I recently saw a cartoon about a woman sitting at a conference table with a group of men. The caption said, “When will Lisa’s suggestion be heard?” The answer was, “When Jeff repeats it.”
Does that happen in your workplace? Do you ever hear yourself saying (usually quietly), Didn’t I just say that?” Would it make any difference if your boss were a woman (or vice versa)?
What can you do to be more of a force at a meeting? What would it take to be treated on a par with your male colleagues? There are a few things that might help.
First of all, choose your seat carefully. Try to sit across form the boss, or within eye sight of whoever is moderating the discussion. Always sit at the table. It’s almost impossible to enter a conversation from a sideline. You look like a spectator and will usually be treated as such.
Second, enter the conversation as soon as you legitimately can. Watch for an opportunity to say something, even if is only to concur with something someone else has said. This helps to make you a participant.
When you have something to offer, never discount it. Don’t be tentative or apologetic. Women too often tend to hedge their bets — saying things like, “This may not work,” or “I know it would be a long shot, but…” Eliminate the word “but” from your group conversations. You seldom hear a man second guess himself.
Be forceful. Don’t whine or sigh (others see these as typically female behaviors). Don’t get bitchy (also seen as something only women do).
If you are good at using humor to diffuse a situation or to get your point across, use it as appropriate,, but do so sparingly. You don’t want to be considered frivolous or too “cutesy.”
Be professional at all times. Challenge ideas, not colleagues. Don’t be accusatory. If something is wrong, say so, but try to keep the passion out of your voice. Listen to how others respond. You might hear phrases like, “Let me push back on that just a bit,” or, “I would like to offer a slight correction,” or, “Let me suggest another way of approaching that issue.” The way you offer your suggestion can eliminate antagonism.
If you know the issue to be discussed and you have a good idea, write a brief summary outline (never more than a page) and bring copies to the meeting. When you find the opportune moment, make your case verbally. Be succinct. If your idea seems to have some merit, say you thought it might be helpful to put a short summary on paper and pass it out. That reinforces that the idea was yours.
With experience, attention, and effort, you will be able to regularly have your voice heard and your ideas accepted by predominantly male work groups. But, as a woman, you will need to be alert to slippage, and you may need to reassert your right to be at the table every time there is a change of those occupying the chairs.