand onto the memory banks of their bosses, co-workers and clients that no-one can efface.